SEC M5: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 24th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. What is wrong with Kentucky? That’s the question on everyone’s mind following a 59-55 loss at Alabama. The success of similar John Calipari coached teams make this situation even more baffling. For whatever reason, Calipari made past freshmen look like upperclassmen with years of experience, but his magic wand isn’t working on this new crop of players in Lexington. The inconsistency in play this season should at least create more of an appreciation of the tremendous coaching job Calipari and his staff completed over each of the past three seasons. As ESPN’s Eammon Brennan points out, “each new UK game seems to bring with it new obstacles.” That’s the challenge of a team filled with freshmen. Calipari made it look easy in year’s past, but now we’re seeing the flip side of what an inexperienced team can look like.
  2. Calipari was fairly clear in his assessment of the reason the Cats lost the game on Tuesday night. “Our guard play was not near their guard play,” Calipari said. “It just wasn’t. We reverted back to just throwing it to Kyle Wiltjer in the post to try to keep the game close to give us a chance to win.” Kentucky’s guards, Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin, combined for just 13 points on five of 22 shooting. “We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times,” Coach Cal said. Kentucky has six road games on the schedule remaining in SEC play. In five true road games so far this season, the Cats are just 2-3, spelling trouble for the remainder of the season.
  3. Kevin Stallings typically doesn’t play freshmen in his system, but this season he has no other choice. After losing six players, three of whom went to the NBA, Stallings is going a little deeper on the bench to find role players to make the Commodores competitive. And now he’s found a freshman in Sheldon Jeter, whom he trusts enough to place in the starting lineup. “Sheldon wants to get better,” Stallings said. “And he does have some talent. He does have some ability to make shots and finish plays around the rim. And for a team that’s challenged sometimes offensively like we are, that’s a good thing.” It was important for Vanderbilt to find a third offensive option to take some of the load off of Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller, and Jeter may be that guy.
  4.  Trevor Lacey was just one of eight from the field Tuesday night, before a drive to the lane with 4:26 left in the game and Alabama clinging to a one point lead over Kentucky. He made the layup, but went down to the floor with a leg injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the close win over the Wildcats. “I think he’s fine,” said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who came onto the court to check on the sophomore guard. “He’s got cramps in both calves. He was obviously unavailable to finish the game, but I think he’ll be fine.” Lacey’s three point shooting has been a significant area of improvement for the sophomore guard. He had made a three in all but three games prior to Tuesday, but was 0-3 against Kentucky, adding to that total.
  5. South Carolina had an opportunity to win a big one at Missouri on Tuesday night, but failed to capitalize on its chances. When asked about a free throw discrepancy that gave Missouri 36 free throws as compared to the Gamecocks’ 17 attempts, coach Frank Martin said, “I ain’t going there. You ask me to talk about the economy, I’ll give you whatever you want. I’ll give you my opinions on whatever.” Martin added, “Don’t make me go there because it won’t be good for me, my school. Definitely my wife will be (angry) at me because you know what comes after I go there.” Martin’s team gave up a 13 point second half lead, but it sounds like he has some strong opinions on how that occurred.
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SEC M5: 11.27.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 27th, 2012

  1. After a disastrous showing in the Maui Invitational, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray has spent the last few days reflecting on his team’s performance in Hawaii. Ray, who also battled a stomach virus while on the trip, discussed several reasons why the Bulldogs underperformed in the tournament. Ray said that his squad, while losing by an average of 29 points per game, “played harder than the other teams for the most part” and a lot of the second-chance opportunities for opponents came from MSU’s rebounding woes. He also noted that the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio (1:2) “needs to be rectified before beating anybody that’s a quality opponent.”
  2. Tennessee got into the Cyber Monday/holiday spirit yesterday by offering $7 tickets to any men’s or women’s basketball home game other than those versus Kentucky for the rest of the season. The promotion, while ending at 7 pm on Monday (sorry), was good for any seat in the 300-level section of Thompson-Boling Arena. There is no official word on whether the online deal resulted in an increase in ticket sales, but such a promotion on Cyber Monday surely could not have hurt the Vols’ chances of packing the arena for their remaining games — especially with great games ahead including Wichita State, Memphis, Xavier, Alabama, Florida, and Missouri all coming to Knoxville this season.
  3. How has Alabama grown this season? The work of veterans Trevor Releford, Andrew Steele, and Trevor Lacey have combined for 37.8 points per game (54% of the team’s scoring) along with an outstanding 2.57 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. With Rodney Cooper (15 PPG/4 RPG) currently out due to shoulder tendinitis, heralded freshman Devonta Pollard emerged as a fourth contributor in keeping the Crimson Tide undefeated, and was listed as one of Al.com‘s three points of the game regarding Alabama’s win over Charleston Southern last weekend. Pollard, who came into that game averaging only four points per outing, was able to control the game to the point where he “could take advantage of his God-given talents”, as stated by coach Anthony Grant. With a healthy Cooper expected back in the lineup as well as a star freshman quickly learning the college game through ample playing time, the Tide could become another legitimate contender for the SEC title.
  4. It seems to be exact opposites in the state of Mississippi this year: Ole Miss has the advantage over in-state rival Mississippi State in basketball while the Bulldogs hold the upper hand on the gridiron. Ole Miss already has five wins in its first five games this season on the hardwood compared to the Bulldogs’ single victory. Of course, Ole Miss has the advantage of not enduring the change of leadership and player exodus that has occurred in Starkville over the last few seasons. The Rebels’ Murphy Holloway was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday, and even while winning versus low-quality opponents, Ole Miss still has a projected higher season win total (22-7, 12-6) than Mississippi State (9-21, 3-15), according to KenPom.com. Regardless of the quality of opponents and game results, the momentum on the hardwood is clearly in Oxford this season.
  5. The learning curve in the SEC might come quicker than imagined for South Carolina‘s Frank Martin.  The Gamecocks concluded their holiday festivities by winning the Hoops for Hope Classic over Arkansas-Little Rock in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last weekend. Martin’s squad, now 5-1 on the season, is quickly gaining confidence with each win they accrue in the non-conference schedule. A win over St. John’s this week in the SEC/Big East Challenge could give the Gamecocks the momentum they need as they face rival Clemson next week. Wins over both teams could serve to propel South Carolina to an outstanding 12-1 non-conference record before playing Mississippi State in its first SEC game in early January. As the games will become more difficult in the waning months of the season, more wins now could help ease the pain later on for Martin and his young, inexperienced squad.
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SEC Power Rankings: Week One

Posted by DPerry on November 19th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. We’ve been able to see each team in action, but with vastly different degrees of difficulty as far as scheduling, we’ll need to see more before the rankings truly take form.

A perfect night for Erik Murphy propels the Gators to the top spot.

  1. Florida- The Gators’ offense has shown the potential to be dominant. The lineup is bursting at the seams with skilled scorers, both in the frontcourt and backcourt. In going 10-10 from the field, we’ve probably seen senior Erik Murphy‘s best performance of the season, but he should have no problem improving on last year’s breakout campaign. Turnovers have been a concern, but with the reinstatement of point guard Scottie Wilbekin allowing Kenny Boynton to move to the two, Florida should be able to take better care of the ball.
  2. Kentucky- The loss to Duke isn’t a huge concern. The Blue Devils are a quality, veteran team. No, the real problem with the Wildcats so far is the lack of depth. Jarrod Polson, a star against Maryland, was completely ineffective against a more disciplined defense, and John Calipari only trusted Willie Cauley-Stein enough to give him six minutes. The continued absence of Ryan Harrow leaves Kentucky without a true point guard, a role not suited for Archie Goodwin or Julius Mays. Still, in watching the young Wildcats play, it’s tough to argue that they have the highest ceiling of any SEC team.
  3. Missouri- Frank Haith has used his first few games to assess all the new talent that arrived in Columbia this offseason. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and freshman Negus Webster-Chan have been particularly impressive. We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers after the face three quality opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 11.19.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 19th, 2012

  1. Florida’s Scotty Wilbekin was reinstated for Sunday’s game against Middle Tennessee State after missing the first three games of the season because of a suspension. Billy Donovan felt that Wilbekin had suffered enough, though both still refuse to cite the reason the point guard was suspended. “I think he certainly paid the price of missing three games, three pretty big games to start his junior season,” Donovan said. “I think he missed out on the opportunity to play on the ship (versus Georgetown), and then the home opener against Alabama State and then playing the other night against Wisconsin. I think he has definitely paid the price.” In Wilbekin’s return, he came off the bench to add eight points, three rebounds, and three assists in the Gators’ 66-45 victory.
  2. Prior to playing the Blue Raiders on Sunday, The Gators were impressive in a 74-56 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday. Winning by 18 over a Top 25 team shouldn’t draw many complaints, but Donovan had one area of concern. After a full season of struggling to get the ball to center Patric Young in 2011-12, Florida is still struggling to feed the post again this year. Donovan said many of Florida’s 12 first half turnovers were because of poor passes down low. “We’ve got to do a better job in practice,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to work on that because there are times Patric has got great post position and we are not getting him the ball and then we did throw it, we turn the ball over.” In looking at this situation another way, Young also contributed five of the Gators’ 20 turnovers in the contest. If Florida’s guards get the big man the ball, he needs to take better care of it.
  3. In an impressive 77-55 win over Villanova over the weekend, Alabama again showed that its three-point struggles from a season ago may be a thing of the past. In 2011-12, the Crimson Tide shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc, but are knocking them down at above a 40 percent rate in four games this year. In fact, against Villanova the Tide shot better from behind the three point line (9-15 for 60%) than they did at the charity stripe (18-31 for 58.1%). Sophomore Trevor Lacey, who already has a game-winning three-pointer on his resume this season, has been the most consistent shooter connecting on 11-of-18 (61%) from downtown. If the Tide can continue to shoot their way through the schedule, Anthony Grant’s 2-3 zone can keep Alabama in almost any game.
  4. Speaking of lights-out three-point shooting, Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer has been on fire behind the arc. Wiltjer knocked down a career-high seven three pointers on Friday night against Lafayette, after struggling to score just five points against Duke in the previous game. After watching his forward’s shots taken away by the Blue Devils, head coach John Calipari issued him a challenge. “He has to work hard to create the shot before he catches,” Calipari said. “If he doesn’t, I’m going to play Willie (Cauley-Stein). That’s just how it is. I’m telling you what I told him. If you don’t work hard to create space and a shot for yourself — before you catch the ball, and I’m watching, you’re out. So (Friday) what he did, he is personally in the second half, he saw gaps, erased to those gaps and guys found him also, and he made shots.” Obviously, Wiltjer could be a huge difference maker in Kentucky’s offensive game plan if he does the work to become a major part of it.
  5. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t panic after Tennessee made a startlingly low 13 field goals in a loss to Oklahoma State on Friday. It is November, after all. “It’s early and that was just one of those days,” Martin said. And one of Martin’s starting forwards, Jeronne Maymon, is sidelined with a knee injury meaning the coach is looking for answers. “We make subtle adjustments as a staff to better suit our personnel and help those guys grow and get better in those roles. Now, all the sudden those guys are playing more minutes. You’ve got to identify your bench and rotations and the guys have to make basketball plays.” Of course, Martin’s relaxed nature paid off as the Volunteers rebounded to beat Massachusetts 83-69 on Sunday behind a career-high 24 points from Jarnell Stokes.
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In Their Own Words, SEC Edition: 11.16.12

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 16th, 2012

In Their Own Words, SEC Edition is a compilation of what coaches, players, media, and fans are talking about via Twitter. Some tweets are informative, some funny, and some are just plain interesting. This week’s edition looks at some star performers, takes a few jabs, and focuses on the poor play at the bottom of the conference this week:

https://twitter.com/cdortch/status/269048725651988480

Whoa, we see you Erik Murphy. Man, if only he play defense. #AllSECPerformer

https://twitter.com/NotJerryTipton/status/269184099716059137

Well, he’s not really Jerry Tipton, but that doesn’t mean he’s not right. We would ask John Calipari if he actually said that, but he would probably claim he couldn’t remember and then make us repeat the quote word for word. We’re just not prepared for that. But unlike Duke reporters, we can take a joke, and that’s a good one.

https://twitter.com/BFQuinn/status/269186521008058368

This soothes the loss of injured Jeronne Maymon for now. The big fella finished with 12 points and eight boards against UNC Asheville. When Maymon returns, Hall’s emergence gives the Vols a quality rotation to work with in the frontcourt.

https://twitter.com/AlabamaMBB/status/269251860001587203

That’s what the Tide needed. Where was that shooting last year? Lacey shot 30 percent from beyond the arc last season, but is hitting for 70 percent in the first two games this year. He is also averaging 19 points per game. Somebody figure out his offseason workout routine.

https://twitter.com/JeffEisenberg/status/269254217468891136

Hard to argue with that. But really we just feel bad for these three teams at this point. It’s not even funny anymore. Okay, maybe a little, but it’s definitely not fair. It is hard to believe that Mississippi State cancelled its basketball team this year, and decided to painfully injure each of its remaining players.

https://twitter.com/SethEmerson/status/269255109052071937

That’s one way to lose a game. Mark Fox should really consider a new strategy. Layups are so much easier than three-pointers. Maybe that’s why the Bulldogs are losing so often these days. Or maybe it’s because they’ve been playing one-on-five. That’s difficult too.

https://twitter.com/ESPNDanaOneil/status/269260634955329536

Speaking of going one-on-five, Murray State point guard Isaiah Canaan took on the entire Auburn team. And he won. Auburn might want to guard him. Or perhaps the Tigers should put five new players on the court.

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.

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SEC M5: 11.16.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 16th, 2012

  1. A loss to a long-term but estranged rival is tough to bear for any team, and when you consider how fickle Kentucky fans tend to be, Tuesday night’s loss to Duke presumably indicates the end of Wildcats’ run among the nation’s premier programs. Their coach has to be worried about his job security, right? Afraid not. “We didn’t play that bad, ya know, shoot 49 percent, only have 13 turnovers,” John Calipari told reporters this week. But the coach’s biggest takeaway was the performance of Alex Poythress. “He’s a beast, that’s what he needed to look like. He’s a beast, so be a beast.” The Wildcats are a young team (how about that for analysis?) and will improve as the season goes on. Duke is a veteran team, and should be able to put more cohesive units on the floor in November. His biggest supporters may not realize this, but Calipari certainly does.
  2. “With an off shooting night from Canaan and Barbee finding the right matchups to exploit, the Tigers could give themselves some momentum early in the season,” said an imposter who pretended to be me in Thursday’s SEC Morning Five. OK, maybe it was actually me. Isaiah Canaan did not comply with my prediction, hitting an incredibly efficient 9-12 from the floor, and leading the Racers past their SEC opponent, Auburn, Thursday night. The Tigers started out slow and couldn’t recover, with Murray State pushing the lead to 17 with a little over 10 minutes gone. Rob Chubb was the sole positional advantage Auburn had, but as he was in foul trouble the entire game, the senior center was only on the court for 15 minutes. “It’s a terrific win anytime you can beat an SEC team,” added Racers’ coach Steve Prohm in the postgame press conference.
  3. Erik Murphy’s career at Florida hasn’t been smooth-sailing. For the son of a former college star and NBA player, there are certain expectations, and Murphy hadn’t been able to reach them in his first two years in Gainesville. At the climax of the disappointing period of his Florida career, in an incident extending well beyond the court, Murphy was arrested in St. Augustine. However, the consequent wake-up call would be a blessing for the Rhode Island native. Murphy was close to transferring away from the location that contained so many of his troubles, but I’m willing to bet that he’s happy with the decision to stick around. He has finally gained traction in Florida, and the nation took notice on Wednesday night with his perfect shooting performance against Wisconsin. “I’m so proud of him,” Jay Murphy said. “Not just as a player, but really of who he is. Everyone makes mistakes. And everyone deserves a second chance.”
  4. LSU hasn’t earned an invite to college basketball’s premier tournament since 2009, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers completely lack NCAA tournament experience. Enter Charles Carmouche. “I’ve actually had the opportunity to win and play in the NCAA Tournament,” Carmouche told the Daily Reveille. “I’m trying to help everybody not do the wrong things I did as a younger player and to better the team as a whole.” Carmouche has done more than be a mentor for more inexperienced players so far. In the Tigers’ season opener, the transfer tallied 16 points on 6-10 shooting to lead his team to a win over the UCSB Gauchos, despite the loss of star forward Johnny O’Bryant III. He isn’t LSU’s most talented player, but by stepping up in a game in which his young teammates needed a boost, Carmouche’s decision to transfer to Baton Rouge could be the difference between middle of the pack contention and a finish in the SEC cellar.
  5. Since two or three games is a sufficient representative sample for an entire season, I’m going to go ahead and declare that Alabama’s sophomore guard Trevor Lacey will be crowned SEC Player of the Year. Not adequate? OK. At the very least, Lacey has put on a show for the Crimson Tide so far. The top prospect in Alabama’s 2011 recruiting class has displayed his promise in 2012, averaging over 19 points per game and shooting over 65% from 3-point range. His team hasn’t had any frontcourt production, but with coach Anthony Grant’s deep backcourt swarm of scorers, Alabama has some time to get top recruit Devonta Pollard up to speed.
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SEC M5: 11.12.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 12th, 2012

  1. Point guard is widely considered the biggest question mark in Kentucky’s title defense, and Wildcat fans were hoping to see new floor general Ryan Harrow satisfy the skeptics with a strong debut against Maryland. However, with the NC State transfer battling flu-like symptoms, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Jarrod Polson provided fans with a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. The former walk-on played 22 minutes (by far a career-high), scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, and coolly sank two clinching free throws in the dying seconds. Why was a complete unknown able to have such an impact? Practice. “One of the overlooked benefits to all those No. 1 recruiting classes Calipari reels in year after year is the daily competition,” writes John Clay, “where terrific players and accomplished athletes go head to head as a matter of routine.” In Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Harrow, Polson has faced a murderer’s row of opposing ball handlers in his three years of practice in Lexington. With competition like that, Maryland’s Pe’shon Howard couldn’t possibly be a problem.
  2. When Rick Ray was hired to replace coach Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State, he wasn’t only responsible for retooling a basketball team. He was charged with rebuilding a program’s reputation. They’ve had plenty of talent over the last few seasons, but the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the dreaded “underachiever” label. Off the court issues plagued the team as well, with Renardo Sidney’s countless shenanigans the most notable. Fortunately, Ray isn’t seeing any lingering signs of questionable character in his players. “The biggest thing I’m happy about with the team so far is they are giving the effort,” Ray told Starkville Daily News, “That is one thing I have not had to coach here so far.” That effort may be all Ray can count on from a team that returns very little talent and boasts very little depth. These deficiencies were exposed in a 56-53 defeat to Sun Belt also-ran Troy (the SEC’s only opening weekend loss). Ray is optimistic about what he sees from his squad, but consider it a surprise if the Bulldogs aren’t sitting in the SEC cellar by the end of the season.
  3. Tennessee wins the award for most misleading score of the weekend. The nine-point margin doesn’t inspire much confidence when the opponent is Kennesaw State (3-28 last season), but the Volunteers were predictably dominant in their season opener. “You have to take pride in dominating teams when you have the opportunity,” coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game. Tennessee held a 25-point lead midway through the second half, before mental slippage (Martin’s term, not mine) allowed the Owls to chip away at the lead. The Volunteers put on a clinic for their Atlantic Sun opponent, shooting over 60% from the field and hitting 58% from long range. Usual high scoring and rebounding forward Jarnell Stokes displayed his versatility by tallying five assists and five steals, both career highs. Tennessee heads to Puerto Rico next, and with possible matchups against Oklahoma State and NC State in the Caribbean, mental slippage will have to be avoided.
  4. Which SEC team utilized the most guard-heavy lineup on opening night? Has to be Missouri right? Wrong. In Alabama’s buzzer-beating win over South Dakota State, coach Anthony Grant relied greatly on his backcourt options, with guards accounting for 66 of the Crimson Tide’s 70 points. Trevor Releford led the way with 18, while Trevor Lacey’s buzzer-beating three gave Alabama the win over a quality Jackrabbits team. The Trevors lead a deep unit, but Grant will need Devonta Pollard to provide some balance in the form of low-post production. The highly touted recruit hasn’t delivered thus far, but his coach isn’t worried. “He’s going to be terrific,” said Grant, “This is a heck of a game for a freshman to come into.”
  5. Missouri will need Michael Dixon to compete with the elite in the SEC, but his indefinite suspension for the Tigers’ 83-69 win over SIU-Edwardsville gave coach Frank Haith quite a bit of freedom to see his backcourt newcomers in action. Dixon and point guard Phil Pressey have unquestioned starting positions, but with no other returnees, developing chemistry and finding the right rotation is paramount for Missouri. Transfers Earnest Ross and Keion Bell joined the starting five, but in going 2-for-10 and 3-for-8 from the field, respectively, neither impressed. Canadian freshman Negus Webster-Chan made a case for more playing time, however, displaying a nice shooting stroke and active hands on the defensive end.
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After the Buzzer: On Aircraft Carrier Games, Kevin Ollie’s Debut, Top Five Dunks of the Weekend…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 12th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It’s time to put all that preseason chatter on the backburner, and start drawing first impressions, because the 2012-13 season officially got underway Friday night. Unlike the murmuring fizz of an opening that usually christens a new college hoops campaign, we were treated to several high-profile clashes over the weekend. College basketball set out to establish a definitive starting point, and this year (more than any other in recent memory), it succeeded. There are inherent risks to overanalyzing single-game sample sizes, but even after just one weekend’s action, we were able to learn quite a bit about some of the teams headlining the opening weekend. 

Your Watercooler Moment. Stick to Dry Environments (or, Why Naval Ship Games Need to Only Take Place in San Diego).

Things Started Off Well, But Quickly Deteriorated With These Games

When inclement weather forecasts pushed the Syracuse-San Diego State game from Friday to Sunday, you knew this year’s slate of naval ship games were off to a bad start. That game, which concluded Sunday evening with Syracuse pretty much dominating the hometown Aztecs (62-49) in one of the Orange’s rare non-conference games outside the state of New York, was played under gorgeous 60-degree San Diego skies. The two other scheduled match-ups – Ohio State-Marquette in South Carolina and Georgetown-Florida in Jacksonville – did not proceed as planned, as both games were called off when officials noticed condensation developing on both playing surfaces. The Florida-Georgetown game tipped off and ran into the half with minimal fuss. Up the coastline, though, the slick playing surface aboard the USS Yorktown prompted coaches and players from Ohio State and Marquette to mop the court in the hope that some good old-fashioned clean-up work could diffuse mother nature’s influence on their much-hyped shipside season-opener. As both teams quickly learned, the condensation kept coming back, and officials then made the logical move of calling the game off. Spiritually, emotionally and patriotically, the outdoor aircraft carrier games are an excellent idea. Last season’s Carrier Classic, played before gorgeous vistas and naval troops, and featuring two of the nation’s most respected programs in North Carolina and Michigan State, was a definite win. And there have been few times when a college basketball non-conference game to begin the season has drawn so much national attention. It was a special night. Logistically, though, playing basketball games outdoors in November on the East Coast is fraught with risk, and event organizers learned as much Friday. If the aircraft carrier trend is to continue, the games must be played on the West Coast, where a more favorable late fall climate will increase the chances of staging contests without conflict.

Also Worth Chatting About. Give That Man a Contract (Or, Kevin Ollie Has His Squad Playing Hard).

Kevin Ollie Cannot Escape His Former Coach’s Shadow, But With Wins Like These, He May Not Have To (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The long-term status of UConn’s head coaching job remains unresolved for the moment, but we gained some clarity on the issue Friday night. Its leading candidate, former assistant Kevin Ollie, made a resounding statement to open his one-season job trial by knocking off Big Ten contender Michigan State 66-62 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Huskies lost the core of last season’s underachieving yet talented team, including two first round draft picks (Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond) and two transfers (Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith). Backcourt mainstays Ryan Boatwright and Shabazz Napier carried the torch Friday night against the Spartans, with Napier pouring in 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting and Boatwright adding 13. Highly-touted freshman Omar Calhoun logged 25 minutes but finished with just one point, two rebounds and two assists. The season could not have begun in a better way for Ollie, who faces the massive burden of proving athletic director Warde Manuel he’s the right man for the job, the right personality to succeed the legend that preceded him in Storrs. There were concerns as to whether UConn would lack motivation this season, given their ineligibility for the postseason, but that was hardly the case Friday night. The Huskies played inspired basketball against a top-tier Big Ten foe known for its toughness and grit. If I were to grade Ollie’s job candidacy one game into the season, nothing less than an A+ would suffice.

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SEC Transition Basketball: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by Brian Joyce on August 3rd, 2012

It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Alabama.

State of the Program

After being left out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Anthony Grant and his Alabama Crimson Tide were determined to find its way into the Big Dance last season. The Tide achieved their goal, hearing their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time since 2006 behind one of the best defenses in the country. But it certainly didn’t come easily. Grant suspended his star players towards the end of the season, and then suspended several more. Forward Tony Mitchell was eventually suspended for the remainder of the season, and ultimately dismissed from the team. But Grant established that this was his team, and winning would not come at the expense of the character and integrity of his program.

Anthony Grant no longer has JaMychal Green around on the inside, but returns 2nd team postseason All SEC honoree Trevor Releford.

Alabama has a lot of work to do to hear its name called on Selection Sunday in 2013. Despite Mitchell and graduating senior JaMychal Green moving on, there is plenty of talent left in Tuscaloosa. Grant’s smothering 2-3 zone, a defense that helped hold opponents to 39 percent shooting last season, will again frustrate SEC offenses. But it was a lack of three-point efficiency on the offensive end that allowed opposing defenses to collapse inside, stalling the Tide’s offense. Junior Trevor Releford leads a young core of sophomores Trevor Lacey, Nick Jacobs, and Levi Randolph and freshman Devonta Pollard that needs to find a way to score some points. It simply won’t come easily without an outside shooter to stretch the defense. Does Alabama have a shooter capable of being an outside threat ? Can Pollard and Jacobs replace the inside void left by Green and Mitchell? Grant has a number of questions to answer, but with distractions aside Alabama has an opportunity to build on its success with another taste of the postseason, and this time perhaps the ability to stick around a little longer.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round – Friday Afternoon

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Texas – East Region Second Round (at Nashville, TN) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

These are two teams with similar statistical profiles but the Texas Longhorns are missing Alexis Wangmene, a big senior forward who would have added an extra body for Rick Barnes to go up against Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates in the paint. With a guard-oriented team and a thin front court, the Longhorns have some difficulty against the physical Bearcats. Cincinnati doesn’t have a deep front line either but Gates is the team’s third leading scorer and a key cog in its offensive flow. Neither team shoots the ball particularly well but Cincinnati has an edge on the perimeter with multiple players who can make a three. Texas ranks sub-200 in defending the triple and that’s something that could cost it the game. Cincinnati is a streaky hit-or-miss team with four capable guards surrounding Gates on the floor. As for Texas, leading scorer J’Covan Brown is pretty much the team’s only major threat. If Cincinnati can lock up Brown defensively, it will win the game rather easily. If Brown manages to get free and score close to his average of 20.1 PPG, the Bearcats will be in for a nail biter. Although Brown is the best player on the floor in this game, the edge has to go to Cincinnati because of its more balanced talent on the perimeter (including limiting turnovers), Gates in the post and the team’s overall experience. The majority of Cincinnati’s rotation is made up of juniors and seniors while four of Texas’ top six scorers are freshmen.

The RTC Certified Pick: Cincinnati.

#6 San Diego State vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Second Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

Jamaal Franklin is a Ferocious Competitor on Both Ends for SDSU (US Presswire)

A very popular upset pick, North Carolina State comes into this game on a roll having won four of its last five games with the only loss in the ACC Tournament semifinals to North Carolina by one possession. But NC State was on the bubble just one week ago; this team has been inconsistent throughout the season. The Wolfpack lost four games in a row prior to that strong finish to the season. The key to pull this upset will be to keep pressure on a strong SDSU defense, keyed by pounding the ball inside to find points in the paint with C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and C.J. Williams. It’s doubtful that San Diego State will give Scott Wood any wide open looks from three. The Aztecs, meanwhile, may have the two best overall players in this game with Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin (17.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG) and savvy guard Chase Tapley (15.7 PPG, 43.3% three-pointers). Both players shoulder a lot of the scoring load but have been reliable in big games this season against strong MW competition. SDSU is a much stronger defensive team (93.5 defensive efficiency) and holds opponents to 40% shooting from the field. NC State has a 99.9 ‘D’ efficiency and allows too much easy offense. We’ll take the Aztecs, the stronger team all season long that has Sweet Sixteen experience from last season.

The RTC Certified Pick: San Diego State

#8 Creighton vs. #9 Alabama – Midwest Region Second Round (at Greensboro, NC) – 1:40 PM ET on TBS

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SEC Morning Five: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 13th, 2012

  1. The Florida Gators suffered a tough home loss to Tennessee on Saturday, but that loss could have long-lasting ramifications. Sophomore forward Will Yeguete left the game with a concussion. Head coach Billy Donovan labeled Yeguete as doubtful for Florida’s next game Tuesday at Alabama. “He failed a concussion test when he went in (the locker room),” Donovan said. “A lot of it is going to be how well he responds. He’s definitely not going to practice (today), not going to practice Monday. The doctors have told me that he can’t play, but (doubtful) would be my guess.”
  2. Tennessee’s win was witnessed by a prominent future Volunteer. Derek Reese, one of Tennessee’s signees for 2012, traveled to Gainesville from his hometown of Orlando. “I was expecting the game to be closer; that was a real good win, real important,” Reese said. “I think it’s a result of Coach Martin’s mentality. He’s tough-minded and he’s going to make you play hard and get the most out of you, and that’s how the successful teams do it in sports. That’s what I was looking for in a college coach.”
  3. Following Alabama’s short-handed road loss at LSU last week, Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant spoke of his decision to suspend JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele on Friday night. He said he received information about something that happened before the trip: “I’m very disappointed in terms of some of the choices that we as individuals made,” Grant said. “But you’re dealing with young men. I was a college student at one point. Can’t say that I did all the things right all the time.”
  4. Two Crimson Tide freshmen from Huntsville — Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph — saw increased playing time against LSU as part of the suspensions. Bill Bryant of the Huntsville Times wrote how the relationship between the two, who finished 1-2 in Alabama’s Mr. Basketball each of the previous two years, was formed and how their learning curves were accelerated with the suspensions.
  5. With ESPN in Nashville for College Gameday this weekend, several of the network’s analysts offered up some lofty comparisons to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. “He’s special in how he affects the game,” Dick Vitale said of Davis. “He’s the only player I’ve seen going back to Patrick Ewing that affects the game without scoring a point.” “He is the best big guy college basketball has seen in a while, several years,” Jay Bilas wrote. “I liken him to a more skilled Marcus Camby. He is a game changer defensively that can block shots around the rim and block perimeter jump shots.”
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SEC Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 13th, 2012

  1. Forward Murphy Holloway picked up right where he left off for the Ole Miss Rebels.  Ole Miss was on a downward spiral losing four of its last five games, but Holloway’s 19 points and 14 rebounds propelled the Rebels over Arkansas on Wednesday. “Sometimes you wonder, ‘Boy, you’ve lost four out of five. What’s wrong?'” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “He wasn’t playing. That’s what’s wrong. Good players make good coaches. With him back we dominate the glass, it’s the reason we win the game.” Holloway helped the Rebels control the rebounding advantage by a margin of 22.
  2. Transfer guard Mike Rosario is finally healthy, but he is still learning to adjust to a new role within the Florida offense. Rosario scored seven straight points for the Gators against Georgia on Wednesday, but coach Billy Donovan is still expecting to see some improvement from his top bench player. “Getting those seven points in the first half, that helps your team,” Donovan said. “It’s interesting because I feel like people look at us as being this great scoring team. When you talk about scoring — guys that can put the ball in their hands, guys that can score — we’re a really, really good shooting team, but what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to understand we have to utilize our shooting.” One of Donovan’s greatest challenges with this Florida backcourt will be quality shot selection. Rosario went 3-9 against the Bulldogs. There is no doubt Rosario can score, but can he eliminate mistakes and bad shots and still accumulate points?
  3. John Calipari wasn’t so sure his Kentucky Wildcats were going to pull off the win on Wednesday night over Auburn. “They wanted it worse than we did,” Calipari said. “They played with a desire that we didn’t have. I’m telling you, if we don’t understand going in we’ve got to go and just from start to finish play like a team that’s on a mission, then we’re going to lose games. Because every team is going to give us their best shot.” The Wildcats certainly didn’t give their best effort. Kentucky shot just 40.4% on the night, and were outrebounded 35-29 by the Tigers. The Cats were 2-6 on the road in the SEC last year, and they hit Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday for a showdown with the defensive minded Tennessee Volunteers.
  4. Rebounding played a major factor in Auburn’s near upset of Kentucky. The Tigers outrebounded the Cats 31-14 in the first 30 minutes of the game, but something clicked with the Wildcats in the last 10 minutes as they snagged 15 of the 19 available rebounds. UK scored 21 points in the last half of the second half as Auburn only managed to score six down the stretch. Kentucky was awakened just in time to win the game, but the Cats gave Calipari quite a scare. “At one point I looked at the staff and said, ‘this has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, boys. We could be going down,'” Calipari said. Whatever the reasoning for the Cats’ resurgence in the second half, UK couldn’t afford a collapse to Auburn, so kudos to the Cats for winning on the road despite their poor play.
  5. Alabama forward JaMychal Green started for the first time in five games after suffering from a shoulder injury earlier in the year. Green played 27 minutes against LSU, grabbing three rebounds and scoring nine points on 4-9 shooting. Through shuffling the lineup around in Green’s absence, coach Anthony Grant may have found the right combination of players going forward. The Birmingham News says that the combination of Green, Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey, and Levi Randolph should be the lineup that Grant sticks with moving forward. This was the first time this combination had started together.
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