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Alabama Shifting To A Hurry-Up Offense? Not Likely

gfx-they-said-it4One of the nation’s most vocal critics of the no-huddle, hurry-up offense trend that’s taken over college football has been Nick Saban.  His new offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, hasn’t run that type of offense at Tennessee or Southern Cal, either.  Put two and two together and four would seem to point to a pro-style offense being run once again at Alabama this fall.

But that hasn’t stopped reporters from asking about the potential for a change.  Last week, Saban said he didn’t want to switch to a spread offense because his team may not have enough mobile quarterbacks who “can go in there and play at the same level” as a starter who might hurt.

Now, tight end Brian Vogler has shed a bit more light on the subject and he also makes it sound as though the roster would preclude a switch to a spread, hurry-up attack:

 

“It’s hard for me to say right now if that would work for us.  I think we’re a team that’s made to be maulers.  Guys are just going to be really physical with you, hit you from every aspect of the game and hit you in every direction.  I just don’t know if that’s really our style of being speedy and trying to be elusive around everybody and dodge people like other schools do.”

 

Since 2008, Alabama has gone 72-9 and won three national titles.  If it ain’t broke, right?  Now, Bama might not always be the yardage kings of the SEC, that’s true.  But they do put points on the board.  Aside from finishing fifth in the league in scoring offense in 2008, the Crimson Tide has ranked among the four highest-scoring squads in the SEC from 2009 right on through last season.

In other words, don’t expect to see a hurry-up style from the home team at Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall.

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SEC Hoops Roundup: Arkansas, LSU & Texas A&M All Bounced From Postseason Play

gfx-hoops-round-up2Cal 75 – Arkansas 64

1. Razorbacks end their season at 22-12 after missing 14 straight during a stretch that lasted more than eight minutes.

SMU 80 – LSU 67

2. Tigers end their season at 20-14.  Has junior forward Johnny O’Bryant played his last game for LSU?

Illinois State 62 – Texas A&M 55

3. Aggies finish at 18-16 - won one road game all season.

With last night’s losses, only three SEC teams left in postseason play and all are in the NCAA Tournament – Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

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3 SEC Teams Still Alive In The NCAAs? Sweet, But The League Still Stunk

pondering-300x199Kudos to the Southeastern Conference teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament.  Three teams in the tourney, all three still dancing their way into the Sweet Sixteen.  Hard to complain about that showing.  In fact, it’s tempting to say that the SEC was underrated this season.

But it wasn’t.  The league as a whole was still pretty darn bad.

In 2013-14 the SEC had one great team (Florida) and two pretty good teams that have gotten hot at the right time (Kentucky and Tennessee).  Five teams (Alabama, Vanderbilt, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State) finished the season with losing records overall.  That’s eight teams, so how did the other six SEC squads out of the NCAA Tournament but boasting winning records do against Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee?

 

Arkansas 2-2

Texas A&M 2-2

LSU 1-4

Missouri 1-4

Georgia 0-4

Ole Miss 0-4

 

That’s a combined 6-20 versus the three squads that received NCAA bids.  Mix that in with the five squads that finished with losing records, toss in several ugly non-conference losses across the league, and it’s easy to see why NCAA selection panelists frowned upon the SEC this season.

Having said that, it is certainly possible that the NCAA selection committee underseeded Kentucky and Tennessee due to their bad home league.  The Wildcats should have probably been a five or six seed based on their record and RPI.  And teams with Tennessee’s selection Sunday RPI have been seeded as high as seven and nine in recent years.  So we’ll give you that that much was botched.

But we were referring to the SEC as a three-bid league as far back as December.  We see no need for revision now.  No other SEC teams can legitimately claim that they did enough to earn an NCAA bid.

Now a few other random notes…

 

*  The SEC will get a fatter chunk of cash for this tourney because three teams have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen round.  Repeatedly getting three teams into the tourney has cut down on the earning power of the league.  But with every game won, the SEC receives a bigger slice of the tournament revenue pie.  Mike Slive’s league is wealthy to begin with, but the more money the better.  Obviously.

*  Might the SEC’s performance this year help during the tournament selection process next year?  Well, it certainly can’t hurt.  The league has developed a reputation over the past few years for being a bad basketball league.  It was ranked 7th among conferences in RPI this year.  The SEC went so far as to put a new czar in charge of hoops prior to the season in the hopes of gradually building the league back into a five- and six-bid conference.  That will take time.  Having national pundits point to the fact that three SEC teams are still playing in the NCAA tourney will help on the national perception front.  But as far as invitations in 2015?  The selection committee has a history of looking only at the current year’s numbers, not past years’ successes.  Ask Kentucky fans.  Last season the defending national champs had their bubble popped and were shipped to the NIT.  So national perception — yes, this helps.  Tournament selection in the future — it might not make a bit of difference.

*  I can think of two SEC coaches who might like to tell a few of their teams’ fans to stick it right about now.  John Calipari’s first four years in Lexington resulted in three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, a national title and — uh-oh — an NIT bid.  This year his kindergarten Cats “stumbled” to a 26-10 record.  Talk shows and messageboards and social media heated up.  Coach Cal was taking plenty of guff.  ”How can a guy with so much talent not win?”  But basketball seasons are long and winding roads, to paraphrase The Beatles.  UK has won five of its last seven with the only losses coming to top-ranked Florida.  After knocking off previously unbeaten Wichita State yesterday, UK has a date with Louisville this week for the right to play in yet another Elite Eight.  It’s interesting that the Calipari-to-the-NBA rumors started floating earlier than normal this season.  One wonders if UK’s coach has grown tired of the “#1 or bust” attitude of many spoiled Kentucky fans.  Or if he or someone close to him leaked such information just to remind Big Blue fans that they’d better appreciate him and his program’s current run of success.

*  Cuonzo Martin has had it worse than Calipari.  Three years ago he took over a Tennessee program that no one else wanted.  NCAA clouds left overhead by the Bruce Pearl administration were ominous and spooky.  In his first season he managed to coach a UT team picked near the bottom of the SEC into a second-place league finish.  His second team wound up on the wrong side of the bubble, but the Vols were still in the mix despite losing preseason All-SEC big man Jeronne Maymon for the year.  This year, UT was picked for third place in the SEC.  They finished fourth by one game.  Fans barked for Martin’s head.  More than 30,000 signed a petition to bring Pearl back.  AD Dave Hart was so torn that had Martin not gotten an NCAA bid eight days ago he might have been fired.  But Tennessee has now won eight of its last nine games with the only loss coming to Florida.  Most of those wins have been of the blowout variety.  UT is now 3-0 in the NCAAs and suddenly Martin has leverage.  While Calipari might be able to jump to the NBA, Martin might be looking around at other college jobs in case he wants to get while the getting is good and re-start his coaching clock somewhere else.  (Somewhere else where tens of thousands of fans don’t sign petitions to bring back ex-coaches.)

*  It might be time for the NCAA to ditch its RPI formula and just use Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.  The hoops fan/math geek has done some nice work over at KenPom.com this year, as usual.  Of the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA tourney, Pomeroy has 14 of them ranked in his top 21.  Only Stanford (34) and Dayton (43) are distant from the main pack.  For the record, Pomeroy has Florida #1, Tennessee #6 and Kentucky #11 in his current national rankings.  If nothing else, the NCAA selection committee might steal a glance at his rankings next March before they start handing out seeds.

 

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: A Roundup of Commitments

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxStephen Griffin couldn’t wait any longer to choose a school.

The defensive back from South Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, N.C., committed to Tennessee on Thursday. He made the decision more quickly than he anticipated.

“I had talked about it earlier and I knew I was going to commit there,” Griffin told Volquest.com. “I planned on waiting until after the spring game but I guess I just couldn’t wait.”

Griffin, who once lived in Knoxville, is already looking forward to joining 2014 defensive back signees Todd Kelly Jr. and Emmanuel Moseley, who enrolled at Tennessee in January.

The Vols coaching staff convinced Griffin he will be able to fit in with Tennessee’s young secondary.

“They treated me like a priority and that they really wanted me there and I could see myself playing there because my friend Todd Kelly and I used to go to preschool together and I used to live in Knoxville,” Griffin said. “Then, I made a connection with Emmanuel Moseley, too. It just felt like home there and that it was the place for me. They seemed the most interested, too.”

Clemson’s another school that has shown interest in Griffin, whose father, Steve Griffin, played running back for the Tigers from 1982-86. But Griffin said he had limited contact with Clemson until word traveled that he had committed to Tennessee.

“I got a message from one of (Clemson’s) coaches (Thursday) and they said to call them,” Griffin told Volquest. “But, over the last several months I haven’t really been receiving much interest from them.

“I feel like I’m pretty solid as of now because if they heat up it would feel weird because I don’t understand why they weren’t doing it earlier.”

Griffin is the ninth prospect and first defensive back to commit to Tennessee’s class of 2015.

 

South Carolina gets one Bowman brother, loses another

Wide receiver Michael Bowman from Havelock (N.C.) High School gave South Carolina good news when he committed to the Gamecocks’ 2015 class on Thursday.

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Georgia’s Richt Catches Heat For Recent Arrests; “Perception” Issues Remain

On Monday, four Georgia football players were arrested for cashing UGA-issued scholarship checks twice.  Folks from ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit to legendary UGA kick Kevin Butler weighed in on Mark Richt’s discipline.  Here’s what Herbstreit said via Twitter:

 

herbie tweet

 

 

Butler then responded to Herbstreit by tweeting “your dead on Kirk ….. No consequences, no fear… just plain stupidity every year.  Embarrassing for University.”

What neither pointed out is that you could put together a pretty good squad from the players Richt has tossed from his squad: Zach Mettenberger, Nick Marshall, Isaiah Crowell, etc.  All those guys landed elsewhere, including two inside the SEC who Richt had to coach against last year.

Also not mentioned is the fact that perception is worse than reality when it comes to Georgia’s “outlaw” reputation.

Georgia — as we’ve pointed out a few hundred times on this site — has the toughest drugs and behavior policies in the Southeastern Conference.  A footballer busted for an alcohol-related crime elsewhere might be forced to run stadium steps and sit for a quarter.  At Georgia, that’s typically an automatic suspension for two full games.  South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier has poked fun at the Bulldogs by saying he likes playing them early because they’re always missing a few guys.  That kind of comment gets kicked around until outsiders who don’t know any better — and apparently a supposed insider like Butler who should — start believing that UGA has more disciplinary problems than other schools when in fact, Georgia simply disciplines more than other schools.

Kids get in trouble at all schools.  And if your favorite school is on a clean streak right now, consider your football program overdue.  With 100 kids on a roster, there will be alcohol, marijuana and behavioral issues to deal with each and every year.  Georgia deals with them harshly and openly… and the school, the football program and Richt pay a price for that.

Kudos to Georgia and other SEC schools who have implemented strict policies (Kentucky being another), but in a world where Twitter perception is reality, it might be time to stop sweating the small stuff, just as most other schools do.  That will help make the big stuff — like the actions of the four dullards arrested Monday — seem less like the norm and more like the exception that it really is.

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No SEC Schools Pull The Double: Bowl Game And NCAA Bid

either_orThe SEC has reputation for being a football-first conference.  A quick check of the numbers shows by: 10 of 14 schools reached gridiron bowl games last season.  Just three of 14 SEC basketball squads made the NCAA Tournament.  And now check out the following list of schools and conferences (courtesy of CollegeFootballTalk.com):

 

Arizona (Pac-12)

Kansas State (Big 12)

UL-Lafayette (Sun Belt)

Louisville (AAC)

Michigan State (Big Ten)

Nebraska (Big Ten)

North Carolina (ACC)

Oklahoma (Big 12)

Pittsburgh (ACC)

San Diego State (Mountain West)

Syracuse (ACC)

UCLA (Pac-12)

 

That’s a listing of the 13 schools who did reach a bowl in football and the NCAA tourney in basketball.  You’ll notice that the other four power conferences — ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 — all had at least one team with multi-sport success.

The SEC’s three Big Dance participants this year all failed to make hey during the fall.  Florida was a disappointment, Tennessee and Kentucky are rebuilding (still).

The year before, two SEC members succeeded on the court and on the field: Florida and Ole Miss.  Missouri missed out on a bowl though the Tigers did land a tourney bid.  The league put nine teams into bowl games.

Now, as Andy Kennedy correctly suggested last week, a bowl game at 6-6 shouldn’t be viewed that much differently than an NIT bid and vice versa.  But for a league with a football-first rep, there hasn’t been much proof the last two years that SEC schools can succeed in the two major sports at once.  Nineteen bowl bids.  Six NCAA bids.  Only two of those six going to teams who also went bowling.

It hasn’t always been this way in the SEC, of course.  But there sure appears to be a gap between football and basketball now.

Sidenote — With Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl, how long before he and Gus Malzahn lead “Up-Tempo U” to a bowl and the NCAAs in the same year?

 

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Ole Miss’ Kennedy Plays Down Rumors Of Interest In South Florida; Rebel Fans Should Be Careful What They Wish For

andy-kennedy-hands-upJudging from the reaction on Twitter and messageboards, many, many Ole Miss fans would love to see coach Andy Kennedy depart Oxford for the open job at South Florida.  ”Don’t let the door hit you,” seems to be the most common refrain.

This view ignores one rather large question that a Kennedy defection would raise — Just who is UM gonna get that’s better?  Wait, we know.  Bruce Pearl.  Of course.  The man will have his choice between the traditional hoops hotbeds of Ole Miss and Auburn.  Color us skeptical.

Now back to reality — Just who could the Rebels lure to Oxford?  State law prevents the school from giving out contracts of longer than four years (disadvantage).  The school typically sits at the bottom of the SEC with Mississippi State when it comes to the US Department of Education’s annual breakdown of athletic departments’ finances (disadvantage).  No matter how you cook the books, the Rebs just aren’t on the same financial footing as some of their SEC rivals.  The Tad Pad is finally set to be replaced, but the new venue will seat just 9,500 (disadvantage).  You can donate to the cause here, by the way (apparently Fox’s Shepard Smith is “Fired Up!”).  There’s also the issue of racism that must be dealt with on the recruiting trail every time a few morons hang a noose on a statue and pick the scab off old self-inflicted wounds (disadvantage).

But let’s say AD Ross Bjork can turn all those issues into positives.  There’s still one other thing that might deter someone like a Jim Boeheim from leaving Syracuse for Ole Miss (sarcasm).  That’s the fact that Kennedy has done a pretty good job.  In the eyes of any coach on solid-footing the following records look pretty good all things considered: 21-13, 24-11, 16-15, 24-11, 20-14, 20-13, 27-9, 19-14.  That’s a .630 winning percentage and six seasons with 20 wins or more.  Granted there’s only one NCAA bid in that eight-year stretch, but most coaches realize that the tournament bubble can be pretty unpredictable and Kennedy has lived on the tournament bubble.  Plus, it’s not like the NCAA selection committee is doling out bids by the bushel to the SEC right now.

Many a coach will likely look at Kennedy’s record — if he leaves — and wonder if they could do any better.  And if seven seasons of 19 or more wins didn’t please the UM masses before, what the heck would those fans expect of a new guy?

Look, we’re not saying Ole Miss can’t reach for the stars.  Go for it.  But the old line from a Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” flick is worth remembering: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Someone can win in basketball at Ole Miss.  Hell, Kennedy has won at Ole Miss.  But replacing Kennedy with a big name — even Bruce Pearl — is going to be tall order for Bjork.

Perhaps Mississippi fans should just look down US 278 a piece if they’re not happy with the words we’ve written here.  Mississippi State forced Rick Stansbury to fall on his sword.  Stansbury had won 293 games for the Bulldogs and taken them to six NCAA tourneys.  He’d rolled up 10 20-win seasons, too.  But the Bulldogs barked, Stansbury got the message, and the school was left to hire… Rick Ray.  Now, he seems a fine fellow and he might win some games eventually, but Rick Ray was not a name MSU fans were dreaming of when Stansbury was put to sleep.  And while State fans blame the last two years — 24-40 overall, 7-29 in the SEC — on Stansbury, there’s no one outside of Starkville who thinks things would have been that bad had Stansbury simply been retained.

For that matter, maybe the Rebels should look to their old rival if indeed Kennedy has interest in the South Florida job, as The Tampa Tribune has reported.  We suggest, however, that Ole Miss fans start being a bit more appreciative of 19- and 20-win seasons.  Look around the SEC.  There aren’t many guys who are doing much better than what Kennedy has done.

Just sayin’.

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The SEC Pays The Price For Bad Hoops On Selection Sunday (Again)

Head in HandsIn the end, the Southeastern Conference lived down to its reputation once again.  The NCAA Tournament selection committee looked at the league’s #7 RPI rank among conferences and punished the league accordingly.  Florida was handed the overall #1 seed in the tourney but Kentucky was arguably under-seeded and Tennessee was thisclose to not even receiving a bid.

Now, we just hate to say “told ya so,” but… told ya so.  Below are a few of our resume breakdowns from throughout the regular season.  While Joe Lunardi and ESPN’s Bracketology page had the league with five or even six teams in the dance for much of the season, our high-water mark was four.  And for the vast majority of the season we focused on three, stating on numerous occasions that only two teams clearly deserved bids at all:

 

1/6/14: Six NCAA Bids For The SEC?  Looks Like Three Or Four To Us

1/27/14: The SEC A Two-Bid League? Latest Resumes Show 7 Fighting for Bid #3

2/10/14: The SEC Still Looks Shaky When It Comes To NCAA Tournament Bids

3/10/14: Two Teams In, 12 Remaining SEC Teams Battling For One Bid (Probably)

 

We show you this not to rain on Lunardi’s parade, but to remind you that we’re typically pretty good judges of what the SEC’s NCAA prospects are long before Lunardi’s calculator arrives at the same conclusion (his last report correctly projected Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in the dance).

The best example of the committee’s disdain for the SEC this season is Tennessee.  The Volunteers finished with RPI #41 and a strength of schedule ranked 22nd best in the country.  The Vols won five of their last six (never even trailing in those five wins).  Four of their 12 losses this season came to teams that wound up with 1 seeds in the tourney (three to Florida, one at Wichita State).  Three other Vol losses came to NCAA Tournament teams Xavier, NC State and Kentucky.  The Vols spanked ACC regular-season and tournament champion Virginia in December.

All that and Tennessee still landed in a play-in game, one of the last four teams to make the field at all (along with Xavier and NC State, ironically).

So how have previous RPI #41 teams been seeded?  According to the NCAA’s own RPI archives for previous Selection Sundays, like this:

Temple was a 9 seed last season.  Xavier was a 10 seed in 2012.  Richmond was a 12 seed (and a conference tournament winner) in 2011.  Washington was an 11 seed in 2010.  Texas was a 7 seed in 2009.  And Texas A&M was a 9 seed in 2008.

None of those squads were forced to play in a First Four game (they’ve only been around for the last three tourneys), and most of those teams were seeded higher than Tennessee.  Some much higher.

Is that a sign of disrespect toward Cuonzo Martin’s squad?  No, it’s a sign of disrespect toward the Southeastern Conference.

When you struggle outside the league — as many SEC teams did this year — it’s going to come back to bite the whole league in March.  And when you schedule laughably bad non-conference games — as many SEC teams did this year — that will also come back to bite the conference in March.

This year, the SEC gave several teams a pass on their non-conference slates because it didn’t want to cost its schools money by forcing them to cancel games that were already on the books and contracted.  Expect the conference office to be a bit more forceful in its scheduling demands for 2014-15, though Alabama proved that just scheduling better foes guarantees very little.  Anthony Grant’s team played Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State, Xavier and UCLA in November and December.  They won none of those games.  So that doesn’t help the SEC’s RPI much more than scheduling five creampuffs would have.

The real fix for SEC basketball is an overall, league-wide upgrade in facilities and coaches.  That’s the only way the SEC will ever be able to build itself back up in hoops.  That’s the only way SEC teams can go outside the league footprint to recruit successfully — which is a necessity in basketball.

Until SEC schools start throwing more money at the problem the league will continue to suffer on Selection Sunday.  This marks the third NCAA Tournament since 2009 in which the league only landed three teams in the field.  That didn’t happen once from 1991 through 2009.  It’s time to fix the problem by upgrading facilities and tossing big bucks at proven coaches.  But there’s a catch.  With the league struggling for NCAA Tournament respect, most of those proven coaches might not want to climb on board Mike Slive’s ship.

Below is a look at all seven SEC teams set to play basketball this week and their paths to the Final Fours of the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament…

 

SEC in the NCAA

 

1 Florida vs 16 Albany or 16 Mount St. Mary’s

March 20th, South Region

Next Possible Foes: 8 Colorado or 9 Pittsburgh

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 8 Colorado, 4 UCLA, 2 Kansas

 

8 Kentucky vs 9 Kansas State

March 21st, Midwest Region

Next Possible Foes: 1 Wichita State or 16 Cal-Poly or 16 Texas Southern

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 1 Wichita State, 4 Louisville, 2 Michigan

 

11 Tennessee vs 11 Iowa (First Four, Play-In Game)

March 19th, Midwest Region

Next Possible Foe: 6 UMass

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 6 UMass, 3 Duke, 2 Michigan, 1 Wichita State

 

SEC in the NIT

 

3 Arkansas vs 6 Indiana State

March 18th

Next Possible Foes: 2 California or 7 Utah Valley State

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 2 California, 1 SMU

 

4 San Francisco vs 5 LSU

March 19th

Next Possible Foes: 1 SMU or 8 UC-Irvine

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 1 SMU, 2 California

 

2 Missouri vs 7 Davidson

March 18th

Next Possible Foes: 3 Southern Miss or 6 Toledo

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 3 Southern Miss, 1 Minnesota

 

2 Georgia vs 7 Vermont

March 19th

Next Possible Foes: 3 Louisiana Tech or 6 Iona

Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 3 Louisiana Tech, 1 Florida State

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Ruminations On The SEC Tourney, Auburn, And Pearl

Rodin-the-ThinkerJust some random thoughts and observations as we enter Day Three of the 2014 SEC Tournament…

 

*  Yesterday wasn’t the best day for the SEC’s remaining NCAA bubble teams.  Arkansas fell to South Carolina, which according to our numbers, should just about dump them from the Big Dance.  Missouri won, but the Tigers needed double-overtime to escape Texas A&M.  The committee likely won’t be too impressed with that, either.  Finally, by virtue of their win over the Razorbacks, Carolina now draws Tennessee this afternoon.  Win the Vols are probably in the tourney.  Lose to a team with RPI #150 and it’s right back onto the middle of the bubble.  In other words, UT could have better survived a loss to Arkansas than one to Frank Martin’s suddenly hot bunch from USC.

*  On the positive side for UT, MU and UA, a number of bubble squads (RPI 40ish-60ish) from other leagues lost yesterday: Oklahoma State, Iowa, SMU, Kansas State, St. John’s, and California.  Those help.  The bubble winners were Dayton, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Xavier, Providence, MTSU, and Florida State.  Those don’t.

*  The first two days of the SEC tourney have done little to convince anyone that the Southeastern Conference iss better than they might have thought.  Mississippi State — a team with three league wins from 18 regular-season games — bounced Vanderbilt.  South Carolina snuffed out higher-seeded Auburn.  Fifth-seeded Arkansas was evicted by Carolina.  Missouri needed double-OT versus Texas A&M.  The evening session last night — LSU over Alabama and Ole Miss over Mississippi State — restored some order, but the cream hasn’t exactly risen to the top in Atlanta yet.  Maybe today.

*  The Bruce Pearl debate rages on.  It seems the majority of Auburn fans want the ex-Tennessee coach, but there are still many who feel he’ll “Bobby Petrino” them and jet at the first opportunity.  Maybe so, but if he leaves the program better than he found it wouldn’t that still make Pearl a good hire?  If he left the program better than he found it.

*  What’s amusing is the usual Our Guy vs. Your Guy double-standard that exists in Fan World.  When Pearl lost his job at Tennessee and was hit with a three-year show-cause penalty, the vast majority of rival SEC fans rejoiced.  They Pearl a cheater.  Some said he should be “banned” longer for lying to the NCAA.  Now that Pearl’s penalty has almost been paid — the show-cause ends in August — he suddenly “didn’t do anything serious.”  At least that’s the take of many on the AU messageboards.  The flip-flop from “cheater” to over-penalized Robin Hood has less to do with forgiveness and more to do with the fact now he can coach at Auburn.  At Tennessee: Big, mean, dirty, lying cheater.  At Auburn: A guy who lied about a barbecue… “and that’s not even a violation anymore!”  (Love that bit of spin.  As if lying to the NCAA and calling the parent of a player to coax him into covering up a violation weren’t the bigger issues.)

*  If Pearl were to land on the Plains, you can be sure the inverse of the Our Guy vs. Your Guy double-standard would play out in the Volunteer State.  Let Pearl beat Tennessee in an important game or — try not to gasp — win big at Auburn and many UT fans who once shared the “Aw, it was just a barbecue” defense will begin to say, “He had to have cheated down there!”  Mark.  My.  Words.  (Some, of course, would just use Pearl’s success to hammer the Tennessee administration for not firing Cuonzo Martin and replacing him with Pearl before Auburn had a chance.)

*  At MrSEC.com, we’re big fans of second chances.  We hope Pearl gets one.  And if it’s at Auburn, we hope he walks the straight and narrow and scrubs clean his reputation once and for all.  But there’s one thing that still feels a bit icky about the possibility of Pearl coaching Auburn.  As Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News pointed out this week, Auburn associate AD Dave Didion was the lead investigator on the Tennessee case that cost Pearl his job.  So who better to say his sins were small, right?  Wrong.  If Didion was one of the investigators who was lied to point-blank and he turned that information over to the NCAA only to watch the NCAA smack Pearl — and basically force Tennessee to fire him or get smacked its ownself — then it’d be a little sketchy for the same man to say, “Yeah, but he’s clean enough for us here at Auburn!”  Maybe he’s as big a fan of redemption stories as we are, but we’re not going to buy the “who better to re-hire him?” narrative that will be spun from Birmingham to Ashford.

*  Speaking of Tennessee, let’s say Martin and the Vols escape an upset bid by South Carolina today.  Then let’s imagine that they somehow find a way to upset Florida and reach Sunday’s SEC Tournament finals.  Further, let’s say the Vols get a nice draw in the NCAA Tournament and win a game or two.  Who’s to say Martin won’t leave Tennessee for another gig?  If Jarnell Stokes turns pro this summer the Volunteers will enter next season with little optimism.  Martin has listened to three years of “Bring Back Bruce” talk and he’s a smart enough man to know that next year will be a step back, at least on paper.  While many Vol fans view him simply as “Not Pearl,” another school might see Martin as a guy who runs a tight ship, never has a player in off-the-court trouble, survived in the shadow of Pearl, and won 24, 26, 19, 20 and 20+ games over his last five years at two different schools.  Worst case scenario for UT: Pearl lands at an SEC rival, Martin jets, and the AD Dave Hart is forced to roll the dice on yet another up-and-comer.

*  There are a pair of coaches — aside from Pearl — who Auburn AD Jay Jacobs should take into consideration.  First is 56-year-old Ben Howland.  He won at Northern Arizona, he then won big at Pittsburgh (two Sweet Sixteen trips), and he then won even bigger at UCLA (three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006 through 2008).  Here are the post-Final Four records that cost him his job with the Bruins: 26-9, 14-18, 23-11, 19-14 and 25-9.  Auburn fans would take those records in a heartbeat.  The other guy actually wants the Tigers’ job — if rumors are to be believed.  Rick Stansbury, 54, should be looked at long and hard by Jacobs.  If Auburn won’t/can’t hire Pearl, Stansbury would have better odds of success than an up-and-comer from a smaller league.  How do we know this?  Because he’s already won in the SEC at Mississippi State.  Stansbury blew up his own regime by signing and then catering to Renardo Sidney, yes, but while Auburn was flopping around at the bottom of the league standings like a dying fish, MSU was posting these records: 20-13, 14-16, 18-13, 27-8, 21-10, 26-4, 23-11, 15-15, 21-14, 23-11, 23-13, 24-12, 17-13, 21-12.  That is an overall record of 293-165 with a .641 winning percentage.  There were six NCAA trips and five NIT trips thrown in for good measure.  Know what Auburn’s done since Stansbury took over at State in 98-99?  They’ve gone 264-237 (.526) with three NCAA trips, two NIT trips, and soon-to-be four coaches.  Stansbury might not be a sexy hire, but here’s guessing AU fans would be satisfied if he averaged 21 wins a year for them as he did the rival Bulldogs.

*  Every SEC fan outside of the Sunshine State is probably pulling for Billy Donovan’s squad to take it on the chin at some point over the next three days.  No one likes Goliath.  But here at MrSEC.com, we think it would be pretty darn incredible to see an SEC team go a perfect 21-0 in league play.  Hey, we like upsets as much as the next bunch of guys and we really don’t care one way or another who cuts down the nets in Atlanta, but if history is made, we’re gonna savor seeing it.

*  Good luck to Missouri, Florida, Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Georgia today.

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Auburn The First Test Case For Ex-Tennessee Coach Pearl

bruce-pearl4Coaches slapped with a show-cause penalty typically have a rough time finding new jobs.  Bruce Pearl’s show-cause penalty will be up in August.  Auburn fired fourth-year coach Tony Barbee immediately after his woeful Tigers were bounced from the SEC Tournament by even more woeful South Carolina last night.  ”Pearl to Auburn,” naturally, has become a hot topic in the hours since Barbee’s dismissal.

So will Auburn roll the dice on a guy who would very likely win?

If there’s any school that would take a chance on an NCAA ex-con it’s AU.  The Tigers have been on probation more often than any other SEC school.  You can set your clock by the rumors, accusations, and investigations that swirl around the school’s athletic department on a regular basis.  This despite the fact that two of the school’s associate ADs were once NCAA employees. 

Add it up and Auburn chasing Pearl makes sense.  Heck, we wrote last March that Barbee’s job for this season might be saved because Pearl would be on the market for 2014-15.  We’ve written repeatedly this season that AU would be the most likely school to make a run at Pearl.  So will they?

The ex-Tennessee coach has said that he would like to coach again in the right situation.  While Auburn has been a coaching graveyard of late, it is an SEC school.  Pearl knows the lay of the land in Dixie.  After three years off the court even a small 9,000-seat arena — meaning Auburn’s — might appeal to him.

Then again, Pearl has put down roots in Knoxville.  He married an East Tennessee native who might not want to pick up and head to the Loveliest Village on the Plains.  His kids are in East Tennessee jobs and schools.  And he’s already stated that he wants to go a place where the administration wants basketball to be as successful as football.  Not sure that any school in Alabama fits that particular mold.

Pearl has, however, already sorta/kinda pitched himself for the AU job.  A savvy marketer, he responded to a question at The Birmingham Tip-Off Club in December by explaining how he built fan support at Tennessee:

 

“So I would go to the Auburn communities and we would have our own events (before Tennessee’s trips to Auburn).  I got 50 people to come to the game at Auburn while I was developing my program.  We were asking for their support.”

 

Translation: If I can get people into Auburn’s gym as Tennessee’s coach, what could I do as Auburn’s coach?

So again, will AD Jay Jacobs go after a proven winner who carries some baggage from previous stops?  There was controversy when Pearl was an assistant at Iowa.  He was blackballed in the coaching industry for a decade after taping a phone call with a recruit and trying to pin dirt on Illinois’ staff.  At D-II Southern Indiana he won big, but he did so in a Terry Bowden kind of way… taking rejects and reclamation projects from D-I schools.  He was handed the equivalent of a speeding ticket for having a high school junior at his house while at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He did the same at Tennessee, then lied about it, then called a prospect’s parent to — in the parent’s mind — cajole him into covering the matter up when the NCAA called.  And that resulted in a trip to the NCAA hoosegow.

If Pearl wants a job in the SEC, Auburn is the place he’s most likely to land.  But whether he would take the job or not is a question for another day.  For now the issue is simple: Will Auburn try to hire Bruce Pearl?  If Jacobs does ring him up, it will be a clear sign that Pearl’s debt to society has been paid in the eyes of school administrators.  But if Auburn — Auburn — doesn’t chase him, it likely means Pearl won’t be the hot commodity this offseason that many believed he would be.

Auburn is the test case for Pearl.  Will a big-time school hire him and go before the NCAA to explain why they hired him (which Auburn would have to do)?

The jury’s out.

 

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