SEC M5: It’s Finally March Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 2nd, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster had mostly good news for SEC basketball fans in his most recent Bubble Banter post. LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M all emerged from the weekend as bubble winners, with Ole Miss acting as the conference’s only loser (and just slightly, with a forgivable loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge). The theme of the weekend for the Aggies and Bulldogs was to avoid the bad loss, and they both did so in beating Auburn and Missouri, respectively. A loss at home to the northern Tigers would have been especially devastating for a Georgia team which has already absorbed losses to Auburn and South Carolina in Stegeman Coliseum this year. LSU comes out the really big winner with a resume-enhancing win over the Rebels, earning the tiebreaker over Ole Miss in SEC Tournament seeding in the process.
  2. LSU got its big win in large part because Tim Quarterman did something no Tiger has done since Shaq was a slim and trim junior back in 1992: record a triple-double. Johnny Jones’ do-it-all, Swiss Army knife wing has been flirting with the distinction all season, and he finally picked it up on Saturday with 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He also did this while having to guard Ole Miss star Stefan Moody for large portions of the game. Quarterman may be one of the more underappreciated players in the SEC and the league’s most improved player (though Tennesee’s Armani Moore may have something to say about that). Given his all-around skill set and excellent length, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him eventually get a crack at the NBA; but he should stick around for four years to be a great college player that ends up on multiple LSU all-time lists.
  3. This is a bit dated, but Team Speed Kills has an interesting post that argues that what happens to Texas A&M on Selection Sunday will reveal the Selection Committee’s overall opinion on the SEC. The Aggies’ entire resume is based on a good conference run (11-5) that is filled with expected wins and understandable losses — with the one exception a 21-point loss in Tuscaloosa. If Texas A&M finds itself in a First Four game (or the NIT), it’ll be clear the Committee didn’t buy into an improved SEC this season. We’ve maintained all season that the league is in fact better than last year, but the lack of ranked teams has probably dampened that opinion somewhat on a national level. We’ll find out if this is indeed the case in a few weeks.
  4. Kentucky’s abundance of athletic players has led to countless exciting, momentum-swinging moments this season, and Saturday’s win over Arkansas was no exception with a first half Trey Lyles alley-oop and Willie Cauley-Stein block on an Alandise Harris dunk attempt steering the momentum. It was a powerful Karl-Anthony Towns dunk last Wednesday against Mississippi State that punctuated the Wildcats’ second half run that put the game out of reach. There’s no way to measure how valuable these moments actually are, but you have to wonder the psychological effect they have on the Wildcats’ withering opponents. Kentucky’s elite defense makes the team frustrating enough to play against, but those jarring plays, especially at Rupp Arena, have to add to the difficulty of playing the nation’s top-ranked team.
  5. The third time was the charm for Florida head coach Billy Donovan as he picked up his 500th win against Tennessee on Saturday. In a practical sense, it might not be a bad thing that the Gators waited until coming home from consecutive road losses to record the historic win since they are already out of the NCAA Tournament picture. Still, I’m sure Donovan would have preferred to pick up his 500th victory as soon as possible. The question now becomes how high of a win total is realistic for him, since he’s the second-youngest coach (at 49 years old) to reach the milestone in college basketball history (only Bob Knight was younger). Perhaps Florida’s struggles this year will help keep his competitive flame burning; the big question, however, is whether Donovan will again feel the pull to the NBA, and start looking for options at the next level.
Share this story

Morning Five: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 2nd, 2015

morning5

  1. March is finally here. For those of you who have been slacking now is a very good time to cram in as much basketball before Selection Sunday. If the next two weeks seem overwhelming, we have an easy-to-use spreadsheet that lays everything out for you. Even if your team is in a conference that is not playing their conference tournament this week, it is worth keeping an eye on the games particularly later in the week because some of those could make a big difference in the bubble if a team that was expected to get an automatic bid is knocked off and then becomes a bubble team.
  2. The big news from this weekend came from Kansas where Cliff Alexander is being held out of games while the school and the NCAA work through questions regarding Alexander’s eligibility. While Alexander’s performance this year has been underwhelming–particularly in comparison to what some other similarly highly-touted freshman have done in recent years–his absence would be a big loss for Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Simply put, legitimate 7-footers big men with athleticism are extremely rare and despite Alexander’s current limitations he does have the ability to carry his team for brief stretches. Much like Rick Pitino last week, we are hesitant to question Bill Self, but the loss of Alexander would limit Kansas’ ceiling albeit to a much-lesser extent than what Chris Jones’ absence will do for Louisville.
  3. At this point North Carolina should just send the NCAA a drawing of a giant middle finger. The latest news from Dan Kane, who might be the least popular person in Chapel Hill, is that a senior associate athletic director helped a football player gain admission to a graduate school despite having a low GPA, no entrance exam score, and being several months past the application deadline. To make matters worse, the issue was brought up to the school’s provost, but instead of denying the admission he simply referred the official to the dean of the graduate school who admitted him in time after which he played in all but one of the team’s games, but regularly skipped classes while receiving Fs. While this appears to be the most egregious abuse of UNC’s graduate schools and the NCAA’s graduate school transfer waiver exception in this part of UNC’s ever-growing academic scandal, it was not the only case as it appears to have happened almost yearly with Justin Knox being another example, who may have been able to get into the graduate school anyways, but was past the application deadline and got in anyways. This probably won’t affect the NCAA’s decision given how many other things went on at the school, but it just makes the school look even worse and might be an issue that an accrediting body takes seriously.
  4. On Saturday, Billy Donovan won his 500th game with a win at home against Tennessee making him the second youngest to reach the figure (only Bobby Knight did it faster), but this might end up being his most disappointing season during his time in Gainesville. Coming into the season Florida was expected to be a top-10 team and potential Final Four threat. Now they will need to win the SEC Tournament to even make it to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately for the Gators we suspect that a team from Lexington will be showing up for the SEC Tournament making that possibility seem like nothing more than a dream. The Gators did get one other piece of good news on Saturday with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith from a three-game suspension. Finney-Smith, who came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game, had 20 points and 10 rebounds and makes the Gators a threat to make a SEC Tournament run given all their talent, but in the end it probably will not matter.
  5. Dwayne Polee II‘s comeback suffered a setback when the senior forward was noted to have “abnormal” readings on his implanted cardiac monitor necessitating an adjustment in one of his cardiac medications. Polee, who collapsed during a game on December 22, returned to action last weekend, but with this setback we are not sure how much longer he will be out. It isn’t our place to tell Polee to play or not (that decision is up to Polee, his doctors, and his family), but whenever we hear about cases like this we always think of Hank Gathers, who died on March 4, 1990 (Wednesday will be the 25th anniversary). Dick Jerardi wrote an excellent piece on Gathers and his legacy for Philly.com, which only serves to reinforce our concern in situations like this.
Share this story

SEC Week That Was: Volume VIII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 24th, 2015

For the next four weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VIII, including games from February 16-23.  

Team of the Week. At long last, we relent. When a program with the history that Kentucky has checks off its best start ever (27-0), the award practically gives itself. The Wildcats weathered a poor shooting night and game effort from Tennessee last week to still beat the Vols by 18 on the road, and then didn’t let up against Auburn over the weekend. Kentucky ran out to a 30-4 lead and battered the much smaller-Tigers throughout the game right where they were supposed to with a 44-24 rebounding advantage. There are so many things this Kentucky team does well, including the small things that can help stop an upset bid in its tracks. Kentucky belies its youth by taking great care of the ball, as there isn’t a player on the roster turning the ball over more than 1.9 times per game. The Wildcats also have been fairly strong at the free throw line this season, an area which had been a problem for some of Coach Cal’s elite teams. All four guards plus Karl-Anthony Towns are shooting better than 77.8 percent from the line. In a late-game situation where a foul is coming, a lineup of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Towns provides cover from a lot of angles. Ole Miss and Arkansas also deserve mention here for picking up wins at the Hump against a confident Mississippi State team.

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Player of the Week. We will mimic the conference’s choice this week and give it to Stefan Moody, who starred in the Rebels’ close wins over Mississippi State (29 points, six rebounds, four steals) and Tennessee (22 points, four rebounds, six steals). The high-octane JuCo transfer comparison to Marshall Henderson is cliched but unavoidable, and this week was no different as Moody put up 23 three-point attempts over both games. He connected on 14 of them, and should continue to have the green light with that kind of success rate. The lift Moody gets on his jumper is incredible, and allows him to be lethal even when the defense knows what is coming. For example, in the second half against Mississippi State, Moody hit threes on three straight possessions, rolling off the same off-ball screen action each time. Henderson and Moody are both exceptional long-range shooting talents, but it’s probably no coincidence that both exploded with the underrated Jarvis Summers running the show next to them. Honorable mention goes to Moody’s intrastate rival Craig Sword (34 points), who seems to be rounding into form as a diverse scoring threat after being sidelined with a back injury early in the year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 20th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. We’re deep enough into the season that the debate over whether a loss would actually help Kentucky is starting to percolate. A Sea of Blue’s Keith Garrett makes the case that a loss wouldn’t do any good for the Wildcats, and I tend to agree. The sting of defeat can’t be replicated, but there must have been emotion in the Kentucky after nearly losing to Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU. If ever there was a non-conference run to trigger a feeling of invincibility, it was what Kentucky did this year in thrashing Kansas and UCLA, and controlling games against North Carolina and (for the most part) Louisville. But the Kentucky players saw Jarvis Summers nearly put a game-winner through the net, and that must have made them realize their mortality. But they won that game, and setting a precedent and mindset of winning despite poor play seems as important as any lesson that could be taken from a loss.
  2. It’ll take a perfect game to beat Kentucky, and Tennessee experienced that firsthand on Tuesday. The Vols canceled out the rebounding battle and respectably held the Wildcats to 41.7 percent shooting from the field. But that wasn’t enough, and a big reason Tennessee still lost by 18 points was they went just two-for-17 from deep. Not to oversimplify it, but if a team does take down the Wildcats, the three-point line will probably be a big reason why. Ole Miss nearly pulled the upset in Rupp Arena in large part because the Rebels hit nine triples. But reaching this mark will be easier said than done. Some people don’t believe three-point defense is real, but the Wildcats’ length and general defensive prowess has to have something to do with the paltry 26.2 percent opponents have shot against them from distance this season.
  3. Oof, Georgia – what happened? The Bulldogs had avoided the bad loss all season until last week, when home losses to Auburn and South Carolina dropped their RPI by 20 spots in just five days. They are going through an offensive slump at the worst time, shooting below 40 percent in both losses. Georgia’s injury troubles could be partly to blame. J.J. Frazier missed the South Carolina game and Juwan Parker hasn’t played since January 20. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, who both need to essentially play the entire game until either Frazier or Parker returns. Regardless, Georgia is in desperate need of a win in Tuscaloosa this weekend.
  4. Florida is not having a good season. There’s no way to around it. But if you take a step back, strip away expectations and consider the Gators that took the floor Wednesday night against Vanderbilt for what they were – a young team playing out the string – you have to come away impressed. With Michael Frazier out with an injury and Dorian Finney-Smith suspended, Devin Robinson (12 points, 10 in the second half) led Florida to a win over the Commodores. Chris Chiozza (eight points, six rebounds) and Chris Walker (five blocks) were also instrumental. These are young players stepping up, and those experiences probably mean next year won’t be as disappointing.
  5. Texas A&M’s key win against LSU came in large part because the Aggies doubled up the Tigers on the offensive glass (14 to seven). Second-chance points are important for any team, but especially so for one like the Aggies that plays slow and isn’t the most efficient on the offensive end. Danuel House (20 points against LSU) has emerged as a scoring star, but as defenses key in on him it’s nice that Kourtney Roberson (16 points, five offensive rebounds) is playing his best this late in the season. The Aggies are inching closer to their first NCAA Tournament bid under Billy Kennedy, and the win over LSU was pivotal.
Share this story

Morning Five: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 20th, 2015

morning5

  1. It was not that long ago that we heard talk about Division 4 (basically all the schools from the biggest conferences) revolutionizing college sports by using their influence (read: money) to change the competitive landscape. Now it looks like they might be doing that, but in the process could be shooting themselves in the foot (or worse). We had already heard talk about some major conference considering the idea of making freshman ineligible to play sports, which would theoretically give them the chance to adjust to college life. It appears that the Big Ten may have taken the “lead” on this issue by proposing the initiation of discussions amongst its members to make freshmen ineligible to play football or men’s basketball. Outside of this making the conference less competitive (think many “one-and-dones” would come there?) it seems like an attempt to keep the revenue-producing athletes around the school for a longer period of time even if they are not necessarily playing any longer. The conference is apparently trying to use the low graduation rates as a justification for singling out the two sports, but making certain individuals ineligible just based on the sport they play (actually the gender they are too since this would not affect women’s basketball) seems suspect at best.
  2. Thon Maker‘s announcement that he would be reclassifying to the class of 2015 is not exactly a surprise, but it will shake up the recruiting world for the next few months. Maker was considered by many to be the top prospect in the class of 2016 with his combination of size and skill and will probably end up in the top 5 to 10 for the class of 2015 when he is put into this year’s class rankings. While there is an air of mystery around Maker who is native of Sudan, but grew up in Australia and currently plays high school basketball in Ontario, Canada, his list of schools is probably going to remain the same–Kentucky and Kansas being the favorites with Missouri, Duke, Louisville, and Maryland not far behind–but there remains the possibility that he could take the Emmanuel Mudiay route taking a shoe contract and playing overseas or even staying at his current location for a postgraduate year and directly enter the NBA Draft in 2016.
  3. It appears that Chris Jones managed to make up for whatever led to his indefinite suspension as the Louisville guard was reinstated after missing just one game. According to the school, Jones “has done what he needed to do” to have the indefinite suspension rescinded. More cynical individuals (like us) would point to the team’s ugly loss at Syracuse on Wednesday as having at least a small impact on Rick Pitino’s decision to bring Jones back on the team. With Jones returning, the Cardinals will have four players who can score (none regularly against a zone), which will help them when one of those players has an off-night (like Wayne Blackshear who came pretty close to pulling a 19-trillion if he hadn’t fouled out) assuming Jones can stay out of trouble.
  4. #TeamBadLuck suffered another setback on Wednesday when they announced that Dorian Finney-Smith had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Finney-Smith, who was averaging 12.9 points (2nd on the team) and 5.8 rebounds (leading the team) prior to his suspeneion. We have not heard what led to the suspension, but this is Finney-Smith’s second suspension while at Florida. Even though the Gators reversed their season-long trend by winning a close game on Wednesday night things are not looking good for their postseason hopes at this point.
  5. With Kentucky closing in on an undefeated regular season, there is one person who played a significant role in making Kentucky the team it is today, but is largely forgotten: Billy Gillispie. Fox Sports has an oral history of the Billy Gillispie era in Lexington. As you would expect from an oral history (particularly with a person as unique as Gillispie) it has plenty of interesting anecdotes, but it also serves as a look at the bridge between the Tubby Smith era at Kentucky, which Big Blue Nation views much more favorably now, and the John Calipari era, which Big Blue Nation was much more nervous about at the time than they are willing to admit now.
Share this story

The SEC Week That Was: Volume VII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 17th, 2015

For the next five weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VII, including games from February 9-15. 

Team of the Week. Kentucky tied a program record for the best start in school history (25-0) by overcoming a 21-2 second half run to sneak by LSU, and followed that up against South Carolina by running out to a 43-18 halftime lead before coasting home. So that’s why Arkansas is the team of the week. Like we say in this space in each rendition, there’s no fun in simply handing the award to the ultra-deserving Wildcats every week. That means the Razorbacks get the nod because Mike Anderson’s team has moved into rare air with a winning SEC road record. After hanging 101 points on Auburn and gutting out a one-point victory at Ole Miss last week, the Hawgs moved to 4-2 on the road in SEC play. Arkansas is finally playing well enough away from home to support its typically-impressive home record (15-1), and it’s showing up as a result in the national polls (#17 Coaches, #18 AP). The win in Oxford may have been Anderson’s best road victory since returning home, and the Razorbacks are doing the things that his best teams do: forcing turnovers and sharing the ball. Since league play began, Arkansas leads the SEC in both assists (179) and forcing turnovers (190), and while Bobby Portis deservedly receives the most praise, Rashad Madden and Jabril Durham have both been excellent facilitators in the team’s up-tempo motion offense.

Bobby Portis and Rashad Madden have had plenty to celebrate this past week (rantsports.com).

Bobby Portis and Rashad Madden have had plenty to celebrate this past week (rantsports.com).

Player of the Week. This one is easy: flight crews. Separate planes carrying Missouri’s Kim Anderson on a recruiting trip and the entire Mississippi State team had to make emergency landings this week near St. Louis after experiencing engine troubles. Thankfully no one was hurt in either incident, but full credit must go to the pilots and crews involved to keep everyone safe. On the hardwood, we’ll stay in Fayetteville and give it to Michael Qualls this week. The junior had an efficient offensive week (34 points on 12-of-20 shooting), grabbed 11 rebounds and hit two critical late jumpers in the win over Ole Miss. After Portis, no other Arkansas player will be more important in terms of Arkansas’ showing in March. Qualls is the Razorbacks’ second option when defenses focus on Portis, and he has the tools to be a big-time defensive difference-maker. Tennessee’s Josh Richardson deserves mention as well for single-handedly carrying the Vols to a road win over rival Vanderbilt (27 points, seven rebounds).

Tournament Chatter. For the third straight week the SEC is holding strong with six teams in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology: Kentucky (#1), Arkansas (#6), Georgia (#8), Ole Miss (#8), LSU (#11) and Texas A&M (#11). While Florida and Tennessee have effectively faded from view, the current three-week consistency from these six teams should help with familiarity down the stretch. It’s still very possible that one or two of these schools will fall out of the picture, but the worst case scenario appears to be four NCAA bids from the SEC, and if nothing else, that is a clear improvement over the last couple of years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: Texas A&M’s Inbounds Plays

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 17th, 2015

A glance at the box score from Texas A&M’s one-point victory over Florida on Saturday night reveals that it was Aggies forward Kourtney Roberson as the player with the most impressive stat line. The big guy certainly put in an impressive showing, finishing with 20 points and six rebounds in leading his team to the key win, but the game’s MVP did not even play a minute. Rather, the clear star of the evening was Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy, who used his whiteboard to draw up a series of highly successful out-of-bounds plays that allowed his team to secure the victory. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will examine several inbounds plays to understand how Texas A&M got its open looks. Kennedy’s play-calling resulted in a number of valuable easy buckets against the Gators, especially in the game’s final five minutes. For a team that needs every win it can get heading toward Selection Sunday, those instructions gave the Aggies just enough offense to get past Florida and move to 8-4 in conference play.

Billy Kennedy has his Aggies 17-7 (8-4) and poised to make an NCAA Tournament bid  (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner).

Billy Kennedy has his Aggies 17-7 (8-4 SEC) and poised to make the NCAA Tournament (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner).

The play shown below from the first half gives us a gauge for how Kennedy has his players lining up on out-of-bounds plays from the baseline. Alex Caruso typically inbounds the ball whenever he is in the game, as the rest of the Aggies line up in a 2-1-1 formation. In this play, Danuel House (#23) moves to set a screen for Roberson at the foul line (#14).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: The Improvement of Karl-Anthony Towns

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 10th, 2015

Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection is a notable storyline in college basketball this season, but the quest for National Championship No. 9 carries a lot more significance to Wildcats fans. Continued development from big man Karl-Anthony Towns might ensure both. Towns’ improved toughness, better passing, and a flurry of developing post moves gives Kentucky better offensive production from the low blocks and further opens up the three-point shot when opposing defenses are forced to collapse on him.

Karl-Anthony Towns production in SEC play.

Karl-Anthony Towns’ production in SEC play.

Towns has played his best basketball of the season in the last three games. His rebounding and shot-blocking have remained consistent, but he is scoring better than at any other stretch this year. Towns’ solid mid-range jumper gives head coach John Calipari the ability to use his big man at the top of the key, and his improved passing is evident in an accompanying increase in assists per game. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we look at the many different ways that Karl-Anthony Towns can hurt opposing teams, and why his sustained improvement on the offensive end of the floor could be key to the Wildcats cutting down the nets in April.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 6th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss has some intriguing potential as SEC play nears the stretch run. The Rebels have proven that they can take care of business on offense and will be difficult to beat if they defend at a reasonable level. On Wednesday Ole Miss beat the red-hot Aggies despite an off night from Jarvis Summers (seven points on 2-of-10 shooting) and an overall sluggish shooting performance (38.7%). The Rebels held Texas A&M to just 0.82 points per possession and they did so primarily through man-to-man defense, which is notable because they have looked most effective this year when switching up zone defenses. Ole Miss could be destined to finish second in this league if it keeps defending the way it did Wednesday night.
  2. Bovada has Kentucky as an even-money favorite (1-to-1) to win the national championship, which is, in short, ridiculous. What’s more ridiculous is that it doesn’t seem that ridiculous. Despite a slew of close calls and sluggish performances, Kentucky has done nothing to shake off the perception that it is far and away the team to beat this year. Las Vegas’ confidence in the Wildcats is also an indirect compliment to the entire conference. Kentucky more than proved its mettle in the non-conference slate by beating Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville, among others. If those wins weren’t already in the books, then their less-than-dominant performances against what is perceived as weak competition would raise some eyebrows. Instead, competitive games against Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas A&M seem to say more about the quality of those teams than raise questions about the legitimacy of Kentucky.
  3. Prior to Kentucky and Georgia’s Super Tuesday showdown, you probably could have gotten great odds that the Wildcats would win the rebounding battle, especially with the Bulldogs’ bruising forward Marcus Thornton out of the lineup. But those odds would have been pantsed, as Georgia inexplicably outrebounded the Wildcats by 12. The main reason for that was freshman Yante Maten, who had far and away the best game of his young career, contributing 13 points to go along with nine rebounds. It was a tremendous stat line when you consider the front line he was battling, that he was hit by a car just a few weeks ago, and that he was filling Thornton’s rather huge void. As of Thursday night, Thornton had still not been cleared to play against Tennessee this weekend. If he can’t go, Mark Fox will look for Maten to build on his breakout performance against the Wildcats. If the rookie’s performance becomes a trend, Georgia could become a #9 to #11 seed that no team wants to face in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. There have been a number of reasons why Florida has struggled to live up to what appears to have been unrealistic expectations. One reason is certainly Kasey Hill’s inability to fill the large shoes left by Scottie Wilbekin. Let’s not be too harsh, though: Wilbekin was one of the most valuable players to any team in the country last year — a savvy veteran point guard who made winning plays seemingly every game. Expecting a sophomore to jump right in and replace his production is dumb. But Hill has had a rough year and has not shown improvement in the part of his game that needed the most work: shooting (38.5% on two-point shots; 49.5% last year). He’s still young and his quick first step is something that can’t be taught, but Florida’s offensive prowess is in large part tied to Hill’s development.
  5. Craig Sword is coming on strong for Mississippi State, perhaps setting himself up for a monster senior season. Up until a few weeks ago it looked like his junior campaign would be disappointing when it became clear that a preseason back injury was still ailing. But since the middle of January his minutes have steadily increased and he has gotten back to being the dynamic scorer many thought he could be. In the Bulldogs’ last two road games against Ole Miss and Tennessee – both quality opponents – Sword has averaged 26.5 points per game and shot 17-of-21 from the field. Mississippi State has developed a lot of positive momentum around its program in the last few weeks, and Sword is a big part of that upward trend.
Share this story

The SEC Week That Was: Volume V

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 3rd, 2015

For the next seven weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume V, including games from January 26 to February 2.

Team of the Week. I want to preface this by saying that Kentucky could – and probably should – be the team of the week every week. You don’t get to 21-0 without that being the case. But the Wildcats get plenty of praise from all corners of the web, so why not challenge ourselves with this week’s selection? The nod goes to Florida, the same team that Billy Donovan declared as being dead in terms of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week ago. The Gators’ long-term resurrection is still something of a pipe dream, but if the miracle occurs, last week is where it all will have started. Florida enjoyed a perfect week in knocking off solid opponents Alabama (KenPom #44) and Arkansas (#43) in ugly fashion. These were probably the Gators’ two best wins of the season, which with an overall record of 12-9 overall underscores how much work they still have to do. From a bid perspective, Florida is 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and 4-3 against the next 50; contrast this with fellow bubble team Kansas State  — which is 12-10 overall but 4-6 against the RPI top 50 — and you can see that Florida’s resume may not have the requisite depth to compete for a bid. Despite the pair of victories, last week highlighted some of the Gators’ inconsistencies that have plagued them all year long. After a 27-point outburst against Ole Miss, Michael Frazier scored just 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Similarly, Chris Walker followed up one of the best games of his career against the Tide (12 points and four rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting) with a dud against the Hogs (one point, two rebounds). Still, Florida is trending in the right direction as it approaches the ultimate chance for a quality win: Saturday in Gainesville against Kentucky.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Player of the Week. Danuel House was the SEC’s pick as Player of the Week, but we’ll give it to his slightly less-heralded junior teammate, Alex Caruso, as Texas A&M ran its winning streak to seven games with victories over Auburn and Vanderbilt. In both games Caruso was his usual stat-stuffing self, racking up averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. I firmly believe that the transitions of transfers House and Jalen Jones to their new team has gone so smoothly in large part because of Caruso’s play-making. He’s a bona fide SEC star who does not command the ball, and that is extremely valuable for a team looking to make the leap from also-ran to the NCAA Tournament. We may also be witnessing the rise of one of the great players in recent Texas A&M basketball history. Since 2009-10, no player in the conference has held as high of a career assist percentage (33.9%) or steal percentage (4.4%) as Caruso. LSU’s Jordan Mickey deserves mention in this space solely for his ridiculous 25-point, 20-rebound game in the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story