SEC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Florida may have sealed its last two wins as much at the beginning of those two games than at the end of them. Against Tennessee, an early 10-0 run by the Gators allowed them to stabilize an otherwise lackluster first half (36.4% FG) and only trail a hot-shooting Vols team by one at halftime. To be sure, a couple of late threes from Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin put the game out of reach, but the Gators might not have been in that position if not for that early turnover-fueled surge. The same can be said for their game last Saturday against Alabama. The Gators had an 8-0 lead before the Tide had even gotten the ball across midcourt. This early surge similarly allowed them to withstand some frustration with Alabama’s zone and 16 first half points from Trevor Releford. Sometimes it’s not only about how you finish, but also how you start. Where does Tennessee go from here? The Vols are out of chances for a sparkling Florida/Kentucky resume-enhancing win, but their NCAA Tournament situation is far from dire. They should be favored in all of their remaining SEC games other than next weekend’s contest at Missouri, and currently at 6-5, they could be in good position to rack up an impressive conference record. Pair this with their solid overall RPI and a win or two in the SEC Tournament, and Cuonzo Martin may get his first invitation to March Madness while living in Knoxville.
  2. Momentum was there for Ole Miss to grab. The Rebels had beaten a fellow bubble buddy in Missouri, and then faced manageable road games against Alabama and Georgia before massive back-to-back home dates with Kentucky and Florida. A three-game winning streak followed by a statement win would surely have been what the resume doctor ordered. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Tide upended Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa last night. Trevor Releford (26 points on 8-of-16 shooting) refused to let another game slip away for the Tide when the Rebels regained the lead with just under 10 minutes left. The senior went on to score 14 of the Tide’s last 16 points, including a game-winning three with under a second left. He won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament (or NIT, barring a minor miracle) in his final amateur season, but he can contribute to Anthony Grant’s program in a big way by playing hard and showing leadership despite the team’s struggles. There aren’t many young players on Alabama’s roster (just two freshmen and a sophomore), but he has set a great example nonetheless. The Rebels, for their part, essentially face a must-win game in Athens on Saturday. If they were to lose that one they could conceivably be stuck with a 7-7 record after the Kentucky/Florida gauntlet. That’s not a good look for a team that appears to be on the outside looking in right now. It’ll help if Jarvis Summers, who has had an excellent season, breaks out of his mini-road slump. In the Rebels’ last two losses at Kentucky and Alabama, he’s only 6-of-22 from the field and 1-of-6 from three despite shooting 50 percent (and that’s not a typo) from distance on the season. Marshall Henderson may be the Ole Miss wildcard, but Summers has been the steady hand that Andy Kennedy needs to return sooner than later.
  3. Johnny Jones has to plug a hole in his rotation after losing Malik Morgan for the rest of the season. The sophomore injured his knee during LSU’s weekend win over Auburn, and had surgery Monday evening. “It’s certainly a blow to us,” Jones said. “That’s an area we are certainly going to have to look at and find out exactly how we will dispatch those minutes. He was able to give us positive minutes.” Jones indicated that freshmen Tim Quarterman (12.5 MPG) and Shane Hammink (6.3 MPG) will be counted on to replace Morgan’s 15.5 minutes per game. This isn’t a crushing blow to LSU since Morgan wasn’t relied on heavily on either end of the floor. But it does limit Jones’ options, and takes away a high energy player and occasional starter. Morgan’s length (6’4’’) and energy was valuable when the Tigers went to a zone look. Quarterman and Hammink do both have length, which is good for Jones. The other angle to this injury is how it’ll affect Morgan’s development. Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman are seniors so there will be an openings on the perimeter next season, and a full season of games would’ve been ideal for Morgan and LSU.
  4. Kentucky has won three straight games. Up next is an Auburn team against which the Wildcats own a 15-game winning streak. And after them? The third-ranked team in the country and the SEC’s biggest game to date. That game would lose a tiny bit of luster if the Wildcats are caught overlooking Auburn and suffer a letdown. “There’s no risk in overlooking Auburn. We all know that Auburn can beat us. We know that we’re going to get their best game. We know that they’re a very, very good team who has two guards who are really playing well,” said Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. Count tonight as an unexpected measuring stick in the great experiment that is the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats. It’d be hard not to be excited for the upcoming game against Florida at home, and how hard the Wildcats play against Auburn will reveal a lot about their team maturity and development. It’s an easy game to look past, but Kentucky has already been burned on the road by a tandem of high-scoring guards. KT Harrell and Chris Denson average more combined points per game (39.6) than Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who went for 61 against the Wildcats. This also might be another good chance for John Calipari to work on the zone defense he’s flashed recently. Harrell has been effective from deep this season (39.1 3P%) but that’s been it for the Tigers. As a team they’ve shot 31.9% from three, and two of the three players that dominate the ball (Denson and Tahj Shamsid-Deen) shoot under 30.7%. A final interesting angle to a game that looks mundane on the surface is the relationship between Calipari and Tony Barbee, who got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Calipari at UMass, and was on his Memphis staff for six years. Since Barbee is sitting on the hot seat, this could be the last time the two face off in the SEC.
  5. There were some upgrades for the SEC this season after Mike Slive mandated tougher scheduling outside conference play. For one, despite not actually winning any of its tough games, Alabama did jump from the 69th toughest nonconference schedule in 2012-13 to the ninth toughest this season. They weren’t the only teams to upgrade. According to the Associated Press, “Kentucky (59th to 14th), Mississippi (271st to 103rd) and LSU (234th to 137th) are also among the teams who made big leaps in strength of nonconference schedule.” This still wasn’t enough, as the SEC nonconferene RPI on the whole was bad, and only Kentucky and Florida have tournament spots seemingly locked up. Slive’s policy should start to see greater returns over the next few years when coaches have greater flexibility to add more name-brand opponents. It’s unlikely anyone schedules like the Tide this year: they played Wichita State, Duke, UCLA, Oklahoma and Xavier. But their fate shouldn’t be a cautionary tale that scares off other SEC coaches. Had the Tide won even one of those difficult games (and they were close) their season could’ve taken on a different feel RPI- and momentum-wise. The SEC doesn’t currently have the cache to get their teams in based on conference play alone. Risks like Anthony Grant’s aggressive nonconference schedule need to be taken to build national respect.
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SEC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 31st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. As expected, Florida won in Starkville last night. The Gators did not, however, roll over the Bulldogs (they led by only one point at halftime), and haven’t rolled over the SEC at all recently. The national perspective seems to be that Florida is blowing right by every conference team it plays. This is correct in a strict win-loss sense, as the Gators are the only team with an unbeaten SEC record. But Florida has been somewhat tested by triple-digit KenPom teams in three of their last four games (Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn). Should that be cause for concern? Margin of victory is a useful indicator of future success, but conference games are especially difficult when you have a top 10 target on your back. That target will be even brighter in an upcoming stretch when the Gators face Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss on the road in the span of two weeks. The Vols and Rebels will be in desperate need of a statement win, and Florida may not be able to grind out wins as easily (that is if Billy Donovan doesn’t throw a blanket over Tennessee’s offense again).
  2. Tennessee has talented pieces that just haven’t fit together as well as they should have this season. Did Darius Thompson just ride into town on a white horse to make it all work? The freshman made his third start of the season Wednesday night in the Vols’ big win over Ole Miss, and his solid stat line (seven assists against two turnovers) should keep him in that spot. “Him getting better – him growing up as a ball player, the time he puts into it and learning and understanding and just being around those experienced guys; I think it was just time,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. Whether it was a direct result of Thompson starting, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson rebounded from a horrific shooting performance against Florida to go a combined 10-of-14 from three. Jarnell Stokes also said the Vols pushed the tempo more with Thompson in the game, which was refreshing considering how slowly they have played at times. At this point it’s clear Antonio Barton was not the answer to replace Trae Golden. Still, he’s a senior who can certainly contribute down the stretch for Tennessee.
  3. Arkansas is mired in a five-year NCAA tournament drought, and it’s looking more and more likely that number will extend to six. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish took an interesting look at what’s been ailing the Razorbacks. He wrote extensively about problems with the head coaching position, including a whiff at Billy Gillispie and Dana Altman’s change of heart. Can Mike Anderson turn things around in Fayetteville? He reached the Elite Eight in his third season at Missouri, and barring a miracle, won’t come close to that this season. Bobby Portis may be the ray of hope Anderson needs. The five-star Arkansas native chose to stay home (unlike Archie Goodwin) and could generate some in-state recruiting momentum. Anderson has actually done a fairly good job recruiting elite talent the last few years, even if in a roundabout way. In addition to this year’s solid class, Anderson convinced BJ Young to stay at Arkansas and there is a rumor that Otto Porter would have gone to Missouri had Anderson still been the coach. If he can keep gathering top talent, Anderson’s pressure system may be what returns Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Could it be that Kentucky will have a handful of experienced players back next season? John Calipari is reportedly spreading the word in NBA circles that Andrew and Aaron Harrison will return for their sophomore seasons. This is probably wise given their (relative) struggles and the strength of this upcoming draft class. And it could do even more favors for Calipari. Dakari Johnson has looked good, especially recently, but probably hasn’t stood out enough (yet) to make it worth his while to leave. The same can be said for Marcus Lee. You never know what can happen, but Kentucky could have a starting lineup featuring four sophomores next year.
  5. If Auburn had to win only one SEC game a year, I suppose their fans would prefer it to be against Alabama. The Tigers picked up their first conference win in 51 weeks by beating Alabama last night at home. That win nearly a year ago? It came against the Tide too. Chris Denson scored a career-high 32 points and is firmly in the discussion for an all-SEC team spot. One has to wonder where Anthony Grant goes from here. For a team that started the season with NCAA aspirations the Tide are now a long way away from an NIT bid, and lost any good will created by their solid win over LSU last weekend. Right now they are sitting at the front of the SEC’s “most disappointing table.”
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SEC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 10th, 2014

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  1. No Marshall Henderson for Ole MissNo problem, but just barely. The Rebels held off Auburn, but it was a close game throughout and Ole Miss weathered a stretch in which they only scored two points in seven minutes. Overall, Andy Kennedy must be encouraged the Rebels won a game in which Henderson was out and Jarvis Summers was merely pedestrian offensively (14 points on 6 of 17 from the field). Aaron Jones has emerged as one of the better shot blockers in the SEC, and had five blocks against the Tigers, including a key swat with under a minute left. Chris Denson shouldered the offense for Auburn with KT Harrell in foul trouble, and must have made Henderson jealous by putting up 25 shots.
  2. Vanderbilt will be without its leading scorer the rest of the season after sophomore guard Eric McClellan was dismissed for the spring semester. McClellan has a February court date for a misdemeanor charge of theft under $500. In a statement, the sophomore said his goal is to eventually return to the Vanderbilt program. There may be few other options for McClellan, who already transferred once and now carries extra baggage with him. Obviously any criminal charge is a bad one, but luckily for McClellan this doesn’t appear to be a deal breaker when it comes to playing again. Kevin Stallings clearly has a difficult coaching job ahead of him with only seven scholarship players. One positive is that the Commodores did play hard in their first game without McClellan on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa.
  3.  CBSSports.com’s list of the “30 games to watch in conference play” includes three from our beloved SEC, the highest ranked of which is the March 8 bout between Kentucky and Florida. This game could certainly be the deciding game in the regular season conference race. It will also have a more-defined story line after the initial February 15th game between the two teams (also on the list). In a big league with an unbalanced schedule it’s a treat these teams play twice this season. The final SEC game is the January 25th match up between Florida and Tennessee. This comes at the end of a difficult streak for the Vols, who play at Kentucky and against Arkansas immediately before traveling to Gainesville. Tennessee by default currently occupies the darkhorse position for the regular season crown after their road win against LSU and Missouri’s embarrassing home loss to Georgia.
  4. This week’s statistical nugget from SI.com‘s Luke Winn deals with Florida, who he has at #10 in his latest power rankings. Winn writes about Florida’s dominant defensive first half Wednesday against South Carolina. “The Gamecocks had one point and seven turnovers in their first 10 possessions, and they didn’t get their turnover percentage under 50 until the 25th possession.” Billy Donovan has this Gators’ team playing solid defense, like he often does. Florida has the 57th best effective field goal defense in the country. Dominant defensive first halves have also been the norm: they’re allowing 25.1 points in the first halves of games, the fifth best mark in the nation. Finally, every regular in the Donovan’s rotation has a defensive rating of 93 or less.
  5. Speaking of Florida regulars, Damontre Harris may yet be one of them in future. As impossible as it may have seemed a few weeks ago, the South Carolina transfer who Donovan essentially said would never play at Florida, may work his way onto next year’s team. “We traded some texts over the Christmas break and he realized that he had made a big mistake,” Donovan said. “He wants to work his way back on the team. It’s going to be similar to Scottie Wilbekin’s situation in that he has to meet some terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don’t know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story.” Harris could be an important addition to next year’s Gator team, if he does what Donovan needs him to. Florida will lose Patric Young and Will Yeguete to graduation and there will be a playing time available in the front court. Harris posted a 10.7% block rate during his sophomore year at South Carolina and a shot-blocking presence like that would be warmly welcomed in any lineup.
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Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

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SEC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 6th, 2014

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  1. Alabama enters SEC play at a disappointing 6-7 after slogging through the third toughest non-conference schedule in the country. ”In the SEC, no game’s going to be easy,” Trevor Releford said. “It’s going to be a fight every night. I think it helped the young guys a lot to prepare them for what’s ahead. I think they’re ready for it and I think everybody on our team as well will be.” One of the young players who will be worth watching is guard Retin Obasohan. He was in a massive slump before getting somewhat back on track against Robert Morris. He had a combined 16 points in the three previous games, and got to the line only 8 times. While he didn’t get to the line much on Saturday, he did convert two of three three-point attempts, and his development from deep will be key. The sophomore takes 50% of his shots at the rim and things will become wide open for him if he improves on his 25% 3-point shooting.
  2. Unlike most of Missouri‘s games this season, Jordan Clarkson did not play a starring role Saturday. Instead, he had a ho-hum 11 points and got to the line only 3 times in the Tigers’ win against Long Beach State. But Missouri was able to survive a sluggish start against the 49ers because of an efficient 22 points from Jabari Brown (8 of 12) and 18 from Earnest Ross. Each of Frank Haith’s “Big Three” enter conference play with usage rates above 23% and scoring at least 14 points per game. Haith has been able to give each player enough touches because there frankly isn’t anyone else that demands the ball. Ryan Rosburg did pick up 11 rebounds against Long Beach State, and he’ll need to continue to crash the boards and improve on his 12.3% rebounding percentage as SEC play begins.
  3. Here’s your players/minutes watch for Arkansas33-point against UT-San Antonio: Mike Anderson got 12 players in for at least 12 minutes. That’s five wins for the Razorbacks by at least 29 points since December 3, all obviously coming in the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena. As Brian pointed out yesterday, Arkansas needs to show it can win more than one game on the road before they can be taken seriously. Alandise Harris made the most of his 14 minutes with seven points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. The Houston transfer was the Razorbacks’ leading scorer in their first few games, but has slid back to third on the team (10.5). Still he’s been a valuable, balanced piece for Anderson as he leads in the SEC in defensive rating (85.3).
  4. Don’t look now but Auburn is on a four-game winning streak heading into conference play. Their list of victims doesn’t include any eye-grabbers, but included are two power conference teams (Clemson and Boston College). And after the dreadful loss to Northwestern State earlier in the year, no win can be discounted. Tony Barbee’s team avoided another embarrassing loss and has a one-two punch in Chris Denson and KT Harrell that will be difficult to deal with. Each guard knows what he does well and plays to it. Denson isn’t a good three-point shooter so he takes a remarkable 66% of his shots at the rim. Harrell is the opposite, and takes 45% percent of his shots from deep and connects on 42% of them.
  5. SEC play will be great fun for Commodores fans if Vanderbilt shoots the way they did Saturday against Northeastern. Kevin Stallings squad shot 62.5% overall and 66.7% from three. “You never expect to shoot the ball like that,” [Stallings] said. “I thought our guys did a really good job this week in preparation for their defenses. They play a zone that has given a lot of people trouble, and they went to it in the first half and we knew they would if we had any success against their man. We were very prepared, and our guys executed extremely well on their shots.” Every Commodore besides Dai-Jon Parker shot better than 50% for the game. While this is impressive, it did come against 270th best field goal defense in the country, and Vanderbilt won’t see a unit that bad the rest of the way. The more sustainable (and realistic) path to victory for the Commodores is the excellent field goal defense they’ve played this season. Vanderbilt has the 40th best effective field goal defense (allowing opponents to shoot just 44.8%) and 8th best three-point defense (27.2%).
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SEC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 20th, 2013

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  1. Tennessee stubbed its toe against North Carolina State at home on Wednesday, and it will now need a spectacular conference record to get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton points out that the SEC will likely offer few opportunities for signature wins, putting the Volunteers in an all too familiar tough early spot for head coach Cuonzo Martin. The last two years it has taken frantic finishes from the Vols to generate NCAA consideration, but this hasn’t led to anything substantive for Tennessee’s postseason. Shelton writes, “those 8-1 runs were indeed special during every second of them, right up until the moment we didn’t hear our name called because we screwed it up just bad enough beforehand to miss out.” The Vols can pull themselves out of their 6-4 hole, of course, but there’s simply no room to drop another winnable game at home. There are wins to be had in the soft underbelly of the SEC but at this point it will take a lot of wins to avoid another disappointing Selection Sunday in Knoxville. The shame is that Tennessee’s schedule hasn’t been brutal. Xavier looks like a solid team, but is only #57 in Kenpom‘s ratings; outside of Wichita State, the Vols shouldn’t have run into the problems that they have.
  2. For what seems like the first time this season, Auburn is in the SEC M5 with some positive news. The Tigers picked up their biggest win of the season over Clemson, beating the (other) Tigers 66-64 last night. The picture isn’t yet clear on Clemson this season, but they stood at 8-2 before the game with reasonable losses against UMass and at Arkansas. Auburn was outclassed against Iowa State and Illinois, so getting a win against another power conference team should be a confidence booster for Tony Barbee’s squad. Chris Denson again led the Tigers in scoring and only committed one turnover despite playing 33 minutes and constantly handling the ball. Right now he’s in serious contention for an all-SEC spot and he might in fact be the most improved player in the conference. A lot of it has to do with the loss of Frankie Sullivan, but Denson’s scoring average is up nearly nine points per game along with his other averages as well.
  3. Mike Anderson’s pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards lived up to the hype last night, and that could be the key for better times away from Fayetteville this year for the Razorbacks. It was a night of highs for Moses Kingsley in a win against Tennessee-Martin, as he played the most minutes (20), scored the most points (12), and grabbed the most rebounds (12) of his young career. Bobby Portis also continued his steady improvement, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds of his own. The development of these big men is important not only because they’re talented, but also because Anderson’s teams have historically had rebounding issues. If these two can help reverse that trend, Arkansas could actually get enough wins away from Bud Walton Arena to truly be in the NCAA tournament discussion later this winter.
  4. Mississippi State conquered the remnants of Dunk City last night, beating Florida Gulf Coast 66-53 at home. The win runs the Bulldogs’ record to 8-2, which has reached a level that merits some attention. Mississippi State is still probably a lower-third SEC team when it’s all said and done, but through 10 games last year, Rick Ray’s team stood at 4-6 (albeit with a much tougher schedule). Even if the Bulldogs own no notable wins and barely hung on against a couple of low-major teams, that’s still a drastically different record. Ray needs to build momentum for this program and piling up wins no matter how it’s done or who it’s against is important. This is especially so because the major contributors will all be back next year and, in some cases, beyond: I.J. Ready is a freshman; Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware are sophomores; Roquez Johnson is a junior.
  5. This was a disastrous week for South Carolina, and that might be sugarcoating it. The Gamecocks fell to Manhattan on Sunday then followed that up with a loss to 6-5 USC Upstate last night. Both of these losses happened at home. To be fair, USC Upstate has beaten Virginia Tech (so Carolina is not its first power conference victim), but you can only make so many excuses for a loss like this. The Gamecocks have a long ways to go, and maybe this isn’t surprising given the program Frank Martin inherited. Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of an “altercation” following the Manhattan loss, and although it’s good to see passion in players, Carrera didn’t help his team by sitting at home last night. The Carolina guards outside of Sindarius Thornwell didn’t help much either. Brenton Williams, Bruce Ellington and Tyrone Johnson went a combined 8-of-28 from the field.
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Early SEC Trends: Kentucky’s Rebounding & Auburn’s Three-Point Shooting

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2013

The 2013-14 season has two weekends under its belt and we have a small sample size of SEC basketball to consider. Still, we’ve identified a couple of trends that have emerged in the young season, and what they could mean going forward.

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (photo courtesy vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (Credit: vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky’s rebounding, Alex Poythress included. The Wildcats have flashed elite rebounding potential thus far. Kentucky has three rotation players with total rebounding percentages greater than 20 percent: Julius Randle (24.3%), Alex Poythress (22.6%), and Willie Cauley-Stein (20.7%). As a team they have outrebounded their four opponents by a combined total of 80 boards (199 to 119). This includes beating Michigan State on the boards by 12, and it’s not easy to do that to Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Poythress’ rebounding is especially worth keeping an eye on because he’s made marked improvement over last season’s rate (13.2%). It was a safe assumption that Randle and Cauley-Stein would be elite rebounders, and it’s only been four games, but adding Poythress to this category creates an even bigger advantage for the Wildcats since all three can feasibly play in the same lineup. Kentucky will likely have times where it struggles to execute its offense given the team’s relative inexperience, as in the first half against the Spartans. But their ability to limit second chances for their opponent and create some for themselves will help Kentucky weather these rough patches and avoid big deficits.

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SEC M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on October 31st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. James Young was the star of Kentucky’s Blue/White scrimmage. The 6’6” freshman wing scored 25 points, including three out of five from beyond the arc. Young with his length, athleticism, and ability to shoot is a type of player John Calipari hasn’t really had since taking over at Kentucky. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones had plenty of length and athleticism, but neither was a reliable outside shooter. If Young’s exhibition play is any indication of what he will be, then Kentucky will truly be able to hurt teams in a variety of ways given the low-post options they have. Another interesting tidbit is that Alex Poythress took only five shots. Last week we discussed Poythress’ importance to this Kentucky team, and the need for him to be more aggressive. It’s only one scrimmage, but this isn’t a good start for Poythress in that regard.
  2. Marshall Henderson‘s suspension is no longer indefinite. Ole Miss announced on Tuesday that the reigning SEC scoring champ will miss three games this upcoming season. Athletic director Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss administration got creative: Henderson will miss the season opener against Troy, but the balance of his suspension will be carried out in the Rebels’ first two SEC games against Auburn and Mississippi State. Henderson’s “flair for the dramatic” (to put it lightly) first got widespread attention after his interactions with the Auburn crowd, but the January 9 game he will miss is in Oxford. The January 11 Mississippi State game is in Starkville, and I imagine Bulldog fans will be upset they won’t see Henderson on the court (for a number of reasons). Ole Miss did a good job making this suspension look meatier than a brief absence against lesser competition while not sacrificing their season.
  3. Auburn cruised in its Tuesday exhibition game against Victory University winning 109-67. Chris Denson led the team with 21 points and asserted himself early by going 5-6 in the first half. This is a positive sign for Auburn because Denson will be counted on to replace Frankie Sullivan’s scoring. Tony Barbee gave point guard minutes to freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen and junior college transfer Malcolm Canada, and liked what he saw. ““Those two together, they play well off of each other,” Barbee said. “They both bring something different to the floor. You look at their assist-to-turnover numbers, that’s unbelievable. We will take that every night if we can get it.” Shamsid-Deen hit three three-pointers as well, and should be an intriguing young player for a program that needs excitement. Christian talked about him in his impact freshman piece, and I (foolishly) failed to discuss him in my piece on SEC freshman poised to see big minutes at point guard this season.
  4. Billy Donovan secured another blue chip recruit on Wednesday, as five-star 2014 forward Devin Robinson committed to Florida. Robinson is a big signing for Donovan because he will need to replenish his frontcourt after this season. Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather are all seniors. Despite this loss of talent the Gators should still be in good shape in 2014-15, at least in terms of potential. Robinson’s offensive game is apparently more perimeter-oriented, but at 6’8” it’s likely he can defend post players. Five-star 2013 forward Chris Walker will be around, if he doesn’t leave for the NBA after becoming eligible this December. Since this is such a strong draft class it’s likely Walker stays. Transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris will also be around, and we pointed out, Finney-Smith could be a breakout rebounding star.
  5. South Carolina plays USC Aiken this Sunday in an exhibition game, and Frank Martin wants his team to learn from their in-state opponents. “I love being around people that love the game of basketball, and [USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander] and his staff love the game and have done an incredible job here,” Martin said before the Pacers’ Tip-Off Banquet, where he was the guest speaker. “They’ve created a culture of winning here at Aiken, which is something we’re trying to build at Carolina.” Martin has spent a lot of time around Alexander and the Aiken program, and it’s neat he’s made these efforts to enter the state’s basketball culture. Exhibition games are ho-hum experiences for many fans. But it’s nice that Division II schools like USC Aiken and their players get a chance to play in the in-state Division I arenas.
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SEC M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 13th, 2013

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  1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been named the SEC Player of the Year. Coaches bucked the trend of only selecting candidates from the conference’s top teams, instead choosing to recognize how truly valuable the Georgia guard is to his team. Caldwell-Pope averaged 18 points per game (almost 10 more than the next closest Bulldog), and even led Georgia in rebounds despite standing at only 6’5″. The sophomore from Greenville, Georgia, appeared to be leading a bottom-conference team through the opening months of the season, but Mark Fox’s team turned it around in league play, finishing with a .500 record. Barring a miraculous run in the SEC Tournament, Georgia fans’ attention will turn to hoping their star resists the draw of the NBA and returns for another season.
  2. Billy Donovan has been named SEC Coach of the Year. He led Florida to its third outright SEC title in a season where his senior-led Gators have clearly been the class of the conference. His team enters postseason play on a bit of a sour note, having blown another late lead over the weekend to Kentucky. Donovan had developed a reputation of not putting great defensive teams on the floor, but that assertion should be put to rest after this season. Florida is the nation’s second most efficient defensive team, as only Louisville ranks ahead of the Gators in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive rankings.
  3. Despite not seeing the court for a month now, Nerlens Noel took home a lot of hardware. Kentucky’s freshman center was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the SEC Freshman of the Year, and earned a spot on the all-SEC first team. He is the Wildcats’ only representative out of the 16 players named SEC first or second team this season. Noel might have been one of the last members of Big Blue Nation to learn of his accomplishments, however, as he spent Tuesday having his torn ACL operated on by the notorious Dr. James Andrews.
  4. One SEC bubble team may not have its full arsenal this week in Nashville. Ole Miss starting big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner have been playing in pain all season, and backup Anthony Perez has missed the last three games with a knee injury. “We really don’t have a (full) front line, so it makes it difficult to practice,” assistant coach Bill Armstrong said. “We’ll just continue to stay the course and prepare the way that we’ve prepared over the last month or so. And just get ready mentally, more than anything else, for Friday.” A likely match-up with Missouri, an SEC team with the personnel to attack a weakened front line, looms on Friday.
  5. Is the end near for Tony Barbee at Auburn? The Tigers underachieved this season, riding a nine-game losing streak to a last place SEC finish. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, however, has been quiet on the issue. “We haven’t had conversations about that,” Barbee said. “(We talk) about where the team is right now, about how we’re going to play against Texas A&M.” In addition to the Tigers’ poor performance on the court, there seems to be some dissent within the ranks as well. Junior guard Chris Denson revealed that players haven’t responded well to Barbee’s “hard coaching” style. “People are just not buying into what Coach Barbee is talking about,” Denson said. “I mean, he’s a great coach, and people just aren’t buying into what he’s saying.”
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Resetting The SEC Race: A Look At The Seven “West” Teams

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 9th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC microsite contributor and an editor at Nashville Sports Hub. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

Conference play began for Alabama and Missouri last night, and soon after the rest of the SEC will fall in line. The SEC East has carried the conference banner over the first third of the NCAA basketball season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “West” schools that will be vying for postseason bids when March rolls around. The state of the former division has been muddled by a throng of underwhelming non-conference schedules, but it’s almost a lock that at least one of these teams will surprise their opponents en route to a NCAA Tournament berth. Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M have all gotten out to hot starts in 2012-13. Can they sustain them?

Let’s take a closer look at each program in what was once known as the SEC West:

Texas A&M – The Aggies Are Headed Into Their First Season of SEC Play, But a Weak Non-Conference Schedule May Have Masked Their Flaws.

  • The good: Texas A&M will enter the SEC with a 10-3 record thanks to head coach Billy Kennedy’s deliberately-paced play-calling. This team has used spacing, shooting, and patience to create open looks and bring inferior opponents down to their level. Senior Elston Turner Jr. has benefited the most from the Aggies’ new style of play, leading the team with 15.5 points per game thanks to a stellar performance from behind the arc.Kennedy’s preference is to grind down opponents, and it’s worked for TAMU so far. Only four opponents have cracked the 60-point barrier on the Aggies this season, and much of that success comes from a team defense that is helping to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field. However, it’s a big question mark as to whether or not these trends can continue when the team’s schedule dives into more hostile waters during SEC play.
  • Elston Turner Jr. has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

    Elston Turner Jr. (31) has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

  • The bad: A&M has played a cupcake schedule so far, and its three losses have come with varying degrees of disappointment. Their only win over a team ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 came in a 55-54 squeaker over Washington State, and that has been tempered by losses to Saint Louis, Oklahoma, and Southern.They’ll have to shape up quickly if they want to stay afloat in the SEC. They’ll open with Arkansas before traveling to Kentucky and then hosting Florida in their first three games. These showdowns will give the Aggies a chance to prove themselves, but it could also give this team a big hole to climb out of just two weeks into conference play.
  • Player to watch: Elston Turner Jr. The Washington transfer has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the game, and he’ll carry on a tradition of behind-the-arc dominance that SEC gunners John Jenkins and Rotnei Clarke have left behind in recent years. He’s become a more complete player in his second year at A&M, and he’ll be driven to make his transfer a prudent choice by leading his team to the postseason.
  • Can it last? No. The Aggies have played just two teams from power conferences, beating a mediocre Washington State team and losing by double-digits to a better but still underwhelming Oklahoma squad. They’ve proven that they’d be able to burn through the Sun Belt, but haven’t shown enough through an easy non-conference schedule to prove that they can hack it in their first year of SEC play. Billy Kennedy’s team will have some success in league games, but their current pace looks unsustainable.

Ole Miss – The Rebels Are Scoring and Have the Best Record in the SEC at 11-2, But Who Have They Played?

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SEC Power Rankings: Week Five

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 21st, 2012

Another week of the SEC Power Rankings, and another week of Florida sitting in the top spot.

1. Florida (-): The Gators lost to Arizona on Saturday, but that’s not enough to drop them from the top spot. Saturday’s letdown was the first time this defense allowed more than 1.0 points per possessions (1.08 PPP). Part of the reason Billy Donovan’s defense is so effective is because Florida doesn’t allow easy baskets.

Florida\'s defensive summary for this season.

Florida’s defensive summary for this season (credit: hoop-math.com)

Florida is only giving up 24 percent of opposing shots at the rim (tied for 20th in the nation), forcing opponents to take more difficult attempts. Our Freeze Frame edition from Tuesday shows how quickly the Florida defense is rotating to keep players from penetrating into the lane. And then of course if they make it to the rim, Patric Young is waiting for them with outstretched arms.

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SEC Morning Five: 02.29.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 29th, 2012

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