Assessing the Challengers to Kentucky’s SEC Crown

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 19th, 2014

It’s a month into the college basketball season and every conference has unanswered questions. For all its faults, the SEC more or less stands alone among the major conferences in that we know with reasonable certainty which team will be taking home the regular season and tournament titles. If you’re betting against Kentucky in this league this season, then you clearly haven’t been watching. But after the Wildcats at the top, there are at least six teams that can make a realistic claim as the second-best team in the conference. Here’s how the race stacks up as we slog through final exams:

Bobby Portis is in the conversation for SEC POY, can he lead Arkansas up the conference ladder? (thesportsseer.com).

Bobby Portis is in the conversation for SEC POY, but can he lead Arkansas up the conference ladder? (thesportsseer.com).

  • Arkansas (7-2, Best Win: SMU, Worst Loss: Clemson). If nothing else it has been an eventful month for the Hogs. They stormed into the national polls after a 6-0 start. They won on the road at SMU. People were excited. But then Arkansas fell flat in a marquee game at Iowa State and followed it up with a perplexing loss to Clemson. So really, we are left with the same questions we had about the Razorbacks coming into the season. They look better, but are they NCAA tournament better? To its credit, Arkansas may have the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year in Bobby Portis, who is among the league’s top 10 in points per game (15.8), rebounds per game (6.8), blocks per game (1.6), effective field goal percentage (60.2%) and PER (26.7).
  • Texas A&M (7-2, BW: Arizona State, WL: Baylor). The Aggies’ most compelling argument is not the team they are now, but the one they could be in a few months. Billy Kennedy got an early Christmas present when Danuel House and Tony Trocha-Morelos became eligible. House has immediately become a key cog for the Aggies, leading the team in minutes per game (29.2) and adding a jolt of athleticism to the perimeter. Any doubt about his role should have been erased when he got the last shot in a tie game against Sam Houston State. Freshman Alex Robinson has also at times looked like the best player on the team. The Aggies don’t have any eye-popping wins and recently got rolled by Baylor, but they have good potential as players get accustomed to playing together.

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SEC M5: 12.15.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Tennessee center Dominic Woodson left the Volunteers’ program over the weekend after having been held out of the team’s prior two games because of academic issues. Given that he had experienced some problems during his (only) freshman season at Memphis, his departure could not have come as much of a surprise for head coach Donnie Tyndall. Woodson often talked about turning things around, but after being declared immediately eligible to play in the fall, things never materialized for him. He averaged 12 minutes, 3.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in his four contests, but after the Volunteers pulled off an upset of No. 15 Butler in Knoxville on Sunday, this may be a clear case of addition by subtraction.
  2. One of the most impressive things John Calipari has done with his team this year is to keep everyone happy. Anyone who watches Kentucky play sees that all of the players appear to be having fun despite the fact that none averages more than 24 minutes per game. It’s therefore no surprise that, after the Wildcats’ loss of Alex Poythress for the season from an ACL injury, the Big Blue Nation rallied around him to provide emotional support. Just prior to tipoff of Saturday’s game against North Carolina, chants of “Al-ex Poy-thress!” from the Rupp Arena crowd showed the fans’ support for the junior forward. The student-filled eRUPPtion Zone took it a step further, wearing “Roar for 22″ shirts, referencing Poythress’ number. While it’s been easy for fans to root for the Wildcats in Calipari’s six years at the school, family-oriented actions like these are the subtler part of the reason the nation’s best high schoolers flock to Lexington to play for Calipari.
  3. Auburn received word late last week that Trayvon Reed, who originally signed with Maryland but was not allowed to enroll there because of a July arrest relating to a misdemeanor second-degree assault of a police officer, is now eligible. The 7’2″ center played eight minutes – although he didn’t score or grab any rebounds – in Sunday’s 72-61 loss at Clemson. It is unlikely Reed will make much of an impact this year, and it remains to be seen where he fits into Bruce Pearl’s long-term plans, but for an undersized Auburn team, having the former four-star recruit on board can’t hurt. The loss to Clemson dropped Auburn to a 3-5 record on the season, and it looks like the rebuilding project Pearl inherited on the Plains will take some time.
  4. Alabama lost its second-leading scorerRicky Tarrant, after only eight minutes in Saturday’s 65-53 home win over Tennessee Tech. It does not appear that the junior point guard, who is in his first season at Alabama after transferring from Tulane, will miss much time, though, after leaving the game with cramps. Along with seniors Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph, Tarrant (13.4 PPG) helps provide much of the Crimson Tide’s scoring punch. Alabama’s only losses have come to Iowa State in Kansas City and at Xavier, but it would like to have Tarrant back at 100 percent for what may be the toughest test of the non-conference schedule, a trip to Wichita State Tuesday.
  5. Thanks to 26 points from freshman guard Riley LaChance and 64 percent shooting from three-point range, Vanderbilt toppled Purdue, 81-71, on Saturday night in Nashville. The entertaining match-up was otherwise insignificant on the national scale, but anyone who follows either program closely might have thought it would have more meaning than the average non-conference game for Commodores’ head coach Kevin Stallings. According to the Purdue alumnus and Gene Keady protege, it was just another game, and the fact that it came against his alma mater meant very little. It is certainly not surprising that Stallings, who in his 16th season at Vanderbilt is the dean of SEC coaches, is not sentimental, but you might think it would have had a bit more meaning to him. “It’s not really [special]. It’s an important game because it’s our next one and we’re coming off a loss and it’s a game against a very good team,” he said before the game. Given the way his young team played, it’s hard to argue with how Stallings approached the contest.
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SEC M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas’ showdown in Hilton Coliseum with Iowa State last night went, well, as you might have expected it to go. The Razorbacks weren’t able to build on their rare-in-the-Mike-Anderson-era road win at SMU and were instead trounced by the Cyclones. This might yet be a team that can consistently play well away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, but it wasn’t apparent last night. To be fair, the Cyclones were an offensive buzzsaw (64.0% FG, 10-of-19 from three), as it seemed they were either hitting threes or making transition baskets on nearly every possession en route to 95 points. Arkansas ended up shooting a respectable 36.0 percent from three, but what did the Razorbacks in was their inability to put a stop to a first half Iowa State run that pushed the lead out to 20. The silver lining? Bobby Portis looked right at home (19 points on 8-of-10 shooting) against top quality competition.
  2. LSU picked up a big win for itself and the SEC by knocking off West Virginia last night in Morgantown. In what was probably the biggest win of Johnny Jones’ tenure, the Tigers notched another nice win for their ultimate NCAA Tournament resume. Whether it’s lucky, encouraging or just strange, the Tigers were able to win without Jordan Mickey scoring until after the last media timeout. Jarell Martin (18 points, 14 rebounds) did a lot of the heavy lifting, but LSU wouldn’t have won without Tim Quarterman (21 points, seven rebounds) and Keith Hornsby (15 points, five rebounds). Quarterman has now scored 14 or more points in the last four games, and the Tigers suddenly look like more than a two-man show in Baton Rouge.
  3. Vanderbilt came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to pull within two points against Baylor in the final minutes of its game Thursday night, but the Commodores couldn’t pull out the victory, as Riley Lachance missed a game-tying three at the buzzer. It’s especially disappointing because a win against a team that currently holds the #14 spot in KenPom’s ratings was well within reach. Vanderbilt now gets nine days off before another resume-enhancing game at home against a major conference team, Purdue. The good news is that Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are emerging as one of the more underrated frontcourt duos in the country. Kornet has been great from deep (15-of-26) and is a good complement to Jones’ low-post ability.
  4. An opportunity slipped away at Ole Miss last night, as the Rebels turned in an ugly offensive performance in a home loss to TCU. Ole Miss shot just 29.8 percent from the floor and Jarvis Summers had his worst game of the season (2-of-12 shooting, three turnovers). Worth noting is that Andy Kennedy kept Summers on the bench with the Rebels trailing by 12 points in the final two minutes. A comeback at that point was more than improbable, but you never expect a senior like Summers (who didn’t appear to be injured) to be sitting at a time like that. This game might be a reflection of how improved TCU is this season, but you would have expected a better showing from Ole Miss at home after two big wins against Creighton and Cincinnati.
  5. The Naismith Award top 50 watch list was released on Wednesday and it features five SEC players: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison, Florida’s Michael Frazier and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. This number of SEC players seems about right, and I can’t think of any glaring omissions off the top of my head. LSU’s Jarell Martin could probably make a case to be on this list, but he didn’t jump off the charts last year so it’s understandable he didn’t make it. It is interesting that Aaron Harrison got the nod while brother Andrew did not, especially because Andrew plays what many consider the more important position. It could be that the difference is the impression still left by Aaron’s late-game heroics in the NCAA Tournament last year.
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What is Wrong With Memphis’ Kedren Johnson?

Posted by mlemaire on December 2nd, 2014

There is rust. There is regression. And there is whatever is going on with Memphis point guard Kedren Johnson. College basketball is littered with players who never “broke out” and there are even players who take a step back from one season to the next. But it isn’t very often that players crater as quickly as Johnson has. Two seasons ago, the Tennessee native was Vanderbilt’s best player and one of the best point guards in the SEC as a sophomore. He started all 33 games for the Commodores, leading the team in scoring (13.5 ppg), assists (3.6 apg), and steals (1.0), while ranking amongst the Top 100 players in the country in assist rate.

Is Kedren Johnson the answer for Memphis? Mark Humphrey/ AP

Those numbers were a big reason why the Memphis fan base breathed easier when the NCAA made Johnson eligible to play this season and they were also a big reason why basketball scribes like Jeff Goodman called Johnson a “difference-maker” for the Tigers’ brand-new backcourt. But instead of being the backcourt savior everyone expected him to be, Johnson has struggled. Actually, that’s misleading. Johnson hasn’t just struggled, he has stunk so bad that coach Josh Pastner can’t even keep him on the floor.

Johnson turned the ball over five times in 12 minutes in his long-awaited debut against Wichita State before Pastner couldn’t bear to watch him on the court any longer. He wasn’t much better in a limited role against Prairie View A&M either. Things got so bad that Pastner replaced Johnson with Markel Crawford in the starting lineup and then sat his supposed veteran leader for the entirety of the team’s blowout loss to Baylor. Johnson got a shot to redeem himself in the third-place game and promptly responded with 20 minutes of forgettable basketball (0-of-5 from the field, 1 assist, 2 rebounds, 3 fouls). Through four games, his turnover rate (44.8) is actually higher than his offensive rating (44.0)  and his defense has been so bad there were probably guys on the Indiana State bench wondering why they couldn’t get recruited to Memphis.

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SEC M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 1st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The final score didn’t do justice to how close the majority of Kentucky’s 58-38 win over Providence was. The Friars hung within striking distance until there were about nine minutes left in the game, but it never felt like they could mount a real comeback. This was a game where the Wildcats’ size showed up on the perimeter but not the glass. Kentucky just edged out Providence on the boards 33-29, but really disrupted the Friars offense with their length. The Wildcats forced the Friars into 18 turnovers, including 10 by an injured Kris Dunn. One turnover in particular summed up how scary the Kentucky defense can be. Willie Cauley-Stein stole the ball above the three-point line and glided down the court for a transition layup attempt. He ended up missing the contested basket, but there are only so many seven footers out there that can actively bust up a defense at the top of the key, and most of them are in the NBA.
  2. Arkansas has a watermark opportunity Thursday night in Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. But first, the Razorbacks needed to take a care of a harder-than-it-looks game at home against Iona, which came in ranked #65 in KenPom’s latest ratings. Arkansas only managed a 44-40 halftime lead in what remained a seesaw game until Michael Qualls took over and broke the game open with around seven minutes left by scoring 11 points over a three-minute stretch. It can’t be emphasized how important it was for one of the Razorbacks’ best players to step up and not let this game go the other way. Losing to the Gaels at home after just entering the rankings would’ve been a severely deflating loss. Qualls helped make sure this didn’t happen, and kept Arkansas’ early season momentum alive.
  3. Tennessee went 1-2 in the Orlando Classic, with a win over Santa Clara and losses to Kansas and Marquette. This obviously wasn’t a great showing from a win-loss perspective, but the Vols did fight back from a 13-point hole against the Jayhawks and tied the game deep into the second half. It would’ve been a very successful trip had they been able to knock off a rebuilding Marquette team, but that’s not how things turned out. Armani Moore is quietly making his case as the most improved player in the SEC. The junior had 18 points against both the Broncos and Golden Eagles, and is averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, up from 3.1 and 2.2, respectively, last season.
  4. Referee Rick Crawford collapsing to floor after an inadvertent strike from Damian Jones during the opening tip between Vanderbilt and La Salle was probably the scariest college hoops moment of the weekend. Fortunately, Crawford is okay. For his part, Jones continued his All-SEC campaign with 17 points and seven rebounds in the Commodores win over the Explorers in the consolation side of the Barclays Center Classic. Vanderbilt dropped its opener against Rutgers, but can make up for it quickly with upcoming back-to-back home games against Baylor and Purdue. Winning both games against good-but-not-great power conference teams would be a big step for Kevin Stallings’ young team.
  5. Mississippi State’s trip to the Corpus Christi Classic produced a mixed bag of results. Rick Ray’s squad hammered Saint Louis by 25 points but then lost to TCU in the championship game. Make no mistake, beating a solid A-10 program like Saint Louis is where the Bulldogs need to be, but that win would’ve been a lot better had it happened either of the last two years. Unfortunately, Mississippi State wasn’t able to close it out and win the tournament against the Horned Frogs. Craig Sword made his season debut after missing time with a back injury and played 11 scoreless minutes in both games. It should only be a matter of time before he gets up to speed and becomes a go-to scorer for the Bulldogs.
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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

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  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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