Checking In On The… Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on February 10th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 


The Week That Was

  • Florida Atlantic’s season may be the strangest in recent memory in the Sun Belt. The preseason favorites dropped games to South Alabama (February 2) and Florida International (February 4) by a combined 31 points, appearing to hit rock bottom during this miserable 2011-12 campaign. And then, something funny happened: the Owls recovered from a blown 15-point lead to edge upstart Denver on Thursday, moving above .500 in Sun Belt play. With five games remaining, Mike Jarvis‘ team is essentially eliminated in the East, but perhaps edging the Pioneers will offer it a little late-season momentum.
  • North Texas may have lost two starters due to eligibility issues, but Tony Mitchell is single-handedly carrying the Mean Green right now. Lately, he’s showing flashes of his NBA potential as the league’s leading rebounder. He shoots 53.6% from three-point range, he has five double-doubles already and he’s dropped 30 points on two teams — as a freshman. Last week, Arkansas State became his latest victim. Mitchell went for 21 points and 15 rebounds in UNT’s 76-64 win.

Don't Count Out Mike Jarvis And Crew Quite Yet, FAU Is Showing Some Fight

Power Rankings


  1. Middle Tennessee (22-4, 11-1):  It was bound to happen at some point. Facing an especially energized crowd at Denver thanks to an ESPN2 telecast, the Blue Raiders were no match for the intensity of the building. Unable to impose its will on the boards or defend at its normal level, Middle Tennessee also turned the ball over 17 times and looked rattled for the first time, well, ever. It carried over to Thursday night, when Western Kentucky forced the Blue Raiders to miss 18 of their first 20 shots. Eventually, they recovered for a fairly easy win, but we’re finding out that MTSU is human after all.
  2. Florida Atlantic (10-14, 6-5): At this point, Mike Jarvis has to focus on getting better in small increments in order to make a run in the Sun Belt Tournament next month. With his veteran team’s collapse this year, FAU can now only share an East title if a) Middle Tennessee loses out and b) the Owls win out. That would have seemed like a ridiculous situation just a few months ago, but that’s the nature of sports and college basketball in general. Much has been made of Ray Taylor‘s subpar season, but this team has a lot of problems that extend beyond his play. Kore White never showed up this year, nor did any other forward on this roster. Jarvis has to wish Brett Royster could gain a little eligibility these days. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 8th, 2012

  1. In their first game without Tony Mitchell, Alabama handled Auburn, winning the first round of basketball version of the Iron Bowl. On, one writer praises the move by head coach Anthony Grant: “Mitchell is the Tide’s second leading scorer and second on the team in rebounds. But Mitchell leads the team and possibly the SEC in several other undesirable categories: Like pouting when something doesn’t go his way; Playing soft defense, if he plays it at all; Flailing around on the floor like a soccer player after receiving just a bump or scratch; And in making a jackass of himself in front of thousands of onlookers.”
  2. Shuan Smith’s recovery from major hip surgery at Mississippi State has head coach Rick Stansbury looking to give Smith more quality minutes over the final two months of the season. “There’s no reason he can’t (give five to eight minutes a game) against everybody,” Stansbury said Monday in the Commercial Dispatch. “If he hadn’t been hurt, I think we’d be way beyond that point, but just because of his situation that’s where we’re at right now.”
  3. Even before Kentucky throttled Florida on Tuesday, Mike Miller of wrote about the ever-improving Wildcats. He writes “the ‘Cats are outscoring opponents by an average of .28 points per possession, meaning they basically beat everyone by about 18 points…It starts with the defense. Kentucky has the game’s most intimidating shot-blocker (Anthony Davis, with apologies to Fab Melo), its most versatile defender (freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), a bruiser who does a little of everything (Terrence Jones) and guys who can fill roles as needed (everyone needs a Darius Miller).”
  4. Already moving on to Saturday’s showdown in Nashvillle, David Boclair writes about the contrasting philosophies between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. “Vanderbilt, after all, has put together its most promising team in decades with patience and persistence. Players have stayed in the program, so the current roster includes five scholarship seniors (one of them in his fifth year) and a junior…Kentucky, conversely, likes to rely on one-and-done superstars. Under current coach John Calipari, one of the sport’s legendary programs has made great use of players such as John Wall, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, who show up, play one season and promptly jump to the NBA.”
  5. A stories analyzes how turnovers have put the  Commodores in a difficult spot following back-to-back losses. “We didn’t do a very good job of attacking their press, and it was disruptive,” coach Kevin Stallings said of Vandy’s play against the Gators. “We did a poor job with our spacing and our ball-handling, and it caused problems.” Home games vs LSU, and of course Kentucky, could put Vanderbilt back on track to locking up a first-round bye in next month’s SEC Championship.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume X

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 7th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….that moment where everyone watching a game knows exactly who is getting the ball, and that there’s no way the guy is missing. For me it was Terrence Ross of Washington against UCLA on ESPN this past Thursday. The talented swingman had 10 of the Huskies’ last 12 to complete a frantic comeback, and you just knew a splash was coming every time he lifted up for his absurdly high jumper. UW head coach Lorenzo Romar might not love that NBA scouts were undoubtedly watching, as well, but talents like Ross are tough to hide.

I LOVED….the Missouri/Baylor/Kansas trifecta in the Top 10. Not that having three teams from the same conference in those spots is unheard of – especially with the Big East – but man does it make for a flurry of big-time matchups during conference play. We had the Mizzou/KU thriller on Saturday, then Kansas/Baylor this Wednesday, and the Tigers/Bears rematch next Saturday. Boy do I love my couch.

Denmon Played Like an AA Saturday Night (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

I LOVED….remembering how hard it is to play on the road. I was fortunate enough to swing through College Park, Maryland, this weekend and snag a rather excellent seat in the very last row of the Comcast Center for UNC/UM. There isn’t much about that Terps team that should keep them in a game with Carolina’s talent, but a sellout crowd kept the place rocking and nearly carried Maryland to the upset. It just reminds me how impressive decisive road wins are in today’s game.

I LOVED….a big-time matchup being everything we wanted on Saturday – collapse, comeback, mistakes, heroics, a last-minute takeover by a star… what theater. Missouri and Kansas put on quite a show in Columbia, and Marcus Denmon has to take a big leap in POY consideration. He absolutely willed his Tigers to the finish line with cold-blooded three after cold-blooded three, and Missouri is all alone in first place after taking out Oklahoma on Monday.

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SEC Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 7th, 2012

  1. Alabama head coach Anthony Grant suspended junior forward Tony Mitchell indefinitely on Monday due to “conduct detrimental to the team.” Grant said that the decision came after “an accumulation” of incidents. On Saturday, Mitchell came off the bench for the first time this season but still played 31 minutes in a double-overtime win over Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide face rival Auburn on Tuesday and Tiger head coach Tony Barbee said the suspension “doesn’t mean a thing.”
  2. More than a few column inches have been dedicated to Kentucky’s SEC schedule, starting with the lack of a Thursday-Saturday scenario and finishing with the Wildcats’ first nine league games featuring only one RPI top 50 opponent (home vs Alabama). Starting with tonight’s top-10 showdown with Florida, Kentucky will face six top-50 foes and #51 (Ole Miss) in its last seven games. “I’m going to talk to them today about making sure we are humble,” head coach John Calipari said in his weekly teleconference. “Let’s understand why we’ve been winning and let’s understand where we have to take this.”
  3. The best SEC freshman not residing in Lexington, Florida’s Bradley Beal, has proved repeatedly to be the real deal and he again showed why in the Gators second half rally against Vanderbilt on Saturday. He scored five straight points and 14 of his 16 in the last 12 minutes of the game. In addition to his scoring, Beal ranks as the top rebounding guard in the conference and he credits Billy Donovan for making him work on his dedication to rebounding, “It’s always in my mind, because I always get on myself because I’m like, ‘Dang, I need to rebound or coach is going to get on me,’” Beal said. “Coach has always been hectic on me about going to rebound, going to rebound. I’ve just been trying to take that into my mentality and try my best to rebound.”
  4. In his weekly teleconference, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury offered up some positive news on freshman DeVille Smith who had missed the Bulldogs’ last four games and was hospitalized for headaches, dizziness and memory loss for the second time this season. Stansbury said Smith returned to school on Monday, but was not ready to project when Smith might return to the team.  “Right now I’m not even concerned about the basketball part of it,” he said. “That’s not even a concern, when he’ll play. I have no idea when that’ll happen. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
  5. By virtue of a loss at LSU, special contributor Jerry Palm placed Arkansas as one of his “Weekend Losers” as the Razorbacks fell to 0-6 on the road. Arkansas has only one more road game against a top-100 opponent, its season finale at Mississippi State, but they can get off the schneid on Wednesday in Athens against Georiga.
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Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 7th, 2012

  1. Alabama star forward Tony Mitchell was suspended indefinitely on Monday by head coach Anthony Grant, who did not elaborate on specific causes other than to say that it wasn’t the result of a specific action but a series of transgressions. The junior wing who averages 13/7 on the season picked a tough time to fail to come through for his team, as the Crimson Tide travels to Auburn tonight and LSU on Saturday. Sitting firmly on the early February bubble, Alabama cannot afford to lose either game against two lower-tier SEC teams without one of its two best players in the lineup.
  2. From a player forced to sit to a coach choosing to do so, College of Charleston head man Bobby Cremins opened up Monday about his recent leave of absence from the team. Citing doctor’s orders, the 64-year old coach said that he was running himself into the ground: “I got physically exhausted, fatigued and lacked the necessary energy to coach our team. My doctor advised me to take an immediate medical leave of absence, which I did.” Coaches are competitive and stressed-out people in general, so it probably didn’t help matters that Cremins’ team got off to a 9-1 start this season before dropping eight of their next 11 games. Reading between the lines a bit in Cremins’ statement to the media, he didn’t sound like someone ready to stop coaching — let’s hope he gets his energy back in time to lead CofC to a run in the Southern Conference Tournament next month.
  3. If you were like most of America, you didn’t know Duke had lost another home game until sometime yesterday given that Miami’s overtime victory over the Blue Devils finished as most people were either en route or settling into their Super Bowl parties. One man who knew it all too well and no doubt carried it with him into a sleepless night on Sunday was Mike Krzyzewski. Already having assailed his team in the postgame interview for a perceived lack of effort, the venerable coach on Monday took to the airwaves on 99.9 FM The Fan in Raleigh to further chastise his team for not “playing hard” during parts of the loss to Miami. As we all know, Duke’s ridiculous success has always been predicated on its tough man-to-man defense; and its defensive success has derived from equal parts talent and effort. This year’s defense, however, is one of the worst the Blue Devils have fielded since Chris Collins and Jeff Capel were hoisting shots at the rim rather than dry erasers at the white board. Coach K cannot change the talent part of his defensive problem overnight, but he can change the effort issue. We’d expect his players to come at North Carolina like a pack of starving jackals in Chapel Hill tomorrow night.
  4. We’re really not sure what to make of this, but if your goal is to figure out who has the best chance of finding the sunny side of the bubble on Selection Sunday, maybe this simple equation from Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus is really all you need. Could it really be that easy — perhaps so. Considering that the RPI is the metric favored by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, it makes sense that teams rated highly in that manner have a bit of a leg up. When you then add Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency-based metrics to the RPI, you’re essentially favoring teams that play the game of basketball (from a possession-by-possession standpoint) a little better than those who do not. Voila, the combination seems to result in a hybrid model that is a fairly accurate predictor of the field.
  5. Seth Davis was back in action Monday with a new Hoop Thoughts column, and although we disagree with him that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry will take very long to see back on the regular season schedule (five years, tops), we completely concur with his sentiment that the entire rabbit hole of conference realignment is a very, very bad thing for college athletics. And yet this is the tip of the iceberg, we’re afraid. The Pac-12 on Monday just rewarded its commissioner, Larry Scott, with an extension of his contract through 2016. How is this relevant, you ask? Recall that it was Scott’s maneuvering two summers ago in trying to lure several Big 12 schools to the Pac-10 that set into motion much of the ensuing hysteria and deal-making among schools and conferences looking out only for themselves. Without Scott’s overtures, would Missouri and Texas A&M be going to the SEC? Would Pittsburgh and Syracuse be ACC-bound? It appears that there’s no honor among the barbarians at the gate, though — say it with us now — Scott’s contract extension was approved… unanimously.
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SEC Morning Five: 01.25.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2012

  1. Alabama forward Tony Mitchell is officially on a cold streak. After scoring nearly 14.5 points per game this season, Mitchell is averaging just three points per contest in the Crimson Tide’s last two games — both losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. “We have a couple of plays set up for Tony,” senior forward JaMychal Green said. “We just have to uncover him and get him moving so he can just play ball.” Mitchell’s frustrations showed on Saturday against Kentucky as the junior fouled out after only 20 minutes of play. The Crimson Tide are on a three-game losing streak in which Mitchell hasn’t scored more than eight points. Prior to the Tide’s loss to Mississippi State on January 14, Mitchell had scored in double figures in 10 straight games and in 15 of the Tide’s first 16.
  2. Renardo Sidney’s progress for Mississippi State is evident, especially on the defensive end. Sidney held Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli to four points in 25 minutes over the weekend and came up with a big block in what appeared to be an easy dunk for Ezeli. “The old Sid would have let him just dunk it,” freshman Rodney Hood said about the key block. “He went after it. That’s when I really realized he’s coming along – he’s back. Defensively, he’s being a presence out there.” While Sidney’s minutes are still somewhat limited, he has been effective for the Bulldogs. Sidney’s field goal percentage has improved from 51.7% last year to 55.5% in 2011-12.
  3. Artist renderings of a renovated Rupp Arena interior have been released. The 23,500 seat venue, opened in 1976, is home to the Kentucky Wildcats, and the Cats haven’t lost in Rupp since John Calipari took the helm in the 2009-10 season. Kentucky currently holds the nation’s longest home court winning streak with 46 straight victories, 45 of which came under Calipari. Pictures of the Rupp Arena concourse have also been released, complete with some interesting characters hanging out awaiting UK basketball. The recent push for a new and improved Rupp surely doesn’t have anything to do with the $238 million dollar KFC Yum! Center down the highway that opened in October 2010 to host the Wildcats’ in-state rivals, the Louisville Cardinals, right?
  4. Calipari says his newly crowned number one team might need a loss to fuel the Wildcats’ competitive juices. “We probably need a loss,” Calipari said. “So we’ll come together and say, ‘We’re not losing like this.’ The Kentucky head coach knows his Cats have taken a few “on the chin” in recent games, and need to develop a mentally tough attitude to continue winning games. The blueprint for defeating the Wildcats involves physical play in the post to push around Kentucky’s thin front line. This isn’t to say that Calipari isn’t happy with his team. “We’re young,” he said, “but we’re good, too.”
  5. Our own Rush the Court’s official bracketologist Zach Hayes has a couple of SEC teams on the bubble, with one surprise team on the positive end. While we have maintained that only five SEC teams will make it into the Big Dance, Hayes has six conference teams making it in. Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Alabama all seem to make a good case for inclusion, and Hayes has all five in comfortably. The Arkansas Razorbacks are one of his last four teams out. Mike Anderson’s Hogs have a 14-5 record with a recent quality win over Michigan. But RTC also includes Ole Miss as one of the last four teams in the Tournament. The Rebels are 13-6 with an RPI of #31, but lack a quality win on their resume. Ole Miss’ best win thus far was a 75-68 win over its in-state rival Mississippi State.
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Is Vanderbilt’s Turnaround Complete?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 20th, 2012

Vanderbilt started out the season with the highest expectations in program history, but a disappointing 6-4 start including losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State labeled the Commodores as underachievers not able to overcome their defensive liabilities. Center Festus Ezeli returned, but doubts of Vanderbilt’s potential remained. Even an eight game winning streak hasn’t won over the Commodores’ critics, but a 69-59 win in Tuscaloosa was good enough to convince me. Vanderbilt still has a lot to prove because of a lack of recent NCAA Tournament success, but its defense against Alabama displayed just how high the ceiling is this year.

Vanderbilt is a completely different team mid-way into the season

The Commodores’ defense was the key to their win on Thursday night. Kevin Stallings’ club held Alabama to 32.9% shooting by putting the Crimson Tide’s stars on lockdown. Leading scorer Tony Mitchell, coming into the game averaging 13.7 points per game, scored zero points on 0-8 shooting. Alabama forward JaMychal Green managed only six points. Ezeli’s impact on the Commodores’ interior defense was on full display, as was the potential of Vanderbilt’s defense when the center is on the court.

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Checking in On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on January 13th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 


The Week That Was

  • It wasn’t Ken McDonald‘s fault this his team lost in overtime to Louisiana earlier this month. The Ragin’ Cajuns, after all, scored the winning bucket with six players on the floor. After more than three years of McDonald’s frustrating tenure, though, the Sixth Man loss must have been the final straw for athletic director Ross Bjork. McDonald lost his job after the game, departing with a 67-49 record. Now, interim head coach Ray Harper must mold this young team into a competitor this winter, which should be a tall task for a team mired in a 1-7 free-fall since December 7.
  • Tony Mitchell‘s debut in Sun Belt play did not exactly make any headlines, as he fought foul trouble and scored just six points in each of his first two games. The third SBC contest with South Alabama was a charm, however. Mitchell went for 34 points and 16 rebounds, scoring in every way imaginable. He attacked the glass, fired from three-point range and finished 11-14 from the field. And last night, Mitchell’s hot streak continued with a 21-point effort in front of several NBA scouts in Denton. We knew this would be the case, but it’s starting to look like Mitchell is a sure one-and-done.

The Dynamic Tony Mitchell Hasn't Disappointed So Far (North Texas)

Power Rankings
  1. Middle Tennessee (16-2, 5-0):  Here’s an easy formula to dominate a league: bully people on the glass and on the defensive end. That’s where MTSU makes its living. Averaging 11 offensive rebounds per game as a team, the frontcourt duo of LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton is simply unfair right now. Plus, with Bruce Massey playing well at the point and MTSU’s depth starting to round into shape, Kermit Davis doesn’t appear to have many weaknesses right now. Except, of course, for one big one: three-point shooting. Even though they do most of their damage in the paint, the Blue Raiders do not have an outside threat right now. Raymond Cintron is the only player really capable of getting hot from the perimeter, and even he shoots less than 40 percent from the field. Besides that, it’s hard to envision Davis’ team suffering a collapse after this 5-0 start. Saturday’s game at preseason favorite Florida Atlantic might be the most important game of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.13-01.15

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

A couple of Mountain West battles highlight Saturday’s action but the big one is late Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten.

#14 Connecticut @ Notre Dame – 11:00 AM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

  • Led by Andre Drummond’s 20/11 on 9-11 FG, Connecticut got back on track by defeating West Virginia on Monday night. To win on the road, the Huskies will need quality efforts from most of their roster. That starts with Shabazz Napier protecting the basketball. Jim Calhoun’s sophomore point guard sets the tone for this team, good or bad. Napier (and UConn as a whole) has struggled with turnovers, especially in Big East play. On the road against a team looking to make its mark in the middle of the conference, the Huskies have to do a better job handing the ball if they are to win this one. The more possessions UConn can earn by using its strong rebounding advantage while minimizing turnovers, the more opportunities there will be for talented players such as Drummond, Jeremy Lamb (25 points vs. WVU) and Ryan Boatright to score.

    Can Napier Step Up To Lead The Huskies?

  • Believe it or not, Notre Dame actually has an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. 37 at-large bids have to come from somewhere and the Fighting Irish are on the bubble according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This will be a tall order for Notre Dame, even at home. The Irish have won 29 consecutive home games but that will be tested mightily against the Huskies. The emergence of Jack Cooley in the paint could be the biggest reason why Notre Dame has a chance to upset UConn. Cooley has averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.7 RPG over his last eight games, the latest Notre Dame big man to develop nicely under Mike Brey. However, Cooley will likely have a more difficult time against Connecticut’s stifling interior defense. The Huskies have always owned the paint under Calhoun and this year is no different. Notre Dame has to make outside shots in order to win because it can’t count on Cooley alone inside. Jerian Grant has turned into a consistent scorer but the Irish need a third option. Brey had hoped Scott Martin would be that guy but he has really struggled. However, Martin is impacting the game in other ways, rebounding well even when the shots aren’t falling. Notre Dame must try to get to the foul line as well. UConn historically doesn’t foul often so this could be difficult even at home.
  • If Drummond plays like he did against West Virginia, the Huskies will be a strong favorite. UConn must rebound aggressively to counteract any turnover problems it may have. The Irish have struggled shooting the three ball this year and Connecticut ranks second in interior defense. If those statistics hold true, Notre Dame will have an incredibly difficult time scoring. The good news for the Irish? They have been the best team defending the triple in Big East play (20.9%). For UConn, it’s simple. Protect the ball, rebound, and defend the paint. If the Huskies do that, they will snap ND’s 29-game home winning streak. Easier said than done, of course.
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Top Ten Diaper Dandies: Midseason Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on January 13th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Compiling a list of the nation’s top freshmen in mid-January is admittedly unfair. Whether they’re a high-profile athlete or a science lab dork, ask anyone to reminisce about their first semester at school and the phrase “learning experience” comes to mind. Over the next two months, the grind of conference play will quickly mold youthful freshmen into hardened veterans. As Jeremy Lamb can attest, there’s still plenty of time for collegiate rookies to become a household name.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s gauge where this year’s talented rookies rank in terms of production and instant impact. Not all of the inclusions were ballyhooed recruits and high school All-Americans, but instead I present to you the collection of players who possess the maturation, intelligence and skill level to succeed immediately during such a difficult transition both on and off the court.

Cody Zeller has lived up to the lofty billing

Honorable Mention

Thomas Gipson, Kansas State- Gipson has proven a tremendous frontcourt compliment to the more perimeter-oriented Jamar Samuels, bulldozing opponents with his sturdy 6’7” frame to the tune of 9.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG through his first half season at Manhattan. Gipson ranks in the top-60 in the country in both offensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

Tony Mitchell, North Texas– Since becoming eligible on December 18 after failing to qualify at Missouri, Mitchell immediately scored in double-figures his first four games at North Texas. His banner performance to date was a 34-point, 16-rebound effort against South Alabama. The former five-star recruit is shooting an efficient 65% from inside the arc.

Quincy Miller, Baylor– The jewel of Scott Drew’s recruiting class may not post the raw numbers of other rookies due to the abundance of talent on his roster, but Miller has shown flashes of a future lottery pick, including a smooth step-back three down the stretch in Baylor’s win over Kansas State this past week. Miller is a versatile matchup nightmare as a double-figure scorer that shoots 35% from three and also snatches over five rebounds per contest.

Eli Carter, Rutgers– Carter didn’t come to Piscataway with quite the sterling reputation of some of his fellow classmates, but he’s been the most productive freshman from day one. Carter uses the most shots and possessions on a per-minute basis on the Scarlet Knights, and as long as he’s scoring over 14 a game, shooting 43% and posting 31/7/7 efforts like he did in their upset over Florida, Mike Rice will keep the green light on.

Tony Wroten, Washington– The Seattle native has been a Jekyll and Hyde act early for an equally enigmatic Huskies team. The turnovers (4.1 per game), defensive lapses and shot selection are sometimes mind-numbing, but you’ll live with some faults when your 6’5” guard is shooting 55% from inside the arc and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. Wroten has scored 20+ points in three of his first five conference outings.

10. Rodney Hood, Mississippi State– Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie receive the bulk of the attention, but Hood has provided a steady and efficient complimentary scoring option for Rick Stansbury. The southpaw is averaging 12.6 PPG on 53% from two and 44% from three and turns the ball over roughly once every 34 minutes. Improve from the charity stripe (59%) and Hood could be an all-SEC contender as soon as next season.

9. Austin Rivers, Duke- If you can filter out all of the unrealistic expectations, Rivers has completed a very respectable first semester serving as Duke’s primary dribble-drive threat and crunch-time scoring option. Rivers leads Duke in scoring, shoots 45% from two, 40% from three and put together 20+ point performances against top-15 Ohio State and Michigan. Look for Rivers to cut down on his turnovers as the game slows down and his decision-making improves.

8. Andre Drummond, Connecticut– Outside of #1 on this list, no player has as much room to grow from now until March as Drummond. Just as impressive as his highlight reel dunks during a 20-point, 11-rebound outing against West Virginia last Monday were two baseline jumpers he nailed during the second half. If Drummond can expand his offensive repertoire to include occasional mid-range/post scoring to compliment his explosiveness and pick-and-roll prowess, Connecticut may emerge as the second best team in the Big East by season’s close.

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