Tennessee Inches Closer to NCAA Bid, Win Over Alabama Could Seal Deal

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Thursday afternoon’s SEC Tournament game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.

While the SEC has endured a significant amount of well-deserved criticism for its share of mediocre (well, bad) basketball this season (the fact that Mississippi State not only didn’t finish last in the league and was even able to win a game in the conference tournament – albeit against equally woeful South Carolina – is Exhibit A of the league’s futility), perhaps no conference presents more bubble scenarios as we roll towards Selection Sunday. Thus, while the usual Kentucky-related buzz is absent from this weekend’s festivities in Nashville except to the extent the Wildcats are on the bubble themselves,  there is a lot of intrigue about which teams will emerge and land a spot in the field of 68. As of now, it is assumed that only Florida and Missouri are locks for the field, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and Tennessee seeking bids.

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Clearly,  no team is more squarely on the bubble than the Volunteers, who dispatched of the significantly undermanned Bulldogs 69-53 behind 17 points from Jordan McRae Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win arguably will do nothing to help the Vols’ standing in the RPI and with the committee, but a loss would have crippled Tennessee’s chances to receive a bid. Now, they must face a much tougher test on Friday, as they take on co-bubble dweller Alabama. While some view the contest as a “play-in” game of sorts, Tennessee comes in with a better resume than the Crimson Tide, which has no wins over the RPI top 50. And Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t think the bid is in question any longer. “I said after we beat Mizzou that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ve moved past that,” Martin said, unconvincingly, after the game. Still, for Tennessee, Friday’s game is an opportunity to win another game against a quality opponent and solidify its standing with the selection committee.

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SEC Depth Bolsters Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament Case

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 1st, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

At the beginning of the year, the SEC was considered a top-heavy league with four competitors battling it out for supremacy. As the season progressed, the league looked more and more like that original assessment was plain wrong. There weren’t four competitors for the SEC crown;  it appeared there may be just one. The league became Florida and 13 sources of an endless supply of jokes. But nobody is laughing anymore. In fact, some are arguing that the SEC is deeper and better than anyone could have imagined this season.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams rank in the top 100 of the RPI (all RPI rankings are taken from RealTimeRPI.com). Florida (#5), Missouri (#43), Kentucky (#49), Tennessee (#53), Mississippi (#55), Alabama (#62), Texas A&M (#87), Arkansas (#89) and LSU (#92) certainly give the SEC one of the deeper leagues in the country. However, will overall conference depth translate into additional NCAA Tournament bids? That subject remains up in the air, but an improved perception of the league’s strength should help on Selection Sunday, particularly for those Tennessee Volunteers.

Just two weeks ago, the SEC looked like a one-bid league. Now, there are as many as seven teams that could be in the conversation for a berth. And just like last year, Tennessee is leading the rise. The Vols finished SEC play winning eight of its final nine games last season, and they are on another tear at the end of this year. Tennessee beat a shell-shocked Kentucky team by 30 points and is coming off a win against Florida on Tuesday to quickly work its way into the NCAA bubble conversation.

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Ten Tuesday (or Wednesday!) Scribbles: On Scoring, Rule Changes, Syracuse and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 27th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Much has been made about the decline in scoring in college basketball over the last decade. These days, it is very common to see games played in the 60s, 50s or even 40s in some instances. It is true that scoring has decreased substantially over the last 10 years and the numbers bear it out. In the 2002-03 season, 172 teams averaged at least 70.0 PPG. That number has steadily declined, falling to 145 five seasons ago and 111 this year. With the advent of advanced statistics, one in particular stands out. Ten years ago, 123 teams averaged an adjusted tempo of 70.0 possessions per game. That was cut in half by 2007-08 (62 teams) and the number has continued to decline even since then. This season, only 28 of America’s 347 Division I teams play at that pace or greater. Why is this happening? Pace is certainly a factor but there are other issues at play here. With the proliferation of television coverage and video based scouting programs such as Synergy Sports Technology, scouting and video material is more available than ever. Head coaches and their staffs know everything about an opponent and that makes a huge difference for a lot of teams on the defensive end. A lot of teams run the same sets and it’s simply easier to prepare when you see the same thing over and over again. The elephant in the room, however, is the talent level in college basketball. Most of us probably wouldn’t like to admit it but the talent level has noticeably dipped in our sport over the last decade. I’m not talking about a once in 20 years type of player like Kevin Durant but the overall depth of talent in the game. There’s a reason a lot of people are saying this year’s NBA Draft class could be the weakest ever. That’s because it is. Until college basketball gets a much-needed infusion of talent, low scoring games will remain the norm.
  2. A lot of people would like to see the so-called “one-and-done” rule fade to black and that got me thinking about some much-needed rule changes in college basketball. I’m not going to discuss the one-and-done here, I’m talking about changes that need to be made during the actual games. If I had the power, the first thing I’d do is shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds. Five seconds may not sound like a lot but since there are roughly 66 to 67 possessions in an average Division I game, that would translate into another 10 possessions per game. Immediately you’d see an increase in scoring which makes the game more attractive to fans. One thing that annoys me is the amount of timeouts and stoppages in the game. There are already four mandated media timeouts every half and each team gets a total of five timeouts per game. In an era when coaches rarely leave timeouts on the table, there are 18 different timeouts in a typical college game, an average of one every two minutes and 13 seconds. It hurts the flow of a game in a big way and my proposal would be to reduce the number of timeouts to three per team and no extras in overtime. The end of every college basketball game these days seems to include a multitude of timeouts, fouls and official reviews. Officials reviewing plays has helped many sports get calls right, including college basketball. However, officials are abusing the monitor more than ever before. A big reason why is the NCAA rule change a few years ago regarding flagrant fouls and elbows thrown. I get why this rule was implemented (player safety) but there is no evidence this rule acts as a deterrent. Players have been taught from a young age to clear space with your elbows when being pressured by a defender. Now, a loose elbow can be deemed a flagrant foul even if there was no intent to injure by the offending player. This has to change. I have absolutely no problem with calling a flagrant foul for a malicious elbow or other physical contact. But calling a flagrant for an innocent or accidental elbow is wrong and is another thing that contributes to college games that lack an entertaining flow. A couple other changes I’d make include not resetting the 10-second count in the backcourt after a timeout, not being able to inbound the ball into the backcourt (it’s a bailout move for a team without a quality inbounds play) and starting the 1-and-1 bonus at nine fouls instead of seven. What are your thoughts on some of these proposals?

    Tubby Smith, Minnesota

    Tubby Smith has Minnesota pointed in the right direction

  3. This time of year, bubble talk dominates the discussion. My way of looking at bubble teams is simple: Did you beat quality opponents and what have you done away from home? This approach is one Jay Bilas mentions on television every year, something I wholeheartedly agree with. I remember years ago when Bilas went on ESPN and said something like, “Bubble teams have all proven they can lose. The question is, who did you beat and where did you beat them?” Truer words have never been spoken. You can’t dismiss all losses but when we’re talking about bubble teams, we’re usually looking at teams that have lost anywhere from 9 to 12 games, sometimes more. When I look at this year’s group of bubble teams, a few stand out. Minnesota is only 7-8 in Big Ten play but has multiple quality wins over Memphis (neutral), Illinois (away), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (home) and last night’s massive upset of Indiana at the Barn on its resume. All of that trumps Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern and should get the Golden Gophers into the Big Dance.  Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois is in the same boat and I believe the Illini have done enough to warrant a bid at this point. Villanova is an interesting team. The Wildcats have a high number of losses (11) but wins at Connecticut and home versus Louisville and Syracuse have them in the NCAA discussion. I think Villanova is an NCAA-worthy team but the Wildcats need to do more to earn a bid because a pair of bad losses on their resume hurt the cause. Teams like St. Mary’s are harder to quantify. The Gaels have just one top 50 win (home vs. Creighton) on their resume and a pair of bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. When a team wins a number of games against poor competition as St. Mary’s has, it’s very hard to determine if they’re NCAA-worthy. I think the Gaels are, but their resume leaves a lot to be desired. Beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament would prove to everyone that they deserve a spot. Read the rest of this entry »
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Night Line: Vols Making Habit of February Revival

Posted by BHayes on February 27th, 2013

nightline2

Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Attention bubble dwellers – it is time to make room for the Tennessee Volunteers. After a rousing victory over the SEC’s best in #8 Florida, the Vols are officially back in the NCAA Tournament picture. If you are feeling as if you have seen this movie before, it’s probably because you have. A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s club ripped off eight victories over the course of its last nine regular season games, overcoming a disastrous 10-12 beginning to find their way into the March bubble talk. Losing to Ole Miss in their SEC Tournament opener would ultimately relegate last year’s Vols to the NIT, but this season’s bunch has a chance to script a different ending. More work left to be done for certain, but a late February six-game winning streak is a good place to start if you are looking to re-enter the NCAA discussion.

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

While the Vols may have reached their aesthetical nadir back in December after posting a total of 74 points in two games against Georgetown and Virginia (yes, I said total), it isn’t as if Cuonzo Martin’s club is all of a sudden winning pretty. Their adjusted tempo still places them in the bottom fifth of Division I basketball, and Tuesday night’s win over the Gators saw just one Vol in double figures, with Jordan McRae continuing his strong play by posting a game-high 27 points. Grinding pace aside, the team’s overall offensive efficiency (53rd nationally) is not bad, but the Vols are heavily reliant on getting to the free throw line and pounding the offensive glass — blue-collar efforts that may or may not appeal to the average fan, but that the tough-as-nails Martin has to love.

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SEC M5: 2.26.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 26th, 2013

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  1. After scoring 20 and 32 points against LSU and Texas A&M respectively Tennessee junior Trae Golden was been named the SEC Player of the Week. The Volunteer point guard has struggled through an up and down season, struggling to find consistency with his shot and decision-making. That wasn’t the case last week however as he shot  almost 50% from the field and a cool 19 for 20 from the free throw line. “He’s like the leader of our team, especially from the standpoint that he can get his own shot and create for others,” junior guard Jordan McRae said. “If you don’t have your floor general out there, it’s kind of hard for someone else to step in and duplicate what he’s been doing for us.” It’s no coincidence that Tennessee’s best stretch of the season has come at a time when Golden and sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes are playing their best basketball.
  2. Tennessee has a chance at a huge resume-padding win tonight when Florida comes to town. The Gators have absolutely dominated the SEC this season, with a scoring margin of over 20 points/game, but the Volunteers may have caught Billy Donovan’s team at the right time. Michael Frazier II will miss out with a concussion he suffered over the weekend, and Will Yeguete won’t yet be back from knee surgery. However, both could be healthy for the Gators home game against Alabama this weekend. “Frazier’s going to come back at some point. So is Will Yeguete,” Donovan said. “When that actually is, no one really knows right now but I think they’ll be a point where we have our team fully back and we’ll have a full complement of players.” The Gators finish out the season with Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
  3. Willie Cauley-Stein followed in the footsteps of his fallen frontcourt mate and was named SEC Freshman of the Week. The freshman from Kansas put together his best two-game stretch of the season, scoring 20 against Vanderbilt midweek before grabbing 12 rebounds and swatting 7 shots against Missouri on Saturday night. Kentucky looked helpless against Tennessee without Nerlens Noel patrolling the paint, but Cauley-Stein has proved to be a decent replacement for Noel’s lost production. The recognition is Cauley-Stein’s second of the season, his first coming after posting a double-double against Eastern Michigan heading into conference play.
  4. LSU doesn’t have many periods of sustained success in their basketball program’s history, but Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times thinks that may change under the guidance of first-year head coach Johnny Jones. Jones was involved in the program during its best years, as a player for the 1981 Final Four team, and as an assistant for the successful run from 1985-87, all under coach Dale Brown. “Jones’ team plays a lot like most of Brown’s teams — fast and high scoring with hustle and opportunistic defenses that tend to “freak” opponents,” writes Guilbeau. “It’s fun to watch, and people are gradually returning to the Assembly Center. There were 8,200 — a good crowd this century — on a beautiful Saturday with LSU coming off a loss, below .500 in the SEC and neither team ranked.” Jones is making progress on the recruiting trail as well. He’s making sure that his pitches are heard outside of LSU’s immediate surroundings, and has had his hard work rewarded with a commitment from McDonald’s All-American Jarell Martin, only the second to head to Baton Rouge since 2005.
  5. Trevor Releford has been Alabama‘s go-to guy much of the season, but should he be shooting even more? Probably. Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper are threats to score from the perimeter as well, but neither is nearly as efficient as Releford. The junior guard is shooting 49% from the field (trailing only reserve forward Nick Jacobs) and leads the team in shooting 42% from distance. “I’ve said this before: When he’s locked in, he’s as good as any guard in our league or across the country,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said Monday. “Here lately, he’s really been playing his best basketball, and we need him to continue.” Despite the heartbreaking loss to LSU over the weekend, Releford was in top form, scoring 36 on 14-18 shooting. The Tide are currently outside the tournament according to most bracket projections, but they have the opportunity for quality wins, with road trips to Florida and Ole Miss before the end of the year.
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SEC M5: 02.25.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 25th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky rose to the occasion for ESPN’s GameDay, knocking off Missouri Saturday night in overtime. The Wildcats have taken a ton of heat over the past week following assertions from John Calipari that some his players were “uncoachable” following a blowout loss to Tennessee. Two of the assumed targets of the comments came up big against the Tigers. Point guard Ryan Harrow scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his after the break. “Oh man, I mean we fought hard,” said Goodwin. “That is ultimately what it came down to. We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we just wanted it more than they did.” Saturday’s performance served as a huge statement from a few players who have had their effort widely questioned throughout the year.
  2. The elder statesman of this Kentucky squad had himself quite a game as well. Wright State transfer Julius Mays led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including six game-icing free throws in overtime. Mays has done his best to seize a leadership role for Kentucky, and his efforts looked to pay dividends against Mizzou. “He’s a great leader and he’s a great big brother for me,” Goodwin said. “He’s like my best friend. He’s just always there for encouragement. Sometimes when things are not going our way, he’s always the person that pulls me aside and just tries to get my head back right.” With his more talented teammates singing his praises, “Uncle Julius” hopes his teammates will get on board for an NCAA Tournament push.
  3. Florida got the revenge it craved in Saturday’s easy win over Arkansas, but it came at a high price. The Gators lost reserve forward Michael Frazier II to a concussion after the freshman guard collided with Scottie Wilbekin chasing a loose ball. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks – I don’t know.” With Will Yeguete already sidelined, Donovan is down to only six regular rotation players and says he will turn to Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham or DeVon Walker to pick up the spare minutes.
  4. Even a good night on offense rarely leads to victory for the road team at the O’Connell Center, but Arkansas’ two big shots didn’t give the Razorbacks much of a chance. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who led a balanced Arkansas attack in scoring in their upset of Florida in the first meeting, were held to only 10 points, with Young in particular being shut out from the field. A big night from Coty Clarke (8-of-8 from the field) kept Arkansas in the game in the first half before the Gators pulled away after the break. “It was a tale of two halves,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We scratched and clawed and gave ourselves a chance, even with some adversity with the early fouls. In the second half, Florida really attacked the glass and we didn’t make shots.
  5. They’ve been so hot over the past few weeks, 40 minutes wasn’t enough basketball for Tennessee on Saturday. Tied at 62 after regulation in College Station, Texas A&M and the Volunteers decided to play another two halves of hoops, resulting in a fifth straight victory for the visitors. Trae Golden led the way with 32 points, with both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae eclipsing the 20-point mark in the longest game in Tennessee history. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting hot at exactly the right time, and an upset victory over a depleted Florida team on Tuesday would really make the “at-large” whispers that much louder in Knoxville.
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SEC M5: 02.05.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Is Florida the nation’s best team? The Gators checked in at number one in the RTC weekly poll, but number two in the AP poll and USA Today/Coaches poll. But NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster says it doesn’t matter what the rankings say, Florida is the best team. As Dauster points out, “if the season ended today, Florida would be the best defensive team of the past decade, and they do it playing man, zone and pressing, depending on who they’re playing. But Florida also happens to be the nation’s second-most powerful offense, sliding in between Michigan and Indiana. In other words, Florida is what happens when you take Louisville’s defense and Michigan’s offense and put them onto the same team.” Florida’s combination of offensive and defensive efficiency gives it a net difference of +43.3, which would also be the highest mark in the KenPom era. On paper, the Gators certainly have the look of a champion and its defense is becoming more and more impressive as the season goes on.
  2. The #2 ranking for Florida is its highest ranking since coming in first in the 2007 AP poll, but of course the Gators are not alluding to the high praise as changing anything in their preparation. “It just means that we’re on the right track,” UF center Patric Young said. “We just need to keep working and improving and not take any games for granted. We can’t lose any games right now.” If the Gators weren’t already circled on the calendar by other SEC teams, they surely are now. “Getting more recognition means that we have to be ready for everybody bringing their best shot at us,” Young said. “We’ve just got to take care of what we can control coming in and trying to get better each and every day.” UF travels to Arkansas on Tuesday, where the Razorbacks have only lost to Syracuse this season at Bud Walton Arena.
  3. In their last two losses, the Tennessee Volunteers have amassed over 20 turnovers per game, causing head coach Cuonzo Martin to talk about taking care of the ball. “We have to do a better job of finding shooters and that dribble penetration,” Martin said. “Because eight assists and 20 turnovers – we have to turn that thing around.” It probably didn’t help that UT was without Trae Golden in its most recent loss to Arkansas. Golden was the starting point guard entering the season for the Vols, but he hasn’t started a game since January 9. He has played well coming off the bench, though, and says he will “be back on the court in no time,” (via Twitter).
  4. Kentucky coach John Calipari is looking forward to a couple of games at home this week for his road-weary Wildcats. “I was surprised we were at home this week. We’ve been on the road four of five games. I thought we were just a road team. I didn’t think we played home games, but it’s good to be back. We’re playing two scrappy teams. When you watch them, they fight like heck.” Calipari was referring to Frank Martin’s Gamecocks of South Carolina and former Calipari assistant Tony Barbee’s Auburn Tigers. Both teams will likely get physical with the Wildcats, a style of play that has caused Kentucky a fair amount of trouble this season.
  5. Calipari explained during Monday’s SEC teleconference that point guard Ryan Harrow may begin to lose playing time once center Willie Cauley-Stein returns from injury. On Cauley-Stein’s return, Cal said, “Well, Kyle (Wiltjer) needs to play and Alex (Poythress) needs to play so it will probably take minutes away from Ryan (Harrow) and probably some minutes away from Archie (Goodwin) because if Alex and Kyle deserve to play more because of how they’re playing, well then who’s not… you’ve got to take somebody else out.” But Calipari seemed frustrated when trying to explain what has happened to Harrow recently. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Just gonna keep working with him.” Harrow has averaged almost three turnovers per game since the start of SEC play, and his 26 percent shooting from beyond the arc certainly isn’t helping his case either.
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SEC M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 1st, 2013

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  1. Frank Haith has had a rough month. Questions over his job security in the wake of violations at Miami have been festering, and his Missouri Tigers, previously ranked in the top 10, were in free fall after heavy losses to Ole Miss and Florida. But forward Laurence Bowers’ return would solve the latter problem at least, right? Wrong. Missouri lost to LSU in Baton Rouge, and Haith is not amused. “We have no toughness in the first half; we have no resolve,” Haith said. “It’s disappointing. It’s really extremely disappointing. Guys are tending to do their own thing when the game’s getting tight or there’s adversity.” Star point guard Phil Pressey, despite finally finding his scoring touch, should shoulder as much of the blame as anyone. The Wooden Award nominee has become a gunner from long-range, and missed a hurried effort (one of his 8 3-point misses on the night) late in the game when Missouri had been steadily coming back. “We (had been) driving the ball, and we needed to keep driving the ball,” Haith said, noting there was plenty of time left. “We said that in timeouts.” The Tigers are 0-4 in true road games this season.
  2. “They’re real good.” -Frank Martin. He was talking, of course, about Florida, right after his Gamecocks succumbed to a nearly 40-point loss at their hands. The Gators, sporting a 7-0 conference record with a point differential of over 28, are making a mockery of the SEC. They’ve beaten up on the bottom of the league, but the sheer dominance of their victories, not to mention the shellacking of 17th-ranked Missouri, indicates that weak opposition isn’t the only explanation for their success. Florida isn’t unbeatable, but their balanced offense (the nation’s 4th most efficient) is somewhat of a safeguard against an unexpected upset. Four players average more than 11.0 points a game, and a fifth (Scottie Wilbekin), was just named SEC Player of the Week. Even if the odds are defied and every Gator has an off shooting night, coach Billy Donovan can just fall back on the 2nd best defense in the country. Your move SEC.
  3. Tennessee will be likely be shorthanded for their trip to Fayetteville this weekend. Junior guard Trae Golden suffered an injury to his right hamstring late in the Volunteers victory over Vanderbilt and is unlikely to recover by Saturday. “It’s tough for our team,” Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought he had really been assertive (lately) with the ball. So it’s tough for our team, but more importantly, it’s tough for Trae. He wants to be out there. He’s upset about it. But we have to keep moving.” Hometown walk-on Brandon Lopez should be the next in line to pick up the slack for Golden. The early scouting report on him features a lot of the standard buzzwords for walk-ons, so any offensive output will be a bonus. Arkansas’ up-tempo style and the loss of Golden puts points at a premium, so the Volunteers will have to count on Jordan McRae rediscovering his shooting stroke and Jarnell Stokes continuing his recent offensive resurgence.
  4. As if having 12 of your shots blocked by one person wasn’t painful enough, the hits keep on coming for Ole Miss in the aftermath of their loss to Kentucky. Reserve forward Aaron Jones suffered a torn ACL while senior guard Nick Williams re-aggravated a foot injury. Jones is obviously done for the year, while there is no timetable for Willams’ return. This represents a serious blow to the Rebels’ depth, affording coach Andy Kennedy no game time to adjust his rotation before traveling to Gainesville this weekend. Freshman Derrick Millinghaus, who has seen his minutes dwindle since the start of conference play, should see more time, while classmate Terry Brutus seems like the best bet to contribute a few minutes in the paint.
  5. I said a few months ago that we wouldn’t mention this guy on this microsite again, but circumstances are forcing my hand. Big Blue Nation favorite and apparent troll Billy Gillispie will be in attendance for Kentucky’s trip to College Station this weekend. In response to Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy‘s invite, Gillispie said “Actually, I’m playing golf [in College Station] on Friday. I said, ‘Who are y’all playing Saturday?’ They said, ‘Kentucky,’ and so I said, ‘I think I’ll go.’ But it’s no big deal.” Kentucky players will be focused on stopping Aggie guard Elston Turner, who scored 40 in his trip to Rupp Arena, but Wildcat fans will certainly be paying attention to an individual on the sideline. Expect one of ESPN’s cameras to be attached to Billy, treatment usually reserved at Kentucky games for Ashley Judd.
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SEC M5: 01.09.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 9th, 2013

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  1. SEC play started Tuesday night, and for one team the message was simple: Just win. Tennessee enters conference play without forward Jeronne Maymon, with injuries to freshman Derek Reese and point guard Trae Golden, and with anything but an assurance of an NCAA berth carrying a mediocre 8-4 record. “I wouldn’t say [there's] pressure,” Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We just need to win ball games.” The Volunteers open up with Ole Miss this evening and will need Golden to play much better. Over the last three games, Golden is 1-of-16 from the field and is averaging just 6.3 points per game.
  2. Fans in Lexington may want revenge against Vanderbilt on Thursday given the Commodores’ narrow victory over the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament final, but Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t expect his players to have a chip on their shoulder. “The guys I’m coaching may not even know that game happened to be honest with you. I’ve watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us. All three games were wars. We happened to win two; we could’ve lost all three – or we could’ve won all three. But they were wars, and so I expect nothing less than that going up [to Nashville].” As Kentucky continues to rely upon freshmen in this one-and-done landscape, it becomes increasingly likely that current players will be unfamiliar with long-term institutional history. Rivalries may change year to year just as the teams do in Lexington.
  3. Saddled with injuries and a youthful team, Auburn has turned to junior swingman Allen Payne at the power forward position. Payne, a 6’5″ junior with lingering knee issues after a suffering ACL and meniscus tears last season, is undersized for the post but his solid play against Illinois and Florida State has earned him the praise of coaches and teammates. “He’s always been tough,” center Rob Chubb said. “But now he’s starting to get more touches, he’s starting to get a feel for himself and realize he’s a skilled bigger player.” Payne stepped up in a big way last week in a win over Florida State with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
  4. Could Ole Miss give the SEC a chance at four bids in the NCAA Tournament? Well, it’s never too early to start projecting the bracket, and at this point the Rebels seem to be squarely on the bubble. Ole Miss has neither quality wins nor bad losses, with a win over Rutgers as its “best” victory thus far. A win over the Scarlet Knights is hardly a resume builder. Three bids remains the most likely scenario for the SEC this year, but a rise from the Rebels in conference play gives the conference its best chance at securing another bid in the Big Dance.
  5. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray says Mississippi State is “getting ready to turn the corner.” Despite some embarrassing losses, the first-year coach likes the direction his Bulldogs are taking considering the circumstances. “But the semester break has been key for us as far as our individual player development and our team getting better,” Ray said. “I felt that all came to fruition in our game against New Orleans when we went out and played better than we did that first 15 minutes against Alabama A&M. We’re headed in the right direction as far as improvement as a ball club and improvement individually as we start SEC play.” Mississippi State is “all the way up to a booming seven scholarship players,” forced to use trainers and managers to field a full 10-man scrimmage in practice. Considering the circumstances, patience is in order in Starkville.
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Resetting the SEC Race: A Look at the Seven “East” Teams

Posted by CNguon on January 4th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC Microsite writer and can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

Non-conference play is wrapping up in the Southeastern Conference, and that means that the battle for SEC supremacy is about to begin. We’re two months into the college basketball season, and several teams are vying to be crowned as the SEC’s king. Florida and Missouri have carried the banner early in the season, but a talented program lies in wait in Lexington. Behind them, quietly successful squads like LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Texas A&M are also waiting to prove that their inflated records aren’t just the products of careful scheduling. This week, we’ll break down how each member of the SEC has started its 2012-13 campaigns, who their key players may be going forward, and whether they can carry their current pace into conference play. Today, we’ll start by looking at the conference known during football season as the SEC East:

Florida – Flaws May be Surfacing; The Gators are 2-2 after a 7-0 Start

  • The Good: The Gators have shown off a balanced attack and are playing great team defense to start their season. Opponents are shooting woefully against them, averaging just 52 points per game through Florida’s first 11 match-ups. No team has scored more than 67 points against UF so far in 2012-13. Kenny Boynton is still around and doing Kenny Boynton things. This can be recorded as either as positive or a negative for the Gators. He’s leading the team in scoring and swagger, but like a 6’2” Antoine Walker he’s shooting over six three-pointers per game and making fewer than 30 percent of them. He’s regressed since a strong junior season, but he’s still clearly this team’s general when it comes down to on-court leadership.

    Erik Murphy has come into his own as a senior (US Presswire)

    Erik Murphy has come into his own as a senior (US Presswire)

  • The Bad: Florida’s balance comes at the expense of not having an alpha dog to take over in tight situations. Boynton’s poor shooting tempers his status as a go-to player, while Erik Murphy and Patric Young have yet to prove themselves as consistent threats when the pressure is on. This is something that could fluster coach Billy Donovan when conference play brings more high-pressure situations.
  • Player to Watch: Erik Murphy. Murphy, the pride of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, has come into his own as a senior, shooting a stellar 57 percent from the field and 45 percent from long range. The 6’10” forward is an inside-out presence who can stretch opposing defenses and use his length to provide passable defense in the interior. His ability to draw defenders away from the hoop helps provide openings for a strong backcourt led by Boynton and Rosario. If he can maintain this level of play, he’ll give the Gators plenty of options on offense.
  • Can it Last? Yes, but… the Gators have been solid and have the talent to make a deep postseason run, but recent losses bring this team’s makeup and stability into question. Florida gave up the comeback of the 2012-13 season so far when turnovers and a missed Boynton free throw helped Arizona overcome a six-point deficit with 57 seconds left in the game. Two games later, they couldn’t get past a sneaky-good Kansas State team in Kansas City. The Gators have all the strength they need to get past the SEC’s lower-level teams, but they’ve still got to prove that they can handle the best the conference has to offer. Their reign at the top of the conference may be short lived.

Missouri – Their Talent Has Led to a 10-2 Record, But Can They Continue to Play as a Team?

  • The Good: Laurence Bowers has returned stronger than ever from last season’s ACL tear, and a Missouri team filled with transfers have helped place the Tigers among the NCAA’s elite in 2013. Jabari Brown (Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (UConn), Earnest Ross (Auburn), and Keion Bell (Pepperdine) have all played well in their new hometown of Columbia, Missouri. The Tigers have nine players that have earned 10 minutes per game or more this year; of those, only Phil Pressey suited up for Mizzou in 2011-12. Point guard Pressey has proven to be an excellent distributor, leading the SEC with 7.3 assists per game. He sprung for an insane 19-of-19 line against UCLA in an overtime loss and has stepped forward as this team’s leader out of the backcourt. Oriakhi has been just as good at Mizzou as he had been at UConn, and Brown has shown off the chops that made him a five-star recruit coming out of high school. A talented roster has given this team a potent inside-out attack and the depth to hang with any opponent they’ll face in 2013. Additionally, they lead the NCAA in rebounds through a dozen games this season, pulling down 47.4 per game. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 12.18.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 18th, 2012

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  1. Playing in his first competitive game in 13 months, Missouri transfer Jabari Brown gave Tiger fans reason for optimism heading into the conference season. The sophomore guard kicked off his career in Columbia with 12 points in only 20 minutes against South Carolina State last night. “He played great,” coach Frank Haith said. “He was 1-for 7 from three, but that doesn’t concern me because I know that he’s going to make threes. What Jabari brings is basketball IQ, moves well without the ball. He passes the ball. He’s patient offensively, and I think that’s needed with this team.” Brown’s shooting woes aside, he showed an ability to draw contact when attacking the rim. Missouri had no trouble with the Bulldogs in their 102-51 win, meaning Brown will still need to prove himself in more meaningful minutes. He’ll get that opportunity this weekend in the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois.
  2. Tennessee junior Trae Golden earned SEC Player of the Week honors for his performance against Wichita State last Thursday. The Shockers had no answer for the opposing ball-handler, allowing Golden to tally 25 points and five assists in the key win. One of the few positives so far this season for the Volunteers has been their ability to get to the free throw line (ranking 25th in the country in free throws per offensive play), and Golden is the key. He stands only 6’1″, but he leads the team with 47 trips to the foul line this season. His free-throw percentage is down from the previous two seasons, but after going 13-of-16 against Wichita State, he looks to have rediscovered his stroke.
  3. In what will undoubtedly be a long season for Auburn, the Tigers received some good news yesterday when guard Jordan Price was named SEC Freshman of the Week. Price is a serious threat from long range, shooting an amazing 8-of-8 from three-point land in games against Grambling and Furman, helping Auburn to their first winning streak of this season. He believes that he wasn’t completely ready for the rigors of a college season when he initially arrived on campus, and he’s still adjusting to the game at this level. “It started real fast, and I wasn’t really ready,” Price said. “As time goes on, and this Christmas break really helped me out, I’m getting in better shape. I’m getting more accustomed with the game and the speed of the game.”
  4. LSU will take the court tonight for the first time without being able to point to its undefeated record. The competition won’t be as tough as Boise State was, but the Tigers’ coach knows the UC Irvine Anteaters aren’t pushovers. “They are a good basketball team,” Johnny Jones said of his opponent. “They played UCLA to overtime. They beat Nevada and that win Saturday night at Fresno. So we will be playing a confident basketball team coming in on Tuesday so it will be a great challenge to us.” Jones also appears ready to play the hot hand. He announced that regular reserve Corban Collins, who has hit seven three-pointers in the last two games, may get the chance to enter the starting lineup.
  5. Georgia will host Mercer this morning at 11:30 AM, in what is being called the “Businessfan’s Special.” Four thousand students and teachers from the Athens area will be in attendance as well. The Bulldogs’ athletic department is getting creative to solve their attendance problem, but fans will be more interested to see if Mark Fox has anything up his sleeve to solve his 265th-ranked offense. Mercer has already beaten Florida State this season and won’t be intimidated by a power conference school, especially one with losses to Iona and Youngstown State already on its resume. Georgia couldn’t pull off the victory last time out, but Donte Williams and Charles Mann racked up 16 and 18 points, respectively. We’ll see if one of these players can step up and fill the role of secondary scorer that Georgia so desperately needs.
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Night Line: Unbeaten Season Ends, But Gregg Marshall is Building Something Special In Wichita

Posted by BHayes on December 14th, 2012

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Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is is an RTC correspondent and Night Line columnist.  He filed this report after Thursday night’s Wichita State – Tennessee game in Knoxville.

The 2011-12 college basketball season was a breakout year for the Wichita State Shockers. Sure, college basketball enthusiasts had taken note of an NIT title run in 2011, but Gregg Marshall’s bunch didn’t truly enter the national consciousness until that 27-5 season a year ago which included a 17-1 stretch to open the calendar year. They became a trendy March sleeper pick pre-Tournament, but ultimately met the fate that so many five seeds before them have suffered – an opening round loss, this one at the hands of a dangerous VCU squad. It was a bitter end to a banner year, and the conclusion was undoubtedly worsened by the fact that WSU’s top five scorers would all be lost to graduation. From an outsider’s perspective, there was a real sense that the window had closed for Wichita State; Marshall’s program had grown up along with Murry, Stutz, Kyles and co., so it stood to reason that their departures would force a step or two back this season.

Despite Tonight's Loss In Knoxville, Wichita State Has The Look Of A Program Here To Stay

Despite Tonight’s Loss In Knoxville, Wichita State Has The Look Of A Program Here To Stay

Well, so much for reason. Wichita State opened this season with nine straight wins, and despite suffering its first loss of the year tonight at the hands of Tennessee, has started to prove that last year was far from a once-in-a-blue-moon dream season. Role players of a season ago have proven capable of hoisting a greater burden, newcomers have stepped in and produced from day one, and the head coach has to have the feeling that he is in the process of building a program with true lasting power. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that Wichita State has reloaded so quickly, as the past two offseasons have seen Marshall turn down overtures from power conference schools (most notably Nebraska this past summer). Have the proposed fits simply not been right, or does Marshall believe he has something special going at Wichita State? We can’t know for sure, but it’s quite plausible that Marshall is simply content in Wichita, and even harbors notions of turning Wichita State into a reliable mid-major power. The concept of an established coach settling in at a mid-major program is no longer a novelty, as recent years have seen coaches like Mark Few, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart stay put at smaller schools, eschewing opportunities at larger programs in the process.

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