Posted on: December 1, 2011 12:00 pm

Your SEC/Big East Challenge guide

By Matt Norlander

What do you want in a preview? I've been self-assigned (is that even possible?) to give you the rundown on all of the SEC and Big East games coming up over the next 72 hours, and I wasn't quite sure where to go with this. After all, these are early-December games, half of them are afterthoughts, and preview material is usually come-and-go outside of preseason and NCAA tournament talk.

So I looked at the games and decided I'll just give you whatever random thought comes off the top of my head. A conversational tone works best here, since there are no real true tilts of consequence involved outside of the fantastic ones going on Friday night Louisville and Syracuse. (I'll be at the latter.) If there's a stat sited, I do not have it memorized. Those I looked up. I'm not huge on predictions, so you won't find those here.

All this said, I do expect these 12 games to be better than what the ACC and Big Ten gave us Tuesday and Wednesday night, by the way. If you have any other curiosities that go beyond this post, check our SEC/Big East Challenge page, which has the history of this event and stats that go along with it.


Providence at South Carolina (7 ET): Oh this is just bad. Providence is a few years away from true relevancy, and Darrin Horn is already coaching for his job at South Carolina. NEXT.

St. John's at Kentucky (7:30 ET): Wildcats get the Johnnies tonight, less than 48 hours before Carolina comes in. I'd say St. John's would have a chance, except they're playing Kentucky. Kind of a problem. SJU doesn't have one senior on its roster and head coach Steve Lavin will not be making the trip. Kentucky will be looking ahead to UNC, but the 'Cats should win by a minimum of 23.4 points.

Ole Miss at DePaul (9 ET): Have a sick interest in this game if for no other reason than I want to know how many people show up to watch it. Have to say, the fact these teams are a combined 9-2 is a welcomed surprise.

Georgetown at Alabama (9:30 ET): Best game of the night, period. Are you sure what Georgetown is yet? We do know the Hoyas take care of the ball very well. That early trend could be bucked in Tuscaloosa, though, because Alabama is on its way to being a top-five defensive team in the country. Teams are shooting a 35.7 effective field goal percentage against the Tide. Second-worst in the country.


Florida at Syracuse (7 ET): I'll keep this strictly to basketball, because I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do that one I get there to cover the game. Basically, I'm intrigued as hell. I love Bradley Beal's (right, with Billy Donovan) game. I'm still not sold on Florida's four-guard look, even if Patric Young gets his chances to play janitor when that happens. No Erik Murphy for the Gators means they're less dynamic. I like Syracuse is a really fun one. With the Orange, you're just never sure who's going to be the player that has the big game. Looks like someone's going to need to decidedly have a huge night to beat a team a lot of people like to make the Final Four.

Cincinnati at Georgia (7 ET): Car-wreck factor has be interested. When will Cinci start playing at a level that's indicative of the talent it has on this team? Georgia's in a third-gear year, I think.

Vanderbilt at Louisville (9 ET): What do you think about this one? Vanderbilt certainly not expected to win it (I haven't checked, but I'd put the Cards at about -4.5 here). Louisville's still not at full strength, nor is Vandy. Goodman's going to be at this game. I think this one adds up to little, even if it's nice in the moment. Because come late February, both these teams will have personnel on the floor that didn't play in this game. If Vandy/'Ville are vying for the 3-seed line and you want to give the winner of this the bid, by all means, but beyond that there won't be much long-term effect from this game. I think John Jenkins struggles in this one, too.

Auburn at Seton Hall (9 ET): Oh, get it out of my face, please.


Arkansas at UConn (3:15 ET): The Hogs are without Marshon Powell and so I don't see how Mike Anderson's new team keeps this within 20. UConn's due for a really impressive, really big win. I want to see how Alex Oriakhi plays in front of the home crowd in Hartford. Oriakhi's been public with this playing-time situation. UConn will grow and stumble a little more in December, but I'm betting we're putting this team in the highest echelon by New Year's Day.

Pittsburgh at Tennessee (5:15 ET): I'd call this game the biggest true toss-up of any listed here. I'm down on Pitt this year in regard to most others. A win here would be very uplifting for Jamie Dixon's team. Same can be said for Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee, who's probably still punching the pillow after his Vols couldn't steal that game against Memphis in Maui.

LSU at Rutgers (7 ET): Just a couple of truly nondescript, non-enthralling 4-3 BCS conference teams. I think I'd rather put away my summer clothes into storage.

West Virginia at Mississippi State (9 ET): The final game of the Challenge, it's the kind of game MSU should win without controversy if it wants to be top-20 caliber. WVU is down, considerably down, this season. The Bulldogs have twice as much talent on this team -- and a lot more size, even if Denis Kilicli will bruise it up down low with Renardo Sidney and/or Arnett Moultrie. The flip side: Huggins has been known to get his team to steal wins in these kind of spots.

Photos: AP
Posted on: December 1, 2011 10:30 am
Edited on: December 1, 2011 12:21 pm

College basketball's November: in photos

By Matt Norlander

Like most of you, I'm a sucker for good photography. For the past couple of years, I've done best-of-the-year photo posts at the end of each season. But I wanted to get more frequent with my appreciation for the faceless photogs that do tremendous work all season long.

These men and women truly have the best seat in all of sports -- as close to the action without actually being part of it. So just after each month ends, we're going to post the best 40 or so shots from the previous 28, 30 or 31 days. Here's a mosaic of our sport's November, courtesy of the good people at the Associated Press, Getty Images and US PRESSWIRE.

Email your tips and correspondence to matt.norlander@cbsinteractive.com.

Get CBSSports.com College Basketball updates on Facebook   
Posted on: December 1, 2011 8:37 am
Edited on: December 1, 2011 8:48 am

Wakeup Call: Wow. December already.

By Matt Norlander

I'd vote for this kid as our next president. // I know it's early, but here's some shots of Christmas celebrations from around the world. // The art of science is so pretty to look at. // After reading this, I'll pretty much never be friending anyone I don't know on Facebook again. // This is incredibly heart-warming and inspiring ...

★ Lost amid all the Bernie Fine/Jim Boeheim talk -- Fab Melo may get to wipe the incident from Memorial Day off his record.

★ Did you catch the very scary moment for the Michigan State cheerleader last night?

★ If it's possible, I really liked Forde's column from Tuesday night -- and Sean Keeley's take even more.

★ An SB Nation column about how we shouldn't be making this all about Boeheim. But the rub is: Boeheim made it about Boeheim with his initial comments. And I don't think the media's gone full-on after Boeheim; Fine's been plenty targeted, too.

★ A compelling case from the editor of the Post-Standard on why the paper didn't hand over its recording of the Bobby Davis-Laurie Fine tape. But I remain staunchly against any act/inaction that potentially endangers children with child molesters for the sake of journalistic integrity and propriety.

★ So Alex Oriakhi's dad has challenged some bloggers to a fight after UConn's next home game.

★ Told you Monday night Scott Machado is one of the best point guards in the country. The latest data is backing that up big-time.

★ It's quite definite right now that the WCC is the best mid-major league. I want to wait another 10 days or so and see what the top of the league is doing/has done. There's potential for the league to flirt with fifth-best-in-basketball status.

★ Marshall Plumlee -- who you'll say, 'Seems like he's been at Duke for 10 years -- when he's still on the team in 2016, will redshirt this season.

This kind of thing will become more and more popular to tweet out, methinks.

Neat photo from last night's UNC-Wisconsin game.

★ More on how Creighton came back and beat San Diego State. That's just a terrific win, guys and girls.

★ Parrish says UNC needed that win heading into the Kentucky game. I suppose yes. Still think UNC loses decidedly at UK.

► Warning: a couple curses in this video, but this is just too awesome that I can't not post it. "It's done. That cake is DONE." And this is brand new -- it has an anti-Jerry Sandusky line and tributes Patrice O'Neal at the end.

♬ If you can't get down with Herbie Hancock, you can't get down with me. Beat comes in at the one-minute mark. Love the climbing bassline and how he makes a song sound like a rainforest.

Posted on: November 30, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: November 30, 2011 11:25 am

Florida's Murphy won't need surgery on knee

By Jeff Goodman

Erik Murphy could be back within the week.

Florida's junior forward won't need surgery on his knee, according to Gators coach Billy Donovan, after it was determined that there was no further damage to his meniscus from an injury he sustained back in high school.

"The meniscus tear was from when he hurt it his sophomore year in high school," Donovan told CBSSports.com. "It looks like this was just a bone bruise."

The 6-foot-10 Murphy, who started the first four games and averaged 10 points per contest, injured the knee in practice last week and missed wins against Jacksonville and Stetson.

Will Yeguete started in Murphy's place and averaged nine points and 10 boards in the two games.

"We're hoping to have him back in a week to 10 days," Donovan said.

Florida plays at Syracuse Friday. There's a chance Murphy could play against Arizona on Dec. 7 in Gainesville.

Posted on: November 22, 2011 3:37 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 5:26 pm

Arkansas could slow down without Powell

By Matt Norlander

Mike Anderson's first year in Fayetteville continues to be a challenge and test of patience. Tuesday morning, it was announced by the school that Razorbacks forward Marshawn Powell will sit the rest of the season due to torn ligaments in his knee. The school, oddly enough, did not announce which knee was to undergo surgery. However, a source confirmed to CBSSports.com that it was Powell's right knee.

Powell was the team's leading returner in scoring and rebounding. He also used more possessions last year (26.8 percent) than any other team member, and shot a team-high 29 percent of the Hogs' shots. With him unavailable, an impotency on the offensive end is to be expected. Remember, after a battle with Anderson, sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke transferred out of the program and into Butler this past offseason.

The Razorbacks, currently 2-1 and playing at home against Utah Valley tonight, look like they'll sag well behind the power five at the top of the SEC: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Mississippi State. Powell was picked on the Second Team in the preseason by league coaches. The 6-7 junior was 15 for 21 through two games this season.

"This is a big blow to Marshawn and our basketball team,” Anderson said in a statement. "He has been working hard on and off the court this year and was in the best shape of his career.  This is definitely a setback, but I told him that sometimes you have to have setbacks in order to have a great comeback.  He is in good spirits and looking forward to helping his team in any way that he can.”

Now Arkansas, a 7-9 SEC team last season, is down to nine players on scholarship. The depth isn't there, which an issue, of course, since Anderson promotes running opponents into collapse. In his five years at Missouri, Anderson's teams averaged 71.1 possessions per game -- well above the national average.

Junior Julysses Nobles and touted freshman B.J. Young will become the key factors on a Hog team that's probably going to have to adjust its style if it wants to remain viable, long-term. It's hard to believe Anderson can condition his team to go for 72 possessions per game and exect to avoid attrition and fatigue throughout the season.

Photo: AP
Posted on: November 20, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2011 4:08 pm

Even Kentucky has its limitations right now

By Matt Norlander

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — There wasn’t one minute that went by Sunday afternoon when I didn’t think about just how freakily athletic Anthony Davis was. Or how staunch Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played. Or how yoked Terrence Jones became in the offseason.

It was my first time seeing UK since last year’s Final Four lost to Connecticut. Team looked good. Looked physical, intimidating and about the closest thing to an NBA collection of talent we’ll be seeing this season.

But despite all that skill, Kentucky merely managed an ugly, 62-52 win over Old Dominion. The game was in doubt until the final five minutes. There’s already talk — planted proudly and publicly by John Calipari — that ODU provided the blueprint for how to handle Kentucky. Ah, that mystical documentation that decodes Big Blue. Each season, it’s the Holy Grail.

Hogwash, largely. Teams are going to beat Kentucky this year be either A ) Shooting incredibly efficiently, B) Having at least two NBA players on their roster, C) Food poisoning. Old Dominion used its system and had its guys up for the biggest or second-biggest game it will play this season. Kentucky was playing in front of 3,000 people, for the second straight day, in a far-away arena in the middle of Nowhere, Connecticut.

“Kansas, we were really pumped up because we were playing at the Garden. We were just amped,” Davis said. “Here, you know, we were amped, but we weren’t ready to go.”

I can’t take much from this kind of win. I just came here to watch a team that’s quickly becoming college basketball’s version of The Beatles. The amount of Kentucky fans here was truly reprehensible — Connecticut isn’t worth a trip, folks — and you can already see how possible (and easy?) it could eventually be for Kentucky to get to back-to-back Final Fours. Right now, the team’s following a pattern that’s existed the past two years, Darius Miller said.

“It’s kind of the same. The last two years we’ve struggled early on to figure out what we were going to do,” Miller said. “Eventually we’re going to find out exactly how we want to play, everybody’ s going to have their role and know what they need to do.”

What I learned: Kentucky can’t always dictate the terms by which it will win this year. And when a team has five or six future pros, that’s pretty amazing. But the youth and all that, you know? You get that young, you don’t deserve the right to say how and why you will win or lose. UK couldn’t push it, no matter how hard they tried. I can’t help but think of North Carolina played Old Dominion on a neutral court in three days that the Tar Heels would put up 75 with ease.

UNC has a point guard with experience and savvy. Kentucky has Marquis Teague, a flashy player who played god-awful Sunday. Teague had a stat correlation no one ever wants: as many points as turnovers (six).

For more than an hour, Old Dominion made it a fun game. An ugly one, but still fun.

“The only thing I regret is those last five minutes could have been an awful lot of fun,” Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said. “We worked pretty hard the first 35 to get to the last five, and then we didn’t get to have fun down the stretch.”

Taylor’s team shook UK’s mental toughness. Jones and Davis were genuinely challenged and rattled at times. It’s what Calipari want to see right now—a team threaten his team without really threatening them. Kentucky does no good to itself by rolling fools to the tune of 96-63 each night.

Kentucky pasted Penn State Saturday, and what can we take from that? Nothing, really. Penn State's young and rebuilding. Old Dominion has some experience, an idea of what it can do.

“When you’re winning by 50 you can kind of put cotton in your ears sometimes,” Taylor said. “Not very many people had zoned them. So, one they hadn’t seen it … I thought we were kind of catching them at a point where we didn’t know what they were going to do or react. And they’re used to having their way, and the zone didn’t let them have their way, or give them immediate gratification, which they’re used to.”

“I think it’s just chemistry, to tell you the truth,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “It’s the chemistry on the court. We’re still figuring stuff out and we’re very young. But we’re very and we’re going to be very good. I’m not worrying about anything.”

Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:23 pm
Edited on: November 19, 2011 10:32 pm

Stallings feisty when it comes to talking Festus

By Matt Norlander

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If you don’t think Vanderbilt is a top-15 team right now, then you’ve got company: ‘Dores head coach Kevin Stallings.

“Of course we’re not,” Stallings said. “Take a first-round draft choice off of any top of the top 10 teams in the country and see if they’re a top team then. And it’s not like we profess to be.”

Kentucky and North Carolina aside, the man seems to have a point. Still, plenty of talented teams without a premier player can — and are usually inspired to — play better defense.

Vandy got an 86-79 win Saturday night the Legends Classic over N.C. State, but it came primarily because John Jenkins did what he does: shoot the dimples out of the ball (28 points — on a bad ankle) and bail out his team after some bad defense kept the game closer than it should have.

And that’s the issue: Vandy’s defense. It’s not good, not even bad right now — it’s alarmingly deficient. The team is allowing opponents to clear 50 percent shooting from 2-point range with ease through four games. What's more, the interior, as you might expect, lacks intimidation. Without Festus Ezeli — the NBA-talent big man who’s about a month away from returning — the Commodores don't have the inside presence and semblance of self on the defensive end that Stallings, frankly, is mad as hell over.

He was just as perturbed by the Ezeli issue, because the team can’t do anything about that right now. It’s playing without its big man, and it’s got to do more than tread water without him.

“[Festus] ain’t going to be here Monday, he’s not going to play next Friday or the following Monday or the following Friday,” Stallings said. “If they’re sitting around waiting for Festus, we’ve got problems.”

The Festus talk didn’t stop there. His name got dropped about 30 times in a five-minute span.

“We’re foolish if we sit around and wait for him to show,” Stallings said. “We don’t have Festus. We’re not going to bitch and complain, and we don’t have this, we don’t have that. We have what we have. And we have to play better defensively. We’re a pretty good offensive team, but we suck on defense.

“So, until we get better defense, it doesn’t matter who we put other there. But we better get help before that, or we’re going to have a bunch of numbers in that right hand column (the loss column, obviously) we’re not very excited about. We’ve got a long way to go before we’re going to be a good team.”

N.C. State got C.J. Leslie back for the first game this season — he sat out per an NCAA suspension — and looked great. The Wolfpack moved about the floor and passed over Vandy’s D at will.  

“We had way too many turnovers that led to unguardable baskets,” Stallings said.

It got the point where Stallings joked he was “looking for any reason to give my defense credit.”

Vandy, in a way, got away with this one due to Jenkins’ awesome shooting and some helpful play by Brad Tinsley, who put up 14 points that came in spots when the ‘Dores needed it. It should be added: Steve Tchiengang got 11 boards, which was the second-most critical aspect to Stallings’ team avoiding the consolation game Monday night.

“We didn’t rob the bank, because we got to the foul line 33 times,” Stallings said. “We did some good things, and we’ve got good players, but we, like we do a lot, we just let people get their head up, get in a comfort zone and as soon as somebody becomes confident, it becomes a lot harder to guard them. When Jenkins got going tonight, he became a lot harder for them to defend.”

What I came away believing: Without Ezeli, Vanderbilt’s not elite. This won’t mean much in January if the team’s healthy, but unless all the pieces are on the floor, Vanderbilt may not even be the third-best team in the SEC. Plenty of people think we and others have overrated Vandy, that this team isn't high-caliber and most likely won't ever become a group it's never proven itself to be. Fair critique. Tonight, that shined true, but without Ezeli, the critique remains out to lunch.

Photo: AP
Posted on: November 18, 2011 2:30 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 2:32 pm

No debate: NBA execs agree Davis likely top pick

By Jeff Goodman

There will be no debate about No. 1.

No, I'm not talking about whether it's North Carolina or Kentucky for the top overall spot in the poll.

I'm talking about the discussion of who will be the top overall pick in the NBA Draft - as long as there is such a thing as the NBA Draft this June.

After speaking to a handful of NBA executives since Tuesday night, there's only one name that surfaces right now - and that's Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.

True, he's only played a few games thus far - but it doesn't take a genius to see the potential.

He's a game-changer - on both ends of the floor.

He's got the length that NBA types drool over.

He plays hard - and has a feel for the game.

He's versatile.

The lone drawback with the 6-foot-10 Davis is that he's not ready to come in - from a physical standpoint - to the NBA.

However, it's all about potential - and his ceiling is higher than any of the other candidates (i.e. Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb, Jared Sullinger).
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com