This week in SEC hoops: December 31, 2013

Since one of the objectives of the non-conference schedule is to find out how your team handles adversity, then Billy Donovan has to be pleased with his 12th-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators have a well documented laundry list of pre-conference woes but Donovan’s team has emerged with a 10-2 record – the two losses by a combined seven points on the road – and a #19 RPI that includes four wins over top 100 RPI teams including three that are among the top 35. With only a Saturday O-Dome date with Richmond (#93 RPI) remaining before the Gators open their Southeastern Conference schedule at home with South Carolina (January 8), the Gators have the deepest bench they’ve had all season and it’s about to grow by one.

There are rumblings that sometime between now and Saturday that the Gators will be announcing that McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker has been cleared for play by the NCAA. Walker sat on the Florida bench in Gator sweats this past Sunday when the Gators knocked off Savannah State, a fairly good sign that NCAA clearance is exceedingly close. He has been enrolled at Florida and practicing with the Gators since the fall semester ended a couple of weeks ago.

The importance of Walker’s eligibility is magnified by the dismissal of 6-10 Damontre Harris, suspended before the season began and dismissed at the end of the fall semester when he failed to follow guidelines for reinstatement to the team. It is thought that Harris will transfer to Division II Fayetteville State in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he can play immediately starting the second semester since he left Florida in good academic standing.

Walker, a versatile 6-10 who can play all three front court positions, gives Donovan a legitimate three-man low post rotation with Patric Young and Will Yeguete, allowing Dorian Finney-Smith to play more high post and wing.

Once Walker is cleared to play, the Gators will have nine healthy scholarship players available along with walk-on Jacob Kurtz, who has earned Donovan’s trust enough that he will get regular and not mop-up minutes. The Gators played with only six scholarship players the first five games of the season.


Kasey Hill and DeVon Walker (both with ankles) are now 100%. Will Yeguete (microfracture surgery on his knee last summer) is now playing at approximately 90-95%. Dillon Graham (torn labrum, both hips) is expected to undergo surgery in January. Eli Carter (broken leg) is taking a medical redshirt and will spend the rest of the season gaining strength. He will be a junior next season.


Defensive numbers: The Gators lead the SEC in defense, allowing 58.8 points per game, which ranks #10 nationally … The Gators give up only 39.4% from the field, which is sixth in the SEC and 40th nationally … The Gators are fifth in the SEC in rebound margin (+5.6 per game), which is #55 nationally … The Gators rank #13 among 14 SEC teams with blocked shots (3.1 per game).

Offensive numbers:  The Gators are #2 in the SEC in 3-point shooting (37.5%) and third in scoring margin (+13.3 points per game).

Career numbers: Patric Young is the active SEC career leader in rebounds (680) and Scottie Wilbekin is tied for first in career assists (326) with Alabama’s Trevor Releford. Wilbekin ranks fifth in career steals among active players with 128 while Will Yeguete is seventh (92) and Young ninth (86). Yeguete ranks fifth among active SEC players with 485 career rebounds.

FLORIDA (10-2)

Coach: Billy Donovan (425-168 at Florida; 460-188 overall)

Through 12 games: Florida took an RPI hit by playing Savannah State. The Gators RPI dropped to 19 and their strength of schedule down to #64.

Key stats: Casey Prather leads the Gators in scoring (17.8) and leads the SEC in field goal percentage (62.4%). Michael Frazier leads the SEC in 3-point shooting (50%) and ranks #10 nationally.

Scoring leaders: Casey Prather (17.8); Scottie Wilbekin (12.0)

Best rebounders: Dorian Finney-Smith (7.2); Patric Young (5.9)

Best freshman: Kasey Hill (8.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists)

RPI: 19

Strength of schedule: 64

Quality wins: Florida State (#33 RPI); Kansas (2); Memphis (23); Fresno State (98)

Bad losses: None.

Non-conference games remaining: Richmond (#93 RPI)




Coach: Anthony Grant (97-59 at Alabama; 167-84 overall)

Through 12 games: Alabama’s seven losses are to teams with a combined 74-17 record. The Crimson Tide has the #9 toughest schedule in the country.

Key stats: Trevor Releford, who scored a career high 34 points in Bama’s loss to UCLA, is the SEC’s active career scoring leader with 1,503 points. He is the first player at Alabama to record at least 1,000 points, 300 assists and 200 steals in a career.

Scoring leaders: Trevor Releford (18.5); Retin Obasohan (12.9)

Best rebounders: Rodney Cooper (4.8); Levi Randolph (4.3)

Best freshman: Shannon Hale (4.3 points, 2.7 rebounds)

RPI: 128

Strength of schedule: 9

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: South Florida (#158 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Robert Morris (#209) RPI



Coach: Mike Anderson (47-29 at Arkansas; 247-127 overall)

Through 12 games: The Razorbacks have won their last six games by an average of 30 points. They’ve forced 114 turnovers and have given up only 115 made shots.

Key stats: Arkansas is leading the SEC in scoring at 85.8 points per game while giving up only 66.3. That 19.5 per game scoring margin ranks eighth nationally.

Scoring leaders: Michael Qualls (13.9); Bobby Portis (12.3)

Best rebounders: Bobby Portis (5.9); Coty Clarke (5.3)

Best freshman: Bobby Portis (12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds)

RPI: 68

Strength of schedule: 152

Quality wins: Louisiana-Lafayette (#69 RPI); SMU (64); Minnesota (27)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Texas-San Antonio (#351 RPI)


AUBURN (7-3)

Coach: Tony Barbee (42-62 at Auburn; 124-114 overall)

Through nine games: Since losing to Illinois, Auburn has won its last three games, but none of the Tigers’ seven wins is against a top 100 RPI team.

Key stats: K.T. Harrell (19.1) and Chris Denson (19.0) are the top scoring tandem on one team in the Southeastern Conference.

Scoring leaders: K.T. Harrell (19.1); Chris Denson (19.0)

Rebounding leaders: Ashaun Dixon-Tatum (5.9); Adrian Payne (5.8)

Best freshman: Tajh Shamsid-Dean (9.2 points, 3.4 assists)

RPI: 191

Strength of schedule: 279

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Northwestern State (#138 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Florida A&M (#301 RPI)



Coach: Mark Fox (71-68 at Georgia; 194-111 overall)

Through 11 games: Georgia has won five of its last six games but none of the Bulldogs’ six wins this year are against teams with a winning record.

Key stat: Georgia is third in the SEC in shooting, hitting 48.3% from the field.

Scoring leaders: Charles Mann (13.2); Kenny Gaines (11.8)

Rebounding leaders: Donte Williams (5.5); Marcus Thornton (4.5)

Best freshman: Juwan Parker (5.2 points, 3.9 rebounds)

RPI: 273

Strength of schedule: 300

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Georgia Tech (#123 RPI); Davidson (121); Temple (119)

Non-conference games remaining: at George Washington (#32 RPI)



Coach: John Calipari (133-29 at Kentucky; 536-167 overall)

Through 12 games: Kentucky’s RPI has risen to #16 nationally. The Wildcats have five wins over teams with a top 100 RPI.

Key stats: Willie Cauley-Stein ranks fifth nationally in blocked shots at 4.08 per game.

Scoring leaders: Julius Randle (18.1); Aaron Harrison (14.7)

Rebounding leaders: Julius Randle (10.6); Willie Cauley-Stein (8.2)

Best freshman: Julius Randle (18.1 points, 10.6 rebounds)

RPI: 16

Strength of schedule: 13

Quality wins: Eastern Michigan (#53 RPI); Providence (80); Boise State (22); Belmont (67); Louisville (34)

Bad losses: None

Next game: Mississippi State, January 8 (#156 RPI)


LSU (9-2)

Coach: Johnny Jones (28-14 at LSU; 233-176 overall)

Through 11 games: The Tigers have won five straight games and have improved their RPI to #21 nationally.

Key stats: Freshman Jordan Mickey has scored 55 points, grabbed 34 rebounds and blocked 16 shots during LSU’s five-game winning streak.

Scoring leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (14.9); Jordan Mickey (13.5)

Rebounding leaders: Jordan Mickey (8.1); Johnny O’Bryant (7.9)

Best freshman: Jordan Mickey (13.5 points, 8.1 rebounds)

RPI: 21

Strength of schedule: 46

Quality wins: Butler (#35 RPI); New Orleans (52); St. Joseph’s (72); Louisiana-Monroe (95)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Rhode Island (#271 RPI)



Coach: Rick Ray (19-25)

Through 12 games: Only one of Mississippi State’s nine wins is against a team with a winning record (USF). The Bulldogs have a #285 national strength of schedule.

Key stat: Wing guard Craig Sword, who is Mississippi State’s leading scorer (15.3 per game), knows his strengths. He’s hitting 57.6% from the field but he’s only taken 11 3-pointers in 12 games (hit only three).

Scoring leaders: Craig Sword (15.3); Gavin Ware (10.4)

Rebounding leaders: Gavin Ware (8.3); Roquez Johnson (4.5)

Best freshman: I.J. Ready (6.6 points, 3.3 assists)

RPI: 156

Strength of schedule: 285

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: TCU (#151 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Maryland-Eastern Shore (#329 RPI)



Coach: Frank Haith (64-17 at Missouri; 193-118 overall)

Through 12 games: Missouri plays a four-guard lineup most of the time but the Tigers are outrebounding opponents by 9.0 per game.

Key stats: Leading scorer Jordan Clarkson, a Missouri transfer, has scored 20 or more points eight times in 12 games.

Scoring leaders: Jordan Clarkson (20.0); Jabari Brown (18.1)

Rebounding leaders: Johnathan Williams (8.0); Earnest Ross (6.4)

Best freshman: Johnathan Williams (6.8 points, 8.0 rebounds)

RPI: 20

Strength of schedule: 69

Quality wins: Hawaii (#88 RPI); UCLA (65); North Carolina State (86)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Long Beach State (#124 RPI)


OLE MISS (9-3)

Coach: Andy Kennedy (160-90 at Ole Miss; 180-103 overall)

Through 12 games: Ole Miss has taken more 3-pointers (253) and made more (94) than any team in the SEC. The Rebels rank 23rd nationally in 3-pointers per game (8.5).

Key stats: Marshall Henderson leads the SEC and is second nationally with 4.43 3-pointers per game. Henderson knocked down 10 against Oregon.

Scoring leaders: Marshall Henderson (19.1); Jarvis Summers (16.8)

Rebounding leaders: Aaron Jones (6.8); Demarco Cox (6.3)

Best freshman: Sebastian Saiz (4.7 points, 6.1 rebounds)

RPI: 75

Strength of schedule: 115

Quality wins: Louisiana-Monroe (#95 RPI)

Bad losses: Kansas State (#110 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Dayton (#60 RPI).



Coach: Frank Martin (20-24 at South Carolina; 137-78 overall)

Through 12 games: The Gamecocks have won their last three games, all by double figures margins for an average margin of victory for 23.3 per game.

Key stats: Brenton Williams has set a school record with 42 consecutive free throws. For the season he is hitting 100% at the line (25-25).

Leading scorers: Tyrone Johnson (11.3); Sindarius Thornwell (11.0)

Leading rebounders: Mindaugus Kacinas (5.6); Michael Carrera (4.7)

Best freshman: Sindarius Thornwell (11.0 points, 3.5 rebounds)

RPI: 85

Strength of schedule: 20

Quality wins: St. Mary’s (#41 RPI)

Bad losses: Clemson (#113 RPI); South Carolina-Upstate (160)

Non-conference games remaining: South Carolina State (#309 RPI)



Coach: Cuonzo Martin (47-32 at Tennessee; 108-73 overall)

Through 12 games: The Vols got their most impressive win of the season Monday night, stomping Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference, 87-52.

Key stats: Although they’ve struggled from the field throughout the season, the Vols have hit better than 50% in their last two games (combined 59-115), both of them victories.

Leading scorers: Jordan McRae (18.9); Jarnell Stokes (14.2)

Leading rebounders: Jarnell Stokes (9.6); Jeronne Maymon (8.3)

Best freshman: Robert Hubbs (5.0 points, 1.5 rebounds)

RPI: 63

Strength of schedule: 36

Quality wins: Xavier (#43 RPI); Wake Forest (84); Virginia (55)

Bad losses: UTEP (#129 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Tusculum (Division II)

TEXAS A&M (8-3)

Coach: Billy Kennedy (40-36 at Texas A&M; 251-215 overall)

Through 11 games: The Aggies have a winning record, but even if they win 20 games they’ll have trouble getting into the NCAA Tournament because their best win is over a team with a #127 RPI and six of the eight are over teams with a 200-plus RPI.

Key stats: Ole Miss transfer Jamal Jones is the only legitimate 3-point threat on the team. He’s hitting 41.1%.

Leading scorers: Kourtney Roberson (12.8); Jamal Jones (10.0)

Leading rebounders: Kourtney Roberson (8.0); Antwan Space (6.0)

Best freshman: Shawn Smith (5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds)

RPI: 167

Strength of schedule: 230

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: North Texas (#227 RPI); Texas-Pan American (336)


Coach: Kevin Stallings (284-180 at Vanderbilt; 407-243 overall)

Through 10 games: No wonder the Commodores struggle in close games. They are dead last in the SEC in both free throw shooting (62.2%) and turnover margin (-3.3).

Key stats: Leading scorer Eric McClellan (14.3 per game) is 1-13 in his last five games from the 3-point line. For the season he’s hitting 12.9%.

Leading scorers: Eric McClellan (14.3); Rod Odom (12.6)

Leading rebounders: Rod Odom (5.6); James Siakam (5.0)

Best freshman: Damian Jones (9.7 points, 4.6 rebounds)

RPI: 78

Strength of schedule: 51

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Northeastern (#196 RPI)

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.