What Jordan Mickey’s Early Exit Means For LSU

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 2nd, 2015

Jordan Mickey joined former teammate Jarell Martin in declaring for the NBA draft this week, forgoing two years of eligibility and depriving the college basketball world of an LSU team that could have legitimately given next year’s Kentucky team a run for its money in terms of talent. Here is a rundown of what his departure means for the Tigers.

Jordan Mickey will enter the NBA draft after two highly productive seasons at LSU (lsusports.net).

Jordan Mickey will enter the NBA draft after two highly productive seasons at LSU. (lsusports.net)

  • Surprise Factor: Low. It took him a little longer than his teammate Martin to announce his decision, but this was expected.
  • Legacy: Mickey certainly got his money’s worth during his two years in Baton Rouge. He racked up all-SEC honors both years (1st and 2nd teams) and landed on the all-defensive team twice. He also leaves LSU with the second-most blocked shots in program history (218), looking up only to Shaquille O’Neal. He’s meant a lot for Johnny Jones as well, who used his North Texas/Dallas connection to get the top-50 prospect to LSU. Mickey had become a legitimate NBA prospect after his freshman year, and while that’s not shocking for a guy with his pedigree, recruits ranked where he was can be somewhat hit and miss. Jones should use Mickey’s clear development as a selling point when sitting in future prospects’ living rooms.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

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And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s evening games. Enjoy the Madness.

#1 Villanova vs. #16 Lafayette — East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) — 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan / City of Basketball Love)

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan/City of Basketball Love)

After leading Lafayette back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, Fran O’Hanlon now gets the pleasure of facing his alma mater in the Round of 64. Problem is, there won’t be anything pleasurable about it. Villanova enters the Dance hotter than arguably any team outside of Kentucky, ripping off 15-straight wins to end season and drubbing opponents by nearly 17-points per game in that span. The Big East champs boast the fourth-most offense efficient in college basketball, while their defense has allowed over one point per possession just five times since January 19. The Leopards might actually wind up exceeding that mark – their offense is really good, and no other team in the tournament shoots as well from long distance (41.4% 3PT) – but their Patriot League-worst defense simply won’t be able to stop the Wildcats on the other end. Darrun Hilliard (37.8% 3PT), Josh Hart (46.8% 3PT) and the rest of Villanova’s motion attack should have a field-day from behind the arc against O’Hanlon’s zone, and Lafayette doesn’t really have the athletes to stop their dribble-penetration. Leopards’ forward Seth Hinrichs (13.1, 5.8) is a legitimate stretch-four and could have his moments on the offensive end, but barring some strange Pennsylvania voodoo, expect Jay Wright’s bunch to light up the scoreboard and win going away.

The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova

#8 Cincinnati vs. #9 Purdue – Midwest Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Just like in the Butler/Texas match-up, the lower seed is the favorite in this one. Purdue, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, is a two-point favorite in this match-up of contrasting styles. The Boilermakers are led into action by junior center A.J. Hammons and Big Ten defensive player of the year, junior Raphael Davis. Purdue’s biggest advantage on any given night is its size. Matt Painter has two seven-footers at his disposal in Hammons and freshman big man Isaac Haas. While Purdue averages a respectable 70 points per game, Cincinnati struggles in that category as it puts up just 62.4 a game. The Bearcats do get strong production from junior forward Octavius Ellis, who leads the team in both scoring at 10 points per game and rebounding at 7.3 boards per game. Expect this game to be a low-scoring grinder that will likely be close until the final buzzer. That being said, Cincinnati’s offensive issues will be too much to overcome and Purdue will move onto the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Purdue

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Why Each SEC Team Will Win in the Round of 64

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 17th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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SEC M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 11th, 2015

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  1. It’s awards season and that usually means there’s a snub to gripe about. But that’s hard to do with the SEC’s All-Conference teams since it seems half the league gets mentioned somewhere. Personally, I would have given the POY to Willie Cauley-Stein as a nod to his contributions outside the box score and general excellence of Kentucky. But you can’t argue with the conference’s choice of Bobby Portis, who was a truly irreplaceable part on a good Arkansas team. What’s most impressive is the consistency and efficiency Portis played with on offense all season. He reached double figure scoring in each SEC game (and all but one game overall) and notched the best effective field goal percentage (57.7%) in the league despite being the focal point of Mike Anderson’s offense.
  2. Mark Fox is quietly building an impressive streak with Georgia’s second-straight top three regular season finish. Don’t look now, but if the Bulldogs get a bid (which seems likely), the league may have found a year-in, year-out tournament contender. It might not sound like much, but there hasn’t been a consistent program like that outside of Kentucky and Florida in some time. The top three finish also gives the Bulldogs a double-bye and lets Kenny Gaines and Juwan Parker get some extra rest. Gaines in particular drew praise from Kevin Stallings and Anthony Grant, who both called him an elite defender, and Fox clearly needs him on the court to push Georgia as far as it can go. Parker missed 12 of the last 14 games, and could probably also use the extra rest after logging 15 minutes against Auburn on Saturday.
  3. Texas A&M is also fighting the injury bug, and could be in a much tighter spot. Danuel House injured his foot against Florida and didn’t play in the Aggies’ home loss to Alabama. According to Billy Kennedy, it’ll be a “stretch” for him to play in Nashville. It goes without saying that this puts the Aggies at a severe disadvantage without their leading scorer and guy that hit 37 percent of Texas A&M’s made three pointers this season. The Aggies should be able to survive their opener against either Auburn or Mississippi State, but will be hard-pressed to beat LSU for a third time without House stretching the Tigers’ quality defense.
  4.  The pre-SEC Tournament theme is unquestionably injuries to star players, with Jordan Mickey also dinged up with a shoulder injury. Johnny Jones said that Mickey should be able to go, and the Tigers don’t want to push their luck without him despite their win in Fayetteville. They also aren’t nearly safe “rest” him for the NCAA Tournament and risk taking a loss in their opener. If he can’t go, Jarell Martin has certainly done his part when his frontcourt running mate has been out this season. Against McNeese State in November he had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Saturday at Arkansas he stepped up with 27 points and eight rebounds.
  5. Another team that could use a win in Nashville is Ole Miss. To be sure, the Rebels are not in as dire a spot as Texas A&M, but are in somewhat of a no-win situation in their opener. They can gain nothing of substance with a win over South Carolina or Missouri, and a loss to either, especially the Tigers, could do enough damage to push them off the bubble. A match-up with the Gamecocks could hold a sneaky degree of intrigue. Despite its faults, Frank Martin still brings a great defense to Nashville (27th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency), and USC’s ability to disrupt and pressure the perimeter could be a fun match with the Rebels backcourt trio of Stefan Moody, Jarvis Summers and Snoop White. You also probably can’t take much from the Rebels’ 65-49 win in the teams’ one game this season since it happened all the way back on January 10. All that being said, the Gamecocks still need to get by Missouri to make the matchup happen.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2015

For the next two weeks, or however long it takes, 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 X, including games from March 2 to March 8.

Player of the Week. Kentucky has no shortage of star power, but Karl-Anthony Towns is the most complete player on the roster and gets the nod as the final regular season Player of the Week. The 19 points he scored against Georgia included two layups in the final minutes while the Wildcats were squashing the Bulldogs’ upset bid. Against Florida he controlled the paint as he has all season with six blocks. Towns has been an impact player on both ends of the court, but might be John Calipari’s most reliable offensive threat heading into postseason play. Andrew Harrison has shown a willingness to attack the paint lately, Devin Booker has the ability get hot and Aaron Harrison has a postseason track record, but it’s Towns that has shown an ability to constantly find high percentage looks. He’s been lethal finishing at the rim (74.7 percent), effective as a mid-range shooter (51.3 percent) and more than solid at the free throw line (79.0 percent). There are some compelling cases for SEC Freshman of the Year, including Riley LaChance and Booker, but Towns would get my vote because of the well-rounded role he’s played on the country’s top-ranked team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week. The spotlight is yours, Kentucky. The Wildcats finished off their perfect regular season in beating Georgia and Florida, and it wasn’t without some drama in Athens. The Bulldogs held a 62-56 lead and the ball with under five minutes to go, and as Jay Bilas pointed out at the time, Kentucky looked to be in real danger. But Willie Cauley-Stein forced turnover that began a transition opportunity that ended in an Aaron Harrison and-one. Cauley-Stein rebounded the miss off the free throw and dunked it to complete a major swing in momentum. Just like that, Kentucky didn’t look back and didn’t allow the Bulldogs many good looks the rest of the way. Towns starred offensively in both games, and his back-to-the-basket game is peaking at the right time. Pairing that with Andrew Harrison’s recent aggressive play should make for a lot of easy opportunities in both upcoming tournaments. History has been increasingly nipping at the Wildcats heels, but they don’t seem to be feeling any pressure. Just nine more wins separate Kentucky from joining the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers as the only teams to finish a season unbeaten.

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SEC M5: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2015

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  1. Where else could we start this M5 besides the Bluegrass State, now that Kentucky has become the first major conference team to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana in 1976? Now that John Calipari’s team has completed the task – something that was a mere formality after the Wildcats’ comeback win at Georgia on Tuesday – there is much reflection on what got them here. As Kentucky.com‘s John Clay opined the biggest aspect of the Wildcats’ run was the lack of selfishness among players. While that may be a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy – would it be discussed if the Wildcats had a blemish or two on their record? – there is no question that what Calipari did to get buy-in from the bevy of McDonald’s all-Americans that comprise his roster is impressive. Now, the obvious question is whether his team can finish the job and cut down the nets on April 6. If it can’t, that won’t make what it has accomplished thus far meaningless, but winning it all is necessary to make this run historical.
  2. As evidence of the selflessness Kentucky displayed, that junior center Willie Cauley-Stein could be named a finalist for the Wooden Award is proof positive that statistics do not tell the story with this team. Cauley-Stein averages a mere 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while playing 25 minutes per contest, numbers that ordinarily would disqualify him from consideration for such a player-of-the-year award. But it’s nice to see someone who is such an important part of a great team get recognized, in a sport that often pays too much attention to stats. And it says a lot about Cauley-Stein that a player who ranks 44th in the SEC in scoring and eighth in rebounding could be included on this list, and that no one could reasonably argue against his inclusion.
  3. Going into Saturday’s action, there was a lot to be decided as far as the SEC Tournament bracket was concerned, and there were a few surprises that changed things around. The bracket is now set, and Georgia and LSU received the final two double-byes, to go along with those held by Kentucky and Arkansas. The Tigers’ stunning win at Arkansas, coupled with Ole Miss’s and Texas A&M’s home losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively, will force those bubble teams to play Thursday. For the Aggies, the loss is doubly painful. A win not only would have gotten them the 3-seed and the double-bye, with the loss, they play Thursday, and are stuck on Kentucky’s side of the bracket.
  4. Speaking of the Tigers, Aggies, and Rebels, they all now find themselves squarely on the bubble, according to, among others, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan. In addition to Saturday’s loss to Alabama, the Aggies also lost at Florida last week. To say they could have ill-afforded either, given their position, is accurate. LSU has to feel much better about its position after the Arkansas game, as a win like that is a resume booster that will pay huge dividends with the selection committee. For Ole Miss, a win against a resurgent Vanderbilt team might have sealed the deal, but the Rebels will now have to get something done in Nashville to feel good about where they stand. At the end of the day, there do not appear to be enough wins available at the SEC Tournament to think that all three of these clubs will make the Big Dance, but there is little doubt that Texas A&M now has the most work to do, and likely will get a chance to beat LSU for a third time on Friday, in what could end up being a de facto play-in game.
  5. LSU’s win at Arkansas, under any circumstance, would have been impressive. Given that the Tigers were coming off an inexplicable and embarrassing 15-point home loss to Tennessee on Wednesday, expecting a win certainly would have been foolish. But when you consider that they did it without likely all-conference forward Jordan Mickey, who Johnny Jones decided to rest after he injured his shoulder late in the Tennessee game, you likely are even more dumbfounded. In hindsight, Jones’s decision seems like a stroke of brilliance: give your ailing star rest before the SEC and (hopefully) NCAA Tournament runs, and play a game that the committee will not penalize you for losing. In this case, Jones got the bonus of a surprising win that may just be enough to get his up-and-down team into the Field of 68.
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SEC M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. As we predicted, none of Kentucky’s freshmen have been in the running for major national awards because their time is so split up. You can see this play out in CBSSports.com’s Freshman of the Year watch, where Karl-Anthony Towns was just now the first Kentucky player to crack the top five with the regular season winding down. It certainly makes sense, even if his numbers are bottled up by only getting 20.2 minutes per game, Towns has been the driving force behind Kentucky’s offense at times this season. He scored seven of the Wildcats last ten points in closing out their win over Georgia, overpowering the Bulldogs at the rim for two late layups. Judging by outward appearances, the lack of individual awards-attention hasn’t been an issue. Besides, statistics won’t mean a thing when the NBA draft rolls around in June.
  2.  Is there a team out there that can actually finish the job against Kentucky? Rob Dauster wrote about the keys to beating the Wildcats, which he said include avoiding paint domination, forcing long jumpers over the top of the defense and scoring early or late in the shot clock. He thinks six teams have what it takes to knock Kentucky off if certain things go their way: Virginia, Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona, Gonzaga and Villanova. A matchup with any of the six would be a dream for the college basketball fan, but most compelling could be either Wisconsin (rematch of last year’s national semifinal) or Gonzaga (Kyle Wiltjer’s redemption).
  3. Near the end of a Knoxville News Sentinel’s article on the Kevin Stallings controversy is the following line about Donnie Tyndall’s opinion of the 30-second shot clock that will be used in the NIT and CBI: “He said he feels the shorter shot clock will force bad shots and increase the advantage of team’s with elite players.” This is an interesting thought, regardless of what you think of the merits of the shorter shot clock, because it comes from the head coach of a major program in a talent-rich state. Based on his logic, he would seem to benefit more than most. Either he still has the Morehead State/Southern Miss mindset, or John Calipari is that frightening to opposing SEC coaches.
  4. LSU did not make life easy on itself. The Tigers had taken care business the last few weeks, but got outscored by 15 points in the second half en route to a 78-63 loss to Tennessee in Baton Rouge. The Vols sit at #91 in the RPI, making this unequivocally a bad loss on LSU’s resume. Despite overall solid play lately, there are some red flags for the Tigers. Jordan Mickey has averaged just 11 points and five rebounds per game over the last five games. While this is a good line for the majority of players, a thin LSU team needs its star to shine to reach their ceiling. To make things worse, the sophomore got hurt late in the game and could be limited against Arkansas. Josh Gray also continued to struggle against the Vols (11 minutes, three points, one turnover) and it’s asking a lot for freshman Jalyn Patterson to completely replace his minutes.
  5. The Vols may have picked up the win and snapped a five-game losing streak because Tyndall returned to intense, “old school” practices. No matter how they did it, the victory was fairly significant. The Vols were just 3-9 over the 12 games going into the LSU game, and could have folded on the road against a team in desperate need of a win. Instead, Josh Richardson and Armani Moore turned in great offensive performances and led a blistering Vols’ attack (52.4 field goal percentage). The win keeps Tennessee in the hunt for an NIT bid (15-14, 7-10), and is another part of the over-achieving culture Tyndall has begun to establish this season.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 3rd, 2015

For the next three 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 IX, including games from February 24 to March 1.

Team of the Week: With all due respect to undefeated Kentucky (which won its highest-profile SEC game by beating Arkansas), this week’s award goes to LSU. The Tigers avoided a black mark by picking up a road win at Auburn, and then added a top 50 RPI win by knocking off Ole Miss at home. The win over the Rebels also gave LSU the tie-breaker for conference tournament seeding purposes if the two teams are still knotted at the end of the week. The question for the Tigers, at least in terms of how high their ceiling is, was always going to be how well the roster developed around big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Depth hasn’t arrived and Josh Gray has struggled his way into Johnny Jones’ doghouse, as he hasn’t logged more than 21 minutes over the last five games. But Jones seems to have found a five-man lineup that he likes and is having success with. Tim Quarterman recorded only the seventh triple double in program history, and first since Shaq did the trick in 1992, against Ole Miss. This was an indicative of the all-purpose role he’s played all year. Jalyn Patterson has also stuffed the stat sheet all season (nine points, five assists, four rebounds against the Rebels) and has clearly improved throughout the year and earned Jones’ trust as a freshman. Along with Keith Hornsby, the Tigers have three solid parts to plug alongside their two stars and a team that is athletic, defends well and is deadly in transition. The concern is that Jones has still played fast (seventh highest adjusted temp according to KenPom) despite the thin rotation, and this could catch up to LSU, especially in a back-to-back game tournament setting. But the Tigers know what they are, and there’s something to be said for that at this time of year. Honorable mention goes to Missouri, which snapped its 13 game losing streak against Florida midweek. And let’s also say something for Vanderbilt, which picked up solid wins over Alabama and Tennessee and sits at a respectable 7-9 in SEC play.

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Player of the Week. At this point in the season it doesn’t hurt to spread the love as much possible, so let’s split the award among three freshmen: Trey Lyles, Wade Baldwin IV and Namon Wright. Lyles had his finest week as a college player, at least in terms of scoring, with a career-high 18 points in back-to-back games. Often times this season defenses have been content with the Wildcat offense settling on two-point jump shots from Lyles, so it was encouraging that he scored those 36 points on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting. Baldwin has quietly had a strong freshman season, and this week put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and just four turnovers while leading Vanderbilt to two wins. He’s a big, aggressive lead guard that should be fun to watch over the next few seasons, especially alongside Riley LaChance and the other young Commodores. Wright carried Missouri for much of its streak-busting win against Florida, dropping in a career-high 28 points and going six-for-eight from three. Besides a season-opening hot stretch from Teki Gill-Caesar, none of the Mizzou freshmen have shown the type of offensive explosion Wright did in that win over the Gators. Not to get greedy, but Quarterman deserves some more ink for his triple-double too.

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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.

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SEC M5: Presidents Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 16th, 2015

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  1. Coach Cal took a step back from coach-speak to appreciate Kentucky’s program-record tying 25-0 start after the Wildcats walloped South Carolina on Saturday. “You just tied a record of the most storied program in the country,” he told his team. “You tied a record and you’re all freshmen and sophomores and Willie (Cauley-Stein, a junior).” A win at Tennessee will push these Wildcats past the 1953-54 Kentucky squad, but would only tie the best start for a team coached by Calipari. His 1995-96 UMass team led by Marcus Camby started 26-0 before losing at home to George Washington, and his Derrick Rose-led 2007-08 Memphis team got to 26-0 before losing at home to Tennessee in what was one of the biggest regular season games in recent memory. As fate would have it, if the Wildcats get to 26-0 they would face Bruce Pearl, the man who halted Cal’s 26-0 Memphis team, next Saturday. In any event, both of Cal’s 26-0 teams finished as the National Runner-up, and it would probably be considered a disappointment if this Kentucky squad followed suit.
  2. The SEC got plenty of ink in College Basketball Talk’s Saturday Bubble Banter. Texas A&M strengthened its profile, or at least avoided mucking it up, by holding on to beat Florida. Ole Miss and Georgia, on the other hand, took hits with home losses, but the Bulldogs will be dinged much more than the Rebels. Georgia’s loss at home to Auburn (RPI #162, KenPom #135) would be easier swallow had it happened on the road, but losing in Stegeman Coliseum to the Tigers was a surprise. The Bulldogs had generally taken care of business this season, going 7-2 against RPI 101-200 with the only other loss being their season opener against Georgia Tech. They should be fine, especially coming off a strong win at Texas A&M, but can’t afford another bad home loss with South Carolina coming to Athens on Tuesday. An unrelated statistical oddity about the Auburn-Georgia rivalry: the schools are 90-90 against each other in basketball and 55-55 against each other in football. Talk about not having bragging rights.
  3. Despite its inconsistencies, LSU can be a hard team to match up with since most nights the Tigers will have a huge athletic advantage in the front court. This showed in their win over Tennessee, where the Vols struggled to get good looks against LSU’s length. Jordan Mickey ended up with seven blocks and now has an NCAA-leading 91 blocks on the season, and as a team the Tigers have the sixth-most blocks in the country. Barring a late season collapse, it seems the Tigers are a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament. Even if they wind up with a 10 or 11 seed, they should be in shape to take advantage of their athletic advantage down low and frustrate teams in the early rounds.
  4. Alabama has quietly been one of the more disappointing teams in conference play. The Tide are now just 5-7 in league play after dropping a must-win game at home to Vanderbilt. This comes after a 10-3 non-conference mark that included a win over UCLA and one-point loss at Wichita State, which was a marquee win Alabama had in their pocket before coughing it up late. To be fair, the schedule makers did the Tide no favors. They’ve already gotten Kentucky twice and have had to travel to Arkansas and LSU. But at the end of the day the NCAA Tournament is out of the picture for a team that has yet again had its offensive struggles under Anthony Grant. This season has been an improvement over last, but Grant’s job security continues to be an interesting question.
  5. Something fishy is going on in Eastern Missouri airspace. The plane chartered by Mississippi State lost an engine and had to make an emergency landing in St. Louis as the Bulldogs were on the way home after a win in Columbia. This comes just a few days after a plane carrying Kim Anderson had to make an emergency landing outside of St. Louis for a similar reason. Fortunately, no one was hurt either time. After his nerves evened out, Rick Ray must have been more pleased than usual with his team’s win. The Bulldogs let an 18-point slip away but held on for the victory, and have now won three SEC road games this season, which is a far cry from the 22-game conference road losing streak the program endured up until the January 21 win at Auburn. Building a program is all about positive momentum, and the Bulldogs have plenty of that right now.
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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.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

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

Trending Up

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

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

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

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