SEC M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. There has been ample discussion about what can be done to make college basketball a more enjoyable product, and with good reason. Scoring is down again this year, with way too many games finishing in the 50s and 60s. The most common suggested fix for the scoring issue is to reduce the shot clock to 30 seconds. A recent ESPN poll found that more than 58 percent of the sample of coaches would like to see that happen, although the SEC’s most prominent coach, John Calipari, said that he essentially could not care less whether it does. Given the sheer amount of talent that Calipari brings to Kentucky, it is likely that he will win big regardless of the pace of the game (notably, this is Calipari’s slowest team in his coaching career). Whether the change is actually recommended going forward won’t be known until after the NCAA’s Competition Committee meets in May.
  2. To say this has been a trying first season for Missouri head coach Kim Anderson would be understating things. His team is currently mired in the cellar and on a brutal nine-game losing streak. He lost leading scorer Wes Clark to injury in a Tuesday loss to South Carolina, and he has suspended three more players over the last couple of weeks. Still, all of that turmoil pales in comparison to the experience he went through on Wednesday afternoon when the twin-engine plane he was on for a recruiting trip needed to make an emergency landing in St. Clair, Missouri. Anderson was on his way to Illinois when he heard a “small rumble,” and after the safe landing, he complimented the two pilots for their efforts. Perhaps not surprisingly, Anderson’s return trip to Columbia was by car.
  3. The Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 was released on Wednesday, and the SEC had two representatives on the list: Arkansas’ Bobby Portis, who is averaging a league-leading 17.9 points per game to go along with 8.8 rebounds per contest; and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, who is fourth in the SEC in blocks. Portis’ inclusion is no surprise, as the leading candidate for SEC Player of the Year has led Arkansas to its best season in the Mike Anderson era. As for Cauley-Stein, he was considered a National Player of the Year candidate after a strong start in November, but the junior center has been less effective lately. Given the recent emergence of freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, a strong argument could even be made that Cauley-Stein isn’t the best post presence on his own team.
  4. Speaking of the Wildcats, what would an M5 be without some mention of their quest for an undefeated season? Kentucky survived quite a scare in Tuesday’s come-from-behind win at LSU, but with only seven games left in the regular season, the national discussion and laser-hot focus will only become more intense. CBSSports.com’s “Undefeated Watch” takes a look at those seven games and what kind of threat there is for the Big Blue to lose any of them. The chances of any individual team taking down the Wildcats is not very high, but a home game against Arkansas and a trip to Georgia seem to offer the best opportunities. The reality is that it’s likely that Kentucky leaves the SEC Tournament in Nashville with a great chance to become the first undefeated national champion in the last 39 years.
  5. Florida is having a nightmarish season — the Gators’ crushing one-point loss to Ole Miss on Thursday being only the latest example — and the NCAA Tournament is clearly off the table unless it wins the SEC Tournament. But there is some good news for Billy Donovan on the facilities front, as his athletic department has committed to a $60 million renovation to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center as well as an expansion of the weight room in the basketball practice facility. The O-Dome renovations will include new chair-back seats, club seating, and center-hung video boards. The Gators have had one of the game’s preeminent coaches roaming the sidelines for the past two decades, and it will now have a facility worthy of such a fantastic leader.
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Freeze Frame: The Improvement of Karl-Anthony Towns

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 10th, 2015

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

Karl-Anthony Towns production in SEC play.

Karl-Anthony Towns’ production in SEC play.

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

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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SEC M5: MLK Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 19th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. So many potential narratives started swirling around after Kentucky’s shaky outings against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Had the Wildcats become unfocused and vulnerable? Would they respond? Was the sky falling? At least for now, it seems the close calls indeed got the ‘Cats attention. “I think those struggles just reset our mind,” Willie Cauley-Stein told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Now we’re back to like, ‘OK, we’re trying to shut people out.’ We’re not just trying to play with them. We’re trying to demoralize them.” After allowing Ole Miss to score more points per possession than it had any team this season (1.09), Kentucky broke Missouri’s soul (0.58) and then stifled a good Alabama squad (0.83). Given Alabama’s length, athleticism and desperation for a marquee win, the game in Tuscaloosa may have been one of the tougher road assignments Kentucky will face this year. They passed it easily, and it seems the appropriate narrative is that the Wildcats’ slow start to conference play may have in fact been a positive thing.
  2. Kentucky isn’t the only team that took something away from its SEC opener against Ole Miss. The Rebels weren’t intimidated in Rupp against a seemingly invincible opponent, and they brought that same confidence to Fayetteville when they whacked Arkansas 96-82. If you combine their shooting stats from both games, the Rebels shot 53.1 percent on 32 three-point attempts. That is precisely the way to give yourself a chance against good teams in tough environments. The abundance of bravado has to be tied to Ole Miss’ veteran backcourt of Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody and Snoop White. The trio has guided the Rebels to a 2-2 record against arguably the best the SEC has to offer: Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas. Ole Miss may be able to make some hay as the schedule eases up, especially if it keeps lighting it up from deep.
  3. Is Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones the most important player in the SEC? Probably not, but the Aggies are 2-0 with him in SEC play and 0-2 without him. Billy Kennedy’s leading scorer returned from an ankle injury to score 16 points in a win over Mississippi State and then 18 points in Saturday’s win over LSU. The latter performance was all the more impressive since it came against the Tigers’ ultra-talented front line. Would a healthy Jones have given the Aggies the slight edge they would’ve needed to drop Kentucky? We will never know, but with how Texas A&M has struggled to score this season, it needs Jones to remain healthy if it has any chance of ending up on the tournament bubble.
  4. Auburn’s big recruits a year away. The team was coming off a 20 point loss. Kentucky wasn’t in town. And this is Auburn, after all. Nonetheless, Auburn Arena was rocking Saturday night during the Tigers’ quality win over South Carolina. This is the Bruce Pearl effect. We heard about the spike in season ticket sales during the offseason, and actually saw it come to life against the Gamecocks. Cinmeon Bowers – who is becoming a star in the SEC – ripped down an offensive rebound and converted a tough layup to extend the Tigers’ lead to three with under four minutes left and the arena exploded. Last year, a scene like that seemed a world away. But there is truly excitement around Auburn basketball, and with home wins over Missouri and Carolina, not to mention the emergence of Bowers as a double-double machine, there is tangible progress on the court too. Again, this is the Bruce Pearl effect, and the entire league is better for it.
  5. Florida’s 24-game conference win streak came to an end with an unusual sight. Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith were glued to bench for a large swath of the second half in the Gators’ loss to Georgia, and not because of foul trouble. “For me, it was just, let’s play (freshman) Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza. Let’s get them some experience. Let’s let them play. These older guys aren’t playing at the level we need them to play at,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Despite the loss, Florida’s 3-1 conference record does not have it in a helpless position so the benching was a somewhat bold move from Donovan. It might signal that this season has become as much about building for the future as it is contending in the present. And that’s not a bad thing, because except for senior Jon Horford, this same Florida team will likely take the floor together next year.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 16th, 2015

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

Trending Up

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

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

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

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Three Takeaways as Kentucky Annihilates UCLA

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Kentucky and UCLA at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago. 

There has been plenty of talk so far this season about the potential of Kentucky completing an undefeated season. There has been good reason for this talk too, as the Wildcats have shown flashes of being an unstoppable force. This was never more evident than in Saturday afternoon’s 83-42 thrashing of UCLA. Kentucky started the game on a 24-0 run and led 41-7 at halftime. The Wildcats defense was so suffocating that the Bruins were held to 3-of-37 (8.1%) shooting in the first half and 19-of-71 (26.8%) shooting for the game. Probably the most incredible statistics of the first half were that Kentucky had more blocks (eight) and steals (five) than UCLA had made baskets (three). This was a thumping in every sense of the word. It was probably one of those games where UCLA coach Steve Alford would be better served to burn the footage than try to learn from it. The following are three takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s action.

Kentucky Experienced a Lot of This on Saturday Against UCLA (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Experienced a Lot of This on Saturday Against UCLA (USA Today Images)

  1. The first half could not have gone worse for UCLA. When Kentucky guard Devin Booker threw down a dunk at the 12:40 mark of the first half, all UCLA guards Bryce Alford and Norman Powell was stare at each other in amazement,as Booker’s dunk had put Kentucky ahead 24-0. Before swingman Kevon Looney finally converted a lay-in at the 12:17 mark, the Bruins missed their first 17 shots. When the half came to an end, UCLA’s futility was almost laughable. It was down 41-7. It had converted just 3-of-37 shot attempts, including 0-of-9 from behind the three-point line. It had turned the ball over eight times and let eight of its shots be swatted by Kentucky defenders. Adding insult to injury for the Bruins was the fact that it was not like Kentucky had set the world on fire offensively during the opening stanza either. The Wildcats shot just 45.7% from the field and missed several open looks from the perimeter. None of that mattered though, as Kentucky’s incredible defense, depth, and athleticism was the story once again in another lopsided victory. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Battle of Blue Bloods: Previewing North Carolina vs. Kentucky

Posted by David Changas & Lathan Wells on December 13th, 2014

Two college basketball titans renew their rivalry in Lexington Saturday when North Carolina visits Kentucky. RTC’s Lathan Wells and David Changas offer their analysis of the match-up, and give their takes on what it will take for each team to prevail.

David Changas: North Carolina has been particularly ineffective in keeping its opponents off the offensive glass – the Tar Heels currently allow their opponents to grab more than a third of their misses – and Kentucky leads the nation in offensive rebounding (46.1%).  How can North Carolina combat the Wildcats’ prowess on the offensive boards?

Kennedy Meeks will have to be almost perfect for the Tar Heels to have a chance (kentuckysportsradio.com)

Kennedy Meeks will have to be almost perfect for the Tar Heels to have a chance (draftexpress.com)

Lathan Wells: Honestly, I think this an effort issue. The Tar Heels, like the Wildcats, have plenty of size in the post. The two teams who made them look porous on the defensive boards were Butler and Iowa, both of which are much smaller than the Tar Heels, but which played much more aggressively. Brice Johnson has to stay out of the foul trouble that has plagued him recently, because Kennedy Meeks is undersized at the center spot. As you noted, the Wildcats’ offensive rebounding numbers are astonishing. But part of that has to do with the fact that they are only an average shooting team (currently 81st in the country in field goal percentage). If the Tar Heels are better on the glass than in those losses to Butler and Iowa, who has to step up their shooting to make sure the Wildcats’ shots count?

DC:  There is no question that this has to be an area of serious concern for John Calipari. The Wildcats are shooting 27% from three-point range, and last year’s NCAA Tournament hero, Aaron Harrison, is a dreadful 10-for-44 beyond the arc. Of course, Kentucky’s size and incredible ability to attack the offensive glass has covered up this weakness. While the obvious answer to your question is better production from Harrison, having Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, both of whom missed the Columbia game Wednesday, should help, as the two freshmen have been the Wildcats’ best shooters from beyond the arc. Like Kentucky, North Carolina has struggled from deep, and is shooting just 28% from three-point range. Kentucky is nearly impossible to score against on the interior, too.  How can the Tar Heels score enough points to compete in Lexington, much less win the game?

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Freeze Frame: Kentucky’s Alley-Oop Play

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 12th, 2014

Up until Wednesday night against Ivy League opponent Columbia, only Texas and Buffalo had stayed within 20 points of the No. 1 team in the country. While the Wildcats still beat the Lions by double figures, they looked somewhat beatable for much of the game as Columbia slowed things down to 51 possessions. Columbia maintained good spacing on the offensive end of the court, forced Kentucky to shoot primarily from the outside (17 of 60 shots), and cut off the Wildcats’ go-to offensive move, the alley-oop.

Kentucky's dunk totals on the year (through December 11 and the Columbia game).

Kentucky’s top dunk totals on the year (through December 10’s Columbia game).

Kentucky typically uses its athleticism and length to get easy looks at the basket. Against Eastern Kentucky last Sunday, the Wildcats ended up with 14 dunks and 10 lob plays in a rout at Rupp Arena. Just three days later, a well scouted game plan helped Columbia limit the Cats to just two alley-oops, both of which came in transition. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we look at how Kentucky gets so many easy lobs at the rim and how Columbia cut off that option without the same size and athleticism of all the future NBA players who reside in Lexington.

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SEC M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Speculation over whether all of Kentucky’s players are happy with their playing time will likely swirl all season, but last Friday’s win against Texas was one of the first times there was a potentially dicey situation. Willie Cauley-Stein’s huge game (21 points, 12 rebounds, five steals) meant he needed to be on the floor for 33 minutes, and 33 minutes for one player is not a platoon-friendly split. Marcus Lee was the victim of this minutes crunch and he apparently said all the right things during the game. “Willie told Coach [Calipari], ‘Keep Marcus in,'” assistant John Robic told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That’s a sign of maturity. That’s a sign of a leader. That’s a sign of being a good teammate.” Lee was rewarded two nights later against Eastern Kentucky when Cauley-Stein was skipped in the rotation. The atmosphere in the Wildcats’ locker room will be something to monitor, or more appropriately, speculate about, all season. At least for now the waters seem calm.
  2. Another potential source of angst in Lexington is a relative lack of accolades, since it will be hard for anyone on the team to post the necessary numbers in limited minutes that’ll lead to national awards. You can see that manifested in this week’s CBSSports.com’s Wayman Tisdale Freshman Watch. Karl-Anthony Towns is the only Wildcat to make the list, and he’s outside the top five in the “next five up” category. This is certainly small beans, but it’s still noteworthy that a team with arguably the best group of freshmen in the game doesn’t have any posting gaudy enough numbers to crack the top five of such a list. That’s the nature of this year’s Kentucky team, and another thing that maestro John Calipari will need to manage.
  3. This M5 is Kentucky-centric, but I don’t feel guilty about it because that’s essentially how the league has showed out on the court this season. Regardless of how the minutes have been used, the Wildcats are defending their opponents at a potentially historic pace. To date, Kentucky has posted an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 82.6, and if this number holds it’ll be the best rating since KenPom began tracking the statistic in 2001-02. There is a lot of season left, of course, but some of Kentucky’s most difficult regular season games (e.g., Kansas, Texas) have already been played. The SEC as a whole has five other teams ranked in the top 50 of adjusted defensive efficiency (Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU), and – somewhat surprisingly – this compares favorably to the Big Ten (seven teams), Big 12 (seven teams), ACC (five teams) and Pac-12 (five teams).
  4. Tennessee has been working in a lot of new players this year under a new coach, and it is doing so against one of the hardest schedules in the country. The Vols face Butler on Saturday in Knoxville, and that will be their third game against a top-15 team this season. “A lot of these [other] teams I don’t feel are being challenged during non-conference games,” guard Kevin Punter told the Nashville Tennessean. “But we are. Put us through the fire early. Why not?” The schedule might already be paying dividends for the Vols after their nice win last weekend against an up-and-down Kansas State team. A tough schedule for a team in total transition could have been deadly, so it’s good to see that Tennessee is showing some signs of life.
  5. Dorian Finney-Smith was in a three-game mini-slump going into Florida’s game against Yale on Monday, as the senior had shot just 8-of-27 from the floor against UAB, North Carolina and Kansas. This was understandable, of course, because Finney-Smith is playing with a broken non-shooting hand. He came of the slump against Yale, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and he isn’t making excuses. “I’m out there, so I have to play through it,” he told the Gainesville Sun. The Gators need to hope that Finney-Smith’s improved shooting performance is a sign that he’s learning to cope with the injury, because he’s incredibly vital to them overcoming their rough start.
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SEC M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas’ showdown in Hilton Coliseum with Iowa State last night went, well, as you might have expected it to go. The Razorbacks weren’t able to build on their rare-in-the-Mike-Anderson-era road win at SMU and were instead trounced by the Cyclones. This might yet be a team that can consistently play well away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, but it wasn’t apparent last night. To be fair, the Cyclones were an offensive buzzsaw (64.0% FG, 10-of-19 from three), as it seemed they were either hitting threes or making transition baskets on nearly every possession en route to 95 points. Arkansas ended up shooting a respectable 36.0 percent from three, but what did the Razorbacks in was their inability to put a stop to a first half Iowa State run that pushed the lead out to 20. The silver lining? Bobby Portis looked right at home (19 points on 8-of-10 shooting) against top quality competition.
  2. LSU picked up a big win for itself and the SEC by knocking off West Virginia last night in Morgantown. In what was probably the biggest win of Johnny Jones’ tenure, the Tigers notched another nice win for their ultimate NCAA Tournament resume. Whether it’s lucky, encouraging or just strange, the Tigers were able to win without Jordan Mickey scoring until after the last media timeout. Jarell Martin (18 points, 14 rebounds) did a lot of the heavy lifting, but LSU wouldn’t have won without Tim Quarterman (21 points, seven rebounds) and Keith Hornsby (15 points, five rebounds). Quarterman has now scored 14 or more points in the last four games, and the Tigers suddenly look like more than a two-man show in Baton Rouge.
  3. Vanderbilt came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to pull within two points against Baylor in the final minutes of its game Thursday night, but the Commodores couldn’t pull out the victory, as Riley Lachance missed a game-tying three at the buzzer. It’s especially disappointing because a win against a team that currently holds the #14 spot in KenPom’s ratings was well within reach. Vanderbilt now gets nine days off before another resume-enhancing game at home against a major conference team, Purdue. The good news is that Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are emerging as one of the more underrated frontcourt duos in the country. Kornet has been great from deep (15-of-26) and is a good complement to Jones’ low-post ability.
  4. An opportunity slipped away at Ole Miss last night, as the Rebels turned in an ugly offensive performance in a home loss to TCU. Ole Miss shot just 29.8 percent from the floor and Jarvis Summers had his worst game of the season (2-of-12 shooting, three turnovers). Worth noting is that Andy Kennedy kept Summers on the bench with the Rebels trailing by 12 points in the final two minutes. A comeback at that point was more than improbable, but you never expect a senior like Summers (who didn’t appear to be injured) to be sitting at a time like that. This game might be a reflection of how improved TCU is this season, but you would have expected a better showing from Ole Miss at home after two big wins against Creighton and Cincinnati.
  5. The Naismith Award top 50 watch list was released on Wednesday and it features five SEC players: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison, Florida’s Michael Frazier and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. This number of SEC players seems about right, and I can’t think of any glaring omissions off the top of my head. LSU’s Jarell Martin could probably make a case to be on this list, but he didn’t jump off the charts last year so it’s understandable he didn’t make it. It is interesting that Aaron Harrison got the nod while brother Andrew did not, especially because Andrew plays what many consider the more important position. It could be that the difference is the impression still left by Aaron’s late-game heroics in the NCAA Tournament last year.
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SEC M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 1st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The final score didn’t do justice to how close the majority of Kentucky’s 58-38 win over Providence was. The Friars hung within striking distance until there were about nine minutes left in the game, but it never felt like they could mount a real comeback. This was a game where the Wildcats’ size showed up on the perimeter but not the glass. Kentucky just edged out Providence on the boards 33-29, but really disrupted the Friars offense with their length. The Wildcats forced the Friars into 18 turnovers, including 10 by an injured Kris Dunn. One turnover in particular summed up how scary the Kentucky defense can be. Willie Cauley-Stein stole the ball above the three-point line and glided down the court for a transition layup attempt. He ended up missing the contested basket, but there are only so many seven footers out there that can actively bust up a defense at the top of the key, and most of them are in the NBA.
  2. Arkansas has a watermark opportunity Thursday night in Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. But first, the Razorbacks needed to take a care of a harder-than-it-looks game at home against Iona, which came in ranked #65 in KenPom’s latest ratings. Arkansas only managed a 44-40 halftime lead in what remained a seesaw game until Michael Qualls took over and broke the game open with around seven minutes left by scoring 11 points over a three-minute stretch. It can’t be emphasized how important it was for one of the Razorbacks’ best players to step up and not let this game go the other way. Losing to the Gaels at home after just entering the rankings would’ve been a severely deflating loss. Qualls helped make sure this didn’t happen, and kept Arkansas’ early season momentum alive.
  3. Tennessee went 1-2 in the Orlando Classic, with a win over Santa Clara and losses to Kansas and Marquette. This obviously wasn’t a great showing from a win-loss perspective, but the Vols did fight back from a 13-point hole against the Jayhawks and tied the game deep into the second half. It would’ve been a very successful trip had they been able to knock off a rebuilding Marquette team, but that’s not how things turned out. Armani Moore is quietly making his case as the most improved player in the SEC. The junior had 18 points against both the Broncos and Golden Eagles, and is averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, up from 3.1 and 2.2, respectively, last season.
  4. Referee Rick Crawford collapsing to floor after an inadvertent strike from Damian Jones during the opening tip between Vanderbilt and La Salle was probably the scariest college hoops moment of the weekend. Fortunately, Crawford is okay. For his part, Jones continued his All-SEC campaign with 17 points and seven rebounds in the Commodores win over the Explorers in the consolation side of the Barclays Center Classic. Vanderbilt dropped its opener against Rutgers, but can make up for it quickly with upcoming back-to-back home games against Baylor and Purdue. Winning both games against good-but-not-great power conference teams would be a big step for Kevin Stallings’ young team.
  5. Mississippi State’s trip to the Corpus Christi Classic produced a mixed bag of results. Rick Ray’s squad hammered Saint Louis by 25 points but then lost to TCU in the championship game. Make no mistake, beating a solid A-10 program like Saint Louis is where the Bulldogs need to be, but that win would’ve been a lot better had it happened either of the last two years. Unfortunately, Mississippi State wasn’t able to close it out and win the tournament against the Horned Frogs. Craig Sword made his season debut after missing time with a back injury and played 11 scoreless minutes in both games. It should only be a matter of time before he gets up to speed and becomes a go-to scorer for the Bulldogs.
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SEC Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite is wrapping up previews on each team this week, and with the start of the season approaching we begin wrapping up with the league favorite, Kentucky.

Kentucky Wildcats

Strengths. Kentucky has size, depth, athleticism, and nine McDonalds All-Americans at its disposal. The Wildcats welcome back a number of veterans, with 59 percent of last season’s scoring returning to Lexington. They welcome in another highly-ranked recruiting class, of which we have become accustomed to see at least one or two destined to succeed and proceed to the NBA. John Calipari roams the sidelines with a 2012 National Championship and five Final Four appearances under his belt. Someone might bring up vacated appearances, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Calipari was there, and the point here is that he has the necessary experience to guide Kentucky to the promised land once again. Another Final Four run, an SEC championship, and title number nine all seem well within the grasps of the eager paws of a more than capable platoon.

John Calipari's team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

John Calipari’s team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

Weaknesses. Kentucky’s laundry list of strengths does not imply that this team is without a weakness. One of the areas of most concern is at the three position. Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles will both play out of position at the three, causing match-up nightmares for the opposition but also presenting a challenge in a couple of ways. First, both are still developing the ball-handling skills that Calipari is accustomed to having on the wing. Second, a potentially more difficult challenge to address will be defense. Poythress and Lyles will be forced to guard smaller, quicker wing players. Poythress is fairly quick and a good shot-blocker — and there are always several good defenders waiting underneath on Kentucky’s front line — but a true small forward with excellent quickness could give these bigger defenders some trouble. We’d also be remiss for failing to mention the possibility that someone becomes unhappy with his playing time this season. Dissatisfaction can occur on any team within any program, so we have to acknowledge the possibility of unmet expectations here. However, it seems that Kentucky is very well-situated with its depth to deal with a disgruntled player. If someone lets up in practice or games, he knows that somebody else is more than ready to fill his spot. In such a case, Calipari has the luxury of looking down a long bench to find a replacement.

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