Posted on: January 18, 2011 11:43 pm

Brian Williams wins it at the buzzer for the Vols

Posted by Matt Norlander

Quite the dramatic night in the SEC, huh? None more than this game-winner for Tennessee, which came courtesy of center Brian Williams, who was fortunate enough to not get called for an over-the-back penalty in the Vols' road game at Georgia.

The Volunteers got to 2-2 in the SEC thanks to Williams' crazy shot. Georgia fell to the same conference mark.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 15, 2011 11:42 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2011 11:45 pm

Five Takeaways from Saturday's games

Posted by MATT JONES

1.       Top two escape at home:  With Duke losing earlier this week to Florida State, next week’s top two teams will be Ohio State and Kansas. However both squads got quite a test from unlikely opponents at home on Saturday. Ohio State was forced to rely on a clutch performance from the top freshman in America, Jared Sullinger, who produced a key three point play with 13 seconds to go and the score tied, in order to beat surprising Penn State. The Buckeyes trailed at times in the game and looked more vulnerable than at any point in the past few weeks, potentially giving future Big Ten opponents insight into how to beat its multi-pronged attack. As for Kansas, it slept walked through much of the game, falling behind by ten points to Nebraska early in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks did just enough to survive down the stretch, but its 63-60 win suggests that its previous close calls to Michigan, UCLA and USC aren’t simply aberrations, but are par for the Jayhawks’ course. While both teams will go into next week, Nos. 1 and 2, they also both look quite beatable by virtually any team in their respective conferences


2.        No lead is safe:  Vanderbilt had to assume its quick 17 point lead against rival Tennessee would be enough to help it win in Knoxville and slam the door shut on the Vols’ bizarre season. But a late run led by Scotty Hopson helped the Vols to a comeback victory that gives them a slim sliver of life left in the SEC. With Bruce Pearl not yet halfway through his suspension, the win kept Tennessee from opening up conference play 0-3 and showcased that even though its fans were ill-prepared for the rivalry game (only 500 or so people showed up for a College Gameday taping before the game), its players weren’t ready to demolish the season just yet. Even more impressive was the absurd comeback by Louisville, which looked on the verge of NIT land when down 18 to Marquette at home with 5:44 left. But with a late dash of steals, quick scores and four Preston Knowles three-pointers, it made one of the more improbable comebacks in recent college basketball history. For Rick Pitino, the game means his team keeps its head above water in the Big East, while Marquette’s Buzz Williams has to live with one of the worst coaching and team collapses in recent memory.


3.       Florida disappoints again:  No team is more impossible to predict this season than the Florida Gators.  The same team that won impressively in road games at Tennessee and Xavier, has fallen at home to Central Florida, Jacksonville and today, South Carolina. The 72-69 loss to the Gamecocks comes right as I was about to take Florida seriously once again. It looked tremendous in its gutsy win over the Vols in Knoxville and the combination of Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker and Kenny Boyton seemed to give the Gators enough multiple scoring threats to make them scary in conference play. But now after the loss, we are left with the same Florida team that has disappointed so often in the last three years. Inconsistency, thy name is Florida.


4.       San Diego State and Texas A&M are legit:  If you saw San Diego State in the pack of unbeatens and determined that they were simply a fluke beneficiary of fortunate scheduling, I hope you took note of today’s 87-77 win at New Mexico.  The Aztecs controlled the game at the Pit, led by D.J. Gay’s 30 points and an impressively diverse set of offensive options that make them a terror to try and defend. While New Mexico isn’t a Top 25 team, it is talented and a win in one of the best home courts in America is proof that Steve Fisher’s group is not to be taken lightly. Similarly, if you were ready to assume that No. 13 Texas A&M was going to fade in Big 12 play, that conclusion also may need to be revisited. The Aggies won a hard fought 91-89 Overtime victory over Missouri that showcased what a talent it has in Sophomore Khris Middleton. His name spelling is similar to the Aggies as a team, surprising and orthodox, but potentially with the win over Missouri, now a contender for best in a suddenly deep Big 12 conference.


5.       A-10 and Conference USA Flops: Both the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA leagues consider themselves to be worthy of respect and national attention and often shun the notion that they are “second-tier” leagues in college basketball. When one of the leagues has a dominant team, it is thus good for its image as a potential national power, as showcased by St. Joseph’s and Memphis in recent years. Until today, both teams thought another such team could exist this year, but Temple and Central Florida both laid an egg in humiliating road defeats. Neither Temple’s 78-66 loss to Duquesne nor Central Florida’s 86-69 defeat at Southern Miss was ever close and both defeats exposed the weaknesses of the previously ranked teams. For now at least, both leagues will suffer from diminished attention due to the lack of power at the top of the standings.


Posted on: January 8, 2011 11:53 pm

Five Takeaways from Saturday's Action

Posted by MATT JONES

Five Lessons from Saturday’s crazy day of college basketball:

 Upsets will be plentiful:  Outside of the top three teams in America that seem to have separated themselves (Duke, Ohio State and Kansas), the rest of the country is filled with good teams that will find difficulties when they hit the road.  Today we saw Missouri fall in Boulder to Colorado, Kentucky lose in Athens to Georgia and Central Florida drop its first game of the year in Houston.  In all cases, the teams that beat the three ranked squads were much more talented than the general public realizes, but the bigger issue is with the teams that were defeated.  All are good enough to be able to make noise in March, but none are good enough to roll roughshod over middle-tier teams in their leagues.  Thus Saturdays where they, and other similar conference powers, lose on the road to good teams will be commonplace.

Michigan State is in trouble:  While most of the teams that lost today shouldn’t’ panic, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team may be in a different situation.  Losing on the road in the Big Ten happens, but not on the road at Penn State when you are a team that began the season with national title aspirations.  The Spartans are not playing their usual defense, have trouble scoring in big spots and simply don’t have the look of a Tom Izzo club.  The optimist would say that Michigan State always struggles early in the season and there is nothing stopping them from yet another Final Four appearance.  But one begins to wonder if the actual Spartan squad is not the group that got hot at the end of the season last year and made a run to the Final Four, but instead is the team we saw throughout the year that underachieved and struggled.  If so, making another magic run may be too much to ask.

Kemba Walker is the early Player of the Year:  If one looks at UCONN objectively, it is hard to see the Huskies as a team that would deserve national attention.  They have virtually no scoring weapons on the wing and their defense, while athletic, seems to lack toughness when faced with aggression, as in the game early this year versus Pittsburgh.  But Jim Calhoun does have Kemba Walker and when it matters most, that may be enough.  To go on the road today and win in Austin versus Texas, is the type of victory that will give UCONN the chance to get a top seed even if it struggles in the Big East.  As for Kemba, his poise on the last possession, in which it was clear that he wouldn’t be passing the ball, but would get a good shot, was a thing of beauty to watch and solidifies why he has been the best story in college basketball early this season.

Tennessee is impossible to define:  No team has had a more bizarre week than the Vols, who looked like an SEC contender in their utter dismantling of Memphis early in the week, but then fell to a member of the embarrassing SEC West today against Arkansas.  With Bruce Pearl beginning his eight game SEC suspension, Tennessee was down the entire game to the Razorbacks and looked decidedly ordinary throughout.  While Arkansas now looks to be the top team in the SEC West, at this point that is as impressive as saying Robert Deniro is the bright spot in “Little Fockers.”  Losing to the Razorbacks starts Tennessee on a slide at the beginning of the Pearl suspension, and if it doesn’t stop, the Vols will find themselves potentially out of the NCAA Tournament conversation before he returns.

The game of the year was in Birmingham:  If you missed the UTEP-UAB battle in Birmingham today, you could have been forgiven.  No one would have imagined that it would have been anything more than a mildly interesting story for college basketball diehards.  But after the 100-97 3 OT thriller, those that watched were able to say they saw what will likely be the game of the year.  Buzzer beaters were made at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and Cameron Moore’s three with time running down at the end of the third overtime sealed the game for the Blazers.  With Central Florida losing and Memphis down this season, Conference USA is up for grabs and this game showcases that both of these teams are conference contenders.  But more importantly, for one day they put on a show unlike any other and made Bartow Arena the place to be in college basketball..

Posted on: January 6, 2011 12:16 am
Edited on: January 6, 2011 12:17 am

George Jones' Night in Review


Posted by MATT JONES

Back in the olden days, when all blogs were local and Seth Davis was simply a "handsome CBS television personality" and not a "handsome CBS television personality with his own shown on the CBS College Sports Network", I used to do a nightly post in which I would attempt to wrap up all the important news in college basketball in one quick roundup.  The point of course, was to make sure that those of you who are too busy to come home, sit by the television with your significant other and scan the cable networks for the latest news from the WAC, would have a way to understand what happened in the world of college basketball in one ridiculous summary.  I have decided to move this concept over to the bright lights and big city atmosphere of CBSSports.com, and thus we have the first edition of the "Night in Review." 

Every evening we will begin the Night in Review by giving a quick tip of the hat to someone in the news who is not focused solely on college basketball.  Tonight we give a big "HOWDY!" to George Jones, aka "the Possum," who apparently had a heart scare in Nashville on Wednesday.  Jones is best known for the country classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today", producing # 1 hits in four different decades and looking damn smooth in a white leisure suit.  Thankfully for his fans, the heart scare turned out to be temporary and he is expected back home on Thursday.  But in the mean time, check out some of the Possum's work if you aren't familiar.  I know some of you sophisticated types with your highfalutin dinner parties, NPR tote bags and New Yorker cartoon book compilations might not be familiar with George's catalogue, so let me give you a few starters: "She Thinks I Still Care", "What a Good Year for the Roses" and "Choices." You folks can thank me later.

To the Wednesday notes worth knowing:

1.  Its Jimmer Time in Vegas --- The Game of the Night in college basketball turned out to be a dud all because of the force of Jimmer.  After falling behind 23-15 early, UNLV fell faster than the political stock of Sharron Angle in the second half as Jimmer Fredette took over, powering BYU to a 89-77 victory.  The man whose name my girlfriend hates with the same passion she had previously reserved for the girl with fangs on "The Bachelor" (I actually like it...both the names and the fangs), Fredette put on an offensive show, scoring 39 points and hitting seven three-pointers to bring out the boo birds in the Thomas & Mack Center.  With the win, BYU strikes the first blow in the battle with San Diego State for Mountain West Conference supremacy, while UNLV proves that the hints of problems suggested by the UC-Santa Barbara and Louisville losses should have been taken seriously.

2.  Bruce Pearl gets a sendoff ---  The only person who may have had a worse December that Bruce Pearl is Brett Favre, likely only because I refuse to open any text pictures I receive from Knoxville.  Wednesday's Memphis game saw Pearl's Tennessee team having lost four of its last five and about to begin an eight-game SEC stretch where the coach would not be allowed on the sideline due to an SEC suspension.  So the Vols responded as any group of kids about to watch Daddy head off to the NCAA gulag would, by absolutely annihilating its in-state rival, Memphis.  The Vols dominated in a 104-84 shellacking that was not as close as the score indicated.  What seemed to be a team reeling, instead found its groove and begin the SEC season with some positive momentum.  

3.  Boston College hates the Ivy League ---  As anyone who has ever had a friend go to Boston College can attest, the school does have a serious case of Ivy League envy.  Every BC student will try to convince you that "I could have gone to an Ivy League school but BC's academics are just as good as those Ivy schools and you know what, I wouldn't want to go to school with all those nerds anyway.  Plus, we have great sports here, so take that you little Harvard/Yale/Dartmouth/Brown dork."  While that self-rationalization is always fun to listen to, now it is even more incorrect than usual as Harvard beat Boston College 78-69 for its third straight win over the Eagles.  Piled on top of the earlier loss to Yale, and it becomes clear that BC should be thankful ACC play is beginning and the nerds are going to go back to beating up on each other.

4.  Fear Missouri ---  Yeah I know Missouri's 98-58 victory tonight was only over North Alabama and no, I am not Gary Parrish so I couldn't tell you (a) what conference North Alabama is in or (b) if it is an actual university or just a set in a DJ Qualls movie.  However, I am impressed with a team that has seven scorers in double figures against any team and goes into Big 12 play with just one loss and having played as well as anyone outside of the top five in the non-conference season.  Plus Mike Anderson just seems like a guy you would want to hang out with...and his hair is not nearly as creepy as Quinn Snyder's.  They have my attention.

5.  Duke's Schedule is Putrid ---  Have you noticed that for the #1 team in America, you don't hear a lot about Duke?  Want to know why? Because Coach K somehow lost his manliness on the way to Bobby Knight's record and has stopped scheduling anyone of note in the non-conference.  This year's slate saw only two Top 25 teams, one of which was mandated by the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, multiple games against bottom feeders and only one true road game...and it was at UNC-Greensboro of all places.  Tonight they beat Mike Davis and UAB, which is sweet, but when will Duke go play games that matter?  You are Duke!  You matter in college basketball.  Act like it.

6.  Wake Forest won ---  With fellow "worst teams in the BCS", Auburn and Oregon State, getting big wins this week over Florida State and Oregon State, Wake Forest had to do something to keep up.  Beating High Point 79-63 might not seem like much, but lets remember that this is a school that got beat by Presbyterian and went into a road game at Richmond as a 16 point underdog...and DIDN'T COVER.  So yeah it is High Point...but it is also Wake Forest.

7.  Central Florida Keeps Rolling ---  If you were on CBSSports.com today, you read about fifteen stories on Central Florida and so you know that they are a Conference USA team ready to make a national splash.  Tonight they beat Marshall 65-58 and Marcus Jordan had his team come fly with him for 26 points.  If you haven't paid attention yet to Central Florida, you really should, because if I am reading George O'Leary's resume correctly, his ability to coach both the football and basketball teams to such good seasons at the same time is quite impressive.

8.  Rick Pitino Likes Kevin Willard --- The Louisville Cardinals got back on track tonight, beginning Big East play with a 73-54 victory over Seton Hall.  The Hall has been part of what I like to call the "forgotten neighbors" of the Big East, often forgotten by commentators who trumpet the power at the top but ignore the train wrecks at the bottom of the 16 team league.  After the game, Rick Pitino said that Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard would turn the program around and that he would be the "next Billy Donovan" in college basketball.  High praise indeed, although to be fair, Rick's track record of prediction has never been the best, including comparing former Kentucky Wildcat Jared Prickett to Larry Bird and calling current Cardinal Mike Marra "the greatest high school shooter I have ever seen."   
So there you have it, your night in review.  Tomorrow is highlighted by the Xavier-Cincy battle, a decision by 2011 five-star recruit Deandre Daniels as to his college destination and more decimation of whatever comedy soul is left in "The Office."  Stay tuned....
Posted on: January 4, 2011 1:51 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2011 3:38 pm

Ten games go a long way for Bruce Pearl's future

Posted by Matt Jones

December was not a good month for Bruce Pearl .  It is bad enough that the Tennessee coach had a losing record for the month, with four losses against the decidedly mediocre quartet or Charlotte, Oakland, USC and College of Charleston, planting the Vols decidedly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.  But then Pearl found himself the recipient of another round of “How is Bruce Pearl the coach at Tennessee?” questions following his embarrassing interview with Seth Davis on CBS.  What was once a possible season of redemption has now become simply a season of survival, as the wheels have completely blown apart the Tennessee locomotive.

January doesn’t look to be much better.  With an eight-game SEC suspension beginning on Saturday, Bruce Pearl will coach only two games for Tennessee in the month, both of which now look like must-wins for his Tournament future.  The Vols play Memphis in Knoxville on Wednesday and then make the rare trip to Storrs, Connecticut to meet Jim Calhoun and UCONN on the January 22.  Both games give Pearl’s squad a chance to get what the SEC will provide few opportunities to obtain, a resume-building win.  With Tennessee’s conference down to two ranked teams, winning at least one of the two non-conference battles is imperative and taking both may be required to go dancing this March.

And for Pearl, the NCAA Tournament may now represent much more than simply a season’s goal, it could be the difference between the continuation of his career and a move away from the major conference spotlight.  Since the revelation that Pearl lied to the NCAA, the coach has had his Tennessee contract voided and he is now working on an “at-will” basis.  The University is clearly waiting to see what sanctions will be handed down by the NCAA and whether they will inhibit Pearl’s ability to lead the Vols into the future.  For a basketball program that was on the verge of a Final Four last year and hasn’t seen consistent success since the “Ernie and Bernie” show in the 1970s, letting go of a winning coach would be difficult.  But if that same coach has watched while his team has imploded and found himself out of the NCAA Tournament in a year where the SEC is at its lowest point in over a decade…well that is a different story.

It is bizarre to imagine that in today’s NCAA world where Dez Bryant told a fib about knowing Deion Sanders and found himself out of a collegiate career, Bruce Pearl could still have a job.  But as of now, he does.  While one might argue that Pearl’s actions in the past should determine his future with the school, at this point he seems to have survived part of the storm from the NCAA sanctions.  However, with the dual realities of the acknowledged difficulty in firing a winning Coach and Pearl’s collapsing team’s next ten games featuring eight conference games from which he is suspended, one against a top ten team and the other against the school’s most heated rival, his future is far from secure.  For eighty percent of the Vols' January schedule, Pearl will not be on the sidelines and have virtually no control over the contest's outcomes.  But due to the precarious situation Pearl finds himself in, the way his team plays will not only decide whether the Vols will make the NCAA Tournament in March, it may go a long way in determining whether he will still be there this time next season.

Photo: AP
Posted on: January 1, 2011 3:25 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 3:42 pm

Bruce Pearl doesn't put best foot forward

Posted by Matt Jones


At halftime of yesterday's Kentucky-Louisville game, CBS's Seth Davis sat down with Bruce Pearl to talk about the NCAA investigation that is swirling around the Tennessee program.  Pearl has admitted to the NCAA that he gave false information when confronted with evidence of a relatively minor rules violation committed by he and his staff during a recruiting visit.  Seth confronted Pearl about the issues and asked how he would respond to viewers who believed that he was a liar.  His answer, which can be seen above in the video, in many ways makes him look even worse than he did before the question.

Pearl responded with a classic Bill Clinton "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" answer and attempted to draw a distinction between not telling the truth and being a liar.  It came off to me as totally disingenuous, and I am actually a huge Bruce Pearl fan.  Rather than just totally accepting responsiblity and acknowledging that his actions were totally unacceptable, Pearl still tries to hold out some hope that his actions can be looked at differently, and detached from the actual Bruce Pearl.  With Bruce, and anyone else for that matter, that is impossible.

The fact is Bruce, based on your actions with the NCAA, you were a liar.  It is up to you to show that you are not a liar going forward.  Drawing distinctions between Bruce Pearl the individual and Bruce Pearl's actions does nothing to change that reality.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 27, 2010 7:22 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2011 7:05 pm

The SEC is hurting my soul

Posted by Matt Jones

It has not been a stellar year for the SEC on the basketball court.  While their football brethren are basking in the glow of a potential fifth straight national champion from the conference, the basketball teams have taken a decidedly different direction in the start of their 2010-2011 campaigns.  In fact, to say that SEC basketball has performed “poorly” thus far this season is an understatement as large as saying that the NCAA is “inconsistent” in the way it hands out punishments for rules violations.  The SEC has been downright pathetic and an embarrassment to the good names of Wimp Sanderson, Sonny Smith, Hugh Durham, Dale Brown and even Don Devoe.  Take a look at a partial list of teams that have notched a victory over an SEC opponent thus far this season:

UNC Asheville
St. Peter
Nicholls State
Coastal Carolina
North Texas
Florida Atlantic
East Tennessee State

That is a list of teams so bad that ESPN wouldn’t even package them together, stick them on a random Caribbean island and try to sell them as a viable “holiday tournament.”  It is a group so poor that only one has even been invited to participate in "Bracket Buster" weekend.  Yet they all were invited into an SEC team's home arena and came away with a victory.  As bad as the losses have been however, the wins have not been much better.  As of now, the conference as a whole only has three wins against teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25, and the two biggest marquee victories (Tennessee’s upsets of Villanova and Pittsburgh) are muted a bit by later losses to Oakland and Charlotte.

The SEC East has been awful, with the Vols losing three of their last four, Florida falling at home to an Artis Gilmore-less Jacksonville squad and South Carolina taking a 16 point stoning at home to Furman that caused South Carolina fans to yearn for the return of Devan Downey.  But the SEC East has looked like the 1985 Big East in comparison to the SEC West, which may have the most miserable collection of BCS teams in a division in the history of major college basketball.  The best team in the division is likely Arkansas, whose most distinguishing quality is that they are the only team in the division not to have lost to a team outside the RPI Top 100.  While at the bottom, Auburn has celebrated the christening of its new arena by insulting the good name of Chris Porter and taking the early lead over Oregon State and Depaul for worst BCS program in the land.

How did it get this bad?  In theory, the SEC should have some real potential.  One could make the argument that it has its best assortment of coaches in the last 15 years, with three of the top 15 in the game (Calipari, Pearl and Donovan), four rising up and comers that were coveted by a number of programs (Anthony Grant, John Pelphrey, Darrin Horn and Andy Kennedy) and four solid X and O guys who have had sustained success in the past (Kevin Stallings, Mark Fox, Rick Stansbury and Trent Johnson).    Over the last few years, many of these programs have kept good Southern talent in-state and the rise in national exposure that has come with Florida’s national championships, Bruce Pearl’s emergence as a media darling and John Calipari’s explosion of talent at Kentucky would seem to have benefited the conference to such a degree that it should be contending for top spot in all of America.  Instead, the conference is at best eighth in the country and an argument can be made that if the NCAA Tournament were held today, only three teams (Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt) would be a lock to be a part of the festivities.

To be fair, it isn’t all bad.  Kentucky will be one of the ten best teams in the nation come NCAA Tournament time.  Vanderbilt and Georgia have played a bit above their preseason rankings and could make some noise in conference play.  And one has to assume that Tennessee and Florida will get out of their December funks to create a solid SEC East.  But with the Western Division giving the conference more dead weight than “Blades of Glory” in a Will Ferrell movie marathon, the prognosis for the SEC does not look bright.  We all know that with the exception of Kentucky and occasionally Vandy, none of these schools care one bit about basketball and would rather obsess over the inseam measurement of a Defensive Line prospect out of Alabama than celebrate the talent of Trey Thompkins or Chris Warren.  But for those of us who do care about basketball in the SEC (meaning Kentucky fans and random old men in stuffy gyms watching high school games throughout the South), couldn’t they fake it just a little bit better?

Photo: AP
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com