Welcome to the Show: Breakout Freshmen in the Former SEC East

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 12th, 2014

Playing in the SEC means facing off against some of the most talented freshmen in the country, week in and week out. While Kentucky rightfully gets most of the credit for bringing in a cache of five-star prospects every season, the rest of the conference has produced plenty of gems of their own. Last season, players like Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell and LSU’s Jordan Mickey all broke on to the scene and made themselves potential first round NBA Draft picks. So who will be next?

Today, we’ll break down the first-year players who are primed to have the biggest impact for their teams in 2014-15. We’ll start with the side of the conference formerly known as the SEC East.

Georgia: Yante Maten. Maten, a 6’8″, 240-lb power forward, impressed in Georgia’s closer-than-expected exhibition win over Georgia Southwestern last week. He posted a 12/10/4 pts/reb/ast line and added a pair of blocks while playing the most minutes of anyone on the roster. He’s strong in the paint and has shown capable of passing from the low blocks when called upon, but he’s not the kind of shooter that will stretch the floor or pull defenders away from the basket. If Nemanja Djurisic stays at power forward all season (rather than sliding over to the three), he seems destined for a primary role off the bench this winter. Even in that capacity, he’ll have plenty of time to prep himself for a potential starting role in 2015-16.

Yante Maten

Yante Maten Was Impressive in Georgia’s Exhibition Game Last Week

Florida: Devin Robinson. Robinson had a disappointing unofficial start to his Gators tenure in the team’s exhibition win over Barry last week. The five-star freshman made just two of his 10 shots and picked up four fouls in 17 minutes of action. Even so, big things are expected from the small forward from Virginia. Robinson has the speed and athleticism to guard three positions and the shooting range to create match-up nightmares for opposing wings. He’ll have to prove that the Barry performance was just a case of the nerves catching up to him, but he’ll have several opportunities to find playing time on a team that must replace four seniors from last year’s squad.

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One on One: An SEC Preview With Chris Dortch

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?

Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.

It's Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?

Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.

RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?

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SEC Offseason Reset

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 15th, 2014

The gym is open and the ball is bouncing. College basketball is here. Well, almost. The clang of the ball bouncing off the rim will soon turn into the sweet sound of the nothing but net shot that comes with practice, practice and more practice. The offseason was eventful in the SEC, and now that the dust has settled, here are a few conference predictions, observations, and questions for each team as they begin their 2014-15 journey.

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with so many prep All-Americans on his roster (AP).

  1. Kentucky: Kentucky dominated the headlines this offseason, and for good reason. After a national title game run last April, expectations could not be higher for this group. The Wildcats played well in six games in the Bahamas during an August trip, earning high praise from observers despite a loss in their final game. The exhibition tour gave John Calipari‘s group of new highly-touted freshmen an opportunity to log significant minutes, a valuable advantage for this time of the year. The big story in Lexington is the possibility that Calipari will rely on a platoon system to provide sufficient minutes for the abundance of talent on his roster. Whether it works is something to watch for this season, but with returnees Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison joining another impressive recruiting class, it is hard to imagine this group failing to dominate the SEC.
  2. Florida: The Gators looked like a team that could have won it all last season on its way to a Final Four, a 36-3 overall record, and a perfect 21-0 in SEC play. The key pieces in that run are now gone, but coach Billy Donovan reloads yet again in Gainesville. Sophomore Chris Walker figures to play a more significant role, as do Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith. Florida has always thrived with the team-first approach, but it will rely heavily on the sharp shooting of junior Michael Frazier to carry the scoring load. The Gators will again find themselves in the upper echelon of the conference standings.

How will the rest of the conference shake out?

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Why Josh Pastner Really Needed Kedren Johnson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 9th, 2014

It’s only October, but newly eligible point guard Kedren Johnson may be the key to helping Memphis coach Josh Pastner keep his job. It’s now been five full seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari, and the 37-year old coach has done an admirable job filling those sizable shoes by winning at least 24 games in each. Pastner has proven what everybody already knew — that he was an excellent recruiter — and Memphis has never lacked talent during his tenure. But the years of padding win totals in Conference USA are over, and Pastner’s two NCAA Tournament wins and zero Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to Calipari’s achievements. The fans are starting to get restless.

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Memphis has five 24-win seasons under Josh Pastner, but lack of postseason success is making his seat warm. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Rumblings about Pastner’s job security began as far back as the beginning of last season, and although the team showed promise during an extremely competitive conference schedule, it was the same old story in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers were whipped by #1 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. The upcoming season is unquestionably an important one for Pastner, which is why yesterday’s news that Johnson can play point guard for his club this season must be music to his ears.

Johnson was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and is the rare guard with size who is also a true point guard and above-average distributor. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that season and was among the top 100 players in the country in assist rate (30.4, according to KenPom). He is a versatile talent who can bully smaller point guards with his size and strength but has also proven he can shoot (35 percent on 157 attempts from behind the three-point line as a sophomore). He is good, but Memphis needed him for more reasons than just his talent. If Johnson’s waiver to play this season wasn’t accepted, the Tigers were going to start the season – in prime time against Wichita State, mind you – without a single backcourt player with any Division I experience. That is why Johnson may be not only one of the most important transfers in the conference, but also the country. Memphis doesn’t want Johnson so the Tigers can simply be better, they need him so the Tigers can be good.

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Morning Five: 10.08.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 8th, 2014

morning5

  1. Practices were allowed to formally begin on Friday of last week, and at least one powerhouse program kept the spirit of Midnight Madness alive by revealing its 2014-15 ball club to the fans at the earliest possible date (alas, the 7:30 start time remained intact). North Carolina held its annual “Late Night With Roy” event on October 3, replete with sophomore center Kennedy Meeks lip-synching the Whitney Houston classic, “I Will Always Love You” to his adoring throngs in Chapel Hill. For highlights of a bouncing ball variety, Inside Carolina has it covered with several of the best plays from the scrimmage. With another week-plus to go until most schools hold Midnight Madness, Kansas is planning on getting its fans riled up with “Late Night in the Phog” this Friday night. According to Adam Zagoria at Zagsblog, a large number of elite recruits are expected in attendance at Allen Field House, many of whom will spend the following Friday night in Lexington at Big Blue Madness. Tis the season for madness, which, after a long offseason, is certainly nice, but part of us still wishes we could drop the ball at midnight all across the country and enjoy a universal festival of college hoops to which everybody adheres.
  2. ESPN of course will be hosting its annual whirlwind tour of Madnesses around the nation next Friday night, and after announcing some of its College Gameday moves last week (including the much-needed flexible scheduling), it revealed on Tuesday that former Oregon State head coach and First Brother-in-Law Craig Robinson would be joining the team of analysts at ESPNU (both at games and in the studio). Per the terms of his termination agreement with Oregon State, Robinson is still owed over $4 million by the university, but his employment with ESPN reduces his annual take on that amount by the difference. Although Robinson surely will take some unnecessary criticism for his association with the lame duck president currently residing in Washington, it sure must be nice to be a losing head coach fired from a power conference school.
  3. Let’s talk about transfers for a bit. Memphis received great news earlier this week when the NCAA granted a waiver to Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, who was a nice player in 2012-13 (14/4/4 APG) but was forced to sit out last year by the school due to an undisclosed lapse in judgment. When it became clear that he would not return to the Commodores, he enrolled in Memphis and hoped for the best. His addition to Josh Pastner’s lineup will provide a great deal of stability in the Tigers’ backcourt, as the core of Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford have all moved on. Johnson brings two years of SEC-caliber experience to the table and can use his elite distribution abilities to integrate several new players into the rotation.
  4. While on the subject of transfers, Alabama has manage to create a hot mess out of a graduate transfer exception involving one of its women’s basketball players named Daisha Simmons. There’s a lot that’s been argued on this topic over the last couple of days, but the long and short of it is that Alabama blocked Simmons’ original request to transfer to Seton Hall (where she hoped to enter an MBA program in sports management) because the school claims that she did not provide the requested documentation of her brother’s kidney issues (he, along with her family, lives in New Jersey). Only after a firestorm fueled by social media basketball luminaries such as Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale ensued, as well as Simmons’ threat to file a Title IX lawsuit over the matter, has Alabama now backed down from its original stance. The takeaway for us here — again — is that way too much power rests in the hands of the schools on the subject of transfers. Coaches can come and go as they please, but players — grown adults, mind you — are imposed by a somewhat arbitrary set of rules designed to protect the coaches and universities. Simmons’ fate will now rest with the NCAA to make the final determination on whether she will be eligible to play immediately at Seton Hall.
  5. Sound familiar? The NCAA has certainly built a reputation for doing things to enrich its schools at the expense of the so-called “student-athletes,” and in light of the O’Bannon decision from earlier this summer, another group of former football and basketball players are taking the natural next step in this litigation. Ten former athletes — football players from Vanderbilt, Tennessee, UT-Chattanooga and Washington, as well as basketball players from Tennessee State and Maryland​-Eastern Shore — have brought a class-action suit against ESPN, the four major broadcast television networks, and eight major conferences along with their licensing partners for the illegal use of their likenesses. The lawsuit was brought in Tennessee, but we should expect more popping up around the country sooner than later. In other words, they’re following the money.
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SEC M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com’s Andy Staples had one of the many good takes on the Kentucky-Florida game that are floating around the internet. Staples listed a number of interesting tidbits like Patric Young having more college games under his belt than Kentucky’s starting lineup combined and that Florida hadn’t won in Lexington since the Joakim Noah-Al Horford days. I expected Florida to struggle this past week, and am getting close to being convinced they will break their recent Elite Eight ceiling. As great as their defense has been, they had “played down” to their competition for a concerning amount of the conference season. There were the sluggish first halves against Alabama and Mississippi State, and a close call against Auburn. I figured that rough starts in charged environments in Knoxville or Lexington would send the Gators to their first (or first and second) conference loss. But it didn’t happen. Both games were difficult and close throughout, and in both Florida found ways to win. Casey Prather’s play on Saturday was encouraging. He had struggled recently (three-of-four single digit scoring games) because of his injured ankle, but was aggressive at the beginning of the game and helped calm Florida and avoid another sluggish start. In the end, the Gators got through a tough week with two wins. So much for my concern.
  2. Resilience has been a theme to Vanderbilt’s season. On Saturday the Commodores were resilient on an in-game basis, regrouping from a putrid shooting performance through much of the game to catch Texas A&M and win in overtime. It was an ugly contest in which both teams kept fans entertained by scoring under 0.900 points per possession. Vanderbilt was especially ugly shooting the ball for three-fourths of the game, and Kyle Fuller, Dai-Jon Parker, and Rod Odom combined to go 10-for-45 from the field. James Siakam (12-of-14 FT’s, 16 points) kept the cold-shooting Commodores in the game, and probably wishes Texas A&M was on the schedule more. In two games against the Aggies he’s averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds, shot over 60 percent and gotten to the free throw line 27 times. All of these numbers are well above his season averages. The Commodores lose a lot of scoring after this season with Fuller and Odom departing. Siakam will be one of the elder statesmen in 2014-15, and should use his performances against Texas A&M as confidence building blocks to play a larger offensive role.
  3. This microsite has had a lot of “Tony Barbee hot seat” chatter over the last few weeks, and how it could it not? Auburn has been stuck in an incredibly deep rut. The Tigers did just have a respectable week, with a closer-than-expected loss against Kentucky and a win over Mississippi State. Does Barbee deserve more time? The 2012-13 Tigers finished the season on a 10-game losing streak, won only three SEC games and sunk all the way to #249 in the RPI. This season’s version is currently 100 spots higher in the RPI, has four SEC wins, and has a more efficient offense despite losing leading scorer Frankie Sullivan. Things do look better, but the real question is the potential for long-term improvement. Senior Chris Denson is in the top 15 nationally in scoring and Auburn also loses Asauhn Dixon-Tatum’s rim protecting presence after the season. Barbee’s prospects will look a lot better if Tahj Shamsid-Deen continues to play well, and fellow freshmen role players Matthew Atewe and Dion Wade flash potential. Atewe may be on that path with 21 rebounds the past two games, which includes 13 against Kentucky’s talented front line.
  4. Rob Dauster’s Saturday Bubble Banter column was littered four with SEC teams. Every team but Missouri fell into the losers section. He had the Tigers as the bubble’s biggest weekend winner after beating Tennessee, since the two teams only had two opportunities for top 50 left in the regular season: the two games against each other. Missouri earned at least a split of those games, making the regular season finale in Knoxville a crucial game for the Vols. LSU and Ole Miss fell into the losers column, but Arkansas was noticeably absent. Though maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, since the Razorbacks RPI (#73) might be too high warrant legitimate bubble status right now. If nothing else, the LSU win did diminish the resume of a team in front of them and sets Mike Anderson’s team up for a chance to redeem their case for a tournament invite. They have two winnable games in front of them (South Carolina at home and Mississippi State on the road), before a trip to Rupp Arena. If Arkansas can win the next three they’ll start to get some serious consideration.
  5. Speaking of Arkansas, if you’re a Razorback fan and had to pick one game to go to this season, Saturday might have been it. The Kentucky game was exciting (and “the Kentucky game” for any SEC fan base is generally a must-attend), but the chance to see Bill Clinton, Nolan Richardson and a number of players from the 1994 championship team is hard to top. Matt Norlander points out that Clinton is still the only sitting president to attend a Final Four. Given President Obama’s affinity for basketball, he’d seem a good candidate to break that streak. But it might take an epic turnaround (and no coaching change) at Oregon State to make that happen. But back to Clinton, who saw the Razorbacks put on a clinic from the three-point line (10-of-17). The three-point line has been part of Arkansas’ struggles away from Bud Walton Arena. The home/road splits for some of their outside threats are not pretty: Rashad Madden (46.7% home, 33.3% road), Michael Qualls (38.9% home, 23.5% road), and Mardracus Wade (46.2% home, 30% road) have each been much worse away from Bud Walton. Boosting those percentages just a little will help not only those players, but Bobby Portis as well. Portis has shown a reliable mid-range shot and back-to-the-basket game, and the loosening up the middle of the floor will make him more dangerous.
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Is Vanderbilt’s Rod Odom Shooting His Way on to the NBA Radar?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 11th, 2014

Rod Odom has been more than a pleasant surprise for Vanderbilt this season. The senior picked up this week’s SEC Player of the Week award, and should be in the discussion to land on an all-SEC team. His numbers are up across the board and this isn’t just a product of the over 35 minutes per game he’s been forced to play for Kevin Stallings. He’s shooting considerably better than last year despite more attempts per game, and has essentially come from under the radar to become one of the best scorers in the league. He’s also the rare breed of player that makes the hearts of NBA scouts beat just a little faster, a big man who can shoot. This got me thinking, does Odom have a chance to shoot himself from relative obscurity onto the draft radar? The NBA loves shooters with size, and the senior has shown that he can really stroke it.

Rod Odom (44.1 3P%) has shot himself into All-SEC discussion. Could there be bigger things ahead for the senior? (insider.espn.com)

Rod Odom (44.1 3P%) has shot himself into All-SEC discussion. Could there be bigger things ahead for the senior? (insider.espn.com)

  • 65.6% true shooting (up from 51.3% in 2012-13)
  • 44.1% 3FG (up from 35.3% in 2012-13 and despite taking nearly seven threes per game)
  • 74.2% FT (up from 64.2% in 2012-13)

Any player with size shooting over 40 percent from deep will get at least a glimpse from scouts. Non-traditional lineups filled with versatile players have been on the rise in the NBA for a few years, as teams try to create space for LeBron James, Derrick Rose, James Harden and others by surrounding them with shooters. Shooting from a forward is a bonus, and a big reason why Florida’s Erik Murphy heard his named called in the second round of last summer’s NBA Draft. Odom’s game this season is similar to Murphy’s production in his last two seasons in Gainesville. But despite how well the Vanderbilt senior has played this season, it doesn’t appear that he’s on the same path to the NBA.

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SEC M5: 02.03.14 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky isn’t the only SEC team playing with greater energy these days. LSU‘s effort had been similarly questioned after being pasted at home by Tennessee in their conference opener, and more recently, they had fallen behind by 19 points in a loss to wishy-washy Alabama. But the Tigers followed up their big win against Kentucky last week by racing out to a 15-point halftime lead against Arkansas over the weekend. “We didn’t want to be the team that comes out and gets hit every game,” said Jordan Mickey. “We want to do the hitting ourselves. We want to come out with a lot of energy and hit teams first.” This aggressive play is also attracting more fans to the Maravich Center, as NOLA.com‘s Ron Higgins wrote that the biggest crowd of the season watched the win over Arkansas. Johnny Jones is trying to reinvigorate the Tigers’ fan base, and building on the attention-grabbing Kentucky win with another solid performance should help his cause. It also helped the Tigers’ NCAA cause because they avoided a letdown after an important resume-building win (LSU lost to Alabama after beating Missouri).
  2. Michael Frazier‘s emergence as a reliable scoring option for Florida has been largely overshadowed by Casey Prather’s SEC Player of the Year level season. The sophomore guard led the Gators in scoring (21 points) against hapless Texas A&M, and the way he got those points indicates significant growth in his offensive attack. “Frazier matched a career high with 21 points but only got nine of those points on three-pointers (3-of-11 from beyond the arc),” writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. “Frazier went to the free throw line eight times and if he can do that while making three-point shots, it will boost both his scoring and UF’s scoring.” Frazier has essentially been a three-point specialist this season (taking 75 percent of his shots from deep), and a very good one at that (43.3% 3FG). It’ll be interesting to see he continues to explore driving opportunities as the season winds on. A game against an overmatched opponent like the Aggies is certainly a good chance to try new things.
  3. Auburn is going streaking. The Tigers won their second straight game by beating Georgia on Saturday, and had five players score in double figures in a conference game for the first time since 2010. That’s a stark change from a team that has been in a dead heat with Missouri to see which can get the highest percentage of their offense from the fewest players. The Tigers now head to South Carolina, where a third-straight win is not inconceivable. Despite these recent wins, Tony Barbee‘s job is still probably in jeopardy. The folks at College and Magnolia offered up Toledo’s Tod Kowalczyk as a potential replacement. While they make a good point about his history building up moribund programs (Wisconsin-Green Bay and Toledo), he has no connection to the South. This isn’t a fatal strike against him, but his entire Division I coaching career has been spent on the East Coast (Rutgers, Rider, New Hampshire) or the Midwest (Marquette, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Toledo). He’d be at an immediate recruiting disadvantage because at the moment Auburn is probably best served by recruiting regionally. Some hard work and a couple smart assistant coaching hires could fix this, but Kowalczyk would still be coming from behind at the start.
  4. Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt is on a three-game winning streak and in the thick of the SEC race. Kevin Stallings dipped into his bag of tricks and used a zone more against Mississippi State for a number of reasons. The Tennesseans‘ Nick Cole wrote, “Although typically a man-to-man team, Vanderbilt utilized a zone defense for much of the game to shield against fatigue for its seven-man rotation, as well as to force the Bulldogs, who are last in the league in three-point shooting percentage, into being a jump-shooting team.” Using the zone to save the Commodores’ legs isn’t a bad idea, since Vanderbilt’s season has essentially become a prolonged tournament with their small rotation. Kyle Fuller has been one the hardest working men in the South, logging 40 minutes in five of Vanderbilt’s eight conference games. But maybe enough is enough when it comes to that storyline. The Commodores have played well in the SEC, regardless of how many players see the court every night.
  5. Last week nearly spelled the end of Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament bid. The Rebels were roughed up by Tennessee in Knoxville, and then trailed South Carolina by nine with under 6 minutes left… at home. But Jarvis Summers led an Ole Miss rally, and Red Cup Rebellion summed up its importance. “The importance of winning this game can’t be overstated. Well, let me rephrase: The importance of not losing this game can’t be overstated. The Gamecocks came in with an RPI of #127, and losing to them on the Rebels’ home court could have doomed any shot for the Tournament.” This was the second time the Rebels staved off a potentially resume-tanking loss to South Carolina, as they won earlier by only one point in Columbia. The Rebels play Missouri, Florida and Kentucky (twice) in February, so winning the games they are favored in is even more important. They did that on Saturday, but not without some tense moments in Oxford. LaDarius White (12 points) reached double figures for the third time in four games, and has been nice perimeter counterpart to Summers and Marshall Henderson.
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SEC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has been a saving grace for the SEC this season, and its defense could lead the Gators all the way to the final weekend of the NCAA TournamentSI.com‘s Michael Beller outlined the reasons Florida has frustrated teams this year so much on offense. “What is it that the Gators do so well defensively? First, they generally force their opponents into tough two-point shots. Teams have shot 41.4 percent on two-pointers against Florida this season, which ranks ninth-best in the country. Second, they take the ball away with aplomb, forcing turnovers on 21.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions. In other words, they don’t allow many easy buckets, and create transition opportunities for themselves by turning over their opponents on a regular basis.” Florida flustered Tennessee’s Jordan McRae into one of the worst shooting days of his career on Saturday, holding him to 1-of-15 shooting from the field. Not only do they have the ability to shut down perimeter players, but their frontcourt is incredibly versatile. Patric Young has the size to match up with other low post bruisers, while Will Yeguete and Dorian-Finney Smith are quick enough to stay with stretch fours and still contribute on the glass.
  2. We’re far enough into the season where a weakness narrative has emerged for each of the nation’s elite freshmen, and one of the knocks on Kentucky’s Julius Randle is his relatively short wingspanSBNation’s Jonathan Tjarks described Randle as being “built like a Tyrannosauras Rex: all torso and no arms.” CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore wrote a great defense of Randle’s offensive game, with a ton of GIFs that show his creativity in finding ways to score. Moore likes the freshman forward’s touch around rim, muscular frame, and driving potential, thinking that there’s a chance he could be “a natural at finding ways to score,” much like Zach Randolph. At this point most NBA general managers probably view Randle as a clear cut below Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins given his athletic “limitations,” and the effect they have on his long-term potential. But unlike Wiggins, and to a lesser extent, Embiid, the player he will ultimately become isn’t a mystery. Your favorite NBA team probably isn’t winning a championship with Randle as its best player. However, he’s got a refined offensive skill set and enough potential that he could become a key cog in a perpetual playoff team.
  3. Is Marshall Henderson‘s game evolving? The easy answer is no, as the senior launched 12 three-pointers in the Rebels’ win over Mississippi State over the weekend. But while only two of those threes went down, Henderson still scored 19 points by attacking the basket seemingly more than any other game this season. Sinking treys or not, he helped Ole Miss avoid a potential trap game with one of its toughest games of the SEC season looming Wednesday night in Knoxville. That was the fourth straight win for Andy Kennedy’s team, and they went into halftime with an 11-point lead. The Rebels seem dialed in, but the schedule begins to pick up with that trip to Tennessee followed by games against Kentucky and Missouri in the following week.
  4. Alabama flipped its 2013-14 script on Saturday and actually came out on the winning end of a close game. The Tide gave up a 19-point lead against LSU, and it looked like it’d be another close loss for Anthony Grant but a late Shannon Hale three saved the day for Alabama, much to his relief. “It was a tough, physical battle,” Grant said. “For our guys to step up in the end, the last four minutes, I thought we showed grit and heart and courage and all the things we’ve been looking for all year.” The Tide are still playing hard, which is a good sign for a team with more talent than its 9-10 record would suggest. Hale might also be a bright spot for Grant, as the big man has shown the ability to shoot from distance (36% 3FG), which should fit well alongside Retin Obasohan over the next few years. Hale also showed some play-making abilities against LSU: He had six assists after recording just 16 total in his previous 18 games.
  5. Kevin Stallings‘ team is hovering just above .500 and is only a few games removed from a 23-point loss to LSU. Nonetheless, the Vanderbilt coach needs to be lauded for how his team has overcome its roster pitfalls. The Commodores went on the road and beat Texas A&M Saturday, getting a big performance from James Siakam. At Anchor of Gold, RTC’s very own Christian D’Andrea wrote, “The shorthanded ‘Dores lost Damian Jones to fouls in 24 minutes and battled through below-average showings from Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker on Saturday. Fortunately, Siakam was able to put together a huge showing in the paint and at the free throw line to lead his team to victory.” The roster crunch could turn out to be a big boost for Vanderbilt next season and beyond. Stallings won’t reap the benefits of the increased minutes for seniors Odom and Kyle Fuller, but the rest of the team has the opportunity for games like Siakam’s in College Station — opportunities that may not have been there under normal circumstances. In terms of this season, Vanderbilt has only been non-competitive in one SEC game (LSU), and owns a quality win over Missouri as well as the road win in College Station. That’s not bad considering Stallings has to play multiple players 40 minutes a game.
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SEC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 17th, 2014

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  1. That sound you hear rushing past you? That’s Missouri dive-bombing off the bubble. The Tigers wiped out a 10-point halftime deficit in just a few minutes, but Vanderbilt regained control to get a home win last night. The Commodores’ half-court defense was impressive, as they largely bottled up Missouri’s dribble drive offense, especially Jordan Clarkson. Their zone also forced the Tigers to shoot more threes than they usually do (26 attempts last night; they average 17.3 per game). The fight that Kyle Fuller, Rod Odom and the rest of team have shown since Eric McClellan’s dismissal has been laudable, and the Commodores were due a win. Fuller and Odom each logged 40 minutes and still found the energy to hit the deciding shots in the final moments.
  2. Andy Kennedy has had the tall task  this season of replacing two incredibly productive big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway. So when LSU and its frontcourt bursting with talent rolled into Oxford it seemed obvious which team would have the advantage down low. But freshman Sebastian Saiz had a breakout game (20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds) and Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant were held to just eight points combined. “It’s amazing when the ball goes in the basket, and what that does for your confidence,” Kennedy said. “[Saiz] made a couple [shots] early. They were really extended on Marshall, and when teams play that way, we have to take advantage of it behind the zone. We have to finish plays, and Saiz finished the plays. It’s something we’ve been sorely missing.” Henderson is a lot of things, and one of them is an effective decoy (see: Jarvis Summers’ game tying-three against Oregon). There will be easy opportunities for Saiz throughout the rest of the season, so we may not have seen his last big game.
  3. Marshall Henderson is “going back to me,” and we’ll probably all end up better (or at least more entertained) for it. The Dagger’s Kyle Ringo wrote about the tight rope Andy Kennedy may have to walk as the excitable Henderson reaches the end of his career. “He is a senior with 15 regular-season games remaining in his career. If he goes a bit overboard with his showmanship or showboating and taunting, will the school step in and risk short-circuiting another possible NCAA tournament appearance by suspending him again?” Henderson hasn’t done anything this season to attract Deadspin‘s attention, but he does need to keep the shenanigans in check. Unlike LSU and Missouri, Ole Miss is a middle-tier SEC team that has a bit of momentum going its way. We’ve written this countless times, but the conference has a soft underbelly begging for a team to rise up and stockpile a number of wins. The Rebels have the talent to be that team, but only with Henderson on the court in a productive way. 
  4. SI.com‘s Seth Davis doesn’t seem that bullish on Frank Martin‘s prospects at South Carolina. In his weekly mailbag, Davis writs that Martin might be able to turn the program arond in the “long LONG run” and noted that he took the job mostly because he hated his athletic director at Kansas State. Maybe I’m just an SEC apologist (which is not an easy job these days), but the second-year Gamecock coach deserves some more slack here. He didn’t inherit much talent from Darrin Horn, and he lost some of what he did have to the transfer rule. While the Gamecocks are off to an 0-3 conference start, none of the losses were that alarming (going to Gainesville isn’t easy, after all). He’s starting three freshmen and a sophomore, so counting out a significant turnaround by a proven coach seems premature.
  5. But things won’t get easier for Martin this season, as Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson is now out indefinitely after fracturing his right foot against Texas A&M. Johnson is second on the team in scoring (11.6 PPG), and while he didn’t start against the Aggies, he is also the team leader in minutes (27.3 MPG). This is the second major in-season loss to South Carolina’s backcourt after Bruce Ellington left the team to train for the NFL Draft. While it hurts to lose Johnson, it’s not the end of the world for Martin. A bid to the NIT is a pipe dream after its start, and getting heavy minutes for Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell can only help in the seasons to come when a postseason invite may not be so unrealistic.
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Three Takeaways from SEC Play: Two Elite Rebounders and Watch For Rod Odom

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2014

Sometimes things go as planned (see Florida’s win over South Carolina), and sometimes they don’t (see Georgia upsetting ranked Missouri), but that’s the element that makes college basketball so intriguing. The SEC’s slate of games certainly brought some unpredictability this week, but also shed some light on things to come in the conference race. The SEC season is only one game old, but it’s never too early to speculate on trends that could affect the end result. Here are our three first-week takeaways that could ultimately impact the final SEC standings.

Mark Fox gets an emotional win to break Missouri's 26 game home winning streak. (AP photo)

Mark Fox gets an emotional win to break Missouri’s 26-game home winning streak. (AP photo)

1. Mark Fox and Georgia got an emotional overtime win over Missouri in large part because of a dominant effort on the boards. I was more than prepared to write a 2,000-word essay on the tremendous play of Nemanja Djurisic, but try as I might to shift the narrative to the hot shooting of the Bulldogs’ junior forward, the more pressing and lingering issue from this game was Missouri’s rebounding deficiency. The Tigers were outboarded on both ends, but if Frank Haith’s squad is going to settle on outside jumpers by its trio of heavy usage guards then they will need a better performance on the offensive glass from freshman Johnathan Williams. Missouri is more than a little thin in the frontcourt, so it will have to rely on the 6’9″ rookie to do better than his season low of two rebounds against the Bulldogs. Missouri simply can’t afford for him to pull a no-show on the glass. The good news is that Williams is more than capable of shouldering the load, considering that he is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Just how good is he? He’s one of only a handful of freshman  in the last seven years with an offensive rebounding percentage over 15 percent. And he’s in some pretty good company, as the table below exhibits.

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SEC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. No Marshall Henderson for Ole MissNo problem, but just barely. The Rebels held off Auburn, but it was a close game throughout and Ole Miss weathered a stretch in which they only scored two points in seven minutes. Overall, Andy Kennedy must be encouraged the Rebels won a game in which Henderson was out and Jarvis Summers was merely pedestrian offensively (14 points on 6 of 17 from the field). Aaron Jones has emerged as one of the better shot blockers in the SEC, and had five blocks against the Tigers, including a key swat with under a minute left. Chris Denson shouldered the offense for Auburn with KT Harrell in foul trouble, and must have made Henderson jealous by putting up 25 shots.
  2. Vanderbilt will be without its leading scorer the rest of the season after sophomore guard Eric McClellan was dismissed for the spring semester. McClellan has a February court date for a misdemeanor charge of theft under $500. In a statement, the sophomore said his goal is to eventually return to the Vanderbilt program. There may be few other options for McClellan, who already transferred once and now carries extra baggage with him. Obviously any criminal charge is a bad one, but luckily for McClellan this doesn’t appear to be a deal breaker when it comes to playing again. Kevin Stallings clearly has a difficult coaching job ahead of him with only seven scholarship players. One positive is that the Commodores did play hard in their first game without McClellan on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa.
  3.  CBSSports.com’s list of the “30 games to watch in conference play” includes three from our beloved SEC, the highest ranked of which is the March 8 bout between Kentucky and Florida. This game could certainly be the deciding game in the regular season conference race. It will also have a more-defined story line after the initial February 15th game between the two teams (also on the list). In a big league with an unbalanced schedule it’s a treat these teams play twice this season. The final SEC game is the January 25th match up between Florida and Tennessee. This comes at the end of a difficult streak for the Vols, who play at Kentucky and against Arkansas immediately before traveling to Gainesville. Tennessee by default currently occupies the darkhorse position for the regular season crown after their road win against LSU and Missouri’s embarrassing home loss to Georgia.
  4. This week’s statistical nugget from SI.com‘s Luke Winn deals with Florida, who he has at #10 in his latest power rankings. Winn writes about Florida’s dominant defensive first half Wednesday against South Carolina. “The Gamecocks had one point and seven turnovers in their first 10 possessions, and they didn’t get their turnover percentage under 50 until the 25th possession.” Billy Donovan has this Gators’ team playing solid defense, like he often does. Florida has the 57th best effective field goal defense in the country. Dominant defensive first halves have also been the norm: they’re allowing 25.1 points in the first halves of games, the fifth best mark in the nation. Finally, every regular in the Donovan’s rotation has a defensive rating of 93 or less.
  5. Speaking of Florida regulars, Damontre Harris may yet be one of them in future. As impossible as it may have seemed a few weeks ago, the South Carolina transfer who Donovan essentially said would never play at Florida, may work his way onto next year’s team. “We traded some texts over the Christmas break and he realized that he had made a big mistake,” Donovan said. “He wants to work his way back on the team. It’s going to be similar to Scottie Wilbekin’s situation in that he has to meet some terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don’t know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story.” Harris could be an important addition to next year’s Gator team, if he does what Donovan needs him to. Florida will lose Patric Young and Will Yeguete to graduation and there will be a playing time available in the front court. Harris posted a 10.7% block rate during his sophomore year at South Carolina and a shot-blocking presence like that would be warmly welcomed in any lineup.
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