College Weekly Report
by Brent Beaird
Thirty of 34 bids in the NCAA Tournament went to the six power conferences. In 2004, 12 bids went to teams from the non-power conferences. Since then the numbers have been nine, eight, six, six and four.
The biggest lesson that SEC basketball coaches need to learn in the offseason is to beef up the non-conference schedules since only three teams—Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State-- were selected, the fewest since 1990. A lack of a strong non-conference schedule hurt Florida (No. 84 strength of schedule), South Carolina (No. 90 SOS), and Auburn (No. 62 SOS) in their bid to make the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee’s combination of a strong schedule (No. 2 SOS) and solid finish ensured the Vols going to the Big Dance. LSU had a SOS of 81, but its entire body of work which resulted in a SEC regular season title was enough to get in. Mississippi State had to win the SEC Tournament because its No. 55 SOS and No. 67 RPI would have been a roadblock with the selection committee.
Overall, there were few surprises that only three teams were selected and all were low seeds. Several streaks came to an end for the conference this year. Before Sunday, the SEC was the only league to have had at least five teams make the NCAA Tournament since 1997. Also, the last time the SEC didn’t have a team seeded at least fourth was 1990, when it had only three teams make the field and none higher than a fifth seed. Also since the NCAA tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, all 91 SEC teams that finished at least four games above .500 had been selected. South Carolina and Auburn both 10-6 were not able to carry on that tradition.
TENNESSEE (21-12, 10-6) No. 9 seed vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (22-10) No. 8 seed in the EAST REGIONAL: The reward for a Vols win would be facing No. 1 seed Pitt. The Vols go into the NCAA Tournament with confidence after making the finals of the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1991. The Vols have not won the conference tournament since 1979. For the second straight year, the Vols advanced to the semifinal round. If the Vols are going to advance to the second round, they need better guard play from Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince. The Vols have to ratchet up the defensive intensity against the perimeter-oriented Cowboys like they did against Alabama and Auburn in the SEC Tournament. The Cowboys are coached by former Kentucky player Travis Ford. OSU is No. 6 in scoring averaging 81 points per game and they are No. 5 in made 3-point shots with nine per game. Pearl’s lead assistant, Tony Jones, has been mentioned as a candidate for the Tennessee State job.
LSU (26-7, 13-3) No. 8 seed vs. BUTLER (26-5) No. 9 seed in the SOUTH REGIONAL: LSU goes into the NCAA Tournament with little momentum after losing three of their last four games. The Tigers fell to Mississippi State in the semi-finals of the SEC Tournament. LSU has not won the SEC Tournament since 1980 and the Tigers have not been in the finals since 1993. However, the Tigers will be aided in the NCAA Tournament by the experience of an eight-man rotation that consists of five seniors and a junior. If LSU beats Butler, they face North Carolina, a No. 1 seed. Butler earned its third straight NCAA bid despite starting two freshmen, Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored, in the backcourt. LSU has to contain Matt Howard, the Horizon League MVP, who led his team in scoring, rebounding and blocks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (23-12, 9-7) No. 13 seed vs. WASHINGTON (25-7) No. 4 seed in the WEST REGION: State goes into the NCAA Tournament on a six-game winning streak after beating Tennessee in the SEC title game. State became one of only four teams—Auburn in 1985, Arkansas in 2000, Georgia last year and the Bulldogs this year—since 1979 to win the SEC Tournament after having to play on the first day. Jarvis Varnado, who has a groin-pull, was awarded the MVP of the SEC Tournament. He had 10 points, seven rebounds and six blocks against Tennessee. The Bulldogs made the SEC Tournament final for the first time since 2003. State has won 20 games for three straight years and six of the past seven. Kodi Augustus, who is 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, has given State an added dimension inside to compliment its guards. Washington won its first conference title since 1953. The play of Huskies freshman guard Isaiah Thomas will be a key.
AUBURN (22-11, 10-6), a No. 1 seed in the NIT, hosts UT- Martin, the Ohio Valley regular season champions Wednesday. Lester Hudson, who averages 27 points per game, leads UT-M. The Tigers finished the season winning nine of 11 games, but could not get off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. Sixteen of Auburn’s 22 wins came against teams outside the top 100 RPI. The only two top 50 RPI wins came against Tennessee and LSU. Earning a NIT bid means this is the first time Auburn has played in the postseason since 2004. The Tigers lead the SEC in scoring defense allowing 64 points per game.
KENTUCKY (20-12, 8-8) hosts UNLV Tuesday in the NIT at Memorial Coliseum due to the state high school basketball championships being held at Rupp Arena. Kentucky has not played at Memorial Coliseum since 1976. This is Kentucky’s first non-winning SEC season since 1988-89. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart said he wants a coach to be an ambassador to the fans and be the public face of the team. Gillispie, who has yet to sign his contract, said he didn’t think that was in the job description. Gillispie, 38-26, is feeling the heat from the fans after his team lost nine of its last 12 games. Gillispie, who turned programs around at UTEP and Texas A & M, has 10 losses at Rupp in the last two years. Former Wildcat coach Tubby Smith lost 19 home games in a decade. Kentucky last missed the NCAA Tournament in 1991 when they were on probation.
SOUTH CAROLINA (21-9, 10-6), who lost their last two games of the season, will host Davidson, led by Stephen Curry (28.6 ppg) Tuesday in the NIT. If they win, then they will likely play Saint Mary’s with Patrick Mills. Coach Darrin Horn won 21 games with a team that was picked to finish fifth in its division. The Gamecocks have shown considerable improvement since Horn cracked down on academics and insisted on stronger discipline. They also matured during a European preseason swing. Horn also instilled some confidence into Zam Fredrick and encouraged Devan Downey to play better defense. Fredrick is the only senior of consequence the Gamecocks lose.
ALABAMA (18, 14, 7-9) finished the season winning five of seven games. Interim Coach Philip Pearson posted a 6-7 record. Alabama loses only seniors Alonzo Gee and Brandon Hollinger. Eight of the Tide’s top nine starters and reserves return next season. Names mentioned for the Alabama coaching job are Anthony Grant of VCU, Mike Anderson of Missouri, Tubby Smith of Minnesota, Oliver Purnell of Clemson, Brian Gregory of Dayton, Sean Miller of Xavier, Brad Stevens of Butler, Frank Haith of Miami, Steve Alford of New Mexico, Cliff Warren of Jacksonville, and Dana Altman of Creighton.
GEORGIA (12-20, 3-13) Zac Swansey and Troy Brewer are transferring. Swansey was the starting point guard earlier in the season. Terrance Woodbury led his team in scoring 13 times this season.
OLE MISS (16-15, 7-9): The Rebels could be one of the more improved teams in the league next year due to the return of guards Eniel Polynice, Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins, who all missed the season with knee injuries. The return of SEC Freshman- of- the- Year Terrico White gives the Rebels as strong of a backcourt as anyone in the league.
ARKANSAS (14-16, 2-14) Coach John Pelphrey has to convince junior forward Michael Washington, a second-team all conference selection, to return for his senior season. Plenty of talented players like Courtney Fortson, Michael Sanchez and Rotnei Clarke return. Problems off the court such as returning leading scorer Patrick Beverly being ruled ineligible and Montrell McDonald quitting the team in December hurt the Hogs this season. Even though there are no allegations of wrongdoing, the Hog basketball is being investigated by the NCAA for recruiting practices.
VANDERBILT (19-12, 8-8) returns all five starters-Jermaine Beal, Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor, Steve Tchiegang and A. J. Ogilvy-return next season.
FLORIDA: The Gators host J.U. Wednesday night in the NIT. If they win then they could face either Providence or Miami. Even though both Maryland and Arizona had worse RPIs than Florida, Maryland was No. 17 in strength of schedule and Arizona was No. 34.
ALABAMA: The Tide started spring practice Friday. Replacing John Parker Wilson at quarterback and Andre Smith at left tackle are big issues during the spring. Greg McElroy is the favorite to replace John Parker Wilson because he has more experience than Star Jackson and Thomas Darrah. JUCO signee James Carpenter and possibly redshirt freshman Tyler Love are among several players who will battle to replace Andre Smith. Replacing Rashad Johnson as safety will be a big task. Ali Sharrief, Tyrone King, Jr., and Mark Barron are possibilities. Also new assistant coaches Sal Sunseri and James Willis will be on the field for the first time. Some of the players making their debut are Carpenter, Chance Warmack, Kerry Murphy and Jermaine Preyear. B. J. Scott is expected to move from receiver to defensive back. Linebackers Prince Hall and Brandon Fanney (for one practice) have been suspended. This is Hall’s third suspension under Saban. Alabama officials denied receiving another letter from the NCAA investigating into any matters beyond the textbook issue. Nose guard Terrance Cody weighs 364 pounds and is hoping to be in the 350s before the season begins. Texas coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp visited Alabama’s practice last week.
A report from the Richmond Times Dispatch said Coach Nick Saban has hired former Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh as a grad assistant. He is still being paid by Virginia. Speculation is Groh will help with preparation for the opener against Virginia Tech.
FLORIDA: Defensive lineman Torrey Davis, a five-star signee out of Seffner (Fla.) Arwood, is no longer with the team. He has battled academic and discipline problems throughout his career. Davis played well in the national title game. UF assistant coach Billy Gonzales turned down job offers from the Cleveland Brown and Tennessee this offseason. Jacksonville tried to lure him last year.
Meyer is getting some criticism about using foul language at a coaches meeting. He was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel repeating a particular cuss word in a Nike Coaches Clinic in Pennsylvania. Offensive lineman Carl Johnson will likely be reinstated to the team after his former girlfriend dropped rape charges against him. Charges that he violated a restraining order have also been dropped. Johnson had been banned from workouts. He still needs to rehab his knee after recent surgery. Michael McFarland (6-6, 230), a tight end from Tampa, Fla., is a recent verbal commitment to the Gators. Kicker Jonathan Phillips has been granted an extra year of eligibility. He was granted a medical hardship for basically missing the entire 2007 season. Phillips hit 12 of 13 field goals last year. There are reminders around the Gator football complex of Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin’s comments predicting a win over Florida in the first meeting. Leon Orr (6-6, 300), a lineman from New Port Richey (Fla.) Gulf, is verbal commitment No. 8 for Florida.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Dan Mullen and his wife, Megan, are celebrating the birth of a new son, Canon, who came into the world three weeks ago. Mullen will visit 17 cities in five states on his alumni tour. Spring practice starts March 24. Florida, Mullen’s former team, travels to Starkville on Oct. 24. Mullen also recruited plenty of receivers including four-star in-state receiver Chris Smith for his spread offense. Tyson Lee and Chris Reif will battle at quarterback this spring. JUCO transfer Maurice Langston has been suspended from the team for being arrested on a felony charge of intent to distribute a controlled substance. Sophomore receiver Arceto Clark has also been suspended for a violation of team rules.
OLE MISS: Signee Jamar Hornsby was arrested over the weekend for aggravated assault and petit larceny. Hornsby allegedly hit another man with brass knuckles and stole $6 from him after an altercation at a McDonald’s parking lot last Sunday morning at 2:15 A.M. Athletic director Pete Boone is still looking for a 12th game. Gardner-Webb is a likely possibility. Running back Andre Sterling was also arrested for a DUI a few weeks ago. He has been suspended and all punishment will be handled internally. This means Ole Miss might have to play another I-AA school. Frank Crawford, a signee from Miami Gulliver Prep, has made the necessary test scores to enroll.
SOUTH CAROLINA: ESPN basketball analyst Bobby Knight gave the team a pep talk on the first day of practice. Cornerback Akeem Auguste was impressive in the first practice. Both he and C. C. Whitlock need to improve academics. Left tackle Jarriel King is improving after a heart procedure on Jan. 23. He is not sure when he will be cleared. New quarterbacks coach G. A. Magnus said he is not watching after Stephen Garcia 24 hours per day. Former quarterback Tommy Beecher has transferred to Liberty.
Gamecock signee Alshon Jeffrey, who was recruited by Tennessee and Southern Cal, said in a recent interview that Vols coach Lane Kiffin told him if he signed with South Carolina that he would end up pumping gas the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had played in Columbia. Kiffin denied he made the remarks.
GEORGIA: Spring practice began Tuesday. Coach Mark Richt said he is going back to tougher practices after backing off last year due to injuries. After the loss to Georgia Tech, Richt said he went back to full-contact practices and the result paid off in the bowl game win over Michigan State. Since preseason of last year, 30 Bulldog players have had surgeries. Linebacker signee Dexter Moody (6-2, 205) has been released from his national letter of intent because he threatened a teacher. He is free to sign with another school. Moody said he might sign with either Central Michigan or Florida.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said he would like to redshirt both freshmen quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray because of the experience of senior Joe Cox and redshirt sophomore Logan Gray. Bobo received a nearly $60,000 raised in the offseason. He is making $335,000 which is nearly triple what he made in 2003. Bobo said in a recent teleconference that he expects tailback Caleb King to grab the starting job with Richard Samuel and Dontavious Jackson sidelined with injuries.
LSU: Spring practice started last Thursday. Steven Ridley, a redshirt freshman running back, has sustained a knee injury, but the severity is unknown at this time. The injury comes at a non-contact segment of spring drills. Several positions are up for grabs this spring. Center Brett Helms, and guard Herman Johnson are gone. Starting tackles Ciron Black and Joseph Barksdale return. Lyle Hitt returns at guard. At receiver, Brandon LaFell is the main target. Terrance Tolliver is likely the No. 2 receiver. Safety Chad Jones will concentrate mainly on football and play baseball during breaks.
The Tigers will be holding tryouts for fullback after Quinn Johnson ran out of eligibility. Coach Les Miles told the media last week that he was looking into simplifying the defense. The Tigers may have subbed too much last year to the point of causing confusion. There are plenty of holes to fill on the defensive line with virtually only Charles Alexander returning after being granted sixth year of eligibility. A new defensive coordinator in John Chavis, new secondary coach in Ron Cooper and new defensive line coach in Brick Haley come in this spring.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats start April 1. They are still trying to schedule a game with Miami of Ohio at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium. The only two healthy backs this spring will be Moncell Allen and Alfonso Smith.
TENNESSEE: The Vols started spring practice last Tuesday. They return five on offense and six on defense. Quarterback Nick Stephens has broken his right wrist on his throwing hand. He will miss at least the first half of spring practice. Jonathan Crompton and B. J. Coleman will take the majority of reps. Receiver Ahmad Paige has been released from a Knoxville hospital after hitting a brick wall in the southeast corner of the end zone during Friday’s practice. Kiffin said Gerald Jones has been the star of practice so far.
Former Vol coach Phil Fulmer will be the grand marshal at the annual Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., on April 4. Bryce Brown, a five-star running back from Wichita, Kansas, visited Tennessee Friday and signed with the Vols on Monday. Brown, the No. 1 player according to Rivals.com, said his decision came down to Kansas State, coached for the second time by Bill Snyder, and Tennessee. He elevated the Vols class in the Rivals.com rankings from No. 22 to No. 10. Tennessee also signed running back Toney Williams from Georgia last month. Williams was a midterm enrollee and ran the ball well last Friday night in a scrimmage.
VANDERBILT: Cornerback Myron Lewis will miss spring practice after having his shoulder scoped.
ARKANSAS: Linebacker Ryan Powers was arrested Tuesday on shoplifting charges.
MIAMI: Former Cane quarterback Robert Marve is considering transferring to Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, Texas Tech, South Florida or UCLA. In Thursday night’s second scrimmage, the quarterbacks mainly completed short passes in a vanilla offense. Quarterback Jacory Harris was 8 of 12 for 65 yards and a touchdown. The running game was impressive. Tailbacks Graig Cooper gained 110 yards, Javarris James had 57 and Mike James added 57. James, a freshman, has been impressive all spring.
Freshman cornerback Brandon McGee is out six weeks after having surgery to repair a broken finger. McGee had been impressive during spring drills. In the first scrimmage of the spring, Harris completed his first 17 passes (he was 17 of 18), and Randy Phillips and Arthur Brown made some big hits.
FLORIDA STATE: The Noles began spring practice Monday. Offensive line is not a question mark, but the receiver, tailback, pass rusher, linebacker and the kicker positions are. Quarterback E. J. Manuel banged his hand against a teammate’s helmet. It didn’t appear to be serious. Bert Reed has to step up at receiver with all the problems at that position. Receiver Corey Surrency’s eligibility is still in doubt. Kendall Smith is moving from strongside linebacker to the middle. Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones are competing at running back.
CLEMSON: The Tigers begin spring practice on Tuesday and the spring game is April 11. Jon Richt, the son of Georgia coach Mark Richt, is transferring to a smaller school. He redshirted last season. The entire Clemson staff was at the Texas practices this week to learn more about the Longhorn spread and get some ideas on how to change the mentality of the team. The Tigers have a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Steele. He will work with eight returning starters. They must grow up at defensive tackle where they lost three players from last season. DeAndre McDaniel is moving from linebacker to safety. Coach Jim Leavitt of USF has hired Tiger assistant David Blackwell for a linebacker coach position.
BRENT BEAIRD IS A SPORTS WRITER FOR MYCLAYSUN IN ORANGE PARK, FLA. HE ALSO WRITES FOR RIVALS.COM, SAMSPORTSLINE.COM AND GATOR BAIT MAGAZINE. HE CAN BE HEARD ON SPORTS RADIO 1010 XL.
E-MAIL BRENT AT firstname.lastname@example.org