Posted on: May 24, 2011 4:08 pm
Edited on: May 25, 2011 9:26 pm
Posted by Matt Jones
It may still feel like the Final Four just ended, but for most schools, the offseason is now more than two months old. With that in mind, all of us at the blog are going to take this week to give you what we’re calling “Conference Catch-Ups.” The motive is to recap the biggest storylines in college basketball’s offseason so far, plus keep your appetite whetted in what is the longest offseason in major American sports.
Previous Conference Catch-ups: ACC, Big East, Pac 12
The Big Stories:
Kentucky going for a championship: John Calipari's tenure in Lexington has followed a familiar pattern. Bring in the top recruiting class in America, coach them to success for one season and then watch them leave for the NBA draft. Rinse and repeat. This year however, one of Calipari's top players decided to buck that trend and has returned for his sophomore season. Terrence Jones's decision to reappear in Lexington for a second year places Kentucky as one of the co-favorites for the national championship next season and gives John Calipari potentially his best chance to win the elusive title. Jones and Calipari's other two returning starters, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, will have to share time with a recruiting class that may actually be the best in Kentucky's storied history. Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer were all McDonald's All Americans and were ranked among the top 25 players in America by nearly every scouting service. Those seven players will combine to form the core of a team with major expectations from a fan base that can already taste a potential 8th national championship next season.
Turmoil in Knoxville: At this time last year, Tennessee basketball was at potentially its highest level in school history. The team was coming off an appearance in the Elite Eight and coach Bruce Pearl was bringing in a highly touted recruiting class that seemed poised to solidify his program's place among the top 15 in the country. Then came the series of poor decisions by Pearl that culminated in an NCAA investigation and the slow downfall of a program that had exponentially risen in such a short time. Now, new coach Cuonzo Martin is left to pick up the pieces with a disgruntled fan base and the lowest amount of talent the program has seen in over a decade. Martin has an almost impossible situation in which to confront and will have to do so in an ever-improving conference and with the unknown of future NCAA penalties on the horizon. Pray for him.
Pig Sooie is Back!: The SEC was never better than in the 1990s, when Arkansas joined Kentucky as a legitimate national powerhouse, bringing its impressive fan support to the table and drowning out the entire SEC with ear-pounding "Woo Pig Sooie!!!" calls during every big game. But then Nolan Richardson left Fayetteville and the Stan Heath/John Pelphrey regimes did little to hold on to the magic. Enter former assistant Mike Anderson, who left Missouri to try and recapture the glory and bring back the "40 Minutes of Hell" philosophy that made Arkansas basketball great. Over the years, a combination of consistent losing and the rise of the Razorback football program has made basketball somewhat of an afterthought in Arkansas circles, an almost unfathomable prospect a decade ago. Anderson is charged with bringing back the faithful and year one gives him a roster with a surprising amount of talent and the chance to make early waves in a week SEC West.
Anthony Grant keeps the Tide rolling: We all knew that Anthony Grant was a snappy dresser. No figure in college basketball keeps his shirts starched and his suit pressed with more regularity than the leader of the basketball version of Tide nation. But last year' he showcased a coaching prowess that matched his wardrobe, winning the SEC West before getting robbed by the NCAA selection committee. But the key to building a program is sustaining prosperity and this offseason, Grant showcased that he is ready to build consistency in Tuscaloosa. This spring he received a signed Letter of Intent from in-state prospect Trevor Lacey, a shooting guard who will see immediate minutes for the Crimson Tide. Lacey had been considering Kentucky, Kansas and Auburn, and locking down the in-state talent provides the most recent proof of the rise of the Alabama program. The state of Alabama produces an insane amount of basketball talent and for years, that talent has gone and benefitted top programs like Kentucky and Florida. If they follow the lead of Lacey and now stay in state, Grant and Alabama will remain a team at the top of the SEC rankings each season.
The Great Unknown
Will last season's train wreck of a regular season finally convince the conference to do away with its silly division format in basketball? With the conference's five best teams all in the Eastern division last year, Alabama finished the year with the second best record in conference and still did not make the NCAA tournament, thanks to a weakened schedule produced in part due to the pathetic SEC West lineup. The conference is considering moving to a regular 12 team league, with an 18 game season and unbalanced scheduling. That is not a perfect result, but it is better than a system that requires a team like South Carolins to play Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee twice, while Alabama sees Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State twice on its yearly rotation.
NBA Draft Report
The draft was a mixed bag for the SEC teams as the draft giveth and taketh away. Georgia and Tennessee both saw their two top players leave early for the NBA and will feel the effect on next year's teams. The Bulldogs lost both Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, a one-two punch that sent coach Mark Fox's team to the NCAA tournament. Leslie and Thompkins have both seen their draft stocks fall, but the decision by both to forego a chance to return to Athens will make it difficult for Fox to repeat the performance next season. As for Tennessee, Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris decided to abandon Bruce Pearl's sinking ship, leaving new coach Cuonzo Martin with little help in his first go-around in Knoxville.
Terrence Jones's surprising decision to return to Lexington gives John Calipari a bit of experience in his quest to dominate the league with talent next season. He likely would have been a lottery pick in this year's draft, but a return will bolster the Wildcats' front line with Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. Brandon Knight stayed in the NBA draft, but with freshman Marquis Teague enrolling, Calipari will once again keep a top point guard at the helm. Perhaps the biggest draft winner in the league this year was Vanderbilt, who saw all three of their potential early entrees. John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli all made the decision to come back to Nashville and with their return, the Commodores will once again be a contender in the SEC East.
Murphy Holloway (Ole Miss)
Will Bogan (Ole Miss)
Aaron Dotson (LSU)
Ramon Galloway (South Carolina)
Trevor Gaskins (Ole Miss)
Donald Williams (Ole Miss)
My Commentary in 20 Words or Less:
Florida: Bradley Beal might lead the country in Freshman points next year...but he will most certainly lead it in shots taken.
Georgia: Overcoming the loss of Thompkins and Leslie is tough, but Mark Fox is the best coach you dont know in America.
Kentucky: The Cats might have 5 of the top 20 players taken in next year's NBA draft on their roster. Most talented team in Calipari's career.
South Carolina: Darrin Horn had South Carolina on the brink of making a move in conference. But all momentum has been lost and next season is crucial to his future.
Tennessee: Cuonzo Martin is talented but he is in a no-win situation early in Knoxville. The cupboard will be bare for next two years.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores will be the second most talented team in the SEC next season. Will they finally win a NCAA tournament game?
Alabama: With Tennessee now out of the top tier of SEC teams, Anthony Grant is primed to place the Tide there on a consistent basis.
Arkansas: Mike Anderson can coach and his style is exciting. There is top talent in Arkansas in next two years...keep them in state and he wins big.
Auburn: The most consistently irrelevant team in college basketball for the past decade. Where for art thou Chris Porter?
LSU: Basketball has fallen off the face of the map in Baton Rouge and talent is leaving the state in droves. Another program with little hope and dwindling recruiting fortunes.
Mississippi: Andy Kennedy's team has underachieved the past two seasons and was beset by a number of transfers this year. The future, like that of most of the SEC West, is murky.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were America's ultimate soap opera last season, including player fights in the stands of holiday tournaments. When everyone was on the same page however, it was clear that talent is still there in Starkville.
Posted on: May 21, 2011 12:08 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
In an effort to return to an 18-game conference schedule that presents a more-transparent look at how good the conference's men's basketball teams are, the SEC is now in talks to get rid of its two divisions, according to the Birmingham News.
Because it's split in two, the SEC is the exception to the conference rule in men's D-I hoops, specifically BCS conferences. The Big 12 also had two divisions, but with Nebraska leaving for the Big Ten and Colorado jettisoning to the Pac-12, the Big 12, with 10 teams, will no longer have divisions beginning next season, leaving the SEC as the only major-conference league with two divisions for men's basketball. (Football employs two divisions for the necessity of propping up a conference title game.)
Currently the league has a 16-game league schedule. When the league athletic directors meet in Destin, Fla., for their spring meetings, they'll also debate and determine if no divisions should mean an increase to an 18-game conference schedule.
"My goal is to make a decision in Destin for this coming year's tournament and at the same time we want to begin a dialogue about conference scheduling for the future, not this year," SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the Birmingham News. "If we're going to start thinking about that, then why don't we start thinking about the regular season to see what the options are? It's almost like taking your temperature in basketball. We've tried to do a lot for basketball. Let's make sure we're doing exactly what we want to do long-term."The SEC has been in a two-division structure for 19 years. It's led to a 58-43 East-over-West advantage in terms of NCAA bids. If there was one division all along would the teams in the West have made a few more tournaments here or there? No one knows. But the move is clearly about perception, and that's fine; last year, Alabama went 12-4 and did not receive an at-large bid. It was the best in-conference record for a team not to get a dance invite in the conference's history.
Going to one division is the right move for the 12-team league. The SEC tournament's format is clunky and hard to interpet for outsiders, and even some for those who follow the conference year-round. High-seeded teams from one division play lower-seeded teams from another, but there's rarely a case of balance, as one division -- usually the East, which has Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- have lopsided advantages against the West. The West has been Little Brother for as long as divisions have existed in the conference.
Posted on: May 19, 2011 2:18 pm
Edited on: May 19, 2011 2:21 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
This is beginning to feel like waiting for your favorite bands to release tour dates, right? Today we've got more made-for-TV (well, most major college basketball is made for TV, but you get what I'm saying) inter-conference basketball to release to you. While the Big Ten/ACC Challenge leaves a lot to be desired, the first Big East/SEC Challenge has quite a few interesting games. Like the former, the latter will be put on and broadcast by ESPN. It'll be a three-day ordeal, with all 12 SEC teams playing against a select group of Big East schools.
This Challenge is buttressed by the SEC-Big East Invitational, which was more selective, not fully endorsed by ESPN and played sporadically in the non-conference season. No more. Now: bragging rights definitively on the line.
And, no, the top 12 from last year's Big East standings didn't get first dibs. Those who got clipped: Notre Dame, Marquette, South Florida and Villanova. Somewhat surprising omissions, I suppose. You want the history with these teams, including records and all the nuggets that make looking ahead to this stuff so much fun? We've got you covered, absolutely.
Here's the slate:
A very nice lineup. I can genuinely say I'm looking forward to six of the 12 games, which is a fantastic batting average. Vanderbilt at Louisville probably piques my interest more than any other, but Florida-Syracuse, Georgetown-Alabama, Arkansas-Connecticut (Arkansas could win that game, absolutely), Pittsburgh-Tennessee and St. John's-Kentucky at least get my brain excited.
There are duds, to be sure, but by the time these games are played -- nearly a month into the season -- you know how it goes: some teams could be much better or worse than expected.
Courtesy of ESPN, some notable things about the games
Posted on: March 12, 2011 7:21 pm
Edited on: March 12, 2011 7:22 pm
The season began with a split amongst SEC media and coaches as to whether Florida or Kentucky should be considered the conference favorite. And after Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinals in Atlanta, both teams have one game and a conference title on the line to settle the debate once and for all.
Kentucky made the tournament finals after cruising to a 72-58 victory over Alabama. The Cats jumped on the Crimson Tide early and never looked back, thanks to their most complete and diverse offensive game of the season. With Kentucky’s two top players, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, experiencing off nights, it was the Cats' lesser-known players who picked up the slack and put forth some of their best games of the season.
Doron Lamb finished with 15 points, after scoring 10 of Kentucky’s first 14, through a deadly combination of three-point shooting and quick penetration to the basket. The veteran duo of Josh Harrellson and Deandre Liggins each scored 14, giving significant offensive output from what are normally unlikely sources within the Kentucky offense. John Calipari’s team was so efficient on the offensive end that he said afterwards, “we’d have smacked anybody the way we played.”
The problem for Kentucky will be whether they have the manpower to have a repeat performance against Florida tomorrow. Even though Alabama was down by nearly 20 with just a couple of minutes to go, the Tide continued to apply pressure on defense. That led Calipari to leave in his starters until the very end, causing two freak plays in the final moments. As the clock wound down, both Lamb and Liggins fell on another player’s foot and each suffered a significant ankle sprain . Both had to be removed from the game, with Lamb having to be carried off by two of his teammates. Liggins is listed as probable for the Florida game, while Lamb's injury is more severe, causing him to be doubtful to see action. If Lamb does not play, it will leave Kentucky with only five players who regularly see significant minutes available for action.
In the game’s other semifinal, Florida battled back from an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat Vanderbilt 77-66 and advance to the conference championship. The Gators were led by their explosive backcourt duo of Kenny Boyton and Erving Walker, who combined to score 41 points against the Commodores. Billy Donovan’s pre-game goal of limiting Vanderbilt’s three-point shooting was executed perfectly throughout the game. The Commodores only shot 18% from behind the arc, finishing 6-33 and ending any chance they had at advancing to the school’s first SEC tournament final since 1951.
The championship game on Sunday will be the rubber match on the season between the Gators and Wildcats. Both teams won on their home courts earlier this season and in both games, the play of Florida’s Chandler Parsons was the deciding factor. When Parsons is able to get into the lane and grab offensive rebounds, the Gators become a tough team to beat. In Gainesville, Parsons twice scored on crucial late putback attempts thatwere the key points in giving the Gators the victory. But then in Lexington, Kentucky kept Parsons and the rest of the Gators shooting from behind the arc and off the offensive glass, leading to a comfortable 8 point win.
Both teams are fighting for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and with similar resumes, the winner of Sunday’s game is likely to see an advantage later in the afternoon when the brackets are announced. Both teams have dominated the SEC over the last decade and they both have been the clear standouts of the conference throughout this season. If Kentucky is without Doron Lamb, it will be very difficult for the Wildcats to keep pace with Florida and I would expect to see the Gators pushing tempo and trying to create a shootout in Atlanta on Sunday. If the Gators are able to control tempo and get into Kentucky's bench, they have a strong chance of completing the regular season-conference tournament sweep and getting the highest seed of any SEC team heading into March Madness.
Posted by MATT JONES
Posted on: March 11, 2011 9:51 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 9:52 pm
After a series of dreadful games on Thursday, the SEC Tournament kicked off on Friday with what was essentially a play-in game for the NCAA tournament. Alabama defeated Georgia 65-59 in overtime after an improbable comeback that saw the two teams' fortunes take a dramatic shift based on one fortuitous decision to call a timeout. With 7 minutes to go, Georgia was up 14 and seemingly ready to not only punch its NCAA dance ticket, but potentially avoid the first four in Dayton, Ohio in the process. But in the game's final minutes, the Tide came roaring back with some timely late shooting, finishing regulation on a 19-5 run that sent the contest into extra time.
But as painful as losing the lead had to be for the Bulldogs, the finish to regulation may even have a longer impact. With the game tied at 53 and just 4 seconds remaining, Georgia inbounded the ball to Dustin Ware, who dribbled through a number of Tide defenders until he could launch a desperation heave with just over a second to go. The high-arching shot went off the backboard and through the net, sending the few Georgia fans in attendance into celebratory mode. However before any Georgia player could even pump his fist, the referee waved off the basket thanks to Mark Fox's decision to call timeout prior to the shot's release. The decision may have been a sound one strategically, but it had the effect of overruling the game-winning basket, and potentially Georgia's NCAA Tournament hopes in the process.
In overtime, Alabama's Tony Mitchell hit an important deep three with 1:35 remaining that gave Alabama a lead it would never relinquish. But the difference in the extra session, and the game as a whole, was JaMychal Green, who finished with a monster performance, 20 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 steals. Georgia had no answer for Green in overtime and his ability to get two key blocks down the stretch helped the Tide ride its late momentum to the victory.
For the Bulldogs, Selection Sunday now becomes a very long wait. With two straight losses to fellow bubblemate Alabama, there is no scenario one can envision in which the NCAA would pick the Bulldogs over the Tide. That means that Georgia has to hope the SEC gets six teams in and the selection committee overlooks Georgia's lack of quality out of conference victories.
As for Alabama, preparation now turns to Saturday's semifinals as most in the Tide locker room felt confident that they had done enough to ensure selection into the NCAA tournament. In that game, they will play Kentucky, which defeated Ole Miss 75-66 in the afternoon's second semifinal. It was by no means the prettiest performance of the season for the Wildcats, as two of the team's best young freshman each had one of their worst performances of the season. Terrence Jones was awful, scoring only 7 points on 3-11 shooting and spending most of the game in foul trouble. His 24 minutes played were a season low and throughout most of the game, he seemed to be source of constant expressed frustration from coach John Calipari.
Brandon Knight also struggled early, but came through in the clutch, overcoming a 3-14 shooting night to hit a key jumper with 2 minutes to go. The basket gave Kentucky a 4 point lead it would never relinquish and confirmed Knight's standing as the clutch playmaker for Kentucky down the stretch. After being ice cold for most of the game's first 35 minutes, Knight took over the game on both ends of the court. When Ole Miss's Chris Warren made a three to cut the Wildcat lead to two, Knight responded by not only hitting his crucial jumper, but then contesting the next two missed Ole Miss three-point tries, to help seal the victory.
For Kentucky, the win keeps the team's dream of a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament alive for another day. Even without production from Jones, the Wildcats had four players score in double digits and were able to win their second consecutive close game, a feat that they had struggled with throughout the conference season. They now move on to play Alabama, a team that won their only meeting in Tuscaloosa back in January.
Posted by Matt Jones
Posted on: March 9, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: March 9, 2011 8:50 pm
Thanks to the funky divisional setup of the SEC tournament, some of the league’s most dangerous teams don’t even get a first-round bye. Florida and Kentucky get to skip a day, and that seems legit. But the top two seeds in the West are Alabama (OK, fair enough) and Mississippi State (Whaaaa?). Most college hoops fans wrote the Bulldogs off back when Renardo Sidney spent his holidays punching teammates, but here they are with a day off.
For the first day’s action, East and West teams meet across divisional lines in order to decide who moves on to play the privileged four mentioned above.
W5 Auburn (11-19, 4-12) vs. E4 Georgia (20-10, 9-7), 1:00 p.m. ET
The seeding here is surprising in a way, given the relative situations of these two teams. Georgia seemed primed to challenge for a national ranking at one time, with big-time talents like Travis Leslie (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Trey Thompkins (15.8, 7.6) on board. Second year coach Mark Fox couldn’t quite crack the league’s elite teams, but a look at the schedule shows no bad losses in the bunch. This team can still be a force in the postseason with a couple of good wins here. Auburn, on the other hand, struggled mightily under new head man Tony Barbee, who came over from UTEP in the offseason. Barbee got decent performances out of Kenny Gabriel (10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Earnest Ross (13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), but this team is not cohesive enough to emerge as a real threat.
The winner of this game will face W1 Alabama (20-10, 12-4) on Friday.
E6 South Carolina (14-15, 5-11) vs. W3 Ole Miss (19-12, 7-9), 3:30 p.m.
The Gamecocks love their little guards. This year, it’s 5-foot-9 Bruce Ellington (13.0 ppg, 3.2 apg), who has been the best player on the floor for an SC team that’s missing last year’s diminutive star, Devan Downey. Ole Miss has had some strong performances out of seniors Chris Warren (18.9 ppg, 3.8 apg) and Zach Graham (14.4, 4.5) in a mostly forgettable season. This game is like the SEC witness protection program, considering how difficult it will be for fans to recognize anyone who plays in it.
The winner of this game will face E2 Kentucky (22-8, 10-6) on Friday.
E5 Tennessee (18-13, 8-8) vs. W4 Arkansas (18-12, 7-9), 7:30 p.m.
Tough season to be a fan of the Vols, eh? The momentum generated by an Elite Eight berth in 2010 has evaporated under the weight of an NCAA investigation into recruiting practices. Bruce Pearl still has dangerous players, most notably Scotty Hopson (17.7 ppg) and Tobias Harris (14.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg). That should be enough to get past an Arkansas team that is once again relying on far too many jumpers from lone warrior Rotnei Clarke (15.1 ppg). Should be.
The winner of this game will face E1 Florida (24-6, 13-3) on Friday.
W6 Louisiana State (11-20, 3-13) vs. E3 Vanderbilt (21-9, 9-7), 10:00 p.m.
Here’s where the divisional imbalance will be most keenly felt. One of the nation’s most dangerous teams, the Vanderbilt Commodores, is forced into playing a first-round game against the miserable mess that is LSU. I don’t think Trent Johnson can expect any mercy under those circumstances. Freshman Ralston Turner (12.8 ppg) has been his best player this season, and that’s not nearly enough to hope for an upset in this game. Vanderbilt has a pretty clear path to the SEC semifinals, and they’ll employ tough defense and the eye-opening play of John Jenkins (19.4 ppg) to make sure that happens. Vandy gets double-digit scoring from Brad Tinsley, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli on the regular as well, and Ezeli can be a real difference-maker up front with rebounds and blocked shots as well.
The winner of this game will face W2 Mississippi State (17-13, 9-7) on Friday.
Title game: 1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday, March 13 (ABC)
Conference RPI: 6
KenPom.com rating: 7
Sagarin rating: 7
NCAA Tournament Locks: Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: Tennessee, Georgia
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance:
Florida: 2010 (lost to Brigham Young)
Alabama: 2006 (beat Marquette, lost to UCLA)
Kentucky: 2010 (beat ETSU, Wake Forest & Cornell, lost to West Virginia in Elite Eight)
Mississippi State: 2009 (lost to Washington)
Vanderbilt: 2010 (lost to Murray State)
Ole Miss: 2002 (lost to UCLA)
Arkansas: 2008 (beat Indiana, lost to North Carolina)
Georgia: 2008 (lost to Xavier)
Auburn: 2003 (beat St. Joseph’s and Wake Forest, lost to Syracuse)
Tennessee: 2010 (beat San Diego State, Ohio and Ohio State, lost to Michigan State in Elite Eight)
South Carolina: 2004 (lost to Memphis)
LSU: 2009 (beat Butler, lost to North Carolina)
Photo: US Presswire