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UK’s Stoops And UT’s Jones Continue To Impress

butch-jones-mark-stoopsIf someone were to approach you and tell you that Tennessee is ranked #3 nationally in Rivals.com’s recruiting rankings, you might think you’ve stepped back in time to the late-1990s or early-2000s.

If someone were to tell you Kentucky is ranked #1 nationally, you might think the guy doing the telling had had one too many cocktails at lunch.

Yet both statements are true on this June 19th, 2013.  And the new head coaches at Kentucky and Tennessee deserve a helluva lot of credit for their strong early work.

At Kentucky, Mark Stoops is doing the unthinkable — he’s turning football recruiting into a topic of conversation in the Bluegrass State.  With 18 commitments already in the bag, UK has jumped Texas, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Clemson and Stoops’ old school, Florida State, in the national rankings.  No one but the bluest-blooded Wildcat fan would have predicted that kind of success for Stoops upon his hiring.  And they certainly wouldn’t have predicted that success would come so quickly.

For years on this site we’ve stated that Kentucky could indeed turn its football program around with the right coach, the right recruiting focus, and the right amount of financial support.  Athletic director Mitch Barnhart seems to have scored well in all three areas since dismissing Joker Phillips.  Stoops is clearly a top-notch salesman.  Right now he’s peddling nothing more than a dream (much as James Franklin had to do as he began his rebuilding work at Vanderbilt).  Stoops is pushing that dream to recruits in his home state of Ohio, long a needed recruiting base for the Cats.  With eight of his school’s commitments coming from the Buckeye State, Stoops is not only targeting the right area but he’s having success there.

Finally — and there’s another Vanderbilt comparison to be made here — Stoops and his staff are getting the backing that previous UK coaches only dreamed of.  Bigger salaries are nice, but the promise of improved facilities and a larger recruiting budget mean much more in terms of overall program health.  While Franklin has done a tremendous job in Nashville, he’s had the backing of AD David Williams and the Commodore administration when it comes to his team’s needs.  Apparently the UK administration took note of the progress at VU and Stoops is the beneficiary.  More importantly, he’s already giving Kentucky a good early return on its investments.

Down I-75 in Knoxville, Butch Jones is also turning heads.  The Vols’ new coach is a poor man’s Bruce Pearl in terms of marketing.  That’s no insult, the guy just hasn’t painted himself orange on national television yet.  Everything else?  He’s done it.  He’s seized upon every opportunity to make a speech, shake a hand or slap a back.  He’s coaxed former Vols back to Knoxville, making them feel a part of their program for the first time in years, which of course also turns them into salesmen for his program.

Recruits at Tennessee’s spring game, for example, had to be impressed when one NFL great after another popped up on the sidelines or on Neyland Stadium’s giant video screen.

Jones, unlike Stoops, also has tradition, that massive stadium and one of the nicest, flashiest new football complexes in the US to sell to his prospects.  That doesn’t make his immediate success any less impressive, however.  He’s still having to package those commodities into a sales pitch that works.  To date, he’s done just that.

Jones has captured 16 commitments already and he’s covered the entire Eastern half of the country to get them.  The Vols currently have verbal agreements with players from Tennessee (obviously), Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Located in a state — like Kentucky — that produces few NFL-caliber prospects each season, that kind of national approach is a necessity.

It’s evident to any college football fan with a passing interest in recruiting that both Kentucky and Tennessee have hired excellent pitchmen.  Their schools’ hot starts are proof of that.  But as UK play-by-play man Tom Leach asked me on his radio show this morning — told ya they’re talking football recruiting in the Commonwealth — what’s the next step?

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A Waterfall In Bama’s Locker Room? Maybe We’re Spending A Bit Too Much On Athletics

gfx - honest opinionLast week, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that the University of Tennessee is hoping to soon tear down the old Stokely Athletic Center to make way for more football practice fields.  According to athletic director Dave Hart, an artist’s renderings of the cleared space reveals “three full practice fields.”  Combine that with UT’s indoor facility and that’s at least four full practice fields for one team.

Will the school keep building until coaches can tell recruits they’ll all get their very own personal practice fields if they sign with the Vols?

Yesterday, Al.com reported that Alabama’s splashy — literally — new locker room will include an actual waterfall.  The water will “flow from a few feet above the hot and cold tubs, which are located near the showers on the new area’s first floor.”

Hey, there’s an arms race in college football — especially among rich athletic departments, like those in the SEC — but at what point has it all gone just a bit too far?  (This video shows that at Kentucky, the facility war crosses over to basketball, too.)

Whether it’s massive meeting rooms, statues, waterfalls, umpteen practice fields or solid gold bidets (just a matter of time), the money being spent on extras in these recruiting wars is ridiculous.

I remember visiting the Vatican some years back.  As I toured St. Peter’s Basilica I was truly moved by the grandeur and majesty — and not to mention the history — of the building.  All of the gold, alabaster and marble created a sense of awe.

But as I walked past treasure after masterwork after treasure I also thought, couldn’t some of this opulence have been snipped to feed the hungry and clothe the poor?

That’s not to pick on the Catholic church.  There are churches and mosques around the globe that are eye-wateringly splendid.  All — one would hope — donate tremendous wealth to the needy.

That said, where do we draw our lines between just right and excess?

When it comes to waterfalls and multiple practice fields, at what point should an athletic department cut back and say, “You know, this money could be better spent elsewhere.”

I don’t live like a monk myself so I’m not suggesting that every dime that everyone makes should be given to the destitute.  But when I see over-spending, I do wonder what else that money could have been used for — a better library on campus?  A few more professors?  Better facilities for some of the non-revenue sports, whose athletes work just as hard as those in the revenue sports?

Again, I’m not saying anyone’s wrong here.  I’m just asking the question: How many practice fields and waterfalls do athletic departments really need?

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One Bad Apple Can Spoil The Whole Bunch: Vols, Dores, Twitter Edition

gfx - honest opinionIn this day and age, all it takes is one dimwit, loser, scumbag with no manners, no shame and no brain to make an entire fanbase look bad.  Twitter makes everything, oh, so easy.

Before diving into this one, let me make a few things clear:

First, I don’t understand people who use Twitter to curse left and right.  I was raised in such a way that I wouldn’t want the whole world to see me tossing F-bombs around left and right.

Second, I don’t get fans who feel that part of the “fun” of sports involves insulting other people.  Likewise, I’ve never understood why some fans are jerks to visiting fans.  I’ve never understood why fans attack rival fans in parking lots.  As a Patriots fans, I was once angered to see fellow New England fans tossing snow (and ice) balls at Jets fans during a snow game I attended in Foxboro.  I’m unable to comprehend how that attitude is created, where it comes from.  What, some people can’t watch a game without trying to hurt someone else — typically whom they don’t know — either with words or fists (or hurled objects)?  What does that say about those folks’ upbringing?

Third, I sure as hell don’t understand fans who take to social media to send nasty comments and messages to athletes or coaches.  If given the chance to spew such garbage in a face-to-face manner, the cowards on Twitter would more likely wet their pants than verbally abuse a coach or player.

And all that brings us to a recent Twitter exchange between a Tennessee fan and a Vanderbilt assistant football coach.  The Vol fan — someone named Julian Bucio — tweeted to Commodore O-line coach Herb Hand the following (edited) message:

 

“@CoachHand dude I think your wife is f****** someone while you coach your pathetic football team #Slut”

 

Now that’s class.  That’s someone I’d want to hire to work for my business.  That’s someone I’d want dating my sister, daughter or friend.

Wisely, Hand took the matter to the next level and guaranteed that the over-the-top tweet from a UT fan was seen by people far and wide.  Hand retweeted the message to Volunteers head coach Butch Jones.  Brilliant.  And he included this message:

 

“Here is what one of your fans sent me on Twitter today about Deb.  Just thought you’d like to know.  If any of our fans were to say something like this about Barb, please let me know so I can personally whip their ass.”

 

Boom.  Outta the park.

Why?

Hand has taken one rube’s tweet, turned it around, and made it a positive recruiting tool for Vanderbilt.  Now, will anyone be swayed to sign with VU over UT — or vice versa — because of a few tweets?  One would hope not (though coaches sure as heck try to use Twitter to recruit, don’t they).  But every program has an image.  Small things help to build up or tear down that image.  And for one day at least, UT’s image has been slightly tarnished by one of its own fans.

Who comes across with more class?  Hand or the fan?  Naturally, then, it looks like the Vol fanbase is made up of juvenile punks while VU’s coaching staff features men willing to try and hush such nonsense in his own ranks.  We live in a world where everything is oversimplified — e.g.: Twitter = 140 characters — so if Harvey Updyke poisons a tree, Alabama fans are all viewed as being nuts.  If a Tennessee fan says nasty things about a coach’s wife, all Tennessee fans will be viewed as classless.

Jones hasn’t yet responded to Hand’s tweet, but Bucio responded by mocking the coach for responding to him.  (Personally, this is a favorite cowardly out of mine.  Someone writes something insulting to me, I insult them back, and then I’m called thin-skinned for not taking a goofball’s insult like I should.  So the obnoxious person holds the upper hand while the public figure has his hands tied?  I think not.)

Bucio also claimed via Twitter that Vandy fans have tweeted him “physical threats,” as if anyone cares.  Dumb fans tweet dumb things to other dumb fans all the time.  A few dumb fans also tweet ugly, dumb things to coaches and players.  But rarely is a coach wise enough — or calm enough — to simply expose the initial tweeter as a no-class buffoon as Hand did by re-tweeting Bucio’s message straight to Tennessee’s head coach.

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UT: More Hoops Games With Memphis; Memphis: Not So Fast

pastner-egg-on-faceFive months ago, the Tennessee/Memphis hoops rivalry appeared dead.  The final game in the series was on the docket for the first week of January and supposedly there were no ongoing discussions about creating a new contract.  Tiger coach Josh Pastner — who doesn’t want to let schools like Tennessee or Arkansas into Memphis for recruiting purposes — went so far as to say these (famous last) words:

 

“We will not play Tennessee anymore as long as I’m the head coach and I’m doing my scheduling.”

 

And…

 

“The facts are, this will be the last year of the series unless we play them in the postseason.  Now obviously, if any of my bosses want to play them, that’s… Me, as the head coach, the series is over, the contract is over, let’s move on.”

 

And…

 

“The contract’s ending, we have a new athletic director and he and I are on the same page with it.”

 

So much for being on the same page with his boss, AD Tim Bowen.  Yesterday Tennessee AD Dave Hart told The Knoxville News Sentinel that the two schools have “agreed in principle to a four-year home-and-home series in men’s basketball.”

“We’re going to play,” Hart said.  “We’re going to continue the basketball series.”

Ah, but Memphis officials have told The Memphis Commercial Appeal (behind a paywall), that no deal is in place until football is part of the equation.

There’s no surprise in any of this.  As we wrote in January, historically Tennessee has used its occasional gridiron games with Memphis as leverage to keep the hoops series with the Tigers alive.  It seems as if that’s part of the process this time around, too.

 

Tennessee:  Want a big ‘ol football game?  Play us in basketball.

Memphis:  Well, OK.  But basketball’s not a done deal ’til we line up a football date.

Tennessee: Well, OK.

 

The most likely end game?  Both schools will agree to an annual tilt in basketball and semi-annual contests in football.  Same as it ever was.

Unfortunately for Pastner, he’ll be left with egg on his face thanks to his AD not being upfront with him regarding the need to schedule Tennessee.

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UT Fires Administrator; Report Connects Administrator To Ex-Hoopster Golden

dirty-laundryTrae Golden’s decision to transfer from the University of Tennessee basketball team has taken another bizarre turn.  It was announced early last week that the senior-to-be would transfer from Cuonzo Martin’s program to another school, leaving the Vols without a proven point guard for 2013-14.

Reports at the time cited academic issues — namely repeated acts of plagiarism — as the reason for Golden’s departure.  UT’s associate AD for compliance, Todd Dooley, then revealed on radio that Golden did not have the hours necessary to graduate at Tennessee, meaning he will have a hard time finding a new home as well.

By midweek, Golden’s father called such reports “totally inaccurate.”

Now to the present.  Yesterday the University of Tennessee fired the director of its Office of Student Judicial Affairs.  The school has launched an investigation into whether or not Jenny Wright had improper relationships with student-athletes at UT.

A graduate of Tennessee, Wright has hired an attorney who said that she tried to resign rather than cooperate with the investigation.  “She didn’t think the climate at UT was such that her reputation would be preserved,” Robert Kurtz said.  “UT didn’t have any interest in protecting that.  Even if everything is proved to be completely false, the damage to your reputation can’t be undone, and you can’t un-ring that bell.  That’s why these allegations are so powerful.”

Meanwhile, Jimmy Hyams of WNML-AM/FM in Knoxville reported yesterday afternoon that — according to sources — one of the athletes Wright is alleged to have an improper relationship with is Golden.

As Wright’s attorney has stated, it’s unfortunate that this situation has come to light before anyone has found her guilty of having inappropriate relationships.  As a result, Wright will have to rehab a tarnished reputation while any male athletes involved will, most likely, get a pass in the court of public opinion.  If a man has sex, he’s a stud.  If a woman has sex, she’s easy.  That’s not fair, but it is how our society tends to view these things.

Obviously, no one employed as the director of a school’s Office of Student Judicial Affairs can go around having sex with athletes.  That kind of behavior is unacceptable.  And if it’s found that Wright did have a relationship with Golden, it will raise questions regarding his alleged repeated acts of plagiarism while still on the UT basketball team.

But this is a story of sex.  And though that’s an act that everyone takes part in, it’s still a topic that drives ratings, sells papers, and ups pageviews.  The presence of dirty laundry will ensure that this story won’t go away quickly, at least not for Wright.

Whether UT investigators find proof of wrongdoing or not.

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New SEC Network To Be Co-Owned? Not So Fast

Pay-MeThere’s an assumption, an expectation, that many folks seem to be jumping to with regards to the soon-to-be-announced SEC Network.  That belief is that the Southeastern Conference and ESPN will split ownership of the new channel.  And, yes, we’ve made that very same assumption.

Well, as Mama always said, “Never assume…”

As we’ve covered on this site before, there are at least three different ownership models open to the SEC when it comes to its new network.

 

1.  The SEC could follow the path taken by the Big Ten.  Jim Delany’s league owned 51% of its network with the other 49% owned by FOX Entertainment Group, when the network was launched.  (That ownership split flipped in favor of FOX — 51% to the Big Ten’s 49% — some time since 2010.)  By far the most successful of all the conference- or school-specific sports networks, many have jumped to the conclusion that the Southeastern Conference will just copy this set-up.  Again, we were one of those jumpers earlier this week.

2.  The SEC could opt to do what the Pac-12 has done and launch a network all on its own.  The SEC could own it while paying ESPN to run it.  The Pac-12 has a deal in place with Comcast Media Center to help with the production of its national channel and its six regional networks.

3.  Finally, the SEC could follow in the University of Texas’ footsteps and simply take home a fat check from ESPN every year.  The network would own the channel in that scenario, not the conference.  In Texas’ case, the school is set to receive $300 million from ESPN over a 20-year period.

 

You can likely scratch Option #2 from the list as the SEC certainly won’t want to incur all the start-up costs involved in a network launch.  Long-term, ownership might be a gold mine, but out of the gates it could be a nightmare scenario.

Option #1 — the one most have simply taken for granted will the path most likely to be taken — has its drawbacks, too.  As a co-owner of the network, the SEC’s cash intake would be tied to what the channel is bringing in… and up front, that might not be a whole lot.  Carriage battles with cable and satellite providers could be quite messy.  They have been for everyone else who’s launched a network (the Big Ten, the Pac-12, Texas, the NFL, etc).  Those fights delay a network’s growth and earnings.

Which brings us to Option #3, the Longhorn Network model.  It’s a plan that’s obviously already being used by ESPN, the company that the SEC will work with on its network.  It’s a plan that would guarantee the SEC is making X amount of dollars right from the outset, regardless of whatever struggles ESPN might have in carriage negotiations.

Yesterday a friendly tipster pointed out an additional tidbit to us — the Southeastern Conference owns nothingHere’s a breakdown of SEC revenues and expenses as of 2011.  Page down and you’ll find a spreadsheet showing exactly what the league owned through 2007.  If you look under land, building, equipment, other assets… you’ll find zeroes.

Since 1948 the SEC has had its offices in Birmingham.  The city has provided office space to the league in exchange for a $1 per year lease.  When the league moved the SEC Championship Game from Birmingham to Atlanta in 1994 there was some talk of the lease going up, but the city backed down when the SEC let it be known it was willing to pull up stakes and move.  There has been talk of moving the league’s headquarters from time to time since, but the SEC is still currently residing in 30,000-feet worth of leased property.

Add it all up and it seems likely that the SEC will simply allow ESPN to own the network in exchange for a hefty annual check.  Such a set-up would appear to be much more of a win-win for the conference.  The SEC would be guaranteed money up front, regardless of the struggles ESPN might face in launching the channel, getting it carried, and selling advertising for it.  On the back end, built-in escalators in the contract could guarantee that Mike Slive’s league will get even richer if the network outperforms its cash projections.

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OC Chaney Wants Hogs’ Offensive To Be More Explosive; Will His Style Mesh With Bielema’s?

jim-chaney-arkansasJim Chaney ran a wide-open, pass-first offense at Tennessee last year.  The Volunteers had more 10+ yard passing plays (161) than any other offense in the SEC.  UT’s yards-per-game average of 475.9 was second only to Texas A&M’s 558.5.

Now serving as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, Chaney is looking for a starting quarterback — Brandon Allen is the leader in that race — and some playmakers.  Considering how good the Razorbacks’ offense was under Bobby Petrino, it’s almost hard to believe we’re writing that just one year removed from his tenure.  Still, according to Chaney, that is indeed the situation in Fayetteville:

 

“We weren’t as explosive (in Saturday’s scrimmage) as I’d like to have seen us be.  When you’re trying to score points, you’ve got to generate some big plays and we didn’t do that as well as I’d like to.  When Coach (Bret Beilema) moved the ball back and made us go a long distance, we were unable to get the ball down there…

It was interesting, the success we had (near the goal line).  There was a lot of excitement and emotion on the field.  Then we move it to move-the-field and it was like we’d forgotten that.  We needed to get them pumped back up and get ready to go on the move-the-field part of the practice.  We kind of dropped the ball when we moved to that part, kind of got our butts kicked.”

 

Chaney told reporters that the Hogs passing attack is still trying to find its niche in what’s now going to be a run-first offense.  At Tennessee, Chaney was sometimes criticized for relying too heavily on the pass.  For comparison’s sake, Bielema’s last six Wisconsin teams ranked next-to-last, 8th, last, 8th, 9th, and 9th in the Big Ten in pass attempts.

Mark down the Bielema/Chaney marriage as one of the more interesting storylines to follow in the SEC this fall.

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UT’s Jones Breaks Out Crying Babies And Car Alarms At Practice

crying-babiesTennessee’s football team got a taste of something new during this morning practice session — annoying sounds.

Rather than using piped in crowd noise — or ear-splitting loops of Rocky Top, which other teams use before facing the Vols — new UT coach Butch Jones went for something even more distracting as the Vol offense approached the end zone.  According to The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Evan Woodbery, the loud sounds included:

 

*  A crying baby

*  A screeching siren

*  The jets of an airplane taking off

*  And “a car alarm wailing incessantly”

 

Jones had promised before spring practice began that he would use some unusual noises and sounds to try and break his team’s concentration during drills and scrimmages.  Sounds — get it? — like he’s making good on his promise.

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UT’s Martin Angles For A Raise? That’s Quite The PR Blunder

Cuonzo-martin-tight-all-orangeThe Knoxville News-Sentinel reported yesterday afternoon that “a source with knowledge of the situation” told the paper that Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and his agent “will pursue an extension and possible renegotiation of his current contract when or if Tennessee reaches out this offseason.”

A tip for Martin and his agent: You don’t let it leak that you want a raise just one week after losing a first-round NIT game to Mercer in front of 4,000 fans in your home arena.

Let’s repeat that: You don’t let it leak that you want a raise just one week after losing a first-round NIT game to Mercer in front of 4,000 fans in your home arena.

Martin currently makes $1.3 million which ranks 10th in the Southeastern Conference among basketball coaches.  Only Johnny Jones (LSU), Rick Ray (Mississippi State), and Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M) make less per year than Tennessee’s coach.

But aside from Tony Barbee — who’s stealing $1.5 million at Auburn — who should Martin be moved ahead of on the league’s salary chart?  He just finished his fifth year as a head coach, his second at Tennessee.  He’s never reached an NCAA Tournament.  He’s still an unproven commodity.

John Calipari and Billy Donovan deserve to be at the top of the conference in pay.  Mike Anderson hasn’t reached an NCAA tourney with Arkansas yet, but he certainly did at Missouri and UAB.  Anthony Grant has been to the Big Dance.  So have Mark Fox, Frank Haith, Kevin Stallings, and now Andy Kennedy.  Frank Martin just finished a horrible first season at South Carolina, but his NCAA Tournament record at Kansas State suggests the Gamecocks will improve on his watch.

So what’s the argument for Martin to get a raise?  Well, it’s threefold:

 

1.  In two years, Martin has led UT to a ho-hum 39-28 overall record, but he inherited a bigger mess than most Volunteer fans are willing to admit.  His first team was picked to finish 11th in the then-12 team SEC.  A late run actually landed Tennessee the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament and put them on the NCAA bubble.

This past year, first-team All-SEC preseason selection Jeronne Maymon — truly the leader of UT’s team — was lost for the entire season due to complications from offseason knee surgery.  But Martin led the Vols to another strong finish and back to the NCAA tourney bubble.

All things considered, that’s not bad work.

 

2.  It’s believed that if Martin isn’t extended, rivals will use it against him in recruiting battles.  That may be true, but negative recruiting will always exist.  If it’s not Martin’s contract, rivals will focus on something else.  Still, it’s a possible reason to renegotiate and extend.

 

3.  Tennessee might need to quiet the “Bring Back Bruce” chants before they begin.  (Technically, they already appear to be a little late on that front.)  Ex-coach Bruce Pearl will be eligible for NCAA “parole” when his show-cause penalty expires after next season.  There is a segment of the Vol fanbase that wants the highly-successful, affable showman to return to Thompson-Boling Arena.

While we’ve been told the only way Pearl would get another shot would be if the school replaced it’s president, chancellor, AD, board of trustees, and several key donors — in other words, it ain’t happenin’ — there will be a groundswell of fan support for Pearl should Martin and his team struggle at all next season.  Hey, UT fans never gave up on the Jon Gruden dream, did they?  So you better believe the Bruce Brigade will champion the return of their ex-coach regardless of how unrealistic that option might be.

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There’s No Room For Crying Across The SEC Today

crying-baby-boyThere should be no crying in the land of popped bubbles today.  No whining should emanate from Dixie.  The NCAA’s selection committee made its choices yesterday and 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams simply didn’t deserve to go dancing this year.

Alabama ended its season at 20-12 with an RPI of 60 and a strength of schedule of 76 (non-conference of 84).  Worse, the Tide was 0-6 against RPI top 50 teams and had three losses outside the top 100… plus another outside the top 200.  If Anthony Grant’s team wanted in, it needed more than a win over Tennessee in Nashville (as we told you on Friday).  UA needed to take down Florida but it didn’t/couldn’t.

Kentucky had a slightly better record at 21-11, but it’s RPI was 57.  It’s strength of schedule was 70.  It’s non-conference SOS was 73.  While the Cats did manage three top 50 RPI wins, they also suffered three sub-100 losses.  But the real undoing of John Calipari’s fourth squad was the season-ending knee injury to Nerlens Noel back on February 12th.  Needing to prove that they could thrive without their big man, UK instead went 4-4 down the stretch.  That includes three losses in the Wildcats’ last four games, all to teams with RPI of 95 or worse.

Tennessee had a bubble-worthy resume, but there should be no complaining from the Volunteer State.  Good enough for the conversation?  Yes.  Definitely better than some other teams who landed at-large bids?  Hardly.  UT’s strength of schedule was 58 and its RPI 59.  It’s non-conference SOS was a solid 47.  Tennessee was 3-5 against top 50 RPI foes.  All pretty good.  But the Vols had a pair of sub-100 losses.  Those twin losses to Georgia (RPI 140) and an annual SEC Tournament flop — this time against Alabama — sealed the Vols’ fate.  UT surely had its chances.  Even going back to November the Vols went three-of-11 from the foul line against Georgetown in a 37-36 loss.  Hit two more free throws and beat the Hoyas (RPI 11 and a #2 seed in the tourney) and the Vols might have made the field.  In the end, UT left too much fruit hanging on the tree.

As for Arkansas and LSU not making the NIT field, well, that’s just further proof that the NIT has improved since the NCAA has taken it over.  Still a bracket for also-rans, the NIT is now forced to take those teams who won their conference’s regular season title only to be upset in their conference tourney.  That’s a good thing for the little guy.  It’s a bad thing for all the middle-of-the-road, big conference teams that used to fill the field.

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