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Bray’s Mental Development Key For UT

In just half a season of work in 2010, then-freshman quarterback Tyler Bray put up a gaudy 18 touchdown passes for Tennessee.  Pretty impressive.  As were his 1,849 passing yards considering how much time he spent on UT’s bench.

But Bray also tossed 10 interceptions in that limited amount of playing time.  In fact, Bray was the living definitions of a gunslinger for the Volunteers in 2010. 

His talents were good enough to overcome many of his occasional into-coverage throws.  But now, his coach wants to see him develop into a better decision-maker, while still maintaining his short memory.

“We always talk about a white piece of paper,” quarterbacks coach Darrin Hinshaw told The Knoxville News Sentinel.  “Every play, you’re starting over.  It hurts when you make mistakes and things don’t go your way, and that’s good.  It should hurt, but on the same boat, we’ve got to be able to learn from it.  Learn from the negatives, but erase them and get ready for the next play — it can change the game, the next play.”

Last fall, Bray often displayed a truly Favreian demeanor.  If his last pass was an interception, he’d drop back and wing it again on the next play.  He didn’t rattle.

This spring, however, UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney suggested that Bray was thinking too much at times in an effort to make better decisions with the football.  From the sound of it, he went from one extreme to the other.

Bray’s 2011 development will likely be the key to Tennessee’s season.  If he remains the gunslinger of 2010, he could conceivably toss 20 picks this fall.

But if he reins in his game too much, he might not pitch touchdown passes all over the yard, something the Vol offense will likely need to survive facing a brutal SEC schedule that includes games against the projected top three teams in West Division.

So keep an eye on Bray’s growth.  It could be one of the bigger storylines of the SEC season.

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Athlon Posts SEC Predictions

The good folks at AthlonSports.com have posted their predictions for the SEC’s football race this fall.  The teams they see meeting in Atlanta are surprises, but the predicted finish for one defending division champ might open some eyes.


SEC East Predictions

Finish
School
SEC Record
Overall Record
1
Georgia
7-1
10-3
2
Florida
6-2
9-3
3
S. Carolina
4-4
8-4
4
Tennessee
2-6
6-6
5
Kentucky
2-6
6-6
6
Vanderbilt
1-7
3-9



Think the Stephen Garcia situation at Carolina had anything to do with that third-place finish and .500 conference record?


SEC West Predictions

Finish
School
SEC Record
Overall Record
1
Alabama
8-0
13-0
2
LSU
6-2
10-2
3
Arkansas
6-2
9-3
4
Miss. State
3-5
7-5
5
Auburn
2-6
6-6
6
Ole Miss
1-7
5-7



The fact that Bama is viewed as the West Division favorite and as — obviously — a national title contender isn’t surprising.  But it seems a hair far-fetched to pick a squad that’s still not selected a starting quarterback as the undefeated champ of the SEC.  Eleven or 12 wins?  Sure.  13-0?  That’s gutsy.

If you’ve done the math at home, you know Athlon has Alabama knocking off Georgia in Atlanta for the SEC crown.

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Stansbury, Fox Have Two Very Different Views On Basketball Divisions

Mike Slive has made it quite clear that he eventually would like to see the SEC move to an 18-game conference schedule in basketball.  Scrapping the East and West divisions in hoops is also a top talking point for the league commissioner.

“In basketball, almost all the conferences don’t have divisions, so we ought to be asking ourselves the question, ‘Is this what we want?,’” Slive said.  “Rather than just going blankly on, should we take a look and see if we like it?”

For the most part, East Division coaches — and that’s been the stronger division the past couple of years — are in favor of doing away with the divisional set-up.  West Division coaches have not favored the move.  Again, we’re generalizing.

Mark Fox of Georgia represents the East’s way of thinking:


“We have to look very hard at going away from divisions.  Two years in a row, the Western Division champion has been left out of the NCAA Tournament.  For the health of our league, I think we have to look at it. 

There is no championship playoff between the division winners like in football.  What is that format doing to help us?  I’m not saying we have to change it, but we have to evaluate what’s the best thing for SEC basketball.”


Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury speaks for most West Division coaches:


“Why change it?  Why change the way the system is?  I think it worked well for several years.

It gives the opportunity for an extra team or two to compete for championships in January or February, which, in turn, helps the fans and gives them something to look forward to.”


Divisional strength is a cyclical thing.  Re-seeding the SEC Tournament from 1 through 12 can overcome that issue.

However, from a money standpoint, if the league believes that the publication of divisional standings — with one division looking strong and the other looking weak — hurts the chances of SEC teams vying for at-large NCAA Tournament berths, then the divisions need to go. 

Slive has chaired the NCAA tourney selection committee.  He should have a fine grasp as to how much of a role “perception” plays in the selection process.  If he can make the case that the SEC is leaving bids on the table — and therefore money on the table — because of divisional play, then it’s likely that he can eventually push through a division-less system for SEC hoops.

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SEC Coaches Open Up About Re-Seeding The SEC Tourney

Last year, the SEC East dominated the SEC West.  The four best teams in the league were all in the East Division.  But when the SEC held its basketball tournament in Nashville, there were two West squads enjoying the divisional seeding plan and the byes it produced for them.

During the SEC’s meetings last spring, the league’s coaches briefly discussed the idea of re-seeding the conference tournament 1 through 12, tossing out the division records.  But nothing came of the talk.  And now here we are again, with three of the league’s top four teams once more residing in the East.

According to The Mobile Press-Register,
Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings would like to see changes made.

“I do think it would reward the teams with the best records and I think it would be more fair.  We’ve had two or three years in a row now where a team from the East that finishes third or even fourth might have been in a position to get a bye.”

“I’m sure we’ll take that up at the conference meeting and see what the powers that be think,” Vandy’s coach continued.  “We had some discussions last year at our meeting.  It didn’t seem to generate a whole lot of traction… but I could see this aspect of it gaining maybe a little more.”

Stallings isn’t alone.  The Macon Telegraph reports that Georgia’s Mark Fox also favors changes.

“Everything is cycles.  And the last couple years the East has been maybe a little stronger.  And there may be years where the West is stronger.  I think the one way to protect against that if things get out of balance is to re-seed for the tournament.”

Andy Kennedy has said that he is still interested in re-seeding and Anthony Grant is also “open to discussing changes.”  Kudos to two West Division coaches for being open-minded.

The SEC should be in the business of getting as many teams as possible into the NCAA Tournament.  The best way to do that is to protect the league’s top teams with first-round byes in the SEC tourney. 

As Fox said, there will eventually be years when the West outperforms the East.  Changes to the tourney format shouldn’t be made (or not made) depending on which division is on top right now.  The changes should be made for the long-term benefit of the entire league.

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Bama Running Away With The West

Anthony Grant needs to go ahead and clean off some space on his mantel to make room for the SEC Coach of the Year Award.  In just his second season in Tuscaloosa, Grant’s Crimson Tide is running away with the SEC West — in and of itself not the greatest feat — and running straight toward an NCAA Tournament at-large bid — which is equal parts impressive and surprising.

Alabama won 67-56 on the road at Baton Rouge last night.  The win pushed Bama’s league record to 9-2, matching Florida’s top mark in the East.  The loss was LSU’s ninth in a row.

“Any road win is a good win,” Grant said after the game.  “LSU came out with great energy and give them credit.  I thought they came out and they hit first tonight… and kind of knocked us back a little bit, but I thought our guys responded well.” 

Indeed they did.  After a 1-for-10 start from the floor, Alabama erased a 9-2 Tiger lead and won the rest of the contest 65-47.  The win guaranteed the Tide its first winning SEC record in five seasons.  Alabama can actually clinch the West Division against Arkansas at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday… with four league games left to be played.

Once again, defense was the key for Grant’s team last night.  LSU shot 42% from the floor and scored just 56 points, which is right about what Bama gives up on a per game basis.

Clearly the Tide players have bought into Grant’s high-pressure, defense-first system.  That type of trust in a coach is how teams recover from bad starts on the road.  And it’s also what makes teams like Alabama so dangerous come tournament time.

Teams that make a living off of offense can go cold.  In a tournament, one bad shooting night can mean death (ask Kentucky fans about last year’s Elite Eight loss).  But defense doesn’t go cold.  As long as the players give effort, Alabama’s defense should continue to be a challenge for opponents.  And so far, there’s no sign of Bama’s players letting up in the effort department. 

The Tide believe in their coach.  No wonder.  He’s about to be named the SEC’s Coach of the Year.

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“Hey, It Looks Like Another No Repeat Decade In The SEC”

Technically, Alabama’s chances of repeating as SEC champs are still alive. 

Technically.

The Tide will need a three-way or four-way tie in the West Division to slide into Atlanta via tie-breakers.  It’s been a wacky year in the conference, but it’s unlikely things will get that wacky.  And if they don’t, it will prove once again just how tough the Southeastern Conference really is.

Did you realize that if Bama doesn’t win the league in miracle fashion this year, it will mark the 12th year in a row that the SEC will crown a new champion?

2010 — ???
2009 — Alabama
2008 — Florida
2007 — LSU
2006 — Florida
2005 — Georgia
2004 — Auburn
2003 — LSU
2002 — Georgia
2001 — LSU
2000 — Florida
1999 — Alabama
1998 — Tennessee
1997 — Tennessee

The last time a team repeated as SEC champs was 1997-98 when Tennessee pulled the feat.

That’s a good bit of information to remember should your favorite team capture the SEC flag next month at the Georgia Dome.  Next August, when you’re starting to believe the talk that your fave school will win it all again… slow down, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that the SEC isn’t big on repeat champions. 

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