SEC M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 11th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. It’s hard not to really get the feeling that Kentucky is going to just keep riding out wins. How can you not feel that way after the Wildcats just survived a 21-2 run deep in the second half to hang on and beat LSU? Of all their close calls this season (Ole Miss, Texas A&M), this was perhaps the most impressive because the Wildcats were completely out of sync for a large chunk of the second half. But at the end of the game, there was Andrew Harrison calmly knocking down two free throws to tie the game, and there was Karl-Anthony Towns calmly tossing in a hook shot to take the lead for good. The Wildcats again made the winning plays when it counted (e.g., Tyler Ulis’ three in the second overtime against Texas A&M), and although they could still slip up, the only game that appears to be a real test is at Georgia on March 3. The road to regular season perfection is well within view.
  2. On the other side of last night’s game is an LSU team that missed out on a tremendous opportunity. Losses to Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn have planted the Tigers firmly on the bubble, so holding on against Kentucky would have made up for several of those transgressions — finally knocking off the Wildcats cuts a marginal resume a lot of slack. It didn’t happen, of course, and like many times this season, Johnny Jones didn’t look good from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Why was Josh Gray — a player who has struggled taking care of the ball this year — driving the lane out of a timeout? Why didn’t Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin get the ball out of the final timeout? I understand the notion of going for the jugular with a Keith Hornsby three, especially in a game this big. But with a two-point deficit at home, it’s hard to fully understand a play call that doesn’t go to one of your two best players. LSU definitely showed out well in this game, but the Tigers will need to shake the loss off quickly with road games at Tennessee and Texas A&M up next.
  3. It’s difficult to label Texas A&M a “sleeping giant,” but the Aggies were a perennial top-third of the Big 12 type of program under Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon and a return to that level would provide a big boost for the SEC’s overall profile. The Aggies’ upcoming and well-timed home stand against Georgia, Florida and LSU represents a key stretch for Billy Kennedy’s club that could add some bulk to its NCAA Tournament profile. Texas A&M’s last home game attracted the largest crowd in the Kennedy era (12,722), so the next week is also a great opportunity to fire up the fan base for this and coming seasons.
  4. Billy Donovan coaching the Orlando Magic? It kind of happened once, and the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi thinks that the timing is right for it to happen again — but perhaps this time for more than a single day. On some levels the timing does seem good for everyone involved. Florida is having its most frustrating season in years, and the Magic have promising young talent like Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic playing well. For comparison’s sake, the path to NBA championship contention for Orlando looks shorter and less challenging than Boston’s when Brad Stevens left Butler. But would Donovan walk away from his program after such a disappointing season? He certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove, having built three separate groups of title contenders during his tenure in Gainesville. These are some interesting questions for a guy who has had past and perhaps unfulfilled designs on the NBA.
  5. Missouri is mired in its worst losing streak since before Norm Stewart was in charge of the program (1966-67). The streak ran to 10 losses in a row after last night’s defeat at South Carolina. Things could be getting worse in a hurry too, as Wes Clark could be out for the season after seemingly dislocating his right wrist. It was an ugly injury that caused the arena to go silent and players on both sides were visibly shaken. This is a huge blow for the Tigers since Clark (11 points against USC, 15 points against Texas A&M) has been the most consistent source of offense and penetration for a team that often struggles to score. Right now it’s hard to find another win on the schedule for the Tigers.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume VI

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 10th, 2015

For the next six weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VI, including games from February 3 to February 8.

Team of the Week. This week provides several compelling candidates. Kentucky could win this award every time and this week was no exception as the Wildcats handled a quality Georgia team on Tuesday and survived a difficult environment in Gainesville afterward. Arkansas got healthy with two comfortable wins after seemingly scratching by for weeks. Even Vanderbilt tossed its name into the conversation by shaking off a seven-game losing streak and going 2-0. Despite all these worthy choices, Ole Miss gets this week’s nod after notching a big win against red-hot Texas A&M and then following it up with a road win at Auburn (which itself was coming off an impressive win at LSU). The Rebels last week showed that they can win games in different ways. They needed a solid defensive performance to get past the surging Aggies and were especially effective using ball pressure to frustrate Alex Caruso. But it was the Ole Miss offense that showed up against Auburn (57.8% FG, 40.0% 3FG) to negate a great scoring night from Bruce Pearl’s backcourt. The Rebels may not necessarily be peaking right now, but they seem to be rounding into form. Anthony Perez has emerged as a solid wing/post hybrid who can stretch the floor. Dwight Coleby has developed into a reliable rebounding and shot-blocking presence. Those two, along with Sebastian Saiz and MJ Rhett, give Andy Kennedy a solid frontcourt rotation to support his veteran backcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky's wins over Georgia and Florida (chron.com).

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky’s wins over Georgia and Florida (chron.com).

Player of the Week. You can only seek alternatives to Kentucky in this league to a certain point. Karl-Anthony Towns gets the nod after leading the Wildcats to two hard-fought victories over Georgia (KenPom #33) and Florida (#35) last week. The Bulldogs surprisingly outrebounded Kentucky in their game, but Towns stepped up to grab more than half (13) of the Wildcats’ 24 total rebounds. Against the Gators, Towns was only the Wildcat who was able to generate consistent offense at the game’s start, which quietly helped Kentucky stay within contact of the fired-up Gators. Towns’ great week (34 points, 21 rebounds, four blocks, six assists, 10-of-10 FT) is an encouraging sign for John Calipari. The freshman recently went through a four-game stretch where he didn’t score more than seven points or grab more than four rebounds in any single game. Whether it was due to foul trouble, growing pains or some combination of both, it bodes well for the Wildcats that he has now strung together a few great outings. See how Kentucky focused on getting him the ball in this week’s edition of Freeze Frame.  Antoine Mason also deserves mention here for cracking 20 points against LSU (24 points) and then following it up with 23 against Ole Miss.

Tournament Chatter. Last week’s eight-team pipe dream proved to be too much to handle, and it will be difficult for either of Tennessee or Florida to make a case for inclusion again. But we’ll always have last week. Still, Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology contains six SEC teams in the fold, which would double what the league received in the last two seasons. Everyone will certainly take that if it comes to pass.

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SEC M5: 02.04.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 4th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. For the fourth consecutive week, Kentucky freshman Devin Booker was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. The 6’6″ guard averaged only 10 points per game in the team’s wins over Missouri and Alabama, and while those numbers somewhat paled in comparison with previous weeks, his run is nonetheless remarkable. He was not the most heralded of the Wildcats’ class of elite freshmen, but it would be difficult to argue that he hasn’t been the best of the group. Despite going only 1-of-6 from beyond the arc in Kentucky’s 69-58 win over Georgia Tuesday night, he is still shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range on the season.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky’s win over Georgia, the Bulldogs kept things close in Rupp Arena despite playing without senior forward Marcus Thornton, their leading scorer and rebounder. It was the second straight game Thornton has missed, as he also did not play in the Bulldogs’ weekend loss at South Carolina. Coach Mark Fox hopes to get Thornton back soon, and the team clearly needs him in the lineup. Georgia is in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, and has a favorable stretch coming up that includes home games against Tennessee, Auburn, and South Carolina sandwiched around a trip to Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs are eventually going to punch their ticket to the Big Dance, they need to take care of business against the SEC’s bottom-feeders over the next two weeks.
  3. Thornton wasn’t the only player to miss his second straight game in last night’s match-up between Georgia and Kentucky. Wildcats freshman Trey Lyles was out once again due to an undisclosed illness. It is unclear exactly when he will return, and coach John Calipari is not giving any specifics about what is wrong with him. Kentucky is obviously a very deep team that can overcome these losses, but given that they are already playing without Alex Poythress — who tore his ACL earlier this season — small forward is the one position at which they are not overly deep. At this point, however, it is too early to assume that Lyles’ absence will be a major cause for concern for the Wildcats.
  4. After missing the season’s first four games with an injury and struggling to find his way after that, Mississippi State‘s Craig Sword has regained his form, and the Bulldogs, which looked like a team that would struggle to win any games in SEC play, are now 4-5 after winning at Tennessee. Over his last five games, Sword has scored in double-figures, after doing so only once in his first 13. Against the Volunteers, Sword was a sizzling 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. The Bulldogs have now won four of their last six games, and are no longer the also-ran they were for the season’s first two months.
  5. Texas A&M has won six straight SEC games and is in sole possession of second place, sitting at No. 31 in the RPI. The team’s turnaround began when the Aggies took Kentucky to double-overtime in their second conference game, and though they ended up losing, they have used it as a springboard to success. Other coaches in the league have taken notice too, and believe that the Aggies are in fact the real deal. They are led by transfers Jalen Jones and Danuel House, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 17.5 points per game in the team’s wins at Auburn and at home against Vanderbilt. Texas A&M faces a tough test at Mississippi on Wednesday, but after that, the schedule sets up favorably, and the possibility that the Aggies will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since joining the SEC is very real.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume V

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 3rd, 2015

For the next seven weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume V, including games from January 26 to February 2.

Team of the Week. I want to preface this by saying that Kentucky could – and probably should – be the team of the week every week. You don’t get to 21-0 without that being the case. But the Wildcats get plenty of praise from all corners of the web, so why not challenge ourselves with this week’s selection? The nod goes to Florida, the same team that Billy Donovan declared as being dead in terms of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week ago. The Gators’ long-term resurrection is still something of a pipe dream, but if the miracle occurs, last week is where it all will have started. Florida enjoyed a perfect week in knocking off solid opponents Alabama (KenPom #44) and Arkansas (#43) in ugly fashion. These were probably the Gators’ two best wins of the season, which with an overall record of 12-9 overall underscores how much work they still have to do. From a bid perspective, Florida is 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and 4-3 against the next 50; contrast this with fellow bubble team Kansas State  — which is 12-10 overall but 4-6 against the RPI top 50 — and you can see that Florida’s resume may not have the requisite depth to compete for a bid. Despite the pair of victories, last week highlighted some of the Gators’ inconsistencies that have plagued them all year long. After a 27-point outburst against Ole Miss, Michael Frazier scored just 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Similarly, Chris Walker followed up one of the best games of his career against the Tide (12 points and four rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting) with a dud against the Hogs (one point, two rebounds). Still, Florida is trending in the right direction as it approaches the ultimate chance for a quality win: Saturday in Gainesville against Kentucky.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Player of the Week. Danuel House was the SEC’s pick as Player of the Week, but we’ll give it to his slightly less-heralded junior teammate, Alex Caruso, as Texas A&M ran its winning streak to seven games with victories over Auburn and Vanderbilt. In both games Caruso was his usual stat-stuffing self, racking up averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. I firmly believe that the transitions of transfers House and Jalen Jones to their new team has gone so smoothly in large part because of Caruso’s play-making. He’s a bona fide SEC star who does not command the ball, and that is extremely valuable for a team looking to make the leap from also-ran to the NCAA Tournament. We may also be witnessing the rise of one of the great players in recent Texas A&M basketball history. Since 2009-10, no player in the conference has held as high of a career assist percentage (33.9%) or steal percentage (4.4%) as Caruso. LSU’s Jordan Mickey deserves mention in this space solely for his ridiculous 25-point, 20-rebound game in the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC Quotable & Notable: Volume I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2015

Periodically throughout the rest of the season, we will use this column to take a look at who’s making history and who’s saying what around the SEC. Here’s Volume I of what’s Quotable and Notable right now in college basketball’s Southern reaches.

“I just went strong to the hole.” Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith on his game-winning dunk against Alabama.


No player in the country will have a minute as impressive and unlikely as Finney-Smith did in the final 60 seconds of Florida’s recent win against the Crimson Tide. His fierce drive and dunk ended up being the game-winner, and it was sandwiched around two crucial blocks: a body-straight-up rejection on Michael Kessens to keep the game knotted at 50, and a help defense block of Levi Randolph’s potential game-tying shot as time expired. This all coming after the junior had gone scoreless to that point.  Finney-Smith’s magical minute, which helped end Florida’s three-game losing streak, should be one of the highlights of Gators’ season.

Georgia is probably the second best team in the league and, by far, the most physical team.” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after his team’s loss to Georgia last weekend. “I thought they hurt us on the boards in the first half, but then you look down and see they hit 50 percent from the field in the second half and over 90 percent from the line… you can’t beat anybody like that.” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after Georgia hit 23-of-25 free throws and outrebounded the Commodores by 10 in an eight-point victory.

Georgia is taking on the feel of a team that can grind out wins, and in this league, that can be the key to a shiny conference record. Just take care of business. The Bulldogs squeaked by Mississippi State because of a Herculean effort from J.J. Frazier (37 points), and against Vanderbilt, they were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) but did enough elsewhere to control the game throughout. Neither win is all that impressive alone, but SEC teams have perfected the art of losing winnable games. The Bulldogs will end up in the NCAA Tournament if they have finally bucked that trend.

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SEC M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com’s latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection is a welcome sight for SEC basketball fans. Four teams make the cut, including Kentucky (#1 seed), Arkansas (#7), LSU (#9) and Georgia (#10). There were times this year that when just getting two bids looked like a real possibility, so four bids (sad as it may be) right now looks very nice. The danger is that the non-Kentucky selections are far from locks and consecutive losses could easily knock any of those teams on to the wrong side of the bubble. The flip side is that with other teams like Texas A&M and Tennessee still within shouting distance of the bubble, five teams (gasp) doesn’t seem completely out of the question either. All joking aside, if the league were to get five bids it would be a nice step forward from the last two three-bid years, and confirm what we’ve been saying on this site all year: Even though it doesn’t show up in the rankings and Florida is down, the depth of the conference is in fact improving.
  2. There are a number of reasons why Florida has struggled this year, but transfers are not one of them. Billy Donovan recently defended the number of transfers on his current roster when asked if the Gators would be better off with more four-year players. “The transfers have been the ones that have really made sense for us because we know what we’re getting in terms of the kind of kids they are,” Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Alex Murphy and Jon Horford are truly unique cases since both players had a brother who previously starred for Florida, but over-reliance on transfers can bite a program despite Fred Hoiberg’s seemingly endless pool of redemption stories at Iowa State. Just look at Missouri, which is largely in the situation it is now in because Frank Haith didn’t bring enough high school players into the program. But Florida doesn’t fall into that category because Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter both brought three years of eligibility with them to Gainesville, and the Gators have plenty of potential four-year players in contributing roles – like Chris Chiozza, Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson.
  3. Marshall Henderson’s graduation left a big hole in the Ole Miss program. The Rebels lost a lot of scoring, and a lot of must-see-TV. But at least in terms of production, Andy Kennedy has replaced the void left by Henderson quicker than anyone would’ve thought with Stefan Moody. “Everyone in this league was going to be excited when Marshall Henderson left because you didn’t feel like they could get a guy who could shoot it as well as him,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “But lo and behold they’ve done it as well added an element of athleticism to the position.” With comparable usage rates, Moody (23.7 PER, 55.7% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) is exceeding Henderson’s (19.5 PER, 52.5% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) offensive output from last year, and adds more athleticism to the team. Considering Moody hasn’t made headlines for the wrong reasons, the Rebels have clearly upgraded at the off guard position.
  4. Texas A&M is in the midst of its longest conference (Big 12 and SEC) winning streak since 2011, and Billy Kennedy thinks his team’s maturity is a big reason why. “We start three juniors and two seniors and they’ve all played high-level Division I basketball. Their consistency and maturity is why we’re enjoying some success.” Yesterday we pointed out that the Aggies’ influx of new players could mean they are yet to hit their peak. But the two most important players from that group, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, have high major experience, which has helped create that consistency. They’ve also pushed senior starters Jordan Green and Kourtney Roberson into complementary roles, which suits both players very well and makes for a strong all-around team.
  5. At 7-12, Missouri is smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding year, but Kim Anderson has not relaxed his rotations and played guys just to play them. “It’s not like if you’re in a high school situation where like seventh grade basketball gets to play because that’s what the superintendent says. It’s not like that. You’ve got to play — the guys that are playing the best get to play more,” he told the Columbia Tribune. One notable omission has been freshman Jakeenan Gant, who has lost his starting spot and played just 14 minutes in the last two games. The 2013-14 Georgia Mr. Basketball has not developed as expected, or at least in the way his 13 point debut against Xavier suggested he might. Still, it is important for Anderson to establish a culture even if it means one of his more talented freshmen sitting on the bench.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IV

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2015

For the next nine weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IV, including games from January 19-25.

Team of the Week. Welcome to the party, Texas A&M. The Aggies are riding a four-game winning streak after beating Missouri (home) and Tennessee (road) last week. It’s their longest conference winning streak since joining the SEC, and the win over the resurgent Vols in Thompson-Boling Arena was a nice exclamation mark. Tennessee’s match-up zone had frustrated Arkansas, Missouri and South Carolina, but the Aggies – which have generally struggled to score in the Billy Kennedy era – were able to shoot 48 percent from the field in the victory. That’s obviously a good sign. Texas A&M’s development potential is also something to keep an eye on. Five key rotation pieces are playing their first year in College Station: Jalen Jones (transfer), Danuel House (transfer), Alex Robinson (freshman), Peyton Allen (freshman) and Tony Trocha-Morelos (freshman). Alex Caruso is again leading the conference in assists per game (5.3) and assist rate (36.7%), and the Aggies’ offense should continue to improve as he gets more experience playing alongside primary scorers Jones and House.

JJ Frazier had the self-described best game of his career in scoring 37 points against Mississippi State (ajc.com).

JJ Frazier had the self-described best game of his career in scoring 37 points against Mississippi State (ajc.com).

Player of the Week. Quick, who is Georgia’s best player? If you didn’t say J.J. Frazier than you’re probably wrong, at least as far the previous week is concerned. The Bulldogs’ point guard gets the nod almost solely for what he did in staving off Mississippi State last Saturday. The sophomore scored 37 points, including a blistering seven-for-seven from three. He told the AP that it was the best game of his career, and it came at a big moment for surging Georgia. The Bulldogs got just 24 points combined from Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic. That kind of production, or lack thereof, from a team’s main horses almost always results in a loss. And a loss to Mississippi State would’ve been bad for Georgia’s tournament hopes. But Frazier didn’t let it happen, and he may be battling Armani Moore for the title of most improved player in the conference. He is second in the league in true shooting percentage (65.3%), and is taking care of the ball very well (1.4 turnover per game) despite seeing his role as primary ball handler drastically increased over what it was last season.

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SEC M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 23rd, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. South Carolina’s win over Iowa State in early January did wonders for its profile and the perception of where the program was heading. But it might not have done a lot of good for the players, at least not in the eyes of their coach.“We haven’t shot the ball worth a you-know-what since league play started. You’d think guys would find time to come in the gym and shoot balls,” Frank Martin told GoGamecocks.com. “They did in November and December; they’re not doing that now. All of a sudden, we’re too good, so we don’t need to come in here and work on our games.” Carolina is staring down the barrel at a 1-5 SEC start with Kentucky coming to town on Saturday. To pull off a season-resuscitating win, the Gamecocks will need to shoot better than the 29.3 percent from three that they have in conference play.
  2. One team sitting ahead of the Gamecocks in the standings is Mississippi State, which seemed impossible a few weeks ago. Things had taken an alarming turn for Rick Ray after a home loss to McNeese State followed by lopsided losses to Tennessee and Florida to start conference play. But the picture is now looking better after back-to-back wins and the end of a 22-game road losing streak. One big reason has been improved play from sophomore point guard I.J. Ready. His numbers are up virtually across the board in conference play, including a solid PER of 21.8 in five SEC games. He’s still a work in progress and not an ideal distributor (seven turnovers in the win over Vanderbilt), but he’s a natural scorer on a team desperate for talent.
  3. Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin get all the press (and rightfully so), but where would LSU be without Keith Hornsby? Johnny Jones recently joked that Tigers fans should start heckling Hornsby at home given how well he’s played on the road, and he may be on to something. In LSU’s three conference road games (Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida), Hornsby has averaged 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and has shot 45.8 percent from three. If the folks at the PMAC want to start thinking of some late 80s pop jokes, now might be the time. The Tigers rely heavily on Hornsby and Josh Gray, and while Gray has been up-and-down, Hornsby has done a solid job in his role as a third option and floor spacer. If he maintains that level, LSU will be one step closer to reaching its considerable ceiling.
  4. Texas A&M is riding a three-game winning streak after its Wednesday night win over Missouri, and the Aggies are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the SEC. They are looking for their first record above .500 under Billy Kennedy and have a manageable schedule the rest of the way (in other words: no Kentucky). A step forward this year would be huge for the program as it awaits a mammoth recruiting class to arrive next season. That step may be happening mainly because of two players in their first year in College Station: Jalen Jones and Danuel House. The two transfers are Kennedy’s top two scorers and were responsible for keying the 22-2 run that dropped Missouri. Jones nailed a three during that run and if he keeps adding that threat to his game (7-of-19 on the year), he’ll be a load to handle. Next year’s star-studded group cuts Kennedy a lot of slack for his lackluster tenure at A&M to this point, but his two transfers are doing their part too.
  5. Georgia is another SEC team riding a three-game winning streak. The Bulldogs’ rise, however, is due in part to a player who was on the roster last year but didn’t play much: J.J. Frazier. He has been the best ball-handler on a team stocked with good guards, and over the winning streak he’s dished out 14 assists while turning the ball over just three times. On the season, he has a 2.5-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and has provided Georgia with the three-point shooting (39.4%) that it sorely needed. Charles Mann is having a solid junior year but hasn’t logged the step-forward season many thought he would, although part of the reason for that is probably because he’s still adjusting to playing off the ball more with Frazier in the fold (five percent decrease in usage rate). If Mark Fox can develop more chemistry between the two, Georgia should seriously threaten for an NCAA Tournament spot.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume III

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2015

For the next nine weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume III, including games from January 12-18.

Team of the week. It took three rounds of this column to get there, but the league Colossus finally gets the nod. Kentucky did in the second week of SEC play what so many predicted it would do in the first — thrash its opponents. The Wildcats beat Missouri by more points (49) than it allowed the Tigers to score (37), and, as Brian pointed out earlier this week, it was the best defensive (points per possession) performance in conference play in the Calipari era. The ‘Cats followed up that victory with an easy 22-point win against a good Alabama team. Its defense was again outstanding, but it was the Kentucky offense that caught my eye in Tuscaloosa. Just one week after a rough outing in College Station (28.1% FG, 32.1% 3FG, 25-of-35 FTs), the Wildcats were hyper-efficient in a slow-paced game (50% FG, 47% 3FG, 16-of-18 FTs). If that’s a sign of the Wildcats’ offense to come, it’s worth wondering whether this team may actually cut down the nets in early April sporting a goose egg in the loss column.

Tyler Ulis led an efficient Kentucky attack against Alabama with 11 points and two assists (AP Photo).

Tyler Ulis led an efficient Kentucky attack against Alabama with 11 points and two assists (AP Photo).

Player of the Week. Let’s follow the crowd and hand it to Tennessee’s Armani Moore. The junior wing won the SEC’s Player of the Week award and it was well-deserved. He contributed solid scoring totals in last week’s wins over Arkansas (14) and Missouri (15), but more importantly scored crucial points late in both games. His two free throws sealed the Vols’ victory over Arkansas, and he broke a tie-game in Columbia with under four minutes to go with a contested layup. The 6’5″ Moore also helped an undersized Tennessee front line win the rebounding battle in both games. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones, who played well in returning from an ankle injury, and Georgia’s Kenny Gaines, who guided the Bulldogs through a crucial undefeated week, also deserve mention.

Tournament Chatter. Can you say mediocrity? The league currently has seven teams sitting at 2-2, and the only 3-1 teams (Tennessee and Florida) appear to be well behind several of those in the NCAA Tournament pecking order. None of the fringe NCAA contenders have yet played their way out of the picture but we could be headed toward the league’s nightmare scenario. A team or two separating from the pack would lock in a few bids, but if the soft middle continues to beat up on each other without rhyme or reason, it risks damaging everyone’s profile. Still, 10 (10!) teams are worth mentioning and that’s not too bad.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 13th, 2015

For the next 10 weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume II, including games from January 5-11.

Team of the Week. There were three strong contenders for this award this week, but Arkansas gets the nod on the strength of a 2-0 record that included wins over KenPom top 55 teams Georgia and Vanderbilt. By beating Georgia in Athens, the Razorbacks achieved something that has been a rarity under Mike Anderson: beating a quality team on the road. And it wasn’t easy. Arkansas had to overcome an 11-point deficit against a confident Bulldogs team that was riding a six-game winning streak of its own, but the Razorbacks cut into the lead by imposing their frenetic style on Georgia and forcing 17 turnovers. They had been similarly disruptive in their other road win this season, at SMU (19 TOs), but not as much in losses to Iowa State (11 TOs) and Clemson (14 TOs). We know that Anderson’s press is highly effective in Bud Walton Arena, but whether it works when the Razorbacks are on the road will be something to watch as the season unfolds. Honorable mention this week goes to Florida, which earned a hard-fought win against South Carolina before pummelling Mississippi State.

Bobby Portis tore up the Vanderbilt defense to the tune of 32 points (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis tore up the Vanderbilt defense to the tune of 32 points (wholehogsports.com).

Player of the Week. Bobby Portis had his way with the Commodores’ front line on Saturday, scoring 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting and dunking on every other possession (or so it seemed). He might be the most offensively skilled big man in the SEC this season, and his athleticism provides a great asset guarding the in-bounder as the first wave in the Arkansas press. In the Hawg’s win over Georgia, Portis contributed 21 points and even hit a three-pointer during the game. He’s been exceptionally effective from deep, making 9-of-15 three-point attempts on the season, but the fact he’s attempted so few shows that he hasn’t gotten carried away in trying to show NBA scouts that he has range. Where he’s lethal is in using his athleticism around the rim and making himself available on cuts through the lane. If he keeps living in that sweet spot, the Razorbacks will remain very difficult to defend. Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith also deserves some love this week as he combined for 36 points and 13 rebounds in wins over South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite playing with an injured non-shooting hand, the senior is shooting very well from three (39%) and grabbing defensive rebounds at a ridiculous rate (22.3%) over the first two conference games. The Gators couldn’t afford to miss a beat from him and they haven’t.

Tournament Chatter. Let’s not dress this week up because it was not a kind week for the SEC’s hopes to get more than two teams into the NCAA Tournament. I thoroughly believe that the overall depth of the conference is better than last year, but if Selection Sunday were held today you might be looking at a two-bid league. Kentucky and Arkansas seem safe, but beyond that is anyone’s guess.

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A Farewell to the Big 12 Network (1996-2014)

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 2nd, 2015

Early 2003.

The Big 12 Network syndicated slate of conference games ended its broadcasts in March 2014.

The Big 12’s slate of syndicated conference games, known as the Big 12 Network, ended its over-the-air broadcasts in March 2014.

I was eight years old then which, by rule, meant I was in a time of life where most kids began sampling the world around them, figuring out what they do and do not like. Mostly, I liked eating and running my mouth in school. But on one lazy Saturday afternoon, while waiting for something to grab my attention as I flipped through the channels, something finally did. Growing up without cable TV, finding something even mildly amusing was rare on a Saturday. This was a basketball game, of some kind. I knew that for sure. One of the teams playing was from Texas. In fact, it was Texas and they were blowing out another Big 12 team. My first impressions of them: Wow, they look like they’re pretty good. And hey, I’m from Houston. It felt like a natural fit to become a Texas Longhorns fan. So I did.

I wasn’t able to catch the Longhorns on TV every Saturday but when I did, I began to learn most of the names on that Texas team. The first was T.J. Ford, the point guard who I heard the announcers talk about almost all the time. Then Brandon Mouton who I remember wearing a beard. James Thomas, their big man in dreds. Royal Ivey because how are you gonna forget a name like that, and so on. The more they played, the more they won and the happier I got. But I also got used to watching other teams too through the years like Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 from Hinrich to Wiggins, the death and resurgence of Iowa State and the birth of a second basketball power in the state of Texas.

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