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Two SEC Teams In Sweet Sixteen (But Not The Two We Expected)

It hasn’t been a stellar year for Southeastern Conference basketball.  First, Kentucky ran away with the regular-season race.  Second, Vanderbilt — which seemed to be putting things together in the SEC tourney — had more ups and downs than anyone expected.  Third, Alabama had more suspensions than anyone ever dreamed.  And finally, Florida had more injuries (especially a year-ender for Will Yeguete) than might have been projected.

So when we broke down the Sweet Sixteen chances for each SEC team in the NCAA tourney field last Tuesday, we projected just two teams surviving.  One — the obvious one — we got right.  The other, not so much.

Here’s how things stand moving forward:

Alabama – We didn’t see the Crimson Tide advancing from a pod that included Missouri Valley champs Creighton and #1 seed in the Midwest North Carolina.  They didn’t.  Bama fell 58-57 in the first round despite holding the high-scoring Blue Jays well below their 80-point average.  Tide fans will tell you a foul should have been called on a late Bama attempt to take the lead, but we’ll tell you what we always say when it comes to officials’ decisions: Teams have 39+ minutes to take the game out of the refs’ hands.

Vanderbilt — We expected Vandy to slip past Wisconsin and into the Sweet Sixteen.  Barely.  In fact, here’s what we wrote of the Commodores: “If VU’s hitting their shots, they can make a long run.  But if they’re cold — as we’ve seen in previous tourneys — they can exit early.”  We gave Vandy the benefit of the doubt that their shooters would stay hot for two games.  Wrong.  In their 60-57 loss to Wisconsin, the Dores shot just 26% from 3-point range (5-of-19) and were adios’d.  Top gunner John Jenkins was just 3-of-13 from the field and just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.  When you live by the three, you die by the three.  Vandy does so every year.

Kentucky — Big whoop, we had the Wildcats reaching the Sweet Sixteen.  Who didn’t?  Thanks to Iowa State’s win over UConn, the Cats avoided one of few teams analysts thought might – might – be able to give them some trouble.  Now the bracket is really setting up nicely for them.  UK should be plenty motivated for their next game as it’s a rematch with Indiana, a team that nipped the Cats on a buzzer-beater in December.  Win that and they’ll face either 3-seed Baylor or 10-seed Xavier.  The #2 seed in the region — Duke — was ousted in the first round.  Another #2 is gone in Missouri.  And UK’s rival #1 seeds are having their own issues — a suspension at Syracuse and a broken wrist at North Carolina.  This is looking more and more like John Calipari’s year.  At least on paper.

Florida — The Gators are the surprise SEC team left in the field.  A #7 seed due to their poor finish (they lost four of their last five entering the tourney), Florida pounded 10-seed Virginia in the opening round 71-45 and then crushed #15 Norfolk State 84-50 yesterday.  Minus Yeguette, the Gators’ had struggled in the frontcourt at year’s end.  Not in the tourney.  As is the case in all tourneys, the Gators had to have a little luck go their way, too, however.  Instead of playing #2 Missouri, they played Norfolk State the team that upset Mizzou.  Against the Tigers, NSU shot 54.2% (32-of-59) and connected on 10-of-19 3-pointers.  Against the Gators, they shot 27.3% (18-of-66) and were just 4-of-24 from 3-point range.  Credit Florida’s defense for some of that, but let’s face it, basketball’s all about who’s hot on a given night.  Norfolk State couldn’t miss a shot on Friday.  By Sunday, they couldn’t throw a ball in the ocean.  So now the Gators will face West #3 Marquette in Phoenix with the winner of #1 Michigan State and #4 Louisville waiting for the victor.  By seeds, those are the best teams Florida could possibly have remaining in their path — #1, #3 and #4.  Rough draw.  But UF’s surprised us once already.  So we’re not going to right them off just yet.

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SEC Headlines 3/18/2012

1. Kentucky 87 – Iowa State 71.  Career-high 24 points for Marquis Teague as Wildcats advance to Sweet 16.

2. Mark Story: “Cats showed strength against Iowa State in every area supposed to be a weakness.”

3. Will Face Indiana – chance at revenge against a Christian.

4. Wisconsin 60 – Vanderbilt 57.  Commodores led 57-56 with over two minutes to play and didn’t score again.

5. Offensive fouls plague Commodores. John Jenkins: “It’s definitely not as painful as last year, but it does hurt.”

6. Florida vs. Norfolk State.  Florida is the smaller team against the Spartans, just like Missouri was, and that has coach Billy Donovan concerned. But size may be Norfolk State’s only advantage.

7. Norfolk State’s victory on Friday had Florida coaches scrambling for tape. They’re also concerned about Kenny Boynton’s shooting slump.

8. What’s the future for Ole Miss and Andy Kennedy?  Uncertain.

9. Alabama basketball and the question of Tony Mitchell’s future. ”Even at full strength, the Tide had trouble sustaining success.”

10. Tennessee is hoping that its most consistent player - Jeronne Maymon – returns to action on Monday night.

11. As the search for a new head coach at Mississippi State gets underway, plenty of questions about their roster for next year.

12. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has spent the offseason studying game film of Drew Brees.

13. The quarterback race at Auburn?  It’s wide open.

14. Florida practiced for the first time in full pads on Saturday.

15. With spring practice getting underway at Georgia this week, here are five storylines to watch.

16. New Kentucky receivers coach Pat Washington says his crew starts with a clean slate.

17. Spring practice and spring games are becoming an increasing allure for recruits – just ask LSU.

18. Former Vol Eric Berry is still loyal to the Volunteers. Two other ex-Vols like what they see in Derek Dooley’s program.


19. The Big 12 was apparently ready to charge the SEC with illegally enticing Missouri to breach its contractual commitment to the Big 12 - but the lawsuit never came to pass. (Hat tip – Chuck

20. Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas on the conference’s new TV deal: “Let me remind you that college football is still a regional sport. Unless you have a big SEC game, it’s not going to rate that well.”

21. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive on re-negotiating the SEC TV contracts: “We feel adding Texas A&M and Missouri has strengthened us in lots of ways, but it certainly strengthened us in television.”

22. March Madness – the perfect time for players to go on strike?

24. Ten wide receivers to keep your eye on in college football this fall.

25. David Climer: “So which way will Manning turn — San Francisco, Denver or Tennessee?”

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