SEC Way-Too-Early 2015-16 Power Rankings

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 23rd, 2015

The SEC coaching carousel’s dust appears to have settled with Avery Johnson, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland having moved into their new offices at Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State, respectively. Kentucky’s John Calipari is making the recruiting rounds with a new pitch after seven more of his players declared for this summer’s NBA Draft. Anthony Grant is getting re-acclimated to the assistant’s chair next to Billy Donovan at Florida that has worked out so well for both of them in the past. There’s still more to be determined about how the SEC will look heading into next season, but here are some way too early predictions on the season to come.

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season (AP Photo)

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season. (AP Photo)

Coach of the Year

  • John Calipari, Kentucky

Player of the Year

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Freshman/Newcomer of the Year

  • Ben Simmons, LSU

All-SEC First Team

  • Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
  • Stefan Moody, SG, Ole Miss
  • Danuel House, SF, Texas A&M
  • Ben Simmons, SF, LSU
  • Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky

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The Non-Kentucky SEC Postseason Review

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 1st, 2015

Only one of the SEC’s eight postseason teams is still playing, and you may have heard of them a time or two over the weekend. For the other seven schools, the season is now over. Let’s take a look at whether they met, exceeded or fell short of their postseason expectations.

Jarvis Summers and the Rebels stormed back against BYU, but couldn't find the same shooting touch against Xavier (espn.com).

Jarvis Summers and the Rebels stormed back against BYU, but couldn’t find the same shooting touch against Xavier. (Getty)

Three That Exceeded Expectations

  • #11 Ole Miss (beat #11 BYU in the NCAA First Four; lost to #6 Xavier in the Second Round). The Rebels’ magical second-half outburst to beat BYU in Dayton was a real treat and it gave Andy Kennedy just his second NCAA Tournament win at Ole Miss. That alone has to qualify the Rebels’ postseason journey as a success, especially since the team had lost four of five to end the season and had to be feeling fortunate just to be there. It’s a shame M.J. Rhett has used all of his eligibility since his inside/outside game was instrumental in the First Four comeback and was one of the few players to perform well against the Musketeers.
  • #6 Alabama (beat #3 Illinois in the NIT First Round; lost to #2 Miami (FL) in NIT Second Round). The Tide’s underwhelming season ultimately cost Anthony Grant his job, but for the team to stick together to win at least one game just days afterward is impressive. There’s also no shame in losing to a Miami team that had several big wins this year and ended up reaching the NIT Semifinals in New York. The big question now is whether the gobs of money Alabama has reportedly thrown at Gregg Marshall will be enough to lure him to Tuscaloosa.
  • #5 Vanderbilt (beat #4 St. Mary’s in the NIT First Round; beat South Dakota State in the NIT Second Round, lost to Stanford in the NIT Quarterfinals): The Commodores looked primed for a run in the SEC Tournament but were knocked out in their opener against Tennessee. A run eventually came in the NIT, however, and the future appears bright for Kevin Stallings’ club. Vanderbilt opened with a road win in Moraga and fought to the bitter end against Stanford in Palo Alto. The Commodores’ are certainly pleased with this week’s news that Damian Jones intends to return. Stallings will pair him with a stockpile of sophomore guards (Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Shelton Mitchell, Wade Baldwin IV) that will keep Vanderbilt competitive.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 North Carolina 87, #5 Arkansas 78

Posted by Matt Patton on March 21st, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina Moves into the Sweet Sixteen For First Time Since 2012 (USA Today Images)

North Carolina Moves into the Sweet Sixteen For First Time Since 2012 (USA Today Images)

  1. Michael Qualls had himself a weekend. The only reason Arkansas had any shot down the stretch was because Michael Qualls was willing the team closer. Qualls finished with 27 points and 10 boards on the evening. His three-point shot wasn’t falling tonight, but that didn’t stop him from lining up jumpers. North Carolina kept him from any rim-rocking dunks, but they couldn’t keep him off the foul line. Bobby Portis also played through a rough first half to finish with 18 points and 14 boards.
  2. Arkansas played too sloppy to win. The Razorbacks finished with 21 turnovers and they shot a lousy 37 percent from the floor. One or the other would have hurt them, but the combination of both was deadly. The craziest stat was in the offensive rebounding department. Arkansas grabbed 20 and North Carolina grabbed 17 on the night, but the Tar Heels turned their rebounds into points.
  3. 48 fouls in the game; 31 fouls in the second half. Just awful for the flow of the game. Some were legitimate. Some were the two teams not adapting to the way the game was called. Some came because the game was at such a breakneck pace that the referees struggled to get in good position. North Carolina made 29 free throws and Arkansas made 22, as both teams shot around 80 percent from the line. The point is that what could have been one of the most entertaining games of the Tournament was marred somewhat by all the whistles.

Star of the Game: Marcus Paige took over the second half. He finished with 22 points, six rebounds and five steals. At the half he was only 1-of-8 from the field with two points. In the second half he started 4-of-4 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line. Whenever it looked like Arkansas might make a run, Paige would hit a big shot. He went on a personal 5-0 run midway through the second half right after Arkansas took the lead, and after that, the Tar Heels never looked back.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Arkansas 56, #12 Wofford 53

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Anderson's Club Survived and Advanced (USA Today Images)

Mike Anderson’s Club Survived and Advanced (USA Today Images)

  1. Arkansas felt in control all game. Their pressure looked like it was getting to the Terriers but the Razorbacks couldn’t put together many clean stops. They committed dumb fouls, gave up offensive boards and allowed Wofford to hang around. But for whatever reason, this felt like Arkansas’ game to lose for pretty much the entire evening. There were a lot of similarities to the earlier game between North Carolina and Harvard (with less shot-making).
  2. Karl Cochran doesn’t deserve this end to his career. Cochran was a great player at Wofford and just had an awful night. Give Arkansas credit for smothering him, but 2-of-12 from three requires a good dose of bad luck too. He was shooting 37 percent from three this season. Suppose he makes a couple more threes (or that three with six seconds remaining) and this is a different game. This is one of the worst parts of the Big Dance. Great players sometimes fizzle with awful games. The agony was clear to his coach, Mike Young, after the game, who seemed to feel worse for Cochran than anyone else.
  3. Watch the offensive glass in Arkansas’ next game. One reason Wofford was able to almost pull of this upset was because of offensive boards. They pulled down 14 offensive caroms to the Razorbacks’ eight. That’s something Arkansas really has to improve on if it expects to go any further. You might expect them to struggle on the offensive glass just because they get right back to applying pressure. Young pointed out after the game that Arkansas has “size” rebounders, whereas Wofford relied on having a nose for the ball. A better descriptor is Arkansas jumps for rebounds, and Wofford boxed out for them.

Star of the Game: Michael Qualls threw down two thunderous dunks, but uncharacteristically for Arkansas, he posed after one midway through the second half that gave Wofford an advantage on the other end. The Terriers promptly hit a three to go back up by two. The Arkansas section wasn’t even done celebrating when Wofford’s erupted. Qualls finished the game with 20 points on nine shots.

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What SEC Teams Seek This Weekend

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 18th, 2015

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The Southeastern Conference has been hit hard in the national media and on social media and everywhere else for its less than stellar basketball reputation. To be fair, it’s not completely unwarranted. Ole Miss opened the season with a loss to Charleston Southern. Mississippi State lost to Arkansas State and McNeese State. Missouri boasts a loss to UMKC. Those are bad losses to be sure, but the SEC is definitely not a one-team league, and the NCAA Tournament is a very good time to prove it.

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But, the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament this season, including undefeated Kentucky, which is a step in the right direction. You have to wonder, though, how much the Wildcats running through the conference without a loss has tarnished the perception of the rest of the league. Close followers of the SEC recognize its depth of talent from top to bottom this year but college basketball success is often defined by how the conference performs in March. Whether you subscribe to that opinion or think it’s bunk, it is important for the SEC to prove its worth on the national stage this weekend. Below we will examine what each team stands to gain during the NCAA Tournament in addition to bolstering the overall perception of the conference.

  • Kentucky: ESPN has made you acutely aware that Kentucky is chasing history, but even though the Wildcats are on the pursuit of perfection, there are still plenty of doubters. Everybody knows haters are gonna hate, but there is really only one way to silence those detractors, and that’s to win. For Kentucky, anything short of a National Championship will bring out a chorus of “I told you sos” from the numerous Twitter trolls who have persistently claimed that Kentucky has benefited from a weak SEC slate. John Calipari‘s club is on a mission to achieve something much more substantial than providing trash talk ammunition for the Big Blue Nation to take on Louisville fans. The 2012 version of the Wildcats may very well have been a better team than this season’s crew, but the Anthony Davis Wildcats can’t claim a 40-0 record. With six more wins the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats will forever be remembered as one of the great teams in college basketball history. Lose, however, and this team might be categorized in the same breath as the 2009-10 John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats; a talented team that fell short when it counted the most.

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Why Each SEC Team Will Win in the Round of 64

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 17th, 2015

You printed out your bracket and you were sly enough to carry it in your portfolio into the Monday morning staff meeting. All you need now is for the office suck-up to bring in kolaches (ask the College Station folks if you’ve never had one!), a working pen (you really forgot to bring a pen to the staff meeting?), and a reason to advance every SEC team into the Round of 32 and beyond.

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

The SEC put five teams into the Big Dance but the casual college basketball fan who started paying attention in March doesn’t realize that the conference actually packs a bit more of a punch this season. At the same time, do you really trust teams that are coming off a loss to Auburn to advance deep into the tournament? Before you decide to be the SEC homer that has Georgia vs. LSU in the Elite Eight, lets focus first on how each SEC team can get to the Round of 32.

Kentucky. If you need to be convinced that Kentucky can win its first game then consider saving the $5 you were going to put into the office pool and buy five of those chocolate bars that Lois from accounting is selling for her grandson’s school fundraiser. For the sake of a good argument, lets assume Manhattan beats Hampton tonight. Former Kentucky player Steve Masiello would love an opportunity to end the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection on his mentor Rick Pitino’s home court. Masiello has something that none of the current Wildcats yet have, a degree from the University of Kentucky. So there’s that. Is there any valid reason to think the Jaspers could pull off a victory though? Well, to get to this point, Manhattan will have beaten Iona. Iona beat Wake Forest. Wake beat North Carolina State. NC State beat Duke. But Duke didn’t beat Kentucky. Nobody has. And there’s not much reason to think that Manhattan will either. Moving on.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 16th, 2015

All things considered, the Selection Committee ended up being kind to the SEC this year. Kentucky grabbed the number one overall seed with no suspense and five league teams heard their names called. That’s a very welcome result after consecutive years of only three conference teams making the field. LSU’s inclusion as a #9 seed was especially interesting. The prevailing wisdom held that the Tigers’ SEC Tournament loss to Auburn had planted them firmly on the bubble. The fact that Johnny Jones’ team safely made the field could reveal that the committee had a high opinion of the conference. Here is a quick look at what these five SEC teams face in the coming days.

34-0. (USA Today Images)

34-0. (USA Today Images)

Kentucky

  • Seed: #1, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Wildcats will play the winner of MEAC champion Hampton and MAAC champion Manhattan. There’s a reason they always play the games but this is not the instance where a #1 seed finally falls to a #16 seed. That said, there are intriguing storylines with both potential matchups. Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello (who played at Kentucky) was headed to South Florida before a lie on his resume cost him the job before he’d even started. Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua left John Calipari’s bench to take the job instead. The Jaspers should be able to handle sub-.500 Hampton, but the MEAC has a troubling history with the SEC. Two MEAC champions have taken down highly-seeded SEC (or soon to be SEC) schools: Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997 and Norfolk State over Missouri in 2012 (although both were #15 seeds)
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: It would take a magical and seemingly improbable run, but a regional final matchup with Texas would be a fun one. The Longhorns have largely underachieved this season, but they are one of the few teams with the requisite size to match up with Kentucky. The two teams met in Lexington on December 5 and the Wildcats managed to pull out an 11-point win after a tie game at halftime. Texas, however, was without star point guard Isaiah Taylor at the time. Could he have made the difference? Maybe we’ll get to find out.
  • Final Word: The Wildcats have a few threats in this region but that’s a given for the NCAA Tournament. Kansas as a #2 seed is a much better fit than Wisconsin, Gonzaga or Virginia, since the Jayhawks have a banged-up frontcourt and were battered by Kentucky at the start of the year. It would be fun to watch Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton stretch the Wildcats’ defense in the regional final, but all things considered, the Wildcats are the clear favorite to get out of the Midwest.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 78, #21 Arkansas 63

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2015

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SEC Microsite writer David Changas is covering the SEC Tournament this week in Nashville and filed this report following Sunday’s Championship Game.

Three Key Takeaways.

Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison celebrate the SEC Championship.

Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison celebrate the SEC Championship.

  1. If Kentucky Plays Like This… We have all known for a while that if Kentucky is going to lose a game this season, it’s going to take an extraordinary effort from its opponent and the Wildcats will have to deliver a subpar effort. Kentucky jumped out to an early 8-0 lead against Arkansas before the Hawgs clawed back to tie it at 19; from that point, the Wildcats outscored the Razorbacks by a 22-6 margin over the last 10 minutes of the first half to effectively put the game out of reach. While Arkansas made a valiant effort to get back into the game in the second half by cutting the lead to nine points a couple of times, the Wildcats pulled away again thanks to a 15-5 run over a five-minute stretch that started midway through the half. Kentucky was clearly ready to play and it is unlikely any other team in college basketball will beat the Wildcats if it plays like they did on Sunday six more times.
  2. Arkansas’ Perimeter Shooting Wasn’t Good Enough. For the Razorbacks to have had any chance of pulling off a monumental upset, they needed to be great from the perimeter. They weren’t, making only 4-of-13 shots from three-point range. They did not get a lot of great looks (thanks to the Wildcats’ defense), but they also did not capitalize when those opportunities arrived. That allowed Kentucky to go on its big run to close out the first half. Beating the Wildcats is difficult enough for a team that is within striking distance at the half. Doing so when the deficit is 16 points? Forget it. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the team performed on par with their usual production from the outside, but that just was not going to cut it in this game. It also did not help that the Wildcats went 7-of-12 on their own from beyond the arc. After the game, head coach Mike Anderson emphasized that no team will beat Kentucky if it does not make open shots. While that may seem rather simplistic, it could not be more true.
  3. 34-0 is Pretty Darn Good. So much focus has been placed on whether anyone can actually beat Kentucky that we have often lost sight of the fact that the Wildcats practically waltzed through their unblemished schedule. Sure, there were the close calls against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia, but given that no high-major team has entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss in some 39 years, it is simply incredible that Kentucky dominated its schedule like it did. As John Calipari pointed out after Saturday’s win over Auburn, the Wildcats’ depth is what allowed this team to go undefeated, especially when compared to some of his shorter-benched Kentucky teams. But even with such high-quality depth and a team that has been exceptionally unselfish, winning every game on the schedule to get to 34-0 is a feat that should be appreciated.

Player of the Game. Willie Cauley-Stein was once again a beast for the Wildcats, just as he had been in all three games in Nashville this weekend. The SEC Tournament MVP went for 15 points and 10 rebounds, leading the team in both categories, but his statistics do not tell the whole story. The 7’1″ Cauley-Stein showed his defensive versatility on Saturday when he guarded 6’4″ Auburn guard KT Harrell and was just as effective on the inside Sunday against Bobby Portis. He is a transformative defensive player, the kind of asset that makes him the most important guy on the roster. The Wildcats would not be 34-0 without him.

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SEC Championship Preview: Three Keys For an Arkansas Upset

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2015

Top-ranked Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets and improve to 34-0 in today’s SEC Tournament championship game in Nashville. Everyone knows that Arkansas faces a very tall order as it tries to pull what would be the biggest upset of the season in becoming the first team this season to beat the Wildcats. If the Razorbacks are to have a chance, most everything must go their way, but here we take a look at precisely what Arkansas must do to win.

Michael Qualls and Arkansas have the tallest of tasks ahead of them Sunday (athlonsports.com)

Michael Qualls and Arkansas have the tallest of tasks ahead of them Sunday (athlonsports.com)

  1. Win the Turnover Battle. In Arkansas’ 26 wins, it turned over the ball more than its opponents only four times; conversely, in the team’s seven losses, it won the turnover battle only twice. Against Kentucky, the Razorbacks cannot afford to waste any possessions. They customarily force tempo and were not afraid to do so when the teams met in Lexington just two weeks ago, but the Wildcats only lost the ball nine times and got way too many easy baskets en route to 48 percent shooting from the field. Kentucky ranks 32nd nationally in turnover rate at 16.3 percent so turning them over is much easier said than done, making it imperative that the Razorbacks take care of the ball on the offensive end. Read the rest of this entry »
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Arkansas Seeking Long-Awaited Postseason Success

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2015

Earlier this week, Bobby Portis was named the SEC Player of the Year by the league’s coaches. He was the second-leading scorer (17.8 PPG) and fourth-leading rebounder (8.7 RPG) in conference play this season. More importantly, the sophomore forward took Arkansas from its status as NIT regular to its current position as the second-best team in the SEC, helping to put the program back on the national map. On Friday evening against Tennessee, Portis showed that the coaches weren’t wrong in giving him the award. The sophomore played like a man possessed in the game’s first 15 minutes, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds to make certain that Arkansas did not fall victim to the SEC Tournament upset bug (five wins by lower seeds already) The Hawgs raced out to a 20-point halftime lead before turning back another furious second-half Tennessee rally to ultimately win, 80-72. Portis ended the night with 26 points and 11 boards, this sixth time this season he has notched a 20/10 performance. “He’s just so, so strong and athletic,” Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall said after the game. “He’s got great hands. His second jump is incredible.”

Bobby Portis (USA Today Images)

Bobby Portis (USA Today Images)

For Arkansas, this year’s trip to Nashville wasn’t about earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks’ play over the course of 31 games sealed that deal long ago. Instead, it was about showing that they are ready to not only make the Big Dance but to do some damage when they get there. Despite a second half lull that allowed Tennessee to get back into last night’s quarterfinal game, the way they came out of the gates was encouraging. Currently projected as a #5 seed in most brackets, the Razorbacks hope to do no worse than stay in that range. While this will be the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Mike Anderson, this is a program that has accumulated a lot of talent since he arrived. Anderson has put together a deep team on which 10 players see double-figure minutes of action. Guards Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden lead the way from the perimeter, complementing the dominant low post play of Portis.

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