Florida lost a thriller to Connecticut in Storrs on Monday night, but the Gators may have lost a lot more when Scottie Wilbekin turned his ankle with about four minutes remaining. Wilbekin did not return to the game, but the Gators continued to battle down the stretch. Patric Young became the focal point of the offense; Michael Frazier executed a go-ahead layup with under 20 seconds; and Casey Prather played excellent defense on Shabazz Napier. All in all, the Gators did enough in the final moments to win the game, but a tip out off a bad shot led to Napier sinking the Gators with under a second left. This is the second excruciating, short-handed loss on the road for Florida in a game where they played well enough to beat a good team. Still, the season goes on and their chances at a deep run in March remain unaffected. More concerning for Billy Donovan is the health of Wilbekin. With Kasey Hill already dealing with an injured ankle of his own, Donovan may need to pull a rabbit out of his hat at the point guard position. Expect a lot of forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has shown he can be trusted with the ball.
Vanderbilt hung around against Texas last night despite not shooting well at all, but the Commodores weren’t able to capitalize on a rash of missed Texas free throws in the second half. Unfortunately a stumble by Rod Odom came at the worst time, and Vanderbilt wasn’t able to get up a potential game-tying three with under 30 seconds left. The Commodores now have three losses on the season, but they have competed in each of them. They took Butler to overtime and were tied with Providence in the final moments, so Kevin Stallings has to be encouraged by this. Darrin Horn pointed it on the ESPN broadcast: Eric McClellan needs to abandon the three and drive to the basket more often. His combination of speed and size (6’4”) make him an ideal slasher, and the three just hasn’t been his friend this season (16%). Despite going 5-of-14 in this game, he was still able to score 22 points because of 11 made free throws — he can tighten this up and be more efficient if he takes fewer threes and focuses on getting to the rim.
SI.com‘s Seth Davis liked what he saw out of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon during the Battle 4 Atlantis, particularly the way the offense ran through Maymon at times. But he did not like Tennessee’s three-point showing. “‘The Vols were 3-for-21 from three-point range in the loss to UTEP, 2-of-14 against Xavier and 4-of-11 vs. Wake Forest. Martin promised me that ‘we’re a better three-point shooting team than we showed,’ but until we see evidence, the Vols can expect to see a lot of sagging defenses.” Therein lies the problem. If Jordan McRae and Robert Hubbs struggle from three, the Volunteers will be unable to take advantage of the inevitable double teams their big men will face. Maymon has shown he’s a capable passer, but it’s moot if the open shots don’t fall.
The arrow is pointing down for Texas A&M after a rough Feast Week. The Aggies left the comfort of College Station for the first time this season, and immediately dropped games to Missouri State and SMU. While both were close contests, it’s not good to lose multiple games to non-established mid-majors. Billy Kennedy needs at least enough wins to make the NIT to save his job. He had built some momentum with a 6-0 start, but now upcoming non-conference games against Houston, Oklahoma and North Texas look like potential losses. The Aggies could use more out of senior guard Fabyon Harris. He’s shooting well this season (62%) but has only gotten to double figures twice. He should be able to shoulder more of a scoring load for this team.
Casey Prather and Craig Sword were named co-SEC Players of the Week. Prather had 27 against Jacksonville and 19 against Florida State, as the senior has continued his evolution into a go-to scorer. People who predicted he’d score at this rate are the same ones that had Auburn and Missouri battling for the SEC championship before the football season began. Sword, on the other hand, scored 24 against Loyola (Chicago) and 12 against Jackson State. More importantly, he scored the winning points in both games, allowing the Bulldogs to avoid disaster twice. Sword committed only four turnovers in the two games combined, including just one in 35 minutes against Loyola. He’s struggled mightily in this area during his career, so maybe this is a sign he’s becoming better with the ball.
Eastern Michigan trapped and swarmed Kentucky’s Julius Randle on Wednesday, holding the big man scoreless in the first half. ”If they’re going to do that, they’re going to have to live with other guys stepping up and having big days,” he said. Aaron Harrison was the other player stepping up, scoring 22 points and going 9-of-11 at the free throw line. Part of Randle’s immense value is that he affects the game even when he isn’t scoring. Harrison took advantage of the attention focused elsewhere, and did a great job attacking the basket. His two big scoring nights (the other being a 28-point outing against Robert Morris) have been aided by 10-plus free throw attempts in each game. Kentucky has no shortage of athletes, so there should be plenty of slashing opportunities at the rim when defenders are out of the lane denying Randle the ball.
The temperature will be in the low 50s this weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas — that’s not unbearable, but the Razorbacks will likely miss the Maui sunshine. They also missed an opportunity in Maui, going 1-2 with losses against California and Gonzaga sandwiched around a win against Minnesota. The trip wasn’t a disaster because the Gophers are a team with solid metrics and a decent win over Richmond. But Gonzaga was Arkansas‘ last chance to make a non-conference splash, and 34 points from Kevin Pangos ended that dream quickly. Mike Anderson must avoid any non-conference setbacks and has some work to do in SEC play to make his first NCAA Tournament appearance with the Razorbacks. A bright spot was Bobby Portis, who began to assert himself offensively in the latter two games, scoring 12 and 18 points, respectively.
A few thousand dollars can buy you a piece of Texas A&M basketball history. G. Rollie White Coliseum, the Aggies’ basketball home from 1954 to 1997, was demolished in August. Workers uncovered the original playing floor during the process, the existence of which was unknown prior to the demolition. Texas A&M began auctioning off portions of the floor yesterday, which include a NCAA logo, school name and logo, and a retro-Southwest Conference logo. The top bid on the baseline floor section is currently over $2,000. This is a neat story that probably won’t repeat itself very often. The vintage, yellowed Southwest Conference logo would be an especially great addition to a living room or office, if you’ve got a some money to burn.
Mississippi Statebarely avoided disaster Wednesday, hanging on to beat KenPom #280 Jackson State by two points. It was an ugly, low-scoring affair marred by 19 Bulldog turnovers and plenty of missed shots. ”We shouldn’t need evidence that this can happen,” head coach Rick Ray said. “We need to embrace who we really are, and until we do that, we’re going to struggle.” Mississippi State missed its freshman point guard, I.J. Ready, who had been playing well before “severely” injuring his hamstring. Without him, the Bulldogs had six assists against those 19 turnovers in escaping with the win. Gavin Ware has established himself as a credible low post threat and he’ll see plenty of double teams, but Mississippi State can’t capitalize on this if they keep fumbling the ball away. Their blowout loss at Utah State wasn’t a cause for alarm, but performing so poorly at home against a bad team does not bode well for the rest of the season.
Tennessee suffered a setback in the Bahamas, losing to UTEP by eight late last night. The shooting backdrop in the Atlantis ballroom must be difficult, but it’s no excuse for the 38 percent shooting performance from the Volunteers. This included a putrid 3-of-21 from beyond the arc. Jordan McRae had a particularly rough shooting night, missing seven of his eight three point attempts. Not much is known about UTEP at this point: the Miners have two losses, but (oddly) both are to a decent New Mexico State team. Conference USA has already had Charlotte step up and surprise last weekend in Puerto Rico, but this was not a game Tennessee should have lost. They now find themselves with a rematch against a Xavier team that already beat them once to open the season. Semaj Christon got to the basket with ease in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments Cuonzo Martin makes to prevent this from happening again.
Texas A&M is off to a 6-0 start after beating Arkansas Pine-Bluff yesterday. This is obviously the start Billy Kennedy needed after being told his job depends on a postseason berth, but it hasn’t really revealed anything about the Aggies. The schedule has been incredibly weak, with KenPom #198 Buffalo the most difficult test thus far. A bid to the NCAA tournament still seems unrealistic, but Texas A&M should get to conference play with only one or two losses. Stockpiling wins, regardless of the opponent, could be a recipe for getting a job-saving NIT bid. An encouraging sign for A&M from yesterday’s game was junior college transfer Jamal Jones scoring 18 points, including 5 of 7 from three. The 6’8” guard can be a match-up nightmare for other teams, especially when he can space the floor like that.
Alabama has a showcase game against Duke tonight at Madison Square Garden. This is the highest profile game for the SEC since the Champions Classic. The Blue Devils don’t have a true center, and this a good thing considering Alabama’s primarily guard-oriented lineups. However, there will be still be match-up problems with Jabari Parker and Duke’s other big perimeter players. ”It’s always going to be a team game, but Jabari is certainly an outstanding talent,” Anthony Grant said. “He’s a guy that has the ability to face the basket in terms of his ability to put it on the floor and create shots and also his size and physicality inside. We’re going to have to do a good job as a team on their team.” The Tide have offensive firepower on the wings, and will need a hot start from Trevor Releford and Co. to put a scare in Duke like the one they got from Vermont this past weekend. The problem with following what Vermont did is that the Catamounts got big offensive nights out of 6’7” and 6’8” forwards, something Alabama might not be able to do.
The point guard position has been a strength for Tennessee thus far despite losing last year’s starter Trae Golden. Antonio Barton and Darius Thompson have been careful with the ball while sharing minutes at the position. The Bradenton Herald writes, “In a 74-65 victory over USC Upstate, Tennessee committed five turnovers, its lowest single-game total since Feb. 15, 1992. Barton has nine assists and two turnovers this year. Thompson has 11 assists and three turnovers.” The periphery pieces around stars Jarnell Stokes (who will certainly play better) and Jordan McRae (the reigning SEC Player of the Week) executing in their roles can make the Volunteers a dangerous team. Barton and Thompson are off to excellent starts in that regard. Robert Hubbs falls into this mold too, and can elevate Tennessee even higher if he begins to shoot better and becomes a reliable scoring spark off the bench. He has shown signs of this the last two games, reaching double figures in both.
There is some light-hearted talk around Kentucky about whether Julius Randlecan get a double-double in every game this season. From Kentucky.com: “Teammate Andrew Harrison suggested it was possible, especially if opponents would cooperate by assigning one defender on Randle. ‘If they don’t double- and triple-team him, he’ll get 25 and 25,’ Harrison said.” John Calipari said it would be difficult for Randle to pull this off, and he’s certainly right. Randle is one of three players to be a perfect on double-doubles this season, along with Arizona State’s Bachynski and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk. But bad nights happen, and despite Randle’s big-time talent, the ball won’t always bounce his way. Consider Michael Beasley, who put up even bigger scoring and rebounding numbers in his first five college games. Beasley ruled the NCAA in 2007-08, but missed a double-double in five of Kansas State’s 33 games. That’s an eye-popping stat nonetheless.
Auburn beat winless Tennessee State in uninspiring fashion last night, as the Tigers found themselves only up two with under 40 seconds to play. SEC leading scorer Chris Denson put the game away with four free throws, but the Tigers continued to struggle from three and this was not the confidence-instilling win that would have been helpful considering their next four games. Auburn sees four straight “power conference” schools, with Iowa State up first. At the end of the day, however, the Tigers didn’t saddle themselves with an embarrassing loss, and have responded with three straight wins after being blitzed for 72 points in a half in a loss to Northwestern State. Those are the positives.
Larry Brown calls it “scary.” Herb Sendek thinks it’ll be “revolutionary.” These longtime and venerable coaches are talking about the NCAA’s new hand-check rule, which will no doubt be a nagging storyline throughout the upcoming season. Many believe that an increased emphasis on hand checks will lead to more fouls. ”Tons of fouls, a lot of free throws, long, ugly games. Hopefully fans can prepare for that. It is going to be frustrating.” That’s Lon Kruger’s take on the effect of the new rules. Given the concern that many coaches have about the change, it’s worth looking at which SEC teams and players could be affected most by the difference.
Craig Sword had the third-most fouls in the SEC last year and the new hand-check rule could be tough on him (photo courtesy bigstory.ap.com).
Fouls: The following players led the league in fouls last year, and could be in for even more foul trouble and time off the court if they don’t show more discipline to adapt to the new rules:
It was lean times for the SEC on Selection Sunday last year, with only three teams invited into the NCAA Tournament field. This was the fewest of the “power” conferences and two fewer than the Mountain West and Atlantic 10. Had Ole Miss not won the SEC Tournament, the number very well could have been two. The bubble would have been dangerous territory for the Rebels because of a weak non-conference schedule. With that in mind, let’s take a look at several SEC teams that could find themselves on this year’s bubble (if things break a certain way), and whether their respective non-conference schedules will boost them or bite them. Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and LSU are assumed as either locks or solid bubble teams for the purposes of this article. As discussed with Texas A&M yesterday, the expected middle tier of the SEC is wide open this season. Teams like the Aggies, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss all have question marks, and there are plenty of SEC wins to be had for the teams that emerge from this scrum.
Anthony Grant and Alabama have chances for marquee non-conference wins in games against Wichita State and UCLA (photo courtesy nydailynews.com).
Helpful Games: Oklahoma (neutral), Wichita State, Xavier, @UCLA Outlook: It’s quality over quantity for Anthony Grant’s team this season. The games against Wichita State and UCLA (in Los Angeles) would be marquee parts of any non-conference schedule. Oklahoma isn’t a Big 12 power at the moment but should continue to improve under Lon Kruger. It’ll be a minor challenge beginning the season against the Sooners and following it up six days later against rebuilding Texas Tech. The Crimson Tide have a true road game against South Florida, but the Bulls fell to 12-19 last season after a nice run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. If Grant can split the Wichita State/UCLA games and not trip up too badly elsewhere, the Tide will be in good shape at the beginning of conference play.
Billy Kennedy faces a pivotal year at Texas A&M. The Houston Chronicle reported last week that Aggies’ athletic director Eric Hyman recently told Kennedy that he must make the postseason to keep his job. This comes after a 31-32 overall record with no postseason appearances in his first two years. Everything is on the line now for the third-year coach, and he’s been put in an even tighter spot as two players he is counting on for big contributions in 2013-14 will miss the start of the season. Sophomore guard J-Mychal Reese was suspended by the school last week for a violation of athletic department rules, and CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello reports that Reese is expected to miss three games. As a freshman, Reese didn’t play particularly well last year, but he has the third highest assist percentage of returning Texas A&M players (a pedestrian 15.2 percent). His three-point percentage was a solid 36 percent on 55 attempts, but his field goal percentage (also 36 percent) leaves something to be desired. Still, he earned considerable experience (26.2 minutes per game) on a team where only four returning guards averaged over 12 minutes per game.
Billy Kennedy is down two important players in what is an important year for Texas A&M (photo courtesy usatoday.com).
The Aggies are already without junior forward Kourtney Roberson, who is out indefinitely after experiencing a rapid heart rate last week. Fortunately, the condition doesn’t appear to be career or life-threatening, and he is expected to return to basketball activities in only a few weeks. The big man is an important part of the plan for the 2013-14 Aggies. He has excellent rebounding potential, as exhibited by a season in which he posted a defensive rebounding percentage of 20.8 percent and an offensive rebounding percentage of 12.8 percent. Roberson paired this with a solid 116.0 offensive rating, and he is tasked with replacing the production of Ray Turner.
There is some reason for optimism despite these early setbacks. Kennedy has length and athleticism that could be difficult for other teams to match. When Roberson returns, the head coach could run a lineup of the junior big man along with guards Alex Caruso (6’5”), Jamal Jones (6’8”), forward Antwan Space (6’8”), without a major sacrifice in ball-handling or quickness. Caruso and Jones are the keys to this idea. Caruso showed that he could distribute the ball as a freshman (27.9% assist percentage) but he turned it over too much (2.3 turnovers/game). Jones has offensive promise, averaging 18 points per game at the junior college level last year. If Caruso shows better discipline and Jones adjusts quickly to the next level, Kennedy will find himself in a good place with his backcourt.
Billy Kennedy is on the hot seat in College Station, according to sources close to the third year coach. Despite going to the NCAA Tournament from 2006 to 2011 under Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon, the Aggies haven’t even gotten a sniff of the Big Dance in Kennedy’s first two seasons at the helm. Texas A&M Athletic Director Eric Hyman expects a postseason berth at the end of the year, and it sounds like Kennedy likes his chances. “We’re deeper and more talented,” Kennedy said after his team’s exhibition win. “We’ve just got to find our identity and find a rotation, and guys have to start separating themselves.” Of course Kennedy needs all of his players on the court to be successful, and it appears that the Aggies are struggling in that department.
Kennedy’s cause won’t be helped by Texas A&M guard J-Mychal Reese, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of athletic department rules. Reese started 25 games last season for the Aggies averaging 6.2 points, 1.9 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game. Reese will continue to practice with the team, and could be reinstated for game action in the “near future.” In A&M’s first exhibition game of the year, the backcourt got a 13-point contribution from Fabyon Harris and 11 points and six rebounds from guard Jamal Jones. The Aggies won by just 10 points over Texas Permian Basin, but perhaps the bigger absence at this point is forward Kourtney Roberson, who is still sidelined with a heart condition. Roberson plans to return to the team in a few weeks, but the Aggies can ill afford to lose any more key players in light of the number one item on today’s morning five.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is also busy suspending players from his already thin roster. Donovan previously placed point guard Scottie Wilbekin on the pine, and now Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris will join him. While Wilbekin will sit out the first three games of the year, Finney-Smith and Harris will both be out for the first two. “Well, I mean, you know, it is what it is,” Donovan said. “We just try to go with the guys that we know are going to be available, going to be there to play.” The Gators have very few players available at this point. Donovan has just five scholarship players at his disposal because of the aforementioned suspensions and injuries or illnesses hampering Will Yeguete, Michael Frazier, and Eli Carter.
It was no surprise that the Kentucky Wildcats came in as the preseason #1 in the Associated Press rankings. The Cats will play #2 Michigan State Spartans on November 12 as part of the Champions Classic. The #1 vs #2 match-up will be the first time the top two college basketball teams squared off in the regular season since 2008. And for the SEC history buffs, that last match-up of the nation’s best was when Memphis and the SEC’s own Tennessee Volunteers battled. But you probably already know that Kentucky coach John Calipari downplayed the honor by pretending his team isn’t very good. After learning of his team landing the top spot, he said, “we may be very talented, but I can’t imagine us being the best team in the country at this point.” That’s Calipari speak for, “we’re really, really good.”
Speaking of UK, Calipari grabbed a 2014 recruit in 6’5″ guard Devin Bookeron Thursday. Booker liked what he saw in Kentucky, and of course, in Calipari. ”The history of Kentucky, coach John Calipari,” Booker said. “I’m a show-me type, and Coach Calipari showed me a lot of things he does with big guards.” Booker is the #31 player in the Scout.com rankings, joining point guard Tyler Ulis and center Karl Towns in what makes up the current Wildcats’ 2014 class. Of course, with the mass exodus scheduled out of Lexington at the end of the year, Calipari and company aren’t done securing a new crop of youngsters for the blue and white. However, in a rare recruiting setback, Calipari appears to have lost out on James Blackmon Jr., who recommitted to Indiana last night.
Optimism. It’s what makes this an exciting time of year. You may have an idea what lies ahead for your team, but you don’t know for sure. Surprises happen. A freshman proves that the recruiting services were wrong, an underachieving group of seniors plays with new urgency, or the third-year coach’s offensive system finally clicks. In honor of this cliched “everyone has the same record” feeling, let’s take a glass half-full look at the 14 teams of the SEC. Here’s why each SEC “West” team will exceed their expectations in 2013-14.
To take a look at the SEC “East” teams’ best-case scenarios, click here.
The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble
Why They’ll Exceed It: Many feel that Julius Randle winning SEC Player of the Year is a foregone conclusion. Trevor Releford challenges this idea in becoming one of the top scorers in the country. As the returning SEC assists leader, he adds to this total by also setting up Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, both of whom become more reliable perimeter shooters. Seven-footer’ Carl Engstrom shows no ill effects from his torn knee ligaments, and uses his size to create match-up problems on both ends. Forward Nick Jacobs builds on his improved play at the end of last season, and fills the rebounding void created by Moussa Gueye’s transfer. Anthony Grant rides his star point guard off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.
Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.
The Expectation: Bottom tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament
Why They’ll Exceed It: Yes, a three-win team replacing its leading scorer and best player (Frankie Sullivan) can exceed expectations. Virginia Tech transfer K.T. Harrell will be a big reason why. He was a 42 percent three-point shooter during his freshman year, and he recaptures his magic. Chris Denson provides a slashing counterpart and Tony Barbee finds himself with an offensively versatile backcourt. Freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen grabs the point guard position and makes it all work. Change is inevitable with nine newcomers. Seven-foot freshman Ronald Delph and Brinas Griciunas join incumbent seven-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum to create a giant rotation other teams simply don’t have. Auburn fights its way to a .500 SEC record.
The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble
Why They’ll Exceed It: Mike Anderson has elite talent in the form of freshmen forwards Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. The duo join Coty Clarke to form a shot-blocking unit that can cover for aggressive defense by Razorback guards. This leads to steals and turnovers that fuel Anderson’s up-tempo system. Upperclassmen Mardracus Wade, Rashad Madden, Kikko Haydar and Rickey Scott improve as their collective eligibility ticks away. Even if none takes a giant step forward, they all play well enough to become the effective wave of players Anderson needs to pressure opposing guards. A reliable distributor must be found, and either Madden or Wade, the top two assist percentage returnees, grab that role. Arkansas finally wins a handful of road games, and Anderson returns to the NCAA Tournament with his high-pressure system in full gear.
Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor and Managing Editor of Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.
After suffering through one of the worst overall seasons in conference history, the Southeastern Conference is ready to rebound behind a strong group of freshman newcomers. SEC teams constituted six of ESPN’s Top 25 recruiting classes for 2013, and that includes Arkansas and LSU, two “West” programs that are looking to regain past glory after a disappointing start to this decade. Four and five-star big men like Jarrell Martin, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey and Moses Kingsley will join a league that seems to be shifting away from the small-ball lineups that dominated most of the conference’s rosters in 2012-13.
Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)
Last week, we took a look at the incoming players who could lift their squads to new heights in the former SEC “East.” Today, we’ll take a look at the new guys who will be cutting their teeth on the other side of the conference. Here are the true freshmen – one per team – who are slated to have a major impact for their new teams this winter.
Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10″ forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.
Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10″ center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.
Most college hoops fans follow the game purely for their own enjoyment. They don’t see what goes on behind the scenes – the extreme measures programs often take to keep their student-athletes eligible and the hostile interplay between opposing players. And they most certainly do not know everything there is to know about recruiting. The practice seems simple enough: woo players with the promise of playing time, high scoring totals, and wins; drop huge sums on gaudy locker rooms, maybe a game console or two; superimpose a silhouette of your school’s logo/mascot at midcourt, just to give that four-star shooting guard something to look at, something the other schools don’t have, every time he takes the floor. All of this is fair game, but anyone with even scant knowledge of college basketball recruiting, particularly amongst the best schools and players, can tell you there’s much more to it than shiny facilities and the prospect of maintaining a gaudy scoring average in an uptempo offense. The presence of agents, shoe company representatives, and other third parties, all attempting to influence top-level recruits’ decisions in one way or another – and quite often funneling them to a particular school – has only increased in recent years. Coaches and players are not oblivious to this; it’s not hard for them to point out those who are not playing by the rules.
It’s truly dispiriting to learn coaches would go so far as to use a coach’s medical condition against him in recruiting (Getty Images).
That’s just one unseemly aspect fans rarely, if ever, get to experience. The number of top-ranked players who don’t come across some type of illicit financial arrangement – who are not offered something from someone – over the course of their recruitment is probably smaller than anyone not directly involved with recruiting could possibly imagine. Another side, an arguably worse one, is the concept of negative recruiting, wherein coaches bash coaches from programs, or simply bash their programs, in an effort to lead players away from competitors. It can be anything from pointing out a particularly unsavory aspect of one coach’s resume, to critiquing his preferred style of play, to commenting on the lack of fan or institutional support at his program. Sometimes, things get ugly, and on Tuesday, we learned of one particularly disconcerting case involving Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy.
Kentucky rose to the occasion for ESPN’s GameDay, knocking off Missouri Saturday night in overtime. The Wildcats have taken a ton of heat over the past week following assertions from John Calipari that some his players were “uncoachable” following a blowout loss to Tennessee. Two of the assumed targets of the comments came up big against the Tigers. Point guard Ryan Harrow scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his after the break. ”Oh man, I mean we fought hard,” said Goodwin. “That is ultimately what it came down to. We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we just wanted it more than they did.” Saturday’s performance served as a huge statement from a few players who have had their effort widely questioned throughout the year.
The elder statesman of this Kentucky squad had himself quite a game as well. Wright State transfer Julius Mays led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including six game-icing free throws in overtime. Mays has done his best to seize a leadership role for Kentucky, and his efforts looked to pay dividends against Mizzou. “He’s a great leader and he’s a great big brother for me,” Goodwin said. “He’s like my best friend. He’s just always there for encouragement. Sometimes when things are not going our way, he’s always the person that pulls me aside and just tries to get my head back right.” With his more talented teammates singing his praises, “Uncle Julius” hopes his teammates will get on board for an NCAA Tournament push.
Florida got the revenge it craved in Saturday’s easy win over Arkansas, but it came at a high price. The Gators lost reserve forward Michael Frazier II to a concussion after the freshman guard collided with Scottie Wilbekin chasing a loose ball. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks – I don’t know.” With Will Yeguete already sidelined, Donovan is down to only six regular rotation players and says he will turn to Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham or DeVon Walker to pick up the spare minutes.
Even a good night on offense rarely leads to victory for the road team at the O’Connell Center, but Arkansas’ two big shots didn’t give the Razorbacks much of a chance. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who led a balanced Arkansas attack in scoring in their upset of Florida in the first meeting, were held to only 10 points, with Young in particular being shut out from the field. A big night from Coty Clarke (8-of-8 from the field) kept Arkansas in the game in the first half before the Gators pulled away after the break. “It was a tale of two halves,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We scratched and clawed and gave ourselves a chance, even with some adversity with the early fouls. In the second half, Florida really attacked the glass and we didn’t make shots.
They’ve been so hot over the past few weeks, 40 minutes wasn’t enough basketball for Tennessee on Saturday. Tied at 62 after regulation in College Station, Texas A&M and the Volunteers decided to play another two halves of hoops, resulting in a fifth straight victory for the visitors. Trae Golden led the way with 32 points, with both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae eclipsing the 20-point mark in the longest game in Tennessee history. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting hot at exactly the right time, and an upset victory over a depleted Florida team on Tuesday would really make the “at-large” whispers that much louder in Knoxville.
The Weekend’s Lede. Reining in the Last Weekend of February. The end of two prized college basketball traditions came to pass this weekend. ESPN’s annual Bracketbusters event saw its last go-round feature a slate that, frankly, didn’t meet the occasion of the event’s last rendition. Meanwhile, a decades-old Big East feud between Georgetown and Syracuse came to a close, and unlike the mediocre Bracketbusters field, the game was a fitting send-off for one of the nation’s best rivalries. Those two events headlined another excellent weekend schedule, the rest of which included (per the usual) a massive upset, some grueling league match-ups and all kinds of bubble and seeding implications sprinkled throughout.
Your Watercooler Moment. Miami Goes Down.
The notion of Miami going undefeated in the ACC always felt like a distant, almost untenable concept. The Hurricanes are, at the risk of paint a bleak picture, a basketball non-entity. They play in front of an apathetic fan base at a “football school,” in a city with fans that are — let’s just say -– selective about going to see their teams play. Neither me, nor most of the nation’s best college hoops minds, knew exactly what to think. Miami was good, sure, but how good?
Until Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest, Miami’s first in ACC play, the answer was unambiguously glowing: Miami was good enough to run the table, despite everyone’s early-conference season doubts. The Hurricanes were storming through league competition, barely breaking a sweat while doing it and slowly but surely grasping the country’s attention as they rose up the AP Poll and surfaced as a favorite to land a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The praise was well-earned; this team can really play. Not only do they have spiffy efficiency numbers to back up the results – which include a 27-point drubbing of Duke and wins over NC State and UNC – they also have the experience and senior leadership to complete the intangible component of a legitimate Final Four candidate. It’s never fun to be the subject of another team’s court storming, nor is it comforting to have your undefeated conference run come courtesy of one of the nation’s worst Power Six schools (Yes, Wake plays teams tough at home, but come on: these squads aren’t in the same league). But if you began the weekend pleasantly impressed and optimistic about Miami’s chances of making a deep March run this season, I don’t know why you’d lose faith now. Miami lost, and it didn’t look particularly good in recent games against Clemson and North Carolina, but does one game negate a 13-0 ACC start, a top-10 efficiency profile and a senior-laden team armed with the sideline guile of March-savvy coach? No, it doesn’t.
Also Worth Chatting About. Hoyas Soil Storybook Big East Exit.
Wins don’t get any bigger than Georgetown’s Saturday at the Carrier Dome at the Carrier Dome. (Getty)
All the elements of a ceremonial Syracuse smackdown were present. A raging pack of 35,000 + orange-clad maniacs, an eligible and re-ingratiated James Southerland, the jersey-hanging commemoration of one of the best players in program history (Carmelo Anthony). Saturday, at the Carrier Dome, this was about the Orange, about Jim Boeheim, about punishing a rival one very last time. Otto Porter and the victorious Georgetown Hoyas were having none of it. A defensive battle, as expected, stayed tight deep into the second half. Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone frustrated the Hoyas all afternoon, and Georgetown countered with smothering defense of their own. The deciding factor was Porter. In a game where points, assists and general offensive execution was hard to come by, Porter rose to the occasion in an impossibly tough road environment (before Saturday, Syracuse hadn’t lost at the Carrier Dome in 38 games, the nation’s longest streak). And so after a bumpy opening in conference play, and all the usual Hoyas-centric questions about season-long endurance being raised, Georgetown has rendered moot a once debatable subject: who’s playing the best basketball in the Big East these days? Georgetown is the only answer.
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Michigan’s Nik Stauskas' improvement is obvious on the court this season. An improved vertical is a sign he's been doing a lot of work off the court.