Morning Five: 03.13.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2014

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  1. It did not take Loyola Marymount long to move on from the Max Good era. Just one day after firing Good (we are not even sure if they waited 24 hours) they hired Mike Dunlap to be their next coach. Dunlap is a Loyola Marymount graduate so it seems like a good fit. Dunlap has  ”NBA” coaching experience as he was the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2012-13 season, but probably is best known to college basketball fans as the interim coach at St. John’s during the 2011-12 season while Steve Lavin was recovering from his prostate cancer treatment.
  2. We wonder how long it will take Auburn to find a replacement for Tony Barbee after they fired him yesterday. Barbee was informed of the decision after his team lost its opening game in the SEC Tournament so he could tell his players in the locker room since it would probably be the last time they would meet with the student being on Spring Break. Barbee finished with a 48-75 record, which by itself was probably worthy of being fired, but the poor attendance at the games only compounded it. We will be interested to see who the school targets because even though the SEC is technically a major conference we would not consider the position that desirable although we could see a coach using it as a stepping stone.
  3. Much of the focus on the injury front this week will be directed at Joel Embiid’s back, but that will not be the most significant injury on Selection Sunday. Instead, BYU sophomore starting guard Kyle Collinsworth‘s knee might be the most scrutinized injury in the Selection Committee room. Collinsworth, who is average 14 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game, injured his right knee during the second half of BYU’s loss to Gonzaga on Tuesday night. Yesterday he underwent an MRI that revealed an ACL tear and he will miss the remainder of the season. With the Cougars firmly on the bubble in many brackets before Collinsworth’s injury, the MRI results likely mean that BYU is heading to the NIT.
  4. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, the bracket, and the safeguards now in place to prevent the bracket from being leaked, Jeff Eisenberg has an excellent look into how the NCAA keeps the bracket a secret. For those of you not familiar with the story behind this, in 2010 an anonymous poster on a Maryland message board posted many of the details on that year’s bracket almost an hour before they were publicly revealed. With the networks spending nearly $1 billion a year we understand their desire to maintain secrecy, but some of the details about how the NCAA tries to keep the bracket a secret until it is publicly released seem ridiculous.
  5. When we saw the new adidas uniforms we were surprised by how different the Baylor uniforms were and wondered whether they would be able to play in them. It turns out that the NCAA feels the same way and says that Baylor cannot wear their new uniforms. It appears that the thing that made the NCAA refuse to accept these uniforms was the phrase “Sic ‘Em” since it is not part of the school’s name or mascot. It is interesting that this is what made the NCAA put its foot down after it allowed several schools to wear ridiculous uniforms.
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SEC M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Things didn’t start well for LSU in Nashville, but Johnny O’Bryant made sure they ended well for the Tigers. The junior had one of his best games of the season scoring an efficient 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds against a solid defensive frontcourt duo in James Siakam and Damian Jones. Bubble mayhem needs to break loose over the next week and a half for the Tigers to re-enter the tournament picture. But if this does happen, O’Bryant is solely responsible for keeping the Tigers razor-thin chances alive: no other Tiger had scored in double figures until four late free throws by Andre Stringer, and they shot 33 percent as a team. Performances like this despite all of the double teams he’ has faced this year are why it’ll be hard to keep O’Bryant off the all-conference team (even if it were a traditional five-man team, which we know doesn’t exist in our beloved conference). This was a disappointing night for Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller on a sentimental note. The two players combined to shoot just 6-of-33 on their senior night, and Odom in particular missed several crucial three’s late in the game. Both deserved better given how much they have contributed this season.
  2. The story of the week in the SEC was Michael Frazier’s three point explosion on Tuesday night. Luke Winn took notice of his in his weekly power rankings, charted out Frazier’s 3 point attempts per 40 minutes, and wrote, “after neglecting their most efficient offensive option for the first two months of the season, the Gators have made a concerted effort to create looks for Frazier during their undefeated run through the SEC.” Winn also wrote about Patric Young acting as a screener and freeing Frazier for easy looks. It’s true Florida has a lot of nice parts (Frazier/shooter, Casey Prather/slasher, etc.) and not one complete superstar. But as cliched as it is, little things like Young’s ability to effectively screen are what makes this Gators team so dangerous. Another little thing is the interior passing between Young and Will Yeguete. Neither player has off the charts offensive skill, but all season long they have created easy looks for one another with their savvy low post passing. Florida may not have a player taken in the first round of the upcoming draft (Chris Walker notwithstanding), but all these little things have them on the brink of an undefeated conference season.
  3. South Carolina will make its regular season ending trip to Starkville without Frank Martin. The second year Gamecock head coach was suspended by the school for directing a few too many four-letter words at Duane Notice during South Carolina’s loss to Florida. The school is officially calling it an “inappropriate verbal communication,” but however you term it, this is what South Carolina knew it was getting with Martin. When you think of “intense college coach” he and Bo Pelini are in a class all to themselves. This will likely be a non-issue that will drop out once the next news cycle starts up, but you have to wonder if there is more behind this, since anyone with access to USC’s games and any semblance of lip-reading skill can tell this type of thing has happened before. Perhaps this is the administration trying to send Martin a message to tone his demeanor down. If so (and that’s just an uninformed guess) it could make for an interesting situation since differences with his previous administration at Kansas State led him away from what was a good situation.
  4. Doc Harper at Arkansas Fight surveyed the bracketology offerings and found that many prognosticators have  Arkansas in the field right now. Joe Lunardi has the Hogs as a part of his “Last Four In,” and Jerry Palm and SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean both slot them as 11 seeds. USA Today’s Shelby Mast is especially up on the Hogs, writing them down as a 10 seed. This is really a remarkable turnaround for Mike Anderson’s team, who sat at 15-9 and 4-7 in conference after a loss at Missouri on February 13. At that point it appeared the Razorbacks had run out of time, but six game winning streak turned that idea on its head. I’m of the opinion that even if Arkansas beats Alabama it’ll need to win at least one game in the SEC tournament to feel comfortable. Sitting at #47 in the RPI isn’t an ideal spot, especially with an #83 strength of schedule number. Winning at Alabama may not be easy either, since the Hogs have lost six straight games in Tuscaloosa, last winning in January of 2007.
  5. Auburn AD Jay Jacobs wanted “significant improvement” out of Auburn basketball this season. Sitting at 13-15 overall, Al.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky writes that “D-Day is coming” for Jacobs and Tony Barbee. There has been improvement since last season, and it has actually been significant. The Tigers are currently over 60 spots better in the RPI (#180 now, #254 in 2012-13), but that’s not saying much. While Auburn is seemingly light years from contending for a tournament spot, is it worth making a change? Chris Fuhrmeister at College and Magnolia, asks the “if not him, then who?” question. He writes, “Barbee has been forced to try and build out of a crater, and while he may have actually deepened that hole, most accepted that the rebuilding project would take a considerable amount of time. If he’s actually — finally — starting to build, is it wise to start all over again with a new coach. And just because Auburn fires Barbee, that doesn’t mean the Tigers will automatically hire a winner.” To be clear, Fuhrmeister is just posing this question, not advocating for Barbee to hang around. But it’s an interesting thought. Auburn isn’t steeped in basketball tradition, and hasn’t made the tournament in over 10 years. If Jacobs doesn’t have an ideal replacement in mind, then why not stick with Barbee for another year and see if the slight momentum he’s built this year begins to snowball? Consistency can be a valuable thing sometimes.
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SEC M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 17th, 2014

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  1. SI.com’s Andy Staples had one of the many good takes on the Kentucky-Florida game that are floating around the internet. Staples listed a number of interesting tidbits like Patric Young having more college games under his belt than Kentucky’s starting lineup combined and that Florida hadn’t won in Lexington since the Joakim Noah-Al Horford days. I expected Florida to struggle this past week, and am getting close to being convinced they will break their recent Elite Eight ceiling. As great as their defense has been, they had “played down” to their competition for a concerning amount of the conference season. There were the sluggish first halves against Alabama and Mississippi State, and a close call against Auburn. I figured that rough starts in charged environments in Knoxville or Lexington would send the Gators to their first (or first and second) conference loss. But it didn’t happen. Both games were difficult and close throughout, and in both Florida found ways to win. Casey Prather’s play on Saturday was encouraging. He had struggled recently (three-of-four single digit scoring games) because of his injured ankle, but was aggressive at the beginning of the game and helped calm Florida and avoid another sluggish start. In the end, the Gators got through a tough week with two wins. So much for my concern.
  2. Resilience has been a theme to Vanderbilt’s season. On Saturday the Commodores were resilient on an in-game basis, regrouping from a putrid shooting performance through much of the game to catch Texas A&M and win in overtime. It was an ugly contest in which both teams kept fans entertained by scoring under 0.900 points per possession. Vanderbilt was especially ugly shooting the ball for three-fourths of the game, and Kyle Fuller, Dai-Jon Parker, and Rod Odom combined to go 10-for-45 from the field. James Siakam (12-of-14 FT’s, 16 points) kept the cold-shooting Commodores in the game, and probably wishes Texas A&M was on the schedule more. In two games against the Aggies he’s averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds, shot over 60 percent and gotten to the free throw line 27 times. All of these numbers are well above his season averages. The Commodores lose a lot of scoring after this season with Fuller and Odom departing. Siakam will be one of the elder statesmen in 2014-15, and should use his performances against Texas A&M as confidence building blocks to play a larger offensive role.
  3. This microsite has had a lot of “Tony Barbee hot seat” chatter over the last few weeks, and how it could it not? Auburn has been stuck in an incredibly deep rut. The Tigers did just have a respectable week, with a closer-than-expected loss against Kentucky and a win over Mississippi State. Does Barbee deserve more time? The 2012-13 Tigers finished the season on a 10-game losing streak, won only three SEC games and sunk all the way to #249 in the RPI. This season’s version is currently 100 spots higher in the RPI, has four SEC wins, and has a more efficient offense despite losing leading scorer Frankie Sullivan. Things do look better, but the real question is the potential for long-term improvement. Senior Chris Denson is in the top 15 nationally in scoring and Auburn also loses Asauhn Dixon-Tatum’s rim protecting presence after the season. Barbee’s prospects will look a lot better if Tahj Shamsid-Deen continues to play well, and fellow freshmen role players Matthew Atewe and Dion Wade flash potential. Atewe may be on that path with 21 rebounds the past two games, which includes 13 against Kentucky’s talented front line.
  4. Rob Dauster’s Saturday Bubble Banter column was littered four with SEC teams. Every team but Missouri fell into the losers section. He had the Tigers as the bubble’s biggest weekend winner after beating Tennessee, since the two teams only had two opportunities for top 50 left in the regular season: the two games against each other. Missouri earned at least a split of those games, making the regular season finale in Knoxville a crucial game for the Vols. LSU and Ole Miss fell into the losers column, but Arkansas was noticeably absent. Though maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, since the Razorbacks RPI (#73) might be too high warrant legitimate bubble status right now. If nothing else, the LSU win did diminish the resume of a team in front of them and sets Mike Anderson’s team up for a chance to redeem their case for a tournament invite. They have two winnable games in front of them (South Carolina at home and Mississippi State on the road), before a trip to Rupp Arena. If Arkansas can win the next three they’ll start to get some serious consideration.
  5. Speaking of Arkansas, if you’re a Razorback fan and had to pick one game to go to this season, Saturday might have been it. The Kentucky game was exciting (and “the Kentucky game” for any SEC fan base is generally a must-attend), but the chance to see Bill Clinton, Nolan Richardson and a number of players from the 1994 championship team is hard to top. Matt Norlander points out that Clinton is still the only sitting president to attend a Final Four. Given President Obama’s affinity for basketball, he’d seem a good candidate to break that streak. But it might take an epic turnaround (and no coaching change) at Oregon State to make that happen. But back to Clinton, who saw the Razorbacks put on a clinic from the three-point line (10-of-17). The three-point line has been part of Arkansas’ struggles away from Bud Walton Arena. The home/road splits for some of their outside threats are not pretty: Rashad Madden (46.7% home, 33.3% road), Michael Qualls (38.9% home, 23.5% road), and Mardracus Wade (46.2% home, 30% road) have each been much worse away from Bud Walton. Boosting those percentages just a little will help not only those players, but Bobby Portis as well. Portis has shown a reliable mid-range shot and back-to-the-basket game, and the loosening up the middle of the floor will make him more dangerous.
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SEC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Florida may have sealed its last two wins as much at the beginning of those two games than at the end of them. Against Tennessee, an early 10-0 run by the Gators allowed them to stabilize an otherwise lackluster first half (36.4% FG) and only trail a hot-shooting Vols team by one at halftime. To be sure, a couple of late threes from Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin put the game out of reach, but the Gators might not have been in that position if not for that early turnover-fueled surge. The same can be said for their game last Saturday against Alabama. The Gators had an 8-0 lead before the Tide had even gotten the ball across midcourt. This early surge similarly allowed them to withstand some frustration with Alabama’s zone and 16 first half points from Trevor Releford. Sometimes it’s not only about how you finish, but also how you start. Where does Tennessee go from here? The Vols are out of chances for a sparkling Florida/Kentucky resume-enhancing win, but their NCAA Tournament situation is far from dire. They should be favored in all of their remaining SEC games other than next weekend’s contest at Missouri, and currently at 6-5, they could be in good position to rack up an impressive conference record. Pair this with their solid overall RPI and a win or two in the SEC Tournament, and Cuonzo Martin may get his first invitation to March Madness while living in Knoxville.
  2. Momentum was there for Ole Miss to grab. The Rebels had beaten a fellow bubble buddy in Missouri, and then faced manageable road games against Alabama and Georgia before massive back-to-back home dates with Kentucky and Florida. A three-game winning streak followed by a statement win would surely have been what the resume doctor ordered. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Tide upended Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa last night. Trevor Releford (26 points on 8-of-16 shooting) refused to let another game slip away for the Tide when the Rebels regained the lead with just under 10 minutes left. The senior went on to score 14 of the Tide’s last 16 points, including a game-winning three with under a second left. He won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament (or NIT, barring a minor miracle) in his final amateur season, but he can contribute to Anthony Grant’s program in a big way by playing hard and showing leadership despite the team’s struggles. There aren’t many young players on Alabama’s roster (just two freshmen and a sophomore), but he has set a great example nonetheless. The Rebels, for their part, essentially face a must-win game in Athens on Saturday. If they were to lose that one they could conceivably be stuck with a 7-7 record after the Kentucky/Florida gauntlet. That’s not a good look for a team that appears to be on the outside looking in right now. It’ll help if Jarvis Summers, who has had an excellent season, breaks out of his mini-road slump. In the Rebels’ last two losses at Kentucky and Alabama, he’s only 6-of-22 from the field and 1-of-6 from three despite shooting 50 percent (and that’s not a typo) from distance on the season. Marshall Henderson may be the Ole Miss wildcard, but Summers has been the steady hand that Andy Kennedy needs to return sooner than later.
  3. Johnny Jones has to plug a hole in his rotation after losing Malik Morgan for the rest of the season. The sophomore injured his knee during LSU’s weekend win over Auburn, and had surgery Monday evening. “It’s certainly a blow to us,” Jones said. “That’s an area we are certainly going to have to look at and find out exactly how we will dispatch those minutes. He was able to give us positive minutes.” Jones indicated that freshmen Tim Quarterman (12.5 MPG) and Shane Hammink (6.3 MPG) will be counted on to replace Morgan’s 15.5 minutes per game. This isn’t a crushing blow to LSU since Morgan wasn’t relied on heavily on either end of the floor. But it does limit Jones’ options, and takes away a high energy player and occasional starter. Morgan’s length (6’4’’) and energy was valuable when the Tigers went to a zone look. Quarterman and Hammink do both have length, which is good for Jones. The other angle to this injury is how it’ll affect Morgan’s development. Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman are seniors so there will be an openings on the perimeter next season, and a full season of games would’ve been ideal for Morgan and LSU.
  4. Kentucky has won three straight games. Up next is an Auburn team against which the Wildcats own a 15-game winning streak. And after them? The third-ranked team in the country and the SEC’s biggest game to date. That game would lose a tiny bit of luster if the Wildcats are caught overlooking Auburn and suffer a letdown. “There’s no risk in overlooking Auburn. We all know that Auburn can beat us. We know that we’re going to get their best game. We know that they’re a very, very good team who has two guards who are really playing well,” said Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. Count tonight as an unexpected measuring stick in the great experiment that is the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats. It’d be hard not to be excited for the upcoming game against Florida at home, and how hard the Wildcats play against Auburn will reveal a lot about their team maturity and development. It’s an easy game to look past, but Kentucky has already been burned on the road by a tandem of high-scoring guards. KT Harrell and Chris Denson average more combined points per game (39.6) than Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who went for 61 against the Wildcats. This also might be another good chance for John Calipari to work on the zone defense he’s flashed recently. Harrell has been effective from deep this season (39.1 3P%) but that’s been it for the Tigers. As a team they’ve shot 31.9% from three, and two of the three players that dominate the ball (Denson and Tahj Shamsid-Deen) shoot under 30.7%. A final interesting angle to a game that looks mundane on the surface is the relationship between Calipari and Tony Barbee, who got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Calipari at UMass, and was on his Memphis staff for six years. Since Barbee is sitting on the hot seat, this could be the last time the two face off in the SEC.
  5. There were some upgrades for the SEC this season after Mike Slive mandated tougher scheduling outside conference play. For one, despite not actually winning any of its tough games, Alabama did jump from the 69th toughest nonconference schedule in 2012-13 to the ninth toughest this season. They weren’t the only teams to upgrade. According to the Associated Press, “Kentucky (59th to 14th), Mississippi (271st to 103rd) and LSU (234th to 137th) are also among the teams who made big leaps in strength of nonconference schedule.” This still wasn’t enough, as the SEC nonconferene RPI on the whole was bad, and only Kentucky and Florida have tournament spots seemingly locked up. Slive’s policy should start to see greater returns over the next few years when coaches have greater flexibility to add more name-brand opponents. It’s unlikely anyone schedules like the Tide this year: they played Wichita State, Duke, UCLA, Oklahoma and Xavier. But their fate shouldn’t be a cautionary tale that scares off other SEC coaches. Had the Tide won even one of those difficult games (and they were close) their season could’ve taken on a different feel RPI- and momentum-wise. The SEC doesn’t currently have the cache to get their teams in based on conference play alone. Risks like Anthony Grant’s aggressive nonconference schedule need to be taken to build national respect.
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SEC M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Kentucky isn’t the only SEC team playing with greater energy these days. LSU‘s effort had been similarly questioned after being pasted at home by Tennessee in their conference opener, and more recently, they had fallen behind by 19 points in a loss to wishy-washy Alabama. But the Tigers followed up their big win against Kentucky last week by racing out to a 15-point halftime lead against Arkansas over the weekend. “We didn’t want to be the team that comes out and gets hit every game,” said Jordan Mickey. “We want to do the hitting ourselves. We want to come out with a lot of energy and hit teams first.” This aggressive play is also attracting more fans to the Maravich Center, as NOLA.com‘s Ron Higgins wrote that the biggest crowd of the season watched the win over Arkansas. Johnny Jones is trying to reinvigorate the Tigers’ fan base, and building on the attention-grabbing Kentucky win with another solid performance should help his cause. It also helped the Tigers’ NCAA cause because they avoided a letdown after an important resume-building win (LSU lost to Alabama after beating Missouri).
  2. Michael Frazier‘s emergence as a reliable scoring option for Florida has been largely overshadowed by Casey Prather’s SEC Player of the Year level season. The sophomore guard led the Gators in scoring (21 points) against hapless Texas A&M, and the way he got those points indicates significant growth in his offensive attack. “Frazier matched a career high with 21 points but only got nine of those points on three-pointers (3-of-11 from beyond the arc),” writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. “Frazier went to the free throw line eight times and if he can do that while making three-point shots, it will boost both his scoring and UF’s scoring.” Frazier has essentially been a three-point specialist this season (taking 75 percent of his shots from deep), and a very good one at that (43.3% 3FG). It’ll be interesting to see he continues to explore driving opportunities as the season winds on. A game against an overmatched opponent like the Aggies is certainly a good chance to try new things.
  3. Auburn is going streaking. The Tigers won their second straight game by beating Georgia on Saturday, and had five players score in double figures in a conference game for the first time since 2010. That’s a stark change from a team that has been in a dead heat with Missouri to see which can get the highest percentage of their offense from the fewest players. The Tigers now head to South Carolina, where a third-straight win is not inconceivable. Despite these recent wins, Tony Barbee‘s job is still probably in jeopardy. The folks at College and Magnolia offered up Toledo’s Tod Kowalczyk as a potential replacement. While they make a good point about his history building up moribund programs (Wisconsin-Green Bay and Toledo), he has no connection to the South. This isn’t a fatal strike against him, but his entire Division I coaching career has been spent on the East Coast (Rutgers, Rider, New Hampshire) or the Midwest (Marquette, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Toledo). He’d be at an immediate recruiting disadvantage because at the moment Auburn is probably best served by recruiting regionally. Some hard work and a couple smart assistant coaching hires could fix this, but Kowalczyk would still be coming from behind at the start.
  4. Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt is on a three-game winning streak and in the thick of the SEC race. Kevin Stallings dipped into his bag of tricks and used a zone more against Mississippi State for a number of reasons. The Tennesseans‘ Nick Cole wrote, “Although typically a man-to-man team, Vanderbilt utilized a zone defense for much of the game to shield against fatigue for its seven-man rotation, as well as to force the Bulldogs, who are last in the league in three-point shooting percentage, into being a jump-shooting team.” Using the zone to save the Commodores’ legs isn’t a bad idea, since Vanderbilt’s season has essentially become a prolonged tournament with their small rotation. Kyle Fuller has been one the hardest working men in the South, logging 40 minutes in five of Vanderbilt’s eight conference games. But maybe enough is enough when it comes to that storyline. The Commodores have played well in the SEC, regardless of how many players see the court every night.
  5. Last week nearly spelled the end of Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament bid. The Rebels were roughed up by Tennessee in Knoxville, and then trailed South Carolina by nine with under 6 minutes left… at home. But Jarvis Summers led an Ole Miss rally, and Red Cup Rebellion summed up its importance. “The importance of winning this game can’t be overstated. Well, let me rephrase: The importance of not losing this game can’t be overstated. The Gamecocks came in with an RPI of #127, and losing to them on the Rebels’ home court could have doomed any shot for the Tournament.” This was the second time the Rebels staved off a potentially resume-tanking loss to South Carolina, as they won earlier by only one point in Columbia. The Rebels play Missouri, Florida and Kentucky (twice) in February, so winning the games they are favored in is even more important. They did that on Saturday, but not without some tense moments in Oxford. LaDarius White (12 points) reached double figures for the third time in four games, and has been nice perimeter counterpart to Summers and Marshall Henderson.
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SEC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

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  1. Perhaps no team in the country has had as many highs and lows as LSU since conference play began. The Tigers have been blown out at home by Tennessee, endured a 15-0 run by Ole Miss to lose a game of which they were in control, and erased a 19-point deficit against Alabama only to lose the game. But last night they reached the highest point of their season with an impressive home win over Kentucky. The win is a huge boon to LSU’s NCAA Tournament prospects as they head into a relatively benign four-game stretch (Arkansas, at Georgia, Auburn, at Texas A&M). The Tigers still have their warts (notably, poor free throw shooting and turnovers) but their frontcourt has to be considered one of the top units in the country. Jordan Mickey, Johnny O’Bryant and friends held Julius Randle to the lowest scoring output of his career (six points) and gave up just 11 combined rebounds to he and Willie Cauley-Stein. And while Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress found a number of tip-ins and other baskets in the second half, it didn’t matter with the way O’Bryant was playing on offense.
  2. Missouri picked up easily its best road win since joining the SEC last night by winning at Bud Walton Arena. The win pumps life into the Tigers’ sagging NCAA Tournament hopes, and gives them momentum heading into consecutive games against Kentucky and Florida. There’s a legitimate rivalry growing between these two schools. The last two games in Fayetteville have come down to the wire, and there will always be added juice as long as former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is at Arkansas. A lightning quick postgame handshake (without the seemingly standard shoulder pat) suggests things aren’t exactly rosy between he and Frank Haith. Part of what makes college basketball so great are the regional rivalries and atmosphere surrounding them, and it looks like the SEC is on the verge of having another special match-up.
  3. Billy Donovan has a lot of talent to work with at Florida, but he  also has something that’s become increasingly rare at big-time programs: plenty of senior leadership. There are four seniors averaging over 24 minutes per game, and that experience should keep Florida focused as the schedule winds towards March. Part of that responsibility includes mentoring young players such as Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. “They don’t really know how to get themselves prepared, how to to make their way through practice every single day,” Will Yeguete said. “We talk to them and let them know that we have to get ourselves ready.” The Gators’ defense was highlighted on the microsite yesterday, and it’s the biggest reason Florida is in the running for a No. 1 seed. But their intangibles and experience will also come in handy during postseason play.
  4. The numbers are not on Tony Barbee‘s side. The Tigers have the second worst SEC record over his four years Barbee (12-44), and the Tigers have not won a conference game in 51 weeksAl.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky wonders whether Barbee should get the fifth year that Gene Chizik didn’t get on the gridiron. He writes, “Forget winning any kind of championship. Barbee’s program has yet to stage even a one-hit wonder of a major upset over the likes of a Kentucky or a Florida. His Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team, and they haven’t won a game in the SEC Tournament.” Barbee also hasn’t yet lived up to his reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He hasn’t brought a single player to Auburn who was the caliber of Randy Culpepper, a fringe pro prospect he recruited while at UTEP. The good thing for Barbee is that given the priority put on the Tigers’ football team (and things are going pretty well on that front), the administration can be patient without major repercussions if they have faith in him.
  5. Trevor Releford got quite a workout last week. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan’s injury absence forced Releford to play 40 minutes in Alabama’s games against LSU and Florida. ”He’s our only senior. He’s a veteran so he gets the sense of urgency in terms of what we need to do,” Grant said. “To play 80 minutes in 48 hours, that was all heart and guts on his part.” The workload might have taken a toll on Releford, as he only scored two points in the second half against LSU. Seemingly to give him a rest, Grant played him off the ball and ran the offense through Levi Randolph instead. This might not be a bad look going forward because Randolph has the size to see passing lanes and the ability to penetrate, while Releford is a good three-point shooter. One thing, however, is for certain: Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom feel no sympathy for Releford.
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SEC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 9th, 2013

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  1. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish wonders whether former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set an unrealistically high bar for freshmen adjusting to the college game. Both the Wildcats and Kansas each picked up their second losses of the season over the weekend, and Parrish says both young teams struggled with confusing zone defenses. Kentucky will be just fine, and an undisciplined, weird game against a good Baylor team in a largely empty football stadium isn’t indicative of how their season will unfold. He writes that calling the Wildcats a great team to begin the season may have been premature, but there’s no reason to think they can’t eventually get there. Much of the problem lies with perception of what a great team is supposed to do. Going undefeated is not a prerequisite to being considered a great team and neither is blowing away the competition in the season’s opening weeks. Kentucky has had two close losses to good teams, but they’ve happened in the first month of the season. The Wildcats’ ultimate story for this season is yet to be written.
  2.  The last five days can be summed up as a big missed opportunity for Ole Miss. The Rebels lost a close game to struggling Kansas State on the road, then came home and played a back and forth game with Oregon until they were outplayed in overtimeMarshall Henderson had a terrible shooting night against the Wildcats (4-of-18), and missed a potential game-tying three in that one. He was the opposite against Oregon, scoring 39 points on a dizzying 27 shots. He is what he is, and hitting a double-clutch three to draw Ole Miss within a possession with under a minute to go is as vintage Henderson as last year’s jersey pop against Auburn. At the end of the day, the Rebels missed a chance at a win that would’ve been valuable for their resume come March. A cause for concern is that the Ole Miss frontcourt was beaten in two different ways in the second halves of both games. Against Kansas State, Thomas Gipson bullied Ole Miss in the low post, getting a number of easy looks at the rim. In the Oregon game, the Rebels couldn’t cover Mike Moser and his mid- to long-range shooting, particularly struggling on pick-and-pop plays. Ole Miss needs to learn from its defensive struggles against forwards with different offensive skill sets if it hopes to make it back to the NCAA Tournament next March.
  3. Add Missouri’s starting trio of guards to the elite backcourts in the country, says CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello. Jordan ClarksonEarnest Ross and Jabari Brown each scored at least 20 points in the Tigers’ win against UCLA Saturday. Ross’ three-point shooting was the biggest reason for Missouri’s second half comeback, but Clarkson and Brown each showed components that could make them close to unguardable. Clarkson has gotten to the rim at will this season but has struggled shooting from distance. He has a slightly awkward low release, but hit three three-pointers against the Bruins. Brown, on the other hand, has a nice long range shooting stroke but was intent on attacking the basket on Saturday. If both continue to improve on those facets of their respective games, Missouri should be set offensively.
  4. That thunderous sigh of relief you just heard? That was Billy Donovan, who will have Scottie Wilbekin back for Florida’s Tuesday game against Kansas. The high ankle sprain Wilbekin suffered in the final moments of last week’s Connecticut game was not as serious as originally thought. Without Wilbekin, Donovan would have had to cobble together point guard play from Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith, among others, taking away from what those players do best. Frazier is a good three-point shooter and is thus more valuable off the ball, spacing the floor for Casey Prather’s driving opportunities. Finney-Smith is an excellent offensive rebounder, so having him farther away from the basket while playing point guard partially takes that away. Wilbekin probably won’t be 100 percent for this game, but given that he’s a senior he’ll likely find ways to contribute.
  5. Auburn didn’t look like it belonged on the same court as Illinois Sunday afternoon, trailing the Illini 73-41 at one point in the second half. The Tigers put together a late “rally” to get within 20, but this is concerning nonetheless for Tony Barbee. Auburn allowed Illinois to shoot over 50 percent from three, and over 60 percent overall. SEC leading scorer Chris Denson and KT Harrell have been a good offensive duo, but that doesn’t matter if the Tigers’ field goal defense continues at that clip. On the season Auburn is allowing its opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field, so the hope is that the Illinois game was an anomaly. Another disappointing showing was the number of seats filled in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. The attendance was reportedly just over 2,000 fans. One would think a few more of the thousands of Auburn fans in town for the SEC football championship game would’ve shaken off their victory hangovers to see their basketball team play.
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SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

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  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
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SEC M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 13th, 2013

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  1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been named the SEC Player of the Year. Coaches bucked the trend of only selecting candidates from the conference’s top teams, instead choosing to recognize how truly valuable the Georgia guard is to his team. Caldwell-Pope averaged 18 points per game (almost 10 more than the next closest Bulldog), and even led Georgia in rebounds despite standing at only 6’5″. The sophomore from Greenville, Georgia, appeared to be leading a bottom-conference team through the opening months of the season, but Mark Fox’s team turned it around in league play, finishing with a .500 record. Barring a miraculous run in the SEC Tournament, Georgia fans’ attention will turn to hoping their star resists the draw of the NBA and returns for another season.
  2. Billy Donovan has been named SEC Coach of the Year. He led Florida to its third outright SEC title in a season where his senior-led Gators have clearly been the class of the conference. His team enters postseason play on a bit of a sour note, having blown another late lead over the weekend to Kentucky. Donovan had developed a reputation of not putting great defensive teams on the floor, but that assertion should be put to rest after this season. Florida is the nation’s second most efficient defensive team, as only Louisville ranks ahead of the Gators in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive rankings.
  3. Despite not seeing the court for a month now, Nerlens Noel took home a lot of hardware. Kentucky’s freshman center was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the SEC Freshman of the Year, and earned a spot on the all-SEC first team. He is the Wildcats’ only representative out of the 16 players named SEC first or second team this season. Noel might have been one of the last members of Big Blue Nation to learn of his accomplishments, however, as he spent Tuesday having his torn ACL operated on by the notorious Dr. James Andrews.
  4. One SEC bubble team may not have its full arsenal this week in Nashville. Ole Miss starting big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner have been playing in pain all season, and backup Anthony Perez has missed the last three games with a knee injury. “We really don’t have a (full) front line, so it makes it difficult to practice,” assistant coach Bill Armstrong said. “We’ll just continue to stay the course and prepare the way that we’ve prepared over the last month or so. And just get ready mentally, more than anything else, for Friday.” A likely match-up with Missouri, an SEC team with the personnel to attack a weakened front line, looms on Friday.
  5. Is the end near for Tony Barbee at Auburn? The Tigers underachieved this season, riding a nine-game losing streak to a last place SEC finish. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, however, has been quiet on the issue. “We haven’t had conversations about that,” Barbee said. “(We talk) about where the team is right now, about how we’re going to play against Texas A&M.” In addition to the Tigers’ poor performance on the court, there seems to be some dissent within the ranks as well. Junior guard Chris Denson revealed that players haven’t responded well to Barbee’s “hard coaching” style. “People are just not buying into what Coach Barbee is talking about,” Denson said. “I mean, he’s a great coach, and people just aren’t buying into what he’s saying.”
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SEC M5: 03.08.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 8th, 2013

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  1. Tempers flared on Tuesday night when Arkansas squared off against Missouri, but the real showdown was between coaches. Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson returned to Columbia for the first time since leaving the Tigers, and current Missouri coach Frank Haith apparently hasn’t taken too kindly to some of the credit Anderson has placed upon himself for Haith’s recent success. Anderson made no secret that he felt he left the program in great shape for Haith two seasons ago. “That was a team that probably could have contended for a Final Four. I really thought that. … So you ask me what kind of shape it was in? … It was in great shape. Most guys don’t inherit a team like that.” Did Haith take that statement personally? Perhaps he did take offense, based on the altercation during one of the timeouts of Missouri’s thumping of Arkansas.  So  it just might make you giddy to know that there is still a possibility that Missouri and Arkansas could face off once more in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, if a couple of things go the right way for both teams this weekend.
  2. There has been a lot of bubble chatter on this site, nationally, and among anyone who follows college basketball even moderately. The stakes were clear for both Ole Miss and Alabama, two teams widely considered among the first four out or close thereafter,  going into Tuesday’s game. Win, and live to see another day. Lose, and the bubble would burst. But according to at least one opinion, all of the excitement over the bubble was for naught because ultimately, “this Alabama team is not an NCAA Tournament team. Over and out.” Alabama has wins over Villanova, Tennessee, and Kentucky, but none of those are victories are likely to impress the committee too much. With three losses in their last four games, it is probably time for the Tide to focus their efforts on the postseason, but perhaps the NIT is a more appropriate goal at this point.
  3. Auburn senior guard Frankie Sullivan finally broke out of a severe slump on Wednesday night against the Tennessee Volunteers. He scored 24 points, his largest contribution since a 26 point effort against Arkansas on January 16. Following that double overtime loss in Bud Walton Arena, Sullivan was averaging almost 18 points per game, but from that point on, he managed just 9.7 points per game on 31 percent shooting from the field. Head coach Tony Barbee thinks it’s all in Sullivan’s head. “This stretch right here is as mind-boggling as anything I’ve seen,” Barbee said. “Those are shots that are as automatic as automatic can be for a guy. He’s just struggling mentally right now.” Unfortunately, Sullivan’s resurgence against the Vols is too late for the Tigers to make an impact in the league after losing fourteen of their last fifteen games.
  4. Florida is still experiencing some gaps during stretches on offense, but the Gators continue to rely on defense to win games. “Defense got it done for us tonight,” UF forward Erik Murphy said. “We weren’t clicking on offense early and it allowed us to overcome some things before we got into a rhythm.” Coach Billy Donovan said the Gators’ level of defensive efficiency against Vanderbilt is the way it should always be. “We need to do that to all the teams we play,” Donovan said. “They were a team that, scouting them, definitely was playing better and making shots from the 3-point line. We really collectively, I thought, did a good job there and didn’t give them too many easy layups.” Florida held Vandy to just 40 points on 26.9 percent shooting from the field. If UF continues to be inconsistent on offense, its defense will be forced to lead the way.
  5. Nerlens Noel is filling up his free time by dropping rhymes for his new rap, and it was actually pretty good. The real kicker came towards the end when Noel teases Kentucky fans with the line,  “I might come back — but I don’t know yet.” Check out the video for yourself. Enjoy on this Friday morning:


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SEC M5: 01.23.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 23rd, 2013

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  1. Scottie Wilbekin is probably not the first player you think of on the Florida roster, but he is emerging as a superstar on defense. ”He’s always hung his hat on being a great defender,” coach Billy Donovan said about his starting point guard. “That’s always been important to him. Our defense has gotten better and he’s got a lot to do with that. As a point guard, it’s probably somewhat changed our team’s mentality a little bit going out there and defending the way we have.” Wilbekin’s lock-down defense held Texas A&M’s Elston Turner to four points (a season low) on 1-of-10 shooting after a superb 40-point performance against Kentucky. Then, he held consensus preseason SEC player of the year Phil Pressey to two points (a season low) and 10 turnovers (season high) over the weekend.
  2. It seems like Florida Gator Erik Murphy has been playing through one injury or another all season long. But Murphy admits he’s playing through some pain caused by a broken rib. “Duke [Florida trainer Dave "Duke" Werner] pads it up pretty good, so it doesn’t really hurt that much when I get hit on it,” Murphy said. “Just trying to take care of it every day. Ice it. It’s getting better. The longer I wait, the better it’ll get. It’s healing over time, feeling better. But it’s not that bad when I’m playing.” The casual observer might not even notice a difference. Murphy’s statistics haven’t dropped off since missing his only game of the year on January 6 at Yale. He’s scored in double figures in each of the four games he’s played since.
  3. Kentucky won big at Auburn on Saturday, and coach John Calipari said that he saw something during that game that he’s “been waiting all year for.” It wasn’t necessarily the victory that got Coach Cal riled up. “See, I’m trying to convince them that the wins and losses, they come and go. You’re not going to be judged just by that. You’re going to be judged by your effort, your fight, your scrappiness. At the end of your career, that’s what they’re going to look at. Did you have it or not?” Cal’s corps of freshmen might not have it yet, but sometimes it takes a reminder that many of the Wildcats’ core group of leaders are just 17 games into their college careers and it takes more time than that to develop a cohesive team.
  4. Is Arkansas a football state or is there a possibility that fans of the flagship university can support basketball along with their love for football? Mike Anderson was brought in to save the Razorback program with a fast-paced (and winning) brand of basketball, but is it working? There seems to be more questions than answers regarding its current state, but fan support remains an important component to the measure of success. It was, in large part, a portion of the reason John Pelphrey was dismissed from the program. And right now, fan support in Arkansas is dwindling. Is that because of a lack of institutional support or is it because Anderson simply isn’t getting it done? He still has time to turn things around, but how much of a leash he has may be the most important question of all.
  5. On the flip side, Auburn sees its fan base growing in large part because of its belief in third year coach Tony Barbee’s ability to win games. A sold-out crowd against Kentucky on Saturday night showed the coaching staff that the fans are behind them and the team. ”The excitement around Auburn basketball is the highest it’s been since we’ve been here,” assistant coach Randall Dickey said. And the interest in the team coincides with improved play from the Tigers. Auburn has a losing overall record, but wins over Florida State and LSU, along with a positive effort against the Wildcats, has Auburn seemingly headed in the right direction.
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SEC M5: 01.04.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 4th, 2013

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  1. Tennessee’s premier non-conference rivalry continues today when Memphis travels to Thompson-Boling Arena to take on the Vols. The match-up will bring an eight-year contract between the schools to a close, and with the two schools unable to come to an agreement for future games, we may not see these in-state rivals face each other in the near future. It’s a shame really, as Tennessee-Memphis has been one of the most exciting rivalries in recent years. Bruce Pearl and John Calipari were instrumental in reigniting the rivalry, but even with new coaches Cuonzo Martin and Josh Pastner now on board, the two schools have remained competitive. Last November, in an unplanned game in the Maui Invitational, Memphis held off the Vols in double overtime in what turned out to be one of the most memorable early games of the season. A renewal of this rivalry seems unlikely in the near future, but we can always hope.
  2. John Calipari acknowledges his team’s occasional lack of effort. A special freshman class can break the mold (i.e., his 2011 class), but a group of stars coming from the high school ranks frequently struggles with motivation. How does Calipari combat this problem? Cold hard numbers. The UK training staff is employing a device (the specifics of which have not been disclosed) that gives them ”the ability to monitor and check how much effort players are giving in real time. Because we are able to read their heart rates, now we know who is maxing out in practice and who is hiding, who thinks they’re going hard and who isn’t, who is able to push themselves through pain, and who has mental toughness to be special.” Interesting.
  3. Auburn basketball. Anyone care to explain? I sure can’t. The Tigers have been a conference bottom-feeder for years, but at least one conference prognosticator (OK… me) thought that the Tigers would experience at least a mild renaissance this season. However, after a 2-5 start that included losses to Boston College and Rhode Island, I’d lost faith. However (yes, another “however”, it’s appropriate), the Tigers might have turned things around. Tony Barbee’s squad traveled to Chicago over the weekend and almost pulled off a massive upset over the 12th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini, and in their non-conference finale, the Tigers upset Florida State, a talented team despite not meeting its own preseason expectations. Auburn is entering SEC play on a high note, and with a relatively soft opening conference schedule, the Tigers will look to compile some momentum before matching up against the SEC’s elite.
  4. A quick look at its non-conference schedule shows UCLA as Missouri’s last quality opponent, but true college basketball connoisseurs will note that Bucknell shouldn’t be counted as one of the Tiger’s cupcakes. The SEC is in an obvious down year, but the newcomers from Columbia have made an impression in the young season. Despite the loss of a key contributor in shooting guard Michael Dixon, the Tigers still have arguably the nation’s top point guard in Phil Pressey, who shouldn’t have much of a problem dominating the weak defenses that populate much of the SEC. A home-and-home with Florida and a trip to Rupp Arena loom large, but Missouri boasts the quality of talent to become the conference’s premier team in its first season.
  5. We’re about a third of the way through the college basketball season, and South Carolina sits in the top half of the SEC. Impressive, right? Maybe not, if you look at the schedule. The Gamecocks have lost only three games to this point, but when your most impressive win is at home against Rider (ranked 207th by Ken Pomeroy), you take that record with a massive block of salt. The Gamecocks will be looking to establish more of a trustworthy record as we approach the SEC season, but in their last  non-conference game, they’ll be without several key contributors against South Carolina State over the weekend. Second-leading scorer Lashay Page, Outback Bowl hero Bruce Ellington, and freshman forward Michael Carrera will watch Saturday’s game from the sidelines, but as the Bulldogs rank 346th of 347 teams (according to Mr. Pomeroy), we won’t be surprised to see South Carolina escape without any trouble.
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