Posted on: April 2, 2008 11:38 am
Tuesday was a crazy day.
First Sean Sutton was canned.
Then Tom Crean bolted for Indiana.
All the attention paid to those developments made me lose track of a few things I wanted to address here. But now I'm going to address them here because I'm in between radio interviews and have a few minutes to type.
-- Hopson commits to Vols --
It was no surprise when Bruce Pearl expressed his desire to remain at Tennessee on Tuesday.
You would too if Scotty Hopson just committed to your school.
Hopson pledged his allegiance to the Vols on a Tuesday visit, meaning Pearl will now coach -- unless I'm forgetting somebody -- his first McDonald's All-American next season. The 6-foot-7 wing is a dynamic scorer, somebody who should be a starter from the outset and help offset the losses of Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith. So this is a huge deal by any measuring stick -- a credit to the work of UT assistant Steve Forbes, who has been relentless in his approach to Hopson since the Kentucky native opted not to go ahead with his commitment to Mississippi State in the early signing period.
-- Western Kentucky is looking for a coach --
Hiring an assistant at a major program worked last time for Western Kentucky.
That's why it's likely the school will move similarly to replace Darrin Horn.
And the obvious choice is Texas assistant Ken McDonald.
McDonald worked at WKU from 1998-2003 and helped Dennis Felton lead the Hilltoppers to three NCAA tournament appearances before leaving with Felton to take over at Georgia. McDonald spent one year there and then joined Rick Barnes' staff at Texas, where he has assisted his boss in further establishing the Longhorns as one of the elite programs in the country.
Far as coaching searches go, this should be simple.
McDonald makes sense at WKU on a lot of levels.
He'd be good there.
-- There will be no Florida-Ohio State NIT final --
Ohio State beat Ole Miss in the NIT semifinals.
But Florida lost to UMass.
Consequently, we will not have a Florida-Ohio State NIT title game this season, which will deny us a repeat of last year's NCAA tournament title game. And that's too bad. But Ohio State still has a chance to snag another runners-up trophy if it can manage a loss to UMass. So that's a reason to watch the championship, if you were looking for one.
Posted on: March 16, 2008 3:16 pm
Edited on: March 16, 2008 3:17 pm
North Carolina's win over Clemson in the ACC final means we now know three of our four No. 1 seeds.
UNC, Memphis and UCLA are locks at the top.
The fourth No. 1 seed will go to either Tennessee, Texas or Kansas.
My opinion: If Texas beats Kansas in the Big 12 final the Longhorns should get a No. 1 seed. But if Kansas beats Texas then the final No. 1 seed should go to Tennessee because the Jayhawks' body of work (7-2 record against the Top 50), while impressive, simply doesn't match that of Tennessee (11-3 record against the Top 50) or Texas (11-3 record against the Top 50).
Posted on: March 14, 2008 5:08 pm
It's probably too early to know for sure. But my guess is that Tennessee's 89-87 victory over South Carolina in Friday's SEC quarterfinals secured a No. 1 seed for the Vols regardless of what happens in Saturday's semifinals. Why? Because even if UT loses to Vanderbilt or Arkansas they will get out of the weekend without a "bad" loss -- Vandy and Arkansas are both NCAA tournament teams, you know? -- and thus with a solid resume that'll be difficult to push to the second line.
Right now, the Vols are 28-3 with the No. 1 RPI and No. 1 Strength of Schedule in the country.
They've beaten Memphis.
And West Virginia.
And at least five other teams that figure to be in the NCAA tourament (Gonzaga, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Western Kentucky and Kentucky) plus at least another four that were either on the bubble as recently as yesterday (Florida and Ole Miss) or are still on the bubble today (Temple and Ohio State). Add it up, and that's nine victories over likely NCAA tournament teams and four more over legitimate bubble teams. And that's why the Vols are probably headed for a No. 1 seed regardless of what happens next.
Want the name of a possible surprise No. 1 seed?
Watch out for Texas.
The Longhorns are 27-5 with the No. 5 RPI and No. 6 Strength of Schedule in the country.
They've beaten Tennessee.
And Saint Mary's.
And at least four other teams that figure to be in the NCAA tournament, namely Oklahoma (twice), Baylor (twice), Texas A&M and Kansas State. They're 5-2 against the Top 25, 10-3 against the Top 50. And if the Longhorns were to beat Oklahoma and presumably Kansas to win the Big 12 tournament they'd have a great case for a No. 1 seed and perhaps be in position to jump UCLA based somewhat on their December victory at Pauley Pavilion
Posted on: February 26, 2008 6:56 pm
NASHVILLE -- I don't believe Bruce Pearl is delivering a pep talk at a bar today.
And that's unfortunate.
Because his pregame speech to Tennessee fans at Jillian's in downtown Memphis over the weekend was fabulous, if only because he explained how the plan was to "kick Memphis' ass." Honestly, can you think of any other high-profile coach who would yell and sing with fans before coaching the biggest regular season game of his career?
But Pearl did.
And you can click this link to see it all go down.
Meantime, we're about two hours from UT's first game ever as a No. 1 team, and it's not going to be an easy task. It's cold and windy here in Nashville, but Memorial Gym should still be wild enough to create a scene similar to the one at FedExForum three days ago. Of course, the Vols handled that OK, escaped with a 66-62 win over then-top-ranked Memphis. But they've dropped three of their past four games in this building, which is at least partly why Vegas has made Tennessee just a 2-point favorite.
Posted on: February 24, 2008 2:23 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2008 2:34 pm
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- You know when I figured Memphis would lose to Tennessee?
When the Tigers were leading at halftime.
Memphis was up 35-34 at the break, and so the locals were thrilled. But the problem for the Tigers was that they needed to sink eight 3-point attempts to gain that slim advantage, and anybody who has watched this team routinely miss shots -- Memphis ranks 227th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage -- knew that pace would fall off eventually, and by eventually I mean drastically.
"They can't beat us from three all night," UT coach Bruce Pearl told ESPN's Erin Andrews at halftime. "They just can't."
What came next was predictable.
Memphis took seven 3-pointers in the second half and made exactly zero.
In other words, a really bad 3-point shooting team started shooting 3-pointers really badly.
And that's why the Tigers are gonna go from being the top-ranked team in the country to the second-ranked team in the state.
Posted on: February 23, 2008 3:18 pm
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- We're about six hours from tip-off and the buildup is unlike anything I've ever seen for a regular season contest. It's No. 1 vs. No. 2, and that has a lot to do with it. But really, this is much more than that because of the rivalry between the schools, coaches, players and fanbases -- all of which made for an interesting Friday night on Beale Street.
Every other person out was wearing Memphis gear or Tennessee gear.
Random bar conversations always drifted to free throw shooting and fullcourt presses.
The game is all the talk in this city. And though you've probably read a number of columns about the icy relationship between John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, I opted to mostly avoid the subject this week. Why, you ask? Because I wrote that column last season.
If you want to revisit it just click this link.
And while you're doing that I'm gonna shower and head downtown.
Posted on: February 17, 2008 10:15 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2008 8:14 pm
Thank you, Wake Forest.
By beating Duke late Sunday you managed to make next weekend's showdown bigger than it was already going to be, and it was already going to be super huge. Now, it's going to be super duper huge. Because barring some voting irregularities the top two teams in the rankings will meet Saturday at FedExForum.
It should be No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 2 Tennessee.
It should be two rivals with a combined record of 48-2.
It should be no wonder that the asking price for courtside seats is up to $10,000 each.
Posted on: February 9, 2008 7:47 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2008 8:27 pm
Butch Pierre is one helluva defensive coach.
Or either Tennessee just picked a strange time to stink offensively.
Either way, the worst team in the SEC (LSU) spent Saturday nearly beating the best team in the SEC (Tennessee), and it's hard to imagine emotion didn't play a role. LSU was on the court roughly 24 hours after its coach, John Brady, had stood in front of reporters and discussed his in-season firing while battling back tears. That's a rally-the-troops moment every time. And so the Tigers used the inspiration to take the Vols into the final minute before losing on a turnover that led to a JaJuan Smith layup with 11 seconds remaining.
Final score: Tennessee 47, LSU 45.
Yep, UT scored just 47 points ... which is wild for a team that came in averaging 85.4 points per game . That number ranked first in the SEC and fifth in the nation. But it's difficult to reach the 80s (or 70s or 60s or 50s, even) while shooting 31.7 percent from the field (19-of-60), 26.3 percent from 3-point range (5-of-19) and 26.7 percent from the free throw line (4-of-15) , and how in the world can a group of players on full scholarships to a basketball power make just 4-of-15 free throw attempts?
Answer: I have no idea.
But the good news for Tennessee is that it managed to win another road game in spite of itself. The Vols' road record is now 7-1, and that's the main reason they will maintain the best RPI in the nation. Their next road game is Feb. 16 at Georgia, and a week after that they'll have a shot to derail Memphis' perfect season when they enter FedExForum for a showdown that has long been soldout and will make ticket scalpers rich if the current prices at StubHub are any indication.