Posted on: February 23, 2011 12:27 am
Edited on: February 23, 2011 12:34 am

Vols get big win with potential doom impending

Posted by MATT JONES

Make no mistake, Tennessee's 60-51 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville on Tuesday night was impressive. With momentum, the crowd and at times the referee's whistle clearly against them, the Vols finished the game on a 29-9 rally to get an important road win over an SEC rival. The win likely locks Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament field and still gives the team a chance to get a bye into the second round of the SEC Tournament.

Bruce Pearl's team won by showing a characteristic rare in this year's group, toughness. The Vols completely controlled the glass, and played a consistent, smothering brand of defense down the stretch. No Vanderbilt shooters got uncontested looks at the basket and nearly every possession that didn't end in a turnover, finished with a rushed Commodore shot. The quick hands of Brian Williams, Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris forced a number of late steals that Tennessee then converted into scoring opportunities.

In the final three minutes, Hopson took over, hitting six key free throws in a row to turn a 2 point deficit into a game-clinching 4 point lead. The Vols took the Vanderbilt crowd completely out of the game and made the "White-Out" Memorial Gym crowd silent. It was a second-half performance worth celebrating and viewed totally in the abstract, it looked like a finish by a team with the capabilities of making noise in March.

But underneath the Vols' cool, calm and collected exterior was a realization of what is about to come. Sometime over the next two days, Tennessee will receive its NCAA investigation letter and learn what charges are in store for its basketball, football and baseball programs. Gary Parrish reported tonight that Pearl will be charged with "unethical conduct" for lying to the NCAA about illegally hosting recruits in his home. It is expected that the NCAA will impose additional sanctions on Pearl and the program beyond the eight-game suspension given by the SEC, leaving the coach's long-term status with the team certainly in flux.

With the team no doubt knowing this, tonight's game against Vanderbilt had a distinct "last hurrah" type feeling. As the Vols ran down the clock, Pearl, drenched in sweat, celebrated with his coaches and hugged each of his Tennessee players individually. After shaking announcer Jimmy Dykes's hand (and likely receiving one of Dykes's trademark rhyming cliches in response...something like "you got a win from within Bruce!"), Pearl took time to stand in front of the Tennessee fans in the building and pump his fists in their direction. He smiled at the adoring crowd, hugged old ladies with force and had their been babies up that late, they surely would have been kissed. The entire scene looked like a man attempting to soak up the last drops of adulation with the knowledge of an impending storm.

Pearl told an ESPN sideline reporter afterwards that he hoped his team would celebrate because, "we have been through a lot." Check that Bruce. This Tennessee team hasn't "been through a lot," you have put them through a lot. The future of Tennessee basketball is in doubt because of you and everyone involved with it may see a completely different Vol program in 48 hours than they see now. The win over Vanderbilt was huge, but the reason for the excitement went beyond what happened on the court. They celebrated hard for the same reason you did, because they don't know when they will be able to do it again.

The Tennessee creed in Nashville Tuesday night was simple. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we face the NCAA. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 22, 2011 5:41 pm

The Real Bracket Busters

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Let’s face it: NCAA Tournament pools are won by people who pick the right sleepers to reach the Final Four, and those that have the foresight to spot a high-seeded bust when they see them. Those cute, 12-over-5 upset picks that everyone in your office had? That doesn’t do it. The big money (figuratively speaking, of course) is made when you choose the middle-range seeded team that makes a deep run, or when you have a top-seeded team getting knocked out in round two.

We are only nearing the end of February, but it’s time to look at some teams that can a) ruin your bracket or b) carry your bracket to the top of the standings. The teams in Group A that I will discuss are potential high-seeded teams that I don’t think have the necessary make-up to make a deep run in March. Group B teams are squads that will likely be seeded five through eight or lower, but have what it takes to pull off a few upsets and end up in Indianapolis.

Don’t Trust These Teams

Villanova: If you’ve been following me on Twitter this season, you would know I’m not a fan of the Wildcats. Losses in six of their last 11 games has magnified my lack of confidence. They lack leadership, they don’t get consistent inside production from Antonio Pena or Mouphtaou Yarou and their offense falters when they can’t hit outside shots.

Florida: The Gators have looked a lot better in recent weeks, winning five in a row heading into a tough finishing stretch. I’m still not sold on them, though. The frontcourt, despite plenty of talent, is soft defensively, while the backcourt of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton is inconsistent. Moreover, neither Walker nor Boynton is a true point guard.

Louisville: Rick Pitino has done a tremendous job with the Cardinals this season, but this team simply doesn’t have a lot of talent. They don’t rebound the ball well at either end, they don’t attack the rim and they turn it over too often. Preston Knowles is the go-to scorer, but he is struggling of late. When Terrence Jennings isn’t producing inside, the team is one-dimensional.

Connecticut: Clearly, I’m not sold on most of the Big East contenders this season. The Huskies have the kind of player who can carry them to a Final Four in Kemba Walker, but when he goes cold, this team can be picked off. They don’t shoot the ball well, and the freshmen have been inconsistent. Defensively, they allow far too many offensive rebounds. UConn will go as Kemba goes.

BYU: This comes with a caveat. I needed to choose a team in the top two seed lines, and I think BYU is the most vulnerable. Like Connecticut and Kemba Walker, the Cougars will go as far as Jimmer Fredette can take them. He is nearly impossible to stop, but he has been slowed down before, making BYU vulnerable. Depending on the match-ups, The Jimmer might be sent home early.

Don’t Overlook These Teams

Washington: Ken Pomeroy and his efficient ratings have pegged the Huskies all season as a team that is better than their record. Qualitatively, I would agree. Isaiah Thomas is one ofthe most difficult players to defend, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning provides an inside presence. Lorenzo Romar has multiple lockdown defenders, as well has plenty of experience.

Missouri: The Tigers have looked vulnerable at times in Big 12 play, but they are going to be a nightmare to play with only a couple of days of preparation. They get up and down the floor, forcing turnovers and getting transition baskets. Marcus Denmon leads a host of perimeter scorers, while Ricardo Ratliffe gives Missouri a go-to-guy on the inside.

Kansas State: This has nothing to do with the fact I picked the Wildcats to win the national title in the preseason. With Jacob Pullen on the perimeter, Frank Martin on the sidelines and loads of depth up front, Kansas State can match-up with anyone in the country. If the guards take care of the ball and the big men play to their potential, the Wildcats have what it takes to make a run.

Vanderbilt: With the tough finishing stretch the Commodores have, they will likely finish with a six seed or so. Look out for them at that spot, though. Vandy can beat you in a variety of ways, with John Jenkins hitting 3s and Festuz Ezeli scoring down low. Throw in Jeffery Taylor’s two-way talents and this is a tough offense. Defensively, they are disciplined and force tough shots. 

Illinois: If the Fighting Illini sneak into the NCAA Tournament, they are going to be someone no team wants to play. Despite their recent struggles, they still have the pieces to beat anyone in the country. Demetri McCamey leads a host of shooters, while Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are tough inside. If the outside shots are falling, Illinois can get hot and make a run.

Photos: US Presswire (Corey Fisher, Isaiah Thomas)

Posted on: February 16, 2011 10:11 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2011 10:32 pm

Georgia and Vandy head in different directions

Posted by MATT JONES

We will not look back at Wednesday night’s 64-56 Vanderbilt win over Georgia as a game worth remembering for its aesthetic value.  Both teams spent large portions of the game playing a hideous form of basketball usually only seen at the nether regions of the Big Ten, where Iowa plays Penn State in games so mundane that can’t even get a rise out of Gus Johnson. But even if not pretty, that doesn’t mean the Commodores win over the Bulldogs was not important.

We can point to Wednesday night’s game in Athens as the moment when the fate of two teams’ seasons went in completely opposite directions. For Vanderbilt, victory keeps the Commodores alive in the SEC championship race and sets the team up well to begin playing for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. While for Georgia, the loss opens up a more painful reality, the distinct possibility that the Bulldogs’ could be outside looking in on Selection Sunday.

Midway through the second half, it looked as if neither result was likely. Georgia led 40-26 with 13 minutes to go, as Vanderbilt played like a shadow of the team that had just won back to back games over Alabama and Kentucky. But then the Bulldogs began a collapse as dramatic as you will ever see from a NCAA Tournament quality team. Georgia didn’t score a field goal for the final ten minutes of the game, and finished on the short side of a 24-3 Vanderbilt run to end the contest.

Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins scored all of his 21 points in the game’s final 13 minutes, as Georgia’s defensive intensity disappeared. While the Bulldog duo of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie couldn’t buy a bucket, Jenkins made his case for SEC Player of the Year, hitting a dazzling array of shots for the third straight game. Jenkins is one of the best, and most unknown, pure shooters in America and back to back clutch shots to turn a 55-52 deficit into a 57-55 lead, effectively ended the contest. Over the final ten minutes. Vanderbilt controlled tempo, got to every loose ball and found a way to totally deflate an amped up Georgia crowd..

With the win, Vanderbilt now has a sunny outlook for the rest of its season. The Commodores sit at 7-4 in the league and remain in contention for the SEC title. The remaining schedule includes tests against Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida, but two of those games are in Nashville and if Kevin Stallings’s group takes care of business a bye in the SEC Tournament and a high seed in the NCAA field is likely.

As for Mark Fox, the loss brings about the possibility of a collapse that could leave Georgia on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble. The Bulldogs have road games against Tennessee, Florida and Alabama remaining on the schedule, setting up the real possibility that they could finish only .500 in the conference. For a team with no nonconference wins over teams likely to make the NCAA field, that record could make them especially vulnerable to being left out of the final NCAA field. Georgia could be left needing to make noise in the SEC Tournament to even get a bid, a result that seemed unfathomable just a few weeks ago after the team’s quick start.

The game in Athens on Wednesday night was ugly and ended in an embarrassing fashion, with Mark Fox getting a technical foul in the remaining seconds and fans throwing objects onto the court to express their displeasure with the officiating. But regardless of the extracurricular activities that concluded the game, the fourteen minutes prior will have the most dramatic effect on the future of the two teams. Vanderbilt can now think about its seeding, while Georgia must now focus on survival…all because of a 13 minute stretch that may be the most important each team has all season long.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 14, 2011 1:30 pm
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Posted on: February 11, 2011 1:05 am
Edited on: February 11, 2011 1:22 am

Alabama loss shows me I couldn't be a coach

Posted by MATT JONES

NASHVILLE --- I could never be a coach. Even if I were somehow able to gain the necessary knowledge of basketball X and Os, learn how to convince 17 year old snotheads that they should come to my school and deal with egotistical boosters whose proverbial tails I would have to kiss, I still don't have what it takes to be a coach. Because if I were a coach, I simply couldn’t deal with a situation like Anthony Grant encountered on Thursday night without raising a ruckus that would probably get me fired, or potentially even deported.

The Alabama coach had his team up one on the road at Vanderbilt in a game that if it won, could have made the Tide a player on the national scene in college basketball. A victory would have allowed Alabama to hold onto its one game lead in the SEC and with its upcoming schedule, dreams of a shocking conference championship would have been distinctly in reach. With 35 seconds to go, the Crimson Tide basketball team had a chance to have people caring about basketball in Tuscaloosa for the first time since Wimp Sanderson was covering the state in plaid.

Then, because of referee malfeasance, all of Grant’s hopes were taken away. First came a questionable foul call on Alabama point guard Trevor Releford that allowed Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley to turn his clutch 15 foot jumper into a three point play, putting the Commodores up two. If I were a coach, that call would annoy me, as Tinsley clearly threw himself into Releford and the foul call took the dynamic Freshman point guard out of the game with five fouls. But the philosopher in me would hopefully have said, “bad foul calls come and go, I will accept this and move on with a chance still to win the game.” I am theoretically level headed like that.

But moments later my gasket would have officially been blown. After Alabama’s star JaMychal Green got a quick first step on the baseline with under 10 seconds to play, he was shoved by a Vanderbilt player and slightly lost his balance.  A good referee would have seen the bump and called a foul. Referee Tim Higgins, working his fifth game in five states in seven nights, did blow his whistle, but not to call a foul. Instead, he waddled two steps forward into plain view of the television cameras (all big calls must be seen by the masses), pointed at the ground and called Green out of bounds. Vanderbilt ball...game essentially over.

However there were only two little problems with the decision. One of course was the no-call on the foul which initially sent Green towards the baseline. But the other was even more egregious. For even though Higgins was standing on the baseline and staring directly at the play, he failed to notice that Green DID NOT ACTUALLY STEP OUT OF BOUNDS. Anthony Grant, who was standing directly next to the play due to Vanderbilt’s unique court set up that puts the benches on the baseline, became livid, screaming at Higgins, but to no avail. Call made and game over.

Immediately however, Higgins error became clear to everyone but him. The picture you see above began being passed around Twitter, showing that not only did Green not step out of bounds, but Higgins was looking directly at the spot on the floor where Green did not step out of bounds. Higgins became the worst thing a referee can be, known. His name began trending on Twitter, comparisons were made to Jim Joyce and mocking hashtags were created with terms such as #TimHigginsCalls (some of the best included “New Coke”, “Investing in Bernard Madoff Securities” and “Who needs those lifeboats anyway? The Titanic is unsinkable!”). Higgins ineptitude became the running joke of the night.

Except to Anthony Grant, it can’t really be all that funny. When the call was made, the normally docile coach became obviously outraged and got as worked up and out of control as I have ever seen him during his coaching career. But by the time the postgame press conference came along, Grant was stoic. He responded to a question about the call by saying, “it doesn’t matter. What happened happened and we just have to move on and get ready for the next game.”

See I couldn’t do that. If I had just been as royally screwed as Anthony Grant, I would have gone off the deep end. I would have made comments about Tim Higgins’s awful  call, his ability as a referee and if he wasn’t careful, maybe the paunch he carries around on the court. I would have made clear to everyone that was listening that what happened in Nashville was a travesty and I would have made certain to maintain no perspective and to alienate everyone possible with my comments. I hate losing. But to lose due to the ineptitude of another...well that would be too much to handle.

Of course that is why I am not a coach. Anthony Grant was clearly not happy with what happened, but he chose to maintain his calm and talk about the goals his team can still accomplish. Grant has a tremendous future as a college basketball coach and watching the unbelievable improvement shown by his Alabama team on Thursday night, I became more convinced he will be a star. But I also became certain that his entire profession is something I simply could not do. When something is taken away from me that I deserve, I become righteously indignant. Anthony Grant seemed to be accepting of his fate. He is far better than me.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 8, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2011 12:31 pm

Line 'Em Up: K-State a tourney team right now?

Posted by Matt Norlander

In case you're new to the blog, what we've got here is a Tuesday feature that's bit of a twist on bubble watching, only it’s not just that. We take teams and stack their ledgers against each other. Sometimes it will be to debate and determine at-large inclusion into The Tournament; sometimes it will be about seeding. Today, we're going to peek at one Big Ten team that's been on the radar all season long and see how it compares to an SEC club that's perennially undervalued ... this year being the exception.

So, what to make of Vanderbilt vs. Illinois?

Both are undoubtedly in the field right now, even if both lack consistency that can catapult either into a top-five seed.

And that's why I've chosen to line these two up against one and other. This feature is not about what's to come or any sort of prognostication. Let's see what the two have proven thus far and who's a better seed as of today. What's clear: both aren't as high on the board as I initially expected. That's what makes this fun for a seed dork like me.

Illinois is a team I think many have lost true scope of. Someone told me earlier in the year that no team has as many players who will make a living playing professional basketball in some capacity as Illinois. (The number that person used was nine.) The Illini have been on TV a lot, won some decent games (Maryland, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Wisconsin), but there've been a lot of disappointing or outright bad losses (Illinois-Chicago, Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State). The seeding as of now, in my mind, is an 8. Bruce Weber's crew is 4-4 against the top 50, with a 27 Sagarin rating and 15 KenPom rating.

Vanderbilt is currently 16-6 and 4-4 in a mild SEC. The Commodores are part of the East division, specifically, which is still considered to be available for five bids alone (Florida, Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, in addition to Vandy). Vandy's got a KenPom rating of 29, a Sagarin rating of 26 and a 5-4 record against top-50 Sagarin-ranked teams. Best wins: it's a mixed bag of UNC, Belmont (yep) and Marquette. Losses to South Carolina and Arkansas deflate those. The non-con SOS is at 93, not the best. Kevin Stallings' team still doesn't stack up against Weber's underachievers. Fair to stay Vanderbilt's a 9 right now? Afraid so, but it's a "fluid" situation heading forward.

Kansas State vs. Virginia Tech

Well, well ... isn't this interesting. Coursing through the bracket, it's hard to leave the Wildcats out? Actually, yeah. And what of the Hokies, who've managed to get to a 15-7 record despite a litany of roster problems? I bring this up because Kansas State defeated Virginia Tech 73-57 on Nov. 16. Both teams have changed since then, but that result does matter, even if its value dwindles with each week. If it's a bubble duel, who's the team to take?

The case for Kansas State: Frank Martin's team has looked really bad, but the rest of the country's been obliging in making the bubble as soft as I can ever remember. While the Gonzaga win (81-64, Nov. 22) looks meh, the Washington State win (63-58, Dec. 1) has improved in value. Now, the Wildcats have to hope Baylor gets better, because the Jan. 24 win against the Bears has to get better with age. K-State has Va. Tech beat, barely, in Sagarin (35 to 37). If you really look at the bubble field right now, somehow, Kansas State is still right here. I eat my words from before.

The case for Virginia Tech: Seth Greenberg's team's best win is at Maryland. In the non-conference, it's a neutral-floor win against outside-looking-in Oklahoma State. The second-best win is over Penn State. You just slap your forehead and ask how the Hokies do this to themselves each year. The Hokies' 32 rating in KenPom beats the Wildcats' 43 mark. But there's no bad losses out of conference. Virginia and Georgia Tech are the notable trip-ups.

The pick: When it's this close, I have to give it to the team who won the head-to-head, so K-State it is. Both teams have had roster issues, so I think that's a wash. Going forward, Kansas State has the more opportunistic road, to boot, so watch for that.

Photos: AP

Posted on: January 22, 2011 4:55 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2011 5:12 pm

Two losses to remember on Selection Sunday

Posted by Matt Jones

While much of the attention of the day in college basketball has rightly been focused upon the big matchups involving ranked teams, two games a bit under the radar will have a huge impact on Selection Sunday:

You will not score easily on EzeliVanderbilt 89  St. Mary's 70

The West Coast Conference as a league has improved so much over the years that its supporters legitimately deem it worthy to procure at least one at-large bid every season. At the forefront of this revolution has been Gonzaga and St. Mary's, both of which have been contenders for the past few seasons. However, today's demolition of the Gaels by Vanderbilt leaves the WCC much closer to being cemented as a one-team league. With early losses to BYU and San Diego State, St. Mary's was, prior to today, left with its best non-conference win being over a now-reeling St. John's team. A win over Vanderbilt, or even a close performance, would have looked good if the Gaels slipped up in the WCC Tournament. However, this loss likely puts St. Mary's in a situation where it can afford no slip-ups in its two upcoming games with Gonzaga and an under-appreciated Portland team. With Gonzaga's loss last week to Santa Clara and now this embarrassment in Nashville, the WCC's at-large NCAA window is closing.

Oklahoma 67  Colorado 60

Colorado came into this week as the surprise of the Big 12 and likely needing a split in two winnable road games against Nebraska and Oklahoma in order to sustain its momentum. The loss on Wednesday to Nebraska could be forgiven, but falling to the worst team in the Big 12 is not becoming of an NCAA Tournament contender. The Big 12 is loaded in the middle and when it comes to Selection Sunday, differentiating the teams could be difficult. Colorado is now 14-6, with losses to Harvard and San Francisco and its best non-conference win against an unimpressive Indiana team. The Buffaloes have six remaining games against ranked teams and the losses this week mean that it must now steal at least a couple of these games in order to secure a bid. When you are a team looking to surprise your way into the NCAA Tournament via a major conference, you have to win the easy ones, split the medium ones and steal a hard one. Today Colorado dropped the easiest one.

Photo: US Presswire
Posted on: December 29, 2010 2:33 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2010 3:24 pm

Vanderbilt starter still waiting on NCAA ruling

Posted by Matt Jones

Trying to understand NCAA rulings in recent weeks has become more difficult than deciphering the meaning behind a Lou Holtz "Dr Lou." speech.  Beginning with the Cam Newton ruling that channelled the Shaggy "It Wasn't Me" defense through the Terrelle Pryor "we are upset but really want someone in America to watch our Sugar Bowl" travesty, finding anything resembling a cohesive policy in decisions from the NCAA is a fool's game.  However do not be mistaken and think that such bizarre decisions only show up in high profile matters.  No, the NCAA's odd way of doing business affects all equally.

Vanderbilt Junior Forward Lance Goulbourne, a recent starter who has been averaging over 22 minutes a game, is still in limbo before tonight's important road test at Marquette, as he awaits to find out his ultimate punishment from a parking pass gone bad .  During the 2009-2010 school year, Goulbourne bought a parking pass from a student manager on the team.  According to the NCAA, this is apparently a violation, as the fact that the manager is part of the Vanderbilt staff means NCAA rules have been broken.  What rule has been broken is not clear, but it is probably in the obscure section of the NCAA handbook titled "Parking Passes:  Dos and Dont's."

Goulbourne received the news of the violation through one of those moments to which we can all relate.  He was double-billed for a parking ticket, made the mistake of attempting to rectify the situation and was told by the Vanderbilt administration that his outdated parking pass was registered in the former manager's name.  Vanderbilt, acting the role of hall monitor of the SEC, called the NCAA violation on itself and has sat out Goulbourne while waiting on the NCAA's ruling.

Goulbourne has already missed one game, but is now awaiting word from the NCAA on when he can retake the court.  As we all know, no one works between Christmas and New Year's Day, and the NCAA is probably answering every call from Vanderbilt with the standard, "oh sorry, he is in a meeting."  As for Goulbourne, he is tired of the situation and told the The Leaf Chronicle , "not only is it something that happened last year, but it's a very minor, minor thing.  I don't understand how that's a violation. But the NCAA has its rules."

The NCAA does have rules, but if they are so random and obscure as to make the individual from which one purchases a school parking pass an issue, then it may be time for some revisions.  But until then, all athletes be on notice...when you purchase your Communications book next semester, make sure it is only from an NCAA-approved bookstore.  Otherwise severe punishment awaits.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Vanderbilt
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