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UT’s Martin Angles For A Raise? That’s Quite The PR Blunder

Cuonzo-martin-tight-all-orangeThe Knoxville News-Sentinel reported yesterday afternoon that “a source with knowledge of the situation” told the paper that Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and his agent “will pursue an extension and possible renegotiation of his current contract when or if Tennessee reaches out this offseason.”

A tip for Martin and his agent: You don’t let it leak that you want a raise just one week after losing a first-round NIT game to Mercer in front of 4,000 fans in your home arena.

Let’s repeat that: You don’t let it leak that you want a raise just one week after losing a first-round NIT game to Mercer in front of 4,000 fans in your home arena.

Martin currently makes $1.3 million which ranks 10th in the Southeastern Conference among basketball coaches.  Only Johnny Jones (LSU), Rick Ray (Mississippi State), and Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M) make less per year than Tennessee’s coach.

But aside from Tony Barbee — who’s stealing $1.5 million at Auburn — who should Martin be moved ahead of on the league’s salary chart?  He just finished his fifth year as a head coach, his second at Tennessee.  He’s never reached an NCAA Tournament.  He’s still an unproven commodity.

John Calipari and Billy Donovan deserve to be at the top of the conference in pay.  Mike Anderson hasn’t reached an NCAA tourney with Arkansas yet, but he certainly did at Missouri and UAB.  Anthony Grant has been to the Big Dance.  So have Mark Fox, Frank Haith, Kevin Stallings, and now Andy Kennedy.  Frank Martin just finished a horrible first season at South Carolina, but his NCAA Tournament record at Kansas State suggests the Gamecocks will improve on his watch.

So what’s the argument for Martin to get a raise?  Well, it’s threefold:

 

1.  In two years, Martin has led UT to a ho-hum 39-28 overall record, but he inherited a bigger mess than most Volunteer fans are willing to admit.  His first team was picked to finish 11th in the then-12 team SEC.  A late run actually landed Tennessee the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament and put them on the NCAA bubble.

This past year, first-team All-SEC preseason selection Jeronne Maymon — truly the leader of UT’s team — was lost for the entire season due to complications from offseason knee surgery.  But Martin led the Vols to another strong finish and back to the NCAA tourney bubble.

All things considered, that’s not bad work.

 

2.  It’s believed that if Martin isn’t extended, rivals will use it against him in recruiting battles.  That may be true, but negative recruiting will always exist.  If it’s not Martin’s contract, rivals will focus on something else.  Still, it’s a possible reason to renegotiate and extend.

 

3.  Tennessee might need to quiet the “Bring Back Bruce” chants before they begin.  (Technically, they already appear to be a little late on that front.)  Ex-coach Bruce Pearl will be eligible for NCAA “parole” when his show-cause penalty expires after next season.  There is a segment of the Vol fanbase that wants the highly-successful, affable showman to return to Thompson-Boling Arena.

While we’ve been told the only way Pearl would get another shot would be if the school replaced it’s president, chancellor, AD, board of trustees, and several key donors — in other words, it ain’t happenin’ — there will be a groundswell of fan support for Pearl should Martin and his team struggle at all next season.  Hey, UT fans never gave up on the Jon Gruden dream, did they?  So you better believe the Bruce Brigade will champion the return of their ex-coach regardless of how unrealistic that option might be.

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WOW Headlines – 3/26/13

Alabama will host Maryland in a third-round NIT game on Tuesday night
Video has now surfaced of Ole Miss G Marshall Henderson making obscene hand gestures toward the crowd after his team lost to LaSalle in the NCAA Tournament
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says QB Johnny Manziel’s push of a graduate assistant during a recent practice has been overblown
Georgia WR Malcolm Mitchell expects to “make a jump” this year because he won’t be asked to spend time in the UGA secondary
New Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillispie will make $300,000 this year
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Thought Of The Day – 3/26/13

Good Tuesday to you.  Good luck to Alabama in the NIT tonight.  Fittingly enough, “Alabama Pines” was the first song off the MrSEC.com iPod today.

 

“The AC hasn’t worked in 20 years, probably never made a single person cold.  But I can’t say the same for me.”

 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Alabama Pines

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More Bids And Better Seeds For The SEC? The League So Far Has Proven The Committee Correct

gfx - honest opinionThe Southeastern Conference has played four postseason games so far.  Kentucky lost at tiny Robert Morris.  Tennessee lost at home to tiny Mercer.  Missouri was about as much challenge to Colorado State last night as a tiny mouse to a big cat.

Half the SEC teams invited into the NCAA Tournament or NIT have been booted in their tourney’s first round.  (Sorry, NCAA, but we’re not going to call what’s really the first round the second just because you’ve stuck four play-in games in front of it.)

Ah, but Alabama knocked off Northeastern at home in its first NIT game.  Hurrah!  That’s the lone positive so far for the SEC.

Like it or not, unless Ole Miss and Florida both go on long, long tourney runs the rest of the nation will have its perception of the SEC — that it’s down — reinforced.  I would throw Alabama onto that list, but upsets make more of an impression on fans’ minds than who actually wins the NIT.  Can you even name last year’s champ?  (Stanford.)

Granted, Kentucky and Tennessee clearly had no interest of playing in a secondary tourney once their NCAA bubbles burst.  Unfortunately for them that point isn’t bolted to the box scores that have now been posted for all-time on hundreds of sports websites.  No one cares why they lost… just that they lost… to Robert Morris and Mercer.

Mizzou, well, it had no excuse.  The Tigers made the dance.  They faced a team from the Mountain West, a league that many of us down South said wasn’t worthy of five bids.  Well, as Charles Barkley said last night, the MWC was better at the top than the SEC this year.  Hell, it was probably better at the bottom, too, but that’s beside the point.  Missouri didn’t even bother to lead for 37 minutes and then choke the game away.  The Tigers looked like the lesser team from first tip to final buzzer.  So much for the SEC deserving one or two of the bids Mountain West teams received.

Amazingly, in our comment boxes have appeared this week suggestions that the NCAA selection committee chose to keep SEC teams out of the tourney because of a Northern bias.  We’ve also seen it proposed that dissing the SEC is a way for the NCAA to send money to other conferences who don’t win in football.  Riiiiiight.

Odd that LSU athletic director Joe Alleva — who was on this year’s committee — would help cover up such an anti-SEC conspiracy.  It’s equally odd that the last time the SEC got only three NCAA bids was in 2009 when league commissioner Mike Slive actually chaired the selection panel.  His response then: “We’ve got to schedule better.”

Clearly Slive must be a double-agent.  Perhaps he’s even a double-naught.  Probably got those Cuban cigars he loves from Castro his own self.

Hey, the SEC was shafted this season because it deserved the shaft.  A fourth SEC team could have gotten into the tourney.  Tennessee’s numbers made it bubble-worthy.  But Tennessee and the SEC didn’t get that fourth bid.  And Tennessee certainly didn’t set out to prove the committee wrong as it yawned its way through an embarrassing home loss in front of 5,000 people and a handful of crickets.

So let’s just stop all the whining and whimpering.  The SEC’s lack of bids doesn’t trace to a Free Masons plot.  It traces to a crummy non-conference schedule trumped only by a crummier non-conference record.

As for the NIT, sorry Arkansas fans, but the SEC’s overall suckitude in 2012-13 and so far in the postseason suggests once more that the Hogs shouldn’t be squealing about their omission from that tourney, either.  You guys finished behind the three SEC squads who’ve already slipped on banana peels.

If SEC fans want the league’s bid odds to improve next year, you better be pulling hard for Ole Miss today at 12:40pm ET (against Wisconsin) and for Florida tonight at 7:27pm ET (against Northwestern State).  So far the perception of a weak SEC has been reinforced in tournament play.  There’s only one way to change that perception going into next season — win some games with America watching.

Rebels and Gators, the SEC banner is in your hands.

 

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WOW Headlines – 3/21/13

Tennessee was upset 75-67 by Mercer last night in the first round of the NIT
The SEC is now just 1-2 in the NIT with only Alabama moving on as Kentucky and Tennessee fall
Alabama has hired former player and former Tennessee football coach Bill Battle as its new athletic director
Mal Moore stepped down as Alabama’s AD yesterday citing health issues
Missouri will open NCAA Tournament play on Thursday versus Colorado State
Ole Miss WR Philander Moore has been dismissed from the Rebel football team following an arrest for domestic assualt
Alabama has announced that it will open the 2015 football season in Arlington, TX against Wisconsin
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Boxscore Breakdown: Mercer 75 – Tennessee 67

NIT LogoTennessee had a 27-26 lead  with just over two minutes to go in the first half.  They never led again.  Mercer had a 34-28 lead at half and didn’t  look back. The Vols couldn’t  get any closer than four points the rest of the way. Mercer beats Tennessee 75 – 67.

Trae Golden led Tennessee with 20 points. Jarnell Stokes had another double-double – 14 points and 13 rebounds.

- Mercer shot 50% from the field (26-52) while Tennessee shot just 37.9% (22-58)

- Tennessee lost despite a huge rebounding advantage.  Vols outrebounded the Bears 38-24.

- Both teams connected on seven three-pointers and made 16 free throws.

The SEC is now 1-2 in NIT play.  With Kentucky and Tennessee losing, only Alabama is left.

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WOW Headlines – 3/20/13

Kentucky was upset 59-57 at Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT Tuesday night
Alabama ousted Northeastern 62-43 in its first-round NIT game Tuesday
Tennessee will host Mercer Wednesday night as it opens NIT play
Five-star freshman Florida LB Alex Anzalone will miss the rest of spring practice with a torn labrum
Ole Miss DE CJ Johnson will miss the rest of spring practice with a broken foot
Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both planning to increase their recruiting budgets for football
The poisoned oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn will be removed on April 23rd
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What Does Last Night’s NIT Loss Mean For Kentucky? Not Much

john-calipariFirst, if you needed further proof that the SEC was down this year, the University of Kentucky’s loss at Robert Morris last night is the smoking gun.  A UK roster stacked with future pros should have been able to beat the Colonials just by exiting their team bus.  It didn’t.

The SEC could have gotten four teams into the NCAA Tournament, but there’s no strong argument that it should have.  And for all the barking that this or that SEC team was better than La Salle or MTSU, the fact is a team that tied for second place in the conference just lost to Robert Morris in the NIT.

Now, what does that loss mean for Kentucky hoops moving forward?  Probably not a lot.

John Calipari has landed four signing classes in a row that were historically good.  The first three helped him lead the Wildcats to an Elite Eight, then to a Final Four, and then to a national title.  This year’s class never jelled — even before Nerlens Noel’s season-ending injury — but that’s not going to change UK’s build-it-up-tear-it-down-build-it-up approach.  Calipari already has another deep, stellar class on the hook.

Some have suggested that this year’s team lacked the leadership provided by one or two veterans, something last year’s banner-raising squad had in sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.  Senior Darius Miller was in many ways last year’s team’s glue.

With the Wildcats’ lack of success this year, Kentucky might have a more few returnees than expected next year and that could provide the experience this year’s squad lacked.  At least that’s the theory.  While Noel is still expected to be a top five NBA pick even with his ACL tear, guys like Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin said after last night’s loss that they don’t feel ready for the next level.  So there you have it.

But if several players do return and Calipari inks five or six new all-everything players, who’ll get the minutes next season?

Before yesterday’s game, UK’s coach said he wasn’t worried about that:

 

“This may be a group of four-year players.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Why is everybody panicked?  So they’re four-year players?  So?  You move, you get another group and now you have a nice big team and you take on the world.”

 

But when asked specifically if some of the players who didn’t listen and didn’t play well this year might be shown the door, the coach said:

 

“Well, we’ll sit down and all that stuff when the time is right and that’s when the season is over.”

 

Shockingly, the season is now over just one game into Kentucky’s NIT run.  Who returns and who signs will be the most followed story in the Bluegrass State this offseason.  Calipari could find himself in a bit of a pickle on that front.

If the coach runs some of this year’s players off, it might make some star five-star players leery of joining his program in the future.  And if he keeps everyone and simply buries a few players on the bench, you can bet that rival coaches will tell future recruits that Lexington no longer provides a guaranteed path to the National Basketball Association.

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SEC Hoops: Kentucky Goes Down, Alabama Advances In NIT

basketballsRobert Morris 59 – Kentucky 57

1. A one-and-done NIT for Kentucky.  Season comes to an end in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.   John Calipari: “It’s a humbling experience — but also a learning experience.”

2. Freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein indicate they’re coming back. Stein on whether or not he’s ready to go to the NBA: Nobody’s ready for it. I don’t think anybody’s ready for it mentality-wise, body-wise, athletic-wise.”

3. What about point guard Ryan Harrow? “I can’t go anywhere (would have to sit out a year if he transferred). So I’ll be here next year and just getting ready for next year.”

Alabama 62 – Northeastern 43

4. Levi Randolph sparks Crimson Tide to victory – leads Alabama with a game high 13 points.

5. Announced crowd of 2,889. “Alabama players seem more enthusiastic about playing in the NIT than fans.”

6. Alabama will play Stanford next.

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There’s No Room For Crying Across The SEC Today

crying-baby-boyThere should be no crying in the land of popped bubbles today.  No whining should emanate from Dixie.  The NCAA’s selection committee made its choices yesterday and 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams simply didn’t deserve to go dancing this year.

Alabama ended its season at 20-12 with an RPI of 60 and a strength of schedule of 76 (non-conference of 84).  Worse, the Tide was 0-6 against RPI top 50 teams and had three losses outside the top 100… plus another outside the top 200.  If Anthony Grant’s team wanted in, it needed more than a win over Tennessee in Nashville (as we told you on Friday).  UA needed to take down Florida but it didn’t/couldn’t.

Kentucky had a slightly better record at 21-11, but it’s RPI was 57.  It’s strength of schedule was 70.  It’s non-conference SOS was 73.  While the Cats did manage three top 50 RPI wins, they also suffered three sub-100 losses.  But the real undoing of John Calipari’s fourth squad was the season-ending knee injury to Nerlens Noel back on February 12th.  Needing to prove that they could thrive without their big man, UK instead went 4-4 down the stretch.  That includes three losses in the Wildcats’ last four games, all to teams with RPI of 95 or worse.

Tennessee had a bubble-worthy resume, but there should be no complaining from the Volunteer State.  Good enough for the conversation?  Yes.  Definitely better than some other teams who landed at-large bids?  Hardly.  UT’s strength of schedule was 58 and its RPI 59.  It’s non-conference SOS was a solid 47.  Tennessee was 3-5 against top 50 RPI foes.  All pretty good.  But the Vols had a pair of sub-100 losses.  Those twin losses to Georgia (RPI 140) and an annual SEC Tournament flop — this time against Alabama — sealed the Vols’ fate.  UT surely had its chances.  Even going back to November the Vols went three-of-11 from the foul line against Georgetown in a 37-36 loss.  Hit two more free throws and beat the Hoyas (RPI 11 and a #2 seed in the tourney) and the Vols might have made the field.  In the end, UT left too much fruit hanging on the tree.

As for Arkansas and LSU not making the NIT field, well, that’s just further proof that the NIT has improved since the NCAA has taken it over.  Still a bracket for also-rans, the NIT is now forced to take those teams who won their conference’s regular season title only to be upset in their conference tourney.  That’s a good thing for the little guy.  It’s a bad thing for all the middle-of-the-road, big conference teams that used to fill the field.

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