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Ruminations On The SEC Tourney, Auburn, And Pearl

Rodin-the-ThinkerJust some random thoughts and observations as we enter Day Three of the 2014 SEC Tournament…

 

*  Yesterday wasn’t the best day for the SEC’s remaining NCAA bubble teams.  Arkansas fell to South Carolina, which according to our numbers, should just about dump them from the Big Dance.  Missouri won, but the Tigers needed double-overtime to escape Texas A&M.  The committee likely won’t be too impressed with that, either.  Finally, by virtue of their win over the Razorbacks, Carolina now draws Tennessee this afternoon.  Win the Vols are probably in the tourney.  Lose to a team with RPI #150 and it’s right back onto the middle of the bubble.  In other words, UT could have better survived a loss to Arkansas than one to Frank Martin’s suddenly hot bunch from USC.

*  On the positive side for UT, MU and UA, a number of bubble squads (RPI 40ish-60ish) from other leagues lost yesterday: Oklahoma State, Iowa, SMU, Kansas State, St. John’s, and California.  Those help.  The bubble winners were Dayton, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Xavier, Providence, MTSU, and Florida State.  Those don’t.

*  The first two days of the SEC tourney have done little to convince anyone that the Southeastern Conference iss better than they might have thought.  Mississippi State — a team with three league wins from 18 regular-season games — bounced Vanderbilt.  South Carolina snuffed out higher-seeded Auburn.  Fifth-seeded Arkansas was evicted by Carolina.  Missouri needed double-OT versus Texas A&M.  The evening session last night — LSU over Alabama and Ole Miss over Mississippi State — restored some order, but the cream hasn’t exactly risen to the top in Atlanta yet.  Maybe today.

*  The Bruce Pearl debate rages on.  It seems the majority of Auburn fans want the ex-Tennessee coach, but there are still many who feel he’ll “Bobby Petrino” them and jet at the first opportunity.  Maybe so, but if he leaves the program better than he found it wouldn’t that still make Pearl a good hire?  If he left the program better than he found it.

*  What’s amusing is the usual Our Guy vs. Your Guy double-standard that exists in Fan World.  When Pearl lost his job at Tennessee and was hit with a three-year show-cause penalty, the vast majority of rival SEC fans rejoiced.  They Pearl a cheater.  Some said he should be “banned” longer for lying to the NCAA.  Now that Pearl’s penalty has almost been paid — the show-cause ends in August — he suddenly “didn’t do anything serious.”  At least that’s the take of many on the AU messageboards.  The flip-flop from “cheater” to over-penalized Robin Hood has less to do with forgiveness and more to do with the fact now he can coach at Auburn.  At Tennessee: Big, mean, dirty, lying cheater.  At Auburn: A guy who lied about a barbecue… “and that’s not even a violation anymore!”  (Love that bit of spin.  As if lying to the NCAA and calling the parent of a player to coax him into covering up a violation weren’t the bigger issues.)

*  If Pearl were to land on the Plains, you can be sure the inverse of the Our Guy vs. Your Guy double-standard would play out in the Volunteer State.  Let Pearl beat Tennessee in an important game or — try not to gasp — win big at Auburn and many UT fans who once shared the “Aw, it was just a barbecue” defense will begin to say, “He had to have cheated down there!”  Mark.  My.  Words.  (Some, of course, would just use Pearl’s success to hammer the Tennessee administration for not firing Cuonzo Martin and replacing him with Pearl before Auburn had a chance.)

*  At MrSEC.com, we’re big fans of second chances.  We hope Pearl gets one.  And if it’s at Auburn, we hope he walks the straight and narrow and scrubs clean his reputation once and for all.  But there’s one thing that still feels a bit icky about the possibility of Pearl coaching Auburn.  As Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News pointed out this week, Auburn associate AD Dave Didion was the lead investigator on the Tennessee case that cost Pearl his job.  So who better to say his sins were small, right?  Wrong.  If Didion was one of the investigators who was lied to point-blank and he turned that information over to the NCAA only to watch the NCAA smack Pearl — and basically force Tennessee to fire him or get smacked its ownself — then it’d be a little sketchy for the same man to say, “Yeah, but he’s clean enough for us here at Auburn!”  Maybe he’s as big a fan of redemption stories as we are, but we’re not going to buy the “who better to re-hire him?” narrative that will be spun from Birmingham to Ashford.

*  Speaking of Tennessee, let’s say Martin and the Vols escape an upset bid by South Carolina today.  Then let’s imagine that they somehow find a way to upset Florida and reach Sunday’s SEC Tournament finals.  Further, let’s say the Vols get a nice draw in the NCAA Tournament and win a game or two.  Who’s to say Martin won’t leave Tennessee for another gig?  If Jarnell Stokes turns pro this summer the Volunteers will enter next season with little optimism.  Martin has listened to three years of “Bring Back Bruce” talk and he’s a smart enough man to know that next year will be a step back, at least on paper.  While many Vol fans view him simply as “Not Pearl,” another school might see Martin as a guy who runs a tight ship, never has a player in off-the-court trouble, survived in the shadow of Pearl, and won 24, 26, 19, 20 and 20+ games over his last five years at two different schools.  Worst case scenario for UT: Pearl lands at an SEC rival, Martin jets, and the AD Dave Hart is forced to roll the dice on yet another up-and-comer.

*  There are a pair of coaches — aside from Pearl — who Auburn AD Jay Jacobs should take into consideration.  First is 56-year-old Ben Howland.  He won at Northern Arizona, he then won big at Pittsburgh (two Sweet Sixteen trips), and he then won even bigger at UCLA (three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006 through 2008).  Here are the post-Final Four records that cost him his job with the Bruins: 26-9, 14-18, 23-11, 19-14 and 25-9.  Auburn fans would take those records in a heartbeat.  The other guy actually wants the Tigers’ job — if rumors are to be believed.  Rick Stansbury, 54, should be looked at long and hard by Jacobs.  If Auburn won’t/can’t hire Pearl, Stansbury would have better odds of success than an up-and-comer from a smaller league.  How do we know this?  Because he’s already won in the SEC at Mississippi State.  Stansbury blew up his own regime by signing and then catering to Renardo Sidney, yes, but while Auburn was flopping around at the bottom of the league standings like a dying fish, MSU was posting these records: 20-13, 14-16, 18-13, 27-8, 21-10, 26-4, 23-11, 15-15, 21-14, 23-11, 23-13, 24-12, 17-13, 21-12.  That is an overall record of 293-165 with a .641 winning percentage.  There were six NCAA trips and five NIT trips thrown in for good measure.  Know what Auburn’s done since Stansbury took over at State in 98-99?  They’ve gone 264-237 (.526) with three NCAA trips, two NIT trips, and soon-to-be four coaches.  Stansbury might not be a sexy hire, but here’s guessing AU fans would be satisfied if he averaged 21 wins a year for them as he did the rival Bulldogs.

*  Every SEC fan outside of the Sunshine State is probably pulling for Billy Donovan’s squad to take it on the chin at some point over the next three days.  No one likes Goliath.  But here at MrSEC.com, we think it would be pretty darn incredible to see an SEC team go a perfect 21-0 in league play.  Hey, we like upsets as much as the next bunch of guys and we really don’t care one way or another who cuts down the nets in Atlanta, but if history is made, we’re gonna savor seeing it.

*  Good luck to Missouri, Florida, Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Georgia today.

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SEC Headlines 3/13/2014

headlines-thuSEC Football

1. Is Florida the best coaching job in the SEC?  Athlon ranks all 128 college football jobs from a coaching perspective.

2. NCAA grants Florida wide receiver/returner Andre Debose a sixth year of eligibility.

3. Who will step up at wide receiver for LSU? 95-percent of receiver production for the Tigers is gone.

4. Will linebacker Kris Frost be a force in the middle for Auburn this fall?

5. South Carolina redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kwinton Smith no longer with the team.

6. Tennessee defensive tackle Danny O’Brien on his offseason arrest: ”I’m glad it happened. It taught me a life lesson that I’ll know forever.”

7. The Internal Revenue Service is auditing three bowls – one of them is the Gator.

SEC Media

8. Expect to see a lot of Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer when the SEC Network launches in August.

SEC/NFL

9. Several NFL coaches on hand for Alabama’s pro day on Wednesday.

10. Does AJ McCarron think he’s the best quarterback in this draft?  ”Yeah, why not?”

SEC Basketball

11. Texas A&M vs Missouri.  What’s the status of Aggies leading scorer Jamal Jones?  “If he can walk and chew gum, we will play him because we need him.”

12. Does Missouri need to win the SEC Tournament to reach the Big Dance?

13. South Carolina vs Arkansas.  Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade: ”I want to finish out with a bang.”

14. Alabama vs. LSU.  Tigers guard Andre Stringer: “I want that sense of urgency to come now.”

15 .Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss.  Rebels need big contributions from Anthony Perez if they’re to have any chance of repeating as tournament champs.

16. Could the SEC Tournament do more harm than good for Kentucky?

17. When Florida plays Friday, it will be the first time all season the Gators have played in a domed stadium.

18. Since 1979, Tennessee has gone one-and-done in the SEC Tournament 15 times.

19. Cutting former Auburn coach Tony Barbee no slack: “It wasn’t working. So it was time for him to go.”

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Auburn The First Test Case For Ex-Tennessee Coach Pearl

bruce-pearl4Coaches slapped with a show-cause penalty typically have a rough time finding new jobs.  Bruce Pearl’s show-cause penalty will be up in August.  Auburn fired fourth-year coach Tony Barbee immediately after his woeful Tigers were bounced from the SEC Tournament by even more woeful South Carolina last night.  ”Pearl to Auburn,” naturally, has become a hot topic in the hours since Barbee’s dismissal.

So will Auburn roll the dice on a guy who would very likely win?

If there’s any school that would take a chance on an NCAA ex-con it’s AU.  The Tigers have been on probation more often than any other SEC school.  You can set your clock by the rumors, accusations, and investigations that swirl around the school’s athletic department on a regular basis.  This despite the fact that two of the school’s associate ADs were once NCAA employees. 

Add it up and Auburn chasing Pearl makes sense.  Heck, we wrote last March that Barbee’s job for this season might be saved because Pearl would be on the market for 2014-15.  We’ve written repeatedly this season that AU would be the most likely school to make a run at Pearl.  So will they?

The ex-Tennessee coach has said that he would like to coach again in the right situation.  While Auburn has been a coaching graveyard of late, it is an SEC school.  Pearl knows the lay of the land in Dixie.  After three years off the court even a small 9,000-seat arena — meaning Auburn’s — might appeal to him.

Then again, Pearl has put down roots in Knoxville.  He married an East Tennessee native who might not want to pick up and head to the Loveliest Village on the Plains.  His kids are in East Tennessee jobs and schools.  And he’s already stated that he wants to go a place where the administration wants basketball to be as successful as football.  Not sure that any school in Alabama fits that particular mold.

Pearl has, however, already sorta/kinda pitched himself for the AU job.  A savvy marketer, he responded to a question at The Birmingham Tip-Off Club in December by explaining how he built fan support at Tennessee:

 

“So I would go to the Auburn communities and we would have our own events (before Tennessee’s trips to Auburn).  I got 50 people to come to the game at Auburn while I was developing my program.  We were asking for their support.”

 

Translation: If I can get people into Auburn’s gym as Tennessee’s coach, what could I do as Auburn’s coach?

So again, will AD Jay Jacobs go after a proven winner who carries some baggage from previous stops?  There was controversy when Pearl was an assistant at Iowa.  He was blackballed in the coaching industry for a decade after taping a phone call with a recruit and trying to pin dirt on Illinois’ staff.  At D-II Southern Indiana he won big, but he did so in a Terry Bowden kind of way… taking rejects and reclamation projects from D-I schools.  He was handed the equivalent of a speeding ticket for having a high school junior at his house while at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He did the same at Tennessee, then lied about it, then called a prospect’s parent to — in the parent’s mind — cajole him into covering the matter up when the NCAA called.  And that resulted in a trip to the NCAA hoosegow.

If Pearl wants a job in the SEC, Auburn is the place he’s most likely to land.  But whether he would take the job or not is a question for another day.  For now the issue is simple: Will Auburn try to hire Bruce Pearl?  If Jacobs does ring him up, it will be a clear sign that Pearl’s debt to society has been paid in the eyes of school administrators.  But if Auburn — Auburn — doesn’t chase him, it likely means Pearl won’t be the hot commodity this offseason that many believed he would be.

Auburn is the test case for Pearl.  Will a big-time school hire him and go before the NCAA to explain why they hired him (which Auburn would have to do)?

The jury’s out.

 

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SEC Hoops Roundup: Auburn Fires Coach Tony Barbee

gfx-hoops-round-up2South Carolina 74 – Auburn 56. Video Highlights

1. Tony Barbee coaches his last game for the Tigers.  Auburn A.D. Jay Jacobs: “I feel this is best for the program.”

2. Here are nine potential candidates to replace Barbee - including former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury and former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.

3. Kevin Scarbinsky: “Pearl seems like a sucker for a challenge like Auburn.”

4. South Carolina wins its first SEC Tournament game since 2008. Gamecocks make 11-of-15 three-point shots.

Mississippi State 82 – Vanderbilt 68.Video Highlights

5. Mississippi State snaps 13-game losing streak.  Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “It would be their Super Bowl in that they could … put us out of our misery.”

6. Vanderbilt finishes at 15-16, the program’s first back-to-back losing campaigns since 1984-1986.

Thursday SEC Tournament Schedule

Texas A&M vs Missouri

South Carolina vs Arkansas

Alabama vs LSU

Mississippi State vs Ole Miss

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SEC Headlines 3/9/2014

headlines-sun3-150x150SEC Football

1. Who will fill C.J. Mosley’s “alpha-dog” role at Alabama? That’s a key question this spring.

2. Here’s a breakdown of Alabama’s linebackers.

3. Here’s a look at Auburn’s tight ends/H-backs this spring.

4. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema likes the “new flavor” of the Razorbacks’ secondary.

5. LSU’s quarterback derby is wide open at the start of spring practice.

6. There’s plenty of competition for the Tigers on offense and defense.

7. Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton isn’t resting on his successful freshman season.

SEC/NFL

8. Auburn’s Dee Ford wants to prove he fits into any NFL defensive scheme.

9. Johnny Manziel looks like a boom-or-bust quarterback prospect, writes Michael Schottey.

SEC Basketball

10. Here’s a look at the full SEC tournament bracket with the schedule and TV times.

11. The future of Auburn coach Tony Barbee is in serious doubt as the Tigers enter the SEC tournament.

12. Tennessee appears to be peaking at just the right time. The Vols have won four straight games.

13. Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon defended coach Cuonzo Martin, who’s received plenty of criticism this season.

Extra

14. Jerry Palm’s latest NCAA tournament projection has Arkansas and Tennessee among the “last four teams in” the tournament.

15. What a Senior Day for Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who scored 45 points in his final home game.

16. Freshman Jabari Parker scored a career-high 30 points for Duke in the Blue Devils’ 93-81 win over North Carolina.

17. Oregon upset No. 3 ranked Arizona on Saturday. The win greatly helps Oregon’s NCAA tournament resume.

18. Iowa State students flopped en masse when Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart was introduced.

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Auburn 69 – Texas A&M 64

Video highlights of the Auburn 69-64 win over Texas A&M Saturday.

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SEC Hoops Roundup 3/8/2014

gfx-hoops-round-up2Kentucky at Florida

1. As the Gators go for perfection in conference play, this Florida senior class has racked up some amazing numbers.  Another major milestone awaits.

2. Kentucky coach John Calipari on the challenge facing his team: ”It’s not going to be easy. There is nothing that’s going to be easy about it.”

Vanderbilt at Ole Miss

3. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings can’t understand  why some of his players are hesitant to shoot the ball.  ”There is a reluctance and you’re not sure why it exists.”

4. The “Marshall Henderson Show” is almost over.  Last home game for the Ole Miss senior guard.

Auburn at Texas A&M

5. At one point the SEC’s leading scorer, Auburn guard Chris Denson has scored just nine points in his last two games.

6. Status of senior guard Fabyon Harris uncertain today.  Coach Billy Kennedy: ”He’s limited in what he can do, so we are still unsure what he will be able to do.”

Missouri at Tennessee

7. Sitting on the bubble, a victory at Tennessee would be huge for Missouri’s NCAA Tournament chances.  Coach Frank Haith: “They’re an NCAA Tournament team, so if you beat them twice it definitely helps you.”

8. Tennessee is playing some its best basketball of the year.  But is this a “play-out” game for both these teams?

South Carolina at Mississippi State

9. Suspended South Carolina coach Frank Martin apologized Friday afternoon. “I understand that I represent this university and I have a duty to conduct myself in a certain way.”

10. Mississippi State senior Colin Borchert on what he’s learned from coach Rick Ray: “The biggest thing I’m going to take from is how you can succeed when you come from nothing.”

Arkansas at Alabama

11. Streaking Arkansas trying to win its fourth straight SEC road game.  Best Razorbacks road team in 20 years?

12. Last home game for Alabama guard Trevor Releford.  Coach Anthony Grant: ”He’s 6-foot on the outside but he’s like 6-8 on the inside.”

Georgia at LSU

13. A win for Georgia locks down third place in the SEC and a double-bye in the conference tournament.

14. LSU senior guard Andre Stringer is “the final vestige of the Tigers’ failed resurrection plan four years ago under former coach Trent Johnson.”

Extra

15. The Antlers at Missouri and other student groups get attention from ESPN’s Outside The Lines this weekend.

 

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Defensive End Jennings Chooses Alabama

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxDefensive end Anfernee Jennings from Dadeville (Ala.) High School committed to Alabama on Thursday.

Jennings received a scholarship offer from the Crimson Tide during a visit to Tuscaloosa last weekend. He only needed a few days to pull the trigger on his commitment.

“I just felt like it was time,” Jennings told AL.com. “(Alabama) is the place that suits me and where I fit in the best. Not only will they help me become a greater football player, but become the man I would love to be later on in life.

“I kept praying about it and will continue to.”

Jennings, whose offer list includes Arkansas, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Arizona State and Louisville, will continue to consider other schools. He said he plans to take all five official visits this fall, according to AL.com.

Alabama will continue to recruit Jennings to keep him from going elsewhere. He was a key target for the Crimson Tide after coaches were able to evaluate him in person, according to Andrew Bone of TideSports.com. He wrote in part:

“(Jennings) has the ability to do a lot of different things. He can play defensive end or linebacker. He has been coached well throughout his high school career.  He knows and understands the game.  He knows how to shoot his hands and fight off blocks.  He is an aggressive defender coming off the ball.”

Jennings is the eighth prospect to commit to Alabama’s 2015 class, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Texas A&M in the Rivals Team Rankings.

 

Dean chooses Arkansas

Defensive end Daytrieon Dean committed to Arkansas last weekend.

Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Spring Football Primer

As spring practice gets going across the SEC, what are the key story lines to watch? Sports Illustrated’s Ben Glicksman breaks down several that bear watching: the Alabama offense, Florida’s new offensive coordinator, and big shoes to fill at Auburn and Texas A&M.




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SEC Hoops Roundup 3/6/2014

gfx-hoops-round-up2Missouri 57 – Texas A&M 56. Video Highlights

1. Earnest Ross gets two steals and scores Missouri’s final seven points in the last 1:06 of the game.

2. Texas A&M is 16-2 at home.  Aggies now just 1-11 away from Reed Arena.

Arkansas 110 – Ole Miss 80. Video Highlights

3. Razorbacks connect on 17 three-point shots.  Arkansas has now won six straight games. 110 most ever for Arkansas at home in conference play.

4. The Arkansas bench outscores Ole Miss bench 71-26.

Tennessee 82 – Auburn 54. Video Highlights

5. First three-game conference winning streak of the season for Tennessee.  In back-to-back games, Vols beat Vandy and Auburn by a combined 66 points.

6. Did Tony Barbee coach his final home game at Auburn? “I’m proud of the guys, the way they’re fighting and looking forward to coaching against Texas A&M.”

Georgia 66 – Mississippi State 45.

7. Georgia just a win away from wrappping up third place in the SEC.  But Bulldogs would lose tiebreaker to both Tennessee and Arkansas and fall to fifth place if they lose and those two win on Saturday.

8. Mississippi State will finish season with no true road game victories.  Bulldogs losing streak now at 12 games.

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