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Next Hoops Season, Just Focus On Your Team’s RPI And Ignore The Game-To-Game Analysis

see_the_big_picture_260The big picture.

In college basketball the big picture is all that matters.  Is your favorite team’s resume good enough to earn it an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament?  The rest of it — the yo-yo, see-saw, roller-coaster, up and down, back and forth freak outs — is meaningless.

Don’t believe us?  OK, then how many Kentucky fans do you think are still sweating the Wildcats’ 72-67 March 1st road loss to South Carolina?  Anyone?

Kentucky began the 2013-14 season with dreams of an undefeated season.  As those dreams quickly disappeared thanks to November and December losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, Big Blue Nation had a Big Blue Conniption.  From messageboards to Twitter, John Calipari was taken to task for not getting the most out of what was basically the world’s best AAU team.  So what if Coach Cal’s players were young and green?  Many UK backers simply weren’t accepting excuses (even legitimate ones).

Things only got worse as the Cats proved themselves to be inconsistent throughout SEC play.  There were two losses to Arkansas.  There was the South Carolina disaster.  There was a 3-4 stretch to end the regular season.  There also was a tie for second place in the SEC with Georgia.

That’s not at all what Kentucky fans and most media members expected to see as the regular season transitioned into tourney season.

Yet here we are, once again reminded that tourney season is really the only season that matters when it comes to college basketball.  The regular season is nothing more than a means of selecting 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament.  The regular-season games themselves?  They mean zip.  Kentucky lost three times to Florida this year.  But who’s in the national title game?  Kentucky, not Florida.

Tennessee lost to a seven-man Vanderbilt squad and lost twice to Texas A&M.  But the Vols still got into the tournament, they reached the Sweet Sixteen and they were just three missed free throws from reaching the Elite Eight.  The regular season that so angered the “Bring Back Bruce” crowd in Knoxville really meant little by season’s end.  The Vols did what they had to do to get in the field and then they took advantage of matchups to keep playing long after Kansas, Ohio State, Duke and Syracuse went home (despite those schools having better regular seasons).

Florida had a magnificent regular season losing just twice.  They were undefeated in SEC play and then they took their in-league record to a sizzling 21-0 in the SEC Tournament.  They were given the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.  But the Gators drew a bad matchup in the national semifinal game and fell to UConn, one of the two teams that beat UF back in the regular season.  So for all those regular-season wins and that top overall seed, UF will still be watching tonight’s championship game along with 349 other D-I schools.

At MrSEC.com, we vow never to go too overboard over the seeding implications of regular-season wins and losses, either.  Once a team is in the field, it’s all a question of matchups.  Matchups mean more than seeds.  Kentucky and UConn were seeded eighth and seventh in their respective regions.  One 10 seed and two 11 seeds reached the Sweet Sixteen this year.  One 11 seed (Dayton) advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.  And obviously none of the 1 seeds made it to tonight’s title bout.

So next basketball season, follow our lead and focus only on three things from November to March:

 

1.  What is my team’s RPI?

2.  What is my team’s strength of schedule?

3.  How close to 20 wins are we and do we still have time to hit that mark?

 

It’s all about being good enough to earn one of the 36 at-large bids handed out by the selection committee.  And all things being equal, that means your favorite squad will probably need to win 20 games, have an RPI inside the top 40 and a SOS rank of 100 or better.  Follow that.  Pay attention to that.  And get off the roller-coaster.

A December loss to North Carolina?  A march loss to South Carolina?  Unless one or the other prevents your team from winning 20 or ranking in the top 40 of the RPI… those regular-season games should be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s time to just admit that fact and focus on the big picture instead.

That’s what we do on this site each year.  And you can bet we’re going to keep doing it moving forward.

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Bielema: Arkansas RB Collins Isn’t Transferring

alex-collinsArkansas running back Alex Collins isn’t going anywhere.  At least not according to head coach Bret Bielema who called social media “reports” that Collins would leave “completely clueless, baseless and senseless.”  

The sophomore-to-be finished seventh in the SEC last season in rushing yards per game with 85.5.  Overall he carried the ball 190 times for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns.  He earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors for his efforts.

But rumors have swirled that Collins might not be happy in Fayetteville, might be facing a multi-game suspension, and might be interested in transferring closer to his South Florida home.  You might recall that on Signing Day 2013 Collins’ mother raised a stink about her son going so far from home to attend college and play football.  Also, Collins was one of nine UA players suspended earlier this offseason, though no specific reason was given.

Bielema said Saturday — as he shot down those transfer rumors — that Collins has “really grown as a person.”  He added:

 

I think the thing about him is he’s had so much success in life, when he had a bump in the road he had a tendency to try to do things his own way.  And he had to learn how to do the things the way we are here.  I couldn’t be more pleased with where he’s at.  He had to grow a lot.  He had to earn respect from some of his teammates.  He’s doing that bit by bit now.”

 

Collins was part of a one-two punch at running back for the Razorbacks last season.  Junior-to-be Jonathan Williams finished with 150 carries, 900 yards and four touchdowns.

If Arkansas is to improve on it’s 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) 2013 season, it will need Collins in the fold and on the field.

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Florida Vies To Pass Kentucky In Recent SEC Hoops Supremacy

florida-dunk-over-kentucky-2014Eighteen years ago, Kentucky basketball was sitting atop its traditional perch looking down the rest of the Southeastern Conference.  Rick Pitino would lead his final Wildcats team to the NCAA Tournament finals.  Tubby Smith would replace Pitino and win UK the national crown a season later.  The two combined for 70 wins in those crossover seasons.

But down in Gainesville, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley had just made a move that would alter the course of SEC basketball for nearly two decades.  He hired a young coach named Billy Donovan.  The former Pitino player and assistant had served just two years as head coach at Marshall before Foley tabbed him to replace Lon Kruger.  Donovan’s record at the West Virginia school was 35-20.  After struggling in his first two years in the Sunshine State, Donovan’s career mark stood at just 62-52.  At that point, few would have guessed that he would be the man to challenge Kentucky’s long-held dominance in the Southeastern Conference.

In many ways, this year’s Final Four — if won by UF or UK — could serve as a sort of rubber match between the two dominant hoops programs.  The numbers including Donovan’s first two rebuilding years also include the final heights of Pitino and Smith at Kentucky.  Take those first two rebuilding seasons out of the mix and Florida has arguably been the SEC’s best basketball program over the last 16 seasons.

Below is a comparison of the programs including the 1996-1997 and 1997-98 seasons:

 

1996-97 through 2013-14

  Category   Florida   Kentucky
  Seasons   18   18
  30-Win Seasons   3   4
  20-Win Seasons   16   17
  NCAA Trips   14   16
  NIT Trips   3   2
  NCAA Titles   2   2
  NCAA Final Fours   4   5
  NCAA Elite Eights   7   7
  NCAA Sweet Sixteens   8   9
  SEC Championships   6   7
  SEC Tourney Championships   4   8
  Overall Winning Pct.   .728   .757

 

While Florida has put up a nice challenge to the Wildcats over that span, UK still retains the crown when you include the end of Pitino and the start of Smith.  While Donovan was rebuilding (27-32 his first two years with the Gators), UK was going 35-5 and 35-4, reaching the NCAA title game twice, and claiming one championship banner.

But how does the story read since Donovan got his program up and running?  Below are the accomplishments of Florida and Kentucky from the 1998-99 season forward:

 

1998-99 through 2013-14

  Category   Florida   Kentucky
  Seasons   16   16
  30-Win Seasons   3   2
  20-Win Seasons   16   15
  NCAA Trips   14   14
  NIT Trips   2   2
  NCAA Titles   2   1
  NCAA Final Fours   4   3
  NCAA Elite Eights   7   7
  NCAA Sweet Sixteens   8   9
  SEC Championships   6   6
  SEC Tourney Championships   4   6
  Overall Winning Pct.   .757   .746

 

While not a complete flip-flop, Florida does hold what we consider to be a slight advantage over Kentucky since 1998-98.  Looking back 16 years instead of 18, Donovan’s two worst years are taken out of the mix.  Also gone are two of UK’s best years.

It also must be noted that while Donovan has been the only man in charge of the Gators during the past 18 seasons, the Wildcats have had four bosses: Pitino, Smith, Billy Gillespie and John Calipari.  Advantage: Florida on the stability front.  However, at his current pace, it appears Calipari is going to have Kentucky flying at high altitudes — right along with Florida — for as long as he remains in Lexington.

This year’s Final Four could result in a third national crown for Florida (over 16 or 18 seasons).  Looking at it only since Donovan built up UF, that would give the Gators a three-to-one advantage in NCAA hardware since 1998-99.  A national title for Kentucky would even the two schools with two crowns apiece since Donovan turned Florida into a national power.

It’s possible, of course, that neither Florida nor Kentucky will win this season’s national title.  Here’s hoping one or the other does cut down the nets in North Texas.  If for no other reason than to further spice up the debate as to whether or not the Gators have surpassed the Wildcats when it comes to recent SEC hoops supremacy.

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SEC Headlines 4/3/2014

headlines-thuSEC Football

1. Report: LSU defensive end Jordan Allen planning to transfer.

2. Mark Richt says redshirt freshman outside linebacker outside linebacker Paris Bostick will transfer from the Georgia program.

3. Announcement coming this afternoon that Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will play at LP Field in Nashville this year.

4. Will Ole Miss have the best secondary in the SEC this fall?

5. Alabama running back Altee Tenpenny is due in court April 10th after being charged with possession of a controlled substance over spring break.

6. Kentucky wants to have its starting quarterback in place before the first game this year.

7. Mississippi State tried Brandon Hollloway at wide receiver but he”ll be a running back this fall.

8. Texas A&M sophomore linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni  on his freshman season: “To be honest with you, it was overwhelming at times a year ago, really in every aspect of the game.”

9. Auburn is the midpoint of their spring schedule. Receiver Marcus Davis: “I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

10. Athlon Sports is inviting Georgia fans to pick a magazine cover.

SEC/NFL

11. ESPN analyst and former NFL player Teddy Bruschi on Jadeveon Clowney: ”Turn in the card now to the commissioner. Just turn it in, because he should be Houston’s No. 1 overall pick.”

12. Steve Spurrier regrets comparing Clowney’s work ethic to that of Marcus Lattimore: “I maybe should not have compared them.”

13. Defensive end Jacques Smith on Tennessee’s pro day.  “This is our last hour of being a Vol.”

SEC Basketball

14. Missouri’s Zach Price – a transfer from Louisville – arrested Thursday morning for assault. Now suspended.

15. As expected, Mizzou guard Jabari Brown enters NBA draft . Has until April 15th to change his mind if he doesn’t like NBA evaluation.

16. Tennessee’s Quinton Chievous is leaving the program. Free to transfer anywhere outside the SEC.

17. Lexington police to Kentucky fans – enough with the fires.

18. Does experience and overcoming adversity give UConn an edge over Florida?

19. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy on the impact J’Mychal Reese’s dismissal had on the season: “It changed the whole kind of organization of our roster…”

20. Alabama coach Anthony Grant on a formidable out-of-conference schedule his team will face next season: “I’m not afraid to fail.”

21. Mike Anderson says help is coming for Ky Madden and the point guard position at Arkansas.

22. USA Today: “The players in this year’s Final Four attend schools where the gap between their scholarships and the total cost of attendance is about $2,300 to $5,400 a year… Yet the coaches…are collecting an average of $3.1 million from their schools for this season.”

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Fox Goes From Hot Seat To Contract Extension At Georgia; SEC A.D.s Starting To Wise Up

gfx-honest-opinionYesterday the University of Georgia announced that it was extending the contract of head basketball coach Mark Fox.  Back on New Year’s Day, most would’ve predicted Fox would be cleaning out his office this month, not putting down new carpet.

Overall, Fox is 84-76 in five years at Georgia.  He’s reached one NCAA Tournament (in his second year) and his SEC record is just 40-44 overall.  But his team began the 2014 season 6-6 in non-conference play.  The Bulldogs were stuck in the 300s in RPI and strength of schedule.  They’d already lost to Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple, Nebraska, Colorado and George Washington.  Their only victories were over Wofford, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina.

For a coach in a make-or-break fifth season, Fox quickly found himself with his back to the wall.  And then came the turnaround that would save Georgia’s season — leading to an NIT bid — and save the coach’s job.

Fox’s team finished 12-6 in the SEC, tied with Kentucky and trailing only Florida.  You might’ve heard that UK and UF will be taking part in this weekend’s Final Four.  The Dawgs managed to add another victory in the SEC Tournament and one more in the NIT to max out at 20-14 on the year.  That was good enough to save Fox and land him a two-year extension that will tie him to Georgia for four more seasons through 2017-18.

Now, that’s hardly a huge reward.  No raise was announced.  And some might say that UGA was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Athletic director Greg McGarity couldn’t very well fire a coach who finished tied with Kentucky for second place in the league, but he wasn’t ready to give Fox a lifetime contract either.  So he gave him a two-year extension — which will make recruiting a tad easier — and stressed that more improvement is expected.

This from McGarity’s press release:

 

“The improvement our team made throughout the 2013-14 season was very encouraging, and with the loss of only one starter, the expectations for the coming season will be very high.  Mark and I discussed not only this past season, but spent the majority of our time focused on the next four-year period.  We discussed our recruiting plans, scheduling, academic progress and continued development of our program moving forward, and Mark fully recognizes the expectations in these key areas.”

 

In other words, “We want better than 20-14 overall and better than a 6-6 non-conference record.”  And, “NCAAs instead of NITs, please.”

But the reality is this: McGarity has seen enough of Fox to feel that building with him is a safer bet than starting from scratch with some other up-and-comer (which is likely the exact type of coach Georgia would have had to hire).  A similar scenario has played out at Tennessee this week as Vol AD Dave Hart announced that Cuonzo Martin — who turned down the Marquette job early Tuesday morning — will remain at UT with an extension and a raise (though contract details have yet to leak).

Martin has led the Vols to two NITs and the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament.  While many fans have demanded that he win at the same clip as Bruce Pearl, the fact is Martin inherited a mess.  He faced NCAA sanctions that impacted recruiting.  He had to clean up what was a poor culture inside the program.  And he had to do it all in Pearl’s shadow with fans clamoring for his return.

Hart, like McGarity, might not have absolute faith in his current head coach, but he has seen enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Again, the message seems to be: “Tis better to build with a guy who’s got a winning record at this school than to rush out and start all over with someone who’s got a winning record at some smaller school.”

Fans want championship banners and anything less is viewed as “settling.”  The truth is it takes time to build a program.  Fox will be in Year Six next season and the expectations will be higher.  Martin’s new contract at Tennessee should afford him a Year Five and Year Six, too.

In a league where only three coaches have been in place for more than five seasons — Billy Donovan at Florida, Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss — it’s a wise move, in our view, for schools like Georgia and Tennessee to start erring on the side of stability for a change.

(CORRECTION — Andy Kennedy was initially left off the list of coaches with five-plus years of tenure.)

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The SEC In The NBA Draft: Who’s In Good Shape And Who Isn’t

nba_logoAs we finish up the final week of the 2013-14 basketball season, players across the nation are announcing their NBA intentions.  In the last three days LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson have both revealed that they will be leaving school and turning pro early.

Every player’s case is unique to them — family issues, monetary needs, scholastic troubles — so it’s impossible to say definitively, “Yes, that guy made a mistake.”  For some a six-figure salary in the Netherlands or Turkey might be an A-OK next step.  For others missing out on the guaranteed contract that comes with being a first-round selection will very much disappoint.

Below is the current list of SEC players as ranked by DraftExpress.com, one of the more trusted, quoted mock drafts on the web.  It’s an indicator of who’s in good shape to land one of those guaranteed NBA contracts and who isn’t…

 

4.  Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, Freshman

12.  Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky, Sophomore

25.  James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky, Freshman

 

That’s it for projected first-round picks, folks.  Three players.  All from Kentucky.  All underclassmen.  Not a single upperclassman from the SEC is expected to be first-round material.

Here’s who’s listed in the second round by DraftExpress…

 

41.  Patric Young, PF/C, Florida, Senior

46.  Jabari Brown, SG, Missouri, Junior

47.  Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Missouri, Junior

49.  Johnny O’Bryant, PF/C, LSU, Junior

50.  Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee, Junior

60.  Jordan McRae, SG, Tennessee, Senior

 

From purely a basketball perspective, Brown, Clarkson, O’Bryant and Stokes should return to school.  Clarkson and O’Bryant have already announced their plans to leave.  But as noted earlier, we don’t know the personal issues facing any of these players.  We don’t know how scouts will view them if they go through workouts for the pros.  And we don’t know if what’s dropped these players deep into the second round this year could be patched up over the course of another collegiate season.

A few other quickie thoughts:

 

*  From the looks of this list, Florida has dominated this season more through the craftiness of veteran players than through sheer NBA talent.  Kudos again to that team and to Billy Donovan.

*  Only three Kentucky kids projected to be drafted?  Why, production at John Calipari’s player factory has darned near slowed to a drip.  (Sarcasm.)

*  Tennessee has two upperclassmen projected to go in the final 11 picks of the draft.  No wonder the Vols made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

*  Missouri, on the other hand, failed to reach the NCAA Tournament with its own pair of slightly higher-rated stars.  Don’t think Tiger fans won’t let Frank Haith hear about that one.

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Clarkson – SEC’s #7 Scorer This Season – Leaves Missouri For The Pros

Jordan+Clarkson+2013+Continental+Tire+Las+VFczzADmhfulJordan Clarkson averaged 17.5 points per game for Missouri last season.  The guard who’d transferred in from Tulsa wound up #7 on the SEC scoring list this season.  But he won’t be back for his senior year.

Clarkson’s father, Mike, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday that his son will turn pro and is planning to sign with an agent, which would make a return to Mizzou an impossibility.  The elder Clarkson is battling cancer and it’s believed his diagnosis led to an uneven performance from his son as the Tigers finished up their season.

The younger Clarkson said:

 

“It’s hard to find the right words to say because this coaching staff, my teammates, this school and these fans have been so incredible to me during my two years here at Mizzou.  Obviously this was not an easy decision for me and my family, but it felt like the right time to take this step in my career, especially with graduation this spring.”

 

Missouri might also lose the SEC’s top scorer in Jabari Brown.  The junior who averaged 19.9 points per game for the Tigers this season is mulling the possibility of an early exit to the NBA as well.

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SEC Headlines 3/28/2014

Friday HeadlinesSEC Football

1. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen on former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron: “He’s a guy I have tremendous respect for and think is a fabulous football coach.”

2. Sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo expected to be a starting slot receiver at Ole Miss this fall.

3. At least for one day, Georgia’s spring practice was open to the media.

4. Auburn defensive lineman Tyler Nero hospitalized following incident at practice.

5. Auburn’s director of external operations Phillip Lolley is leaving to join the staff of the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL.

6. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on the debate over the pace of college football: ”I think the slow-down guys are really not worried about injuries, and I think the speed-up guys are really not worried about how many plays they get.”

7. You can add the kicking game to the list of depleted positions this spring at LSU. Tigers anxiously await the arrival of running back Leonard Fournette.

8. Report: Old Dominion turns down $1.3 million to play at Alabama in 2015.

9. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims spent part of his spring break working out with a private quarterback coach.

10. Is South Carolina safety Brison Williams moving to cornerback this fall?

11. Tennessee was last in the SEC in sacks in 2013.  Vols hope outside linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt can change those numbers this fall. Butch Jones: “We’ll be much more talented, but very youthful.”

12. Kentucky defensive end Marcus Dupree: “Next year will be our year.”

Unionization of college athletes

13. Poll says 75% of Americans oppose the idea but support for the idea from Georgia athletes.

14. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “Of course they should be able to organize.”

15. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: “ I’ve advocated giving college football players and college basketball players a stipend.”

16. Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin: “You pay the tennis player the same as you play the football player. I don’t think that changes.”

SEC/NFL

17. 75 NFL personnel turn out for Johnny Manziel’s pro day. Former President George HW Bush and wife Barbara were in attendance.

18. Where might Auburn’s Dee Ford land?  “I hear a lot of talk about Philadelphia and New Orleans.”

SEC Basketball

19. “Florida coach Billy Donovan is rapidly cementing a reputation as the best coach in the SEC since the late Adolph Rupp.”

20.  ”It is difficult to imagine this Florida team — so close to the Final Four in each of its past four seasons, and more complete than ever before — missing out now.”

21. John Calipari on his relationship with Rick Pitino: ”I would say we’re friends.”

22. “The Vols enter the Midwest Regional semifinal against Michigan acting like a team scorned.”

23. Auburn playing UAB in the future?  ”We would love it.”

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Martin’s Last Stand At Tennessee? Vol Coach Has Plenty Of Reasons To Bolt

cuonzo-martin-hand-up-presserExcuse Cuonzo Martin if he’s not feeling all warm and fuzzy about his current job at Tennessee these days.  Sure, he’s got the Vols in the Sweet 16 against Michigan tonight.  Yes, he’s just one step away from reaching the Elite Eight and equaling the best work by his predecessor, a ghost that’s haunted him from his first day in Knoxville.  But this year has been far from easy for the Vols’ stoic third-year coach.

While his team was picked for third place in the SEC and not ranked in most preseason top 25 lists, many Volunteer fans assigned much greater expectations.  So when Martin’s team struggled with inconsistency for the first two-thirds of the season, things turned ugly.  More than 36,000 people signed an online petition to bring back then-on-the-market Bruce Pearl, the man who had left UT’s program under an NCAA cloud.  It was that very NCAA cloud that chased away more proven candidates and left Martin as the first man to say yes to the Volunteers’ offer.

The petition might not have been the worst of things.

According to VolQuest.com — the Rivals.com site covering Tennessee (paywall) — we learn that “multiple donors indicated to the athletic department that they no long wished to allow their private planes to be used for basketball recruiting purposes.”  That was in February, the site reports.  And it’s not surprising.

This isn’t a new move at Tennessee (or elsewhere, for the matter).  The Vols’ budget jumped during the Derek Dooley tenure for the same reason — the school had to start buying airline tickets for coaches on the recruiting trail rather than just using donated booster planes.

Martin didn’t get very much support from his boss through the season’s struggles, either.  Dave Hart — who inherited Martin — made it clear early on that he wanted to see “tournament success.”  MrSEC.com learned through an NCAA/NIT source last week that if the Volunteers had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament they would not have accepted a bid to play in the NIT.  Coupled with Hart’s silence, it’s not hard to figure out that Martin was likely standing right on the razor’s edge on Selection Sunday, desperately needing a bid.

But now his team is playing its best basketball of the season.  That’s not unusual.  Martin’s first team won eight of its last nine regular-season games.  Ditto his second squad.  And this year’s team is in the middle of an 8-1 nine-game stretch as well.  His first team — picked near the bottom of the SEC — managed to finish second in the league.  Last year’s club managed to work its way onto the NCAA bubble despite playing all season without preseason All-SEC first-teamer Jeronne Maymon.

In five years as a coach at Tennessee and Missouri State, Martin has won 19 or more games five times.  That’s hardly the work of a “bad” or “terrible” coach as so many folks have written on messageboards and Twitter over the first four months of the season.

Ah, but Martin lacks the personality of Pearl.  Nevermind that everyone else also lacks the personality of Pearl.  Vol fans wanted to see more fire from their coach.  In addition, they also wanted to see an up-tempo squad, like the ones Pearl put on the floor during his first three seasons in Knoxville.

Ironically, Martin’s team may still be alive because it does not play with such a style.  According to Ken Pomeroy’s stat-geek-heaven site KenPom.com, only three of the teams reaching the Sweet 16 this year ranked in the top 100 of his tempo category (possessions per 40 minutes).  Five squads — including Tennessee and SEC rival Florida — ranked outside the top 300.  Fast-pace teams rarely win in national championships (exceptions over 20 years: Rick Pitino’s Louisville, Gary Williams’ Maryland, Rick Pitino’s Kentucky, Nolan Richardon’s Arkansas).

So one of the things most often cited as a negative by the anti-Cuonzo/”Bring Back Bruce” crowd is likely a very big reason Martin’s team is having success now.

Martin has worked himself off the firing line, obviously, and now he’s in line for an extension and a raise.  Many Vol fans — those who supported Martin all along and those who’ve been won over by UT’s hot finish — are now hoping that the petition used against Martin and his recruiting and his program won’t come back to bite the school in the rear.  One pro-Tennessee website even penned an open letter to Martin this week begging for forgiveness. 

Why the sudden fear?  Because Martin might jilt UT if he gets a chance.  Could you blame him?  Now, his name has not been connected to any of the current openings at Wake Forest, Boston College, or Marquette (to name a few).  That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some unreported back-channel communication between those schools and Martin’s representatives.

If Tennessee loses tonight and sees what has to be deemed a successful season come to close, will it be Martin’s last game with the Volunteers?  Next year figures to be a rebuilding year if the squad loses junior Jarnell Stokes to the NBA or Europe.  Many of the same fans who’ve gone from “hate him” to “love him” over the last three weeks will more than likely slide right back into the “hate him” camp after two or three losses next season.  Martin must know that.  And while he’s not talked about the petition or the lack of booster planes, he’s had to deal with both.  (Think that petition helped his recruiting efforts?)

For now, win or lose tonight, it looks as though Tennessee will be set to cough over some more cash to its coach in order to bring him back.  Whether or not Martin accepts UT’s cash and a contract extension is still very much in question.  Things have changed from February to now.  The Volunteers are no longer in control of the situation.  The ball is now clearly in Martin’s court.  For Tennessee fans hoping to hang onto him, they’d better be hoping he’s a forgiving man.

Update: Marquette Targets Cuonzo Martin

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The End Is Nigh (For College Sports As We Knew Them); What The NLRB’s Ruling Means For The SEC

repent-the-end-is-nigh-ye-must-be-cleansedA representative of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that Northwestern football players are employees of that university, not student-athletes.  And they are employees who help the school bring in a large amount of money.

From NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to athletic directors’ offices across the nation, a long series of gulps and forehead slaps likely followed that announcement.

What does this mean to you, the fan?  It means that college football as you’ve always known it is one step closer to becoming a pay-for-play enterprise.  If that sounds good to you, just mull the possibilities (likelihoods?) over for a few minutes.

While yesterday’s ruling by the regional director of the NLRB’s Chicago office only opens the door for players at private schools to unionize, it won’t take long for attorneys to figure out some way to create something akin to a union at public schools.  (The National Labor Relations Board does not have jurisdiction when it comes to state-run institutions.)  And while the NLRB’s Northwestern ruling will be appealed, we’ve already seen that in at least one case — the first test case — at least one decision-maker has sided with the players and their attorney.  It’s likely then that there would be others at the NLRB who would agree with that decision.  Translation: Attorneys now have a battle plan.  And if one person views players as employees, it’s certainly possible that their will be likeminded individuals in the appellate courts or even the Supreme Court when this case winds its way through the justice system.

Attorneys are already feeling emboldened these days.  The Ed O’Bannon case has been cleared to go to trial this summer.  Another gauntlet was thrown down earlier this month when sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler announced he would sue the NCAA and the major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) on antitrust grounds on behalf of another group of athletes.

That’s one case that’s already been given the initial okey-dokey, another that’s going to trial this summer and another that’s coming down the pike if Kessler is to be believed (and he is).

Eventually, college football players will be paid.  The goal of the initial Northwestern move to unionize was to create full-cost-of-tuition scholarships/stipends for players.  And while there are other issues at play — research into concussion- and health-related issues, medical insurance, licensing of players’ likenesses, etc — the bottom line is simple: Players want a piece of the pie.

So let’s say we do end up in a world where college football players are allowed to unionize.  How long will those athletes be satisfied with full-cost-of-tuition scholarships?  Here’s guessing they’ll be just as greedy as the presidents, ADs and conference commissioners have been when it comes to pocketing cash.

How long before college basketball players push for a cut of profits?  The smaller the revenue brought in by a sport the less likely something akin to a union will be OK’d.  Still, if an attorney believes he can help college basketball players grab some loose change here or there, you can bet he’ll have little trouble finding players to represent.

If players are paid and they are unionized, get ready for strikes and threats of strikes when athletes — or attorneys representing athletes — decide they have some new desire that isn’t being met by the NCAA’s system.  Get ready for agent involvement as well.  If players are paid, they will need someone to help them with their cash and their taxes.  That or get ready to lose a star tailback to IRS issues.

Worst-case scenario?  Your favorite college football team could start facing the same problems as your favorite pro football team: stars asking for more money, free agency, hold-outs, etc.

Sound promising?

For now, at least, we’re talking about one private school and one ruling that could be appealed for years, all the way up to the Supreme Court.  But yesterday’s ruling was a helluva start for college athletes and the lawyers and attorneys hoping to represent them.

So what does this mean for your SEC in the short-term?  Commissioner Mike Slive put out a statement yesterday saying, “Notwithstanding today’s decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend.”  No surprise there.  Representatives of the NCAA and other major conferences have all responded in kind.  Yesterday’s ruling was not a welcomed one as it’s literally the opening of Pandora’s box.

As a private institution, Vanderbilt will likely be the first SEC school to face a union challenge, a la Northwestern.  Will Commodore football players vote to follow in their Northwestern counterparts’ footsteps?  Hard to imagine why they wouldn’t.

Elsewhere, state labor laws will apply.  State schools are not covered by the NLRB.  Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are all right-to-work states.  A college football players union would be a no-go in those states.  That does not mean, however, that some attorney won’t be able to coax some players into striking (or threatening to strike) if they see that athletes in other states are making money while they are not.

The power is with the players on this one.  If they don’t play, schools lose money.  Would a university stand it’s ground and lose revenue or would it rush to reach some sort of agreement with its football players?  We’d bet the latter.  (The major conferences have already been pushing the NCAA for the right to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships in the hopes of fending off such a battle.  It’s likely they’ll be granted that power by the end of the year.)

There were two states from the SEC footprint that were not mentioned in the list above; Kentucky and Missouri are not right-to-work states.  They could be the first SEC schools — aside from private Vanderbilt — face a union or union-like challenge.

But this is actually a moot point.  If one SEC school provides X for its football players — due to a court ruling, a union, or just an internal decision — the rest of the league’s schools will have to follow suit.  No SEC school will want to be a non-paying school recruiting against one or more paying schools.  So if the Northwestern decision holds up in the long run, you can expect every school — right-to-work states or not, unions or not — to match what the Northwestern administration is eventually forced to pay.

Again, this could all play out over years.  It will be appealed repeatedly.  But the die has been cast.  And the end is nigh for college sports as we know them.

UPDATE — Former Missouri receiver TJ Moe seems to view the prospect of college football unions much as we do.

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