The SEC is trying to improve their basketball, and that’s a good thing

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The SEC was awful last season.

Three NCAA bids from a 14-team power conference is, frankly, unacceptable. Some of that isn’t necessarily the league’s issue, as Kentucky, the one blueblood program among the SEC ranks, had a a down year, getting knocked out in the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris.

The league also had a number of programs — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama — that found themselves on the wrongside of the bubble.

And there was a simple, easily fixable cause: the SEC’s RPI was horrible, largely due to the fact that the conference, as a whole, apparently does not understand how to put together a non-conference schedule.

To fix that problem, the SEC has brought in a consultant to try and help these teams put together schedules that are worthwhile: Greg Shaheen, who more or less ran the NCAA tournament until he was fired last April. There aren’t many who know more about the RPI and how to rig a schedule to improve it than Shaheen. From Pat Forde:

“One of the things that was eye-opening to coaches was how much every team’s schedule impacts the other teams,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan.

“They’re inextricably linked,” Shaheen said.

[…]

“It’s not only who you play,” Shaheen said, “it’s where you play them. They need to be serious about this from the first game to the last. If they don’t go on the road and don’t play quality competition, it will be reflected at the end of the year.”

It’s a good thing that the SEC is finally making a move to try and strength their RPI numbers, which were atrocious last season. Five schools in the conference had non-conference schedule strengths outside the top 200. South Carolina and Mississippi State were outside the top 300. Some of that I can understand, as Frank Martin Rick Ray, respectively, were taking over massive rebuilding jobs and, in all likelihood, were less concerned about their RPi than they were destroying their team’s confidence before SEC play even began.

But the issue is that having one or two teams with terrible RPI numbers can destroy the RPI of an entire league. Mississippi State has to play 18 SEC games, and every time they play one, it hurts their opponent’s RPI even if the Bulldogs lose by 50 points. The RPI doesn’t factor in margin of victory; it simply registers that Florida beat a crappy team.

There are ways to game the RPI, as outlined here and here. The basics? Play teams that are going to win a lot of games in a mid-major league and play away from home early in the season even if that means pulling a Kansas and schedule “neutral court” games in Kansas City.

We can laugh at the SEC for needing to hire outside help for this kind of rudimentary expertise, but at the end of the day, this is a good thing. Because it’s going to make the SEC more competitive and it’s a sign that the conference actually cares about things other than football.

College basketball will be better overall if Kentucky and Florida have more competition on a nightly basis.

The fanbases in the SEC are passionate, and while their first love may be the gridiron, there are still people down there who will support their school’s athletics regardless of sport.

Giving them a reason to care about hoops is a good thing.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”