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2014 SEC Tournament Preview: How will Kentucky, bubble teams fair?

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As weird as this may sound, the SEC may have more to play for in their conference tournament than any other conference in the country will have.

Hear me out.

RELATEDRead through NBCSports.com’s latest Bracketology

It starts with Kentucky. The Wildcats entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country and have, since then, essentially remained the same team. That’s not a compliment. The best teams in the country improve throughout the year. Kentucky hasn’t gotten any better. Every step forward is followed by a step back. Their performance in March this season is going to be used as a referendum on head coach John Calipari, the Kentucky program and the way Cal uses the one-and-done. It just is. If Kentucky is going to put it all together in the NCAA tournament, that momentum will need to be built this week.

But that’s not it. The league also has a trio of teams currently sitting smack on the bubble’s cutline. Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas are all trying to play their way into the tournament, and all three will likely at least two wins to feel comfortable. Why? Because the way the bracket shakes out, both Tennessee and Missouri will need two wins to land a victory against Florida. Arkansas will need three. All three can theoretically get an at-large bid without that win, but it will mean that Selection Sunday is just that much more stressful.

MOREBrowse through all of our conference tournament previews

When: March 12-16

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta/

Final: March 16th, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Florida Gators

Florida will enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the favorite, although not by much, to bring home the national title. You don’t think they’re going to be the favorite to win the SEC tournament in a down year? Please. There’s a reason that they went 18-0 in conference play this season.

There are two things that make the Gators so dangerous this season. The first is that they can play so many different styles defensively. They can play straight man. They can play a switching man-to-man. They can use a 2-3 zone or a 1-3-1 zone. They can press. And they’re good at all of them, which makes them a nightmare to try to prepare for. Offensively, they do lack a big-time, NBA caliber scorer that defenses have to prepare for, but they make up for it with the fact that they simply do not have anyone that’s a liability offensively and with Scottie Wilbekin, who has become one of the better clutch scorers in the country.

And if they lose?: Kentucky Wildcats

source: AP
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I don’t really want to pick Kentucky as the second-most likely team to win the SEC tournament, but there really isn’t a choice here. In terms of talent, it doesn’t even compare. The Wildcats are head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the league, and they are probably more talented than Florida. But that doesn’t make them a better team. All of Florida’s pieces fit. All of their guys buy into their roles. They have a senior point guard that’s a leader on the floor and capable of taking and making big shots while spending the rest of the game distributing the ball around.

Kentucky doesn’t have any of that. But if, somehow, everything does happen to click, this group will have a real chance to make a run in March.

Other Contenders:

  • Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Fox caught a break when he was put on the opposite side of the bracket from Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. While they aren’t exactly in the bubbly picture right now, Georgia did finish third in the SEC this season.
  • Tennessee Volunteers: Even without Robert Hubbs, I like this Tennessee team more than anyone else in the SEC. Antonio Barton is playing better, Jarnell Stokes is starting to manhandle people down low again and Jordan McRae is one of the league’s best-kept secrets. They need at least one win in the tournament to feel good about their chances on Selection Sunday.

Sleeper: Missouri Tigers

Frank Haith has the best perimeter attack in the conference at his disposal, with Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross available. There are two questions for this group, however: How well does their front line play and what do they do at the point guard spot? It’s Clarkson’s job, but the younger guys have gotten more of a shot of late.

Deeper Sleeper: LSU Tigers

I loved LSU entering the season, and on paper, I still do. They have a trio of future NBA players on their front line in Johnny O’Bryant, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are more than capable in the back court. That’s a good roster, but it just hasn’t clicked … except when they face Kentucky. That’s their second round matchup if they can get by Alabama, with, in all likelihood, Georgia or Ole Miss waiting after that. The bracket sets up quite nicely for the Tigers.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Jordan McRae, Tennessee: McRae is the best perimeter scorer for the Vols, a high-flying wing that is capable of popping off for 30 on a given night.
  • Charles Mann, Georgia: Mann is the best player for the third-best team in the SEC, and I’m willing to bet that unless you’re a major SEC basketball fan, you haven’t heard of him. That’s a statement on SEC hoops if I’ve ever heard one.
  • Jabari Brown, Missouri: Brown is the best shooter in the SEC, a lights-out perimeter scorer with deep range and a quick trigger.
  • Trevor Releford, Alabama: It’s a shame that Alabama wasn’t better during Releford’s tenure, because he’s been one of the better point guards in the country this year.

CBT Prediction: Florida over Georgia

Best SEC Tournament Memory:

UCLA freshman to miss 4-6 weeks with knee injury

UCLA head coach Steve Alford, second from right, watches action against Cal Poly with his assistant coaches in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Baker)
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The degree of difficulty just went up for UCLA in a season that was already likely to be filled with intrigue.

Ike Anigbogu, one of the members of the Bruins’ highly-touted recruiting class, suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee and will miss 4-to-6 weeks, UCLA coach Steve Alford announced Tuesday.

The 6-foot-10 center is one-third of Alford’s top-10 2016 class, which also included five stars Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. He wasn’t as highly regard as those two, but Anigbogu was a consensus top-50 recruit coming out of Corona, Calif. He averaged a double-double for UCLA during their foreign trip this summer.

“We’re optimistic we’ll have him back in four weeks so not going to miss a lot,” Alford said, according to Bruin Report Online. “The first three games probably.”

The Bruins aren’t without depth to weather the loss of Anigbogu as returning center Thomas Welsh averaged 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds a game as a sophomore year ago and of course Leaf will play a major role.

Still, it’s a blow for a team that whose future appears so dependent on a group of freshmen, to lose one to start the season complicates the issue.

“Ike is doing a lot of good things,” Alford said. “Fortunately it’s a small tear. It’s not a major tear. I don’t think it’s going ot be a huge setback, but every time you have an injury there’s a setback.”

The timetable for Anigbogu’s return is interesting as if he’s able to hit the short end of the rehab window, which Alford repeatedly indicated they expected, he could be back for UCLA’s toughest stretch of non-conference games, starting with Kentucky on Dec. 3, then against Michigan on Dec. 10 and Ohio State on Dec. 17 before the Bruins open Pac-12 play against league favorite Oregon.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum injured during ‘Pro Day’ practice

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
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Duke freshman Jayson Tatum suffered an injury to his left foot during Duke’s pro day practice on Tuesday.

The severity of the injury is not yet known.

Tatum suffered the injury on what was a “routine landing”, according to someone that attended the practice, and it was immediately apparent he was in pain. Another source added that Tatum left the court without putting any pressure on the foot.

Tatum is a top five prospect in the Class of 2016 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. He’s been as impressive as any player during the first month of practice, multiple sources have said.

Duke is currently without their other top five prospect, as freshman Harry Giles III is still recovering from a knee procedure last month. It’s unclear just how much Giles will provide this season, as this was the third surgery on his knees.

Miami beats out Kansas and Florida for 2017 center

Jim Larranaga
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Jim Larranaga and Miami just won a big recruiting battle.

Deng Gak, a 6-foot-11 center in the Class of 2017, committed to the Hurricanes on Tuesday over the likes of Kansas and Florida.

“First off I’d like to thank my family for supporting me throughout this long process,” Gak wrote on Twitter, “and all the coaches that recruited me up to this point.

“After thinking long and hard, I’ve decided that the University of Miami is the best fit for me to continue my education and basketball career!”

Gak made an official visit to Miami last month, but followed it up with visits to Gainesville and Lawrence before ultimately deciding to pledge to the Hurricanes.

Ranked in the top-100 by Rivals, Gak joins a strong 2017 class for Larranaga. The Hurricanes already have a commitment from four-star point guard Chris Lykes as well as highly-regarded New Zealand power forward Sam Waardenburg.

Miami would appear to have plenty recruiting momentum at the moment, coming off a 2016 class that included McDonald’s All-American Dewan Huell and top-50 guard Bruce Brown.

After busy summer, a healthy Krzyzewski ready to lead Duke

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 06:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-80.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Mike Krzyzewski is embracing the grind of another year at Duke after an offseason that was exceptionally busy – even by his standards.

The winningest men’s coach in Division I history is coming off a summer in which he had four surgeries and led the U.S. men’s national basketball team to a third Olympic gold medal.

The Hall of Fame coach who turns 70 in February joked his summer was “a cruise” and proclaimed himself healthy and ready to lead a loaded Duke team that looks capable of contending for a sixth national championship and third since 2010.

“I’m good, and everything that happened was curable and needed to be taken care of, and was taken care of,” Krzyzewski said. “And now I’m raring to go.”

Krzyzewski’s offseason and subsequent return to full health figure to be popular topics of discussion Wednesday when Atlantic Coast Conference coaches and players gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the league’s annual preseason media day.

His health drew widespread concern last February when he missed a game at Georgia Tech – the first time he didn’t travel with his team since 1995 – and briefly was hospitalized with what he recently said was dehydration, high blood pressure and “a little bit of exhaustion,” though he was back at work the next day .

Krzyzewski – who had both hips replaced in the 1990s – also had his left knee replaced in April, had hernia surgery a month later and underwent two operations on his left ankle in June.

The procedure on his knee – which prompted his daughter, Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino, to dub him “the bionic man” – was key, he said.

“It’s one of those times that can happen to anybody where you get a series of physical setbacks,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of the reason I was exhausted was, I had a bad knee, and I really think that whatever happened when we were going to Georgia Tech, a lot of it had to do with me having a bad knee for a couple months and knowing I was already going to get the knee replacement, because I (was) still pushing it.”

Krzyzewski said he’s known both of his knees have been “bone-on-bone” for a while, started feeling pain in the left knee at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and knew it had to be replaced.

But he kept it a secret for most of the season – at times even hiding a knee brace underneath his long pants so Duke’s players and fans couldn’t tell he was wearing one. And while the public didn’t know there was a problem, Savarino said the family noticed in the summer of 2015 that her dad was walking differently.

“Although he never really said a word about it at all, it was hard to watch him walk out on the court and just be a little bit nervous about, is his knee going to lock up on him?” Savarino said.

Coincidentally, just down the road in Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski’s fiercest rival was dealing with a similar situation.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a similar surgery in May to replace his right knee , which means that between them, they have seven national titles and four artificial joints. Williams, 66, said he feels comfortable enough to stand for longer stretches than he did last season, while the Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game.

“It does feel better, and it’s been a long process,” Williams said.

Krzyzewski’s procedures left him feeling similarly spry, especially after completing pre- and post-surgery exercises to keep his quadriceps strong. He looked and felt fine during his final run with the U.S. team, leading them to one final gold medal before San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich takes over.

And with his focus now fully on the Blue Devils, he says he feels younger than before and is showing no signs of slowing down. He says now he can get more hands-on during practice than he could last year, when he left much of the on-court work with the players to his assistants.

“I knew I was going to be better. I knew that leg was going to be straight,” he said. “I knew that I’d have more energy and I knew that I needed to get ready for the Olympics. So in a very short period of time, I was well, and my knee is terrific. I’m like the poster boy for knee replacement.”

AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill contributed to this report.

AP College Basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

NCAA rejects UNC’s arguments in Notice of Allegations response

Bubba Cunningham
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The saga of the NCAA vs. North Carolina took another step forward on Tuesday.

In August, when North Carolina responded to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, the school did their best to try and get off of a technicality. We went in-depth on the matter here, but in short, UNC found documents that they believed showed that the NCAA had determined, in 2013, that no rules were broken and that, during the investigation, the association tried to hide this ruling from the school.

The NCAA responded to those allegations last month and UNC released those documents on Tuesday. From the News & Observer:

NCAA officials have told UNC-Chapel Hill that its largely due-process arguments to shut down an infractions case involving bogus classes that disproportionately benefited athletes are “without merit.”


“The new information provided, for the first time, a complete picture of the athletics department’s preferential access to anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses and, in some cases, how it used those courses to retain NCAA academic eligibility for student-athletes,” the NCAA’s enforcement staff said.

The NCAA also determined that the violations were not mandated by a four-year statute of limitations and that the extent of the misconduct was not truly known until 2014, the result of the Kenneth Wainstein investigation. The document that North Carolina referenced in their response to the Notice of Allegations was from 2013.