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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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Sans Shirt, Pearl Continues To Make Waves (Good Ones) For Auburn Hoops

pearl-dunk-tankWhen you hire Bruce Pearl you get two different people.  You get a basketball coach with a track record of serious on-court success (and some off-court flubs).  And you get a guy who enjoys the hell out of the spotlight… which makes him a walking billboard for your basketball program.

Auburn has yet to reap the awards of Pearl’s in-game strengths, but they’ve already seen in marketing prowess.  First he stage-dived into a mosh pit of AU fans upon his arrival on the Plains.  His introductory press conference was 95% a revival meeting.  He also took to ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show to don an Auburn baseball jersey and football helmet.

While Pearl said during his first presser that he would likely keep his shirt on at Auburn, it took less than a month to get him out of it.  Yesterday he took center stage in a dunk tank for an Auburn fraternity’s fund-raiser.

 

Bruce Pearl goes in the dunk tank for charity

 

There are a couple of reasons Pearl isn’t the most popular guy in the world when it comes to the coaching fraternity.  (His teams at Tennessee were consistently ranked lower in the coaches poll than in the AP Poll.)  First, he’s still carrying the baggage from decisions he made as an assistant at Iowa that led to him being blackballed to Division II for a decade.  Second, there aren’t many coaches who’ll paint their chests, step into dunking booths, wear football helmets, etc, in the name of promoting the program.  And when fans see Pearl do it, many of them say, “Why won’t our guy be fun like that?”

If anything, Pearl’s ramping up his marketing efforts at Auburn.  He’s averaging a national headline per week.  Either he realizes AU will be a tougher rebuild and is therefore in more need of pub than UT was… or he’s really, really missed the spotlight.

Probably a little of both.

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SEC Headlines 4/2/2014

headlines-wedSEC Football

1. Is running back Alex Collins unhappy at Arkansas? Running backs coach Joel Thomas: “That’s the first news that it’s been told to me.”

2. Mural of Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason will be redone after complaints from the school’s NCAA chapter.  ”In the mural, his skin is black, not brown, and his lips are white. It doesn’t look like him.”

3. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says linebacker Kentrell Brothers expected to be 100%  by June.  Underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder Friday.

4. Can Mizzou’s receivers fill the void left behind by Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington?

5. Florida coach Will Muschamp on the Gators new offense. “I am very pleased offensively with where we are as far as the installation is concerned,”

6. With Jay Rome and Jordan Davis out, Georgia down to one healthy scholarship tight end.  And on the offensive line, “the guards are anyone’s guess.”

7. Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown on the 2013 season: “With the exception of three games, we had opportunities to win in the fourth quarter…”

8. Kentucky’s practice facility getting a $10 million donation.

9. With a mass exodus along the offensive line, walk-on tackle Jacob Gilliam has a chance to play at Tennessee.

10. How does LSU’s offensive line compare to the one in 2007?

11. “If LSU can bring Pac-12 teams to its campus down the road... why can’t Alabama and Auburn do the same?”

12. Alabama coach Nick Saban:  ”Well we really don’t have a depth chart.” Focused on the secondary: “I thought last year, we didn’t play with enough consistency back there,”

13. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is making a point to welcome former players. ”We would welcome all of them.”

14. Two linebackers are trying to replace the production of departed senior Deontae Skinner at Mississippi State. Higher expectations for the Bulldogs in 2014?

15. Ole Miss coaches are impressed with early enrollee and backup safety. C.J. Hampton.

SEC/NFL

16. Pro Timing Day got underway at South Carolina this morning. Jadeveon Clowney headlines the 10 participants.

17. Running back Alfred Blue hoping to stand out at LSU’s pro day next week.

SEC Basketball

18. Tennessee A.D. Dave Hart on coach Cuonzo Martin: “We are proud that Cuonzo Martin will continue to lead our men’s basketball program.”

19. What’s next year look like for Martin and Tennessee? “On face, it’s not exactly a loaded roster.”

20. Georgia expected to announce extension for coach Mark Fox later today.

21. Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison game-winning shot against Michigan makes the cover of Sports Illustrated.

22. Kentucky freshman Marcus Lee got a standing ovation from his marketing class on Tuesday.

23. High expectations at Florida. “Florida fans seem to expect a championship, but you can’t count on everything,”

24. Alabama center Carl Engstrom is leaving the program to pursue options in Europe.

25. Alabama coach Anthony Grant: “As a program, we’re not where we want to be … yet.”

26. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl on the spring signing period in basketball: “It’s a seller’s market.”

27. Several former Auburn players are possible assistant coaches on Pearl’s staff.

Extra

28. Recruit tweets that he’s committed to Baylor.  April ‘Fools!

29. Congratulations Final Four ticket holder.  Now here’s your view.

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The SEC In The NBA Draft: Who’s In Good Shape And Who Isn’t

nba_logoAs we finish up the final week of the 2013-14 basketball season, players across the nation are announcing their NBA intentions.  In the last three days LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson have both revealed that they will be leaving school and turning pro early.

Every player’s case is unique to them — family issues, monetary needs, scholastic troubles — so it’s impossible to say definitively, “Yes, that guy made a mistake.”  For some a six-figure salary in the Netherlands or Turkey might be an A-OK next step.  For others missing out on the guaranteed contract that comes with being a first-round selection will very much disappoint.

Below is the current list of SEC players as ranked by DraftExpress.com, one of the more trusted, quoted mock drafts on the web.  It’s an indicator of who’s in good shape to land one of those guaranteed NBA contracts and who isn’t…

 

4.  Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, Freshman

12.  Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky, Sophomore

25.  James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky, Freshman

 

That’s it for projected first-round picks, folks.  Three players.  All from Kentucky.  All underclassmen.  Not a single upperclassman from the SEC is expected to be first-round material.

Here’s who’s listed in the second round by DraftExpress…

 

41.  Patric Young, PF/C, Florida, Senior

46.  Jabari Brown, SG, Missouri, Junior

47.  Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Missouri, Junior

49.  Johnny O’Bryant, PF/C, LSU, Junior

50.  Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee, Junior

60.  Jordan McRae, SG, Tennessee, Senior

 

From purely a basketball perspective, Brown, Clarkson, O’Bryant and Stokes should return to school.  Clarkson and O’Bryant have already announced their plans to leave.  But as noted earlier, we don’t know the personal issues facing any of these players.  We don’t know how scouts will view them if they go through workouts for the pros.  And we don’t know if what’s dropped these players deep into the second round this year could be patched up over the course of another collegiate season.

A few other quickie thoughts:

 

*  From the looks of this list, Florida has dominated this season more through the craftiness of veteran players than through sheer NBA talent.  Kudos again to that team and to Billy Donovan.

*  Only three Kentucky kids projected to be drafted?  Why, production at John Calipari’s player factory has darned near slowed to a drip.  (Sarcasm.)

*  Tennessee has two upperclassmen projected to go in the final 11 picks of the draft.  No wonder the Vols made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

*  Missouri, on the other hand, failed to reach the NCAA Tournament with its own pair of slightly higher-rated stars.  Don’t think Tiger fans won’t let Frank Haith hear about that one.

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SEC Headlines 4/1/2014

headlines-tueSEC Football

1. Alabama coach Nick Saban believes players “should have a voice” when it comes to their rights.

2. Here’s a report from Alabama practice with depth updates at several positions.

3. Auburn center Reese Dismukes has set his own goals to improve this offseason.

4. Set your calendar: LSU and UCLA will play a home-and-home series in 2021 and 2024.

5. LSU’s Ronald Martin and Jalen Mills are battling to hold onto the Tigers’ starting safety positions.

6. C.J. Hampton enrolled this semester at Ole Miss so he can help the Rebels this fall.

7. Kevin Sumlin says Texas A&M has programs in place to educate the school’s athletes off the field.

8. Freshman Will Grier has moved into the No. 2 quarterback role for Florida behind starter Jeff Driskel.

9. Georgia wide receiver Reggie Davis is focused on football and not track as he gets ready for his sophomore season.

10. Marc Weiszer has eight takeaways at the midway point of Georgia’s spring practice.

11. Athlon Sports ranks all 14 head coaches in the SEC. No. 1 will not surprise you.

12. Dylan Thompson is ready to become South Carolina’s full-time starter at quarterback.

SEC/Final Four

13. Florida will look to avenge its December loss to UConn when the two teams play on Saturday.

14. A Florida-Kentucky championship game matchup is inevitable, writes Pat Dooley.

15. Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t expected Willie Cauley-Stein to play in the Final Four.

16. This run by Kentucky isn’t like any we’ve ever seen, writes Mark Story.

17. CBS Sports expects lean toward a Florida-Kentucky matchup in the championship game.

SEC Basketball

18. Cuonzo Martin has reportedly pulled his name out of the running for the Marquette job.

19. Bruce Pearl is in the process of filling out his staff. His son will move to a strength and conditioning position.

20. LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant is likely to announce his future plans sometime today.

21. Guard Jordan Clarkson is leaving Missouri early for the NBA Draft.

22. Tony Criswell’s father was critical of Missouri coach Frank Haith when he called into the Paul Finebaum Show. Criswell called in to defend Haith.

Extra

23. Vanderbilt has consulted lawyers on player unionization.

24. Michigan football coach Brady Hoke is working to improve his team’s level of toughness.

25. Here are 11 amazing facts about the Final Four.

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Florida, Kentucky & Tennessee Hoops: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

updateBilly Donovan has Florida back in the Final Four.  Kentucky will be in Arlington, too.  And Tennessee appears to be on the verge of yet another coaching search. In other words, same old same old.

* Tennessee: On Friday night, missed free throws cost the Volunteers a trip to the Elite Eight for just the second time in school history.  On Sunday, coach Cuonzo Martin was meeting with Marquette officials.  How does a major SEC school with a top-notch arena find itself on the verge of losing its coach to the Golden Eagles?  Well, that petition to “Bring Back Bruce” Pearl to Knoxville is a good place to start.

A vocal segment of the UT fanbase never gave Martin a chance.  He inherited an NCAA cloud and a roster picked for 10th place in the SEC.  His teams got better each year, culminating with this year’s Sweet Sixteen run.  But fans who will accept no one other than Pearl cared not.  ”He can’t recruit.”  ”He’s a terrible coach.”  ”He doesn’t excite us.”  ”He doesn’t play an exciting brand of basketball.”  All have been heard in the Volunteer State.  A internet report on Friday claimed that some Tennessee boosters had denied Martin the right to use their private planes to recruit.  Athletic director Dave Hart was ready to fire Martin had the Vols missed the NCAA Tournament.  And on top of this, Martin has the third best record in the SEC over the last three years (behind Donovan and John Calipari) but his salary ranks 10th or 11th in the league depending on which list of contracts you trust.  UT’s brass didn’t race to hand him an extension and a raise after the Vols fell on Friday, either. If you were Martin and you had a chance to get back to the Midwest (he played at Purdue), make more money, re-start your clock (always the smart move), and work at a school where basketball is the top sport, wouldn’t you take it? From what we at MrSEC.com have been told, Martin and Marquette have all but sealed their deal.  UT’s coach and AD are expected to meet today, but at this point it would be a major surprise if Martin were to stalk the Tennessee sideline next season.  The coach’s buyout clause to leave Tennessee drops from $2.6 million to $1.3 million when the clock hits midnight tonight.  The only negotiation today might be over that clause. Hart and Tennessee seem to have little interest in coughing up big cash for a man they were ready to fire two weeks ago.  And after being given the “You’re not Bruce Pearl!” treatment in Knoxville, it’s not believed Martin wants to stick around when a portion of the fanbase will always be against him.  It’s also important to remember that Hart played basketball at Alabama.  He’s a hoops guy and likely feels he can find his own basketball coach; he inherited Martin. Things are always fluid and last-minute surprises can’t be ruled out, but it looks like Tennessee is about to be in the market for yet another new coach.

* Florida: Billy Donovan is well on his way to passing Adolph Rupp — sacrilege, I know — as the SEC’s best all-time basketball coach.  This year’s trip to the Final Four is his fourth.  He’s also been to seven Elite Eights.  He’s reached the NCAA Tournament title game three times, winning twice.  His team is the favorite to capture another crown next Monday night. There are no recruiting scandals in Donovan’s closet.  In fact, there have been no scandals of any kind which is incredibly impressive considering the Gators have won 72% of their games since Donovan’s arrival in 1996. So why is he on path to surpass the Baron of the Bluegrass?  Timing.  Rupp dominated the basketball landscape in an age when the NCAA Tournament welcomed only league champions.  Donovan has thrived in a 64+ team world.  He’s excelled in age of omnipresent media and investigative journalists.  Winning big today beats winning big in yesteryear.  That’s no knock on Rupp.  His birth date was just a bit beyond his control.  But facts are facts and it’s tougher to dominate in this day and age. Oh, and Donovan also had to build UF’s program in the shadow of the empire Rupp left behind.

* Kentucky: It’s time to put the “He’s a great recruiter, not a great coach” insult to bed.  John Calipari is indeed a great coach.  What he’s accomplishing in Lexington is remarkable and it might not ever be duplicated.  In five years at the helm of the Wildcat program, Calipari has won one national title, been to three Final Fours and four Elite Eights.  That’s impressive in itself.  But to have achieved those results with teams basically built around a new group of freshman every single year?  To quote Ralphie from “The Simpsons,” that’s unpossible. When Calipari started his conveyor belt of all-star newbies, many fans and media members — this site included — wondered if anyone could convince freshmen to a) play defense and b) put their egos aside for the good of the team.  After all, Calipari brings in four or five guys each year who were used to being the go-to guys on their high school squads.  Not only has he actually pulled it off, but he’s pulling it off pretty consistently.  Last year’s bunch landed in the NIT.  Aside from that, no fanbase — not even Kentucky’s — can shrug off yearly trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four. Make no mistake, the Cats are loaded with talent every year.  But look at the youth on your own favorite squad and you’ll likely say, “That freshman is going to have to grow up and improve.”  At Kentucky, Calipari has a whole squad of guys who need to grow up fast and learn and improve under the weight of enormous expectations.  Every year. Not a great coach?  Please.  Give Calipari his due.  No one else is even brave enough to try his approach.  Yet he’s winning big with it.

Tennessee: If Martin leaves Knoxville for Milwaukee, the Volunteers will be looking for their fifth head basketball coach since 2001.  Couple that with consistent turnover on the football sideline and in the baseball dugout and it appears the UT athletic department needs to replace its front door with one that revolves.  And that might be the most ironic thing about Martin’s potential exit. At a school that has dealt with the decline of Phillip Fulmer, a one-night stand with Lane Kiffin, the Derek Dooley disaster as well as baseball flubs and fumbles, one would think the only coach of a major men’s program who’s actually been winning would have been appreciated.  Instead, many Volunteer fans are shrugging their shoulders at the Martin situation.  It’s believed by many that the Vols can and will go land a more proven coach who can win and excite the fanbase as Pearl once did.  But Tennessee has never hired a long-tenured, “name” head coach in the history of its program.  In fact, most schools don’t land those kind of hires. And what might coaches on UT’s search list — if Martin leaves, of course — think about a program where Martin’s 19+ wins per season were only good enough to generate a petition to bring back the guy who left the school on probation?  (A guy who’s no longer just a ghost to Tennessee, he’s now a living, breathing, coaching entity at Auburn.) The usual names are being kicked around — Gregg Marshall of Wichita State, Archie Miller of Dayton (though he signed a contract extension in February that was just announced last week).  UT has passed on Marshall twice before so who knows if he’d be interested?  He also might follow the leads of Brad Stevens, Mark Few, and Shaka Smart by remaining a big fish in a smaller, less choppy pond. As for Miller, let’s compare his resume to Martin’s:

  Miller School   Record    Conf. Finish   Tournament Finish   Season   Martin School   Record   Conf. Finish   Tournament Finish
  2008-2009   Missouri St.   11-20   10th (MVC)   None
  2009-2010   Missouri St.   24-12   7th (MVC)   CIT
  2010-2011   Missouri St.   26-9   1st (MVC)   NIT
  Dayton   20-13   5th (A-10)   NIT   2011-2012   Tennessee   19-15   2nd (SEC)   NIT
  Dayton   17-14   11th (A-10)   None   2012-2013   Tennessee   20-13   5th (SEC)   NIT
  Dayton   26-11   5th (A-10)   NCAA Elite 8   2013-2014   Tennessee   24-13   4th (SEC)   NCAA Sweet 16

If you stripped the names from those two resumes here’s guessing many a Volunteer fan would pick the one on the right in a blind test.  Two schools.  Bad inheritance both times.  Higher win totals each year. If Martin goes, we wish the best of luck to Hart.  He’ll be expected to make a flashy hire.  If he can’t, then he’ll be expected to at least land someone who can stand toe-to-toe with Pearl as a coach and marketer.  Anything less will likely be met with the same ho-hum feelings that have defined Martin’s tenure. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Headlines 3/31/2014

 headlines-monSEC Football

1. Report: Alabama will hire former Washington assistant Tosh Lupoi in an off-field role.

2. Alabama will get back to work this week as the team returns from spring break.

3. Auburn is adjusting its defensive line by trying to get bigger bodies on the field at the same time.

4. Angelo Blackson is hoping to earn more playing time at defensive tackle for the Tigers.

5. Arkansas is giving Kody Walker a look at fullback to see if he can handle the position.

6. LSU is putting its quarterbacks to the test as the Tigers continue to look for a starter.

SEC/NCAA Tournament

7. Pat Forde steps up and eats some crow now that Kentucky has advanced to the Final Four.

8. Kentucky’s toughness is a big reason the Wildcats are still alive in the tournament.

9. Are we headed toward an all-SEC championship game? Gary Parrish takes a look.

10. Florida and Kentucky are the two best teams in the Final Four, writes Jeff Borzello.

11. Florida will get its rematch with UConn, which is the last team to beat the Gators.

12. Former UConn standout Kevin Ollie has returned the program to an elite level as its coach.

13. Which teams have the advantages when it comes to matchups in the Final Four?

SEC Basketball

14. Report: Marquette officials met with Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin on Sunday.

15. The SEC is still a lousy league despite the success of Florida and Kentucky, writes David Climer.

Extra

16. Michigan State Tom Izzo said he’s learned from Nick Saban’s public handling of job speculation.

17. Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins is expected to announce today he’s leaving for the NBA.

18. Basketball coach Tommy Amaker announced he will stay at Harvard.

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SEC Headlines 3/31/2014

headlines-sun3-150x150SEC Basketball

1. Would coach Cuonzo Martin leave Tennessee for Marquette?

2. Mark Wiedmar: Tennessee A.D. Dave Hart “secretly hopes Martin will jump to Marquette or elsewhere, and the sooner the better, since his buyout dips from $2.6 million to $1.3 million on Tuesday.”

3. Martin may not be the only one leaving.  Will Jarnell Stokes enter the NBA draft?

4. Could former Louisville guard Kevin Ware be headed to Auburn?  

5. Detroit columnist: “Michigan’s Fab Five changed the look and feel of college basketball. Kentucky’s Fab Five is just a collection of AAU stars…”

6. Money for Rupp Arena renovation left out of a Kentucky state budget deal.

7. Missouri coach Frank Haith: “We have to want to make it to the NCAA Tournament every year.”

SEC Football

8. LSU quarterback Stephen Rivers wants to transfer to Vanderbilt. “I took a visit there and really enjoyed it.”

9. Hospitalized on Thursday, Auburn defensive tackle Tyler Nero attended practice Saturday but did not participate.

10. Weather forced Auburn inside for its first scrimmage of the spring.

11. Kentucky-Louisville in basketball is just a warmup for what could happen in football if Alabama and Auburn meet in a playoff game.

12. Five areas where Alabama needs to improve before its spring game.

13. Tight end Malcom Johnson impresses at Mississippi State’s first scrimmage.

14. Georgia coach Mark Richt on the Bulldogs first spring scrimmage: “There’s always something good happening, there’s always something bad happening I guess you could say.”

15. Butch Jones at Tennessee’s scrimmage: “What happens when Alabama comes in here and runs the ball?”

16. LSU coach Les Miles on the Tigers second scrimmage of the spring: “Hard-hitting.” Tigers put their young quarterbacks to the test.

17. The core of the Ole Miss team is its sophomore class.

Extras

18. Johnny Manziel to Texas coach Charlie Strong: “Sorry Charlie…”

19. Arizona fans throw bottles and firecrackers at police.  Cops respond with pepper spray.

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Final Four Florida; Kentucky Gets Its Shot

gfx-hoops-round-up2Florida 62 –  Dayton 52

1. Florida final-four bound.  Gators get 23 points, three assists and three steals from Scottie Wilbekin; named South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player.

2. Gators break through after three straight Elite 8 losses.  Coach Billy Donovan: “I think those experiences maybe helped us be a better team this year than maybe we would have been if we’d gotten to a couple of Final Fours earlier with these guys.”

3. Pat Forde: “The ghosts of Butler, Louisville and Michigan had been exorcised.”

4. The SEC is now 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky vs Michigan. 5:05 ET.  Kentucky a 2 1/2 point favorite

5. A Kentucky victory would make UK  the first team with an all-freshmen starting lineup since Michigan in 1993 to make the Final Four.

6. Mike DeCourcy on John Calipari’s NCAA Tournament success: “Since 2004, when he was at Memphis, he has coached in nine tournaments. He has yet to lose to a seed lower than No. 3.”

7. Calipari on Willie Cauley-Stein’s ankle injury: “He’s still in a boot. He’s doubtful.”

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