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Considering What They’re Up Against, Kudos To Ole Miss’ Freeze And Kennedy

gfx-honest-opinionI remove my hat and tip it Ole Miss coaches Hugh Freeze and Andy Kennedy.  Those guys must be world-class salesmen.  Considering the history at their school — and the never-ending string of reminders of that history — it’s dadgum incredible that they can recruit African-American males to play for their respective squads.

You know the latest story by now, of course.  Last Sunday a statue of James Meredith — the first black student at the University of Mississippi — was found to have a noose around its neck and an old Georgia state flag — complete with the Confederate battle flag — draped over it.  Meredith rose to fame when the federal government stepped in to protect him as it pushed for the desegregation the school in 1962.

Three freshman from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity — who happened to be Georgia natives — were booted from the fraternity before the the frat itself was suspended by it national office.  The three buffoons could face some very serious, life-altering charges if the FBI views that noose as a racial threat against black students on the Ole Miss campus.

The incident made national news from The LA Times to The New York Times.  Back came reminders of the National Guard, Governor Ross Barnett, the race riots that took place in Oxford at the time of Meredith’s enrollment.  (ESPN recently chronicled that episode in a “30 for 30″ special titled “Ghosts of Ole Miss.”)

After the long list of UM controversies come the inevitable reminders of what Ole Miss has tried to do to improve matters on its campus: no more Confederate flags at ballgames, no more Colonel Reb mascot, no more “From Dixie With Love” with its chant of “The South will rise again” before football games.

But as an editorial in The Daily Mississippian — UM’s student newspaper — stated last week, nothing seems to work:

 

“This is disgraceful.  But what makes it all the worse is that it is another disgraceful moment in a series of disgraceful moments.  We are racking them up and bolstering the stereotypes that are ingrained within the national consciousness.  And we, The Daily Mississippian, continue to write editorials about them.  The campus continues to hold candlelight vigils.  The administration continues to create committees, send apologetic emails and preach to us about our Creed.  The Alumni Association offers rewards.

But still nothing has changed.  These events continue to happen semester after semester and year after year.  All of our actions seem fruitless and impotent, leaving us broken, scared, humiliated and with burning, difficult questions: What do we do about it?  How do we stop these events from transpiring?”

 

Rather damning — and bravely honest — from the school’s newspaper, no?

Fair or not, the University of Mississippi’s history is tied to racism.  The Confederacy’s economy — everything about the Old South, for that matter — was based on slavery.  Yet the school’s athletic teams are called the Rebels in a reference to the Confederate States of America.  The school’s athletic teams often wear gray in addition to their red and navy colors.  Hell, the statue of Meredith isn’t far from a memorial to Confederate soldiers on the UM campus.

It is impossible to separate the school or its sports teams from the Confederacy and the racism that was ingrained in that institution.

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Early Commitments Keep Rolling In

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxLSU’s 2015 class became more athletic this week.

The Tigers received commitments from running back David Ducre from Lakeshore High School in Mandeville, La., and wide receiver Jazz Ferguson from West Feliciana High School in St. Francisville, La.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ferguson told TigerBait.com. “My parents knew since I was about seven or eight that I wanted to go there and they told me to go for it. I told Coach (Frank) Wilson I wanted to talk to Coach (Les) Miles and when I told him I was ready to commit, he said thank you and he was happy to have me.”

LSU has nine commitments for the 2015 class, which is tied with Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the Rivals Team Rankings.

The commitments from Ducre and Ferguson followed a pledge from defensive end Isaiah Washington from Edna Karr High School in New Orleans. Washington committed to the Tigers earlier than even he expected.

“At first when Les Miles offered me, I didn’t want to commit,” Washington told Tiger Bait. “But the longer I sat in there and thought about what I was going to be a part of, I was like, ‘I might as well.’ I like the surroundings and everything they have going on. I just committed. I’m a Tiger.”

Washington helped LSU end a short drought at Edna Karr. Highly-touted receiver Speedy Noil (Texas A&M) and defensive lineman Gerald Willis III (Florida) both left Edna Karr for out-of-state schools in the 2014 class. LSU was able to sign Edna Karr linebacker Donnie Alexander.

It’s a good start for LSU’s 2015 class, which has five commitments from in-state prospects. The state of Louisiana will continue to be a high priority for the Tigers.

 

Rivers switches to ‘dream school’ Georgia

An offer from Georgia was too much for Chauncey Rivers to pass up.

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Freeze Backs Ole Miss Players Facing Civil Suit; Witnesses Could Not Identify The Assailants

hugh-freeze-um-presserOle Miss student Matthew Baird believes he was knocked unconscious and pummeled by seven Rebel football players at a frat party last February.  The police at the time didn’t believe there was enough evidence to arrest anyone for the crime.  And UM officials believe the players were named only because they were the most recognizable persons attending the party.

Whoever’s right — and Blair has filed a $2 million civil suit against the players in the hopes that he’ll be found to be correct — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is backing his players.  Yesterday, he released a statement specifically supporting the two players whose names have become public — Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche:

 

“Having spoken with our players after the event occurred and reviewed the incident report, we are disappointed these unwarranted allegations are being directed at Denzel and Robert, and they have the full support of our team as they fight this matter.”

 

So why didn’t police arrest anyone in the immediate aftermath of the beatdown?  No witnesses at the frat party could identify the person(s) doing the beating.

University of Mississippi police captain Michael Harmon told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “A person was hit but he didn’t know who hit him.”  The police report stated that a number of Ole Miss athletes were present at the party (quarterback Bo Wallace and hoops star Marshall Henderson, for example), but there’s no mention of them being involved in the assault either.

The lawyer for the Nkemdiches has cut to the chase on the matter: “We deny all allegations.  My personal opinion after interviewing witnesses is that this is a classic case of misidentification.”

Denzel Nkemdiche is currently suspended from the team following a weekend arrest on charges of disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and failure to comply with an officer.

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7 Ole Miss Football Players Facing A $2 Million Civil Suit After Alleged Beating

gavel2Nowhere is it more obvious that we’re in college football’s offseason than in Oxford, Mississippi.  Just as soon as the final whistle of bowl season is blown, arrests and court dates begin to take over the football landscape.  In the Magnolia State, the Rebels are dealing with both with already.

In January, cornerback Bobby Hill was arrested and charged with sexual battery.  He is indefinitely suspended from the Ole Miss team as a result.  Defensive end Channing Ward pled guilty last week to DUI charges which followed a January incident.

Apparently those issues were just the hors d’oeuvre.

Over the weekend, Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant found themselves in trouble with the law, too.  Nkemdiche — a linebacker — was picked up for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and failure to comply with a police officer.  Bryant — also a linebacker — was nicked for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.  Both were suspended on Monday with Huge Freeze saying: “We are aware of the incidents and gathering facts.  Denzel and Serderius are suspended until we know more.”

Fast-forward to yesterday when it was learned that a plaintiff has filed a $2 million civil suit against Nkemdiche, his brother Robert Nkemdiche (an Ole Miss defensive end) and five yet-to-be-named Rebel football players.  The plaintiff, Matthew Baird, alleges that Denzel Nkemdiche punched him from behind and knocked him unconscious.  According to the lawsuit, Robert Nkemdiche and the other five began to kick an stomp Baird while he was on the ground.  This allegedly took place a year ago according to The Jackson Clarion Ledger.

Readers of this site know what our stance on this would be if it’s found to be true — Any players involved in a violent crime should be immediately tossed from the University of Mississippi football team.  If someone is on scholarship and represents a university, violent criminal activity should result in immediate dismissal from the team and school.  End of story.  We write the same thing whenever one of these player(s)-on-student(s) issues arises.

But you also know that that’s not at all likely to happen.

First, of course, UM’s brass must determine what actually happened.  A statement released by AD Ross Bjork reveals that in the school’s view, the matter has already been investigated by police which therefore makes it a closed case:

 

“When this alleged incident occurred, the proper authorities investigated the matter and could find no evidence of wrong-doing related to Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche or any other members of our football program.  This is a personal matter for them and we will support Denzel and Robert while they defend themselves in this civil case.”

 

Translation: This is an issue for the players involved — not Ole Miss – and none of those athletes will be heaved from the Rebel football team as the coppers have already given them a pass.  If that pass was deserved, so bet it.

However.

As you know, the level of evidence needed to win a civil case differs from the level of evidence needed to convict persons in a criminal trial.  While the original officers could find “no evidence” of an attack in the immediate aftermath, a civil court might view the same incident differently.

Blair claims that he and his girlfriend and another friend visited a campus frat house last February 17th.  An unrelated fight broke out at some point during the party.  Frat officials then asked everyone to leave.  As Blair left, Denzel Nkemdiche allegedly “came from behind and punched him,” knocking the young man unconscious.  Blair’s suit says that both Nkemdiches and five others “began to kick and stomp the plaintiff’s head into the ground.”  When his friend tried to dive on top of Blair to cover him and protect him, he too was kicked and beaten, “bursting (his) eardrum and injuring his middle ear.”

By the time the police arrived, the players had left.  After convulsions, a seizure, and 12 to 15 minutes of unconsciousness, Blair was treated for multiple injuries, including “a closed head injury,” according to the Clarion-Ledger.  There’s no word on what — if anything — Blair and his co-horts might have done or said to instigate the alleged beating.

Blair is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

If Blair’s attorney can convince enough witnesses to verify his client’s account, seven Ole Miss football players might just find themselves on the hook for a couple million bucks.  If the players do lose their civil case, would that be enough to eject all seven from the Mississippi football team?  Bjork’s statement suggests that it wouldn’t be.

Whether that’s the right call or the wrong one likely depends upon which SEC football team is your particular favorite.  We will say only this: If the evidence presented in the civil suit is particularly damning — meaning multiple witnesses who apparently didn’t speak to police do speak up in court — it’s not going to look good for Freeze’s program.  Especially is he turns a blind eye to the evidence presented in the civil suit.

For now, Rebel fans simply have to wait out the various arrests, citations, lawsuits and accusations made against multiple players on their football team in a two-month period.  And if the start of the year is any indication, this spring and summer could be downright ugly in Oxford.

Update: The lawyer for Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche has denied allegations made in a civil suit.

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SEC Hoops Roundup 2/19/2014

gfx-hoops-round-up2Kentucky 84 – Ole Miss 70. Video Highlights

1. Julius Randle scores 25 points and grabs 13 rebounds.   UK makes 19 straight free throws to clinch the game.

2. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “We’re just not tough enough physically to put our nose in there and battle…It’s pretty disappointing.”

Tennessee 67 – Georgia 48. Video Highlights

3. 15th double-double of the season for Jarnell Stokes - 20 points and 11 rebounds.

4. Tennessee becomes the first SEC team to outrebound Georgia this season.  Coach Mark Fox:  ”I’m not comfortable with the effort we gave tonight.”

Wednesday SEC Hoops Schedule

Auburn at Florida

Mississippi State at LSU

Vanderbilt at Missouri

South Carolina at Arkansas

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SEC Headlines 2/18/2014

headlines-tueSEC Football

1. Former Alabama running back Dee Hart faces multiple charges after an arrest over the weekend.

2. Ole Miss suspended linebackers Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche following weekend arrests.

3. Nick Saban’s dream will come true when he enters into a partnership to open a Mercedez-Benz dealership.

4. Andy Staples re-ranked the 2011 recruiting classes. Florida State was No. 1. How about Alabama and Auburn?

5. LSU has the top student section in the SEC, according to Edward Aschoff. See his ranking of the top five.

6. Every Georgia player will get a “clean slate” under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

7. Someone at Southern California called Tennessee RB signee Jalen Hurd “soft and terrible.” USC apologized on Monday.

8. South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington decided to go pro after his mother told him he’s “getting old.”

SEC Basketball

9. Florida moved up to No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll on Monday. The Gators are 12-0 in SEC play.

10. Florida coach Billy Donovan believes off-court growth has helped point guard Scottie Wilbekin on the court.

11. Here’s a look at the SEC 1-14. It’s not very pretty on the bottom.

12. Kentucky coach John Calipari: “Every game we play is to prepare us for March, and that’s how we approach it.”

13. Kentucky’s Final Four hopes “look fairly bleak,” according to Mark Story. But he says not to lose all hope.

14. Ole Miss is preparing for a big week as the Rebels get set to host Kentucky tonight and Florida on Saturday.

15. Georgia’s basketball team has improved greatly as the Bulldogs prepare to play at Tennessee tonight.

16. Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin on job pressure: “I just think as a coach you have to do your job, that’s the bottom line.”

Extra

17. Florida, Kentucky and Missouri are the only top-50 RPI teams from the SEC.

18. Florida is holding onto a No. 1 seed right now, according to Ryan Fagan’s NCAA tournament projection.

19. Missouri and Tennessee are in the “bye” section of the bubble, according to Joe Lunardi’s Tuesday update.

20. Former Northwestern quarterback Kane Colter will make his case Tuesday why college athletes are employees.

21. There’s more talk about increasing the age limit for when players can enter the NBA.

22. Oklahoma State lost its seventh straight game on Monday. Marcus Smart will return from suspension on Saturday.

23. Iowa’s athletic director said he would rather quit than figure out how to pay college athletes.

24. Athlon Sports ranks Patrick Willis the No. 1 SEC linebacker of the BCS era. See their top 10 list here.

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SEC In The NCAA Tourney: 2 Locks, 5 Alive (Some Barely)

gfx-by-the-numbersAnother week down and the SEC’s hopes of landing three teams in the NCAA Tournament still look about the same from MrSEC.com’s World Headquarters.  Florida is a lock at this point.  The Gators’ only concern is whether or not they can nail down a #1 seed.  Kentucky remains in the field as well, though the Wildcats have been nowhere near as good as most folks (and UK fans) expected prior to the season’s tip-off.

After Florida and Kentucky, things still look sketchy.  Missouri took Round One of their two all-important head-to-head battles with Tennessee over the weekend, but they’ll still have to play in Knoxville on UT’s Senior Day.  For now, the Tigers look to be the SEC’s best hope of snatching a third NCAA bid.

Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas — by our calculations — are all outside the tourney bubble in need of either strong finishes or full-on miracles.  And Missouri, in for now, can certainly play their way out, as well.

Below are the tourney breakdowns for UF, UK and those five other league teams with RPI rankings inside the top 80.  Typically, teams outside the RPI top 40 are on the bubble (with those outside the top 60 dead).  We’ve included LSU and Arkansas (RPI rankings in the 70s because theoretically they could still improve their chances).

 

  School   Florida   Kentucky   Missouri   Tennessee   Ole Miss   LSU   Arkansas
  Record   23-2   19-6   18-7   14-10   16-9   15-9   16-9
  SEC Record   12-0   9-3   6-6   6-6   7-5   6-6   5-7
  RPI Rank   4   14   38   53   68   71   73
  SOS Rank   22   6   56   11   86   78   68
  Vs RPI Top 50   5-2   2-4   1-2   2-6   1-3   3-2   3-5
  True Road Record   7-2   4-3   3-4   2-6   4-6   2-6   1-5
  Ls Vs RPI 100+   0   0   0   1   1   2   1
  Best RPI Win Rank   1   36   12   18   38   14   14
  Best RPI Win Foe   Kansas   Louisville   UCLA   Virginia   Missouri   Kentucky   Kentucky

 

As you can see, Florida’s resume is fantastic.  After losing their first two games against top 50 RPI foes the Gators have beaten five such teams in a row.  That includes a win over current #1 RPI squad Kansas.  Billy Donovan’s team boasts a rare mix of talent and experience that you just don’t see in college basketball these days.  And the defense this team plays makes it a legitimate national title contender.

Kentucky is fine.  In fact, for a team once again rebuilt with freshman the Cats are more than fine.  But after winning a national crown two years ago, “fine” and “more than fine” has to be considered a disappointment.  The young Wildcats are just 2-4 against top 50 RPI competition and they’ve lost at both Arkansas and LSU, giving those squads their signature wins on the season.  Perhaps John Calipari’s young bunch can write a great final chapter come March.

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Auburn To Add Another Signee (Which Changes Our Signing Class Rankings)13

blue-chipAuburn is on the verge of adding a 24th member to its 2014 signing class.  Joseph Turner — a 3-star juco cornerback from California — has committed to Gus Malzahn’s squad is expected to sign with AU soon.

Unfortunately that requires yet another tweak to our official MrSEC.com 2014 Signing Class Rankings.

Here’s the latest full breakdown including the three components we use to arrive at our final rankings — Quantity, Quality and High-End Prospects:

 

Quantity

  School   Signees   5-stars   4-stars   3-stars   2-stars   1- & 0-stars   Total Points
  Tennessee   32   2   16   14   0   0   116
  Alabama   27   6   13   7   1   0   105
  Kentucky   28   0   10   17   1   0   93
  Auburn   24   3   11   8   2   0   87
  Florida   24   1   12   11   0   0   86
  LSU   23   2   14   6   1   0   86
  Ole Miss   25   0   7   17   1   0   81
  Texas A&M   22   3   10   8   1   0   81
  Missouri   28   0   2   18   8   0   78
  Georgia   21   1   12   7   1   0   76
  S. Carolina   21   0   10   11   0   0   73
  Arkansas   24   0   3   17   4   0   71
  Miss. State   23   0   2   14   7   0   64
  Vanderbilt   22   0   3   11   8   0   61

 

Quality

  School   Signees   Avg. Pts/Commit
  Alabama   27   3.88
  LSU   23   3.73
  Texas A&M   22   3.68
  Auburn   24   3.62
  Tennessee   32   3.62
  Georgia   21   3.61
  Florida   24   3.58
  S. Carolina   21   3.47
  Kentucky   28   3.32
  Ole Miss   25   3.24
  Arkansas   24   2.95
  Miss. State   23   2.78
  Missouri   28   2.78
  Vanderbilt   22   2.77

 

High-End Prospects

  School   Signees   4- & 5-stars
  Alabama   27   19
  Tennessee   32   18
  LSU   23   16
  Auburn   24   14
  Florida   24   13
  Georgia   21   13
  Texas A&M   22   13
  Kentucky   28   10
  S. Carolina   21   10
  Ole Miss   25   7
  Arkansas   24   3
  Vanderbilt   22   3
  Miss. State   23   2
  Missouri   28   2

 

And that means our current 2014 Signing Class Rankings look like this (for now)…

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SEC Hoops Roundup 2/12/2014

gfx-hoops-round-up2Florida 67 – Tennessee 58. Video Highlights

1. Scottie Wilbekin drains a key late three-point shot for Florida.  Finishes with  21 points, six assists and four steals as Gators move to 11-0 in the SEC.

2. Coach Billy Donovan calls Patric Young’s late save “the play of the year.”

3. The Vols commit 15 turnovers - including eight by forward by Jeronne Maymon.  Coach Cuonzo Martin: “Against a good team you can’t make those type of mistakes in taking care of the basketball…”

Alabama 67 – Ole Miss 64.

4. Alabama snaps a four-game losing streak as Trevor Releford scores 26 points and hits last-second three-point shot to break the tie.  “We needed this one. We needed it bad.”

5.Marshall Henderson scores 14 points for Ole Miss as the Rebels drop to 7-4 in conference play.

6. Trevor Releford’s game-winning shot.

Wednesday Night SEC Hoops Schedule

Kentucky at Auburn

Vanderbilt at South Carolina

Georgia at Mississippi State

LSU at Texas A&M

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SEC Leads Nation In Football Attendance; Here’s Each School’s 5-Year Average

empty-stadium-seatsLast week, the NCAA released a report on college football attendance in 2013.  Naturally, the story was buried beneath an avalanche of signing day coverage.  (A tip of the cap to CollegeFootballTalk.com for bringing it to our attention.)

Once again, the SEC led all conferences in overall attendance.  No surprise.  The SEC also happens to have many of the nation’s biggest stadiums and no one has ever questioned SEC fan passion.

After some small decreases in overall attendance in recent years, the league enjoyed a slight uptick in 2013.  The average SEC stadium drew 75,674 fans per game in 2013 (up from 74,996 in 2012).  Second-best was the Big Ten at 70,431 per contest.  The Big 12 (58,899), Pac-12 (53,619), and ACC (49,982) brought up the rear among the Big Five power conferences.

Below is a look at the five-year average attendance numbers for each school currently residing in the SEC.  Keep in mind that some stadiums have increased in size while others have decreased (in order to add luxury suites and boxes).  Also keep in mind that Missouri and Texas A&M spent the first three years in our sample playing in the Big 12.  And remember, too, that these are paid attendance numbers, not actual turnstile counts.

 

SEC 5-year Attendance Comparison

  School   2009 Avg.   2010 Avg.   2011 Avg.   2012 Avg.   2013 Avg.   5-Year Avg.
  Alabama   92012   101821   101821   101722   101505   99776
  Tennessee   99220   99781   94642   89865   95584   95818
  Georgia   92746   92746   92613   92703   92746   92711
  LSU   92489   92718   92868   92626   91418   92423
  Florida   90635   90511   89061   87597   87440   89048
  Auburn   84614   86087   85792   82646   85657   84959
  Texas A&M   76800   82477   87183   87014   87125   84120
  S. Carolina   75369   76668   79131   80001   82401   78714
  Arkansas   65112   68932   66990   68046   61596   66135
  Missouri   64120   61540   62095   67476   63505   63747
  Kentucky   69594   66070   60007   49691   59472   60967
  Ole Miss   55767   55898   65488   57066   59393   58722
  Miss. State   53792   54999   55949   55628   55695   55213
  Vanderbilt   35015   33269   32873   37860   35675   34938

 

Observations:

*  Alabama, winners of three of the last five national titles, actually saw attendance drop just a hair in each of the last two seasons.

*  Tennessee fans were glad to see Derek Dooley go.  UT averaged about 6,000 more fans per game in Year One of the Butch Jones era than they did in Dooley’s final season.

*  Georgia’s fanbase is just about the most steady ticket-buying force in the SEC.

*  LSU’s average attendance fell by about 1,000 last season average sitting in the 92,000s for the previous four years.  Still, no one’s going to cry over 91,000+ attendance.

*  Florida’s attendance has dropped for five consecutive years.  Coming off a 4-8 season with a coach on the hot seat it’s probably a safe bet that attendance will drop once more at The Swamp in 2014.

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