SEC tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grant Williams, Tennessee

There was some speculation that, after a month of being the best player in the conference, P.J. Washington had overtaken Grant Williams in the SEC Player of the Year race. That seems silly now. Williams was the best player on the Vols all season long, the rock that they ran their offense through, and while it wasn’t enough to get Tennessee an SEC regular season title, it did keep them in contention for a No. 1 seed should they find a way to get out of Nashville with an SEC tournament title. Williams is the frontcourt version of Jalen Brunson — he’s not a look-the-part all-star, but he can absolutely dominate a game because of his intelligence and strength.

SEC COACH OF THE YEAR: Will Wade, LSU

This is a no-brainer for me. Wade beat out two top ten teams for the outright SEC title, and he did it while navigating a season in which he was ultimately suspended for his ties to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball and where one of his players, Wayde Sims, was shot and killed on the night before the first practice of the year.

FIRST TEAM ALL-SEC

  • GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee (POY)
  • TREMONT WATERS, LSU
  • ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee
  • P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky
  • CHRIS SILVA, South Carolina

SECOND TEAM ALL-SEC

  • BREEIN TYREE, Ole Miss
  • QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON, Mississippi State
  • JARED HARPER, Auburn
  • KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
  • DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

SEC TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-17
WHERE: Nashville
FINAL: March 17, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

FAVORITE: Tennessee (+150) or Kentucky (+180)

So who do you think is better?

That’s really what this comes down to.

Are you on the side of Tennessee, who just two weeks ago beat the brakes off of Kentucky in Knoxville? Or do you think that Kentucky, who two weeks before that completely embarrassed Tennessee in Lexington?

Personally, I fall on the side of the Volunteers, and that’s mostly because I’m always a sucker for veterans. Tennessee is old and tough and is finally getting Jordan Bone to play like the best guard in the SEC. Kentucky, on the other hand, needs an inconsistent P.J. Washington to be at his best if they are going to be at their best.

I also think the status of Reid Travis really matters here. He’s not always the best option at the five for Kentucky, but as we noted here, he is when Kentucky faces off with Tennessee. The biggest issue that I have with this potential rubber match is that it is going to happen in the semifinals, assuming seeds hold This should be for the SEC title.

SLEEPER: Auburn (+500)

The bracket could not have broken down more perfectly for Bruce Pearl’s club. They did not find a way to get into the top four, meaning that they do not get a bye into the quarterfinals, but as long as they dispatch of the winner of Georgia-Missouri, the Tigers will advance to take on SOUTH CAROLINA (+6500), who put together an impressive conference season despite the fact that they struggled so much early in the year. Win those two games, and the Tigers draw an LSU (+500) team that is playing without their head coach Will Wade and without star freshmen Javonte Smart and, potentially, Naz Reid.

BEST VALUE: No one?

The best value is probably Auburn, but I don’t really love any futures in this league tournament. I think the winner will be whoever wins the Tennessee-Kentucky semifinal, but I don’t want to bet on either of them because the odds just aren’t good. The top of the bracket is wide-open, but beyond Auburn, I just can’t see a short-handed LSU or South Carolina beating either Kentucky or Tennessee with an SEC title on the line.

So it’s Auburn, even if the 5:1 payout is not great.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

ALABAMA (NET: 58, SOS: 21): The Tide are probably on the wrong side of the cutline heading into the SEC tournament. With just a 2-9 record against Q1 opponents and a pair of Q2 losses — Texas A&M (82) and Georgia State (126) at home — they don’t have enough quality wins to make up for their 17-14 record. That said, they do have a home win over Kentucky and they did play a tough, tough schedule, so a run to the semis featuring wins over Ole Miss (25) and Kentucky again would probably be enough to get the job done.

FLORIDA (NET: 33, SOS: 28): Florida’s resume isn’t all that much different from Alabama’s. The Gators are 3-11 against Q1 with a win at LSU (14) highlighting their profile, but they have just six Q1 and Q2 wins combined and they lost to South Carolina (80) and Georgia (113) at home. It is worth noting, however, that Florida played five games against top 10 NET teams and currently sits at 1-9 against teams ranked in the top 25 of the NET. They had their chances. They missed on them.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Not only will Tennessee and Kentucky be playing for an SEC tournament title in Nashville, I think that they are going to be playing for a No. 1 seed as well. As it currently stands, our Dave Ommen has Kentucky the last No. 1 seed and headed to the Midwest (Kansas City) while Tennessee is a No. 2 seed in the South (Louisville). I think it goes without saying that the Wildcats would much prefer to jump North Carolina and get the No. 1 seed in the South, meaning that they end up playing in the state of Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

Hell, we can probably put LSU in this conversation as well. They are also sitting as a No. 2 seed in the latest bracket update, and if things break the right way, there’s a non-zero chance that they could end up as a No. 1 seed.

PREDICTION

I do think that Tennessee is the better team than Kentucky at this point, so I’ll pick them to win it by knocking off Auburn in the SEC title game.

Tulane secures 101-94 OT win over Cincinnati

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NEW ORLEANS – Kevin Cross and Jalen Cook scored 27 points each as Tulane took down Cincinnati 101-94 in overtime on Tuesday night.

Cross added 15 rebounds and six assists for the Green Wave (16-7, 9-3 American Athletic Conference). Cook added 14 assists. Jaylen Forbes scored 24 points and shot 6 for 15 (3 for 6 from 3-point range) and 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

Landers Nolley II finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Bearcats (16-9, 7-5). Ody Oguama added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Cincinnati. In addition, David Dejulius finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals.

Tulane entered halftime down 37-28. Cross paced the team in scoring in the first half with 10 points. Forbes scored 18 second-half points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Tulane scored seven unanswered points to break a tie and lead with 42 seconds left in overtime.

No. 16 Oklahoma women take 1st lead in OT, rally past Baylor

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WACO, Texas – Ana Llanusa and Skylar Vann each scored 20 points and No. 16 Oklahoma took its first lead of the game in overtime before rallying past Baylor 98-92 on Tuesday night.

The Sooners trailed for 39 minutes in regulation and were down 75-63 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Baylor turned it over twice on inbounds plays in the closing seconds of regulation and Taylor Robertson tied at 83-all on a wide-open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

Llanusa started overtime with a 3-pointer, and she finished with eight points during the extra session. Baylor never led in overtime, shooting 2 of 6.

Robertson, who tied Danielle Robinson’s program record of 140 starts, finished with 14 points and three 3s for Oklahoma (19-4, 9-3 Big 12), which trails Texas (18-6, 9-2) in the hunt for its first conference title since 2009. Nevaeh Tot added 13 points, Liz Scott added 11 points and eight rebounds and Madi Williams had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Sooners, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense at 86.5 points per game, have scored at least 88 points 14 times this season, seven in conference.

Caitlin Bickle scored a career-high 30 points with four 3s and Sarah Andrews added 20 points for Baylor (16-7, 7-4). Freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Ja’Mee Asberry scored 11. Jaden Owens had 14 of Baylor’s 25 assists on 32 field goals.

Bickle was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 7 from distance, and Littlepage-Buggs recorded her sixth double-double in the last seven games.

It was the first time in 20 years the Sooners were ranked in game against an unranked Bears squad. Oklahoma continues its road trip at Kansas State on Sunday. Baylor plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Newton has triple-double, No. 21 UConn tops No. 10 Marquette

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HARTFORD, Conn. – UConn appears to have its mojo back.

Jordan Hawkins scored 20 points and Tristen Newton recorded his second triple-double of the season as No. 21 Connecticut ran away from No. 10 Marquette 87-72 on Tuesday night.

Newton had 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for the Huskies (19-6, 8-6 Big East), who won their third straight game after losing six of eight. They started the season 14-0, rising to No. 2 in the AP Top 25.

“Teams go through tough stretches during the course of the season,” coach Dan Hurley said. “The bottom line is we’re 19-6. You know, we beat some of the best teams in the country.”

Adama Sanogo added 18 points, while Alex Karaban and Nahiem Alleyne each chipped in with 13 for Connecticut, which never trailed.

Tyler Kolek had 17 points to lead Marquette (19-6, 11-3), which had its five-game winning streak snapped. Ben Gold and Stevie Mitchell each scored 12.

The Huskies outrebounded Marquette 48-24 and used 21 offensive boards to help them get 27 second-chance points. The Huskies also had 20 assists on 31 baskets, while holding Marquette to just seven assists.

UConn opened the game on a 22-6 run, highlighted by a fast-break lob from Newton to Andre Jackson for a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. The Huskies made their first four 3-point shots, three by Hawkins, who had 14 points in the first half.

A hook shot by Sanogo gave UConn its first 20-point lead at 32-12 .

A late first-half run by Marquette cut the margin to 43-29, but Alleyne hit a 3-pointer from almost half court to send UConn into the break with a 17-point cushion.

Another 3-pointer from Alleyne gave the Huskies a 59-38 lead in the second half.

UConn led by 25 before Marquette went on an 8-0 run to pull within 17. But the Golden Eagles never threatened to get back in the game.

“We won two or three games in January,” Hawkins said. “It was definitely a tough stretch, definitely going to shake your confidence. But you just have to stay the course, trust the process and that’s what we did and that’s what we’re going to continue to do during this last stretch.”

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles had won nine of 10. They are trying to win a regular-season conference title after being picked ninth in the preseason poll by the league’s coaches.

UConn: Entered 1-5 against the top five teams in the Big East and 1-3 versus ranked opponents. UConn lost 82-76 at Marquette on Jan. 11 after leading by 11 points in the first half.

“The rankings mean nothing,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s amazing the disparity – no disrespect to anyone here – between what the ranking means to media and fans in the middle of a season and what it means to players and coaches. It just doesn’t mean anything.”

BACK FROM INJURY

Marquette’s Sean Jones, who missed the previous three games with a wrist injury, had 11 points in just over 19 minutes. He came down hard on the wrist in the second half, but appeared to shake it off and continued playing.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Newton’s first triple-double came in November against Buffalo, when he had 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He joined Shabazz Napier as the only Huskies players to get more than one.

“My amigos right here, they were going crazy hitting shots,” Newton said. “They were boxing out and I was getting the rebound, so I just had the easy job, just get them the ball.”

UP NEXT

Marquette: At last-place Georgetown on Saturday.

UConn: Will visit No. 23 Creighton on Saturday.

Jackson-Davis leads No. 18 Indiana past No. 24 Rutgers 66-60

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The milestone moments keep piling up for Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Only one really mattered Tuesday night.

While he scored 20 points to become the sixth player in Hoosiers’ history with 2,000 and the first among that group with 1,000 career rebounds, the most satisfying celebration came after No. 18 Indiana beat No. 24 Rutgers 66-60 – Jackson-Davis’ first win in the series.

“I think that’s the last team in the Big Ten I hadn’t beaten,” Jackson-Davis said after finishing with 18 rebounds and six assists.

From the moment Jackson-Davis announced he would attend Indiana, the expectations were great even as critics contended the results were underwhelming.

Nobody’s complaining now. Jackson-Davis now has 2,004 points, 1,035 rebounds, a school-record 242 blocks and ranks fourth all-time with 44 double-doubles after breaking a tie with Steve Downing.

After helping the Hoosiers snap a five-year NCAA Tournament drought last season and falling out of the rankings after three straight January losses, Jackson-Davis has almost single-handedly led the Hoosiers (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) into a second-place tie by winning seven of eight.

And his dominance is starting to open things up for his teammate. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better playing around Trayce, giving him space,” Miller Kopp said after scoring 18 points. “It comes down to getting better at what the coaches are asking us to do and we’re all feeling more comfortable with where our looks are coming from.”

It certainly showed against the Scarlet Knights (16-8, 8-5), who had won six straight over Indiana including a 15-point blowout in December.

This time, though, they spent most of the game playing catchup. Clifford Omoruyi had 15 points, Cam Spencer had 14 and nobody else made more than three baskets.

“It’s a one-possession game with three minutes left, but I look at the (free throw) disparity and you can’t defend the foul line,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “Give Indiana credit, they got there. Tracye Jackson-Davis was a problem.”

The Hoosiers started fast and then scored 12 straight points to take a 30-14 lead midway through the first half but even without injured starting forward Mawot Mag, Rutgers charged back. It closed the first half on an 11-2 run, then tied it at 38 when Spencer opened the second half with a 3-pointer.

Kopp broke the tie with his third 3 of the game to start an 11-0 run and Jackson-Davis’ monumental basket, a putback dunk off his own miss, made it 54-44 with 11:13 to go.

The Scarlet Knights could have tied it on Caleb McConnell’s 3 with 3:02 left, but it bounced off the back of the rim and the Hoosiers closed Jackson-Davis’ big win with a 7-2 spurt.

“He’s a man who’s done a lot since he’s been here,” said coach Mike Woodson, who is 57 points ahead of Jackson-Davis on the Hoosiers’ scoring list. “He’s a phenomenal player who does a lot of beautiful things on the court. To get 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds says a lot.”

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: Mag missed his first game with a torn ACL in his right knee and Rutgers struggled against Indiana’s size and speed. There could be similar challenges over the final eight regular-season games.

Indiana: Woodson’s team is playing, at times, like the conference’s preseason pick to win the league title. When the Hoosiers make perimeter shots and defend well, they’re a difficult matchup for anyone. They just need fewer lulls.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The victory should help solidify Indiana’s top-20 status – at least until it hits the road for their next two games. Losing Mag and Tuesday’s game may make Rutgers’ return to the rankings short-lived regardless of what happens later this week.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Visits Illinois on Saturday

Indiana: Heads to Michigan on Saturday.

Pitt moves into 1st-place ACC tie destroying Louisville

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PITTSBURGH – Nike Sibande scored 15 points off the bench, nine Pittsburgh players entered the scoring column and the Panthers demolished Louisville 91-57 on Tuesday night and moved into a first-place tie with Clemson in the ACC.

Entering play Tuesday, the top five teams in the ACC were separated by just a game in the standings. A win by No. 8 Virginia against No. 22 North Carolina State Tuesday would create a three-way tie for first between Clemson, Pitt and the Cavaliers.

Against Louisville, the Panthers (17-7, 10-3) distributed 23 assists on 28-made baskets. Defensively, Pitt held Louisville (3-21, 1-12) to 27.6% (16 for 58) shooting and outrebounded the Cardinals 37-30. Mike James scored 11 points for Louisville.

El Ellis made a pair of foul shots to bring Louisville into a 14-all tie with 13:36 before halftime. Pitt then went on a 16-2 run over nearly the next five minutes. Six-different Panthers scored during the run. Nate Santos’ 3-pointer with 9:38 before the break made it 27-16 and Pitt led by double digits the rest of the way. A 47-27 halftime lead turned into a 58-28 margin just 1:59 into the second half.

With the win, the Panthers reached double digits in conference wins for just the second time in 10 ACC seasons. Pitt went 11-7 in its first year in the ACC following its 12-6 campaign in its final year in the Big East in 2012-13.

Louisville will continue its road trip when it takes on No. 19 Miami on Saturday. Pitt travels to face Florida State on Saturday.