SEC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

  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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Morning Five: 01.09.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 9th, 2014

morning5

  1. Creighton got some great news on the injury front yesterday when it got back MRIs on Doug McDermott‘s shoulder and Grant Gibbs‘ knee. McDermott is listed as day-to-day with a shoulder sprain and is expected to play on Sunday. Gibbs’ status is a little less clear after he dislocated his kneecap and is expected to miss the next month. While both injuries obviously are tough blows to the Bluejays this is probably the best that their fans could have hoped for after both players were injured in a win on Tuesday night against DePaul when it seemed like both players might miss an extended period of time.
  2. Vanderbilt was not as fortunate albeit for completely different reasons as they will be without Eric McClellan, their leading scorer, for the rest of the season as he will not be in school for the spring semester after violating one of the school’s academic policies. According to the school he is expected to be reinstated this summer so we would expect to see him back in a Commodore uniform next season. McClellan, a sophomore transfer from Tulsa, was averaging 14.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game this season. His departure is a crushing blow for a team that was going to have a tough time staying in the top half of the SEC with a full roster and now is down to just seven scholarship players.
  3. We have talked a lot about conference realignment in this space over the past few years, but we cannot think of a time where it has had such a direct influence on wins and losses as it will with the Southland Conference this year. Yesterday the conference announced that it would be making Stephen F. Austin (the best team in the conference) forfeit one game and Oral Roberts forfeit two games because they are scheduled to play more than four non-Division I opponents this season (the NCAA maximum). The worst part about it? They have to forfeit conference games because two of the schools in their conference–Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word–are transitional Division I programs meaning that even though they play in a conference full of Division I teams they still get counted as a Division II team (their previous Division) until next year.
  4. When Florida dismissed Damontre Harris from their team we assumed it would be the last time we would see the Virginia Tech transfer in Gainesville. It turns out that we were wrong, which happens more often than we would like to admit, as Billy Donovan said yesterday that Harris was re-enrolling at Florida and could work his way back onto the team next season. Given the continuous state of flux that most basketball rosters seem to be in taking another chance on Harris, who averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore at South Carolina in the 2011-12 season, certainly seems like a reasonable risk since it appears that he did not have any legal issues.
  5. Three years ago we created a Big Four State Tournament where we created fictional all-star teams from the best college basketball states in the country. Ryan Fagan of Sporting News took a similar approach with states this year, but took a much broader look at each state by considering the individual teams rather than the most prominent players. The results probably won’t be too surprising to those who have actually followed the season, but it should create some debate particularly since some of the traditional powerhouse states are ranked lower than where they might normally be in this type of ranking.
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SEC M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 8th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Tennessee entered SEC play feeling good about itself after a dominant win over Virginia. Conversely, LSU entered on a low note after a home loss to Rhode Island. The momentum for both teams stayed the same after Tuesday night’s first conference game of the season. The Vols went to Baton Rouge and hammered the Tigers, getting a monster game from Jarnell Stokes (15 points, 15 rebounds) and good production from Jordan McRae (19 points) and Antonio Barton (14 points). For the second straight game, LSU was battered on the glass, getting outrebounded by 12 boards. Unlike Rhode Island, the Vols are a good rebounding team, but Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant are too big and talented to let this happen to that degree. LSU got an ice cold shooting night out of its backcourt as its guards combined to shoot a miserable 6-of-24 from the field. The Tigers won’t get the benefit of doubt from the selection committee in March, so it’s imperative that Johnny Jones’ squad turns things around quickly after two distressing home losses.
  2. Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings is running out of scholarship players after Eric McClellan, the Commodores’ leading scorer, did not make the trip to Tuscaloosa. A school release said the timetable for McClellan’s return is unknown. Nonetheless, the Commodores fought back from an 18-point deficit to get within three before Alabama pulled away with the win Tuesday night. Rod Odom (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Damian Jones (16 points, five rebounds) keyed the comeback in part by continually beating the Tide on the glass after it appeared they’d let up with a big lead, but a late Retin Obasohan three put the game out of reach. Stallings should be pleased with the resolve of his undermanned team in making this one competitive. On the other side, however, Anthony Grant should be happy with the play of freshman forward Shannon Hale, who was efficient (15 points on 6-0f-8 shooting) and could be a nice offensive complement to Trevor Releford and Obasohan. 
  3. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm threw the SEC some respect in his latest bracketology update. In addition to Kentucky, Missouri and Florida, Palm has Arkansas in the tournament as an #11 seed and Tennessee in as a #10 seed. The Vols are the less surprising of the two since they brought considerable hype and expectations into the season, and despite a few early losses, they haven’t fallen off a cliff. Arkansas, however, has yet to prove anything, especially away from home. The Razorbacks avoid the “first round” in Palm’s bracket, meaning that they are safely in the field of 68. It’s just one person’s opinion, but perhaps the national perspective on Arkansas is a bit more positive than it feels within league circles. In total Palm views the SEC as a five-bid league right now, which would be an improvement over the last two seasons.
  4. There were repeat winners for both of the most recent SEC weekly awardsJordan McRae picked up his second SEC Player of the Week honor on the strength of a stat-stuffing performance against Virginia (21 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals). The senior is averaging the most assists per game of his career, and it couldn’t come at a better time with the point guards issues the Vols have had. Bobby Portis got the nod as SEC Freshman of the Week after a double-double performance against UT-San Antonio. This is the second time this season that Portis has won the award.
  5. Frank Haith’s transfer mill at Missouri keeps on churning as the Tigers appear to have picked up a commitment from Notre Dame transfer and St. Louis native Cameron Biedscheid yesterday (although Biedscheid later claimed that he had not decided yet). The 6’7” sophomore was redshirting in South Bend this year, but he will be eligible to play at the semester break next season. Biedscheid averaged 17.4 minutes per game in 2012-13, and his experience could be valuable for Missouri next year. It’s conceivable that Haith will need to replace his entire starting backcourt — Earnest Ross will graduate and both Jordan Clarkson (likely) and Jabari Brown (less likely) could enter the NBA draft — so sliding Baylor transfer Deuce Bello and, eventually, Biedscheid into open spots on the perimeter could be a big help for next year’s Tigers.
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Tulsa Transfers Jordan Clarkson and Eric McClellan Thriving in the SEC

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 16th, 2013

In an alternate universe, Tulsa got a big win over Oklahoma last Saturday, with Danny Manning making an intrastate statement on the strength of his starting backcourt. The Sooners couldn’t match up with Jordan Clarkson and Eric McClellan, both of whom got to the rim with ease. But Tulsa didn’t beat Oklahoma on Saturday night, and Clarkson and McClellan haven’t suited up for the Golden Hurricane in nearly two years. Instead, Tulsa’s 2011-12 starting backcourt bolted after a coaching change and have emerged as two of the better scorers in the SEC this season.

Tulsa transfers at a glance

  • Jordan Clarkson (Missouri): 6’5″, 193 pounds, 32.4 MPG, 20.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 60.1% TS.
  • Eric McClellan (Vanderbilt): 6’4″,’ 188 pounds, 33.0 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 50.1% TS.
Jordan Clarkson is leading Missouri, and the SEC, in scoring (photo courtesy kmov.com).

Jordan Clarkson is leading Missouri, and the SEC, in scoring (photo courtesy kmov.com).

The link between Clarkson and McClellan is closer than playing at the same school and transferring to the same conference. McClellan was lightly-recruited out of high school, receiving only four scholarship offers and none from a major conference. But it was Clarkson who was the reason Tulsa won the four-team derby for McClellan that also included Northeastern, Fresno State, and Wichita State:

McClellan arrived at Tulsa after following the path of a high school hoops hero: Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson was a household name in Texas; he was named San Antonio High School Player of the Year his senior year and led Wagner High School to a 105-14 record in three seasons as a starter. McClellan said, “I’m like, if this program can get a caliber player like Jordan, I want to go there and learn from him, too. That’s the main reason why I went there.”

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SEC M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida lost a thriller to Connecticut in Storrs on Monday night, but the Gators may have lost a lot more when Scottie Wilbekin turned his ankle with about four minutes remaining. Wilbekin did not return to the game, but the Gators continued to battle down the stretch. Patric Young became the focal point of the offense; Michael Frazier executed a go-ahead layup with under 20 seconds; and Casey Prather played excellent defense on Shabazz Napier. All in all, the Gators did enough in the final moments to win the game, but a tip out off a bad shot led to Napier sinking the Gators with under a second left. This is the second excruciating, short-handed loss on the road for Florida in a game where they played well enough to beat a good team. Still, the season goes on and their chances at a deep run in March remain unaffected. More concerning for Billy Donovan is the health of Wilbekin. With Kasey Hill already dealing with an injured ankle of his own, Donovan may need to pull a rabbit out of his hat at the point guard position. Expect a lot of forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has shown he can be trusted with the ball.
  2. Vanderbilt hung around against Texas last night despite not shooting well at all, but the Commodores weren’t able to capitalize on a rash of missed Texas free throws in the second half. Unfortunately a stumble by Rod Odom came at the worst time, and Vanderbilt wasn’t able to get up a potential game-tying three with under 30 seconds left. The Commodores now have three losses on the season, but they have competed in each of them. They took Butler to overtime and were tied with Providence in the final moments, so Kevin Stallings has to be encouraged by this. Darrin Horn pointed it on the ESPN broadcast: Eric McClellan needs to abandon the three and drive to the basket more often. His combination of speed and size (6’4”) make him an ideal slasher, and the three just hasn’t been his friend this season (16%). Despite going 5-of-14 in this game, he was still able to score 22 points because of 11 made free throws — he can tighten this up and be more efficient if he takes fewer threes and focuses on getting to the rim.
  3. SI.com‘s Seth Davis liked what he saw out of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon during the Battle 4 Atlantis, particularly the way the offense ran through Maymon at times. But he did not like Tennessee’s three-point showing. “‘The Vols were 3-for-21 from three-point range in the loss to UTEP, 2-of-14 against Xavier and 4-of-11 vs. Wake Forest. Martin promised me that ‘we’re a better three-point shooting team than we showed,’ but until we see evidence, the Vols can expect to see a lot of sagging defenses.” Therein lies the problem. If Jordan McRae and Robert Hubbs struggle from three, the Volunteers will be unable to take advantage of the inevitable double teams their big men will face. Maymon has shown he’s a capable passer, but it’s moot if the open shots don’t fall.
  4. The arrow is pointing down for Texas A&M after a rough Feast Week. The Aggies left the comfort of College Station for the first time this season, and immediately dropped games to Missouri State and SMU. While both were close contests, it’s not good to lose multiple games to non-established mid-majors. Billy Kennedy needs at least enough wins to make the NIT to save his job. He had built some momentum with a 6-0 start, but now upcoming non-conference games against Houston, Oklahoma and North Texas look like potential losses. The Aggies could use more out of senior guard Fabyon Harris. He’s shooting well this season (62%) but has only gotten to double figures twice. He should be able to shoulder more of a scoring load for this team.
  5. Casey Prather and Craig Sword were named co-SEC Players of the Week. Prather had 27 against Jacksonville and 19 against Florida State, as the senior has continued his evolution into a go-to scorer. People who predicted he’d score at this rate are the same ones that had Auburn and Missouri battling for the SEC championship before the football season began. Sword, on the other hand, scored 24 against Loyola (Chicago) and 12 against Jackson State. More importantly, he scored the winning points in both games, allowing the Bulldogs to avoid disaster twice. Sword committed only four turnovers in the two games combined, including just one in 35 minutes against Loyola. He’s struggled mightily in this area during his career, so maybe this is a sign he’s becoming better with the ball.
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A Better Outlook for Vanderbilt?

Posted by David Changas on November 22nd, 2013

It was a summer to forget for Kevin Stallings. After finishing a relatively disappointing 2012-13 campaign with a run to the SEC Tournament semifinals, there was reason for some optimism heading into the offseason. Then Kevin Bright left to play professionally in Germany. And Sheldon Jeter transferred. And, in the biggest blow to this season’s prospects, star point guard and team leader Kedren Johnson was suspended from school. Without those three key contributors, many wrote off the Commodores’ chances for anything but a disastrous season. Picked to finish 10th by the SEC media, the prediction was only that high because the four teams predicted to finish behind them – Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn – are in more dire straits. While the losses of Bright and Jeter hurt — both were expected to be major contributors — Johnson’s departure appeared disastrous. The rising junior would have been an all-SEC selection and was the team’s on-court leader and go-to scorer. With his departures, the Commodores returned only 35 PPG from last season and appeared to be a roster full of complementary players.

Kevin Stallings  (AP/Wade Payne)

Kevin Stallings May Have Some Tricks Up His Sleeve This Year (AP/Wade Payne)

Despite all that happened over the summer and a general expectation of a finish near the bottom of the SEC, Stallings remained optimistic about his team’s prospects during the preseason. And while it’s far too early to say that this team will exceed its low expectations, there are signs Stallings wasn’t just engaging in coach-speak when he talked up his squad. Heading into Friday’s game with Providence at the Paradise Jam, the Commodores sit at 2-1 with home victories over Georgia State and Lipscomb, and an overtime loss at Butler on Tuesday – a game in which they fought back from a 14-point second half deficit to force the extra frame. While the team’s defense appears to have fallen off somewhat (ranking 122nd, down from 51st nationally), the offense, according to Ken Pomeroy, is much improved (177th to 65th). The team heads to the Virgin Islands with a chance to build some necessary confidence against quality competition.

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SEC M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 4th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri barely escaped in its exhibition game against Central Missouri over the weekend. Missouri’s big men struggled all night, which prompted Frank Haith to use a four-guard lineup. That lineup led the Tigers’ late rally and avoided an embarrassing loss. Missouri fans should be encouraged, however, because Haith’s best team featured four guards on the court at almost all times. With Jordan Clarkson’s ability to attack the rim and create space, having an extra shooter on the floor will make their offense much more effective. Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown will love the open looks they get when Haith uses a four-out/one-in offense. If Missouri’s inexperienced group of big men cannot prove themselves early, look for Haith to ride his guards for most of the season.
  2. Jeff Goodman’s list of the top 25 breakout players for the upcoming season featured two SEC players. Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida and Eric McClellan of Vanderbilt both made the list at #8 and #21, respectively. Once Finney-Smith returns from his suspension, Billy Donovan will be counting on him to play a big role inside. Finney-Smith is expected to be one of the most versatile players on the Gators and help Patric Young shoulder the rebounding role inside. McClellan might not be the starter for Vanderbilt at point guard right now, but in the article Goodman quotes a Vanderbilt coach who thinks he might be the team’s leading scorer. The key for McClellan will be setting up his teammates, though, because he’s already anticipated to be a solid scorer.
  3. Kentucky crushed Division III Transylvania Friday night, although they were sloppy early. Obviously the large margin of victory makes it hard to criticize the Wildcats, but don’t tell that to John Calipari. Calipari understands the importance of getting his players to match their talent with energy, as it was what made his 2012 National Championship team so special. Last season Kentucky struggled to play with consistent effort every game, so this is a great chance for Calipari avoid that same problem. In 30 to 35 of their games this season, Kentucky will already be so talented that the opponent cannot overcome it. However, Calipari wants to win those other games too, and knows the way to do it is to force his team to play with relentless effort no matter the opponent.
  4. Now that he has true point guard talent back on campus, Calipari is bringing back the dribble-drive offense this season. Last seen at Kentucky with John Wall running the show, Calipari feels as though his guards are skilled enough this season to run the system. Look for Andrew and Aaron Harrison to attack the rim aggressively in the offense, and kick out to the wings when necessary. Those drives will leave James Young with great looks in the corner, with the option to attack the baseline as well. The article also mentions that Calipari has been putting Julius Randle at the free-throw line in this offense. That will serve two equally scary purposes. First, he will draw double teams and result in easy dunks for Willie Cauley-Stein. Second, Randle is vicious attacking off the dribble, so slow defenders will never have a chance.
  5. Ole Miss is trying to find some leadership this season, and it showed Friday night. With a number of key leaders from last season gone, and Marshall Henderson starting the season under suspension, Andy Kennedy needs some players to step up. The key here is that Kennedy wants someone other than Henderson to lead this team. Given the unpredictability of his behavior, this is a smart move. Having a player willing to rescue the team when Henderson is having an off night is even more important. What made Ole Miss an NCAA Tournament team last season was the fact that players other than Henderson were leading the team and making big time shots. Henderson is a fun sideshow, and his energy is contagious during the best times, bu it is not the same when things aren’t going well and Andy Kennedy does not want his team’s play to be solely dictated by Henderson’s heat checks.
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