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UK, VU Advance; Remaining SEC Teams Start Tourney Runs Today

Day One of the NCAA Tournament — sorry, we don’t count those ridiculous play-in games — was a dud if you’re a fan of upsets and true March Madness.  But if you’re a fan of higher seeds like Kentucky and Vanderbilt, it was just fine.

The Commodores toppled Harvard 79-70 and wrapped up their first tourney win since 2007.  The victory snapped a streak of three first-game losses for Kevin Stallings.

John Jenkins poured in 27 points as Vandy built a double-digit lead.  When the Crimson — who were no doubt jinxed by wearing black instead of their actual school color — cut the lead to 70-65, VU got tough on the defensive end and pulled away at the charity stripe.

The #5 seed Dores will next face #4 Wisconsin tomorrow in Albuquerque at 6:10pm ET on TNT.

Kentucky — the tournament’s overall #1 seed — dispatched cross-state rival Western Kentucky with ease, 81-66 in Louisville.  UK shot 61.5% in the first half and coasted — almost literally — to the finish line. 

The Cats allowed the Hilltoppers to close the game on a 16-1 run.  Whether that’s a bad sign or meaningless garbage time sloppiness depends on the beholder.

On Saturday, the Wildcats will face #8 seed Iowa State who knocked off defending champ UConn and blocked another John Calipari-Jim Calhoun bout.  The Cats and Cyclones will tip at 7:45pm ET on CBS.

Today’s SEC action tips off at 1:40pm ET on TBS as #9 seed Alabama tangles with #8 seed Creighton in Greensboro.  Anthony Grant’s athletic, defense-first squad should be tested mightily by the Blue Jay’s high-scoring, up-tempo style.

At 2:10pm ET on TNT, #7 Florida will try to kickstart its frontcourt game when it faces #10 Virginia in Omaha.  Experience could play a role as the Gators make their third-straight NCAA tourney appearance while the Cavaliers are going dancing for the first time since 2007.

Earlier this week we took a stats-based look at each SEC squad’s path to the Sweet Sixteen.  We had Vandy and Kentucky advancing, Florida and Bama coming up short.  So far, so good.

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Stansbury To “Retire” At MSU Today

Now we know why Scott Stricklin has been so quiet the last 24 hours.  He’s been working out a “retirement” package for head basketball coach Rick Stansbury.  The winningest coach in MSU history is expected to announce this afternoon that he’s stepping down after three NCAA Tournament-less seasons.

Stansbury — who served as an assistant at State from 1990 through 1998 before taking over as head coach — compiled a career mark of 293-165.  That’s a winning percentage of .641.  He fielded 10 20-win teams.  He also took the Bulldogs to 11 postseason tournaments (six NCAAs, five NITs) in his 14 years in the captain’s chair.

But Stansbury failed to lead the Dogs to a single Sweet Sixteen.  His last three years have been marked by disappointments on the court and embarrassing issues off it (most of which stemmed from the signing of Renardo Sidney, who can rightfully be called a “coach-killer” at this point).  Fan support dwindled as the faithful became tired of seeing the same guy stalk the Humphrey Coliseum sideline.

Stansbury is just 52 years of age, so if you think he’s actually “retiring” without a gentle nudge from AD Scott Stricklin’s shoe, you’re dreaming.  Expect him to coach again at some point.  With his record, he’ll get a shot somewhere.

As for State — like South Carolina — it’s now all about the job search.  No doubt you’ll hear the biggest and hottest names in the biz kicked around by fans and fan websites.  Expect to hear Cowbell ringers from Hernando to Pascagoula shouting “Shaka Smart!”

Who Mississippi State can actually land?  Well, that’s another matter.  We’d put our money on an up-and-comer.  Don’t be surprised if Gregg Marshall of Wichita State doesn’t suddenly pop up on two SEC programs’ radar, for example.

But for now, the focus will be on Stansbury for just a few more hours.  Fans have been invited to attend his press conference at 2pm ET.  There some of the same people who’ve called for his ouster can soothe their consciences by cheering him and thanking him for his valuable contribution to MSU hoops.

Contributions that are unmatched in school history.  Contributions a new coach will be expected to top.

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A Stats-Based Look At Which SEC Teams Will Reach The Sweet 16

With the NCAA Tournament getting underway on Thursday — sorry, but tonight’s play-in games don’t feel like the tourney to this writer — we at wanted to take a by-the-numbers look at each SEC team’s chances of reaching the Sweet Sixteen.

Below you’ll see each SEC team’s four-team (or in some cases five-team) pod.  Some have five teams because the 16th seed in their pods will be determined tonight.

Let’s get to the numbers (including overall record, RPI, strength of schedule, record vs RPI Top 50, record versus RPI Top 100, and road and neutral site wins against RPI Top 50 teams):

South Region in Louisville

Vs Top 50
Vs Top 100
R/N W Vs Top 50
1 Kentucky
16 Miss. Valley St.
16 W. Kentucky
8 Iowa State
9 UConn

East Region in Albuquerque

Vs Top 50
Vs Top 100
R/N W Vs Top 50
5 Vanderbilt
12 Harvard
4 Wisconsin
13 Montana

West Region in Omaha

Vs Top 50
Vs Top 100
R/N W Vs Top 50
7 Florida
10 Virginia
2 Missouri
15 Norfolk St.

Midwest Region in Greensboro

Vs Top 50
Vs Top 100
R/N W Vs Top 50
1 N. Carolina
16 Lamar
16 Vermont
8 Creighton
9 Alabama

Observations by team:

Kentucky — The Wildcats’ biggest challenge might come from an up-and-down UConn club.  UK’s a favorite to win the whole tourney.  Reaching the Sweet Sixteen shouldn’t be a problem.

Vanderbilt — I don’t like the Commodores’ pod at all.  First, they’re matched with a Harvard team that had a winning record in eight games against RPI Top 100 opponents.  Back in November the Crimson bested Florida State, a team that went on to beat UNC and Duke twice each.  They won’t be scared of Vandy. 

Get past Harvard and a tough Wisconsin team will likely be waiting in the next round.  If VU’s hitting their shots, they can make a long run.  But if they’re cold — as we’ve seen in previous tourneys — they can exit early.  The committee did them no favors.

Florida — Another rough draw for an SEC squad.  Especially a team that just hasn’t been the same since losing Will Yeguete from its frontline.  Virginia had a winning record in 13 games against Top 100 opponents.  And Missouri is waiting for the Gators if they get past UVA.  Look at their numbers — 12-3 versus Top 100 foes with seven road or neutral site wins versus the RPI Top 50?  Billy Donovan’s team has its work cut out for it.

Alabama — It’s no surprise that the lowest-seeded SEC team also has the toughest path to the Sweet Sixteen.  Creighton won the ever-tough Missouri Valley Conference and went 8-3 against RPI Top 100 teams.  Survive the Blue Jays and #1 seed North Carolina is next.  In Greensboro.

So how many SEC teams will reach the Sweet Sixteen?  It’s tempting to say only Kentucky.  Clearly, they’ve got the easiest path to make a deep run.  But we’ll roll the dice that Kevin Stallings’ experienced Vandy club will knock down their shots and fend off a couple of slow-paced teams to reach the school’s first Sweet Sixteen since 2007.  (If they do make it that far, a potential regional semifinal matchup with #1 seed Syracuse just got easier with the news that the ‘Cuse will be without it’s 7-foot center and top rebounder, Fab Melo, for the tourney.)

Kentucky and Vandy will make it.  Florida and Alabama won’t.

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Stallings Gets Emotional After Vandy’s Tourney Title

When the 2013 SEC Tournament begins next year in Nashville — with 14 teams — expect to see that image at left over and over and over again in television opens and in “this is what the tourney means” montage pieces produced by ESPN/ABC.

Kevin Stallings’ surprising show of emotion prompted David Climer of The Tennessean to write: “… we saw a coach who cares very, very deeply about his players, his program, his university.  And the feeling is mutual.”

Indeed, back in 2009 Stallings’ turned down a $100,000 salary bump that was due him so Vanderbilt could use that cash for an offseason basketball tour of Australia for his team instead.  The guys cares about his players and his program.

As for his emotions on Sunday, Stallings said:

“When you invest a lot, you care a lot.  What I’m most proud of is the investment that’s occurred by this group of young men in our program.  To see those guys get to experience what they experienced, that was a great feeling for me.”

Stallings also had to be feeling a bit of relief.

In 12 seasons at VU, the coach has led the Commodores to five NCAA Tournaments.  Twice they made the Sweet Sixteen.  Three times — including the last two seasons — they’d gone one-and-done in March Madness.

Vandy fans wanted more from a veteran squad that was projected as a Top 10 team in the preseason.  Throughout the regular season, they failed to live up to expectations.  But yesterday in New Orleans, Stallings and his players showed their potential.

We have no doubts that Stallings wept for his players’ joy.  But finally experiencing a “breakthrough” tourney moment of his own had to play some role in his emotional display as well.

Congrats to him and to Vanderbilt for their upset and their SEC Tournament crown.

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Hogs’ Anderson Greeted With High Expectations

There are a whole lotta people in the Natural State who believe Mike Anderson will return Arkansas to the glory days of Nolan Richardson’s regime.

Not the build-up stage from 1985 to 1989 — when the Hogs failed to get past the NCAA tourney’s second round. 

And not the 1996 to 2002 winding-down stage — when UA went seven seasons without a Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Nope.  A lot of folks in Arkansas are eyeballing Richardson’s top-of-the-mountain stage from 1989 through 1995.  Six straight NCAA tourneys.  Three Final Fours.  One national runner-up.  One national champion.  Four 30-win seasons.

Those are pretty lofty goals, no?

Well, Brent Birch of is wisely attempting to cool the expectations just a tad.  In this piece he rattles off a number of issues facings the Hogs as Anderson takes over.  Among them:

* How many current players will return?

* Will John Pelphrey’s Top 5 signing class stay intact?

* Can the returners mesh with the newcomers?

Birch is simply being prudent.  As we pointed out last week, Anderson has reached one Sweet Sixteen and one Elite Eight in nine years of coaching.  His last two Missouri squads finished fifth in the Big 12.

Anderson is a smart hire and he happens to play a brand of basketball Hog fans already love.  But his track record doesn’t suggest that he’ll have Arkansas competing on equal footing with Duke, Kansas, or North Carolina anytime soon.  Someday?  Possibly.  Immediately?  Likely not.

There aren’t many schools in basketball history who can match the 1989-1995 run Richardson put together in Fayetteville.  So it’s not fair for fans to greet Anderson with such lofty expectations before he holds his first practice.

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UK Moves Team, Ticks Off A Few Specators In Newark

It’s been an unusual run-up to tonight’s Sweet Sixteen game for Kentucky.  The Wildcats — who are 0-5 all-time versus Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament — switched team hotels this week and moved outside of Newark to Livingston, New Jersey.

“We wanted more privacy,” a UK spokesperson said in an email to The Lexington Herald-Leader.  “We normally don’t stay at the same hotel with our band and cheerleaders.”

There were also plenty of fans and Kentucky administrators at UK’s original team hotel.  “I guess (John Calipari) felt there was too much distraction,” the hotel’s GM said.  “It’s an important game.  He felt it would be better not to be here.”

Some spectators felt the same way as they watched Calipari’s team practice on Thursday.  According to the basketball website, UK drew some cat calls — pun intended — from onlookers:

While the other teams — Marquette, North Carolina and Ohio State — put on extensive open practices for the fans Thursday, Kentucky held an extremely short workout which featured free throw shooting and a game of “Knockout.”

The performance inspired a smattering of boos.

“Thanks for giving me time for a nap,” one fan in a suit shouted at Calipari, who shot back a short glance.

“I did more in my eighth-grade gym class,” another fan shouted.

Ohio State’s workout by contrast?

“Excellent, well-organized and fun,” one prominent local high school coach said.

Unless someone paid for a ticket to watch the practices — and these folks didn’t — I don’t understand how anyone can act as though they’ve been cheated in this situation. 

What’s with our society these days that everyone feels like they’re owed something?

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SEC Headlines – 3/25/11 Part Two

1.  Florida’s Kenny Boynton says BYU’s Jimmer Fredette “kept crying to the ref toward the end of the game.”

2.  The Gators and Cougars set an NCAA Tournament record by jacking up 71 three-pointers last night.

3.  Star kick returners — like Georgia’s Brondon Boykin — could see their future draft stock fall due to the NFL’s new kickoff rules.

4.  There’s a battle at linebacker in Athens between Richard Samuel and Alec Ogletree.

5.  The Dawgs say their defense and their attitude are better this spring.

6.  UGA is easing some restrictions it had placed on football tailgating.

7.  Kentucky’s 22nd Sweet Sixteen matchup figures to be a toughie against Ohio State tonight…

8.  But the Wildcats say they aren’t scared.

9.  John Calipari says he’s “still trying to figure” out how he can nullify his team’s lack of experience.

10.  UK players “bristled at any notion Kentucky would play second fiddle to any team, no matter its credentials.

11.  South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia says he’s “got to be smarter” and that “nothing bad is going to happen again — that’s guaranteed.”

12.  Garcia’s teammates supported him during his one-week suspension from spring drills.

13.  Apparently some idiot/drunken students threw bottles at police as they frisked Jadeveon Clowney early this morning. 

14.  Darrin Horn wishes guard Bruce Ellington success as he tries to become a two-sport star for the Cocks.  (But you know the coach would rather have his guy living basketball.)

15.  Derek Dooley says crazy weather in Knoxville is “good preparation” for his team.

16.  Sophomore center James Stone is getting used to snapping the football right-handed this spring.

17.  With all its baggage, it’s hard to claim that Tennessee is the best open basketball job in the country right now.

18.  This writer says Belmont’s Rick Byrd would be a good get for the Vols.

19.  Yet another writer is calling for UT AD Mike Hamilton’s head.

20.  With two players transferring out, Vanderbilt has some openings in its secondary this spring.

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Florida Looking For A Win Tonight, Not Revenge

When Florida’s season ended in the NCAA Tournament last year, its demise came at the hands of Brigham Young.  So facing the Cougars tonight in the Sweet Sixteen in New Orleans, is revenge on the Gators’ minds?

“No, there’s no revenge,” said Vernon Macklin.  “It’s just a regular game for us.  And for them, also.”

Chandler Parsons agrees.  “I think us going into the game, we’re just worried about their team this year.  We can’t be worried about what we did good last year, what we did bad last year.  We have a new team; they have  a new team, new personnel.  So it’s just going to be us against them.”

Billy Donovan must love having a veteran, savvy team for a change.  Indeed, this Florida bunch is an easy team to pull for.  Too bad tonight they’re facing one of the country’s top college heroes in Jimmer Fredette.  The BYU gunner averaged 28.8 points per game this year tallying 1,002 points… on the season.

“In every game that he’s played, everybody’s trying to stop him, everybody’s trying to slow him down, and he still gets 33 a game,” Billy Donovan said yesterday.  “He still averages 28 a game, he still does it regardless.  I’m not comparing him to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, but I did make the comment a year ago that I thought Fredette had more of an impact in a college game than John Wall did. … When you’re dealing with a guy like that, there’s a lot of times that you are at his mercy because he’s got the ball in his hands.”

The Gators’ Kenny Boynton is expected to play following a sprained ankle in his last game against UCLA.  “We just practiced (he said yesterday), and I did everything fully.  I had no problems.  I can cut, I did everything good.”

Sidenote — ESPN’s Jay Bilas says Florida is “good enough to play in the Final Four.”  He also thinks “that Florida is the best team remaining (in its bracket), but it’s not by much.”

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Calipari States Fact, Makes Waves

John Calpari caught the attention of the website this week when he made the following statement regarding UK’s penchant for getting every team’s best shot:

“It doesn’t matter who’s on your team, you have Kentucky across the front.  It means something.  They want to be us.  Understand that.  They want to be us.  Not beat us, be us.

“So they’re coming at you trying to say you win against Kentucky it shows that we’re them.”


Now maybe Calipari could have made his point a little clearer, but it’s not too hard to figure out his meaning:

* Kentucky is the name in college basketball, fastest to 2,000 wins, etc.

* Ohio State — UK’s opponent in the Sweet Sixteen tomorrow — is a fast-rising program that wants to dominate the hoops world like UK.

* The best way to make a statement like that is to beat Kentucky.

What’s not true about that?  And why has it touched off a mini-controversy on the web?  (Do a Google search for: “Calipari” and “They want to be us.”)

Sure the comment is a little arrogant, but UK’s record backs up the boast and since when has Calipari been viewed as anything less than a little cocky?

Sorry, folks.  We just don’t have a big problem with this one.  (Which apparently puts us in the minority.)

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SEC Headlines – 3/23/11 Part Two

1.  Former quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is hoping his performance at Ole Miss’ Pro Day will help him land a position — any position — in the NFL.

2.  Linebacker Brandon Maye — transferring from Clemson to Mississippi State — is confident he’ll play for the Bulldogs this fall.

3.  Will Muschamp says his team is in good condition at the start spring practice.

4.  Erving Walker’s improvement is a big reason Florida has reached the Sweet Sixteen.

5.  Up next for UF: Try to stop BYU’s Jimmer Fredette.

6.  Georgia offensive lineman Brent Benedict has had a long road back from a knee injury.

7.  Pro scouts weren’t allowed to watch AJ Green workout at UGA’s Pro Day yesterday.  (Odd situation.)

8.  Green took a nasty fall that caused an audible gasp from onlookers.

9.  Georgia’s G-Day spring game will be televised by CSS.  (Hey, I know those folks… in fact, I’ll be on with ‘em tonight at 6pm ET.)

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