Auburn’s Surprising Run Carries it to Clash with Kentucky

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2015

Earlier this season, Bruce Pearl was brutally honest with his height-challenged squad. To make his players feel like they could compete with almost any team in the SEC, Pearl told his Auburn club that it could beat any team on its schedule. Well, any team besides No. 1 Kentucky. “The reason why I said that was because I truly wanted them to believe that we could beat Ole Miss or LSU or Arkansas or Georgia. Because to just say we could beat any team in the league, I don’t know that that would be a hundred percent,” Pearl said. It may have taken a while to come together, but after the Tigers’ stunning overtime quarterfinal victory against LSU, Auburn is on a roll, having won nearly as many SEC games in three days (three) as it did during the regular season (four).

Bruce Pearl knows that beating Kentucky will be a very tall task (USA Today Images)

Bruce Pearl knows that beating Kentucky will be a very tall task (USA Today Images)

That Auburn has advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament isn’t just surprising; anyone who might have suggested such a thing earlier this week would have been laughed out of Bridgestone Arena. But here they are, and their reward for pulling off three straight upsets? That very Kentucky team that Pearl told them they could not beat. Lest anyone think that Pearl was being unfair to his team by suggesting that it is incapable of beating a fellow SEC school, there’s nobody in America who would disagree with his premise. The Tigers are one of the smallest teams in the country and the Wildcats are the biggest. Pearl knows that getting past the vaunted Wildcats is something too hard to even contemplate. In his postgame comments, he talked about the Tigers being “short-handed,” admitted it will be a “tough matchup,” and said his team “will try to represent.”

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Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Vanish in Nashville

Posted by David Changas on March 12th, 2015

For Texas A&M, things started out well enough. The Aggies opened a 10-point lead against lowly Auburn in Thursday’s SEC Tournament Second Round, only to see that lead quickly evaporate when the Tigers opened the second half on a 26-7 run en route to a 66-59 victory. The Aggies’ halftime lead was not the only thing that went up in smoke in Nashville today. Their case for an NCAA Tournament bid, which appeared strong prior to last week’s losses to Florida and Alabama, is all but over now. With few legitimate wins upon which the Aggies can hang their hats — before today, their strongest argument in favor of inclusion was the avoidance of bad losses, but that is no longer the case – head coach Billy Kennedy is left scratching his head at what went wrong.

KT Harrell and Auburn di in Texas A&M's NCAA Tournament chances (John Locher/AP)

KT Harrell and Auburn did in Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament chances (John Locher/AP)

To be sure, playing without second-leading scorer Danuel House did not help, but Texas A&M is the more talented team, having completed a sweep of the Tigers just 12 days ago. Ultimately, though, the Aggies were done in by their inability to consistently score. “Danuel House, I mean, he’s our go-to guy. He’s a big moment guy. He’s handled the pressure for us for the most part all throughout the season. We really needed somebody else to step up,” Kennedy said afterward. Nobody else did, as only Alex Caruso (11 points) and Alex Robinson (11 points) reached double-figures, and the team as a whole contributed 0.83 points per possession. For Kennedy’s club, the loss probably ends the notion of an NCAA Tournament bid that seemed so likely just a few days ago. The future is still very bright in College Station. Kennedy signed what is currently ranked as the nation’s third-best incoming freshman class, including four players ranked in Rivals.com’s top 66. Additionally, the Aggies are expected to only lose Kourtney Roberson and Jordan Green from this year’s team. Still, Texas A&M had a really good chance to get a head start on that bright future with a scouting trip to the Big Dance this year. Now the Aggies will almost certainly head to the NIT, wondering how it all went wrong and what could have been.

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SEC Stock Watch: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

We have reached the end of the regular season in the SEC, and this is our final look at who is trending up, down, and who is flat. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Upsets over Bubble Teams. First, it was Florida beating Texas A&M at home, handing the Aggies a crucial loss as they seek to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, on Wednesday, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU by 15 points. This was the same group of Tigers that led the Vols by 27 points at the half in Knoxville 18 days earlier. Neither of these underdogs had as much to play for as their opponents, and they both deserve credit for not quitting. But for the Aggies and especially the Tigers, they will have to sweat these and other losses on Selection Sunday.
Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

John Calipari and Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

  • Undefeated Kentucky. It is a mere formality now that the Wildcats will finish the regular season a remarkable 31-0 when they dispatch Florida on Saturday in Lexington (the term “Senior Day” doesn’t mean much there, so we have forgone its use). Many would argue that it’s a formality that the Wildcats will finish the deal and run through the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville to finish 34-0 going into the NCAA Tournament. Given the way they have dominated league play, that is very likely.
  • Comebacks. Kentucky trailed Georgia by nine points with less than eight minutes to play on Tuesday in Athens. The Wildcats then turned the burners on and put away a game Bulldogs team. Last night, on senior night in Columbia, South Carolina overcame a 20-point first half deficit to take an 11-point lead of its own with less than six minutes to play. Arkansas then finished the game on an 18-3 run to steal the win. The Kentucky comeback was unsurprising, but the Razorbacks’ effort is further evidence that Mike Anderson’s team has turned a corner from its old disappointing ways.

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Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Post Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2015

Teams known for their defensive efficiency might not normally hang 110 points in conference play, but that’s exactly what Kentucky did when it met Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team on Saturday evening. Ken Pomeroy lists the Wildcats as the eighth most-efficient offense in the nation (118.4 points per 100 possessions), but that end of the floor has not consistently been the Wildcats’ calling card this season. John Calipari’s offense does, however, seem to be impvoing at just the right time. Kentucky’s 1.34 points per possession performance over the weekend was the third-best in SEC play for the Wildcats during the Calipari era (2010-15).

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

The Wildcats were good at just about every aspect of their game against Auburn, but Kentucky dominated the low post, with its 62 points in the paint tied for the most of any SEC team this season. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will examine Kentucky’s post play to see how the bigs use screens on the low block to find and hold good post position.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC M5: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. The Big 12/SEC Challenge, which has been played in early December over several days the last two seasons — and has not garnered anywhere near the exposure or interest of its ACC/Big Ten counterpart — will move to a single blockbuster Saturday in late January next season. Each of the 10 games to be played will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. The move is a bold one given that conference play will be in full swing for both leagues when the event takes place. While some coaches surely won’t like that, we think it is wise — especially in SEC country — to bring greater exposure to the sport after college football has wrapped up. Whether the event will be more successful in this new spot on the schedule remains to be seen, but we bet it will be.
  2. Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall had no comment about news that two of his Southern Miss recruits, Rasham Suarez and Jeremiah Eason, were dismissed from the team on Thursday for issues related to their academic standing. While the exact reasons for their dismissals were not made known, they relate to an ongoing NCAA investigation into Tyndall and his previous school. Tyndall has done a nice job this season with an undermanned Tennessee roster and he seems to have much of the Volunteers’ fan base on his side. But those same fans remain skeptical about whether, in light of his uncertain status, he will be around Knoxville for the long haul.
  3. Speaking of Tyndall, his Vols welcome their former leader Bruce Pearl into Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. Pearl, who coached at Tennessee from 2005-11 and went to the NCAA Tournament in all six of his seasons at the school, will be making his first trip to Knoxville as the visiting coach. While it remains to be seen what kind of reception he will receive upon his return, odds are that it will be a good one. Many of the fans who pined for Pearl to return to Knoxville as recently as last year have moved on now that he is coaching at another SEC school. For his part, Tyndall thinks Pearl deserves a warm welcome for his many accomplishments in his tenure at Tennessee.
  4. SEC basketball has received more than its fair share of criticism over the past several years, and most of that conversation has been deserving. The league has been very inconsistent aside from Florida and Kentucky and its low number of NCAA Tournament bids has accurately fit the conference profile. But according to The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, things are finally looking up. His article points out that league teams have beefed up their non-conference schedules to the point that it is the best among the Power Five conferences. Such strong scheduling in addition to improved play in those games has resulted in better conference-wide RPI and KenPom numbers, which should translate into more NCAA bids. And while the league still has a ways to go to improve its overall perception, the future holds promise with several schools like LSU and Texas A&M recruiting well and building competitive programs.
  5. Alabama travels to Lexington to face Kentucky for the second time in 15 days on Saturday, and if things don’t go better than the Crimson Tide’s first game against the Wildcats, they will be looking at their fourth loss in five games and a 3-5 conference record. That is certainly not good news for Anthony Grant, who came into the season on the hottest of hot seats after receiving a reprieve from athletics director Bill Battle last spring. As AL.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, Tuesday’s disappointing home loss to Florida was symbolic of Grant’s entire tenure at the school. Since he arrived six years ago, people have expected things that Grant has been unable to deliver. Against the Gators, the Crimson Tide shook off a rough first half to have a chance to win before, once again, falling just short. Given the regularity with which this kind of result has occurred throughout his career in Tuscaloosa, it stands to reason that there is a very good chance Grant will not be back for a seventh season at the school.
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SEC Quotable & Notable: Volume I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2015

Periodically throughout the rest of the season, we will use this column to take a look at who’s making history and who’s saying what around the SEC. Here’s Volume I of what’s Quotable and Notable right now in college basketball’s Southern reaches.

“I just went strong to the hole.” Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith on his game-winning dunk against Alabama.


No player in the country will have a minute as impressive and unlikely as Finney-Smith did in the final 60 seconds of Florida’s recent win against the Crimson Tide. His fierce drive and dunk ended up being the game-winner, and it was sandwiched around two crucial blocks: a body-straight-up rejection on Michael Kessens to keep the game knotted at 50, and a help defense block of Levi Randolph’s potential game-tying shot as time expired. This all coming after the junior had gone scoreless to that point.  Finney-Smith’s magical minute, which helped end Florida’s three-game losing streak, should be one of the highlights of Gators’ season.

Georgia is probably the second best team in the league and, by far, the most physical team.” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after his team’s loss to Georgia last weekend. “I thought they hurt us on the boards in the first half, but then you look down and see they hit 50 percent from the field in the second half and over 90 percent from the line… you can’t beat anybody like that.” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after Georgia hit 23-of-25 free throws and outrebounded the Commodores by 10 in an eight-point victory.

Georgia is taking on the feel of a team that can grind out wins, and in this league, that can be the key to a shiny conference record. Just take care of business. The Bulldogs squeaked by Mississippi State because of a Herculean effort from J.J. Frazier (37 points), and against Vanderbilt, they were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) but did enough elsewhere to control the game throughout. Neither win is all that impressive alone, but SEC teams have perfected the art of losing winnable games. The Bulldogs will end up in the NCAA Tournament if they have finally bucked that trend.

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SEC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 26th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky got some good recruiting news when it picked up its first commitment of the class of 2016, and it didn’t come from one of the typical locales. Ty Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward from New Zealand, gave his pledge to John Calipari over the weekend. The Kiwi will be the first from his country to suit up for the Wildcats, and more interesting than the fact that he’s considered to be a good rebounder with a strong inside game, is that he is the son of world champion woodchoppers. As ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello points out, although Wynyard is currently a member of next year’s class, there is a good chance he could reclassify to the class of 2015 and end up in Lexington as soon as next fall.
  2. When Auburn made the quick move to dismiss Tony Barbee and hire Bruce Pearl last March, many in the state and around the SEC wondered if Alabama, historically a better basketball job, could have instead landed the former Tennessee coach if it had jettisoned Anthony Grant following his very disappointing fifth season. Athletic director Bill Battle instead chose to give Grant a sixth season, and we will never know if the Crimson Tide could have outbid its archrival for Pearl’s services. On Saturday, Grant’s team edged Pearl’s Tigers in a thrilling two-point game that Auburn appeared in prime position to win when it led by eight points with just over seven minutes remaining. As al.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, the hoops version of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry will certainly heat up now that Pearl is on the Plains and Grant is not quite ready to let Pearl have control of the state without a fight.
  3. The road was the place to be in the SEC over the weekend, as five of the seven games played on Saturday were won by the visitor. Only Ole Miss and Alabama won at home, and both did so on the game’s final possession. Oddities such as this happen from time to time, and considering Kentucky and Arkansas were heavy favorites at South Carolina and Missouri, respectively, the results shouldn’t be too surprising. Still, it may also reflect that some of the teams from which good things were expected this year — notably, LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M — are getting better and starting to reach their potential. That trio each finished the week at 2-0, and all three of them rank in the five-way second place logjam.
  4. Georgia head coach Mark Fox earned a few chuckles on Twitter over the weekend when he said after the Bulldogs won a close game at Mississippi State that SEC basketball is “like SEC football.” Few things will ruffle feathers in the South more than comparing something, anything, to SEC football, and when that comparison is made between a basketball league that is widely considered to be mediocre and the highest form of sport in existence, well, you can imagine the backlash. In reality, while Fox was likely only making the point that winning games in league play is tough, there is simply no comparison between the league’s football and basketball products. SEC basketball is clearly getting better, but it has a long way to go before it can be mentioned in the same breath as its gridiron counterpart.
  5. Texas A&M won its fourth consecutive SEC game over the weekend when it took out a hot Tennessee team by six points in Knoxville. The Aggies are now 4-2 in league play and making a push to be considered the second-best team in the league. It is no coincidence that the team is undefeated in the conference when junior forward Jalen Jones is in the lineup. Jones missed the team’s first two SEC games – losses to Alabama and Kentucky – but has averaged 17 points per contest in the four he has played since. Jones is a transfer from SMU who has clearly been a key find for Billy Kennedy this year. If Jones decides to return next season along with a top 10 recruiting class headed to College Station, the future appears to be very bright at Texas A&M.
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SEC M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 12th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. The recruiting hits just keep on coming for Johnny Jones and LSU. On Friday, Arizona transfer Craig Victor committed to the Tigers, and will be eligible to play in the second semester of the 2015-16 season. Victor is from New Orleans, so his choice cannot be much of a surprise. He picked LSU over Oklahoma State. Victor was ranked No. 37 in the ESPN 100 Class of 2014, but never saw any important minutes at Arizona. Victor’s commitment comes on the heels of Jones signing Ben Simmons, the nation’s top-ranked player in the class of 2015, and of a getting a verbal pledge from another five-star recruit, Antonio Blakeney, earlier this month. So while the Tigers have not quite played up to expectations thus far this year – they came back from the dead to get their first SEC win at home against Georgia Saturday night – the future looks bright in Baton Rouge.
  2. Reality finally hit Tennessee squarely in the face during their offensive meltdown against Alabama Saturday, as the Vols scored only 2 points in the game’s last 13-plus minutes in their 56-38 home loss to Alabama. Tennessee was 9-4 coming into the contest, despite having only nine healthy scholarship players. On Friday, coach Donnie Tyndall changed that, as he surprised walk-on Galen Campbell, a Knoxville native, by awarding him a scholarship. The redshirt junior guard has played in only 14 games during his time with the Vols, and he did not see any action in the loss to the Crimson Tide. The move by Tyndall was a neat one, and as can be seen in the video, is one that was very popular among Campbell’s teammates.
  3. After Kentucky escaped its double overtime game against Texas A&M with a win, John Calipari wasted no time heading home and hitting the recruiting trail. He and assistant Kenny Payne were in Paducah within three hours of the Wildcats closing out their dramatic victory over the Aggies, checking out signee Skal Labissiere of Memphis, among others. Calipari and Payne were also there to see 2015 targets Malik Newman and Thomas Bryant, as well as Thon Maker and Josh Jackson, who are part of the class of 2016. Such is the life of a college basketball coach: pull out a tough double overtime win in the afternoon and jet 730 miles to catch high schoolers in the evening. Of course, when you’re Calipari, knowing you essentially have your pick of the best of each incoming class makes that grind a lot easier.
  4. Last week, Arkansas showed its faith in Mike Anderson‘s efforts in his three-plus years as the head man in Fayetteville, as well as the direction in which he appears to be taking the program by giving him a two-year extension through the 2019-20 season. From the moment the school hired Anderson, a long-time assistant under Arkansas’s most successful coach, Nolan Richardson, the fit appeared to perfect. Things have not quite gone according to plan, however, as Anderson did not make the NCAA Tournament in his first three years at the school. This year, though, the Razorbacks, who are 2-0 in the SEC and have separated themselves as the league’s clear second-best team, appear to be a shoo-in to make the Big Dance. Anderson has assembled enough talent and has had enough success graduating players that the powers that be are convinced he’s the right man to lead the program for a long time.
  5. Bruce Pearl got his first SEC win since 2011, when he was the coach at Tennessee, as Auburn downed Missouri 85-79 Saturday night at Auburn Arena. And while any win the Tigers get in conference play will be big news, as they likely won’t get many, the bigger story coming from the game was the presence of a famous basketball alumnus who was in attendance: Charles Barkley. As he did at Tennessee, Pearl will pull out all the stops to promote the program at Auburn, and he will especially work hard to honor former Tiger players who can bring positive recognition to the program. Inarguably, there is no one who can better do this than Barkley, who is not only the most famous player in Auburn history, but is still one of the biggest names in basketball. Having Barkley around can only help Pearl in his promotion efforts, and bring some much-needed attention to a program that likely will bring little to itself because of what happens on the court this year.
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Auburn Basketball Not Quite Ready For Prime Time

Posted by David Changas on January 7th, 2015

When Bruce Pearl took over a moribund Tennessee program in 2005, he inherited a team that had underachieved and had not been to the NCAA Tournament in four years. He went on to prove that team had some talent, as he took it to an SEC East championship and a #2 seed in the Big Dance. When Auburn decided to take the plunge with Pearl to give him another shot at coaching in the SEC, he jumped at the opportunity. This time, though, with no stars like C.J. Watson or Chris Lofton on the roster, things have not come as easily as they did in Knoxville, and Pearl has some work to do before he can even think about playing meaningful games in March. Still, there is little doubt that the revitalized head coach has things moving in the right direction, and that he will eventually return this downtrodden program to prominence.

Bruce Pearl will return Auburn to prominence (athlonsports.com)

Bruce Pearl will eventually return Auburn to prominence, but not this year (athlonsports.com)

Despite the confidence that the media showed in Pearl’s coaching abilities when it picked the Tigers to finish eighth in the SEC standings, Auburn’s roster consists of a mishmash of castoffs, players few high-major programs wanted, and athletes who appear to be better-suited for the gridiron than the basketball court. Senior guard KT Harrell, a preseason all-SEC selection, is the team’s best player (17.9 PPG), but he has little help around him. Pearl was able to convince Niagara transfer Antoine Mason to join him, and while Mason can score, he is an inefficient offensive player and struggles defensively with quick guards on the perimeter. As a team, the Tigers currently rank 241st in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, and that showed in Tuesday’s 64-52 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville. They shot 31.6 percent for the game, and despite a spirited second half effort, the Tigers never got close than five points in the last 20 minutes. Auburn also was significantly outrebounded (-20) by the Commodores, and other than having the league’s leading rebounder in Cinmeon Bowers (11.3 RPG), the Tigers struggle in that area due to their extremely limited size.

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SEC M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky’s clash with Louisville this Saturday might be the most anticipated game until the NCAA Tournament, and according to ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, it also might be the last realistic chance for the Wildcats to lose a game before the Big Dance. Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and even UCLA (before the game, of course) looked like potential challenges, and Kentucky easily got by them all, so Greenberg has a point here. Nonetheless, I’m betting against the undefeated season. As great as it has been, this Kentucky team has not been immune to slow starts, as exhibited in the Boston University and Columbia games. And although it’s a cliche, the Wildcats will almost certainly get everyone’s best effort in the SEC — a slow start in Tuscaloosa or Athens or Columbia could prove fatal. But the fact that we are using a magnifying glass to find one potential loss among 18 chances tells you just how well the Wildcats have played this season.
  2. Slowly but surely, Florida is working its way back towards national relevance this season. The Gators beat Wake Forest over the weekend, and while that isn’t particularly noteworthy, their roster seems to finally be taking shape. Alex Murphy made his Florida debut with an impactful nine points, four rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. “I thought he played great,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. “The best part about coaching him is he has got a really good feel and he can play multiple, different positions.” Versatility in the frontcourt might turn out to be one of the Gators’ calling cards this year. Murphy joins Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson as athletic, mobile bigs who can play on the perimeter. Depth down low is also something Donovan has to work with as Jacob Kurtz (4.5 points per game; 4.9 rebounds per game) played well while being forced into action, and Jon Horford and Chris Walker have seen significant minutes this year.
  3. Johnny Jones is being careful with his LSU Tigers, and it may pay off in the long run. Josh Gray’s injured ankle kept him out of the team’s recent win over College of Charleston, but according to Jones, he could have played if it had been a conference game. Jarell Martin was also held out of the starting lineup and played eight minutes under his season average (34.0) because he missed part of Monday’s practice due to a minor car wreck. Amid all of this, Jones used the opportunity to give minutes to several players who have sparsely played this season, such as Jalyn Patterson, Elbert Robinson and Aaron Epps. Patterson played eight minutes over his average, and Robinson played 14 minutes after not appearing in the team’s previous two games. LSU desperately needs more quality depth, and it’s nice for Jones that he can work players into the rotation while still winning games comfortably.
  4. Georgia is forging its way down a novel path. Instead of letting disappointing early losses to Georgia Tech and Minnesota compound themselves in a negative way, the Bulldogs have ripped off consecutive wins against Colorado and Seton Hall in the last week. In fact, the win against the Pirates is arguably the best non-Kentucky win of any SEC team thus far. If nothing else, it’s up there with LSU’s win at West Virginia, Arkansas’ win at SMU and Tennessee’s win over Butler. The Bulldogs look viable going forward and are more than a two-man show that depends entirely on Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. Marcus Thornton has been a low post scoring threat (14.7 points per game), and J.J. Frazier has gone from little-used freshman to a dependable lead guard (8.7 points per game; 3.4 assists per game; 4.2 rebounds per game). Frazier has also been a consistent threat from three-point range (41.4%) which was a question mark for Georgia heading into the season.
  5. Several of SB Nation’s SEC basketball writers got together for a roundtable on the state of the league. One of the questions they discussed was which team has surprised the most, and answers included Vanderbilt (good), LSU (good) and Missouri (bad). You can’t disagree with any of those three, and two weeks ago I would’ve personally submitted Auburn as a surprise on the negative end of the spectrum. The Tigers were never going to compete for an NCAA Tournament spot this year, but with their experience (KT Harrell, Antoine Mason) and Bruce Pearl on the sidelines, losses to Clemson and Coastal Carolina were unexpected. Better late than never, but the Tigers turned it around in a big way with a double-overtime win over Xavier last weekend, showing the type of team it can become. Part of what has helped is the emergence of Trayvon Reed, who in his just his fourth college game helped cover the Tigers’ hole in the post with five rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes. Auburn did, however, nearly undo that good will with a loss to a two-win Texas Southern team last night, but Pearl’s team was able to survive that one by the slimmest of margins.
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SEC M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 22nd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. When a team starts a game on a 24-0 run and leads 41-7 at the half, people will take notice. When that team is a Kentucky squad that had people already wondering if anyone could beat it, even prior to its dominant performance against UCLA, the college basketball world’s collective head will be left spinning. We could provide links to an endless number of columns that offer takes on just how good this Kentucky team can be, but this piece from FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave will suffice. As he points out, if the Wildcats can survive next Saturday’s test at Louisville, it really is reasonable to think that this team could be the first to go undefeated in 39 years. At this point, the biggest problem John Calipari may have the rest of the way might be keeping his team focused and blocking out any distraction from its pursuit of perfection.
  2. As if Tennessee wasn’t thin enough on the front line, it was confirmed Friday that freshman forward Jabari McGhee will miss six to eight weeks after having surgery to repair the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. McGhee suffered the injury in Wednesday’s loss to North Carolina State. McGhee averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in the team’s first eight games, and while those numbers may not seem like much, with the recent departure of center Dom Woodson, McGhee’s injury leaves only fellow freshmen Willie Carmichael and Tariq Owens as true post players. While Carmichael has been more productive, and played 27 minutes in Friday’s win over Tennessee Tech, both are raw. The team will now have to rely even more on do-it-all senior Josh Richardson as they draw near to SEC play.
  3. The end of the first semester means that players who transferred at mid-season last year are now eligible. At FloridaAlex Murphy made his debut against Wake Forest Saturday, and it was a successful one. The former Duke Blue Devil scored nine points in 29 minutes, and it is clear that Billy Donovan was pleased with his performance, saying that Murphy played “great.” Donovan is also pleased that Murphy can play so many positions. Given the team’s struggles thus far this season, as well as its lack of frontcourt depth, the addition of Murphy could help the Gators in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Auburn got its first big win of the Bruce Pearl era Saturday when it toppled Xavier 89-88 in a double overtime thriller. The win moved the Tigers to 5-5. In the bigger picture, however, it was the SEC’s first win over the Musketeers, which had beaten Alabama at home and Missouri on the road. After the game, Pearl talked about how the win not only was big for his team and the goals it has set, but also for the conference’s profile. While Pearl should be applauded for being such a cheerleader for the league he coached in previously, and followed closely while working as an analyst at ESPN, it’s hard to imagine this game mattering much come Selection Sunday. Certainly, the win will help the league’s RPI, etc. to a small degree, but beyond that, it appears to be little more than a nice boost for his team and program.
  5. At the start of the season, we speculated that Rick Ray potentially could be on thin ice if things didn’t start to get better at Mississippi State, and, well, things clearly are not getting better at Mississippi State. On the heels of a home loss to Arkansas State on Thursday, the Bulldogs fell to South Carolina-Upstate in Jackson on Saturday. The loss was their fifth in a row, and though lowly McNeese State and Jacksonville come calling before year’s end, things do not appear to be getting better for Ray, whose team dropped to 5-5. While this is only Ray’s third year at the school, Mississippi State won a total of seven conference games in his first two seasons, and it doesn’t appear the team is well-positioned to add much to that total. Though he still has time to turn things around with this club, another woeful performance in the league may mean lights out for Ray.
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