SEC conference tournament preview

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So how bad is the SEC?

The SEC’s answer: its actually not as bad as it looks. Yes, Kentucky steamrolled the conference, but I’m not sure that Kentucky wouldn’t have steamrolled any conference this season. The Wildcats are loaded with talent and are playing the best defense of the John Calipari era. Thank you Anthony Davis.

Then you also have to consider the fact that Alabama and Mississippi State, two of the league’s potential NCAA Tournament teams, have had all kinds of personnel issues this year. Alabama’s best player got the boot and they had four starters suspended for a handful of games. At Mississippi State, there is no leadership. Their five-game losing streak ended with in-fighting, and they have Renardo Sidney on their roster.

You can make the argument that top of this league has the potential to be as good as the top of any league in the country.

The real answer: Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Bracket

Where: New Orleans

When: March 8th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 12:00 p.m. ESPN

Favorite: Kentucky

Right now, Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win the national title. They aren’t going to be the favorite to win a conference tournament when they won the conference regular season by six games?

And if they lose?: Vanderbilt

Call me crazy (seriously, do it) but I have a feeling that Vanderbilt turns things around this March. Their reputation precedes them when it comes to postseason success, but they are a senior laden group playing their final games as collegians. I think that matters. On paper, this group has everything you. Scorers on the perimeter, athletes up and down their lineup, a big man in the middle, an underrated (yes, Brad Tinsley is underrated) playmaker at the point. I have been as hard as anyone on Vandy this season. But I think they turn this thing around.

Other contenders?: Florida has the talent to win this thing. They do. I swear. Patric Young is big enough and physical enough to give Kentucky problems in the middle and with the amount of shooters they have on their perimeter, if the shots are going down, the Gators are going to be scary. You’ll notice one thing about that paragraph, however: “if, if, if”. Florida needs a lot to break the right way.

Mississippi State can also win this thing if they can ever figure out their issues. They have the perfect roster make up to knock off Kentucky: big, physical bodies inside, a talented point guard and a slew of shotmakers on the wings.

Sleeper: Tennessee

I have loved the way that the Vols played since I first saw them in Maui. They are a gritty bunch with more talent on the roster than you think. They do the little things well — defend, get loose balls, rebound. When you play with effort, eventually the shots will go down.

Deeper sleepers: I think Alabama has some potential, even without Tony Mitchell in their midst. Also keep an eye on Ole Miss. They are just 18-12, but they’ve beaten everyone they are supposed to beat.

Studs:

Anthony Davis, Kentucky: As his offensive game starts to develop, he just becomes scarier and scarier.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: He’s the last Kentucky player that I’ll mention, but he needs mentioning. No one in the country plays the game as hard as he does.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: It’s a shame that Moultrie has to play on a team with so many issues. In any other league, he would be getting talked about as arguably the best big man in the conference.

John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt: Jenkins doesn’t miss when he gets a good look and Taylor is one of the best athletes in the country.

Erving Walker, Florida: Walker has been good this season. He’s limited how many dumb shots he takes and he’s become a solid playmaker at the point.

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

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: