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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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Wonder Why SEC Basketball Ain’t All That? Blame Football

gfx-honest-opinionThe Southeastern Conference used to be solid basketball league.  From 1997 through 2008 the league consistently earned a large number of NCAA Tournament bids.  Each year of that streak the conference received either five or six bids.  Only the ACC and Big East did better on a regular basis.

But something changed in the late-2000s.  Suddenly the league started dropping in the conference RPI ratings.  This past season computer formulas ranked the SEC as just the seventh-best league in America.  NCAA Tournament bids began to drop as well — three in 2009, four in 2010, five in 2011, four in 2012, three in 2013 and again this year.

Those who don’t want to admit a problem need look only as far as the league office where Mark Whitworth was placed in the freshly created role of associate commissioner for basketball last July.  (That move came just two weeks after we suggested the SEC hire a “hoops czar,” by the way.)  Athletic directors and presidents across the conference recognized that they needed a person to aid in basketball scheduling and marketing.  At the time, Mike Slive said Whitworth would “effectively manage our efforts to promote and enhance SEC basketball.”

So what was it that happened in the late-2000s that led to a downturn in SEC hoops and the need for a new basketball “fixer?”

We believe five things are at play.  And all five can in some way be tied back to the sport that SEC schools do best — football.

The SEC has always been a dominant football conference.  But not until an unprecedented run of national championships in the mid- to late-2000s did the crown of “King Football” go unchallenged to the SEC each year.  Florida won the BCS title game in January of 2007.  LSU followed in 2008, then it was Florida again in January 2009.  Three titles in a row.  An enormous wave of media attention on SEC football.

At the very same time that the SEC was kicking off its seven-year run of championships, there was an explosion in television coverage for the sport.  Which conference cut the best deals in terms of exposure?  Take a guess.  Mike Slive’s twin contracts with CBS and ESPN ensured that darn near every SEC football game would be seen by a national audience.  The Big Ten was making money with its own network, but the Southeastern Conference was passing right by Jim Delany’s league in terms of national exposure.  And when did those new contracts pushing SEC football into every American living room kick in to place?  In 2009.

That’s the background.  Since those two things (championship run, increased television exposure) took place, five other changes have come to pass as a result…

 

1.  Salaries for SEC football coaches have boomed.  Alabama’s 2007 hire of Nick Saban for eight years and $32 million raised the bar inside the league and across the nation.  Other SEC schools have since followed suit — Florida, LSU, etc.  Seven years after Saban’s hire there isn’t a single football coach in the SEC making less than $2.2 million per season.  Eleven of the 14 coaches in the league make $2.9 million or more.  South Carolina — long a doormat in the college football world — now boasts a national championship-winning coach who makes $3.5 million per season.  No league pays more money for football coaches than the SEC.  In contrast, the SEC most certainly does not lead the nation when it comes to basketball salaries.  The by-product, of course, is that SEC football jobs are “destination” jobs.  The same can’t be said for basketball.  How many top name basketball coaches have been hired into the SEC as proven stars?  John Calipari.  Mike Anderson.  Anthony Grant if you consider “hot” up-and-comers.  Now turn it around.  How many SEC football coaches are coveted by other leagues?  Saban, Miles, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Kevin Sumlin, etc, etc.  How many hoops coaches are coveted?  Calipari, Billy Donovan, and who?  The bottom line is this: The SEC has a better group of expensive, proven football coaches than it does expensive, proven basketball coaches.  Better coaches make for a better product.

2.  SEC schools spend more money on football facilities.  Texas A&M is increasing the size of Kyle Field to make it the largest venue in the conference.  Tennessee recently opened a new $45 million football training facility that is state of the art.  Alabama has expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium and boasts a world-class football facility of its own.  Name any other SEC school and you’re likely to find that either its stadium is being upgraded or a new training facility is being built — Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and so on.  Now compare those football digs to the league’s basketball venues.  Auburn just opened a new arena… that seats all of 9,000 fans.  Ole Miss is finally replacing decrepit Tad Smith Coliseum with a new arena… that will seat 9,500 fans.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course.  Tennessee built its own basketball practice facility and upgraded Thompson-Boling Arena in recent years.  Kentucky has been making plans to renovate Rupp Arena.  Arkansas has made improvements to Bud-Walton Arena.  Mizzou Arena went up in 2004, but that was before the Tigers joined the SEC.  Outside of that handful of schools — schools that traditionally have supported hoops better than any others in the SEC — where do basketball venues outshine football venues in the SEC?  Not at LSU.  Or Florida.  Or Alabama.  Or Auburn, Georgia, and so on.  Better facilities equal better recruiting.

3.  The SEC has a reputation for being a football conference.  Put yourself in the size 18 Nikes of a top basketball prospect.  You can sign to play ball for one of America’s highest-paid coaches in a conference that puts basketball first and earns seven or eight NCAA tournament bids per season or you can sign with an SEC team and probably play for an up-and-coming coach in a so-so arena in front of a fanbase that’s more interested in football recruiting than basketball results.  Perhaps that’s an exaggeration.  Perhaps.  But at most SEC schools we do believe it’s a reality that there are as many eyes on spring football as there are on college hoops.  This issue also feeds itself, unfortunately.  The more people refer to the SEC as a “football conference” the more people believe it to be a football conference.  And don’t think recruits aren’t told that when they’re considering SEC scholarship offers.  ”You don’t want to go there, that’s a football school.”

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Coaches Can’t Cut Their Teeth At Auburn Anymore

gfx-they-said-it4Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is riding high these days.  He hired Gene Chizik who in turn brought in Cam Newton who in turn led Auburn to a BCS championship.  After firing Chizik he hired his former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, who immediately led AU back to the BCS title game last season.  And after firing Tony Barbee two weeks ago, he immediately coughed up a hefty sum for new basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

From a fan’s point of view that’s exactly what an athletic director should do — bring in coaches who win and be willing to pay for them.

This week, Jacobs made it clear he’s done trying to find bargains:

 

“The university is committed to winning and the administrators have given me the latitude to go out and do what we need to from a financial resource.  This is no longer a place you come in and cut your teeth.  You come in with proven track records, particularly in our major sports, and proven success…

People know we’re committed to winning championships because of what’s happened to football the last few years and these guys sit and talk to me about, ‘Are you as committed to do this in basketball as you are in football?’  Absolutely, yeah, and I’ve demonstrated it.  And we’re going to continue to demonstrate it because we’re going to win championships.  That’s what I’m committed to.”

 

Sounds good, but there are two things to keep in mind.  First, Jacobs has just backed himself into a corner if he has to hire another football or basketball coach down the road.  There will be no up-and-comers, only guys with “proven track records” and “proven success.”

Second, there’s another AD in the SEC who’s made splashy hires that were initially met with thunderous applause from his school’s fanbase — Jeff Long of Arkansas.  But Bobby Petrino blew himself up and took the UA football program with him.  Bret Bielema has gone from a “wow” hire to an “ow” hire in just over a year.  And his big-money swoop for Missouri’s Mike Anderson has resulted in one NIT berth in three years.

The lesson?  Just because you hire someone with a proven track record, it doesn’t guarantee success.  But for Jacobs, fresh off an SEC title in football and the splashy hire of a new hoops coach, it’s easy to understand his big smile and big talk.

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SEC Commitment Comparator – 3/25/14

blue_poker_chipsIt’s roughly 10 months until National Signing Day; do you know how your favorite football program stacks up?

Below is our much too early commitment comparator for the class of 2015.  Only, it really isn’t much too early.  As the recruiting process speeds up and prospects commit earlier and earlier, those schools that get out to an early jump on the competition typically gain momentum throughout the process.  Using social media, committed players often work as recruiting agents for their schools of choice, luring in friends and contacts from camps and all-star teams.

As always, we’ve used the star ratings provided by Rivals.com to put together our own quickie update.  For now, we’ll look only at quantity (total points) and quality (average points per commit).  For each star Rivals has assigned, we’ve awarded a point.  Where Rivals hasn’t provided a star grade (because they haven’t viewed tape of a prospect yet), we have awarded a lone point anyway because we’re softies.

So where does your team rank in comparison with its SEC foes?  Here’s your answer…

 

  School   Commits   5-stars   4-stars   3-stars   2-stars   1- & 0-stars   Total Points   Avg. Pts/Commit
  Texas A&M   9   0   8   1   0   0   35   3.88
  Alabama   8   0   7   1   0   0   31   3.88
  LSU   9   2   1   5   1   0   31   3.44
  Tennessee   9   0   4   4   1   0   30   3.33
  Miss. State   9   0   2   5   0   2   25   2.77
  S. Carolina   7   1   3   2   0   1   24   3.42
  Arkansas   7   0   4   2   0   1   23   3.28
  Georgia   5   0   4   0   0   1   17   3.40
  Ole Miss   4   0   1   3   0   0   13   3.25
  Auburn   5   0   1   2   0   2   12   2.40
  Florida   5   0   0   3   0   2   11   2.20
  Kentucky   2   0   0   2   0   0   6   3.00
  Vanderbilt   2   0   1   0   0   1   5   2.50
  Missouri   2   0   0   1   0   1   4   2.00

 

As a reminder, Alabama and Tennessee finished among the top four in the SEC in total points last signing day.  Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M also finished among the top five in the league in average points per commit.  The takeaway?  The top schools in the 2013/14 recruiting field are off to hot starts for 2014/15 as well.

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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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