Morning Five: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 10th, 2014

morning5

  1. With the decision by Colorado and Washington to legalize the use of marijuana the debate around drug testing student-athletes particularly for non-performance-enhancing drugs has come under increasing scrutiny. Troy appears to be going in the other direction, but not as the result of legal issues. The school has announced that it plans on drug testing all of its athletes in the next 30 days following the deaths of four students during the holiday break. We do not know the full details behind the deaths of these four individuals, but based on what we have read it does not seem like drug testing is the answer to what happened at the school. It will be interesting to see how the school handles these drug tests going forward as they say that a student’s first positive test will result in notification of a parent or guardian. Since nearly all college athletes are adults in the eyes of the law we are not sure how this will go over and also do not know how the NCAA will deal with these results.
  2. With the FBI reportedly investigating three UTEP basketball players for gambling, it seems like the ideal time for an update on Varez Ward, the former Auburn player accused of point-shaving. Ward, who was accused of trying to fix a February 2012 game against Arkansas, is awaiting a decision from prosecutors about whether they will let him enter a pre-trial diversion program (basically he would have to follow some predefined rules for a period of time then the charges would be dismissed). Now he will have to wait a little longer as prosecutors have asked for more time to decide whether to let him enter such a program although a decision could come as early as next week. Ward’s trial is scheduled to begin on February 10 so he has a month to come to an agreement before this goes to trial.
  3. It appears that the college basketball version of keeping up with the Joneses is keeping up with Calipari as Kansas announced that it plans on spending $17.5 million on housing for the men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as 34 lucky non-student-athletes. That figure more than doubles the figures that we have seen thrown around for Kentucky’s famed Wildcat Coal Lodge. The 34 non-student-athletes are basically being let in to comply with NCAA rules that any type of housing can be allowed as long as it is also available to non-student-athletes as well. We would be curious as to who these 34 individuals are (probably legacies or children of big donors). For comparison, Kansas is also building two other new residence halls for other students at an expected cost of $47.8 million, but at a cost of $68,000 per student compared to $265,000 per student for the basketball housing.
  4. One of the things that we love about college sports is the atmosphere. Whether it is the students or the bands, college games have an atmosphere that few professional arenas can come close to. It is also one of the reasons why we are so opposed to neutral-site games. Schools occasionally bring along the bands and a handful of diehard fans, but in some cases they have to improve. In the case of Duke they turn to a volunteer band to fill in at times. This is hardly unique to Duke as several other schools resort to similar methods, but it is something to watch for the next time the cameras pan to the band and you see somebody who looks like he or she is too old to be in college.
  5. One of the interesting areas of college sports that generally gets overlooked is the politics of shoe contracts. One of the best examples of this is Notre Dame, which made the surprising move of switching from adidas to Under Armour at the end of this season. Whatever you think of their basketball program, the Irish are one of the biggest name brands in college sports, but it appears that adidas may have ruffled some feathers in South Bend with their decision to reportedly offer Michigan more money than Notre Dame. Regardless of the politics, it is a huge coup for Under Armour as Notre Dame is by far the biggest program that they have landed.
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Morning Five: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 21st, 2013

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  1. As you may have noticed from ESPNU’s coverage, Friday night was the closest thing we have this year to Midnight Madness as the new practice rules have led to a dilution of the event as teams have spread out their first official practice dates. The big spectacles were widely covered by ESPN and its array of analysts, but the biggest event of the weekend may have happened behind the scenes at Kansas two weeks after “Late Night in the Phog” as the Jayhawks hosted Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones on their official visit. The pair, who have repeatedly expressed their desire to play together, are the top package deal this season (or almost any season that we can remember). Although they may have missed the typical March Madness theatrics that many recruits have become accustomed too they were able to see the current group of Jayhawks play in an open scrimmage with a full house at Allen Fieldhouse. For their part, both Okafor and Jones appear to have enjoyed their visits, but they are visiting Duke this coming weekend, which as of now is their last scheduled visit, so there is a chance that we could be hearing their choice fairly soon.
  2. The Okafor-Jones combo might be getting all the hype, but the potential for a Cliff Alexander-JaQuan Lyle combo deal is not far behind. That pair made a visit to Memphis over the weekend and while they both reportedly enjoyed their visit the more interesting point is that Alexander’s mother sounded less than certain that the pair would be committing together. Alexander is the key piece here and has also visited Kansas and DePaul with a visit planned for Illinois next weekend. He is still considering visiting Michigan State, but is set to announce his decision on November 16 on ESPNU.
  3. The details of coaching contracts are usually too boring to be worth mentioning, but those in Shaka Smart‘s contract caught our attention. The base salary of $450,000, supplemental income rising from $850,000 to $950,000 then $1 million, and duration of 10 years are not particularly noteworthy. What is interesting is that he will get an extra $5,000 for each win over a member of the AAC (think Shaka wants to move to the AAC?) and $2,000 for beating Old Dominion. He also receives $4,000 for each player that graduates by the summer that that player’s eligibility is up and $2,000 if it happens within one year of that player’s eligibility expiring. As for other schools that are looking at luring Shaka away from VCU, if he leaves before April 30 of next year his buyout is $650,000 and drops by $100,000 every year after that. Oh, and it will also cost the school that lures Shaka away a home-and-home or an additional $250,000.
  4. With his preliminary hearing for allegedly stealing from a friend’s apartment less than a month away, Savon Goodman decided to leave the UNLV program on Friday. Goodman has been charged with conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary, and grand larceny after being accused of stealing $500, a pair of shoes, and 26 video games from a friend’s apartment in May. In August, Dave Rice announced that Goodman would not play this season and his future with the program was uncertain, but did not rule out the possibility of Goodman’s return (and we have seen players return to play from far worse than what Goodman is accused of doing). We are not sure what eventually made Goodman decide to leave the program ahead of his preliminary hearing on November 12 as the Rebels as a team in need of inside players so it would seem that the door would have been open for him to return after this season if he behaved in a way that Rice and the program felt was appropriate.
  5. It looks like former Auburn guard Varez Ward could avoid facing charges of point-shaving by entering into a pre-trial diversion program. Ward is the second Division I player to face such charges, but unlike San Diego’s Brandon Johnson his involvement in the game he is accused of shaving points in seems to be minimal as he appeared to his injure his leg after playing only 19 seconds (against Arkansas on January 25, 2012). However, the reason for the apparent deal is that he has no history of felony convictions or drug addictions (Ward has previously pleaded not guilty). Ward still needs his deal to be approved by the U.S. Probation Office and a federal judge before it can be official.
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Calling All College Sports Fans: Point Shaving Is A Problem, And We’re Not Paying Nearly Enough Attention

Posted by Chris Johnson on June 6th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

College sports’ problems cannot be hemmed in around one single issue or theme. There is a vast array of various issues eating away at the very core of the intercollegiate athletic landscape, loath as we are to discuss them all in equal measure. The usual discussions about the usual problems tend to fall under one of two hot-button umbrellas: the NCAA and conference realignment. Mentioning either tends to boil the blood of all fans; not even the dividing lines of team or conference or regional loyalty can’t break up the unifying hate. Conference realignment talk has cooled off in recent weeks thanks to the ACC’s landmark grant of rights deal, which should halt the league-shifting turnstiles among major conferences. The NCAA knows no relief from outside vitriol, though, and you can rest assured the scorn will continue to rain down as long as “amateurism” and a crookedly impractical rulebook and Mark Emmert remain visible parts of the organization. We talk about these things a lot because they make it easy to do so, and because we – fans, media, whoever – understand the moving parts, the underlying tectonic plates, the incentives. We get this stuff. It’s practically straightforward, and morally persuasive (and if you have a lot of friends that enjoy watching and talking about college sports, almost by necessity a part of your cocktail hour conversation arsenal) to shake our firsts and raise a hellstorm about.

The underrepresentation of point-shaving among the biggest and most enduring issues afflicting college sports is startling (Getty).

The underrepresentation of point-shaving among the biggest and most enduring issues afflicting college sports is startling (Getty).

It’s time we pay more attention to another issue: point shaving. You’ve heard of it before, yes? The supposed-to-be subtlety of intentionally performing below your capability to artificially doctor a game’s final score for a financial reward. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. An ill-intentioned money-hungry go-between reaches out to an influential player on a low-profile mid-major team, offers a relatively small sum (say, $1,000) to back-rim a few jumpers and commit a couple not-unintentional turnovers, just enough to stay under the posted point spread. The player, a typical college student with typical college student financial constraints, happily agrees to consciously muddle his performance. Who wouldn’t take that deal? With little rhyme or reason for unprompted external suspicion, and a near-impossibly onerous burden of proof to demonstrate a sustained effort to manipulate a given game’s point spread, of course I’ll make that happen. That shudderingly simple and coherent line of thinking is what led San Diego star Brandon Johnson, the perfect real-life fit for the prototypical point shaving target-manna athlete, to cast his lot with bookies and an assistant coach with nefarious motivations and intentions.

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Morning Five: 06.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 5th, 2013

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  1. In what turned out to be a rough Tuesday in terms of college basketball-related news, a federal grand jury in Alabama unsealed an indictment that alleges former Auburn guard Varez Ward of attempting to throw a game against Arkansas in the 2011-12 season. Ward, a junior at the time, is accused of two counts of sports bribery (or more commonly known as point-shaving) where he allegedly conspired with gamblers and tried to solicit other players to throw the game. (full indictment here) Ward only played 19 seconds in that contest against the Hawgs, suffering a thigh bruise very early that kept him on the bench for the rest of the game in an eventual three-point loss. Last year the FBI said that it was also looking into a February 2012 game against Alabama where Ward scored three points and committed six turnovers, but that game was not referred to in yesterday’s indictment. According to this report from last year, Ward was suspended by Auburn assistant coaches in late February after another player blew the whistle on him; another teammate originally under suspicion was later cleared. Ward never suited up for Auburn again, but he may very well be wearing the orange (jumpsuit) full-time if these charges stick. He faces five years in prison on each count. We’re not going to get preachy on this issue, but we will refer back to one of the first articles we ever wrote on this here website: This sort of thing happens a lot more than anyone cares to admit
  2. Meanwhile, more discouraging news from the great state of Alabama came out on Tuesday as Crimson Tide forward Devonta Pollard was charged by local authorities with conspiracy to commit kidnapping related to an April 30 abduction of a six-year old girl named Jashayla Hopson. The details are somewhat murky at this point, but it appears that Pollard may have been assisting his mother, Jessie Mae Pollard, in antagonizing the youngster’s mother who was caught up in a land dispute with her. But this is no trumped-up charge where someone was held against their will for a minute or two — if the allegations are true, Hopson was picked up at her elementary school and held for a full day before being dropped off on the side of a road unharmed. Pollard, his mother, and four others have been charged so far in this crime, with at least one other still pending. What a crazy world we live in.
  3. Ohio State president Gordon Gee has had himself quite a week, as reports of his insensitive comments made in December about Catholics, SEC schools, and Louisville have been making the rounds. The “pompous ass,” according to Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino, announced Tuesday that he is taking his volatile opinions into the sunset, choosing to retire from his post effective July 1. Gee says that he made his decision last week during a vacation, feeling that he needed time to “re-energize and re-focus.” Whether he was encouraged to retire or came to the decision on his own volition, the 69-year old president certainly has a fund-raising and bottom line resume that is unmatched within the industry, so if he chooses to continue his work elsewhere, we doubt he’ll have much trouble finding a place to land. He may not want to send any resumes out to Notre Dame, Louisville or any of those SEC schools, though.
  4. How about some better news? One of the problems with the John R. Wooden Classic played every December in Anaheim was that the stature of the lineup often didn’t seem to fit the stature of the name headlining the event. Naturally, UCLA was almost always involved, but usually the three other teams invited were a mixture of solid mid-majors (i.e., St. Mary’s, San Diego State) and some other mid-level programs (i.e., USC, Washington, Texas A&M). It was also just for one day, and it often fell during a period in the college basketball calendar in early to mid-December when viewers were getting much better match-ups during the same period (think: UNC-Kentucky or Kansas-Ohio State). The decision announced Tuesday to rebrand the event as the John Wooden Legacy and merge it with the Anaheim Classic during Thanksgiving weekend is a good one. Although the 2013 field is not great, featuring Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami (FL) as its marquee names, the four-year cycle of exempted events and ESPN’s coverage will no doubt encourage bigger-name programs to take the trip to SoCal in future years. We’d expect this to become one of the better such events during Feast Week starting in 2014 and beyond.
  5. Finally today, Andy Glockner at SI.com digs deeply through the KenPom statistical buffet and gives us what he calls “the extremists” — those returning players who are the best of the best in each of a number of key statistical categories. If you can name the top returnee in the nation in shot percentage at 40 percent, more power to you (answer: Wofford’s Karl Cochran), but certainly a couple of these names are on the short list for breakout seasons next year: Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (tops in defensive rebounding percentage at 28 percent); St. John’s Chris Obepka (tops in block percentage at 16 percent); and, VCU’s Briante Weber (tops in steal percentage at 7 percent). There’s more to the article than this, of course, so check it out on a lazy summer Wednesday.
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SEC Morning Five: 03.09.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 9th, 2012

  1. Auburn has not made many basketball headlines recently until now. Suspended guard Varez Ward is under investigation in a point shaving scandal, according to this report from Yahoo! Sports. The FBI is investigating two games in particular —  a 68-50 loss to Alabama on February 7 and a 56-53 loss to Arkansas on January 25. Ward and guard Chris Denson, who has been later cleared of any wrong-doing, were suspended by Tigers coach Tony Barbee prior to a February 25 game when it appears that Barbee was made aware of the allegations.
  2. There were no surprises as Kentucky was named the favorite this weekend, but SEC coaches seem ready to hand over the SEC Tournament crown to the dominant Wildcats. “Everybody’s playing for second place,” said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. South Carolina coach Darrin Horn agrees, labeling UK freshman Anthony Davis as the difference maker in New Orleans. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a kid impact games the way he does,” Horn said. “He’s just a unique, unique talent.” The Wildcats have won two SEC Tournament championships in a row, since the arrival of coach John Calipari, and seek their third in a row this weekend. With several top tier SEC teams struggling, it is difficult to imagine any challengers removing the Wildcats from the top of the perch.
  3. While most focused on what’s been happening in Lexington, some coaches took the time to speak about the amazing story of Tennessee freshman Jarnell Stokes. “He was in high school, practices about a week, lines up against Kentucky and makes his first four shots, gets a double-double against UConn about a week later, and think about what he has done for the team,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “Think about what he would be if he was with them all year.” Stokes’ quick transition displays how talented he is, but also displays the remarkable coaching job done by first year coach Cuonzo Martin. Martin helped develop Stokes as well as find ways to get the freshman some playing time without impacting the established team chemistry amongst the Volunteers team. It will be interesting to monitor Stokes and Tennessee’s success this postseason.
  4. Florida freshman Bradley Beal returned to practice for the Gators after being sidelined from an ankle injury sustained in last weekend’s Kentucky game. Beal was not able to practice Monday or Tuesday of this week, but plans to play in the Gators’ opening game on Friday. Florida has dealt with a rash of injuries this year as Will Yeguete, Mike Rosario, and Erik Murphy among others have been out at some point this year. The Gators have lost three games in a row and five of their last eight so remaining healthy is a huge concern going into the tournament.
  5. Vanderbilt remains confident going into the postseason despite the fact that the Commodores haven’t been very successful in March over the last couple of years. Senior forward Jeffery Taylor refused to acknowledge that the ‘Dores or head coach Kevin Stallingswere feeling any of the pressure to succeed this year given the talent and experience Vanderbilt has. “I think all of us are in a place where we have our backs against the wall, especially us seniors,” Taylor said. “But as far as Coach feeling any pressure, I don’t think so. He shouldn’t feel any pressure. “The two teams we lost to (Murray State in 2010, Richmond in 2011) were two really good teams and both of them went down to the wire. And it just happened that the other team made a couple of more plays than we did. But I don’t think that falls on the coach. I think that falls on the players.” Vanderbilt certainly has the talent to do well this postseason, but have been too inconsistent in its play for anyone to be overly-confident.
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Morning Five: 03.09.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 9th, 2012

  1. Just a few days after we dismissed a Charles Robinson report as being rather mundane, he comes back with a big story on the FBI investigation into Varez Ward and alleged point-shaving at Auburn. Ward, who was suspended prior to the team’s game on February 25, reportedly attempted to convince members of the team to shave points. According to the report, at least two games (a January 25 loss to Arkansas and a February 7 loss to Alabama) are drawing the most interest as potentially suspect games. Based on Robinson’s reports of those games, Ward’s play seems to be more problematic in the second while the first is a little less clear. We have not reviewed the game tapes and have not have any access to the FBI report, but this is certainly a story worth following.
  2. It probably should not be a newsworthy decision, but given all of the dumb early entries we have seen over the years it is worth noting that LeBryan Nash announced yesterday that he will be returning to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. Coming into the season, Nash was projected to be a potential one-and-done player with his athleticism and the potential to shine on a stage devoid of another elite NBA talent, but Nash’s season was hindered by several nagging injuries. While Nash still projects as a potential late first round pick, his game is still rough around the edges and he needs work both shooting (39.4% FG and 23.5% from 3) and becoming a consistent defender. Cowboys fans may have been somewhat disappointed in Nash’s performance this year, but they should be thrilled to have him for at least one more season.
  3. Connecticut‘s main focus for next season is the pending decision by the NCAA on whether or not the team will be allowed to play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but it appears that it is not that clear if they would even be allowed to play in next year’s Big East Tournament. According to the conference, they need to address their conference championship across all sports to create a conference-wide policy, but in the case of the Huskies there is also the underlying concern that the conference would award its automatic bid to a team that would not be able to use it. It is extremely unlikely that the Big East would be a one-bid conference, but all the same it would be fairly embarrassing to a conference that has received a lot of negative publicity recently with all of the schools defecting from it.
  4. Over the years there have been plenty of organizations that have worn patches to honor a fallen colleague. They are typically for an injured or deceased individual or in rare cases a disenfranchised individuals. We are guessing the patch worn by officials during the ACC Tournament to honor Karl Hess falls under the latter category. Hess, who has long been a controversial official, declined to participate in the ACC Tournament following his decision to remove NC  State legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the stands last month during a game and Hess was removed from his next ACC assignment. When he was offered an opportunity to officiate the ACC Tournament, Hess, a regular at the ACC Tournament opted to work the Big East Tournament instead. While at some level we can appreciate the solidarity of the officials here, it does seem like a rather idiotic statement to make and the officials in the latter games removed the patches after being instructed to do so by the conference.
  5. Over the past two years, we have read plenty of articles about the rise of Harvard basketball, but this piece in The Harvard Crimson is probably the most exhaustive we have seen on the subject so far. If you haven’t been keeping up with Harvard basketball and want to know pretty much everything there is to know about how the program was overhauled, this would be a very good place to start. One of the more interesting aspects is that the writers (all Harvard students) do not hold back with any of the criticisms of the school including questionable recruiting practices and objections to lowering academic standards to bring in the players to create a basketball of this caliber.
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SEC Morning Five: 02.29.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 29th, 2012

  1. Kentucky head coach John Calipari has become the face of coaches recruiting college players who stay for only one year.  Recently, one of his star freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, said he “wasn’t going anywhere” after this season. Despite that comment, Calipari defended his actions, “It’s not my rule. I don’t even like the rule one-and-done.” Calipari continued by saying, “Whether it’s Carolina, Duke, Florida, we’re all in the same boat. If a kid plays really well and that’s what he chooses to do, you can either try to talk him out of it or the (other) option is, don’t recruit good enough players that can be drafted.”
  2. Auburn head coach Tony Barbee set his deadline for when he would decide if Varez Ward and Chris Denson would return for Wednesday’s game with Alabama: “Before we get on the bus for Tuscaloosa.” Both were suspended for Saturday against Arkansas.
  3. The AP wrote Tuesday that Alabama’s JaMychal Green was “expected to return to the starting lineup” for Wednesday’s contest against Auburn. In his absence, he saw the Crimson Tide improve their NCAA Tournament outlook, defeating Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas. “It’d be pretty big,” said Green, who came off the bench against the Bulldogs. “I’ve never been there. It’d be a great experience for everybody on the team. It’s just the way I want to go out.”
  4. For a team picked 11th in the preseason, Tennessee remains alive for finishing as high as the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. For that scenario to play out, the Volunteers must win out and Florida must most lose to Kentucky on Saturday. They enter the final week of the regular season tied with Alabama for the fourth and final bye position. “We are fighting for our lives,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You have to get better every day. There’s plenty of work to do. Our guys are hungry right now.We’re fighting. We don’t have any luxury or margin for any error to be happy or be successful or think we’ve done something special. But we have every right just like everyone else to win ball games.”
  5. In winning six of their last seven games, players on Tennessee credit team chemistry as one of the reasons for the improved play. “We didn’t have a level of team togetherness, passion for one another,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Where you say, ‘I really wanna see my teammate be successful before I see myself have success. You start to play together, you don’t worry about if your shot is falling or not; you’re just playing basketball.”
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Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: Other Friday Games

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Brian Joyce and Michael Lemaire take on Auburn vs. Seton Hall and Louisville vs. Vanderbilt. 

Vanderbilt v. Louisville

Vanderbilt and Louisville will feature two top 25 teams facing off in the KFC Yum! Center.

Mike: The matchup has all the makings of a classic offense v. defense battle. Even without senior center Festus Ezeli, the Commodores are a prolific scoring team (#23 in adjusted offense) and swingmen John Jenkins (20.2 PPG) and Jeffery Taylor (15.4 PPG) can fill it up in a hurry. Of course they haven’t played a team as talented as Louisville. Even with the injuries to Wayne BlackshearMike MarraStephan Van Treese, and Rakeem Buckles, the Cardinals are still undefeated and the main reason why is they play suffocating defense (#3 in adjusted defense). However, with apologies to Butler, Louisville has played a relatively easy opening slate, and their depth will be tested against Vanderbilt’s talented lineup. Offensively the Cardinals don’t have a go-to scorer per se, but they do have seven players who average at least seven points per game, led by sweet-shooting forward Kyle Kuric (12.5 PPG). They also have a rugged, albeit thin, frontcourt which is led by talented freshman Chase Behanan (9.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG) and center Gorgui Dieng (8.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG) who has been one of the best shotblockers in the country thus far and is a big reason why Louisville is so successful on defense. But as balanced as Rick Pitino’s club is, star guard Peyton Siva is still what makes the team go, and he hasn’t quite found his comfort zone yet, missing two games with an ankle injury. Siva had 11 points, five assists and five steals in the team’s last game, a win over Long Beach State, but he also turned the ball over six times. No matter how good Louisville’s defense might be, Siva and fellow guard Chris Smith cannot be careless with the ball, because Vanderbilt is too efficient on offense to be gifted with so many extra possessions. What do you think, Brian?

Will Rick Pitino employ his full court press against Vanderbilt's struggling guards

Brian: I agree that this should be a great one. I think Vanderbilt will really be tested in this matchup. The Commodores haven’t taken good care of the basketball, and Louisville is a team that uses a full court press and creates lots of turnovers. Brad Tinsley has struggled when pressured, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the Cardinals’ defense. You pointed out Vandy’s efficient offense, but you were nice by not mentioning its struggling defense. The ‘Dores have struggled to cut off opponent’s three-point shot allowing three teams to shoot at least 40 percent from outside the arc so far this year. Louisville loves to shoot the three, so it could be a long night for coach Kevin Stallings if his team lets the Cardinals get hot. It will be interesting to see how Stallings handles the defensive assignment for Siva. Siva is a player who could really hurt Vanderbilt with his penetration. He can score, as you point out, and he can also find open teammates. And one of the teammates he may find in this one is Dieng. Dieng is still developing his offensive skills, but his 6’11” frame could be difficult for Vanderbilt’s post players to defend. 6’9″ Steve Tchiengang and 6’8″ Lance Goulbourne will be down low for Vandy, but they will have to box out better than they did against Xavier when the Musketeers grabbed 25 offensive rebounds.

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SEC Make or Break: Auburn Tigers

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 4th, 2011

The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. The next team in the series is the Auburn Tigers.

The Auburn Tigers look to improve on what was a dismal 2010-11 season. Last season, the Tigers went 4-12 in SEC play, and were a forgettable 11-20 overall. In Tony Barbee’s first season as head coach, his team was known for its tough, hard-nosed play. But Auburn ranked second to last in the SEC in scoring offense (62.4 PPG), field goal percentage (39.8%) and 10th in rebounding margin (-0.9). The Tigers have a promising roster coming back this season, however, as they return 6’1″ guard Frankie Sullivan after a season-ending injury last year. Sullivan only played in six games last season, but averaged over 12 points per game in his freshman year. Barbee has also secured a couple of impact transfers in former Texas guard Varez Ward and former Clemson guard Noel Johnson, who will be eligible in December. If Auburn can continue its gritty play, and find a consistent offensive presence somewhere on the court, then year two under Barbee will be a lot better than the first.

Tony Barbee should see signs of improvements this season from the Tigers

The three key non-conference games that will make or break the Tigers schedule this season:

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SEC Morning Five: 10.31.11 Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on October 31st, 2011

  1. On this All Hallows’ Eve, Southeastern Conference teams prepare to survive yet another season where they are removed one-by-one from NCAA and SEC title contention in horror-movie style. Typically Auburn is the first victim, going missing early in the season and then tripping up other SEC Survivors late in the season. To avoid a similar fate head coach Tony Barbee will need to find more offensive production. Returning junior guard Frankie Sullivan from injury last season is a good start. Sullivan averaged 12.7 PPG when he was healthy during the 2009-10 season. Sullivan will be paired up with sophomore guard Varez Ward, who scored 18 points in an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. Sullivan and Ward, a transfer from Texas who recovered from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon last season, must be two of the Tiger heroes that can last until the climax of the season to give Auburn a fighting chance.
  2. Alabama also didn’t survive to the NCAA Tournament last season. The Crimson Tide spent most of the conference schedule fighting off mortal wounds inflicted upon themselves with some terrible non-conference losses in November 2010 and a weak non-conference schedule overall. (Losing to Saint Peter’s is like the horror-movie hero running from the villain only to impale himself on a pitchfork.) This season’s non-conference schedule is improved; but to truly survive Anthony Grant’s team will need production from its newest members, including freshman phenom Trevor Lacey, to provide much-needed perimeter scoring and fill other roles.
  3. LSU is also piecing together the right combination of players and coaching in order to survive the SEC and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Bayou Bengals have a more talented roster, including freshman forward and McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant to provide immediate playmaking. LSU coach Trent Johnson has apparently found some improvement for himself when reflecting on last year’s team. In SEC Basketball Media days, Johnson admitted, “last year with some injuries there were some games that got away from us. And I thought that it wasn’t them; I suppose it was me.” The coach compared this season’s team favorably to his 2008-09 NCAA Tournament squad. Perhaps with a clear heart Johnson and his Tigers can replicate the success they’ve had in previous versions of the SEC Horror Picture Show.
  4. Florida coach Billy Donovan is doing the time-warp again! Donovan is the SEC’s longest-tenured coach starting his 15th season. (Check out Alligator Army’s 15-for-15 season-preview series written in honor of the Gator coach.) The coach recently reflected on his tenure for reporters, including sharing his reasoning on turning down a second round of interest from SEC East rival Kentucky in 2009.
  5. Speaking of Kentucky, freshman forward Anthony Davis says “OOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!”

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RTC Summer Updates: Southeastern Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 1st, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our SEC correspondent, Gerald Smith.  This season he will be covering the NCAA Basketball with zeal, nerd-culture references and a fistful of silliness at halftimeadjustment.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@fakegimel).

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

  • One Big, Mostly-Happy Conference: After several years of divisional lopsidedness in conference scheduling and tournament seeding – to the dismay of programs like Alabama — the SEC has merged the West and East divisions for basketball. A 16-game conference schedule, consisting of the same pairings within and across old divisions, remains for the 2011-12 season. Starting with this year’s SEC Tournament, teams will be seeded and awarded first-round byes by their overall conference record. The most vocal dissenter against peace, conference unity and love was Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. He argued unsuccessfully that divisional championships create excitement for the fans. MSU athletics must have sold some awesome merchandise for Coach Stansbury’s six SEC West Division championships.
  • Too Much of a Good Thing? - Stansbury also argued that a united 12-team conference won’t produce a true champion unless each team plays a full 22-game home and away conference schedule. In July’s coaches’ conference call, some SEC coaches (South Carolina’s Darrin Horn & LSU’s Trent Johnson) agreed, but wonder if such a schedule is feasible. Other coaches (Kentucky’s John Calipari & Alabama’s Anthony Grant) believe that teams should worry more about strengthening their non-conference scheduling and RPI ratings. Increasing the schedule to at least 18 games would placate athletic directors and the SEC’s broadcast partners, but would add further scheduling imbalance and hysteria. In meetings, the decision to increase the number of conference games was postponed until after the 2011-12 season. The SEC coaches will meet again later in August to debate their options.
  • Missouri Newbies - Two coaches previously employed in the Show-Me State join the SEC during this period of conference remodeling. As an assistant under former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, new Arkansas coach Mike Anderson became very familiar with the “40 Minutes of Hell” system (and Coach Richardson’s snakeskin boot collection). After stops with UAB and Missouri, Anderson returned to Fayetteville to replace John Pelphrey.
  • Caught lying to cover-up his impermissible BBQ — mmmm… impermissible BBQ… *gurgle noise* — Tennessee was forced to fire Bruce Pearl. Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin was hired to fill Pearl’s vacated orange blazer. With his athletic director resigning and additional NCAA penalties applied to his program, Martin may long for his past days in Springfield.

A major growth spurt led to a similar shoot up the 2011 high school rankings for Kentucky's Anthony Davis. (Sam Forencich/USA Basketball)

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Conference Report Card: SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 18th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • It was a good year for the Southeastern Conference. After a weak showing in the NCAA Tournament last year, the SEC was the only conference with multiple teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Elite Eight. The SEC also got five teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years. It was a major improvement over the sad slump that was 2009 when the SEC only qualified LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State at 8, 9, and 13 seeds, respectively.
  • When the season started, I predicted the conference could get five and possibly six teams in the tournament and I still contend that Alabama was snubbed.  But regardless of that, five teams is a good showing and a sign of improvement for a conference that lost a little respect as an elite conference in the past few years.
  • Florida was consistent all year, winning close games by playing calmly even when trailing late, but the biggest turning point for the conference came when Kentucky finally was able to win those same close games.  The Wildcats were sitting at 7-9 in conference play and likely facing a first-round game in the SEC when they won close games against Florida, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee finishing the regular season 10-6 and easily marching through the conference tournament.  Kentucky was the favorite at the Final Four in Houston, but poor shooting likely cost the Wildcats their eighth national championship.  And the debate about John Calipari’s ability to win it all with young teams goes on.
Brandon Knight came up big for John Calipari when he needed the star freshman guard the most.

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