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Next Hoops Season, Just Focus On Your Team’s RPI And Ignore The Game-To-Game Analysis

see_the_big_picture_260The big picture.

In college basketball the big picture is all that matters.  Is your favorite team’s resume good enough to earn it an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament?  The rest of it — the yo-yo, see-saw, roller-coaster, up and down, back and forth freak outs — is meaningless.

Don’t believe us?  OK, then how many Kentucky fans do you think are still sweating the Wildcats’ 72-67 March 1st road loss to South Carolina?  Anyone?

Kentucky began the 2013-14 season with dreams of an undefeated season.  As those dreams quickly disappeared thanks to November and December losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, Big Blue Nation had a Big Blue Conniption.  From messageboards to Twitter, John Calipari was taken to task for not getting the most out of what was basically the world’s best AAU team.  So what if Coach Cal’s players were young and green?  Many UK backers simply weren’t accepting excuses (even legitimate ones).

Things only got worse as the Cats proved themselves to be inconsistent throughout SEC play.  There were two losses to Arkansas.  There was the South Carolina disaster.  There was a 3-4 stretch to end the regular season.  There also was a tie for second place in the SEC with Georgia.

That’s not at all what Kentucky fans and most media members expected to see as the regular season transitioned into tourney season.

Yet here we are, once again reminded that tourney season is really the only season that matters when it comes to college basketball.  The regular season is nothing more than a means of selecting 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament.  The regular-season games themselves?  They mean zip.  Kentucky lost three times to Florida this year.  But who’s in the national title game?  Kentucky, not Florida.

Tennessee lost to a seven-man Vanderbilt squad and lost twice to Texas A&M.  But the Vols still got into the tournament, they reached the Sweet Sixteen and they were just three missed free throws from reaching the Elite Eight.  The regular season that so angered the “Bring Back Bruce” crowd in Knoxville really meant little by season’s end.  The Vols did what they had to do to get in the field and then they took advantage of matchups to keep playing long after Kansas, Ohio State, Duke and Syracuse went home (despite those schools having better regular seasons).

Florida had a magnificent regular season losing just twice.  They were undefeated in SEC play and then they took their in-league record to a sizzling 21-0 in the SEC Tournament.  They were given the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.  But the Gators drew a bad matchup in the national semifinal game and fell to UConn, one of the two teams that beat UF back in the regular season.  So for all those regular-season wins and that top overall seed, UF will still be watching tonight’s championship game along with 349 other D-I schools.

At MrSEC.com, we vow never to go too overboard over the seeding implications of regular-season wins and losses, either.  Once a team is in the field, it’s all a question of matchups.  Matchups mean more than seeds.  Kentucky and UConn were seeded eighth and seventh in their respective regions.  One 10 seed and two 11 seeds reached the Sweet Sixteen this year.  One 11 seed (Dayton) advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.  And obviously none of the 1 seeds made it to tonight’s title bout.

So next basketball season, follow our lead and focus only on three things from November to March:

 

1.  What is my team’s RPI?

2.  What is my team’s strength of schedule?

3.  How close to 20 wins are we and do we still have time to hit that mark?

 

It’s all about being good enough to earn one of the 36 at-large bids handed out by the selection committee.  And all things being equal, that means your favorite squad will probably need to win 20 games, have an RPI inside the top 40 and a SOS rank of 100 or better.  Follow that.  Pay attention to that.  And get off the roller-coaster.

A December loss to North Carolina?  A march loss to South Carolina?  Unless one or the other prevents your team from winning 20 or ranking in the top 40 of the RPI… those regular-season games should be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s time to just admit that fact and focus on the big picture instead.

That’s what we do on this site each year.  And you can bet we’re going to keep doing it moving forward.

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SEC Headlines 4/7/2014

headlines-monSEC Football

1. Report: Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson suffered a torn ACL during Saturday’s scrimmage.

2. Here are five storylines to watch entering the final two weeks of Alabama’s spring practice.

3. Alabama’s running backs “have really had good springs so far,” according to Nick Saban.

4. Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones needs to stay healthy to be able to help the Tigers.

5. Talented wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones is the latest Texas A&M player to be arrested.

6. Athlon Sports put together an All-SEC team from the BCS Era.

Kentucky vs UConn

7. The script for Kentucky to reach the finals has been unlikely. The Wildcats can still have a happy ending.

8. Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein said it’s “heartbreaking” that he won’t be able to play against UConn.

9. It will be a tale of two backcourts going into tonight’s matchup.

10. Seth Davis is certain Kentucky will beat UConn. He thinks.

11. A rebound by Saint Joseph’s could have prevented UConn’s incredible run from ever happening.

SEC Basketball

12. The disappointing finish doesn’t define the journey for Florida, writes Pat Dooley.

13. There are plenty of questions to be answered now that Florida’s season is over.

SEC/NFL Draft

14. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is preparing for LSU’ Pro Day on Wednesday.

Extra

15. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik doesn’t appear too impressed with his daughter’s prom date in this photo.

16. “Why are all student-athletes still being considered equal?” That’s what Dan Wetzel wants to know.

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SEC Headlines 4/6/2014

headlines-sun3-150x150SEC Football

1. South Carolina tight end Rory Anderson tears tricep muscle Saturday.  Recovery time depends on whether it’s partial or complete tear.

2. Missouri defensive lineman Matt Hoch  will undergo surgery for a broken bone in his ankle.

3. Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris the star of LSU’s spring game.

4. Ole Miss had its spring game Saturday.  Coach Hugh Freeze: “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt … that we’re a better football team than we were two years ago, than we were last year.”

5. No spring game for Texas A&M this year because of Kyle Field renovation.  Aggies wrap up spring drills on Saturday.

6. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason on Saturday’s scrimmage: “We came out with a lot more passion and energy.”

7. Following Saturdays’ scrimmage, Alabama coach Nick Saban mentions three quarterbacks - Blake Sims, Cooper Batemen and Alec Morris.  ”So those three guys have sort of emerged as the three guys that look like they’re the most ready to play.”

8. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott only completed 13 passes Saturday but four of them were for touchdowns.

9. Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen impressive in the Razorbacks Saturday scrimmage.

10. Coach Butch Jones on the performance of Tennessee’s quarterbacks.  “All four [QBs] did some good things, but there’s also a lot of things that need to be corrected in a hurry.”

11. Lou Holtz addressed the Auburn team Friday.  Coach Gus Malzahn: “I consider him a friend.”

12. Kentucky defensive end Alvin “Bud” Dupree:  ”I’m much more confident in myself than I was at this time last year.

SEC Basketball

13. Auburn football and Kentucky basketball - “some of the most memorable clutch performances in SEC history – all in the same academic year.”

14. No trip anytime soon to the barber for a Florida student.  Vows to not cut hair until Gators win national title.

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It’s Kentucky vs UConn In Title Game As Florida Falls To Huskies

gfx-hoops-round-up2UConn 63 – Florida 53

1. Florida’s 30-game winning streak snapped.  Guard Scottie Wilbekin struggles with cramping issues.

2. Wilbekin: “Some of it was them and some of us, just … I can’t give you an answer.”

3. Florida raced out to a 16-4 lead.  ”Then, almost in the blink of an eye, two things changed the direction of the game by 180 degrees: the Basketball Gods and the Connecticut guards.”

4. UConn coach Kevin Ollie: “Even when we’re down 16-4…I knew we were going to get back in the game.”

5. Florida coach Billy Donovan and Scottie Wilbekin discuss the loss.

Kentucky 74 – Wisconsin 73

6. Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison does it again.  Hits three-pointer with 5.7 seconds left to send Kentucky to national championship game.

7. John Calipari: “When we huddled I said, ‘We’re going at Aaron, boys. Anybody got a problem with that?” 

8. Calipari and Harrison discuss the game-winning shot.

9. Kentucky has gone from unranked at the end of the regular season to one game away from winning it all.

10. Dan Wetzel: “These guys are either winning the national title or killing someone while trying – maybe their coach, maybe their fans, maybe their own parents.”

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SEC Headlines 4/5/2014

headlines-saturdaySEC Football

1. Spring game Saturday at Ole Miss.  Rebels first-team offense will matchup against the first-string defense.

2. Potential biggest hurdle at LSU’s spring game?  Rain. “Quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris will be in full view…”

3. Florida punter Johnny Townsend has wrist surgery - out for the rest of the spring.

4. Arkansas linebacker Martrell Spaight on the team’s first spring scrimmage: “It’s going to be fun to finally go out and hit somebody.”

5. Texas A&M running back Tre Carson on the competition he’s facing.  ”It’s a loaded backfield. Everyone knows that.”

6. There’s no depth chart at Alabama and there won’t be one after today’s scrimmage either.

7. Missouri scrimmaging today.  Even without Henry Josey, Tigers counting on big things from their backfield.

8. Who has helped their case the most this spring at Tennessee?

9. Mississippi State senior Curtis Virgis on the team’s defensive line: “There’s no ceiling on us.”

10. Kevin Scarbinsky: “Is there a college or professional athlete out there who doesn’t smoke pot? Anyone?”

SEC/NFL

11. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw on preparing for the NFL draft.  ”It is the world’s longest job interview.”

12. Georgia’s Aaron Murray recovering nicely from ACL reconstruction surgery.

SEC Basketball

13. Any chance of seeing injured Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein tonight?  “Don’t count me out yet.”

14. Missouri gets some help for its depleted backcourt – get a pledge from a JUCO guard.

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Final Four Saturday: Can Florida, Kentucky Make It An All-SEC Championship?

gfx-hoops-round-up2UConn vs Florida

1. Huge key for the Gators - “how well Florida plays inside could determine whether Florida makes its fourth trip to a national title game under head coach Billy Donovan.”

2. How does Florida feel about playing in cavernous AT&T Stadium?  Michael Frazier II: “It doesn’t really bother me. It’s still the same distance from the hoop.”

3. Mike DeCourcy on Billy Donovan: ”He’s already got as many NCAA championships as Dean Smith, Denny Crum, Hank Iba and his mentor, Rick Pitino.”

4. “If Florida or UConn win it all, it could be the first time since the NBA draft began in 1947 that the NCAA champion does not have a player in the first round.” 

Kentucky vs Wisconsin

5. A remarkable turnaround for Kentucky in less than a month: “The same fans who’d grown weary of this talented team’s underachievement have fallen fully in back in love with it.”

6. “In the seven games since spending a few days with his dad, (Kentucky guard) Aaron (Harrison)  has averaged 16.6 points and has hit 22 of 44 threes.

7. John Calipari on his program:  ”We have had 17 players drafted…Every one of them in the league right now. ”

8. More Calipari: “The job at Kentucky ages you.”

Extra

9. John Feinstein: “(S)adly, this event isn’t as big of a deal for the players as it used to be.”

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SEC Headlines 4/4/2014

headlines-friSEC Football

1. Tennessee coach Butch Jones on Lane Kiffin’s return to Knoxville when Alabama comes to Tennessee: ”He’s a great football coach, but we’ll worry about that game.”

2. Tennessee freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley has been practicing with the first team for much of the spring.

3. Did Vanderbilt sacrifice home-field advantage by moving its game against Ole Miss to LP Field?

4. LSU’s spring game on Saturday expected to attract 20,000 to 25,000 fans.

5. Heading into the second scrimmage of the spring, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is not a happy man.  “There’s a lot of guys to me… have to understand how serious it is if they want to get on the field and go play.”

6. Georgia’s J.J. Green on learning to play the nickle back position: “Coach wants everybody to learn a different position just in case he has to throw somebody out there because of injuries.” Lot of spring injuries in the Georgia offense.

7. Anticipating the December day when the fifth-best team in the country is left out of the playoffs.  ”It’ll make college basketball’s Selection Sunday look like a garden party.”

8. An argument for why Bruce Pearl’s arrival as Auburn’s basketball coach is a good move – for Auburn football.

9. Is Auburn defensive back Josh’s Holsey’s recovery from a torn ACL nothing short of remarkable?

10. Auburn receiver Tony Stevens on quarterback Nick Marshall: “His leadership is very strong.”

11. Marshall one of just three SEC quarterbacks that started double-digit games last fall and returning this year.

12/ Defensive line depth a concern at Florida?

13. Big change upfront at Arkansas.  Center Luke Charpentier replacing departed four-year start Travis Swanson.  

14. Texas A&M renovating its football complex.

SEC/Final Four

15. One of the storylines for Saturdays semi-final games. Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin vs. UConn All-American guard Shabazz Napier.

16. Pete Thamel on Billy Donovan: “Donovan sits on the precipice of joining some of the most elite company in college basketball.”

17. Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein walking without crutches - still unlikely to play Saturday.

18. If Kentucky wins it all -  ”the cumulative total of the seeds Kentucky defeated in this year’s NCAA Tournament would be 19.” Record is 20- set by Villanova in 1985.

19. Kentucky coach John Calipari on ending one-and-done: ”What I propose isn’t that radical, nor should it be difficult.”

20. X-factors on Saturday.  Does Final Four success hinge on the performance of these guys?

21. The no-booze rule at NCAA events has been around for 40 years.

SEC Basketball

22. Missouri basketball player Zach Price arrested a second time for assault - accused of ramming alleged victims’ car from first incident.

23. If Jabari Brown follows through and enters NBA draft, Missouri will have a returning roster that averaged 18.1 points per game last season.

24. The Wall Street Journal on the not-so-shining NCAA Tournament moments.  ”The Missouri Tigers have the dubious distinction of turning up five times in our 10-year sample.”

25. Rupp Arena - the best in college basketball?

26. Georgia working on ways to improve attendance.

Extras

27. Florida State under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education in connection with case involving Jameis Winston.

28. Texas paid a search firm almost $267,000 to find Charlie Strong. Or as College Football Talk notes, “It cost Texas $266,900 to not get Nick Saban.”

29. Johnny Manziel trademark filing - “The House That Johnny Built”

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Lineman Harris Chooses Missouri

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxMissouri received a commitment Tuesday from offensive lineman A.J. Harris from Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kan.

Harris gave the commitment to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and his staff during a trip to Columbia.

“There are a lot of good things about Mizzou, but some of them are that I have a former teammates that played there, Clay Rhodes,” Harris told PowerMizzou.com.  ”When I talked to him about it he told me it would be the best decision I ever made.

“Also, none of the coaches BS about the recruiting process. Coach Pinkel got the extension to 2020, so that added a lot of stability to the decision, too. Plus, all the faculties and my dorm are all within a square mile.”

Harris’ home is less than three hours away from Missouri’s campus. That proximity and Harris’ familiarity with the program helped the Tigers stand out early in the recruiting process.

“I’ve known it would be Missouri for about a month, but me and my dad wanted to wait to make sure the feeling stuck and to make sure nothing would change my mind on such a big decision,” Harris said. “I also wanted to do it in person, so we waited until I came (Tuesday) and I told the coaches in person.”

Harris, who considered offers from Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, is the third prospect and first offensive lineman to commit to Missouri’s 2015 class. The other two commitments are from running backs Chase Abbington and Ryan Williams.

Missouri’s coaching staff will likely pitch the early offensive commitments to quarterback Drew Lock. The Lee’s Summit (Mo.) High School standout is a high priority for Missouri’s 2015 class.

Lock told 247Sports last month he’s torn between the options of playing for the in-state school or leaving the state to experience something new.

“Missouri is up there for me as far as being the hometown school and my dad went there,” Lock said. “Then again there is a side of me that wants to get away and a side of me that wants to stay home. It is 50/50 and how anyone would feel.”

 

Harris releases top 10

Running back Damien Harris from Madison Southern High School in Berea, Ky., recently released a list of the top 10 schools he’s considering.

Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Headlines 4/3/2014

headlines-thuSEC Football

1. Report: LSU defensive end Jordan Allen planning to transfer.

2. Mark Richt says redshirt freshman outside linebacker outside linebacker Paris Bostick will transfer from the Georgia program.

3. Announcement coming this afternoon that Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will play at LP Field in Nashville this year.

4. Will Ole Miss have the best secondary in the SEC this fall?

5. Alabama running back Altee Tenpenny is due in court April 10th after being charged with possession of a controlled substance over spring break.

6. Kentucky wants to have its starting quarterback in place before the first game this year.

7. Mississippi State tried Brandon Hollloway at wide receiver but he”ll be a running back this fall.

8. Texas A&M sophomore linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni  on his freshman season: “To be honest with you, it was overwhelming at times a year ago, really in every aspect of the game.”

9. Auburn is the midpoint of their spring schedule. Receiver Marcus Davis: “I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

10. Athlon Sports is inviting Georgia fans to pick a magazine cover.

SEC/NFL

11. ESPN analyst and former NFL player Teddy Bruschi on Jadeveon Clowney: ”Turn in the card now to the commissioner. Just turn it in, because he should be Houston’s No. 1 overall pick.”

12. Steve Spurrier regrets comparing Clowney’s work ethic to that of Marcus Lattimore: “I maybe should not have compared them.”

13. Defensive end Jacques Smith on Tennessee’s pro day.  “This is our last hour of being a Vol.”

SEC Basketball

14. Missouri’s Zach Price – a transfer from Louisville – arrested Thursday morning for assault. Now suspended.

15. As expected, Mizzou guard Jabari Brown enters NBA draft . Has until April 15th to change his mind if he doesn’t like NBA evaluation.

16. Tennessee’s Quinton Chievous is leaving the program. Free to transfer anywhere outside the SEC.

17. Lexington police to Kentucky fans – enough with the fires.

18. Does experience and overcoming adversity give UConn an edge over Florida?

19. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy on the impact J’Mychal Reese’s dismissal had on the season: “It changed the whole kind of organization of our roster…”

20. Alabama coach Anthony Grant on a formidable out-of-conference schedule his team will face next season: “I’m not afraid to fail.”

21. Mike Anderson says help is coming for Ky Madden and the point guard position at Arkansas.

22. USA Today: “The players in this year’s Final Four attend schools where the gap between their scholarships and the total cost of attendance is about $2,300 to $5,400 a year… Yet the coaches…are collecting an average of $3.1 million from their schools for this season.”

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Fox Goes From Hot Seat To Contract Extension At Georgia; SEC A.D.s Starting To Wise Up

gfx-honest-opinionYesterday the University of Georgia announced that it was extending the contract of head basketball coach Mark Fox.  Back on New Year’s Day, most would’ve predicted Fox would be cleaning out his office this month, not putting down new carpet.

Overall, Fox is 84-76 in five years at Georgia.  He’s reached one NCAA Tournament (in his second year) and his SEC record is just 40-44 overall.  But his team began the 2014 season 6-6 in non-conference play.  The Bulldogs were stuck in the 300s in RPI and strength of schedule.  They’d already lost to Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple, Nebraska, Colorado and George Washington.  Their only victories were over Wofford, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina.

For a coach in a make-or-break fifth season, Fox quickly found himself with his back to the wall.  And then came the turnaround that would save Georgia’s season — leading to an NIT bid — and save the coach’s job.

Fox’s team finished 12-6 in the SEC, tied with Kentucky and trailing only Florida.  You might’ve heard that UK and UF will be taking part in this weekend’s Final Four.  The Dawgs managed to add another victory in the SEC Tournament and one more in the NIT to max out at 20-14 on the year.  That was good enough to save Fox and land him a two-year extension that will tie him to Georgia for four more seasons through 2017-18.

Now, that’s hardly a huge reward.  No raise was announced.  And some might say that UGA was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Athletic director Greg McGarity couldn’t very well fire a coach who finished tied with Kentucky for second place in the league, but he wasn’t ready to give Fox a lifetime contract either.  So he gave him a two-year extension — which will make recruiting a tad easier — and stressed that more improvement is expected.

This from McGarity’s press release:

 

“The improvement our team made throughout the 2013-14 season was very encouraging, and with the loss of only one starter, the expectations for the coming season will be very high.  Mark and I discussed not only this past season, but spent the majority of our time focused on the next four-year period.  We discussed our recruiting plans, scheduling, academic progress and continued development of our program moving forward, and Mark fully recognizes the expectations in these key areas.”

 

In other words, “We want better than 20-14 overall and better than a 6-6 non-conference record.”  And, “NCAAs instead of NITs, please.”

But the reality is this: McGarity has seen enough of Fox to feel that building with him is a safer bet than starting from scratch with some other up-and-comer (which is likely the exact type of coach Georgia would have had to hire).  A similar scenario has played out at Tennessee this week as Vol AD Dave Hart announced that Cuonzo Martin — who turned down the Marquette job early Tuesday morning — will remain at UT with an extension and a raise (though contract details have yet to leak).

Martin has led the Vols to two NITs and the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament.  While many fans have demanded that he win at the same clip as Bruce Pearl, the fact is Martin inherited a mess.  He faced NCAA sanctions that impacted recruiting.  He had to clean up what was a poor culture inside the program.  And he had to do it all in Pearl’s shadow with fans clamoring for his return.

Hart, like McGarity, might not have absolute faith in his current head coach, but he has seen enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Again, the message seems to be: “Tis better to build with a guy who’s got a winning record at this school than to rush out and start all over with someone who’s got a winning record at some smaller school.”

Fans want championship banners and anything less is viewed as “settling.”  The truth is it takes time to build a program.  Fox will be in Year Six next season and the expectations will be higher.  Martin’s new contract at Tennessee should afford him a Year Five and Year Six, too.

In a league where only three coaches have been in place for more than five seasons — Billy Donovan at Florida, Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss — it’s a wise move, in our view, for schools like Georgia and Tennessee to start erring on the side of stability for a change.

(CORRECTION — Andy Kennedy was initially left off the list of coaches with five-plus years of tenure.)

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