SEC M5: 01.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2013

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  1. The NCAA’s investigation of the University of Miami program is expected to be released as early as this week, and it doesn’t sound like good news for one of the SEC’s newest coaches. Missouri coach Frank Haith is expected to be charged with “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance,” according to a report by Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports. Haith has been linked to well-known Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who sold out the program while currently serving out a prison term for a $930 million Ponzi scheme. According to Goodman, “Haith will be charged with unethical conduct because the NCAA did not believe his story that payments to his assistants intended for camp money did not wind up going to repay Shapiro.” Haith is also linked to impermissible benefits because of airline tickets given to family members of players. He could potentially receive a show-cause penalty similar to the three-year ban former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl received in 2011, but will have 90 days to respond to the allegations once they are released by the NCAA.
  2. The fellas over at A Sea of Blue have the good, the bad, and the ugly for their beloved Wildcats in UK’s four SEC games thus far. ASoB mentions Ryan Harrow’s excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (also Julius Mays with just two turnovers in the previous four games), as he has just five turnovers over the last two games compared to 13 assists, but the Cats have struggled overall with a 20.7 percent turnover ratio in conference play. If not the point guard Harrow, who is coughing up the ball? That honor would go to, well, everybody else. Archie Goodwin leads the way with 13 turnovers over the last four games, for an average of 3.3 turnovers per game. Alex Poythress is averaging 2.3, Kyle Wiltjer with 2.0, and Nerlens Noel also with 2.0 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s primary ball-handler is taking care of the rock, but everybody else needs to follow suit for the Cats to be successful. The Wildcats’ next three opponents rank no lower than 63rd in defensive turnover percentage.
  3. We all knew Nerlens Noel had big shoes to fill when he replaced the number one pick in the NBA Draft in Kentucky’s starting lineup, but he’s only worried about his own development. “I’m not trying to live up to him,” Noel said, referring to former Wildcat center Anthony Davis. “I’m trying to be my own player and set my own mark and play for my team.” And his development is going better than expected, even with incredibly high expectations in the offseason. “Defensively, I think I’ve got a lot better,” Noel said. “Coach Cal has made sure I’ve stayed disciplined defensively, staying on my feet. It’s helped me. I’m not going after every ball like I was earlier in the season. I’m blocking a higher (percentage) of shots. Offensively, just Coach Payne, just everything on the block, just working on my touches and things like that.”  Noel’s work is paying off, as he was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday and is among the nation’s leaders in blocks, rebounds, and steals.
  4. Mississippi State‘s lack of depth is continuing to prove difficult in practice situations, as the Bulldogs are attempting to simulate Arkansas’ famous full-court pressure. “It’s going to be difficult for us to simulate what Arkansas is going to bring with their pressure defense with all their different presses,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “We’re trying to find a way with managers, athletic trainers, coaches and things like that just to get bodies out on the court to try to simulate that. Even with those guys being out there, the problem is still simulating what Arkansas does with their length and athleticism with those pressures.” Mississippi State is one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover percentage at 25.2 percent (339th in the country). On the flip side, the Razorbacks force turnovers on just over 24 percent of opponents’ possessions. If you thought Kentucky’s freshmen turnover averages were bad, Mississippi State guard Craig Sword is averaging four turnovers a game in conference play, including seven miscues against South Carolina. So with all these factors in play, it could be a long night on Wednesday for the Bulldogs.
  5. The Rowdy Reptiles got their groove on during a timeout of the Missouri-Florida game on Saturday. Though I’m not a fan of the flash mob or synchronized dance movement, there wasn’t much else for the student section to do in the wake of an almost 30-point blowout. But seriously, can we move on from this horrendous point in American history when we feel like we have to do jazz fingers in perfect harmony with hundreds or thousands of our closest friends for an event to be meaningful? Enough already. Turn down your blasted pop music. And get off my damn lawn while you’re at it, you good-for-nothing kids. If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a video of the flash mob routine in the O’Connell Center from Saturday:

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SEC M5: 01.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2013

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  1. Ole Miss‘ win over Arkansas gives the Rebels a 4-0 beginning to SEC play marking its best conference start since the 1936-37 season. That’s 76 years since the Rebels have began this well in league games. It may feel like it’s been about the same length of time since Andy Kennedy’s club has been to an NCAA Tournament (never under Kennedy; the last time was 2002), and the Rebels are hoping to break that streak too. And while they’re at it, they may even try to break into the Top 25 rankings, a faraway land that Ole Miss hasn’t seen since 2001. The players sense that something special is brewing in Oxford as well. “Anybody can see it,” said senior Nick Williams. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do something great here, and we understand what we need to do because me, Murphy (Holloway) and Reg (Buckner) — we have been here for a while and we’ve been so close for so long.” Could this finally be the year that Ole Miss breaks through?
  2. Florida’s 83-52 thrashing of Missouri on Saturday led to a number of questions. Is Florida that good? Yes, especially at home. Is Missouri that bad? I really hope not. Does Laurence Bowers really make that much of a difference? No. But it’s undeniable that the Tigers are on a downward spiral. They’ve lost two of their last three games, and dropped three of their last six. To make matters worse, guard Keion Bell adds that Missouri simply wasn’t prepared. “I just think that we, as a team, we underestimated the amount of pressure that their full-court press would put on us,” Bell said. “Although the coaching staff has embedded it in our brains throughout the whole week, we just didn’t take heed to the things that they were saying about Florida’s pressure, and we weren’t ready at the beginning of the game.” Missouri needs to regroup before things get worse, and perhaps listen to the coaching staff during its preparation. A softer upcoming schedule of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, and Auburn should help.
  3. It was a homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State Bulldog Jalen Steele, who always dreamed of playing in Thompson-Boling Arena. Steele grew up in Knoxville as a Tennessee Mr. Basketball, but then-Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl went for two recruits you may have heard of instead — Aaron Craft and Josh Selby. Even though his basketball career didn’t work out exactly as planned, Steele finally heard his name called in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. “To hear my name called and it said ‘Knoxville,’ that felt good,” Steele said. Steele showed he was good enough to play with the Vols too, as he added 15 points in a losing effort for the Bulldogs. I imagine it was a surreal moment, even in defeat, for a player who has been through a lot in Starkville.
  4. When you’re playing as well as Florida is right now, four points probably won’t matter, but it might one day. Gators center Patric Young isn’t satisfied with his free throw shooting after a 4-of-8 performance against LSU. “It’s huge because I’m leaving points on the board whenever you miss free throws,” Young said. “You go 4 for 8, that’s four points that help you with your draft stock or your average on the year. I mean, it doesn’t really matter but when it comes down to the line in a game-winning situation, you need to be able to step up with confidence.” For the sake of his draft stock, Young hit the practice courts to shoot 500 free throws a day, and the hard work is paying off. He entered the Texas A&M game shooting 50 percent from the line, but went 4-of-5 against the Aggies and 1-of-1 against Missouri.
  5. Kentucky has struggled against quality teams this season, but John Calipari’s Wildcats have a surplus of NBA talent on the roster. However, during an ESPNU telecast of the Kentucky vs. Auburn game on Saturday night, Charles Barkley said none of the current Wildcats were ready for the NBA. “John Calipari’s a friend of mine. I love him as a friend. There ain’t one player on this Kentucky team who should go pro early. I hate the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Just ’cause there’s a rule does not mean you have to do it. Listen, Anthony Davis played well enough for him to go pro. … I wish some of these parents would talk to their kids.” Though Cal’s younger Cats will excel in the pro game one day, Chuck has a point for the here and now. Archie Goodwin is probably the most pro-ready of the three freshman Wildcats most likely to be selected in the first round. Nerlens Noel is ready defensively, but his offensive game has a ways to go. But Alex Poythress is the biggest question mark in terms of making the jump. He has tendencies to disappear for long stretches offensively, and did you see his defense on Elston Turner?  The issue is not just directed towards Kentucky’s freshmen but the entire college game. The one-and-done mentality has watered down the talent level, enabling and pushing players like Noel and Poythress who could both benefit from an extra year of development to make the jump after just one year.
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Night Line: A Productive Kyle Wiltjer is Necessary For Kentucky to Succeed

Posted by BHayes on January 16th, 2013

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

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Youth and inexperience weren’t supposed to matter to John Calipari, to Kentucky. After all, there was still a lot of talent in Lexington, and it felt quite natural when nobody doubted the defending national champions in the preseason. But the two and a half months since have created a college basketball specimen that has been as rare in recent years as a senior superstar – the Kentucky skeptic. Their arrival is understandable, as Kentucky has already dropped five games here in 2012-13, the talented youngsters having yet to find the cohesiveness of UK’s past Calipari teams. There’s still plenty of time to get there, and all four of the key freshmen (Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein) will surely need to display growth for the wins to roll in, but the player who serves as the finest barometer for UK success is not a newcomer. Kyle Wiltjer has been about as consistent as his team this season (i.e., not very), and his off nights have frequently coincided with Kentucky failures. But when Wiltjer has it going like he did Tuesday night against Tennessee, the Cats looked a lot closer to being a complete team.

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Kentucky Fans Agree That The “Three Goggles” Are A Good Look For Kyle Wiltjer

Wiltjer finished with a team-high 17 points in the 85-75 victory over the Vols, also chipping in with five rebounds and a pair of blocks. Quite a dramatic shift for both sophomore and team from a game ago, when Texas A&M walked into Rupp Arena and knocked off the Cats, holding Wiltjer scoreless in the process. Wiltjer struggling in a UK loss is not a new storyline this year; he is averaging just 5.6 PPG in losses, about half of his season average. He has also only scored seven or fewer points in six of the Cats’ 16 games this season, but four of the five UK losses have also happened to occur on those nights. One final measure of the value of Wiltjer’s involvement: He has gone for 19 and 17 points, respectively, in Kentucky’s sole two victories over top-100 teams (two top-100 wins, yikes!).

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Resetting the SEC Race: A Look at the Seven “East” Teams

Posted by CNguon on January 4th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by DCassilo on January 4th, 2013

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Can a team affect a player’s candidacy for Player of the Year? It’s a question I’ve been struggling with lately. There’s no question that guys like Erick Green and C.J. McCollum have played like top 10 players this season, but should they suffer because their teams are well outside the Top 25? The Wooden Award says that the honor is given to the most outstanding basketball player, and there’s no mention of team. But I think to be an outstanding player you need to find a way to lead your team to victories. So in the end, Green and McCollum stay, but if their teams continue to play poorly, that might change regardless of their individual numbers.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 13.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.2 SPG

Otto Porter has his Georgetown Hoyas back in the fold as a Big East contender (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

Otto Porter has his Georgetown Hoyas back in the fold as a Big East contender (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

It’s a long overdue appearance for Porter, who has done a little bit of everything for Georgetown this season. While his per game averages seem a little low, keep in mind he played six minutes in his season debut before leaving with injury. His stock could skyrocket with a strong start to Big East play. This week: January 5 at Marquette, January 8 vs. Pittsburgh

9. Erick Green – Virginia Tech (Last Week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 24.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.6 APG

While Green’s ranking is on the decline, it’s hard for me to remove someone from this list who has had just one bad game all season. His Hokies, though, are struggling and having to do it all is starting to take its toll on Green. This week: January 5 at Maryland, January 9 vs. Boston College

8. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 25.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.0 APG

Lehigh suffered an ugly loss to Bryant last Saturday, but it was no fault of McCollum’s, who poured in 34 points on a season-high six three-pointers. Despite receiving extra defensive attention every night, he still leads the nation in scoring and is shooting an impressive 50.8 percent from the field. This week: January 5 at VCU, January 8 vs. Muhlenberg

7. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 12.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 10.1 APG, 3.0 SPG

Carter-Williams has recorded double-doubles in his last two games, and has actually shot well (11-of-20) in the process. It’s the first time he’s shot 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games this season, and that is what the Orange need to win the Big East. This week: January 6 at South Florida, January 9 at Providence

6. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 16.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Zeller opened up his Big Ten season with a bang against Iowa by recording his first double-double since December 8. At this point, the sophomore will need a monster conference season to get back to No. 1. This week: January 7 at Penn State

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 28th, 2012

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Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

We are headed into the final weekend of 2012, which means conference season is just about here. There are a few teams playing this weekend that could use one more strong non-conference win for their NCAA Tourney resumes. However, there is one game this weekend that takes center stage in the Bluegrass State. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#24 Kentucky at #3 Louisville – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

  • The Louisville-Kentucky series is starting to develop a pattern. Since the 2002-03 season, the Cardinals have won two in a row then dropped three in a row, won two in a row and then dropped three in a row. Rick Pitino and company are in the midst of another three-game slide to their in-state rival, so if the pattern holds, Louisville is due for a win on Saturday. The big news this week that may help secure that victory is the return of Gorgui Dieng from a wrist injury. Dieng has been out since before the Duke game and should have a significant impact against the Wildcats. While he may be a bit rusty, his defense is crucial against the UK frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Defense in general will be key for Louisville in this game. Watch Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin closely to see how he handles the Pitino press. In general, the Wildcats have not turned the ball over a great deal, but this is by far the best defense they have played all season long. Also, watch the rebounding numbers closely. Kentucky has a significant size advantage but the Cardinals have been better on the boards overall. This is where Dieng will make a huge difference. Without him, the Cards have little to no size. The question will be if he can play up to his pre-injury level without any major issues.
  • Kentucky’s three losses this season have been also been their worst turnover performances of the the year (on a per possession basis). Goodwin is turning the ball over at a rate of about 20%, so it will be interesting to see how John Calipari has the offense bring the ball upcourt. Let’s see if they utilize their big men and size advantage to advance the ball. If you see a lot of dribbling in the backcourt by Kentucky, it will probably result in too many turnovers. The Wildcats have shown a more balanced offense against weaker opponents since their last loss to Baylor, but again, they will be facing what could be the best defense in the country, so they must continue to get contribution from a lot of sources. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiljter haven proven they can put up 20+ points any given night. Unfortunately, they both can disappear from the offense as well. Both players need to have their best games of the season for Kentucky to win on the road.
  • Dieng looks like he could be the difference in this game. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is at in terms of game stamina. If he can stay on the court and play defense and rebound at a reasonable pace, Louisville should be able to stop its three-game losing streak to Kentucky. If he gets tired or gets into foul trouble, the Wildcats can take advantage of their size and athleticism inside. However, they still need scoring from players like Harrow and Wiltjer if they plan to pull the road upset.

More Great Games

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Award Tour: Ben McLemore Rises and College Basketball New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by DCassilo on December 28th, 2012

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

With the lack of college games lately, I’ve been catching up on some NBA action. To tie in with my article, I focused mostly on players who have won the Wooden Award over the last decade. To no one’s surprise, Anthony Davis is already starting to be a force in the NBA, but that’s not the case for most. There are stars (Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin), starters (Jameer Nelson, Evan Turner and Andrew Bogut), role players (J.J. Redick, Tyler Hansbrough and Jimmer Fredette), and T.J. Ford, who was forced out of the league due to injury. Overall, being the top player in college means little more than likely getting drafted. There’s still a lot of work to do.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Anthony Bennett – UNLV (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG

While Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall were supposed to lead UNLV, that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Bennett. He’s been more than up to the task and is our first freshman on this list since the preseason. This week: December 29 at North Carolina, January 3 vs. Chicago State

9. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 24.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG

Lehigh\'s C.J. McCollum Is an Elite Guard

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum will need to keep lighting it up.

With his injury, McCollum will go 21 days between games. He’ll need to shake off the rust quickly to move back up the list. This week: December 29 vs. Bryant

8. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 12.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 10.3 APG, 3.4 SPG

While Carter-Williams does a lot while he’s on the court, it will be hard to get much higher than No. 8 until he improves his shooting. Over his last two games, he is 4-for-23, 1-for-9 from three-point land and 16-for-25 from the line. This week: December 29 vs. Alcorn State, December 31 vs. Central Connecticut State, January 2 vs. Rutgers

7. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 20 PPG, 6.8 RPG

Two of Thomas’ worst games this season have come in titanic tilts against Duke and Kansas. He’ll need to play better in big games, as the Buckeyes will have plenty of them come conference play. This week: December 28 vs. Chicago State, January 2 vs. Nebraska

6. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 14.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 5.0 BPG

While Thomas struggled in the game against Kansas, Withey put together his second straight double-double. It’s a promising sight, as Withey has never been a dominant rebounder despite his size and athleticism. This week: December 29 vs. American

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SEC M5: 12.28.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 28th, 2012

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  1. The New Jersey Nets fired coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, thus beginning the hunt for a replacement, and, of course, an established college coach is always a viable option. Cue the rumors of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s departure to the NBA. It is an annual rite of passage at this point, but Calipari and Kentucky have been there and done that. And he did it in New Jersey to boot. It just does not seem possible that he would leave at this point for another try in the big leagues, and definitely not a return to the same franchise. By the way, Calipari will have Kentucky in the hunt for another National Championship next year. He’s a coach made for the college game, and call me naive, but I think he finishes his career in Lexington.
  2. Frank Martin continues to rack up some top shelf talent at South Carolina. With a strong recruiting class already set for 2013, Martin secured a commitment from Villanova transfer Ty Johnson. Johnson is a 6’3″ guard who averaged 3.3 points and 2.0 assists per game in 32 games of action in his freshman season, but will fill a need at point guard for the Gamecocks when he becomes eligible in December 2013. Martin is stockpiling talent in Columbia since his arrival this offseaso — in addition to Johnson, a top-75 recruit coming out of high school, Martin has also collected commitments from five-star Sindarius Thornwell, three-star center Desmond Ringer, and the son of former Gamecock star BJ McKie, guard Justin McKie. With improved talent in Columbia, things could turn around fairly quickly for South Carolina in the next several years.
  3. LSU guard Anthony Hickey spent three games on the sidelines for disciplinary reasons earlier in the year, and now he will be out for a fourth game because of another violation. “Anthony has a lot of improvement to do in a lot of areas not only on the floor but off as well,” Tigers coach Johnny Jones said. “We have to try to help him develop.” Hickey is averaging 10.3 points and a national best 3.5 steals per game, but the point guard duties will be handed off to junior Andre Stringer. This string of suspensions isn’t the first time Hickey has landed in the dog house for various LSU coaches, and it likely won’t be the last.
  4. Frank Haith’s Missouri Tigers are hitting their stride with big victories over Illinois and Virginia Commonwealth, but have recently suffered a minor setback as reserve power forward Tony Criswell will miss tonight’s UCLA game with a broken finger. Criswell is among the nation’s best offensive rebounders, with a 13.7% offensive rebounding rate. The Tigers are somewhat thin in the frontcourt beyond their starters Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, so Haith may choose to play small ball in Criswell’s absence with a three- or four-guard lineup. It’s not like Mizzou hasn’t gone small before, and been quite successful.
  5. Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin went 4-of-17 from the field on Saturday in the Cats’ win over Marshall, but John Calipari needs Goodwin to make the easy ones against Louisville. Goodwin missed several shots at the rim against the Thundering Herd, leaving Calipari searching for answers. “I was disappointed, he missed four layups. I think he’s flippin’, Rod (Strickland) thinks he’s looking down, he’s not seeing the basket, he’s looking up at the last moment to shoot it. I don’t know what it is, I’ll watch the tape, see if I can figure out.” Expect Cal and Goodwin to watch the tape and figure it out quickly. Regardless, Calipari does not have much depth to put Goodwin on the bench if it happens again.
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Award Tour: Mason Plumlee, Anthony Bennett and Coach K Are Our Frontrunners

Posted by DCassilo on December 21st, 2012

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

The holidays are always a good time to take a breath and reassess the entire country in college basketball. What is out there is a lot of uncertainty, especially in terms of title contenders. Is there really much that separates No. 1 Duke from No. 9 Kansas or even No. 24 Oklahoma State? But in terms of our races, it’s pretty clear that the field is chasing Mason Plumlee for Player of the Year, Anthony Bennett for Freshman of the Year and Mike Krzyzewski for Coach of the Year. All three have been nothing short of stellar from the opening tip. While parity is fun, there’s nothing better than watching the field try to hunt down the favorite.

And now, a look at those fields.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – 10)
2012-13 stats: 18.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.5 APG

Paul showed his versatility for a guard by grabbing a season-high nine rebounds against Eastern Kentucky last Sunday. The craziest thing about the Illinois senior is that while he would be a frontrunner for the top player in any other conference, it’ll be a fight to even make the All-Big Ten team. This week: December 22 vs. Missouri

9. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 24.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG

Not much to write as McCollum missed his only game this week with an ankle inury. He’s day-to-day, so he shouldn’t miss much time. This week: None

8. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 12.3 PPG, 5 RPG, 10.7 APG, 3.4 SPG

Michael Carter-Williams Has Been a Revelation This Season

Michael Carter-Williams Has Been a Revelation This Season

It was a typical two games this week for Carter-Williams. The assists were there but so were the missed shots and turnovers. The fact that Jim Boeheim is tolerating the latter two is a good indication of how special this kid is. This week: December 22 vs. Temple

7. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 14.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.4 BPG

Despite all the defensive accolades he receives, Withey’s offense cannot be overlooked. Make no mistake, he is a focal point of what the Jayhawks want to do, as he’s attempted at least eight shots in all but two games this season. The senior had 17 points and 13 rebounds against Richmond on Tuesday. This week: December 22 at Ohio State

6. Cody Zeller – (Last week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 15.7 PPG, 8.3 PPG

The loss against Butler is the type of game Zeller is supposed to take over and will his team to victory. Instead, he made just four shots from he floor and grabbed five rebounds. It’s safe to say that he has not taken a leap forward in his sophomore season. This week: December 21 vs. Florida Atlantic

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Award Tour: Anthony Bennett is the New No. 1 Freshman, the Five Worst D-I Teams, and an Ode to the Big East Conference…

Posted by DCassilo on December 14th, 2012

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Farewell, Big East. As a Villanova grad who grew up in New Jersey, you were always close to my heart. I’ll miss the prime time Saturday night final. I’ll miss the coaching legends. I’ll miss the physical play that would be called for a foul in any other league. I’ll miss the afternoon games of the Big East Tournament. I’ll miss being sponsored by Aeropostale. I’ll miss record crowds at the Carrier Dome. I’ll miss seeing Carnesecca and his sweater sitting behind the St. John’s bench. I’ll miss Mick Cronin being displeased with his team. I’ll miss West Virginia fans throwing stuff. I’ll miss looking at the newspaper and saying, “Wow, DePaul won.” I’ll miss Madison Square Garden. I’ll miss the weird dimensions of the RAC. I’ll miss Seton Hall thinking its good. I’ll miss Providence’s mascot. I’ll miss UConn breaking the rules. I’ll miss Pitt’s illegal screens and 30-year old point guards. I’ll miss Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. I’ll miss Pitino’s press conferences. I’ll miss people saying Villanova is Guard U when it rarely sends a guard to the NBA. I’ll miss Georgetown running the Princeton offense. I’ll miss the overachievers at Notre Dame and Marquette. I’ll miss that time South Florida was good. I’ll even miss the double bye, Burr and Higgins. Now let’s end this league in style.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Illinois is going to need a big effort out of Brandon Paul at Indiana. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul tore apart Gonzaga. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

With 35 points at Gonzaga last Saturday, Paul officially declared his candidacy in the Player of the Year race. The major improvement in his game this year comes down to his shooting. He never cracked 40 percent from the field in his first three years but is up to 46.8 percent this season.This week: December 16 vs. Eastern Kentucky

9. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 12.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 10.4 APG, 3.8 SPG

There’s no doubt that Carter-Williams does more to fill up the stat sheet than any player in the country, but it’s his passing that has been second to none. He leads the nation in APG and has 37 dimes in his last three games. A high turnover rate (3.8 per game) and poor three-point shooting (22.2 percent) hold him back from challenging for the top spot. This week: December 15 vs. Canisius, December 17 vs. Temple

8. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.6 BPG

After blocking five shots against Colorado last Saturday, Withey has swatted the ball at least that many times in six of his team’s eight games. His defensive dominance coupled with the rise of freshman Ben McLemore has the Jayhawks thinking of a return to the title game. This week: December 15 vs. Belmont, December 18 vs. Richmond

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Award Tour: The Struggles of Ranking Cody Zeller

Posted by DCassilo on December 7th, 2012

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

What do we do about Cody Zeller? That’s what we’re asking after his second game this season with fewer than 10 points. The preseason pick for Player of the Year has simply not been the monster in the middle that was expected, but he hasn’t been a disappointment either. We’ll start with the bad. He’s scored 20 or more points just twice in eight games and is averaging a pedestrian 15 PPG and 7.6 RPG this season. You’ll find about 100 players with numbers like that. Now the good. He’s shooting 63.2 percent from the field and his numbers are almost identical to his stellar freshman season. To be honest though, Zeller is likely staying as high as he is on this list based on expectation. But now we’re giving him one final chance. If he doesn’t break out by the end of December, he’ll be off the top 10 list.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Elias Harris – Gonzaga (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Harris has Gonzaga thinking national title. (AP)

As a senior, Harris is finally coming into his own in all areas of the game. That has especially been true for his offense. After a slow start, he’s scored at least 16 points in five of his last six games. As Gonzaga continues to win, his candidacy will pick up steam. This week: December 8 vs. Illinois

9. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 21.4 PGG, 3.7 RPG, 3.9 APG

With one game this past week against an NAIA opponent, Canaan essentially had an off week. His slight fall down the rankings has more to do with the other players on the list than with himself. Canaan’s biggest challenge for the rest of the season will be playing well enough to overshadow his weak competition. This week: December 8 at Evansville

8. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 24.4 PPG, 5.0 RP, 3.2 APG

We’ve said all season that if a player from a conference like the Patriot League is going to win this, he needs to be beyond spectacular. McCollum has been close to that, but performances like the 13 points he put up against Fordham in his last game won’t cut it. Chances are we’ll see another 30-point game from him soon enough, though. This week: December 8 vs. St. Francis (Pa.)

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2012

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

  1. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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