Mississippi State rides for the SEC

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NEW YORK – Within the first week of the college basketball season, we saw three of the SEC’s top five teams lose.

Mississippi State and Vanderbilt were dropped at home by Akron and Cleveland State, respectively. Florida went on the road and ran into the buzzsaw known as the Ohio State Buckeyes. The initial reaction was, naturally, that the SEC is once again down this season.

Don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you if you did. I jumped to the same conclusion. After the way that the SEC has struggled over recent seasons, it made too much sense.

Dig a little deeper, however, and the answer isn’t so simple.

Vanderbilt is playing without Festus Ezeli, whose knee injury essentially extended the six game suspension he is currently serving through December. During their loss to Cleveland State, John Jenkins injured his ankle, and while he kept playing, it was bad enough that he didn’t suit up against Bucknell. I’ve been as harsh on Vandy as anyone, but even I can admit that judging them too harshly before they play at 100% is a bit unfair.

Florida’s loss to Ohio State is about as far from a bad loss as you can get. Road games are difficult regardless of opponent. Hanging within seven of a top three team on their home court in mid-November is a promising performance.

Which brings us to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs completed their run to the Coaches vs. Cancer Championship with a 67-57 win over Arizona on Friday night, all but erasing the doubts created by the memories of that loss to Akron.

But for the second straight night, this was more than simply a win for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs never trailed Arizona. Hell, the score was only tied once, at 23. The Bulldogs jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 21-11, over-powering the Wildcats on the interior. Arizona did battle back to tie the game and only trailed by one at the half, but the Bulldogs once again got off to a quick start in the second half. Arizona wasn’t blown out by any means — the lead didn’t hit double digits for the half — but it never felt like Mississippi State ever lost control of the game.

“I am proud of our team,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said after the game. “And I am proud from this standpoint: I think when the game was on the line in the second half, we survived. … Our team dug in defensively and the stats back it up. We held them to eight field goals in the second half and we had a plus-nine rebound margin. Those are winning plays.”

Arnett Moultrie led the way, finishing with 19 points (on 8-9 shooting), 10 boards and the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Moultrie isn’t always going to be a big scorer like this, but the threat of having two big men capable of putting up 20 points and 10 boards is part of what makes Mississippi State so dangerous.

The other part of what makes the Bulldogs dangerous is there back court, and not simply Dee Bost. Stansbury’s star senior shot just 3-12 from the field, finishing with eight points and six assists to along with three turnovers. And while Stansbury will disagree with my assessment of how Bost played — he called me out during the press conference, saying that the effort and leadership that Bost played with is what they need from him — the bottom line is that the Bulldog’s best scorer wasn’t scoring well.

And Mississippi State still won.

A big part of that was due to the play of DeVille Smith, a diminutive freshman point guard. For the second straight night, Smith came into the game and created a spark. Smith, who was the third-leading scorer for the Bulldogs during their trip to Europe, had seven points and a pair of assists, scoring six points and handing out an assist in a five minute stretch of the second half in which the Bulldogs pushed the lead from one to nine.

“[Being a spark plug] is something that coach wants me to do, but its also something that I want to do. I’ll do whatever it takes to win the game,” Smith said.

Smith isn’t the only role player that stepped up for the Bulldogs. Wendell Lewis had six points and seven boards off the bench. Rodney Hood had nine points and hit a couple of big jumpers. Brian Bryant add six points and helped keep Arizona’s slew of perimeter players in check.

“We have a lot of different guys on different nights,” Stansbury said. “We have people on different nights who can step up and do big things for us.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kevin Knox’s father: ‘I’ve never met Christian Dawkins’

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The father of Kevin Knox spoke with SEC Country on Friday morning and told the outlet that he has never met Christian Dawkins or Andy Miller.

Knox is one of the players that was mentioned in the documents disclosed by Yahoo Sports on Friday morning detailing the way that former NBA agent Andy Miller recruited players to his agency. Knox is mentioned in the report as either him or a family member having a meal with Christian Dawkins. The evidence is an expense report that Dawkins filed with Miller in oder to get reimbursed.

“Obviously the investigation is still going on, but the only comment I can say is I’ve never met Christian Dawkins before or Andy Miller, and if they sat next to me at the grocery store, I wouldn’t know who they were,” Kevin Knox Sr. told SEC Country. “Out of respect for the NCAA investigation and the University of Kentucky investigation into this, I’d just say that I’ve never met Christian Dawkins or Andy Miller before and leave it at that.”

He also added that he expected his son to play against Missouri on Saturday night.

Kentucky has not yet commented on the report. Mark Emmert, however, has.

Report: Miles Bridges, Wendell Carter, Kevin Knox among players receiving benefits in FBI documents

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Yahoo Sports released a devastating report on Friday morning detailing some of the exact expenditures and impermissible benefits provided listed on records that were obtained by the FBI from the offices of former agent Andy Miller.

Among them?

Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Duke’s Wendell Carter, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox, just to name a few. Past college stars like Dennis Smith Jr., Bam Adebayo and Markelle Fultz are also listed in the spreadsheets and documents obtained by Yahoo.

The report — and I encourage you to read it — details the elaborate payment, loan and recruitment strategy by Andy Miller’s agency, which includes outright payments to players, cash advances to parents, dinners that were paid for and plane tickets and travel that was provided to players and families.

Here’s the catch: What was provided to the biggest names currently in college is not all that great. Bridges’ mom allegedly received $400, according to an expense report filed by Dawkins, while Bridges’ parents had a meal with Dawkins listed at $70.05. Carter, Knox and Sexton are all tied to this by meals that families members had with Dawkins that the former Miller associate paid for.

Whether or not the players will be deemed ineligible is yet to be determine. The dollar value of the benefits listed in these documents is small enough that paying the money back might be enough to get their eligibility restored now even if it does mean that games they’ve played in previously will end up vacated.

There is also the argument that can be made that Dawkins is lying in these expense reports. In a business with as much cash flying around as this, is it too much of a stretch to assume that Dawkins had dinner with some friends or a girlfriend and passed the receipt off as a work expense?

It’s too early to tell what exactly will result from all of this.

But remember how we tried to tell you in September that this thing goes deep?

Well, here you go.

Bracketology: How high can North Carolina climb?

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On Monday, North Carolina passed Michigan State and Purdue on the Seed List (UNC is No. 7 overall).  Wednesday, the Tar Heels backed up their route of Louisville by winning another road game at Syracuse.  That’s six straight ACC victories – all but two of which are against teams in today’s bracket.  Carolina now has 10 Quadrant 1 wins, which ties the Tar Heels with Kansas for the most in that category (by a two-win margin).  Which brings us to this question: How high can Carolina climb?

The answer, of course, depends on these next two weeks.  But given their strong schedule and depth of quality wins, a No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question if the Tar Heels beat Duke (again) to close the regular season and/or win the ACC tournament.

Overall, several ACC teams benefitted today by the confusing state of the SEC.  The middle of the bracket is littered with SEC teams who ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean.  These next two weeks will be important for them, too.

With another full weekend ahead, here’s where we stand …

UPDATED: February 23, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Baylor vs. Washington | Midwest Region
  • Texas vs. LSU West Region
  • SOUTHERN vs. SAVANNAH ST | South Region
  • FL GULF COAST vs. NICHOLLS | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION

SOUTH Atlanta    EAST – Boston                               
Charlotte Pittsburgh
1) VIRGINIA 1) VILLANOVA
16) SOUTHERN / SAVANNAH ST 16) FL GULF CST / NICHOLLS
8) Alabama 8) Miami-FL
9) Creighton 9) Florida
San Diego Boise
5) Ohio State 5) Kentucky
12) LOUISIANA 12) St. Bonaventure
4) West Virginia 4) GONZAGA
13) E. TENNESSEE ST 13) VERMONT
Dallas Wichita
6) Florida State 6) Virginia Tech
11) Saint Mary’s 11) MIDDLE TENNESSEE
3) Texas Tech 3) CINCINNATI
14) CHARLESTON 14) BUCKNELL
Detroit Nashville
7) Arizona State 7) Butler
10) Providence 10) Kansas State
2) MICHIGAN STATE 2) North Carolina
15) WRIGHT STATE 15) WAGNER
WEST – Los Angeles MIDWEST – Omaha
Wichita Detroit
1) KANSAS 1) Xavier
16) PENNSYLVANIA 16) UNC-ASHEVILLE
8) Seton Hall 8) Arkansas
9) Texas AM 9) TCU
Boise Dallas
5) Clemson 5) Michigan
12) NEW MEXICO ST 12) LOYOLA (CHI)
4) Wichita State 4) Tennessee
13) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 13) MURRAY STATE
San Diego Pittsburgh
6) Houston 6) RHODE ISLAND
11) LSU / Texas 11) Baylor / Washington
3) ARIZONA 3) Purdue
14) RIDER 14) BUFFALO
Nashville Charlotte
7) NC State 7) Missouri
10) NEVADA 10) Oklahoma
2) AUBURN 2) Duke
15) UC-IRVINE 15) MONTANA

NOTES on the BRACKET: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed – followed by Villanova, Xavier, and Kansas

Last Four Byes (at large): Kansas State, Providence, Saint Mary’s, St. Bonaventure

Last Four IN (at large): Baylor, Texas, LSU, Washington

First Four OUT (at large): Marquette, Syracuse, USC, Utah

Next four teams OUT (at large): UCLA, Mississippi State, Louisville, Georgia

Breakdown by Conference …

SEC (9): AUBURN, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas AM, LSU

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, NC State

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas

Big East (6): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Butler, Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence

Big 10 (4): MICHIGAN STATE, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan

Pac 12 (3): ARIZONA, Arizona State, Washington

American (3): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, Houston

Atlantic 10 (2): RHODE ISLAND, St. Bonaventure

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Pennsylvania (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Nicholls (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Santa Barbara (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Charleston (CAA), UNC-Asheville (BSO), Savannah State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Medical clearance brings difficult decision for Michael Porter, Jr.

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Michael Porter, Jr. came to an antiquated situation in a very modern way.

The 6-foot-11 phenom signed up to play for his father at his hometown university.

And Missouri really is more than just the hometown university for Porter — it’s home. His aunt has coached two of his sisters on the Tigers’ women’s team. His younger brother, one of his seven siblings, is also on the roster. After hitting rock-bottom in the Kim Anderson era, Missouri was getting its prodigal son and savior all in the same package.

Nevermind it came after his family moved to Seattle as his father was hired as an assistant by Lorenzo Romar in Washington, no doubt in part because of the long-standing relationship between the two men but also because Porter, Jr. is possibly a generational talent. And forget that his father’s next job came from Cuonzo Martin at Missouri.

In the end, Porter, Jr. began the season playing for his father and with his brother, a five-star center who reclassified in order to join the Tigers, undoubtedly envisioning a magical season alongside his family in his hometown in the pursuit of a national championship.

It’s not Hoosiers, but it ain’t far off.

The season hasn’t exactly worked out that way, and after Porter, Jr. found himself in a nostalgic role by following a contemporary path, in order to live out that he’ll have to turn his back on current-day — somewhat cynical — common sense logic to get one last chance at it.

After sitting out the whole season due to a back injury and with a week left in the regular season, Porter, Jr. has been cleared to return to basketball activities, seemingly setting up the decision on whether to give college basketball one last chance or simply sit out to preserve his best chance to make the most money in the NBA.

Essentially, it boils down to this: Is the added risk to the potential of hundreds of millions of dollars Porter, Jr. could make in the NBA worth the reward of an NCAA tournament run playing alongside his brother with his father on the bench at the university that in some ways has defined his family?

How much is that one chance of collegiate glory worth?

The simple answer for most in 2018 is not enough to justify playing.

Porter, Jr. probably can’t move the needle on his draft stock by playing. Could he possibly be good enough in just a couple weeks after months on the shelf to move ahead of Deandre Ayton? Luka Doncic? Mo Bamba or Marvin Bagley III? Maybe, but is going first or second that much of a difference than going fifth or sixth when the real money comes on his second and third contracts? Or his shoe deal?

Were he to injure himself — especially if it was an aggravation of the back injury or a foot issue — teams might have memories of Greg Oden flash before their eyes. Is there a team willing to risk a Joel Embiid-like injury profile in the first seven slots of a draft this strong?

On the other hand, Porter, Jr. is going to be drafted no matter what potentially happens after his potential return. I can’t imagine even in the most catastrophic of scenarios where he slips outside the top-half of the first round. He’ll make millions of dollars, and that’s the worst-case scenario. Playing, if he’s fully healthy, only adds some risk.

Is that added percent — or two or five or 15 — acceptable when weighed against the unique opportunity that generations of basketball players have dreamed of and never even been given chance to fulfill?

Charging headlong into a chance to win a title — and Missouri very well could be a title contender in a year like this year with a healthy Porter, Jr. — for your school, community and family has to be a tantalizingly tempting choice. Even if it doesn’t come with a paycheck.

It’s chasing a storybook ending over limiting future financial risk.

How to adjudicate those two choices is up to Porter, Jr.

It’s a choice he gets to make. Does he try to have it all or play it safe? Is the lure of shared family success stronger than that of financial security and better long-term viability?

Playing for free has a cost. Is Porter, Jr. willing to pay it?

NCAA president Mark Emmert on Yahoo report: ‘Systematic failures … must be fixed’

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NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement on Friday morning in response to the allegations that were made in a bombshell report from Yahoo Sports.

Yahoo obtained documents detailing the recruitment methods that former NBA agent Andy Miller and an employee, Christian Dawkins, used to chase potential clients. Payments as high as $73,000 are detailed and current athletes like Duke’s Wendell Carter, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Kentucky’s Kevin Knox and Alabama’s Collin Sexton are all listed in those documents.

“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert’s statement read. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules.”

“Following the Southern District of New York’s indictments last year, the NCAA Board of Governors and I formed the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to provide recommendations on how to clean up the sport. With these latest allegations, it’s clear this work is more important now than ever. The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity.”

“We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.”