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March Madness 2017: SEC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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SEC Player of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky

Malik Monk is hardly a perfect basketball player. He doesn’t rebound well. He’s not a great passer. He’s not a great defender. He’s a streaky shooter. But he’s also the single-scariest scorer in college basketball this season because of his ability to erupt. He had 31 second half points to beat Georgia in overtime and 30 second half points to beat Florida, a win that gave Kentucky the SEC title.

SEC Coach of the Year: Mike White, Florida

The Gators finished the season at 24-7, and it might have been better had their starting center and the anchor of their front line, John Egbunu, not torn his ACL. Florida looks to be in line for a top four seed on Selection Sunday, but they are a top ten team according to KenPom, which was not something that was expected of this group prior to the season. White’s ability to turn this team into a defensive powerhouse has been impressive.

First-Team All-SEC:

  • Malik Monk, Kentucky (POY)
  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox might be the bet pro prospect on this list. That said, he hasn’t played his best basketball for a while as he’s dealt with knee, ankle and virus issues.
  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell finished the season averaging 21.2 points, and he’s arguably the best on-ball defender in the league.
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia: I think you can make the argument that Frazier was the best point guard in the SEC this season. He’s been unreal since Maten went down with an injury.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten was playing sensational basketball before he went down with a knee injury a couple of weeks ago. The Bulldogs need him back.

Second Team All-SEC:

  • Kasey Hill, Florida
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida
  • Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
  • Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Nashville

Final: March 12th, 1:00 p.m.

Favorite: Kentucky Wildcats

Is anyone really surprised that the Wildcats are the pick to win the SEC tournament? Not only are the the most talented team in the SEC, they won the regular season title by two games. The key here, however, is going to end up being De’Aaron Fox, and not just for this tournament. Malik Monk’s ability to take over a game is the reason that Kentucky can make a Final Four, but unless Fox is back to being the guy he was at the start of SEC play, it’s hard to picture Kentucky winning four straight in March.

And if they lose?: Florida Gators

If you subscribe to the idea that KenPom is the best way to measure how good a team is, then Florida would actually be the favorite to win the SEC tournament. I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t think it was a fluke that the Gators beat Kentucky by 22 points in Gainesville. They are athletic and a nightmare defensively, but the loss of John Egbunu to a knee injury is a brutal blow to their ceiling.

Other Contenders:

  • South Carolina: For my money, the Gamecocks are the third-best team in the SEC, but the drop-off from the top two to them is dramatic. The problem? Frank Martin’s team just cannot score.

Sleeper: Vanderbilt

I actually think the Commodores are dangerous in this event. They’ve won six of their last eight and eight of their last 11 games to get into tournament contention, they swept Florida and they spread the floor and shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they’re not an easy team to put away.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores are an interesting test case. They’re going to have 15 losses in they don’t win the SEC autobid, but they have two elite wins (Florida sweep), five top 50 wins, ten top 100 wins and played the nation’s most difficult non-conference schedule. As the No. 7 seed, I think they need to win at least two games — Texas A&M and Florida — to get in.

Defining moment of the season: Pick your favorite Malik Monk eruption. Personally, my favorite is the 30 second half points he scored to beat Florida without De’Aaron Fox on the floor:

CBT Prediction: I fully expect Kentucky to get the job done in Nashville.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

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.