SEC M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 9th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. After missing two games — both losses at South Carolina and Kentucky — Georgia forward Marcus Thornton returned to action for Saturday’s win over Tennessee. His presence gave the Bulldogs some much-needed stability, as the senior is an experienced leader who has been through a lot during his four years in Athens. There had been some concern that Thornton would be out for longer than the two games given the apparent significance of his concussion, but Thornton played 26 minutes and scored eight points. Georgia needed his leadership on the floor more than it needed his scoring, though, and, most importantly, the Bulldogs got the win.
  2. As we creep closer to March, the storyline that will continue to grow is Kentucky’s quest to become the first college basketball team since 1976 to run the table. The Wildcats passed one of their stiffest remaining tests by winning at Florida Saturday night, but the victory did not come easy. As USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach writes, these are just the types of tests John Calipari’s team needs. While Kentucky coasted through its pre-conference schedule, the Wildcats have now been challenged three times in SEC play and have won in tough environments where they haven’t had their best. The Wildcats still have tough road tests remaining at LSU (Tuesday) and Georgia, plus Arkansas at home, so the odds continue to grow daily that they will run the regular season table.
  3. The story of Sunday was the passing of legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith, and several SEC coaches weighed in to pay their respects. Like so many others, Billy Donovan talked about how Smith’s impact on lives was far more important than the 879 wins he racked up. John Calipari took to Twitter to talk about how much he loved and admired Smith. Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall, Georgia’s Mark Fox, and South Carolina’s Frank Martin also used social media to express their condolences and offer kind words about the legendary coach. And while he spent his entire coaching career in the ACC, it goes without saying that Smith’s legacy transcends not only the conference he was in or even college basketball as a whole, but all of society.
  4. As if things haven’t been bad enough for Missouri this season, they got worse prior to Saturday’s 83-61 home loss to Texas A&M when two Tigers were suspended as a result of a violation of team rules. Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright, a pair of freshmen who average 9.6 and 5.5 points per game, respectively, will have their situations re-evaluated at some point down the line. The Tigers are also playing without Tramaine Isabell, a player who missed his third game after Kim Anderson found that his behavior toward teammates was “unacceptable.” Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been very tough — Missouri sits at 1-9 in SEC play and almost certainly will finish in the league’s basement — but he is doing what is necessary to root out some of the problems that were created by his predecessor in an effort to establish that his program will be run the right way.
  5. Tennessee has struggled lately, losing four of five after starting SEC play at 4-1. Leading scorer Josh Richardson scored only two points in the Volunteers’ three-point loss at Georgia Saturday, with both of those coming in the final minutes. Despite the recent shakiness, Donnie Tyndall is not at all ready to give up on his undermanned club and refuses to believe that his team has hit a wall. Without much of an inside presence to speak of, Tennessee is forced to rely upon its limited good shooting to score enough points to win games. Although the Volunteers never seem to be out of a game, they face a very difficult closing stretch unlikely to present many opportunities for wins. Any postseason berth for this team would be an accomplishment, and anyone who has watched Tyndall operate knows he will get the best out of them.
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SEC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2015

We’re at the halfway point of conference play, and things are starting to take shape in the SEC. It’s time for our weekly look at who’s trending up, who’s staying flat, and who’s headed in the wrong direction. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Rick Ray’s Job Status. A few weeks ago, we wondered whether Mississippi State could win even a single game in the SEC. At the halfway point of conference play, the Bulldogs are just a game under .500, and are coming off of their first road win of the season. Ray’s club appears to have turned a bit of a corner, and things are looking good for him to earn a fourth year at the school.
Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope. (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

  • Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament Hopes. The Rebels have quietly recovered from a couple of bad non-conference homecourt losses (to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky), and have won four in a row in the SEC. They own blowout wins at Arkansas and Missouri, a near miss at Kentucky, and are 6-3 in conference play. Andy Kennedy’s team is squarely in the discussion for one of the league’s NCAA Tournament bids.
  • Andrew Harrison. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to put the Kentucky sophomore on this list, but Harrison had his best game of the season in the Wildcats’ win over Georgia Tuesday, as he scored 23 points, had seven assists, and went 3-of-6 from three-point range. Perhaps all of the talk about  Kentucky’s freshmen guards, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, has motivated Harrison, and his performance against the Bulldogs is a good sign for John Calipari.
  • Riley LaChance. The Vanderbilt freshman has been a find for Kevin Stallings, but he went through a rough patch recently and bottomed out when he went scoreless in the Commodores’ loss to Georgia on January 27. He has righted the ship, and led the team with 15 in Tuesday’s win over Florida, which broke Vanderbilt’s seven-game losing streak. For the Commodores to have success in the second half of league play, they’ll need superb play from LaChance.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 16th, 2015

We are now nearly two weeks into conference play, so let’s take a hard look at which teams, players and other things are heading in the right direction, stuck in neutral or on the decline. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Florida. Perhaps all it took was conference play for the Gators to right the ship. After opening SEC play with a solid win at upstart South Carolina, the Gators easily dispatched conference lightweights Mississippi State and Auburn in Gainesville. Things get tougher on Saturday when they travel to Georgia, but Billy Donovan’s team is doing what it takes to tidy up its shaky resume for March.
  • Dominique Hawkins. The Kentucky guard went from not being part of either five-man platoon to starting against Missouri, and in his 20 minutes of action he gave John Calipari the perimeter defense the Wildcats needed. His entry into the starting lineup in place of Tyler Ulis was a bit of a surprise, but it obviously got the team’s attention as the Wildcats cruised to an 86-47 win over the Tigers, eradicating some of the bad vibe left over from last week’s overtime wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Dominique Hawkins took advantage of his surprise start against Missouri (Bleacher Report).

Dominique Hawkins took advantage of his surprise start against Missouri (Bleacher Report).

  • Robert Hubbs. Anyone who saw Hubbs play earlier this year wouldn’t believe that the freshman would ever make a Stock Watch list, although there was clearly nowhere for him to go than up. The former five-star recruit was way overrated coming out of high school, but Hubbs needed to find a way to contribute for Tennessee to have any success this season. He has done just that, and his career-high 16 points against Arkansas was a huge reason the Vols were able to upset the Hogs earlier this week.
  • Alabama. Sure, the Crimson Tide lost at South Carolina on Tuesday night, but there is no shame in dropping a two-point contest to one of the league’s most improved teams on the road. Alabama clearly has moved on from last year’s disaster, and with two of its next five games against Kentucky, Anthony Grant’s team has a chance to really get things moving (finally) in the right direction.

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Assessing a Disastrous Opening Night for the SEC

Posted by David Changas on November 15th, 2014

We hear the term “SEC Bias” thrown around a lot in the context of college football, and with good reason — the league has won seven of the sport’s last eight national championships, and dominates the headlines on a weekly basis. Based upon how the conference fared on opening night of the 2014-15 college basketball season, however, there is no reason to worry that concept will bleed over into the world of hoops anytime soon. As Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports points out, the league lost more non-conference games in basketball Friday than it has lost non-conference football games through the first 11 weeks of the season. We set out to examine what happened.

VCU 85, Tennessee 69

Tennessee Fought Hard But Never Put Together a Run Against VCU (USA Today)

Tennessee Fought Hard But Never Put Together a Run Against VCU (USA Today)

This was the least surprising of Friday’s results. The Volunteers have eight new scholarship players and were facing a top-15 Rams squad in Annapolis at the Veterans Classic. While Donnie Tyndall‘s team showed heart by not throwing in the towel after falling behind by 18 at the half, it was apparent that this team has not been playing together for long. Although Tennessee appears to have some athletes, and got an encouraging 17 points from freshman find Detrick Mostella, the Volunteers were outrebounded and a woeful 4-for-17 from three-point range. They also turned the ball over 19 times, and clearly have a long way to go on the offensive end. Their lack of a true point guard – Josh Richardson, who is a natural wing, handled those duties before fouling out late – will be a problem for Tyndall’s squad all season, and the Volunteers will have trouble putting points on the board as a result.

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Award Tour: Burke vs. Porter, McLemore vs. Smart and Larranaga vs. JTIII

Posted by DCassilo on March 8th, 2013

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

With just one regular season game to go, nothing is decided. It’s another example of how unpredictable this season has been. For Player of the Year, it’s down to Trey Burke and Otto Porter Jr. Both players have carried their teams and made everyone around them better. Then there’s Freshman of the Year, which is down to Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart. They are a couple of players who have been impacts guys from the opening game. And Coach of the Year? It’s Jim Larranaga’s to lose, but lately, it looks like he’s trying to lose it.

The final update of this will run on Tuesday of next week, so make sure to look out for it.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3 SPG

I’ve written about Smart so many times this season that I need to give myself a moment to step back and admire how well-rounded he is as a player. His 3.0 SPG are third best in the country. He’s a guy I’ll always want on my team.  This week: March 9 vs. Kansas State

9. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 19.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG

A rematch of this 2012 Final Four matchup highlights the best of the remaining Big Ten non-conference games.

Thomas and Withey are in the top-10.

Oddly enough, the Buckeyes have played their best basketball when Thomas has played his worst. Still, he’s scored at least 14 points in each game of this four-game winning streak. In most other conferences, he would be the Player of the Year. This week: March 10 vs. Illinois

8. Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga (Last week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 17.7 PPG, 7 RPG

You would be hard-pressed to find many players that are more efficient than Olynyk. The junior shot 68.8 percent from the field while attempting over 10 shots per game. It will be fun when the rest of the country figures out who he is this March. This week: Regular season over.

7. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 16.5 PPG, 8. RPG

It will go down as a disappointing year because of the expectations, but Zeller still improved his scoring and rebounding averages in his sophomore season. The most surprising thing, though, is that there is a Hoosier ahead of him on this list. This week: March 10 at Michigan

6. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 23.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG

McDermott closed the regular season out in style with 41 points against Wichita State. Although he will probably get a few first-place votes, what ultimately held him back was the struggles of his teammates. This week: Regular season over.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

Last  week’s Big 12 schedule ended up riddled in upsets, and rather than the league providing some clarity as the NCAA Tournament approaches, the waters just got a little muddier.

The week started with a Valentine’s Day Big Monday matchup between the Kansas State Wildcats and the newly-anointed #1 Kansas Jayhawks in Manhattan.  Headed into the game, the Wildcats were in desperate need of a statement win headed toward the tourney, while the Jayhawks talked about embracing the target that comes with being named #1. The game turned out to be all Kansas State, as senior guard Jacob Pullen exploded for a career-high 38 points and the Wildcats dominated a Jayhawk team that looked complacent from the start.

Tuesday night went as expected as the Texas Tech Red Raiders lost in Columbia in a high-scoring affair against the Tigers.  The Tech effort actually provided one of the closer games for the Tigers at home this year, but the eight-point loss was just another bump in the road for a Tech team that hasn’t had much in the way of positive news this season.

On Wednesday, the Texas Longhorns took to the court knowing that taking care of business in two very winnable games during the week likely meant a top ranking to start the following week.  Against Oklahoma State in Austin, the Longhorns cruised and the Cowboys dropped to 4-7 in the conference likely dropping them off the bubble and into the group of Big 12 teams that will be NIT-bound come March.

Texas A&M turned away an Iowa State team still looking for win number two in conference play and Nebraska got a big road win in Norman over the Sooners. The win moved the Huskers to 5-6 in the conference and in the conversation with Kansas State and Colorado as a potential league representative in the tourney.  It’s definitely a bit of a reach, but in a year where college basketball is full of parity, it’s not out of the question.

Saturday tipped off with the Jayhawks rebounding from their loss to Kansas State with a blowout win over Colorado and Missouri getting their first conference road win in Ames over the Cyclones.  The big story in the early going, however, was the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Doc Sadler and the Huskers pulled off the second big time upset of the week in conference play as they knocked off the Longhorns in a thriller in Lincoln.  The Huskers used a pesky defense and rode the energy of the home crowd to the upset and with a statement win put themselves firmly in the conversation as a fringe bubble team.

Kansas State continued their strong play of late with big win at home over the Sooners, while A&M continued to survive winning by one point over Oklahoma State in Stillwater.  Besides the Longhorn upset, another game provided a mild upset when Texas Tech went into Waco and knocked off the Baylor Bears.  Baylor now sits 6-6 in the conference with an identical record to Nebraska and Kansas State.  The biggest concern for Baylor has to be the lack of any quality wins.  In a little over a week, Baylor has gone from a team that looked to be improving and moving toward lock status, to a team sitting on the brink.  If the tourney started today Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Nebraska would be your top six teams with Baylor checking in at number seven.  That most likely doesn’t get them in.

Power Rankings

Quick Disclaimer: Power rankings are not meant to be a poll.  They are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Texas (23-4, 11-1) – Texas dropped one on the road in Lincoln, but they retain the top spot because it was a game where they fought for 40 minutes and it just wasn’t their day.
  2. Kansas (25-2, 11-1) – Kansas was manhandled in Manhattan and didn’t put up much of a fight.  They looked great on Saturday at home against a mediocre opponent, but the manner of the loss on Monday keeps them at #2.
  3. Texas A&M (11-5, 8-4) – A&M continues to win albeit by a very slim margin.  Still the Aggies have won on the road more often than the Tigers and that puts them at #3 for now.
  4. Missouri Tigers (21-6, 7-5) – Two wins this week for the Tigers and their first conference road win against last place Iowa State.  That doesn’t necessarily change the concern over the Tigers’ play away from Columbia, but it’s a start.
  5. Kansas State (18-9, 6-6) – The Wildcats were on the ropes headed into the week, but after a win over # 1 Kansas, they now seem firmly in control of their NCAA Tournament hopes. K-State is #5 right now in the conference if the tournament selection show were today.
  6. Nebraska (18-8, 6-6) – A big win over Texas and the Huskers now sit 6-6 with a real chance to play themselves into the NCAA Tournament.  Doc Sadler plays a tough physical defensive game and it’s winning basketball games in Lincoln.
  7. Baylor (17-9, 6-6) – Baylor losing to Texas Tech at home is a pretty big blow at this point.  The Bears can’t claim any marquee wins and they have more “bad” losses than Kansas State and Nebraska.
  8. Colorado (16-11, 5-7 Big 12) – Colorado was in a position to make a play, but the schedule isn’t kind down the stretch.  Right now, they are probably a longshot tourney team, but they’ll have to run the table.
  9. Oklahoma State (16-10, 4-8) The Cowboys can’t seem to catch a break and continue to lose close games in tough situations.  Help is on the way in Stillwater, but this year has been a struggle.
  10. Texas Tech (12-15, 4-8) – Tech got a pretty nice win on the road in Waco this week and actually proved pretty competitive in Columbia which is no easy task.  One tick up in the power polls as a result.
  11. Oklahoma (12-14, 4-8) – Two losses for the Sooners this week and they drop from a potential middle tier Big 12 team back to the bottom.
  12. Iowa State (14-13, 1-11 Big 12) – Things just aren’t getting any better in Ames.  It’s a long season when you have such a lean bench.

A Look Ahead

  • Monday brings another Big Monday in Lawrence as Kansas welcomes the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Bill Self has had his struggles against his alma mater, and at this point, the role of spoiler is all the Cowboys have to play for.
  • Tuesday night, Texas will play host to the Iowa State Cyclones in Austin in their first game since losing to the Huskers in Lincoln.  The Longhorns are still playing for the outright conference title and with four losses they are the team with the most losses that is still being mentioned in terms of a potential number one seed.
  • Wednesday night, Kansas State heads to Lincoln in a game that means a great deal for Nebraska, but  also has implications for the Wildcats as well.  While most believe Kansas State is fairly secure as a fifth Big 12 team in the tournament a win helps improve their seeding while a win for Nebraska is another big feather in the cap of Doc Sadler as he looks to take the Cornhuskers to the tourney in their final year in the Big 12.
  • Wednesday night games also include Oklahoma heading to Texas A&M, Colorado heading to Lubbock and the unpredictable but talented Baylor Bears traveling to Columbia where the Tigers are undefeated on the season.
  • Saturday once again sees all 12 teams in action with the Kansas Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns going on the road in games they are expected to win against Oklahoma and Colorado, respectively.  The Longhorn trip to Boulder is probably the more dangerous of the two as the Buffs have NBA talent.  The big question will be whether or not they can defend well enough to slow the Longhorns.
  • Missouri travels to Manhattan for a tough contest against K-State in a matchup that is slowly growing into a rivalry.  While neither team hates the other in the way they hate Kansas, this is a game that has become competitive and relevant in recent years.
  • Elsewhere, Texas A&M heads to Waco for a game against BaylorTexas Tech and Oklahoma State square off in Stillwater in a game that holds little significance.  And lastly Nebraska gets another chance to boost the resume when they travel to Iowa State with a chance at another conference road win against the Cyclones.

Player of the Year Watch

With two weeks to go, this is down to a three-man race.   Two players with teams at the top and one player who’s overcome his fair share of struggle and become a better player and leader for it.

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Jordan Hamilton – (17.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG): Not a great week for Hamilton, but he’s still the best player on the best team in the conference.
  2. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (18.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG): Statistically, Morris is still impressive, and he’s by far the most versatile.  But will the perception that he lacks leadership hurt his chances?
  3. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (21.2 PPG, 3.6 APG): Pullen exploded on Monday against Kansas with 38 points, but what was even more impressive is how he was able to step back and elevate others around him in the second half while Kansas State kept their foot firmly on the gas.  Pullen has put himself firmly back in the conversation for the postseason award.
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