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Scheduling improvements won’t occur overnight for the SEC

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Last season was not a particularly good one for the Southeastern Conference on the basketball court. The conference went through one of its worst seasons in recent history, managing to place just three teams in the NCAA tournament field. While the struggles of the league’s premier program (Kentucky) didn’t help matters, the true culprit for the conference was its non-conference scheduling.

While some programs scheduled ambitiously, putting together a slate that was designed to get them ready for conference play and (hopefully) give them a resume worthy of inclusion in the NCAA tournament field, others cobbled together slates that weren’t befitting of a power conference program. And with some of those teams losing games to programs that reside in the lower regions of Division I, the SEC’s computer numbers took a beating.

Auburn lost to Winthrop. Mississippi State lost to Troy and Alabama A&M. South Carolina lost to Elon. Texas A&M lost to Southern. Vanderbilt lost to Marist. Georgia lost to Youngstown State. Alabama lost to Mercer and Tulane.

And there were plenty of bad wins. The SEC played 30 games against teams Ken Pomeroy ranked 300th or lower out of 347, with every team but Kentucky playing at least one. Arkansas and LSU each played four 300-level teams, which is a virtual invitation to miss the NCAA tournament. Pomeroy rated five SEC schools between 302 and 344 in non-conference strength of schedule: Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina.

With that in mind SEC commissioner Mike Slive saw the need to make changes, hiring former NCAA tournament executive Greg Shaheen as a scheduling consultant and making Mark Whitworth the league’s associate commissioner for men’s basketball (a newly-created position). The conference that has won the last seven national titles in football would now focus on improving its basketball product. And given the way in which some programs have scheduled in recent years, these moves were necessary.

But Rome isn’t built in a day, and a list compiled by ESPN’s Jason King on the ten worst non-conference schedules among power conferences shows that there’s still some work to do in the SEC. Three SEC programs made the list (Arkansas, Mississippi State and Texas A&M), but to be fair each has significant question marks to address entering the 2013-14 campaign.

Arkansas has to replace its top two leading scorers (B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell), Mississippi State is in the second year of a massive rebuilding project and Texas A&M lost Elston Turner and Ray Turner (no relation). Those three being called out for their respective non-conference schedules is countered by Kentucky and Florida ranking among the nation’s best, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The SEC’s scheduling issue isn’t about all 14 members putting together brutally difficult schedules, but rather understanding the impact of their non-conference slates on the entire conference and scheduling accordingly. Accomplish that task and the SEC shouldn’t have to worry about going through seasons like the 2012-13 campaign in the future.

No. 3 Michigan outlasts Arkansas’ pressure defense to win Saturday afternoon

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Michigan’s biggest concern coming into Saturday’s game against Arkansas centered around pressure. Would they be able to neutralize the effectiveness of the Razorback’s style of play by limiting turnovers and controlling the pace?

Though they ran into some difficulties in the second half, the answer seemed to be “yes,” as a strong late push lifted the Wolverines to a win, 80-67, and kept their perfect record intact.

The Wolverines led by as many as 12 points with 6:23 remaining in the first half and led by double digits at halftime.

In the second half, though, increased Arkansas pressure led to a 12-5 run that cut the Michigan lead to just two points with 12 minutes to play. But, just before a timeout, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr., hit a fall-away three-point to extend the lead to five points.

All five Michigan starters scored in double figures, including Hardaway, Jr., with 14 points and nine rebounds. Freshman Glenn Robinson III led all Wolverines with 17 points.

Arkansas continued to stick around down the stretch, pulling to within one possession on three different occasions, but was never able to tie the game.

Arkansas cut the lead to one point, 56-55, with 8:48 to go, but a 14-4 run immediately followed, pushing the lead to double digits and putting the game away.

The Razorbacks got an unlikely contribution from junior Kikko Haydar Saturday. Prior to the game against Michigan, Haydar was averaging one point in under seven minutes per game. He starred Saturday with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 4-of-4 from three-point range.

Rickey Scott also starred coming off the bench with 10 points. Marshawn Powell led all scorers with 18 points.

Michigan has the pieces to be a Final Four team this season. They have the scorers—Robinson III, Burke, and Hardaway, Jr. They have an elite shooter who can stretch the defense in Nik Stauskas. And, as they showed Saturday, they have the paint presence to eliminate any liabilities on the inside.

Jordan Morgan finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Mitch McGary had another solid game with six points and five rebounds.

And, though it could be overlooked, Jon Horford had two key blocks and rebound in the middle of the second half while Morgan and McGary were on the bench that helped to stop an Arkansas run.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

James Southerland, Syracuse holds on against Arkansas

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James Southerland tied a Syracuse school record, with nine 3-pointers, en route to a career-high 35 points off the bench, leading the No. 6 Orange over Arkansas 91-82 as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge.

Southerland had 28 points, including eight 3-pointers, when he picked up his fourth foul with 15 minutes remaining, with the Orange holding a 57-47 lead. The Razorbacks would get within five, before Triche, the other Cuse senior took over. The senior guard scored 10 straight Orange points, bumping the lead up to 13.

B.J. Young ended with 25 points for Arkansas. The Razorbacks are at .500 with a 3-3 record.

Syracuse is 5-0, asking the question: how good is Syracuse this season?

Indiana and Duke have headlined college basketball’s first month. Indiana outlasted the long, Georgetown zone and ran North Carolina off the floor earlier this week. In the meantime, the Blue Devils made it a habit running top-5 teams off the floor – Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State – to go along with wins over Minnesota and VCU.

Michigan, Louisville, Kansans, Florida, and Gonzaga are just a few of the teams that have also had impressive first months and will be around come March.

Syracuse is clearly in the mix with one of the more talented rosters in the country. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche should be considered as good as any backcourt, especially on the defensive end when 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams and 6-foot-4 Triche can make it difficult for shooters (5-of-24 from behind the arc for Arkansas). With C.J. Fair, Dajuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland, and Bay Moussa Keita, Cuse also feature big bodies at the bottom of the zone.

More importantly, Cuse showed how balanced it can be in Friday’s win over Arkansas. Four players in double figures and had players step up when needed to. When Southerland went down with his fourth foul, Triche and Fair both made big plays to keep Arkansas from climbing back into the game.

The Orange struggled with the Razorbacks’ pressure, coughed the ball up 19 times and still was able to win on the road. And that will the last time Syracuse is on the road this calendar year. The Orange have nine-straight home games before a Jan. 6 matchup at South Florida.

Terrence is also the lead writer at and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

What’s with all the commitments?

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This weekend had a number of big-time players making big-time commitments to big-time programs.

It started Thursday with Rondae Jefferson’s commitment to Arizona and continued with players like five-start swingman Robert Hubbs picking Tennessee and most recently, Northwest Florida State College point guard Chris Jones committing to Louisville on Monday morning.

In between, Malcolm and Marcus Allen picked Stanford (adding to a long list of twins to play in Palo Alto), Kendrick Nunn sprung for Illinois, RaShawn Powell made a commitment to Memphis, Moses Kingsley tabbed Arkansas as his college of choice and Cat Barber made his selection with North Carolina State.

There have been busy weekends in recruiting for sure. But with this many top-level prospects picking schools at this pace? What could possibly be the reason?

“I think the weird thing is, this year is different from the past couple of years, because we’ve had commitments right after the July evaluation period,” Recruiting Analyst Evan Daniels told CBT on NBC. “Kids get on campus and you knew it was just a matter of time for them to start popping. But the last couple of days have been pretty wild, to be honest with you.”

Daniels said he hasn’t seen anything like this, with the amount of Top 100 commitments picking schools at this rate. Saying it’s been “quite a run.”

Verbal commitments are always shaky. Some more than others. Nothing is final until pen hits paper on a National Letter of Intent/Grant-In-Aid agreement, but to see these types of players going off at an alarming rate is something that seems unprecedented.

I imagine this trend will slow down as the seasons, both college and high school, get closer, with more time being focused toward actual games. But an episode like this can sure help build momentum toward mid-October and the official start of college basketball.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Arkansas adds junior college foward Coty Clarke

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Coty Clarke, a 6-7, 220-pound forward from Lawson State CC (Al.), has signed his national letter of intent to play for Mike Anderson at Arkansas, the Associated Press is reporting.

Clarke averaged 14.5 points and 13 rebounds per game last season for Lawson, also leading the team in assists, steals, and blocks per game.

Arkansas finished last season with a record of 18-14, including 6-10 in the SEC. The Razorbacks played well at home, but struggled on the road and missed the postseason.

The Razorbacks will be returning key sophomore-to-be BJ Young, who submitted his name for the NBA draft, but ultimately withdrew before the deadline. He averaged 15.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game this past season.

Clarke becomes the sixth player signed to the Arkansas Class of 2012, which is led by three-star prospects Michael Qualls and JaCorey Williams.

Clarke is a native of Birmingham, Al.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Arkansas lands first 5-star recruit since '04

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Arkansas’ been littered with four- and three-star recruits the last six years, but shut out in the chase for game-changing players. John Pelphrey finally changed that.

The Razorbacks scored a commitment from 6-foot-2 Missouri guard B.J. Young, according to various reports Sunday. The 2011 high school graduate is rated as the 18th best overall prospect from and the fourth best point guard.

“I felt really good about everything that was going on, and [with] players that were coming in with me, we can have something special,” Young told NBE’s Jeff Borzello. “I knew I wanted to commit a while ago. This has just been a fantasy of mine since I was little, down here with my family, they wanted me to go here.”

The last time a five-star prospect played committed to Arkansas was 2004 when Al Jefferson said OK to Stan Heath. But Jefferson never played for the Hawgs, opting instead for the NBA. The last five-star guy who played for them was guard Olu Famutimi, who made the All-SEC freshman team, but never lived to up five-star billing.

But don’t worry yet, Razorbacks fans. Young will join guys like Rickey Scott (2010) and 2011 classmates Hunter Mickelson and Aaron Ross in Fayetteville, along with established players like Rotnei Clarke and Marshawn Powell.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.