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: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky continues to dominate the polls, as the Wildcats are the clear No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls again this week. Among the writers, the Wildcats garnered 62 of the 65 first-place votes, while 29 of the 32 coaches felt likewise. While John Calipari’s team hasn’t faced much of a challenge since demolishing Kansas at the Champions Classic two weeks ago, things are about to change in that regard. Starting with a game against Texas at Rupp Arena on Friday night, the Wildcats will face several quality opponents this month. In addition to taking on the No. 6 Longhorns, they get No. 12 North Carolina in Lexington, UCLA in Chicago, and they finish the month with a post-Christmas tilt on the road against arch-rival No. 5 Louisville. If Kentucky can survive this month without a loss, realistic talk of an undefeated season will begin in earnest.
  2. No. 18 Arkansas is the only other SEC team to be ranked, and the Razorbacks’ early success has largely resulted from the improved play of junior guard Michael Qualls. On Monday, Qualls was named the SEC Player of the Week after averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in last week’s wins over SMU, North Texas and Iona. With four players averaging double figures, Qualls leads a very balanced attack that has allowed Arkansas to get off to an unthreatened 6-0 start. Things get tougher for the Razorbacks, though, on Thursday, when they travel to Iowa State to take on the Cyclones as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
  3. The first couple of weeks of the season have been tough to figure for LSU, which has been nothing short of a disappointment. Picked to finish among the top third of the league, the Tigers lost to Old Dominion and Clemson in the Paradise Jam followed by a close call against Texas Tech in overtime. On Tuesday, coach Johnny Jones’ team may have begun to right the ship, as it easily dispatched UMass in Baton Rouge by a score of 82-60. Junior guard Josh Gray led the Tigers with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting, and LSU also got 16 points and 10 rebounds from star sophomore Jordan Mickey. While this team has a lot of work to do to fix those early blemishes on its resume, a resounding win over a quality Atlantic 10 opponent is a good start.
  4. Another of the SEC’s group of Tigers had a much tougher time on Tuesday with a lesser opponent, as Missouri survived a 65-61 scare in Columbia against Southeast Missouri State. Nothing will be easy for Mizzou this season, but after losing its season opener to UMKC and getting drilled by Arizona and Purdue in Maui, a bad loss to an OVC opponent is the last thing it needed. The Tigers trailed by as many as 11 points late in the first half and were down by six at the break before finally taking the lead with fewer than four minutes remaining. They got a game-high 18 points from Johnathan Williams, while freshman Montaque Gill-Ceasar pitched in 15. Up next for Missouri is a trip to Norman to take on Oklahoma in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and competing against a good team in that environment will be a tall order for Kim Anderson’s squad.
  5. We talked earlier about how Texas A&M would benefit from the immediate eligibility of Houston transfer Danuel House, who was granted a waiver and has now played his first two games for the Aggies. The early returns on House are very good, as he is already the team’s leading scorer at 16.0 points per contest. He has also added some outside shooting punch for a team relatively devoid of it by going 5-of-12 from three-point range in wins over New Mexico and New Orleans. The Aggies are a good defensive team — currently rated 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency — but were struggling to score prior to House’s arrival in the lineup. Going forward, there is no reason to believe that the junior cannot continue to provide much-needed offense, and in a league race that appears to be wide open — behind Kentucky, of course — his presence could allow the Aggies to exceed expectations.
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What’s Trending: Pre-Feast Week Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 24th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Texas Looks Like a Top Ten Team

The Longhorns came to play late last week, taking the 2K Sports Classic event at Madison Square Garden rather handily. Jonathan Holmes, the tournament MVP, emerged onto the national scene after going for 40 points and 18 rebounds in Texas’s two convincing wins over Iowa and California.

Plus, mentioning Texas gives me the excuse to show you Cameron Ridley‘s insane block!

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SEC M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Feeling down about LSU’s lackluster start to the season? Here’s something that should lift your spirits: Shaq and Dale Brown were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City last night. Johnny Jones was an assistant during Shaq’s three years in Baton Rouge, when he scored 21.6 points per game and pulled down 13.5 rebounds per game. It’s surreal to think there was once a time when a player like Shaq actually played three college seasons. And speaking of Brown, if you missed Luke Winn’s story on him trying to recruit Arvydas Sabonis through the Iron Curtain, it’s definitely worth a read.
  2. It hasn’t been a smooth start to the season for Florida. The Gators have been undermanned all year with seemingly half their roster having missed time for various reasons. Friday night’s discouraging overtime win against Louisiana-Monroe continued that trend, as Billy Donovan was without Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith. Carter injured his left foot in practice on Thursday, fresh off a coming-out-party-type game against Miami. It’s unclear at this point how serious the injury is, and Finney-Smith’s time table to return is equally murky as he wasn’t with the team on Friday night because of “academic issues.” If both these players miss significant you start to wonder whether Florida has the depth to put together a NCAA tournament-worthy resume. The good news for Donovan is that his team calls the SEC home, where even a mediocre team can feast like a king.
  3. While one Billy in the SEC loses players, another keeps adding them. Billy Kennedy and Texas A&M got news from the NCAA on Friday that Danuel House and Tony Trocha-Morelos are eligible immediately. David talked about the big impact House could have, and Trocha-Morelos will help out too. Kennedy played him for 10 minutes right off the bat in the Aggies’ win over New Mexico. He was understandably rusty (four fouls, one turnover), but his presence gives Kennedy six serviceable bigs on a team that suddenly looks like one of the deepest in the SEC.
  4. Kentucky was in crisis on Friday night. The Wildcats led Boston University by just five at halftime, prompting questions over whether the platoon system, and John Calipari in general, were in the program’s best long-term interests. Sarcasm aside, Kentucky didn’t leave anything to doubt yesterday against Montana State, posting the fifth-largest margin of victory in Rupp Arena history by beating the Bobcats 86-28. There were a lot of eye-popping stats from this game, including Montana State scoring just 0.39 points per possession and getting to the line just twice. The Wildcats will have their ups and downs this season, and you feel for a team like Montana State that catches them on a night when their talent is on full display.
  5. The season is just over a week old and South Carolina is already flush with missed opportunities. The Gamecocks hold three losses, all by five or fewer points, including yesterday’s 68-63 loss to Akron in the Charleston Classic third place game. The good news for South Carolina is that Frank Martin is relying on a lot of young players, such as Marcus Stroman and Demetrius Henry, who both had turnovers late in the game but should learn from that experience. I still think Martin can build a competitive program in Columbia, but at some point close games like the ones in Charleston against Charlotte and Akron need to end up as wins.
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Morning Five: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 24th, 2014

morning5

  1. Texas showed off some of its potential last week winning the 2K Classic in convincing fashion, but it appears they will have to prove they can maintain the same level for at least a few weeks without the services of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who injured his wrist late in Thursday night’s win over Iowa and missed Friday night’s game against California. While the Longhorns have quite a bit of depth on the inside they are not quite as deep on the perimeter particularly after the departure of Martez Walker, who left the program after being suspended indefinitely following a domestic incident. Texas will have to figure out how to play without Taylor, who is expected to be out for four to six weeks which would mean that he would not be available for their December 10 showdown in Rupp in what could have been one of Kentucky’s toughest tests this season.
  2. Texas A&M received some good news on Friday as the NCAA cleared both Danuel House and Tonny Trocha-Morelos to play this season. House, a former five-star prospect who averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game at Houston, should be an immediate impact player for the Aggies. As Mike DeCourcy notes, the decision by the NCAA to allow House to play immediately is unusual given the information that has been released. Trocha-Morelos is a little bit more of an unknown quantity as the 6’10” center from Colombia had a breakthrough performance at some international tournaments in 2012, but has been in NCAA Clearinghouse limbo for the past two years.
  3. Ball State announced that it has suspended Zavier Turner indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Turner, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 assists per game last season on his way to MAC freshman of the year honors, had already played two games for the team before the suspension so we are assuming this is related to something that happened in the past week. This is the second notable suspension from the MAC in the past week as Akron had suspended All-MAC senior forward Demetrius Treadwell indefinitely after he was accused of assaulting a player on the women’s basketball team.
  4. A US District Judge ruled in favor the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues in issuing a permanent injunction against the state of New Jersey, which had attempted to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The state is attempting to overcome the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that only allowed legal sports betting in very specific areas. The leagues have attempted to argue that allowing sports betting beyond those previously designated areas will reduce the fans’ perception of the integrity of their sports. New Jersey has fought this claim with a 2013 ruling that said the state was free to repeal those sports betting laws. It appears the leagues will continue to fight this despite one commissioner (Adam Silver) saying that expanded legalized betting is inevitable and various teams partnering with fantasy sports operators. Frankly, the argument that expanded legalized sports gambling will impact the perception of the integrity of the game seems rather myopic as everybody knows about all of the easily available non-legal sports gambling platforms. What New Jersey is doing is trying to bring this out into the open and create another stream of revenue from the government rather than keeping a black market alive, which is what the leagues seem to be in favor of doing.
  5. We are still working on this year’s in-season tournaments and they are already releasing the names of teams that will be participating in next year’s tournaments. North Carolina, Northwestern, Kansas State, and Missouri have been named as the headliners for the 2015 CBE Classic. The CBE Classic is held in Kansas City in conjunction with ceremonies for the College Basketball Hall of Fame. While we would normally point to UNC as the headliner in this field the location will probably make Missouri and Kansas State the crowd favorites. In any event the Tar Heels should be the heavy favorites in this field although the overall depth of the field is better than this year’s event.
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Impressions From the SEC’s Thursday Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2014

Yesterday was a busy day in the always-interesting world of SEC basketball. Kentucky and Florida were both idle, but the league still managed to go 5-1 with the only blemish being Texas A&M’s loss in an ugly game against Dayton. That’s a successful day considering Dayton sits respectably at #50 in KenPom’s latest ratings and the SEC has already taken its fair share of lumps this year. Small steps, people. Here are a handful of thoughts from yesterday’s action.

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

  • Alabama flashes defensive potential against Southern Miss. We can finally mention Southern Miss on this microsite without discussing Donnie Tyndall. The story of this game, won by Alabama 81-67, was the potential of its defense. The Crimson Tide are flush with long, versatile guys this season who can play both on the perimeter and in the post. Anthony Grant ran a lot of 1-3-1 zone against the Golden Eagles, and while it didn’t exactly flummox them as they scored a point per possession, the strategy could turn into a nice season-long weapon for Alabama. Consider the personnel in Grant’s rotation: Levi Randolph (6’5’’), Rodney Cooper (6’6’’), Shannon Hale (6’8’’), Jimme Taylor (6’10’’), Michael Kessens (6’9’’) and Riley Norris (6’7’’). All of these guys are either natural wings or can hold their own on the perimeter. Ricky Tarrant also looked at home in picking up three steals out of the zone. It worked last night largely because the Golden Eagles went 8-of-29 from three, but it’s something for opponents to think about going forward.

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Welcome to the Show, Part II: Breakout Newcomers in the Former SEC West

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 18th, 2014

Last week, we sorted through Kentucky’s latest five-star recruiting haul and delved into Frank Martin’s latest freshman class to determine who the SEC East’s breakout newcomers would be in 2014-15. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first-year players who are ready to make a splash in the division once known as the SEC West. A number of high-profile junior college pickups will help teams like Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi replace departing talent and reload en route to a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

Alabama: Justin Coleman. Coleman was a big pick-up for Anthony Grant, and the embattled Alabama coach may need his four-star freshman to come through in a big way if he’s going to keep his job. Coleman started the Crimson Tide’s sole exhibition game and had six assists (and four turnovers) in 31 minutes as the team’s floor general. He’ll cede minutes to Ricky Tarrant – an explosive scorer from the same spot – but it looks like Coleman will have every opportunity to remain his team’s primary option at the position. He’s a diminutive player at just 160 pounds, but he has the passing instincts and shooting range to make an impact against SEC opponents as a true freshman.

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Arkansas: Anton Beard. Beard is one of two solid point guard prospects in Fayetteville. He’s currently locked in battle with junior college transfer Jabril Durham for a role behind or alongside Rashad Madden, who can handle either guard spot. As a result, this prediction could change as the season wears on. Beard grew two inches in his senior year of high school to bolster his solid man-up defense and develop into a high-major recruit. However, he struggled to find his shot in exhibition play (25% FG). Durham had similar issues, but his JuCo experience and stronger passing from the point carried him to a start in the Hogs’ season opener last weekend. The two newcomers will see their roles expands and contract based on Mike Anderson’s offensive and defensive strategies and Madden’s availability this winter.

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Assessing Some Positives Amid an SEC Meltdown

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 17th, 2014

Hard as it may be to believe, SEC teams did do some good things on opening night (try not to fall out of your chair). Here are several positives that might have fallen through the cracks amid the conference’s Friday night meltdown.

Kentucky Bigs Own the Glass. The rebounding numbers that the Wildcats put on Grand Canyon Friday night were absurd. John Calipari’s gaggle of ultra-talented bigs grabbed 64.7 percent of the teams’ missed shots, which was good for 22 offensive rebounds. The Antelopes only had 20 total rebounds on their side, finishing the game -27 on the glass. Every Kentucky forward who played grabbed at least four boards, and while there are some open questions about the Wildcats’ outside shooting, that doesn’t really matter when they absolutely dominate on the glass. Opening night was a perfect example of this: Kentucky was just 3-of-14 from three-point land but still won the game by 40 points because Grand Canyon couldn’t take advantage of those misses.

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky's rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (bigstory.ap.com).

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky’s rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (bigstory.ap.com).

The Aggies Offense. Texas A&M burned up the nets in Reed Arena on Friday night against Northwestern State, averaging a whopping 1.30 points per possession in their 109-68 win against the Demons by shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Seven Aggies scored in double figures, led by Antwan Space and Jalen Jones with 16 apiece. Tavario Miller was the biggest opening night surprise for Billy Kennedy, as the sophomore who averaged just 1.8 points per game last season went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and scored 15 points. Texas A&M’s offense is a hot topic because it brings back a good defensive team from a year ago. Northwestern State wasn’t an ideal litmus test (#206 in KenPom’s rankings), but the offensive clinic the Aggies put on against them was still a very good way to start the season.

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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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SEC M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The preview train rolls on at CBSSports.com, and this time Matt Norlander gives his list of the top 20 transfers for the upcoming season, with Auburn’s Antoine Mason, Florida’s Jon Horford and Tennessee’s Dominic Woodson all making the cut. This is an interesting group because each player finds himself in a different position on his team. Mason will be heavily-relied on to score and help Bruce Pearl set a competitive tone for the Tigers in year one. Conversely, Billy Donovan isn’t looking for superstar numbers from Horford, but he’ll need him to be a complementary piece up front. Woodson, as Norlander points out, is a wildcard for Donnie Tyndall because it’s not hard to envision him either as a load on the block or a player glued to the bench for large chunks of time (more on him below). No matter the situation, each of these transfers should have an impact in the SEC this season.
  2. College Basketball Talk released its preseason All-America teams and only two SEC players popped up among the three teams and group of honorable mentions: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (third team) and Aaron Harrison (honorable mention). I don’t think this particular lack of an SEC presence deserves an outcry, though. The article points out that Towns is extremely talented but may not get the minutes to rack up All-American numbers. That numbers crunch may also hurt the individual statistics of someone like Dakari Johnson, who at most any other school would probably be getting more preseason hype. The closest non-Wildcats to this list are probably Arkansas’ Bobby Portis and LSU’ Jordan Mickey, but even with my SEC bent I can’t make an argument for their inclusion.
  3. The first Bob Cousy Award watch list, on the other hand, had plenty of SEC flavor. The annual award given to the best point guard in the country included Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, Florida’s Kasey Hill and Ole MissJarvis Summers on its initial list. Duke also had two entrants on the 50-man list, and I’d be interested to know if two teams have ever had multiple lead guards on the list before. All the choices make sense, though, and I can’t come up with any omissions. Caruso is a deserving selection since he led the SEC in assist rate last season (36.7 percent), even if he should get more time off-the-ball now with the addition of freshman Alex Robinson. Billy Kennedy needs to put a better offense on the floor and that means having his best players out there regardless of position.
  4. If SEC commissioner Mike Slive has a doghouse for basketball coaches compiling soft non-conference schedules, there is no way Anthony Grant is in it. For the second year in a row, Alabama has one of the more challenging pre-SEC slates. Last season the Tide’s games against Oklahoma, Wichita State, Duke and UCLA fueled the 11th best strength of schedule nationally, according to KenPom. This season the Tide gets return games against Wichita State and UCLA, as well as Xavier, Iowa State and either Maryland or Arizona State. The challenge of course will be winning one of those marquee games, which would be a big stepping stone in what needs to be a bounce-back year for Grant.
  5. You always have to pump the brakes before delving too far into exhibition games, but as Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk writes, it’s hard to not pay attention at Tennessee given all the new faces vying for playing time. The Vols beat NAIA opponent Pikeville, 80-62, in their exhibition opener, and there were stats galore. One interesting tidbit is that Tyndall started the immediately-eligible Woodson (mentioned above) at center, suggesting his level of conditioning may not be as big an impediment as some thought. Another notable statistic is that Armani Moore, who is coming into his junior year with a 3.1 PPG career scoring average, led the Vols in scoring with 17 points.
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SEC M5: 10.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 22nd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Everyone knows that John Calipari’s biggest problem this season with Kentucky will be making sure his bevy of high school All-Americans gets adequate playing time. Calipari usually does not have this concern, as he often relies upon short benches, but because of the return of so many players that he assumed would be headed to the NBA, he no longer has that “luxury.” As SportingNews.com’s Mike DeCourcy points out, there are specific challenges Calipari must deal with for the Wildcats to reach their ultimate goal of a national championship. And while it is unlikely any coach in the country will feel sorry for Calipari’s accidental embarrassment of riches, DeCourcy’s raises good points about how difficult it may be to keep everyone happy, and to keep everything in balance.
  2. Billy Kennedy’s remarkable recruiting run continued on Tuesday, when the Texas A&M coach picked up a commitment from top-30 forward Elijah Thomas, becoming the fourth top 100 player to commit to the Aggies over the offseason. Kennedy’s tenure in College Station has been mostly nondescript, but this haul changes the game for the Aggies. Thomas joins post Tyler Davis, forward D.J. Hogg and point guard Admon Gilder to form what 247sports.com rates as its second-best class in the country thus far. This season could be a rough ride for Texas A&M, but the future looks very bright.
  3. Like Kennedy’s tenure at Texas A&M, Mark Fox’s run at Georgia has been anything but overwhelming. However, after the Bulldogs finished tied for second in the SEC last season, big things are expected this year. In fact, many observers believe that Georgia should be disappointed in anything short of an NCAA Tournament run. Fox is entering his sixth season in Athens, but he has been to the Big Dance at Georgia only once. With a veteran club returning and the success last year brought, it is realistic to think the Bulldogs could get to the Tournament for the second time under his tenure. Getting off to a good start will be key, as last year saw several bad early season losses that crippled the team’s chance to compete for a bid. This year, for Georgia to play meaningful basketball in March, it will need to avoid such a slow start, and the Bulldogs should be able to do so with the experience it has returning.
  4. The SEC Network announced its schedule for the upcoming season, and there is no question that the league — which for years suffered from very poor TV contracts that left many games not televised — will gain plenty of exposure from the new outlet. In total, 118 games will be shown, starting with Kentucky’s exhibition against Pikeville on November 2. While top-tier games will continue to be released on bigger outlets, the fact that the network is part of most cable packages nationally can only help increase the league’s visibility. The network also announced its commentators, which will include many of the old SEC standbys like Barry Booker and Joe Dean, Jr., but two new names include former Kentucky standout Tony Delk and Tennessee’s Dane Bradshaw.
  5. When Auburn hired Bruce Pearl, a program with no identity and very little success over the past decade-plus instantly became one that people would talk about. Pearl’s team likely will struggle this season (although no one predicted the success he had during his first year at Tennessee in 2005 either), but the buzz he has brought to The Plains is palpable. Season ticket sales have more than doubled and the players have started to feel as popular as the school’s football team. Not since the days of Charles Barkley and Chuck Person, and, to a lesser extent, the late ’90s run of the Chris Porter team, has anyone spent much time talking about Auburn basketball. The administration knew that hiring someone like Pearl, whose promotional skills are as good as his coaching chops, would bring an identity to the program that had long been missing. Thus far, everything has gone according to plan.
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SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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