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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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.
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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.

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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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RTC Weekly Primer: UNC-Duke, No. 1 Seeds, and a Tight Bubble

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 17th, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so by the transitive property, they might as well say time flies during college basketball season. But seriously, this season seems to have sped by. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because a busy schedule has eaten up my down time. Maybe it’s something subconscious. But I genuinely feel like conference play just started and yet we’re already approaching March. The logical explanation for that? Maybe it’s because the overarching narratives of the season have been in constant flux. Or — another way of putting it — maybe it’s because Selection Sunday is just 25 days away and we really only know one thing: Kentucky is good. Really good. After that, everything is tight — tight with two heavily enunciated ‘t’s. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, eight teams have a 25 percent or greater chance at a No. 1 seed, but only Kentucky’s odds surpass 60 percent. And moving down the hierarchy, there’s just so much additional uncertainty. There’s been a definitive top eight for over a month now, and nobody below that threshold appears too intent on breaking into it. Teams like Iowa State and North Carolina have invariably followed up big wins with baffling losses, and teams like Utah and Louisville simply haven’t separated themselves in a meaningful way. Even further down the Top 25, the bubble is nothing more than a mess. But that’s the case every year. And even as all-encompassing as it is right now, there are bound to be teams that stage late surges to put themselves in contention. There are also bound to be teams that spin out of control in the other direction. To put it succinctly… there is bound to be madness. That might as well be a slogan for college hoops in general, but especially this year.

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

One for the Money

North Carolina at Duke | Wednesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

No matter which team you root for, no matter where you live, there’s only one game this week that is must-watch television. And even if Dickie V. won’t be on the call, you have to tune in for the first of two battles between North Carolina and Duke. When you think of college sports, almost all of the notions of amateur athletics are embodied by the Tobacco Road rivalry. Games are played with passion and intensity. They are played with unrelenting pressure and in front of hostile crowds. They are played enveloped by the shadows of history, in front of legends and ghosts of years past. They are laden with folklore and religiously maintained traditions. They turn the otherwise forgotten into heroes and the otherwise successful into villains. The Duke-Carolina games are as singularly powerful as nearly any regular season game in any sport, and this year’s annual rite of passage begins Wednesday night.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume VI

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 10th, 2015

For the next six 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 VI, including games from February 3 to February 8.

Team of the Week. This week provides several compelling candidates. Kentucky could win this award every time and this week was no exception as the Wildcats handled a quality Georgia team on Tuesday and survived a difficult environment in Gainesville afterward. Arkansas got healthy with two comfortable wins after seemingly scratching by for weeks. Even Vanderbilt tossed its name into the conversation by shaking off a seven-game losing streak and going 2-0. Despite all these worthy choices, Ole Miss gets this week’s nod after notching a big win against red-hot Texas A&M and then following it up with a road win at Auburn (which itself was coming off an impressive win at LSU). The Rebels last week showed that they can win games in different ways. They needed a solid defensive performance to get past the surging Aggies and were especially effective using ball pressure to frustrate Alex Caruso. But it was the Ole Miss offense that showed up against Auburn (57.8% FG, 40.0% 3FG) to negate a great scoring night from Bruce Pearl’s backcourt. The Rebels may not necessarily be peaking right now, but they seem to be rounding into form. Anthony Perez has emerged as a solid wing/post hybrid who can stretch the floor. Dwight Coleby has developed into a reliable rebounding and shot-blocking presence. Those two, along with Sebastian Saiz and MJ Rhett, give Andy Kennedy a solid frontcourt rotation to support his veteran backcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky's wins over Georgia and Florida (chron.com).

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky’s wins over Georgia and Florida (chron.com).

Player of the Week. You can only seek alternatives to Kentucky in this league to a certain point. Karl-Anthony Towns gets the nod after leading the Wildcats to two hard-fought victories over Georgia (KenPom #33) and Florida (#35) last week. The Bulldogs surprisingly outrebounded Kentucky in their game, but Towns stepped up to grab more than half (13) of the Wildcats’ 24 total rebounds. Against the Gators, Towns was only the Wildcat who was able to generate consistent offense at the game’s start, which quietly helped Kentucky stay within contact of the fired-up Gators. Towns’ great week (34 points, 21 rebounds, four blocks, six assists, 10-of-10 FT) is an encouraging sign for John Calipari. The freshman recently went through a four-game stretch where he didn’t score more than seven points or grab more than four rebounds in any single game. Whether it was due to foul trouble, growing pains or some combination of both, it bodes well for the Wildcats that he has now strung together a few great outings. See how Kentucky focused on getting him the ball in this week’s edition of Freeze Frame.  Antoine Mason also deserves mention here for cracking 20 points against LSU (24 points) and then following it up with 23 against Ole Miss.

Tournament Chatter. Last week’s eight-team pipe dream proved to be too much to handle, and it will be difficult for either of Tennessee or Florida to make a case for inclusion again. But we’ll always have last week. Still, Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology contains six SEC teams in the fold, which would double what the league received in the last two seasons. Everyone will certainly take that if it comes to pass.

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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 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.
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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 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.

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SEC M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com’s latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection is a welcome sight for SEC basketball fans. Four teams make the cut, including Kentucky (#1 seed), Arkansas (#7), LSU (#9) and Georgia (#10). There were times this year that when just getting two bids looked like a real possibility, so four bids (sad as it may be) right now looks very nice. The danger is that the non-Kentucky selections are far from locks and consecutive losses could easily knock any of those teams on to the wrong side of the bubble. The flip side is that with other teams like Texas A&M and Tennessee still within shouting distance of the bubble, five teams (gasp) doesn’t seem completely out of the question either. All joking aside, if the league were to get five bids it would be a nice step forward from the last two three-bid years, and confirm what we’ve been saying on this site all year: Even though it doesn’t show up in the rankings and Florida is down, the depth of the conference is in fact improving.
  2. There are a number of reasons why Florida has struggled this year, but transfers are not one of them. Billy Donovan recently defended the number of transfers on his current roster when asked if the Gators would be better off with more four-year players. “The transfers have been the ones that have really made sense for us because we know what we’re getting in terms of the kind of kids they are,” Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Alex Murphy and Jon Horford are truly unique cases since both players had a brother who previously starred for Florida, but over-reliance on transfers can bite a program despite Fred Hoiberg’s seemingly endless pool of redemption stories at Iowa State. Just look at Missouri, which is largely in the situation it is now in because Frank Haith didn’t bring enough high school players into the program. But Florida doesn’t fall into that category because Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter both brought three years of eligibility with them to Gainesville, and the Gators have plenty of potential four-year players in contributing roles – like Chris Chiozza, Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson.
  3. Marshall Henderson’s graduation left a big hole in the Ole Miss program. The Rebels lost a lot of scoring, and a lot of must-see-TV. But at least in terms of production, Andy Kennedy has replaced the void left by Henderson quicker than anyone would’ve thought with Stefan Moody. “Everyone in this league was going to be excited when Marshall Henderson left because you didn’t feel like they could get a guy who could shoot it as well as him,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “But lo and behold they’ve done it as well added an element of athleticism to the position.” With comparable usage rates, Moody (23.7 PER, 55.7% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) is exceeding Henderson’s (19.5 PER, 52.5% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) offensive output from last year, and adds more athleticism to the team. Considering Moody hasn’t made headlines for the wrong reasons, the Rebels have clearly upgraded at the off guard position.
  4. Texas A&M is in the midst of its longest conference (Big 12 and SEC) winning streak since 2011, and Billy Kennedy thinks his team’s maturity is a big reason why. “We start three juniors and two seniors and they’ve all played high-level Division I basketball. Their consistency and maturity is why we’re enjoying some success.” Yesterday we pointed out that the Aggies’ influx of new players could mean they are yet to hit their peak. But the two most important players from that group, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, have high major experience, which has helped create that consistency. They’ve also pushed senior starters Jordan Green and Kourtney Roberson into complementary roles, which suits both players very well and makes for a strong all-around team.
  5. At 7-12, Missouri is smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding year, but Kim Anderson has not relaxed his rotations and played guys just to play them. “It’s not like if you’re in a high school situation where like seventh grade basketball gets to play because that’s what the superintendent says. It’s not like that. You’ve got to play — the guys that are playing the best get to play more,” he told the Columbia Tribune. One notable omission has been freshman Jakeenan Gant, who has lost his starting spot and played just 14 minutes in the last two games. The 2013-14 Georgia Mr. Basketball has not developed as expected, or at least in the way his 13 point debut against Xavier suggested he might. Still, it is important for Anderson to establish a culture even if it means one of his more talented freshmen sitting on the bench.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume III

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2015

For the next nine 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 III, including games from January 12-18.

Team of the week. It took three rounds of this column to get there, but the league Colossus finally gets the nod. Kentucky did in the second week of SEC play what so many predicted it would do in the first — thrash its opponents. The Wildcats beat Missouri by more points (49) than it allowed the Tigers to score (37), and, as Brian pointed out earlier this week, it was the best defensive (points per possession) performance in conference play in the Calipari era. The ‘Cats followed up that victory with an easy 22-point win against a good Alabama team. Its defense was again outstanding, but it was the Kentucky offense that caught my eye in Tuscaloosa. Just one week after a rough outing in College Station (28.1% FG, 32.1% 3FG, 25-of-35 FTs), the Wildcats were hyper-efficient in a slow-paced game (50% FG, 47% 3FG, 16-of-18 FTs). If that’s a sign of the Wildcats’ offense to come, it’s worth wondering whether this team may actually cut down the nets in early April sporting a goose egg in the loss column.

Tyler Ulis led an efficient Kentucky attack against Alabama with 11 points and two assists (AP Photo).

Tyler Ulis led an efficient Kentucky attack against Alabama with 11 points and two assists (AP Photo).

Player of the Week. Let’s follow the crowd and hand it to Tennessee’s Armani Moore. The junior wing won the SEC’s Player of the Week award and it was well-deserved. He contributed solid scoring totals in last week’s wins over Arkansas (14) and Missouri (15), but more importantly scored crucial points late in both games. His two free throws sealed the Vols’ victory over Arkansas, and he broke a tie-game in Columbia with under four minutes to go with a contested layup. The 6’5″ Moore also helped an undersized Tennessee front line win the rebounding battle in both games. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones, who played well in returning from an ankle injury, and Georgia’s Kenny Gaines, who guided the Bulldogs through a crucial undefeated week, also deserve mention.

Tournament Chatter. Can you say mediocrity? The league currently has seven teams sitting at 2-2, and the only 3-1 teams (Tennessee and Florida) appear to be well behind several of those in the NCAA Tournament pecking order. None of the fringe NCAA contenders have yet played their way out of the picture but we could be headed toward the league’s nightmare scenario. A team or two separating from the pack would lock in a few bids, but if the soft middle continues to beat up on each other without rhyme or reason, it risks damaging everyone’s profile. Still, 10 (10!) teams are worth mentioning and that’s not too bad.

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