Scottie Wilbekin

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_

Southern Conference to keep championships in North Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) The Southern Conference will keep four league championships in North Carolina despite the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrawing championships because of the state law restricting the rights of LGBT people.

The league said it will honor commitments for these tournaments: men’s soccer in Greensboro, men’s and women’s basketball in Asheville and men’s golf in Pinehurst.

“We don’t want to punish the local host communities by pulling the championships out of the state this year,” Commissioner John Iamarino said Friday. “That point did resonate with presidents and chancellors.”

The league said in a statement its presidents and chancellors “reaffirmed their resolute opposition to legislation that discriminates against any individual.”

Iamarino said his conference was prepared for criticism in light of the NCAA and ACC decisions over the North Carolina’s law, which excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide antidiscrimination protections. It also requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.

HB2 was signed into law this year by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who has defended it as a commonsense safety and security measure.

The Southern Conference is headquartered in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Its 10 schools – Citadel, Chattanooga, East Tennessee, Furman, Mercer, UNC Greensboro, Samford, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford – are in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The decision on the championships came after two conference calls among league leaders.

“While not unanimous, we found enough common ground to get to this point,” Iamarino said.

He said the league was influenced by the North Carolina host communities, all urging the conference to hold its events as planned. In Asheville, Iamarino said he met with about 30 people, including some from the LGBT community, who promised to fight the HB2 law but wanted the basketball tournaments to remain.

Iamarino said the venues involved are privately controlled and the league is confident of there will be an inclusive atmosphere at the events. The men’s golf event will be held at Pinehurst Country Club and the basketball at a neutral site in Asheville.

The soccer will be played on the Greensboro campus.

Earlier this month, the NCAA removed seven championships from North Carolina, including first- and second-round games of the men’s basketball tournament scheduled for Greensboro. The ACC soon followed suit, pulling 10 of its championships from the state, including the football title game that was scheduled for Charlotte.

The ACC on Thursday relocated the football game to Orlando, Florida.

Iamarino said Southern Conference presidents and chancellors will meet in May to see if more action is necessary. He said there’s concern similar laws could extend beyond North Carolina.

“This could be a long-term issue,” he said.

Iamarino said he’s also concerned the schools against keeping the championships in North Carolina might take their own actions, perhaps boycotting the league events played there.

“It’s a real concern,” he said. “We’ll continue to communicate and prepare for everything.”

Report: Virginia Tech forward Blackshear still recovering from offseason foot surgery

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 of the Virginia Tech Hokies and Kamari Murphy #21 of the Miami Hurricanes go for a rebound in the second half during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.

Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.