Category Archives: Florida

Game Day: Will LSU spoil Florida’s house party?

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A mass text spread the word late Thursday to men in apartments and dorm rooms in this college town.

Arkansas upset Kentucky, and so Florida — already the popularly elected No. 1 team in America — was also back-to-back SEC champions.

Anticlimactic, to be sure.

Getting four games clear with three left to play without lacing up your sneakers would qualify.

But that is life in the bizarro world that is the SEC this season when a game in Lexington, Ky., hands you a crown.

Presto: Billy Donovan’s veteran-laden crew locked up the program’s fourth title in the past eight seasons.

Now, if you’re LSU, there might be a silver lining to all of this.

The Gators have little, in theory, to play for over the next 10 days. The top-seed in the SEC tournament is theirs. They’re considered a strong lock for a No. 1 seed, too, in the NCAA tournament. So long as UF doesn’t go completely into the tank, the program’s bigger goal is a breakthrough in March Madness — runs that have ended the past three seasons in the Elite Eight.

So, maybe you catch the Gators on a day, one where the celebration will take place at O’Connell Center, somewhat content.

Maybe you topple the No. 1 team in the land — a feat LSU hasn’t pulled of in more than 11 years.

Maybe you snap a 20-game winning streak — one that started after a buzzer at UConn left the Gators staggering.

Maybe you halt a 30-game home winning streak at a place called the O-Dome, too.

“They a great team playing on their home court,” LSU guard Anthony Hickey said. “We’ve just got to focus, go in like we always do, and play LSU basketball.”

Or…

“We’re playing against a very, very talented, very good team in LSU,” Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters Friday. “Our guys certainly set out to compete for an SEC championship in early January but at the same point, the season’s not over. We’ve got three games left to be played. Our guys have done a good job up to this point in time of staying focused and going through the process of getting prepared for each game and I don’t think this game is any different for us in terms of you want to continue playing well.”

So, all was calm when Florida’s players saw the message accompanying the good news: Nothing that transpired had anything to do with UF. LSU still loomed.

“We worked for it, but at the same time we’re trying to chase greatness,” sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said Friday afternoon. “We’re not settling for this. We still have a game tomorrow, and that’s what we’re focusing on. It’s great to have that honor. But we still have a lot of things to accomplish.”

What can hearten LSU, which is trying to snap a six-game road losing streak and break out of a four-team pack tied for fourth in the SEC?

The Gators have looked vulnerable the past two weeks.

On Feb. 19, UF rallied past struggling Auburn, who led by eight points at halftime, in a 71-66 victory. A week ago, Marshall Henderson went off for 22 points in the first half before being shut out in the second half for Ole Miss, who hung around until the final minute during a 75-71 victory for Florida. On Wednesday, the Gators gritted out a 57-54 victory at Vanderbilt.

Slipping focus, or simply the perils of conference play? Regardless, UF is now 13-2 this season in games decided by single digits, and 6-1 in games decided by five points or less.

“A lot of things have to do with the ball going in the basket. I can think of a lot of games last year where I thought we had really good looks and we didn’t make shots,” Donovan said. “Those things kind of culminate to being able to play as well. If you can get stops, get good looks and make free throws, you’re probably going to be a team coming down the stretch that is going to put itself in a position to win.”

None of this surprises LSU coach Johnny Jones in the least.

Of course, UF’s quartet of vets in forwards Patric Young and Will Yeguete along with guards Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather makes that easy to deduce.

“That’s their make up,” Jones said. “They have great leadership in those types of games through the years, and they have the ability to close. When you have guys that understand their roles and can make big plays, they know exactly who to go to.”

Meanwhile, LSU, which is coming off putting Texas A&M in a chokehold Wednesday, faces a last stand — of sorts.

The Tigers started the week at the back of a seven-team wreck — or tie for fourth place, depending on your perspective — in the middle of the SEC standings. A win today might help get the Tigers better positioning among peers Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas — all of whom also stand at 8-7 — in a push for a double-by in Atlanta at the SEC tournament.

It might also breathe new life into all but dead NCAA tournament aspirations by giving Jones’ crew a quality win it missed last week in overtime at Kentucky. Do so, and maybe LSU can pick a trail from among the 20-plus options that might wind its way back to the bubble for an at-large berth.

“It’s an opportunity for us to open a door back up,” Hickey said.

The Info

  • When: 3 p.m. today.
  • Where: Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
  • Records: LSU 17-10, 8-7 SEC; No. 1 Florida 26-2, 15-0
  • TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery).
  • Series: LSU leads 60-42.
  • Last Meeting: Florida won 80-58 on March 15, 2013, in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

The Stats

NOTE: The NCAA updates its statistical page only once a week, so I’ve decided to forgo using the rankings given that it doesn’t provide a real-time idea of where LSU stands. KenPom.com has player breakdowns and usage stats, so I’ll utilize those metrics in the Players to Watch section. If you have questions about the statistical categories, head here

LSU

Offense:

  • Points Per Game: 77.3
  • FG %: 45.2
  • 3FG%: 34.5
  • FT%: 67.3
  • Rebounds Per Game: 40.5
  • Assists Per Game: 14.7
  • Turnovers Per Game: 14.2
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 110.8 (No. 61)
  • Adjusted Tempo: 70.9 (No. 25)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 16.7 (No. 57)
  • Effective FG%: 50.6 (No. 121)
  • Turnover %: 19.6 (No. 261)
  • Off. Reb %: 36.7 (No. 31)
  • FTA/FGA: 34.9 (No. 304)

Defense:

  • Points Allowed Per Game: 71.9
  • FG% D: 40.5
  • 3FG% D: 35.0
  • FT%: 72.0
  • Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 36.4
  • Rebound Margin: +4.1
  • Assists Allowed Per Game: 10.8
  • Turnovers Forced Per Game: 13.2
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 100.1 (No. 81)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 16.9 (No. 26)
  • Effective FG% D: 45.4 (No. 36)
  • Turnover %: 18.3 (No. 185)
  • Off. Reb. %: 31.9 (No. 204)
  • FTA/FGA: 40.1 (No. 166)

Florida

Offense:

  • Points Per Game: 70.8
  • FG %: 45.6
  • 3FG%: 34.3
  • FT%: 67.7
  • Rebounds Per Game: 36.3
  • Assists Per Game: 13.0
  • Turnovers Per Game: 11.3
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 116.6 (No. 12)
  • Adjusted Tempo: 62.6 (No. No. 334)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.9 (No. 165)
  • Effective FG%: 51.5 (No. 82)
  • Turnover %: 17.8 (No. 127)
  • Off. Reb %: 37.7 (No. 21)
  • FTA/FGA: 45.0 (No. 70)

Defense:

  • Points Allowed Per Game: 58.6
  • FG% D: 40.3
  • 3FG% D: 34.8
  • FT%: 67.7
  • Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 30.6
  • Rebound Margin: +5.7
  • Assists Allowed Per Game: 9.8
  • Turnovers Forced Per Game: 13.8
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 92.7 (No. 10)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 20.0 (No. 350)
  • Effective FG% D: 45.9 (No. 47)
  • Turnover %: 21.7 (No. 21)
  • Off. Reb. %: 29.7 (No. 91)
  • FTA/FGA: 32.1 (No. 29)

 The Breakdown

Here, we look at three areas that may determine the game’s outcome. Stats are pulled from the most recent game notes, while advanced metrics are taken from kenpom.com or hoop-math.com.

  • Will Hickey or Wilbekin reign? For the past month, the point guards in this one have been maestros. LSU’s Anthony Hickey has averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 assists per game, including a sterling 4.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. And Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin? He’s taken over the scoring load as Casey Prather battles ankle issues and tendinitis in his knee.  The senior has bounced back from an early season suspension to average 18.6 points and 4.3 assists over the Gators’ past seven outings. “He’s the trigger guy, because he creates opportunities for other guys on the floor and can make big plays,” Jones said of Wilbekin. “In the end of games and closing games, he’s got the ball in his hands, because he’s a great decision maker.” Hickey’s take? “I’ve just got to use my speed and can keep him out of the lane,” Hickey said of Wilbekin, who only takes 20.0 percent of his shots at the rim but dishes out 36.4 percent of assists in tight quarters. And both are stellar defensive players, particularly applying on-ball pressure. Only Hickey, who can play like a rover in passing lanes, has checked his risk-taking recently. In February, he’s averaging only 0.7 steals per game, down from the 2.1 he nabbed per game. “I haven’t really been gambling lately,” Hickey said. “Coach has wanted me to play great on-ball defense, and I’ve just been keeping my man in front of me. You can’t gamble against a great player like Wilbekin.” That doesn’t mean Florida thinks Hickey’s completely stopped internal calculations about when and where he can force turnovers.  “Coach emphasized to us yesterday they get a lot of steals,” Frazier said.  “We’re going to have to do a good job taking care of the ball, executing on offense and getting stops on defense.” Whichever guard can wrestle control of the game away from the other will be telling.
  • Is LSU’s defensive makeover for real? We already know Florida can defend, but the Tigers have managed to clamp down to a degree against Kentucky and Texas A&M. Those two opponents shot 36.9 percent (44 of 119), including 5 of 26 (19.2 percent) from behind the 3-point line. That’s swell, but keep an eye on how staunch LSU is in defending the lane. Over the past seven games, they’ve been outscored in the paint six times, allowing 33.3 points during that stretch and getting outscored by almost four points per game around the rim. A lot of focus has centered on defending the 3-point line, a category where LSU is still clearly last in the SEC during conference play at 38.4 percent. The Gators shoot a pedestrian 33.0 percent in SEC action, but are second with 105 made 3-pointers. How to explain this situation? LSU hasn’t done a good job exactly stopping dribble penetration — watch Auburn’s Chris Denson, State’s Craig Sword, Georgia’s Charles Mann, or Mizzou’s three-headed monster in Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Ernest Ross — and winds up in a bind. They get beat off the dribble by big guards barreling toward the rim for a bucket, or on 3-ball lofted after a kick out and a slow close out or rotation in the shell. Florida has a guy in Casey Prather adept at both. The senior finishing around the rim (57.7 percent of his shots come there) with a 72.7 field goal percentage, according to hoop-math.com. He also shoots 40 percent from behind the arc. Throw in Wilbekin’s ability to drive and kick (47.7 percent of his assists are for 3-pointers), and the Tigers on-ball defense will be under assault again if Prather is healthy enough to slash along with Wilbekin, and Frazier II can spot up. Throw in the Gators’ ability to pound the offensive glass, and the Tigers will see whether they’ve truly evolved stopping opponents.
  • Can LSU get pace to its liking? Florida’s defense grinds opponents into refined pulp with an average possession length of 20 seconds. LSU showed it could execute in a throttled down tempo where the Tigers had just 63 possessions — seven below their average — and got a good sense for how UF will want this unfold. Jones said after Wednesday’s win the Tigers are comfortable playing at any pace, but getting into the open floor would seem to facilitate some chances against Florida. First of all, Hickey turns into a distributor instead of a spot-up jump shooter. He doles out 48.5 of his assists in transition. In the half court, he averages twice as many 3-point attempts (3.8) as he does assists (1.9) for LSU. Typically, though, LSU’s offense flows through the paint and forward Johnny O’Bryant III. But Florida only allows 20.1 points per game in the lane at home, and roughly eight of those come on second-chance points. So, in reality, Florida is giving up just six direct scoring plays at the rim per game. So it might behoove LSU to try and get into the open floor and push the ball so it can try to attack the rim before the Gators set up. Easier said then done, though. Florida allows only 18.5 percent of shot attempts in transition — tops in the SEC.

The Players

In this section, we pick out a player for each side that could be pivotal or interesting to watch. It’s not always a starter or a star, either. 

LSU

  • F Johnny O’Bryant III, Jr., 6-9, 256 pounds: Let’s be clear: O’Bryant has never been totally at full-strength against Florida. He sat out his freshman year with a broken bone in his hand. Last season, he was only a couple games back from a high-ankle sprain and was trying to round into form. Finally, in the SEC tournament he seemed to tweak the same ankle injury. It’s all added up to a career stat line of 5.0 points and 6.5 rebounds to with 33.3 percent shooting. On Saturday, though, he’ll be healthy. Florida’s interior defense has been somewhat taxed, too, by elite SEC big men. Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Kentucky’s Julius Randle have a combined for an average 15.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game against UF. That’s somewhat in line with O’Bryant’s production of 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds a night in SEC play. “Major concern,” Donovan said when asked about LSU’s frontcourt. “Major concern.” If JOBIII gets rolling, it might set the table for Jordan Mickey to thrive off dive cuts and interior feeds. Or allow Jarell Martin to take kickouts for 3-pointers or drive into creases if UF’s on-point rotations are lagging. “Now O’Bryant has got some legitimate guys around him,” Donovan said. “Their team has gotten drastically bigger, stronger and more physical. So our ability to play post defense is critical, our ability to rebound the ball is critical. And then you have to do a really great job on them on the perimeter. Martin shoots it, Hickey shoots it, and so does Stringer.”

Florida

  • G Casey Prather, Sr., 6-6, 212 pounds: If the award existed, Prather would probably be in line for the SEC’s most-improved player. In his first three seasons, he averaged 3.5 points per game, but has seen that jump to 14.8 this season. Prather has six games where’s he’s scored 20-plus points, and seems due after off nights at Ole Miss (7) and Vanderbilt (2) in the past week. As we noted above, he can split his role between driving the ball and spotting up. Throw in his size, and LSU may see a familiar scenario unfold where it’s smaller back court has to try and slow a bigger, sturdier guards. The group of UK’s James Young, States’ Craig Sword, Arkansas’ Ky Madden, Georgia’s Charles Mann and the Mizzou Trio combined to average 24.1 points per game and shoot 50.8 percent from the floor in their eight games against LSU. The Tigers are 4-3 in those games, and the question is whether Prather must carry the load, or if he simply leads the pack for a lineup featuring four players that score in double figures.

The Line

KenPom Prediction: Florida 76, LSU 64 (89-percent confidence).

Bracketology: Reconciling perception and reality ahead of SEC play

Have you ever heard of a dude named Frank Luntz?

Probably not. Unless you watch Fox News regularly.

Anyway, I couldn’t help but think of the political consultant today when ESPN’s bracket guru, Joe Lunardi, dropped his latest installment of a mock 68-team field for the NCAA Tournament.

I’ll be brief in making the connection: Around the the time GOP was hashing out its contract with America, Luntz used his polling data to show that Republicans should refer to the estate tax  as the “death tax.” His rationale was simple. Americans understand the meaning of death, while the connotation of the word elicited a negative response from those he polled. So, for Republicans trying to curb or do away with the tax on inherited assets, the advice was simple: If you change the context via language and repeat it a lot, then you change perception and views.

The same general rule has applied to the SEC for the better part of five years, and reached its apex last season when barely three teams nabbed NCAA tournament bids. The gist: The league is the worst power conference in America — a notion reinforced by ugly nonconference losses. Throw in three teams — Mississippi State, Auburn and South Carolina — finishing as sub-200 teams in the RPI, and there seemed to be ample evidence.

(Note: I’m using realtimerpi.com here because accessing past data is less cumbersome. Feel free to use CBS’ Jerry Palm or the official NCAA RPI, which sees its first installment arrive early this month.)

But here we are on the cusp on SEC play starting next week, and the derisive #SECBasketballFever still thrives on Twitter. I’m guilty, too, of perpetuating the stereotype. Yet Lunardi, who I spoke with Tuesday for our impending SEC preview, was bullish on the league.

“It’s safe to say they’ve outperformed expectations so far,” he said.

There’s clear validity to the statement, too. Right now, the SEC’s average RPI is 99.2, almost eight spots better than it was a year ago. The average strength of schedule is No. 119.1. That’s well inside the goal set down this spring by the conference of having it land inside No. 150. Basically, programs, including LSU, have heeded the advice of consultant and former NCAA tournament director Greg Shaheen: Schedule better and stop the crappy trickle-down effect that’s hurting potential bid-worthy squads.

The result is six SEC teams in the mix for berths this March. Over the summer, Lunardi set the over-under around 4.5 bids for the conference. Here’s a look at each and there seed line:

Florida

  •  Seed: 2 (West Region)
  • RPI: 15
  • Non-Con SOS: 77
  • Record vs. RPI top 100: 3-2

Kentucky

  • Seed: 4 (South Region)
  • RPI: 19
  • Non-Con SOS: 22
  • Record vs. RPI top 100: 5-3

Missouri 

  •  Seed: 7 (South Region)
  • RPI: 17
  • Non-Con SOS: 58
  • Record vs. RPI top 100: 3-1

LSU

  • Seed: 9 (Midwest Region)
  • RPI: 39
  • Non-Con SOS: 103
  • Record vs. RPI top 100: 3-2

Arkansas

  •  Seed: 11 (Midwest Region)
  • RPI: 41
  • Non-Con SOS: 169
  • Record vs. RPI top 100: 3-3

Tennessee

  •  Seed: No. 11 (Play-in game vs. Boise State in the )
  • RPI: 64
  • Non-Con SOS: 37
  • Record vs. RPI top 100: 3-3

The seed lines don’t exactly reflect a host of power, but considering the SEC’s recent plight it’s nice to see some form of a top-end and middle class forming. Meanwhile, Ole Miss (No. 73) and Vanderbilt (No. 81) are also RPI top 100 teams, per ESPN. That’s roughly half the conference, indicating there’s definite improvement from a year ago.

I’m not crafting a stump speech for the conference to be rated No. 1 or even No. 2 nationally. Those spots clearly belong to the Big 12 and Big Ten conferences. Yet, I don’t think the top half of the SEC is all that much different from the Pac 12 or even the ACC. It’s clearly ahead of the American Athletic Conference, too.

Often, though, we judge a conference’s worth based on how it performs against elite peers. And that, ladies and gents, is the SEC’s biggest PR hiccup at the moment. Let’s take a look a look at how power conferences have fared against in RPI top 50 games so far.

Based on Palm’s data, the SEC has played a greater quantity of games against the upper echelon of Division I. Its problem? Notching wins. But just how close is the conference to flipping the script? Very. Its teams have lost 10 of those games by five points or less, the very definition of a “quality loss.” I’ve shown them below with the opponent’s current RPI listed, too. The location is also noted.

  • No. 2 UMass 92, LSU 90 (Road)
  • No. 10 Baylor 66, South Carolina 64 (Road)
  • No. 10 Baylor 67, Kentucky 62 (Neutral)
  • No. 12 Wichita State 72, Alabama 67 (Home)
  • No. 14 Michigan State 78, Kentucky 74 (Neutral)
  • No. 17 Illinois 65, Missouri 64 (Neutral)
  • No. 25 Xavier 67, Tennessee 63 (Road)
  • No. 25 Xavier 77, Alabama 74 (Home)
  • No. 33 North Carolina 82, Kentucky 77 (Road)
  • No. 36 Connecticut 64, Florida 64 (Road)

Imagine the SEC wins four of those games. Does it throw out old stereotypes? No. But to the general public and poll voters, it shows clear and tangible progress. The bottom of the league — yes, Auburn, State, Georgia and Texas A&M — are putrid in comparison to other power conferences. There’s no covering that up. Alabama has certainly taken the onus to schedule stronger, but simply been unable to nab a couple of marquee wins. The same with Tennessee and Ole Miss. The problem is the general public is more likely to remember the Rebels loss to Mercer, the favorite in the Atlantic Sun Conference, than it will a quality road victory at Sun Belt Conference contender Western Kentucky.

And so here we are tying it all together, coming back to Frank Luntz.

The SEC needs to overcome the echo chamber its programs now find themselves stuck in. It’s taken important steps. Tabbing Shaheen and gleaning his insights for improved scheduling is an important first step. Next, appointing Mark Whitworth in the SEC office to keep a full-time look on hoops should be vital in terms of figuring out how to hash out scheduling options and market the sport better. But it still comes down to the old dictum: Just win.

 

Morning Report: The SEC’s middle class pulls away in the second half

Skimming scores at halftime last night, I had a sense the SEC was going to endure Too Close Tuesday.

LSU only led by four.Kentuckyonly led UT-Arlington by nine. Bama ledGeorgiaStateby eight. OnlyMississippiState,Auburnand Texas A&M had double-digit leads trotting to the locker room.

Perhaps NorthwesternState’s second-half blitz of Auburnlingered too long. Or maybe it was watching LSU’s malaise-ridden victory against UNO. There’s still this nagging sense that when the conference’s middle class and paupers take the hardwood, nothing is certain.

I tend to hew, though, to a case laid out by ESPN’s Eammon Brennan: November and December have their own bear traps that can be hidden. And for a conference as top-heavy as the SEC, that needs to be stated constantly.

But I heard a salient point made after LSU wrapped up: Imagine if the game was 30 minutes.

  • Butler 57, Vanderbilt 43
  • Kentucky 71, UT-Arlington 49
  • TexasA&M 54, Prairie View A&M 38
  • Alabama 59, Georgia State 38
  • Auburn 58, Jacksonville State 32
  • Mississippi State 64, MVSU 52
  • LSU 55, UNO 43

Now, Vanderbilt rallied to force overtime. UKdid what it was supposed to do. Yet A&M, State and LSU took until the final 10 minutes to finally blow open games against a trio of foes sitting No. 325 or worse in KenPom’s ratings.

Should we chalk that up to a lack of focus against lackluster foes? Is it something more? Or am I simply groping for too many insights too early? I can’t be certain. And with that, on to your links.

Alabama

  • Guard Rein Obasohan’s scored 18 points, but his four steals and three blocks showed his hustle. Bama needed them in its 75-58 victory afterGeorgiaState narrowed the lead to two.

Auburn

  • After NorthwesternStateburied them with three-pointers, the Tigers’ almost-exclusive focus paid off in a victory overJacksonvilleState.
  • Auburn forward Chris Griffin, a junior college transfer, is taking an indefinite leave to deal with a “family situation,” the program said before Tuesday’s game.

Florida

  • The Gators got good news about freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who went down with an ankle injury Monday against Southern.

Kentucky

  • Freshman James Young pumped in 26 points, including five three-pointers, against Texas-Arlington and atoned for a poor shooting night versus Robert Morris.
  • A scary notion: UKisn’t flexing all its muscles right now, the Herald-Leader’s John Clay writes.
  • Specifically, coach John Calipari wasn’t happy with the Cats’ efforts on the glass in the first half.

Mississippi State

  • Gavin Ware put together an efficient night as the Bulldogs rolled over an in-state foe inMississippiValleyState.

Missouri

Texas A&M

  • Yes, the Aggies got by Prairie View A&M, but they looked merely average. What could help? Getting suspended guard J-Mychal Reese back in the fold.

Vanderbilt

  • Vandy couldn’t escape Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse with an overtime victory. The reason: The Bulldogs’ Khyle Marshall.

Miscellaneous, potpourri, lagniappe, etc.

  • OklahomaStateguard Marcus Smart, lost in the shuffle amid an influx of talented freshman, reminded folks of his impressive skills in the No. 7 Cowboys’ rout of 11th-rankedMemphis.
  • CBS’ Jeff Borzello writes Smart set the tone for a night that was all about veterans around college basketball.
  • It seems as if Syracusealmost contracted a case of SEC Basketball Fever in an ugly, late victory over St. Francis (N.Y.).
  • Seton Hall (yes, the Pirates) have some momentum coming off an elite recruiting class and head to Brooklyn this week to see if it’s simply a fever dream.
  • And don’t feel bad SEC fans, at least Mike Slive didn’t call his collection of programs the strongest group ever assembled and see it slip to the 10th in the RPI. Nope. ACC commish did it. And his league hasn’t backed up the boast, The Sporting News’ Matt Hayes writes.

 

Morning Report: Bama piles up points, Arkansas holds off SMU and Xavier coach Chris Mack has fun side job

Morning report took a couple days off in the wake of former LSU athletic director Joe Dean’s death on Sunday and a packed docket of football and hoops interviews Monday.

But it’s back, and the links are right here for you to peruse, but if you just want your LSU fix I’ve got you covered.

This morning, I wrote about the sterling start for junior guard Anthony Hickey, who has come off the bench as freshman Tim Quarterman learns the ropes. Now a potential question looms: When does coach Johnny Jones think about penciling Hickey’s name back into the starting lineup?

But if that doesn’t sate your appetite, here are today’s links to news from the around the SEC and a few national writers.

Alabama

Arkansas

Auburn

Florida

Kentucky

Tennessee

Vanderbilt

Miscellaneous, potpourri, etc. 

Morning Report: A slow day in Baton Rouge as signing day passes quietly around the SEC, plus links

Outside of signing day, which itself was sedate, the SEC was in a lull yesterday.

LSU signed three recruits Wednesday, and the literally the biggest was top-100 prospect Elbert Robinson, a 7-foot, 320-pound center from Lakeview Centennial inGarland,Texas. The remaining duo — Tioga’s Aaron Epps and Montverde (Fla.) guard Jalyn Patterson — aren’t flashy, but they’ll fill in needed roster spots next season with seniors Shavon Coleman and Andre Stringer exiting after the season.

Unless there’s early departures, say by junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III or freshman big man Jarell Martin, expect the Tigers to be done for the season. Don’t forget guard Keith Hornsby, an offseason transfer from UNC-Asheville, is eligible next fall and will have two years left to play. Yet it’s still unclear as to Scotlandville product Brian Bridgewater’s availability. The NCAA allowed him to be placed on scholarship but not practice as it reviews coursework conducted his senior season.

Also, LSU didn’t practice Wednesday, so any updates on Martin and his injured ankle will have to come this afternoon when players and coach Johnny Jones meet with the scribes ahead of the Tigers’ home opener Saturday againstNorthwesternStateat the PMAC.

That said, let’s get to the links.

Alabama (Yes, the Tide do play basketball)

Arkansas

Florida

Kentucky

Ole Miss

 Missouri 

Morning Report: The SEC didn’t stockpile wins, but the league is better. And links.

 

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast — Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine steals the ball from Kentucky forward Julius Randle during the second half the Spartans’ 78-74 victory.

For the better part of 18 months, the Southeastern Conference’s reputation has been scuffed up. Not that it wasn’t undeserved after the putrid non-conference losses incurred by the likes of Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Alabama last season.

On its face, the scoreboards didn’t seem to break in the league’s favor Tuesday. LSU lost to UMass. South Carolina went down at Baylor, Florida lost to Wisconsin. Kentucky was bested by Michigan State. And Tennessee lost at Xavier.

What’s the common theme? All were road and neutral site games. All were but one were by four points or less. For a league that has been pilloried, Monday doesn’t serve as the ultimate rebuttal for critics. But it shows the conference’s transition period — half of the league’s coaching jobs have turned over in the last couple years — might be waning.

Six of the nation’s top 30 recruiting classes, including three in the top 10, were from the SEC. There’s an influx of talent just as coaches begin to get their program’s moorings established, and the league’s mandate (which I don’t think is necessarily prudent) to schedule better certainly seems to have a path carved out of the wilderness.

Truthfully, the SEC is still the weakest power conference, according to guru Ken Pomeroy’s algorithm. But what I saw Tuesday was a conference whose upper echelon went out and played five teams inside the top 50 of Pomeroy’s rankings. Yes, they are a losses. But you only change perception through action. If the SEC wants to not be viewed as an also-ran, then these are the steps it needs to take.

The bottom of the SEC — yes, we’re looking at you Mississippi State and Auburn — is still a dark pit of despair. But every conference has its dregs. The non-conference season is filled with potentially 22 more games between the conference’s potential NCAA Tournament teams and teams currently in Pomeroy’s top 100.

Now, a quick tour.

Kentucky

  • Dec. 1: Providence at the Barclay’s Center Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Dec. 6: Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Dallas
  • Dec. 10: Boise State
  • Dec. 14: at North Carolina
  • Dec. 28: Louisville
Florida
  •  Dec. 2: at UConn
  • Dec. 10: Kansas
  • Dec. 17: Memphis at the Jimmy V Classic in New York

Tennessee

  • Dec. 14: at Wichita State
  • Dec. 18: North Carolina State
  • Dec. 30: Virginia

Missouri

  • Nov. 28: Northwestern at the Las Vegas Invitational
  • Dec. 5: West Virginia
  • Dec. 7: UCLA
  • Dec. 21: Illinois at the Busch Braggin’ Rights Classic in St. Louis, Mo. 
  • Dec. 28: at North Carolina State

Alabama

  • Dec. 17: Wichita State
  • Dec. 21: Xavier
  • Dec. 28: at UCLA

LSU

  • Nov. 28: Saint Joseph’s at the Old Spice Classic 
  • Nov. 29: Memphis at the Old Spice Classic (If they advance past St. Joe’s and Memphis wins its game)
  • Dec. 21: UAB

In essence, the depth might still be in development with Ole Miss and Arkansas trying to rebuild and Vanderbilt losing key cogs in the offseason. The top half of the SEC, however, has ample chances to fix its PR problem. Now, they have capitalize.

With that, on to the links.

Florida

 Kentucky

LSU

Missouri

Tennessee 

Vanderbilt

Miscellaneous

 

Morning Report: Florida and Kentucky with stern tests, plus other linkage

 

PHOTO BY MARK MAHAN — Herald-Leader — Julius Randle, center relaxed with Andrew Harrison, far left, and Aaron Harrison on Thursday during photo day for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team at Joe Craft Center.

Top of the morning and merry Tuesday, all.

The LSU men’s basketball team tips off the regular season at 10 a.m. today — yes, in the morning — against Massachusetts. As such, it’s time to bring back the daily roll call of SEC stories and pertinent national coverage as the season tips off.

Football, as always, remains the dominant driver of coverage. Yet, there’s still a smattering of hoops news out there to be culled every day.

Now, on to your daily briefing.

Florida

Kentucky

Missouri

Tennessee 
Texas A&M

Vanderbilt