SEC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com‘s Luke Winn always has interesting metrics nuggets in his weekly power rankings. This week he has Kentucky at #15, and writes that Willie Cauley-Stein is living up to the rim-protecting precedent set by Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. Cauley-Stein’s block percentage (13.8%) is identical to Davis’s and better than Noel’s (13.2%). He is also keeping a greater percentage of those blocked shots (64.2%) than Davis or Noel did. On the whole, the SEC has a handful of elite swatters, but not much after that. In addition to Cauley-Stein (who leads the league), only Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, Jordan Mickey, and Aaron Jones have block percentages greater than 10 percent.
  2. You have to go back a few days, but Tennessee picked up a momentum-building win on Monday night over Virginia. The margin they won by (35 points) was the largest in the Cuonzo Martin era, and all the more impressive because the Cavaliers are a good defensive team. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton writes that the Vols improved shooting percentage against Virginia could be a sign of good things to come. ”Tennessee isn’t going to shoot 60+% from three and 85+% from the line every night.  But the fact that they did it [Monday] against such a great defensive team and got it from so many different contributors suggests the transformation we’ve all known this team needed is very possible.” The Vols have largely disappointed this season, but when their solid defensive and elite offensive rebounding is paired with shots falling, it’s not hard to see why they were given such lofty preseason expectations.
  3. Georgia‘s five game winning streak was snapped last Saturday in Boulder, but the Bulldogs can rebound in a big way with a road win tonight over George Washington. Colorado is a good team so Georgia’s 14-point road loss isn’t a head-scratcher. If you want to stretch optimism to its limits, you could say that the Bulldogs were nearly even with Colorado in the second half, losing just 38 to 35. Winning at George Washington would be no small feat, as the Colonials own an impressive win over Creighton this season. But they are coming off a loss to Kansas State on New Year’s Eve and have a weakness the Bulldogs could exploit. George Washington allows its opponents to grab 30 percent of their own misses. Georgia has also struggled giving up offensive rebounds this season, and must take advantage of extra opportunities that may come their way.
  4. It’s never good when a head coach starts apologizing. ”I apologize to the fans that came to the game,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We are not that bad, but we sure looked like it at times,” Kennedy felt compelled to say that after the Aggies’ 20-point loss to North Texas at home on New Year’s Eve. The Aggies enter conference play without a quality win, and are now saddled with a demoralizing home loss. One issue Texas A&M has had this season is a lack of effectiveness from the three point line. The Aggies were just four of 18 against the Mean Green, and as a team have shot 30.2% on the season, good for just 286th in the country. That’s difficult for a team that lacks many impact athletes. Senior guard Fabyon Harris shot 45%last season but has followed it up at 33% thus far this season. The Aggies best three-point shooter, J-Mychal Reese (42%), is no longer with the team. Opposing coaches may be more willing to unleash a zone defense on Texas A&M if they continue to struggle from deep.
  5. It hasn’t been all bad news for the Aggies recently. Kennedylanded SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and if he’s granted a waiver to play immediately, will be a big help in avoiding a repeat of the offensive performance against North Texas. Jones was a respectable shooter last season (56% true shooting), and got to the line nearly 5 times a game. When paired together on the perimeter, the 6’7” Jones and 6’8” Jamal Jones should create challenge for play-by-play announcers and opposing defenses. It appears Jones left SMU because of playing time, so if there isn’t anything more to the move a waiver seems unlikely. If there is no waiver, it’ll be interesting to see if Kennedy even gets to coach his prized transfer in an actual game.
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SEC M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. It was not a good weekend for Texas A&M. First, the Aggies missed their chance to make a non-conference statement, losing to Oklahoma on Saturday night. News also broke that sophomore guard J-Mychal Reese had been dismissed from the team for a “violation of athletic department rules and regulations.” This isn’t entirely surprisingly because Reese was suspended for a handful of games to begin the season. He was only averaging seven points per game, but given the offensive struggles the Aggies have had at times this season, he’ll definitely be missed. Whether he’ll also be missed off the court is something an outsider like myself will never know. An interesting angle to this story is that Reese’s dad, John Reese, is a Texas A&M assistant coach.
  2. Kentucky’s Julius Randle began his college career with three consecutive games with 20 or more points, but he hadn’t reached that mark since before Thanksgiving until he broke out with a career-high 29 points in the Wildcats’ win against Belmont on Saturday. Randle hasn’t been scuffling, but he reminded the country why his physicality around the rim will make him one of the top overall picks in next year’s NBA Draft. He got to the free throw line 19 times, and while he missed six of those shots, that’s an easier pill for head coach John Calipari to swallow than not getting there at all.
  3. LSU had struggled to close out leads in it’s last two games against Texas Tech and Louisiana-Monroe, but the Tigers were able to put away a quality UAB team Saturday by staying aggressive instead of playing to the clock. ”We attacked them when we had a good lead instead of getting tentative, and that was a big key,” junior forward Johnny O’Bryant said. “We learned from those last two games and realized we have to play well from the start to the end.” The other story from this game was Tiger freshmen not named Jordan Mickey. Jarell Martin has had a frustrating, injury-plagued start to the year, but he scored 12 points after combining for five in his last two games. Tim Quarterman also contributed nine assists, and this went along with a solid shooting night from three for Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer (5-of-8). If both of those statistics from key freshmen become trends, the Tigers will be in good shape in SEC play considering their frontcourt skill.
  4. Damontre Harris is officially done at Florida, without ever really getting started. The former South Carolina forward transferred to Florida and sat out last season but ended his Gators’ career without ever seeing the floor. Billy Donovan had been frank about Harris’ situation over the last month, saying that he didn’t have much confidence that the suspended big man would ever play for Florida. Harris was a solid role player in his two seasons at South Carolina but his loss shouldn’t affect the Gators all that much. While he would have added some additional depth, the Gators will add Chris Walker to a frontcourt that already includes Dorian Finney-Smith, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete, and there are only so many minutes to go around.
  5. Dare we say Mississippi State is surging? The Bulldogs won their fourth straight game yesterday by beating South Florida in the Las Vegas Classic. This is easily the Bulldogs’ best win of the year, and while USF isn’t a world-beater, they were on a four-game winning streak of their own that included wins over Alabama and George Mason. Mississippi State will likely enter conference play with 10 wins, which is a far cry from where Rick Ray’s team was a year ago. The Bulldogs showed a balanced offense against South Florida, with five players scoring in double figures. There are certainly signs that their 9-2 record is the product of a weak schedule (e.g., 62 percent free throw percentage, 30 percent three-point percentage), but Bulldogs fans’ should take what they can get and enjoy the early success.
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Despite 11-1 Start, Oklahoma Season Outlook Still Unclear

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 22nd, 2013

Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) is a Big 12 correspondent for Rush the Court. He filed this report after attending the Oklahoma-Texas A&M game in Houston on Saturday night.

Holy crap, what a basketball game, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The Sooners came into Houston riding a six-game winning streak with some rather impressive numbers. In four of those games, Oklahoma averaged 91.3 points per game, shot 48.2 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three, and committed 10 or fewer turnovers. Texas A&M entered play on Saturday averaging 74.9 points per game, was shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and a modest 34.1 percent from the perimeter. Following the game, those numbers would go down (but for turnovers) for both teams.

OU's win over Texas A&M on Saturday night is perhaps their best win before Big 12 play. (AP photo)

Oklahoma’s win over Texas A&M on Saturday night is perhaps their best win before Big 12 play. (AP photo)

This meeting between former Big 12 opponents is probably one that shouldn’t happen again for a very long time. Oklahoma committed 22 turnovers, made fewer two-point baskets than the Aggies, and still somehow won the game by 12 points. Texas A&M was awful in so many respects. The Aggies had no desire to defend in their man-to-man defense, rebound (Oklahoma held an 11-rebound edge) or take good shots (26.9% FG; 2-of-23 on threes). I could try to break down this game more articulately but these Twitter reactions are just too golden instead.

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SEC M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2013

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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SEC M5: 11.29.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 29th, 2013

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Mississippi State barely 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.
  5. 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.
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SEC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 27th, 2013

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. There is some light-hearted talk around Kentucky about whether Julius Randle can 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.
  5. 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.
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The New Hand-Check Rule and Its Probable Effect on SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 7th, 2013

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).

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:

  • Dont’e Williams, Georgia, 98 total fouls
  • Alex Caruso, Texas A&M, 93 total fouls
  • Craig Sword, Mississippi State, 92 total fouls
  • Rodney Cooper, Alabama, 91 total fouls
  • Allen Payne, Auburn, 89 total fouls
  • Johnny O’Bryant, LSU, 89 total fouls
  • Alex Poythress, Kentucky, 88 total fouls
  • Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss, 87 total fouls
  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina, 85 total fouls
  • Patric Young, Florida, 85 total fouls

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Boost or Bite: Evaluating Non-Conference Schedules in the SEC Middle Tier

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 6th, 2013

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.

Alabama

Anthony Grant and Alabama have chances for marquee non-conference wins in games against Wichita State and UCLA (photo courtesy nydailynews.com).

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.

Arkansas

Helpful Games: Southern Methodist, Maui Invitational (California, Syracuse/Minnesota, TBA)

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Billy Kennedy Is Running Out of Players to Start a Crucial Season

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2013

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).

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.

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SEC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 1st, 2013

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. Speaking of UK, Calipari grabbed a 2014 recruit in 6’5″ guard Devin Booker on 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.
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SEC Optimism: Best Case Scenarios in the “West”

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 30th, 2013

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.

Alabama

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.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Auburn

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.

Arkansas

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.

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Impact Freshman for Each Team in the SEC “West”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) on October 29th, 2013

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)

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.

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