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Pressure On Tennessee’s Martin More About Pearl Than Martin

bruce-and-cuonzoYesterday in Nashville, Bruce Pearl dressed himself in orange and told a radio station’s fan festival: “I’m still a former coach of the University of Tennessee.  That’s who I am, and I’m proud of that.”

Meanwhile, current Vol basketball coach Cuonzo Martin is watching what’s left of his own fan support disappear.  Many Volunteer fans wish he were the “former coach” and that Pearl would be reinstated in Knoxville.

Pearl told fans Sunday that they should support Martin.  He declined to comment on the possibility of returning to UT.  But if he really wanted to help Martin — or if he thought there wasn’t at least a chance of his returning — he’d have stated flatly, “That’s not going to happen.”  Instead, folks close to the coach say he is naturally monitoring the situation at Tennessee.

A majority of UT fans have already made it clear via social media, talk radio, messageboards and online petitions that their old coach back (even if the NCAA puts a couple of watchdogs on this tail).

At the moment, it’s extremely unlikely that many of the same University of Tennessee administrators and top boosters who let Pearl go — in the hopes of dodging NCAA sanctions — will backtrack and invite him to return.  Yet the grassroots movement is gathering steam.  Fans make statements with ticket sales and the number of empty seats for UT hoops games has been growing.

In many fans’ eyes, Martin is nothing more than an obstacle blocking Pearl’s return.

Tennessee was expected to finish third in the SEC this season (that’s still technically possible) and reach the NCAA Tournament (that’s not likely).  It’s been a disappointing year on Rocky Top and Martin can’t escape that fact.  But a quick look at a similar situation suggests Martin’s real problem is who he followed, not his record.

Martin took the Tennessee job in 2011 with an NCAA cloud still hanging over Thompson-Boling Arena.  Bigger fish weren’t interested in the job so the Missouri State coach jumped at the opportunity when it was offered.  Since then he’s gone 19-15 (finishing second in the SEC), 20-13, and now 15-11.  Overall at Tennessee his record is 54-39 which is a winning clip of .580.  Over the last three seasons, only John Calipari and Billy Donovan have posted better league marks.  But Martin has never reached an NCAA tourney and he looks bubble-strapped again.

Martin sits on a very hot seat.

But Prior to Pearl, Tennessee’s coach from 2001 through 2005 was Buzz Peterson.  His first three years at Tennessee looked like this: 15-16, 17-12, and 15-14.  He even had a losing SEC record of 23-25.  But there was little debate about a fourth year; Peterson got one.  He then went 14-17 in that fourth season and still there were many who wanted to see the personable coach get a fifth year to prove himself.

Martin’s three-year record: 54-39, .580.  Peterson’s first three years: 47-42, .528.  Peterson got a fourth year.  Most betting men would put money on Martin getting the boot.

Now, it can be said that Pearl raised the bar and that UT fans are no longer willing to accept anything less than NCAA Tournament berths.  Fine.  But the bottom line is Martin’s troubles have more to do with Pearl’s record (and his availability come August) than they do his own.  Peterson did less than Martin but he felt less heat at the same stage of his UT tenure.

As we noted on Friday, Pearl’s reputation around East Tennessee has grown with each game he hasn’t coached.  Martin can’t live up to the comparison.  If Martin is let go and Pearl isn’t re-hired, it’s doubtful anyone else could live up to Pearl’s legend, either.  (Not to mention this fact: What coach would want to sign on with Tennessee when thousands of Vol fans are signing a petition to bring in some other guy?)  This writer wonders whether or not even Pearl could live up to the hype that currently surrounds him if he were to be re-hired.

Martin sure can’t.

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SEC Hoops Roundup 11/30/2013

gfx-hoops-round-up1. Memphis 74 – LSU 69. LSU gives up late lead to Memphis.  4-2 Tigers will play Butler Sunday afternoon

2. Tennessee 64 – Xavier 49. 20 points and 10 rebounds for Jarnell Stokes.  Vols play Wake Forest this afternoon.

3. Drexel 85 – Alabama 83 (triple overtime). In a wild back-and fourth affair, Alabama blows a four-point lead in regulation and missed a shot at the buzzer to send game to fourth overtime.

4. Ole Miss 77 – Georgia Tech 67. Derrick Millinghaus leads Ole Miss with 16 points.  Rebels now 5-0 on the season.

5. Georgia 71 – Appalachian State 53. Bulldogs snap four-game losing streak.  Now 2-4 on the season.

6. Florida 67 – Florida State 66. Dorian Finney-Smith’s free throw with 1.3 seconds left is the difference.  Gators move to 6-1 on the season.  Video Highlights

7. Missouri 83 – Nevada 70. Trio of Earnest Ross, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson combine for 73 of Mizzou’s 83 points. Tigers now 7-0 on the season.

8. Missouri State 73 – Texas A&M 70. Missouri State hands A&M its first loss of the season.  Aggies now 6-1.  Play SMU this afternoon.

9. Kentucky plays Providence Sunday.  Providence coach Ed Cooley:  ”I don’t game a damn about Kentucky.”

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Adams’ Punt Return Magic Stuff For Arkansas

If you haven’t seen it, then you’ve not flipped by ESPN in the past 48 hours.  And if you haven’t seen it, you should.  Because Joe Adams’ 60-yard punt return for a touchdown on Saturday is one of those once-in-a-season type plays that will become a fixture on the Hogs’ highlight tapes:

Not bad for a guy who’d already scored on this unbelievable return against Missouri State earlier in the season:

So maybe Saturday’s play was a twice-in-a-season type of run.

Either way, an amazing display of vision, balance and dexterity (as well as some pretty bad tackling on Tennessee’s part).

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The SEC’s Most (And Least) Impressive Performances Of Week One

One week into the 2011 football season and the SEC already has an impressive 10-2 overall mark.  But some of those 10 wins were a lot more impressive than others.  Below you’ll find our weekly Monday morning look back at the league’s best and worst performances from the previous week.

Here goes:


1.  LSU 40, Oregon 27 at Arlington, TX — There’s no question about it, LSU’s big win at Cowboys Stadium was the most impressive performance of opening weekend.  Is Les Miles often lucky?  Is he a bit challenged when it comes to public speaking?  Does he have a hard time finding a hat that fits?  Yes, yes, yes and so what?  No coach in the SEC does a better job of consistently getting his troops to believe in his plan.  Sure Oregon turned the ball over four times.  But the Tigers took advantage of those turnovers and converted them into points… even without Jordan Jefferson and Russell Shepard dressed out.  In the face of more turmoil than most teams could withstand, Miles, his coaching staff and the Tiger players deserve some serious props for Saturday’s performance.  Just fantastic.

2.  Mississippi State 59, Memphis 14 at Memphis — Vick Ballard and Chris Relf looked ready to build on last year’s good deeds.  As a whole, Dan Mullen’s spread offense rolled up a gaudy 645 yards.  Memphis might be the weakest team on MSU’s schedule — yes, including UT-Martin — but a blowout win is a blowout win.  A good boxer knocks out the tomato cans in his way.  State did just that.  So the enthusiasm in Starkville continues to build.

3.  Florida 41, Florida Atlantic 3 at Gainesville – The athletes are there… and it looks like Will Muschamp, Dan Quinn and Charlie Weis know just how to use them.  Weis in particular got off to a hot start in his Sunshine State debut.  By constantly getting the ball t0 Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, Weis proved what we at MrSEC have been saying for 14 games now: With properly-utilized skill players around him, John Brantley will be just fine.

4.  Alabama 48, Kent State 7 at Tuscaloosa — Ninety yards.  Ninety.  That’s all Alabama’s stingy defense allowed in its boa constrictor-like crushing of Nick Saban’s alma mater on Saturday.  That was the good part.  But while the Tide offense put plenty of points on the scoreboard, the head coach couldn’t have liked seeing his two quarterbacks toss two interceptions apiece.  Four interceptions against Kent State does not bode well for the future.

5.  Arkansas 51, Missouri State 7 at Fayetteville — New quarterback Tyler Wilson did his part (18 of 24 for 260 yards and 2 TDs), but Knile Davis’ absence was obvious.  Against the FCS-level Bears, Bobby Petrino’s team managed just 102 rushing yards on 33 attempts.  Like Bama’s four INTs above, rushing for a 3.1 yards-per-carry average against Missouri State is cause for concern heading forward.  Now, if Joe Adams can return two punts for TDs every week, the run game may not matter.  Heckuva job by Adams and the Razorback punt return unit to bring back a 61-yarder and a 69-yarder.

6.  South Carolina 56, East Carolina 37 at Charlotte, NC — The Gamecocks get the nod here because they were playing an FBS opponent.  Too bad they didn’t decide to really start playing them until after spotting ECU a 17-0 lead.  Steve Spurrier’s decision to start Connor Shaw over team leader Stephen Garcia clearly backfired.  But even after Garcia entered the game and his teammates came to life — battling back for a comfortable win — the Ol’ Ball Coach still wouldn’t give his QB credit.  In fact, he made it clear that Garcia won’t get a celebratory gameball until he throws for 300 yards someday.  Well, Spurrier needs to call Brian Billick.  That quarterback guru got tired of winning ugly with Trent Dilfer so he dumped him for a series of more highly-touted passers.  And he never won another Super Bowl.  Garcia is better than Dilfer.  He led Carolina to an SEC East title last year.  At 66 years of age you’d think Spurrier would by now understand that winning is more important than throwing for 300 yards.  He needs to live and die with his senior signal-caller.

7.  Tennessee 42, Montana 16 at Knoxville — Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray picked up where he left off last year… winging the ball around the field with great effectiveness.  Speedy wideouts Justin Hunter and Da’rick Rogers both reached the century mark in yardage and both hauled in touchdown passes.  But the Vols’ offensive line is a cause for worry.  Bray was sacked three times and on three different occasions UT couldn’t get enough push to gain one yard against the FCS Grizzlies.  The Vols’ were even stuffed for a safety by a D-line that weighed 60 pounds per man less than UT’s O-line.  Bray can throw it, but if Tennessee can’t run it, throwing it will become tougher and tougher.

8.  Vanderbilt 45, Elon 14 at Nashville — The Commodores scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away from the Phoenix.  On the stat sheet, Elon actually out-offense’d Vandy 323 to 309.  But let’s not pick too many nits.  James Franklin got off on the right foot with a victory.  And his offense used a variety of formations throughout the night.  The Dores were at least interesting to watch.  And that’s a huge improvement over the VU offense of the past two seasons.

9.  Auburn 42, Utah State 38 at Auburn – Okay, so now maybe Tiger fans will stop complaining that their team was “disrespected” entering the season.  If Cam Newton, Nick Fairley and about 14 other starters had returned from last year’s team, AU would have been a preseason Top 5 team.  They also wouldn’t have needed two touchdowns in the last three minutes, an onside kick, and a 97-yard kick return to subdue tiny Utah State.  By game’s end, the Aggies had rolled up 448 yards to Auburn’s 364.  Disrespect?  Try reality.  The Tigers are young and inexperienced.  They’ll have growing pains.  And as Rick Pitino might say, “Cam Newton isn’t walking through that door.”

10.  Boise State 35, Georgia 21 at Atlanta, GA – Yep, we’ve got a loser ranked above a winner.  That’s because UGA lost to a Top 5 team that may wind up playing for the BCS title.  But the real story is the heat on Mark Richt.  He’s now won just 14 of his last 27 games.  Dawg fans have noticed.  Mike Bobo’s thin offensive line looks like it will be a worry spot all season.  Aaron Murray was sacked six times and without a good line in front of him, ultra-hyped tailback Isaiah Crowell sure didn’t remind anyone of Marcus Lattimore or Mike Dyer.  Oh, and the defense couldn’t keep pace with the Broncos, either.  From a fan-revolt standpoint, Richt needs a win over South Carolina on Saturday.

11.  BYU 14, Ole Miss 13 at Oxford — The Rebels lost a game they flat should have won.  Tyrone Nix’s defense looked much improved — as we expected — but Houston Nutt and David Lee had no such luck with Mississippi’s offense — which was not what we expected.  Ole Miss quarterback Zach Stoudt was strip-sacked in the 4th quarter and the ball was returned for BYU’s game-winning score.  Why Ole Miss had Stoudt back to pass on 3rd-and-27 while protecting a lead — run a draw, punt the ball! — is anyone’s guess.  Now the heat is being turned up on Nutt who is just 13 games removed from back-to-back Cotton Bowl berths.  To add injury to insult, tailback Brandon Bolden seriously injured his ankle and could miss several games.

12.  Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3 at Nashville, TN – Anyone who wonders why we have a victorious squad listed as having given the least impressive performance of the week… didn’t watch UK’s abysmal performance against one of the worst teams in the FBS.  Like most people outside the Bluegrass State, we thought the Cats would have a hard time replacing Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline.  We just didn’t think they’d struggle against the Hilltoppers.  At the end of three quarters, Kentucky had just 75 yards of total offense.  Yeah.  It was that bad.  Viewers needed novocaine just to watch that mess.


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SEC Headlines – 8/31/11 Part One

1.  Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower is now 100% back from a 2009 knee injury.

2.  Freshman O-lineman Cyrus Kouandjio is being called a prodigy.

3.  The Tide’s quarterback battle is about to take it up a notch (Stringbean).

4.  Joe Namath has actor Alec Baldwin sending naughty, pro-Bama tweets.

5.  Auburn’s football team is “Puppy-ville” this season.

6.  Tailback Mike Dyer is a backup on paper only.

7.  Barrett Trotter is ready to take the reins on The Plains.

8.  Arkansas’ De’Anthony Curtis is “thankful” to be back at running back.

9.  The Hogs are now in fine-tuning mode leading up to Saturday’s opener with Missouri State.

10.  If Texas A&M does join the SEC — and if Arkansas doesn’t leave for the Big 12 (Ha!) — will the Aggies and Razorbacks continue to play in Arlington, Texas?  (A neutral site works for Florida-Georgia.)

11.  LSU’s defense is bracing for Oregon’s up-tempo attack.

12.  Redshirt freshman running back Jakhari Gore has been getting good reviews for his mimicry of the Ducks’ LaMichael James in practice.

13.  Meanwhile, Oregon isn’t planning on changing up its D just because Jarrett Lee is getting the starting quarterback nod for the Tigers.
14.  Mississippi State has a big-play secondary.

15.  A former walk-on has edged out highly-touted transfer Brandon Maye for a starting linebacker spot at MSU.

16.  Dan Mullen says he’s worried about a pair of “SEC-talented” D-linemen who’ll line up for Memphis tomorrow night.

17.  New quarterback Barry Brunetti says UM’s offense “can be deadly” once everyone gets comfortable.

18.  With so many new faces in the lineup, Ole Miss fans will need a program to keep up.

19.  This writer says the Rebels need to rebound now, not later.

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Hogs’ Anderson Has Good Things To Say About UT’s Martin

It’s a lovefest in the SEC these days.  Andy Kennedy and Billy Donovan are praising Kentucky and John Calipari.  Mike Anderson is tossing verbal bouquets at Cuonzo Martin.

Arkansas’ new hoops coach got to know Tennessee’s new coach when they were both coaching in the Show Me State — Anderson at Missouri, Martin at Missouri State.  Anderson was impressed:

“He’s a quality young guy working hard.  He’ll do a great job at Tennessee.  I say that because he’s like me, a character guy.  His kids are going to do all the right things on and off the floor.  They’ll play as a team.

All you’ve got to do is look at his background, where he’s from, to find out a lot more about what Cuonzo Martin is all about.  Nothing’s been given to him.”

In addition to meeting each other on the court each season, Anderson and Martin will probably cross paths often while recruiting the talent-rich Memphis area as well.

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Martin Lands First Commitment At UT

Wes Washpun — a 6-1 point guard who’s never been to Knoxville — became Cuonzo Martin’s first commitment at Tennessee over the weekend.

Martin was recruiting Washpun while he was at Missouri State.

“He told me he wouldn’t have offered me a scholarship if he didn’t think I could play at this level.”

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Two Small Violations For UT’s Martin At Last Stop

According to University of Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek, “playing by the rules,” was a key characteristic the Vols were searching for in a new basketball coach.  It’s doubtful UT meant that as a slap at Bruce Pearl as he went out the door and more likely that the school’s leadership was trying to send a message to the NCAA:

“We get it, we get it.  Don’t spank us!”

With that in mind, the Vols set out to find a new coach with a good track record, good recommendations, a willingness to take over a program that’s about to be hit by the NCAA, a willingness to try to replace the popular Pearl, AND a clean bill of health when it comes to past compliance.

The last bit is what kept UT from chasing Richmond’s Chris Mooney.  Mooney’s program was hit in 2007 with “major” violations tied to an assistant’s phone calls and texts.  Mooney fired the assistant, but the head coach was cited for failing to monitor his program. 

With the NCAA’s sword dangling by a thread above them, Tennessee officials couldn’t risk bringing in anyone with a big red X on his resume.

Enter Cuonzo Martin from Missouri State.  He had the reputation and recommendations UT was looking for (after several Tier 1 candidates said “not interested”).  But what about his NCAA history?

The Knoxville News Sentinel did some digging and found that there were two violations under Martin at his last job.  But despite the scary headline: “Records show two violations at Missouri State under Cuonzo Martin’s watch,” both violations were secondary and both were self-reported.

In other words, Martin’s about as clean as a coach can be as he arrives in Knoxville.  That’s a big plus for the Vols who go before the Committee on Infractions in June.

Of course, Pearl, too, had only secondary violations on his record, too — including having a junior over to his house at his last stop — when he arrived from UW-Milwaukee in 2005.

For those who will want to comment/email saying that Pearl was shown the door at UT last month for secondary violations, please remember that Pearl was in NCAA hot water for his cover-up of his secondary violations.  The small stuff didn’t get him… lying about the small stuff did.

Martin, obviously, will want to avoid secondary violations while Tennessee goes through a period of probation.  And if/when he doesn’t, he’ll need to fess about it and make sure minor issues don’t become major.  He can learn that lesson from his predecessor.

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UT Hires Martin From Missouri State

Tennessee has hired Cuonzo Martin from Missouri State to replace the recently fired Bruce Pearl.  Martin posted a 61-41 record in three years with the Bears.  His team won the school’s first-ever Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship this past season.

“Cuonzo is among the most promising young coaches in the game, and we are excited about the coaching ability, toughness, and energy that he brings to our program,” said UT athletic director Mike Hamilton.

Martin will inherit NCAA sanctions and probation as well as big expectations on the court as he tries to replace Pearl.

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How This Year’s NCAA Tournament Would Look If Computers Picked And Seeded The Field

As soon as the NCAA Tournament brackets are announced each year, out come the talking heads, coaches, and fans to complain about the process and its results.  Even with three extra teams in this year’s field, the barking continues.  (As would be the case with a 128-team field, too.)

There’s an easy way to do away with the debate and disputes.  A clear-cut, proven way to end all the seed-whining, bid-complaining and conspiracy-theorizing.

Just BCS it.

BCS the whole NCAA Tournament. 

Now, personally, I think this would be a pretty crummy way of doing business because I rather like the human element playing a role in tournament selection.  Add a couple more basketball folks to the committee and I’d be quite happy with the current system.  It’s not perfect — and it’s never going to be — but for the most part it’s fair. 

Besides, if you’re Team #69 you really don’t have much to complain about because chances are you’re not going to cut down the nets anyway.  And if your team is good enough to actually compete for the title then the difference between a #3 and a #4 or a #4 and a #5 shouldn’t be that big of an obstacle to overcome.

But again, all the arguing can be KO’d by applying a BCS-style formula to the process:

Step 1: The conference tourney winners get automatic bids as they do now.

Step 2: The new formula is used to determine the remaining teams in the field.

Step 3: The field is seeded according to the formula using a standard S-curve (1-8, 2-8, 3-6, 4-5, etc).  Just to keep things neat, the play-in games would go to the eight lowest RPIs in the field with each winner moving on to play a #1 seed.

No fuss.  No muss.  And if a squad sees a conference mate in Round One or has to travel half way around the world to play, they can take it up with the computer that spits out the seedings.

Using the RPI numbers from as our “formula,” here’s the 2011 field and how it would have been seeded.  Realize that human error and bias has — aside from a few computer programmers — been removed from the process.  So no complaining about what you see below.  It’s all math without partiality. 

Each team’s RPI is listed in parentheses. 

Automatic bids from conference tourneys are underlined

Teams not in this year’s actual tournament are in bold

(And for the record, we’ve been working on this since Monday afternoon, but pushed up the posting time when ESPN — dang them — briefly discussed a BCS idea on “SportsCenter.”)

1 Kansas (1)
  1 Ohio State (2)
16 Ala. State (263) / Tx-SA (193)
  16 Ark-LR (188) / UCSB (157)
8 Washington (32)
  8 UAB (31)
9 Tennessee (33)
  9 Butler (34)
5 Louisville (17)
  5 Syracuse (18)
12 Illinois (48)
  12 Georgia (47)
4 Wisconsin (16)
  4 Utah State (15)
13 VCU (49)
  13 Colorado State (50)
6 George Mason (24)
  6 Kansas State (23)
11 Richmond (41)
  11 Cleveland State (42)
3 Notre Dame (9)
   3 Pittsburgh (10)
14 Bucknell (79)
  14 Morehead State (77)
7 UNLV (25)
  7 St. John’s (26)
10 Princeton (40)
  10 Penn State (39)
2 Florida (8)
  2 Kentucky (7)
15 Indiana State (84)
  15 St. Peter’s (93)

1 Duke (4)
  1 San Diego State (3)
16 Boston U (216) / Wofford (109)
  16 Hampton (153) / NC-Asheville (147)
8 Temple (29)
  8 Texas A&M (30)
9 Cincinnati (36)
  9 Harvard (35)
5 Old Dominion (20)
  5 Arizona (19)
12 Michigan State (45)
  12 St. Mary’s (46)
4 Georgetown (13)
  4 Connecticut (14)
13 Oakland (53)
  13 Belmont (51)
6 West Virginia (21)
  6 Xavier (22)
11 UCLA (44)
  11 Missouri State (43)
3 Purdue (12)
  3 Texas (11)
14 Gonzaga (56)
  14 Long Island (75)
7 Memphis (28)
  7 Vanderbilt (27)
10 Missouri (37)
  10 Villanova (38)
2 BYU (5)
  2 North Carolina (6)
15 Akron (107)
  15 N. Colorado (99)

So there you have it.  Using an RPI formula, the field is selected and seeded without the aid of human beings.  Harvard, Cleveland State, Missouri State, St. Mary’s and Colorado State would be in while Michigan, Florida State, Clemson, Marquette and Southern Cal would be out.

As you eyeball the results, remember that the Southeast champ would face the Southwest winner and the East titlist would play West champion at the Final Four in Houston.

Like what you see?  Think folks would quietly, happily accept these results?

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