Assessing the Challengers to Kentucky’s SEC Crown

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 19th, 2014

It’s a month into the college basketball season and every conference has unanswered questions. For all its faults, the SEC more or less stands alone among the major conferences in that we know with reasonable certainty which team will be taking home the regular season and tournament titles. If you’re betting against Kentucky in this league this season, then you clearly haven’t been watching. But after the Wildcats at the top, there are at least six teams that can make a realistic claim as the second-best team in the conference. Here’s how the race stacks up as we slog through final exams:

Bobby Portis is in the conversation for SEC POY, can he lead Arkansas up the conference ladder? (thesportsseer.com).

Bobby Portis is in the conversation for SEC POY, but can he lead Arkansas up the conference ladder? (thesportsseer.com).

  • Arkansas (7-2, Best Win: SMU, Worst Loss: Clemson). If nothing else it has been an eventful month for the Hogs. They stormed into the national polls after a 6-0 start. They won on the road at SMU. People were excited. But then Arkansas fell flat in a marquee game at Iowa State and followed it up with a perplexing loss to Clemson. So really, we are left with the same questions we had about the Razorbacks coming into the season. They look better, but are they NCAA tournament better? To its credit, Arkansas may have the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year in Bobby Portis, who is among the league’s top 10 in points per game (15.8), rebounds per game (6.8), blocks per game (1.6), effective field goal percentage (60.2%) and PER (26.7).
  • Texas A&M (7-2, BW: Arizona State, WL: Baylor). The Aggies’ most compelling argument is not the team they are now, but the one they could be in a few months. Billy Kennedy got an early Christmas present when Danuel House and Tony Trocha-Morelos became eligible. House has immediately become a key cog for the Aggies, leading the team in minutes per game (29.2) and adding a jolt of athleticism to the perimeter. Any doubt about his role should have been erased when he got the last shot in a tie game against Sam Houston State. Freshman Alex Robinson has also at times looked like the best player on the team. The Aggies don’t have any eye-popping wins and recently got rolled by Baylor, but they have good potential as players get accustomed to playing together.

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SEC M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Without a doubt, Alabama blew a gigantic opportunity for a statement win by coughing up a lead in the final seconds of last night’s loss at Wichita State. There is no way to sugarcoat it. The Tide held an 11-point lead with five minutes remaining, but a combination of missed shots, bad rebounding and turnovers against the press allowed the Shockers to come back and win. The moral victory of hanging close against a very good team on the road likely won’t have any positive impact on the Tide’s resume, but let’s look for a silver lining. Alabama defended very well, holding the Shockers to 53 points — 25 fewer than their season average — in stifling the 10th most-efficient offense in the country. Much of Alabama’s second half lead was built on Wichita State settling for three-pointers (5-of-18) over an effective zone. Not to peek ahead, but a formula utilizing the Tide’s length and athleticism, could potentially hold up well against a Kentucky team that struggles from the outside (it always comes back to the Wildcats, doesn’t it?). Circle January 17 (home) and 31 (away) on your SEC calendar.
  2. LSU held on to win a competitive game against Sam Houston State last weekend to run its winning streak to four games. It wasn’t all rosy, though, as Josh Gray left the game with an ankle injury, and was seen afterward walking on crutches. Johnny Jones said on Monday that Gray was receiving “aggressive treatment,” but it’s unknown as of this writing whether he’ll miss any games. Ankle injuries can be tricky to heal, and if Gray does miss time it’ll trim down an already thin roster (Jones used only eight players against Sam Houston State). Tim Quarterman, a player who is enjoying a breakout season, would likely slide into the starting point guard role, with freshman Jalyn Patterson also seeing more minutes. The injury does come at a good time of the season for the Tigers, as their toughest non-conference stretch is now behind them and they have games against beatable teams like UAB, College of Charleston and Southern Miss over the next two weeks.
  3. Arkansas got back on track with a win over Dayton last weekend in a game that saw Mike Anderson shuffle his starting lineup. JuCo transfer Jabril Durham got the start at point guard over senior Rashad Madden, who went scoreless and turned the ball over five times in 31 minutes against Clemson. This also came a few days after Anderson said that Madden was “trying to do too much.” Booting a senior from the starting lineup in favor of a first-year player is a precarious road to walk, but it seemed to work out well enough as Durham hit two three-pointers early and Madden scored 12 points (including 8-of-8 from the free throw line). So far, it looks like Anderson knew what buttons to push, and that’s important because Madden’s scoring ability is a key to the success of the Razorbacks’ season.
  4. Two SEC players made College Basketball Talk’s list of the 10 most important midseason additions: Florida’s Alex Murphy and Auburn’s Trayvon Reed. Of the two, Reed seems to be the one needed the most. The article mentions that the 7’1’’ center is incredibly raw and likely won’t contribute much this season, but the guess is that Bruce Pearl will throw Reed into the fire early since this season was always going to be more about development than contention. Reed logged eight largely unproductive minutes (four fouls, one block) in Auburn’s recent loss to Clemson, and he’ll probably consume at least part of the 11.0 minutes per game going forward that was going to Devin Waddell.
  5. Jerry Palm’s first update to his NCAA Tournament bracket projection has three SEC teams in the fold: Kentucky (#1), LSU (#10) and Arkansas (#10). Alabama and Tennessee are among Palm’s first four out, and Florida is nowhere to be found on his board right now. All things considered, this is a pretty generous view of the SEC given how the season has unfolded thus far. The Tigers and Razorbacks have both notched some nice wins, but they also have experienced setbacks that threaten to snuff them from the conversation (e.g., both teams have lost to Clemson). The simple fact that, in Palm’s view, they are still squarely into the Dance should be encouraging. Neither Alabama (sorta) nor Tennessee (very much so) were thought of as NCAA Tournament teams prior to the season, so seeing them on the fringe in December is encouraging for the league. And finally there is Florida, which many believe will right its ship and find a way into the party, especially given Dorian Finney-Smith’s recent resurgence.
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SEC M5: 12.15.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Tennessee center Dominic Woodson left the Volunteers’ program over the weekend after having been held out of the team’s prior two games because of academic issues. Given that he had experienced some problems during his (only) freshman season at Memphis, his departure could not have come as much of a surprise for head coach Donnie Tyndall. Woodson often talked about turning things around, but after being declared immediately eligible to play in the fall, things never materialized for him. He averaged 12 minutes, 3.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in his four contests, but after the Volunteers pulled off an upset of No. 15 Butler in Knoxville on Sunday, this may be a clear case of addition by subtraction.
  2. One of the most impressive things John Calipari has done with his team this year is to keep everyone happy. Anyone who watches Kentucky play sees that all of the players appear to be having fun despite the fact that none averages more than 24 minutes per game. It’s therefore no surprise that, after the Wildcats’ loss of Alex Poythress for the season from an ACL injury, the Big Blue Nation rallied around him to provide emotional support. Just prior to tipoff of Saturday’s game against North Carolina, chants of “Al-ex Poy-thress!” from the Rupp Arena crowd showed the fans’ support for the junior forward. The student-filled eRUPPtion Zone took it a step further, wearing “Roar for 22″ shirts, referencing Poythress’ number. While it’s been easy for fans to root for the Wildcats in Calipari’s six years at the school, family-oriented actions like these are the subtler part of the reason the nation’s best high schoolers flock to Lexington to play for Calipari.
  3. Auburn received word late last week that Trayvon Reed, who originally signed with Maryland but was not allowed to enroll there because of a July arrest relating to a misdemeanor second-degree assault of a police officer, is now eligible. The 7’2″ center played eight minutes – although he didn’t score or grab any rebounds – in Sunday’s 72-61 loss at Clemson. It is unlikely Reed will make much of an impact this year, and it remains to be seen where he fits into Bruce Pearl’s long-term plans, but for an undersized Auburn team, having the former four-star recruit on board can’t hurt. The loss to Clemson dropped Auburn to a 3-5 record on the season, and it looks like the rebuilding project Pearl inherited on the Plains will take some time.
  4. Alabama lost its second-leading scorerRicky Tarrant, after only eight minutes in Saturday’s 65-53 home win over Tennessee Tech. It does not appear that the junior point guard, who is in his first season at Alabama after transferring from Tulane, will miss much time, though, after leaving the game with cramps. Along with seniors Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph, Tarrant (13.4 PPG) helps provide much of the Crimson Tide’s scoring punch. Alabama’s only losses have come to Iowa State in Kansas City and at Xavier, but it would like to have Tarrant back at 100 percent for what may be the toughest test of the non-conference schedule, a trip to Wichita State Tuesday.
  5. Thanks to 26 points from freshman guard Riley LaChance and 64 percent shooting from three-point range, Vanderbilt toppled Purdue, 81-71, on Saturday night in Nashville. The entertaining match-up was otherwise insignificant on the national scale, but anyone who follows either program closely might have thought it would have more meaning than the average non-conference game for Commodores’ head coach Kevin Stallings. According to the Purdue alumnus and Gene Keady protege, it was just another game, and the fact that it came against his alma mater meant very little. It is certainly not surprising that Stallings, who in his 16th season at Vanderbilt is the dean of SEC coaches, is not sentimental, but you might think it would have had a bit more meaning to him. “It’s not really [special]. It’s an important game because it’s our next one and we’re coming off a loss and it’s a game against a very good team,” he said before the game. Given the way his young team played, it’s hard to argue with how Stallings approached the contest.
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Morning Five: 12.15.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 15th, 2014

morning5

  1. Prior to Friday, this season had already been disappointing for Florida State, but things got worse on Friday as they announced that Aaron Thomas, the team’s leading scorer this season at 14.8 points per game, had been declared ineligible for the rest of the season. The exact reason for the decision has not been disclosed, but according to reports it is not due to academic reasons and it was made by the school not the NCAA. Thomas’ absence will put even more of an onus on Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who sat out last season as a partial qualifier. In reality, the season is probably over for the Seminoles who are 4-5 after losing their ACC opener at Notre Dame on Saturday.
  2. Missouri‘s season has not gone much better than Florida State’s so far, but at least they moved in the right direction this weekend as they added highly-touted JaKeenan Gant. Gant, a 6’8″ freshman power forward, was Mr. Basketball in Georgia in 2013 before transferring to a high school in Missouri for his senior year of high school. Gant, who sat out nine games while the school looked into reports that he had received impermissible benefits, was a four-star recruit rated #52 overall in last year’s graduating class. Although the Tigers lost in his first game back, he made quite an impact scoring 13 points in 15 minutes coming off the bench in a 74-58 loss to Xavier.
  3. Continuing the trend of teams off to poor starts, Memphis will be without guard Markel Crawford for at least four games after he injured his left knee in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. While Crawford’s mother initially said it was “a torn ligament”, Josh Pastner says it is a “sprained knee”. If Crawford, who is averaging 5.5 points in 21.8 minutes per game this season, returns from injury as expected, his first game back would be the team’s AAC opener against Houston on New Year’s Eve. While Memphis might have enough depth on the perimeter to handle Crawford’s absence, they have much bigger issues as Saturday night’s loss dropped them to 3-4 against what has admittedly been a decent schedule, but one where they have not been close in their losses.
  4. There were also a couple of notable transfers from the weekend. Duke announced that sophomore forward Semi Ojeleye will be transferring. Ojeleye, who has 2.5 years of eligibility left, would typically be considered a highly-touted prospect, but at Duke he was the only member of the regular rotation (10.5 minutes per game) who was not a McDonald’s All-American. Having said that he was a borderline top 25 recruit coming out of high school so despite his meager production (3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game this season) we would expect to see him at a top-tier program in a year. Tennessee sophomore forward Dominic Woodson announced that he will be transferring citing a desire to join a program that is a better fit and one where he can play a bigger role. The 6’10” forward, who averaged 3.5 points and 2 rebounds in 12 minutes per game, has only been in Knoxville after transferring from Memphis this summer. Losing Woodson will hurt a Volunteer team that already had issues with depth on the inside. As for Woodson, we have no idea where he will end up. Obviously, there is a market for 6’10”, 280-pound players, but with Woodson’s background–initially committing to Baylor before going to Memphis where he was suspended and now leaving Tennessee–we aren’t sure how many suitors he will have.
  5. One of the more interesting trends in college sports (and sports in general) is the recent trend for people to prefer to stay home rather than go to games. There are many factors driving this with the primary one in our eyes being convenience (not having to drive to a game, deal with traffic or lines, and being able to sit on your own couch) as well as the ability to switch between games and having a great view particularly with high-definition televisions. The one thing that you definitely miss is the atmosphere at games (particularly big games) and that is what schools are counting on with their attempt to sell “experiences”. These experiences range from a few hundred dollars and stuff like playing golf with a non-revenue sport coach to several thousand dollars with sideline access and exclusive pre-/post-game access. As the article notes, these auctions are not that well publicized so they probably aren’t bringing as much money as they could. We will be interested to see if schools go to this well more as they face revenue issues.
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SEC M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 12th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky plays UCLA on December 20 at the United Center in Chicago in the CBS Sports Classic, but over the next two seasons, the two traditional powers will take the game to campus, as they agreed to a home-and-home series earlier this week. The teams will play at Pauley Pavilion next year, with the Bruins paying back the visit the following year at Rupp Arena. There is no doubt that college basketball gives us plenty of great early-season games that our friends on the gridiron don’t have and neutral-site battles give us a good gauge for where teams stand, but it’s always nice to see heavyweights like these two programs willing to play each other on campus.
  2. When the Donnie Tyndall saga will be resolved is anyone’s guess, and given the way things work with the NCAA, the season may be over by the time it is. Many have wondered what might happen if Tyndall ultimately is implicated, and the release of Tyndall’s contract with Tennessee appears to make it clear that the first-year coach can be fired for cause if he is. The contract states that Tyndall “has disclosed to the university all material information known to him concerning previous NCAA, conference, or institutional rules violations or potential violations committed by him or any person under his direct or indirect control at any other NCAA member institution.” For Volunteer fans anxious about the future of the program, they can at least take solace in the fact that the athletic department would be spared the $3 million buyout it would otherwise be responsible for if Tyndall is let go.
  3. Things have been rough for Florida in the early going, and we have documented how dicey the team’s NCAA Tournament chances may be, but it certainly has not helped that preseason all-SEC selection Dorian Finney-Smith has not been at full strength. The junior forward, who broke his left hand in the Gators’ season-opening win against William & Mary, led the team with 6.7 rebounds per game last season, but has seen that number dip to 4.6 boards per contest this year, and Billy Donovan thinks that is the biggest area in which the injury has limited Finney-Smith. Donovan contends that the injury has impacted his ability to catch the ball. Though he has still been somewhat effective, and is averaging nearly ten points per game, getting Finney-Smith back to full health will be key for Florida, as it attempts to improve its resume prior to the start of SEC play.
  4. One team that has flown under the radar over the past few seasons is Mississippi State, and for good reason, as the Bulldogs have won seven conference games during coach Rick Ray’s tenure. Thus far this season, the Bulldogs are 5-2, ahead of a trip to Corvallis to play Oregon State Saturday. They have played their first seven games without last season’s leading scorer, Craig Sword, but have shown improvement. One of the reasons for that is the play of forward Travis Daniels. The junior is fourth on the team in scoring (8.6 PPG), and is the second-leading rebounder (5.7 RPG), but Ray has had to plead with Daniels to be more aggressive offensively. Without Sword, the Bulldogs, who struggle to score, need Daniels to continue to be more assertive. If he can do so, they could challenge for post-season play for the first time in Ray’s three seasons at the helm.
  5. After suffering an understandable, though disappointing blowout loss at Iowa State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Arkansas inexplicably lost in overtime at Clemson, which came into the game with losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb on its resume. The loss was the kind that Razorback fans have seen all too often in Mike Anderson’s tenure, and could come back to haunt the team on Selection Sunday. Arkansas returns to the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena for a Saturday matchup with Dayton, and it is a game the Razorbacks must win if they are going to end up on the right side of the bubble. While there obviously is plenty of basketball to be played, the remainder of Arkansas’s non-conference schedule presents nothing but cupcakes, and it needs to take advantage of the opportunity to get a quality win against the Flyers, as a loss could loom large in March.
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SEC M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Speculation over whether all of Kentucky’s players are happy with their playing time will likely swirl all season, but last Friday’s win against Texas was one of the first times there was a potentially dicey situation. Willie Cauley-Stein’s huge game (21 points, 12 rebounds, five steals) meant he needed to be on the floor for 33 minutes, and 33 minutes for one player is not a platoon-friendly split. Marcus Lee was the victim of this minutes crunch and he apparently said all the right things during the game. “Willie told Coach [Calipari], ‘Keep Marcus in,'” assistant John Robic told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That’s a sign of maturity. That’s a sign of a leader. That’s a sign of being a good teammate.” Lee was rewarded two nights later against Eastern Kentucky when Cauley-Stein was skipped in the rotation. The atmosphere in the Wildcats’ locker room will be something to monitor, or more appropriately, speculate about, all season. At least for now the waters seem calm.
  2. Another potential source of angst in Lexington is a relative lack of accolades, since it will be hard for anyone on the team to post the necessary numbers in limited minutes that’ll lead to national awards. You can see that manifested in this week’s CBSSports.com’s Wayman Tisdale Freshman Watch. Karl-Anthony Towns is the only Wildcat to make the list, and he’s outside the top five in the “next five up” category. This is certainly small beans, but it’s still noteworthy that a team with arguably the best group of freshmen in the game doesn’t have any posting gaudy enough numbers to crack the top five of such a list. That’s the nature of this year’s Kentucky team, and another thing that maestro John Calipari will need to manage.
  3. This M5 is Kentucky-centric, but I don’t feel guilty about it because that’s essentially how the league has showed out on the court this season. Regardless of how the minutes have been used, the Wildcats are defending their opponents at a potentially historic pace. To date, Kentucky has posted an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 82.6, and if this number holds it’ll be the best rating since KenPom began tracking the statistic in 2001-02. There is a lot of season left, of course, but some of Kentucky’s most difficult regular season games (e.g., Kansas, Texas) have already been played. The SEC as a whole has five other teams ranked in the top 50 of adjusted defensive efficiency (Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU), and – somewhat surprisingly – this compares favorably to the Big Ten (seven teams), Big 12 (seven teams), ACC (five teams) and Pac-12 (five teams).
  4. Tennessee has been working in a lot of new players this year under a new coach, and it is doing so against one of the hardest schedules in the country. The Vols face Butler on Saturday in Knoxville, and that will be their third game against a top-15 team this season. “A lot of these [other] teams I don’t feel are being challenged during non-conference games,” guard Kevin Punter told the Nashville Tennessean. “But we are. Put us through the fire early. Why not?” The schedule might already be paying dividends for the Vols after their nice win last weekend against an up-and-down Kansas State team. A tough schedule for a team in total transition could have been deadly, so it’s good to see that Tennessee is showing some signs of life.
  5. Dorian Finney-Smith was in a three-game mini-slump going into Florida’s game against Yale on Monday, as the senior had shot just 8-of-27 from the floor against UAB, North Carolina and Kansas. This was understandable, of course, because Finney-Smith is playing with a broken non-shooting hand. He came of the slump against Yale, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and he isn’t making excuses. “I’m out there, so I have to play through it,” he told the Gainesville Sun. The Gators need to hope that Finney-Smith’s improved shooting performance is a sign that he’s learning to cope with the injury, because he’s incredibly vital to them overcoming their rough start.
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SEC M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 1st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The final score didn’t do justice to how close the majority of Kentucky’s 58-38 win over Providence was. The Friars hung within striking distance until there were about nine minutes left in the game, but it never felt like they could mount a real comeback. This was a game where the Wildcats’ size showed up on the perimeter but not the glass. Kentucky just edged out Providence on the boards 33-29, but really disrupted the Friars offense with their length. The Wildcats forced the Friars into 18 turnovers, including 10 by an injured Kris Dunn. One turnover in particular summed up how scary the Kentucky defense can be. Willie Cauley-Stein stole the ball above the three-point line and glided down the court for a transition layup attempt. He ended up missing the contested basket, but there are only so many seven footers out there that can actively bust up a defense at the top of the key, and most of them are in the NBA.
  2. Arkansas has a watermark opportunity Thursday night in Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. But first, the Razorbacks needed to take a care of a harder-than-it-looks game at home against Iona, which came in ranked #65 in KenPom’s latest ratings. Arkansas only managed a 44-40 halftime lead in what remained a seesaw game until Michael Qualls took over and broke the game open with around seven minutes left by scoring 11 points over a three-minute stretch. It can’t be emphasized how important it was for one of the Razorbacks’ best players to step up and not let this game go the other way. Losing to the Gaels at home after just entering the rankings would’ve been a severely deflating loss. Qualls helped make sure this didn’t happen, and kept Arkansas’ early season momentum alive.
  3. Tennessee went 1-2 in the Orlando Classic, with a win over Santa Clara and losses to Kansas and Marquette. This obviously wasn’t a great showing from a win-loss perspective, but the Vols did fight back from a 13-point hole against the Jayhawks and tied the game deep into the second half. It would’ve been a very successful trip had they been able to knock off a rebuilding Marquette team, but that’s not how things turned out. Armani Moore is quietly making his case as the most improved player in the SEC. The junior had 18 points against both the Broncos and Golden Eagles, and is averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, up from 3.1 and 2.2, respectively, last season.
  4. Referee Rick Crawford collapsing to floor after an inadvertent strike from Damian Jones during the opening tip between Vanderbilt and La Salle was probably the scariest college hoops moment of the weekend. Fortunately, Crawford is okay. For his part, Jones continued his All-SEC campaign with 17 points and seven rebounds in the Commodores win over the Explorers in the consolation side of the Barclays Center Classic. Vanderbilt dropped its opener against Rutgers, but can make up for it quickly with upcoming back-to-back home games against Baylor and Purdue. Winning both games against good-but-not-great power conference teams would be a big step for Kevin Stallings’ young team.
  5. Mississippi State’s trip to the Corpus Christi Classic produced a mixed bag of results. Rick Ray’s squad hammered Saint Louis by 25 points but then lost to TCU in the championship game. Make no mistake, beating a solid A-10 program like Saint Louis is where the Bulldogs need to be, but that win would’ve been a lot better had it happened either of the last two years. Unfortunately, Mississippi State wasn’t able to close it out and win the tournament against the Horned Frogs. Craig Sword made his season debut after missing time with a back injury and played 11 scoreless minutes in both games. It should only be a matter of time before he gets up to speed and becomes a go-to scorer for the Bulldogs.
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SEC M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. A bleary-eyed Bruce Pearl was not happy with his team after Auburn was outscored 52-25 in the second half of its midnight tilt against Colorado late Monday night. “You can tell, in a game like this, who belonged out there,” Pearl told the Auburn IMG Sports Network after the loss. “KT Harrell belonged out there. Cinmeon Bowers belonged out there. K.C. Ross-Miller, offensively, belonged out there. You go beyond that, it’s really hard to look at Jordon [Granger], who didn’t score, and Tahj [Shamsid-Deen] who was 1-for-8, but God bless for playing with the shoulder that got separated.” The smart money is that Pearl isn’t really all that angry, that these comments are just his way of pushing the right buttons. To expect the Tigers, with Antoine Mason out and Shamsid-Deen playing with a separated shoulder, to compete against a good Colorado team on the road, is irrational. The second half and the 24-0 run that the home team teed off on went on certainly wasn’t pretty, but growth is the theme at Auburn this season.
  2. For the second straight year South Carolina came oh-so-close to knocking off Baylor before falling in the final minutes. Yesterday’s loss, however, felt more like a missed opportunity since it was a home game against a Bears team needing to replace Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. Ty Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell couldn’t exploit Baylor’s zone, though, going a combined 4-of-15 from three. The encouraging news for Frank Martin? Freshman point guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman can really play. He scored South Carolina’s biggest basket of the game to cut the lead to three with just over two minutes left, and has notched nine assists against just one turnover in his first two college games.
  3. Several outlets are reporting that Donnie Tyndall met with NCAA representatives yesterday in Knoxville, but Tennessee officials won’t confirm whether the meeting in fact took place. For his part, Tyndall has stayed quiet on the situation. The only public comment he’s reportedly made was telling the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week that everything would be “fine.” The Vols next play on Thursday against Texas Southern, and the long layoff from Friday’s game against VCU seems even more extended with all the rumors swirling about. Unfortunately it’s a story that will continue to linger around this program for the foreseeable future.
  4. Kasey Hill did not have a particularly good night in Florida’s loss on Monday night to Miami. As Alligator Army points out, the sophomore committed two critical, poor fouls on Angel Rodriguez down the stretch: one while Rodriguez was in the act of shooting a three, and the other 40 feet from the basket. The blog also points out that the Gators’ lack of point guard depth means that Hill must improve, and fast. The sophomore may be the key to the ultimate success of this Florida team since efficient point guard play from him ties individual strengths like Michael Frazier’s shooting and Chris Walker’s athleticism together .
  5. The SEC’s first weekly awards are in, and the leagued picked Cinmeon Bowers for the Player of the Week honor and Trey Lyles for the Freshman of the Week honor. Bowers had 17 rebounds in Auburn’s win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was almost a one-man wrecking crew considering the Tigers’ depleted front line. Lyles scored 13 points in both of the Wildcats’ first two games and has impressed playing a bit out of position on the wing in John Calipari’s “white” platoon, showing great touch for a guy his size.
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O26 Intrigue: Eight Storylines on Opening Weekend…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014

Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:

Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min / Times Dispatch)

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)

The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: Opening Night Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 14th, 2014

morning5

  1. It’s finally here. After having to write about academic scandals and other peripheral stories as we  tried to fill up this space with whatever news we could find for the past 7+ months we finally have real college basketball games to talk about again. While today’s slate may lack the blockbusters we will have in Indianapolis we have next Tuesday, but we might enjoy today even more. If that isn’t the case, you should find more than enough to keep you entertained until we get into the big-time match-ups.
  2. You won’t be seeing two of the bigger names in college basketball due to recently announced suspensions. Southern Methodist senior forward Markus Kennedy, 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, has been ruled academically ineligible and will have to sit out the first semester meaning that he will not be available until after classes finish on December 17. While the school could try to work around the decision and play him that night against Illinois-Chicago we suspect that he would be out until December 20 when they play Michigan. Connecticut will have to wait one more game before transfer guard Rodney Purvis will be able to play for them as the NCAA ruled that he will have to miss one game because he participated in more than one summer league game. Purvis is the third significant player who will have to miss at least one regular season game to start the season because of this rule (Duje Dukan and Michael Cobbins being the others).
  3. You can file this under “New season, same story.” As we mentioned earlier this week we have just entered the early signing period. Most of the major prospects haven’t committed yet, but two of the bigger ones did yesterday and much like in previous years the hot names–Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labisseriecommitted to Kentucky. The two five-star prospects are both borderline top 10 recruits overall in their class and give the Wildcats stars at two of the hardest positions to fill in any recruiting class (Briscoe at point guard and Labisserie at center). This doesn’t necessarily mean that John Calipari is going to clean up on the recruiting trail again, but it looks like things are going to stay the same.
  4. Speaking of Labisserie, on Wednesday his AAU coach told CBS Sports that Labisserie’s handler guardian had approached him looking for ways to profit off of Labisserie. Now we take anything an AAU coach says with a grain of salt because as a group they don’t have the most sterling reputations. This isn’t to say that he is lying and even if he isn’t lying simply asking about how to profit (from an intellectual perspective) wouldn’t break any rules that we are aware of. Still you can be sure that the Kentucky haters will be latching onto this storyline (and Labisserie’s interesting senior year situation) up until the day that the NCAA makes a decision about his eligibility.
  5. Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is expected to meet with the NCAA on Tuesday to discuss its investigation into his time at Southern Mississippi. As we have previously mentioned in this space the NCAA is looking into possible financial aid packages that were offered to players before they actually were allowed to receive scholarships. According to Jeff Goodman, the players in question are Matt Bingaya and Shadell Millinghaus. For its part, Tennessee claims that it very thoroughly vetted Tyndall before hiring him and for their sake we can only hope it was thorough enough. Its unclear what kind of timeline the NCAA is planning on working with, but we imagine that all parties involved would want a resolution as soon as possible.
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Welcome to the Show: Breakout Freshmen in the Former SEC East

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 12th, 2014

Playing in the SEC means facing off against some of the most talented freshmen in the country, week in and week out. While Kentucky rightfully gets most of the credit for bringing in a cache of five-star prospects every season, the rest of the conference has produced plenty of gems of their own. Last season, players like Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell and LSU’s Jordan Mickey all broke on to the scene and made themselves potential first round NBA Draft picks. So who will be next?

Today, we’ll break down the first-year players who are primed to have the biggest impact for their teams in 2014-15. We’ll start with the side of the conference formerly known as the SEC East.

Georgia: Yante Maten. Maten, a 6’8″, 240-lb power forward, impressed in Georgia’s closer-than-expected exhibition win over Georgia Southwestern last week. He posted a 12/10/4 pts/reb/ast line and added a pair of blocks while playing the most minutes of anyone on the roster. He’s strong in the paint and has shown capable of passing from the low blocks when called upon, but he’s not the kind of shooter that will stretch the floor or pull defenders away from the basket. If Nemanja Djurisic stays at power forward all season (rather than sliding over to the three), he seems destined for a primary role off the bench this winter. Even in that capacity, he’ll have plenty of time to prep himself for a potential starting role in 2015-16.

Yante Maten

Yante Maten Was Impressive in Georgia’s Exhibition Game Last Week

Florida: Devin Robinson. Robinson had a disappointing unofficial start to his Gators tenure in the team’s exhibition win over Barry last week. The five-star freshman made just two of his 10 shots and picked up four fouls in 17 minutes of action. Even so, big things are expected from the small forward from Virginia. Robinson has the speed and athleticism to guard three positions and the shooting range to create match-up nightmares for opposing wings. He’ll have to prove that the Barry performance was just a case of the nerves catching up to him, but he’ll have several opportunities to find playing time on a team that must replace four seniors from last year’s squad.

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SEC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss will be without Aaron Jones to start the season, as the senior forward was suspended last week for a violation of team rules. He missed the Rebels’ exhibition win against Delta State on Friday and will also miss the first two regular season games against Charleston Southern and Troy. Andy Kennedy figures to weather life without Jones by giving more minutes to Sebastian Saiz (who had 14 rebounds in Friday’s exhibition win), M.J. Rhett and Dwight Coleby. Coleby playing increased minutes could be a silver lining in terms of his development, since he only played 10 minutes per game as a freshman last year. The Rebels are also relatively deep at the guard positions, and Kennedy could use four-guard lineups at times to cover Jones’ absence.
  2. It wouldn’t be a preseason M5 without a list from CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander. This time Norlander looks at 10 coaches who are on the hot seat entering the season, and he includes Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall (a last minute addition) from the SEC. Last year’s 13-19 campaign in Trevor Releford’s final season was certainly disappointing, but Grant has built a solid but underappreciated program at Alabama with at least 21 wins in three of his five seasons in Tuscaloosa. At the end of the day, it depends on how the Alabama administration views its basketball program. Even without a trip to the NCAA Tournament this season, 91 wins, one NCAA Tournament invitation and two NIT invitations in five years may be enough to buy Grant another year if his young roster shows potential. But he is no doubt walking a fine line at Alabama.
  3. Platoons, platoons, platoons. You just can’t avoid talk of platoons, especially not on the SEC microsite. First-year Kentucky assistant Barry Rohrssen talked about whether the platoon system will be a one-year thing or become a program staple at a press conference last week. “Well, you don’t exactly know it’s going to be limited,” Rohrssen said. “That’s to unfold next season.” This comment was in response to a question about the risk of recruits being turned away by the limited minutes they would get in a platoon system. It says here that Coach Cal will get players no matter what system he runs or who figures to be on the roster. Thus far elite recruits have not been scared away by a clogged roster in Lexington, and that doesn’t figure to change as long as Wildcats keep getting drafted.
  4. The Dallas Morning News obtained details of Billy Kennedy’s two-year contract extension that was announced in September, and they appear “mostly cosmetic,” according to the newspaper. Extending the contract of a coach who is 50-49 with no NIT or NCAA invitations in three years seems curious, but the recruiting class Kennedy has put together for next season furthers the case for patience. Still, Texas A&M has enough talent to emerge from the middle-of-the-pack in the SEC this season, and there is nothing like on-court success to validate a contract extension.
  5. Several Tennessee players told Ben Frederickson of GoVolsXtra that the NCAA infraction rumors swirling around Donnie Tyndall are not a distraction. “We are just trying to move forward,” JuCo transfer Kevin Punter told Frederickson. “We have a whole bunch of other things to be worrying about.” One of those things is the Vols’ season opener against VCU on Friday in Annapolis. The Rams are easily the most difficult opponent an SEC team will face to open the season, and it’s asking a tall task to prepare for the HAVOC even in drama-free times.
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