Brent Beaird, SEC Columnist
How will the four SEC teams do in the NCAA Tournament? I can see two making a deep run and two others coming home by Sunday. Kentucky is a deserving overall No. 1 seed. The Wildcats have done their damage on defense. They allow only points 58 points per game. Anthony Davis is everyone’s Player- of- the- Year. Kentucky could go to the Final Four based on their mixture of youth and veterans. Coach John Calipari will have the Wildcats focused after the loss to Vandy in the SEC title game. They are a potential Final Four team unless they meet a team that can bully them inside.
It is interesting that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist asked to be replaced by Darius Miller in the SEC title loss to Vanderbilt. Miller, who did not score in the previous two tournament games, totaled 16 points against the Commodores. Give accolades to Kidd-Gilchrist for unselfishness and Miller for stepping up.
Vanderbilt has tremendous momentum coming off the SEC Tournament title. The Commodores have had another fine season after some head-scratching early home losses. When this team is shooting well and big man Festus Ezeli is dominating inside they are almost unbeatable. The Commodores should beat Harvard in the opening round and probably Wisconsin in the round of 16. Some pundits believe the Commodores could go to the Final Four. I agree. (Projection:Final Four)
After Vandy’s three well-documented upsets it its last three NCAA appearances, what could be different this time? Could it be defense? John Jenkins held Georgia’s Gerald Robinson to three points and Kentucky’s Marquis Teague did not score in the SEC tourney. Jeffrey Taylor also did a splendid defensive job on Kentucky’s Kidd-Gilchrist and Doron Lamb, Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ole Miss's Terrance Henry. (Projection: Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight)
Florida is struggling after losing Will Yeguete, who is the team’s best defender. The Gators, who lost their last three regular season games to Georgia, Vandy and Kentucky, nearly lost to Alabama in the SEC Tournament and battled Kentucky to the end in the conference semifinal game. Florida is tough to handle when they are stroking three’s, but they could be out quickly if they are shooting poorly and unable to cover the three. They should beat Virginia because they match up well with them. The Cavs lacks height which plays into Florida’s hands.
Still, Virginia presents some problems defensively. Per Insidethegators.com, the Cavaliers' run a version of an extremely tough defense (known as the Pack-Line) pioneered by long-time coach Dick Bennett, whose son Tony is currently Virginia's head coach. The defense causes opponents to struggle to score early in the shot clock. In 31 games this season, Virginia has held 25 teams to 61 points or fewer including allowing 50 points or fewer to nine teams and 40 points or fewer on three occasions.
The Gators will need more good work out of junior forward Erik Murphy scored a career-high 24 points in the UF's semifinal game against Kentucky. Murphy is accurate from the 3-point line and adept at driving to the basket. (Projection: One win and one loss)
Alabama, who should have made the NCAA Tournament last year, is a No. 9 seed despite an often unproductive half-court offense. Their defense creates offense. Alabama could beat Creighton, one of the best shooting teams in the nation, due to its ability to create turnovers. An advantage to Alabama is the fact that Creighton struggles on defense. ‘Bama needs JaMychal Green to score inside and pass to the open man and at least one of the freshmen-Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph or Nick Jacobs to get hot. If they win the first round, the Tide could give like opponent North Carolina some problems. Creighton’s Doug McDermott, the leading scorer (23 points per game) in the entire NCAA Tournament field, is the Tide’s top defensive target. (Projection: One win and one loss)
What I knew
What I knew was that Mississippi State was an enigma this past season. The Bulldogs, which lost seven of the last nine games, really hurt their chances to make the NCAA Tournament after losing to Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament. State has two bad losses to Georgia and one to Auburn. Their season ended with a loss to UMass in front of a paltry 2,500 fans at home. Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie were not enough the carry the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament. Moultrie and some of his teammates have admitted that this team has too many internal problems. Now many questions remain such as will Ricardo Sidney, Moultrie and even coach Rick Stansbury return?
What I should have known
What I should have known that is Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin
(left, courtesy UT Athletic Media Relations) would
find a way to win the opening round game of the NIT against
Savannah State even without leading
scorer and rebounder Jeronne Maymon (on the bench with a sore knee). Freshmen Jarnell
Stokes, Josh Richardson and Yemi Makanjuola, who got his first career start in place of Maymon all scored in double-digits. The Vol defense again was aggressive limiting
Savannah State to just 32.9% shooting. They hit only 20% from three-point range.
Stat of the Week
Oregon beat LSU, 96-76, in the first round of the NIT. The 96 points were the most allowed by the Tigers in regulation in ten seasons. Florida defeated LSU, 102-72, in 2002. The last time LSU yielded more than 96 points in a NCAA tournament or NIT game was 1970. The Tigers lost to Marquette 101-79 in the semifinals of the NIT.
Odds and Ends
HORN’S REPLACEMENT: South Carolina’s Darrin Horn could not save his job. Even Bruce Ellington’s decision to drop football and stay with basketball could not overcome Horn’s 60-63 record which included 21 losses this season which tied a school record. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall and current Duke assistant Jeff Capel have been mentioned as possible replacements.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Kentucky could play Iowa State in the second round. If so, you can bet it will be mentioned that Iowa State’s Royce White was prepared to transfer from Minnesota to Kentucky, but his fear of flying kept him kept him away from Lexington. White leads Iowa State in every major statistical category.
YOUNG DAWGS: The future could be brighter for Georgia than many expect. Coach Mark Fox started two freshmen and two sophomores in the Bulldogs last game against Vandy in the SEC Tournament. Georgia beat six teams (6-14) in the top RPI 100 including Mississippi State twice.
GRANT IN DEMAND: Alabama coach Anthony Grant could be in demand after the season is over. His name has already come up as a possible replacement at Illinois. I understand the mentality of going to a basketball school, but if Grant makes the Tide an annual contender over the next few years like many believe he will then he will have his choice of jobs.
* * *
Brent Beaird writes for
Lindy’s sports, Gator Bait magazine and
He can be heard on 1010XL sports radio in Jacksonville, Florida. Brent, who is a
Heisman Trophy voter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org