2013 SEC Tournament Preview

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It hasn’t always been easy to watch the SEC this season. Florida has been the conference’s best team, but after that we see little differentiation and a whole bunch of bad losses by teams in the middle of the conference. So what does that mean for the SEC tournament in Nashville? It could mean a tournament full of upsets, or it could mean a tournament full of far-less-than-perfect high-major basketball.

We will have a good share of quality players and coaches, including the young cast from Kentucky, the always-entertaining personality of Marshall Henderson, the pure point guard skills of Phil Pressey, and the quotable postgame press conferences of South Carolina coach Frank Martin. But how will it all play out? Check out the preview below:

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Nashville, Tenn. (Bridgestone Arena)

When: March 13 – March 17

Final: March 17, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Favorite: Florida

The biggest concern for Florida in the SEC tournament and on into the NCAA tournament will be whether or not the Gators can close out close games and who, if anyone, can step up in crunch time and hit a big shot. Florida does not have a go-to guy like Michigan has or Ohio State has or Georgetown has. The Gators win with defense and shooting the three-point ball and it has gotten them this far. But as losses to Missouri and Kentucky on the road in SEC play point out, they need to have someone or a collection of reliable guys to go to offensively down the stretch. In the loss to Kentucky in the regular season finale, Florida didn’t score a point in the final 7:36 of that game, blowing a seven-point lead. Regardless of how well they play defensively, offensive droughts like that can spell an early exit.

And if they lose?: Missouri

Missouri has needed to come together this season after welcoming so many new players into key roles to start the season. There has been a good deal of progress in that regard, but the stakes are higher now it’s single elimination from here on out which pushes cohesiveness to the forefront. Missouri has more offensive firepower than nearly any team in the country, with six players averaging double figures in scoring. Having Laurence Bowers back and healthy puts Missouri on the right track, but big man Alex Oriakhi is equally as important on the interior. A beneficiary of many Pressey assists, Oriakhi is both a scoring and rebounding threat inside. If Missouri wants to make a run in this tournament, though, Pressey will need to limit turnovers and make better decisions down the stretch in close games.

Other contenders: After Florida and Missouri, the waters of the SEC get murky. Heck, Missouri could even be considered part of the murky middle of the conference. There is a lot of mediocrity in the SEC. Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss have all had their runs this season and we’ll have to see which version of that teams shows up in the SEC tournament to know what we are dealing with. Kentucky is a different team without Nerlens Noel, but fellow freshman Willie Cauley-Stein has begun to step up on the defensive end and fill the hole left by Noel in his absence. Alabama is ranked 250th in the country or worse in points, rebounds, and assists per game this season, but still had a chance to take a share of the SEC lead late in the season before collapsing against Florida. Ole Miss was the talk of the country early in the SEC slate before bad losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State.

Sleeper: Tennessee

Jordan McRae was in the running for the SEC Player of the Year and for good reason. The Volunteers have won eight of their last nine games down the stretch in SEC play and his production has been central to that success. He has scored at least 14 points in eight of those nine games, and that includes a 34-point outburst in a win over LSU. The Volunteers are in a good position in the bracket, too. They will draw either South Carolina or Mississippi State in the second round, then advance to play Alabama in the quarterfinals if they win. The Volunteers played two close games against Alabama earlier in the season, one win and one loss in games that were decided by a total of four points.

Deeper sleeper: Arkansas

Yes, it is true. Arkansas can’t win basketball games on a consistent basis away from home. The Razorbacks were undefeated at home this conference season and were 1-8 on the road with that one win coming over cellar dweller Auburn. But how will they fare on a neutral floor? A high-energy, high-octane transition offense could speed some teams up unexpectedly and that’s when the game comes down to adjustments. If Arkansas catches a team off guard and sets the pace early, will the opponent be able to adjust and come back? It could end up being a wildcard factor in this tournament. But there is a downside. If that doesn’t work, the Razorbacks could lose their first game to Vanderbilt.

Studs:

– Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia

Caldwell-Pope was voted the SEC Player of the Year with his 18.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Some will discount his performance because the Bulldogs finished in the bottom half of the SEC, but there is another side to that coin. On a team with no other real weapons and the chance for defenses to key in on him, he still put up the numbers that he did. Credit granted where credit is due.

– Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss

Perhaps Henderson’s personality has overshadowed his play, but he has continued his double-digit scoring production throughout the season (regardless of how many shots he had to take to get there). It typically follows that when Henderson struggles, Ole Miss struggles, partly because of the number of shots Henderson still takes when those shots are not falling. He was 4-of-19 in a loss to Mississippi State, 4-of-17 in a loss to South Carolina, and 4-of-15 in a loss to Missouri.

– Elston Turner, Texas A&M

Turner is questionable for the SEC tournament, but would be a huge boost to the Aggies if he is able to play after breaking a bone in his finger March 6 against LSU. He is likely remembered most for the 40 points he dropped on Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Jan. 12, but his production has continued even with A&M finishing toward the bottom of the league. He had 37 points in a win over Ole Miss on Feb. 13 and 38 in a four-overtime loss to Tennessee.

CBT Prediction: With Will Yeguete now fully assimilated back into the rotation and providing more depth on the front line, this is Florida’s tournament to win.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Andy Kennedy resigns from Ole Miss effective immediately

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Andy Kennedy announced that, effective immediately, he will be stepping down as the head coach at Ole Miss. Tony Madlock will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The reason is simple: Kennedy wanted to “relieve any external pressure being felt by our current players” and he did not believe that last week’s announcement that this would be his final season in Oxford accomplished that.

“It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of The Standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Yherefore, I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that “clean breaks” are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies.”

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost by 17 points at Mississippi State. That came two days after Kennedy went viral for a brutally honest criticism of what his team was going through.

“I can’t get to them,” he said. “I can’t reach them.”

It’s sad that this is the way that it had to end for the best basketball coach that Ole Miss has ever had. But it had to be done.

No. 12 Duke beats No. 11 Clemson as defensive resurgence continues

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Grayson Allen finished with 19 points, four assists and four steals, scoring 17 of his points in the first half, and Wendell Carter added 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks as No. 12 Duke won their fourth straight game without Marvin Bagley III, 66-57.

No. 11 Clemson was short-handed as well, and that’s something that needs to be noted. Not only are they playing without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL earlier this year, but Shelton Mitchell was not in the lineup after suffering a nasty concussion at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Tigers were a No. 3 seed when the bracket reveal occurred last Sunday, but like Ohio State and Oklahoma, they have now lost back-to-back games; 11 of the top 16 teams have lost a game in the last week.

But the story here more than anything is Duke.

Yes, Allen finished with 19 points and continues to play well without Bagley on the floor. Getting him into a rhythm is critically important for this team. He was averaging 14.7 points in 24 games with Bagley. He is averaging 22.3 points in the last three games that Bagley has missed, and that does not include the 37-point outburst he had when Bagley went down with an injury against Michigan State.

Coach K also has had a chance to develop some confidence in his bench. Javin DeLaurier had 10 boards on Sunday. Marques Bolden didn’t play a done of minutes, but he still finished with five points, three boards and a pair of blocks. He was, generally speaking, a positive influence on the game.

But here is the most important and perplexing nugget: Duke, for the third straight game, was excellent defensively. They’ve now allowed fewer than 1.0 points-per-possession in each of the last three games. They are clearly not the same time offensively without Bagley’s presence on the floor, but it is impossible to ignore what they have been defensively in the last 10 days without him.

The question we need to ask is whether or not that will continue once Bagley makes his return.

Because the only thing standing between Duke and a Final Four is their inability to defend.

No. 8 Ohio State falls at No. 22 Michigan, Michigan State moves into first in Big Ten

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After all of the drama and the speculation about whether or not Ohio State or Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten, water has seemingly found its level.

On Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, No. 8 Ohio State lost their second straight game, falling 74-62 at No. 22 Michigan and allowing No. 2 Michigan State — who had one of college basketball’s greatest comebacks on Saturday at Northwestern — to slide into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with just one week left of the regular season.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 17 points while Jordan Poole added 15 off the bench in the win.

The Wolverines did a good job of slowing down Ohio State’s all-american forward, Keita Bates-Diop. KBD finished with 17 points and seven boards, but he shot just 5-for-17 from the floor. Jae-Sean Tate led the way with 20 points and 15 boards for the Buckeyes.

There was a special moment before this game even started as Austin Hatch, a two-time survivor of plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, took part in the team’s Senior Day.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying:

Bubble Banter: All of Sunday’s bubble action in one place

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

SETON HALL
NEBRASKA
HOUSTON
TEMPLE
PENN STATE