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Around the SEC

Final Grades for SEC Basketball Teams

Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The College Basketball Season finally ended as the Virginia Cavaliers defeated Texas Tech on Monday by a score of 85-77. So how did each SEC team fair overall this season? Below are my final grades and analysis for every squad in the conference for 2018-19. Teams are in order based on their final ranking in conference play.

LSU

Record: 28-7,  Sweet Sixteen Finish

Final Grade: B+

The Tigers are a very hard team to grade. Do you concentrate on their surprising on-the-court success? Or, do you take into consideration all of the problems off-court with potential recruiting violations involving Head Coach Will Wade and freshman Javonte Smart?

Personally, I am choosing to look more at the on-court product until more information comes out on the current scandal in Baton Rouge. Is it possible that they achieved almost 30 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance unfairly? Yes.

However, winning the SEC Regular Season Title is very, very impressive given their preseason ranking which placed them as a middle-of-the-road conference team. Wade did a great job with his team this year. Despite a tumultuous past two months, this was a very memorable season for LSU.

Tennessee

Record: 31-6, Sweet Sixteen Finish

Final Grade: B+

The Volunteers were one of the best teams in the entire nation for the vast majority of this season. However, I think everyone can agree that the ending to their terrific year was very disappointing.

Not only did they get absolutely embarrassed in the SEC title game by a head coach formerly employed by Tennessee (Bruce Pearl), but the Volunteers also failed to make the Elite Eight as they ran into a red-hot Purdue squad in the NCAA tournament.

This was without question the best Volunteer team in school history. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield wreak havoc all season long. The bad news is that Tennessee actually underachieved when it mattered most. No matter how good that regular season was, they will mostly be remembered for letting Purdue’s Ryan Cline put on one of the most memorable shooting performances in tournament history.

Kentucky

Record: 30-7, Elite Eight Finish

Final Grade: A-

The Wildcats actually had quite a different path than Tennessee. Like I previously mentioned, the Volunteers were ranked in the top ten for the vast majority of the year. Don’t forget that Kentucky started out 10-3 with losses to Seton Hall and Alabama. Things were so gloomy that even Quade Green decided to transfer.

Turning a 10-3 start into a 30-7 final record against incredibly tough competition is very impressive no matter how you try and spin it. Yes, the season still ended in a disappointment. Kentucky lost to an Auburn team they absolutely should have beaten. Reid Travis and PJ Washington deserved a better ending to their college careers.

Despite that very hurtful loss, every single team in the nation would take a 30-win season and an Elite Eight finish if they had the chance to do so. There was just one more piece missing in this year’s Kentucky team (looking at you Zion), but this was still a memorable season for Kentucky that many fans would not trade for.

South Carolina

Record: 16-16, No Postseason

Final Grade: C-

What an utterly bizarre season it was for the Gamecocks. They managed to successfully finish fourth in conference play, yet they could not even break .500 on the season.

What kind of a grade do you give South Carolina who placed higher in its conference standings than a team that made the Final Four? Also. the Gamecocks did not even finish with a winning record for crying out loud.

No matter how you chose to spin this, I do think that Head Coach Frank Martin got the most out of his team this season. They played their best basketball in conference play and gave a lot of good teams fits. If nothing else, they were an impressive annoyance for a few tournament teams. That’s good enough to receive a passing grade.

Auburn

Final Record: 30-10, Final Four Finish

Final Grade: A+

The Tigers won the SEC Tournament, won exactly 30 games, and made their first Final Four in school history. I could care less how many games they lost, or how underwhelming their regular season was. This was easily the best season in school history, and Auburn deserves their A+ grade.

What’s even more interesting is that if it had not been for a very controversial foul call (it was a foul) in the last seconds of the Final Four against eventual champion Virginia, the Tigers could have won the whole tournament.

The Cavaliers were just a team of destiny this season. I realize that some of you may only consider an A+ be given to just the team that wins it all. However, the randomness of this tournament every year opens up for a few, special cases. The best Auburn team ever is unquestionably one of those cases.

Mississippi State

Record 23-11, First Round Exit

Final Grade: B-

The Bulldogs got red-hot down the stretch in February as they won five games in a row heading into the month of March. Unfortunately for them, all of that positive momentum was stopped when they had to play Tennessee and Auburn a combined three times in a two-week span.

That isn’t exactly the kind of momentum changer you want before you play a 5/12 game against a hungry mid-major in the form of Liberty University. The Bulldogs fell in the first round to a team that shot 48% from the three-point line. If your opponent hits 12 three’s in one game, you probably aren’t walking out of that matchup a winner.

Either way, I was often impressed with the Bulldogs in the regular season. Coach Ben Howland is still trying to build a good program in Starkville. While they would have received a higher grade if they had at least made the second round, you get the feeling that maybe Howland has something nice going on down there.

Ole Miss

Record 20-13, First Round Exit

Final Grade: B+

The Rebels were far and away the biggest surprise from the SEC this season. They were picked to finish last in the conference and they managed to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament!! That accomplishment within itself is worthy of an “A” grade on the season.

But how Ole Miss finished the season cannot be ignored. They lost five of their last six games including an embarrassing first round blowout to a below average Oklahoma team.  No way can any team play like that in March an earn an A.

Despite a bad ending, Head Coach Kermit Davis has the Rebels already back on track in his first season. Winning 20 games and making the tournament is a massive success for a team that won only five conference games last season.

Florida

Record: 20-16, Second Round Exit

Final Grade: B

Florida’s season is mainly going to be defined by them actually making the tournament and beating a tough Nevada squad in the first round. Remember, if the Gators had not of beaten LSU in the SEC Tournament, then they would have missed the Tournament altogether.

Overall, this is a situation similar to Ole Miss. Florida successfully won 20 games and made the tournament. They were originally picked to finish fifth in the conference so its safe to say that they underwhelmed in the 2018-19 season.

Head Coach Mike White was often criticized the majority of the year. However, beating LSU and Nevada proved that this guy gets the most out of his players. The Gators did not have a large amount of talent this year, but they still managed to have a respectable season despite being underwhelming.

Arkansas

Record: 18-16, NIT Second Round

Final Grade: D+

No team in the SEC disappointed more this season than the Razorbacks did. At one point, Arkansas basically forget how to play basketball as they lost six straight games in a row over the span of three weeks.

I don’t care that they made the second round of the NIT at all. Failing to win 20 games and to make the tournament in a season when star Daniel Gafford went out of his way to return to school is a failure. Gafford would have been a lottery pick last season, but this year’s Razorback team was so disappointing that it actually hurt his draft stock in this year’s draft.

The burden falls completely on former Head Coach Mike Anderson who has now been replaced with Eric Musselman. Brighter days may be on the horizon, but wow did this season stink for the Razorbacks.

Alabama

Record: 18-16, NIT First Round

Final Grade: C-

Welcome to the “wow this team had such a disappointing season that they had to fire their head coach” section of this column. The Crimson Tide barely had a winning season, and they failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

Out goes Head Coach Avery Johnson, and in comes new front man Nate Oaks from Buffalo. This may seem like a surprising move, but once you consider Alabama lost five of their last six games including a home loss to Norfolk State (!), this move makes a lot of sense.

Texas A&M

Record: 14-18, No Postseason

Final Grade: D+

I thoroughly did not understand Texas A&M’s decision to fire former Head Coach Billy Kennedy. Everyone knew that the Aggies were going to be in a massive rebuilding year. Yet, after winning just 14 games the administration went ahead and fired Kennedy.

It makes a little more sense that they went out and got Virginia Teach Head Coach Buzz Williams who is quickly climbing up the ladder of best coaches in the sport. In summary, Texas A&M had the terrible season everyone assumed they would have, and they got a really good head coach out of it. Not too shabby, I guess.

Missouri

Record: 15-17, No Postseason

Final Grade: D

The Tigers got dealt a really bad hand when star Jontay Porter tore his ACL and missed the entire season. This was a devastating injury that completely killed Missouri’s season. The fact that they won 15 games without him is actually sort of impressive.

Sadly, that’s all this year is going to be for the Tigers. Maybe brighter days are ahead, but the 2018-19 season will always be one massive “what if?”

Georgia

Record: 11-21, No Postseason

Final Grade: F+

Tom Crean’s first year in Athens was pretty terrible to say the least. The Bulldogs only won two conference games, and at one point they had lost nine straight in SEC play.

However, there is very small room for optimism. Forward Nicolas Claxton caught the eye of many NBA scouts and he will be returning next season. Combine that with the future arrival of possibly the best recruit in the class of 2019 in Anthony Edwards and you have a nice outlook for the 2019-20 season. That’s all I got on this team because wow was Georgia terrible this year.

Vanderbilt

Record: 9-23, No Postseason

Final Grade: Complete and Total Failure

Zero. That’s the amount of SEC games the Commodores won this season. Did star Darius Garland’s season ending injury in the first few weeks of the season lead to this? Yes. But zero is still zero. Bryce Drew has now been fired, and there is nothing to remember from this abject disaster.

Vanderbilt deserves exactly zero more words written about them, so I’ll stop now.

That does it, folks. I’ve enjoyed covering the SEC throughout the season as the conference has made drastic strides in the sport. With a great crop of new head coaches coming in, I can only expect the conference to improve even more. The success of this year has put the rest of the college basketball world on notice: The SEC is back and better than ever.


Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt’s Simi Shittu declares for the NBA Draft

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Add Simi Shittu to the list of SEC underclassmen declaring for the NBA Draft. The Vanderbilt freshman just announced he is entering his name into the draft and his career as a Commodore is over.

Shittu didn’t have quite the year he’d hoped at Vanderbilt, averaging 10.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. The one-time Kentucky target was a top 10 recruit coming out of high school but is now ranked No. 81 in ESPN’s list of top 100 draft prospects; however, considering Vanderbilt’s dismal season and the firing of Bryce Drew, it’s not that surprising he’s making the jump.


It’s official: Buzz Williams is going to Texas A&M

The SEC just got a little sweatier. Virginia Tech has confirmed that Buzz Williams is leaving the program to take the job at Texas A&M. Williams shared the news with his players this morning and the school issued a press release. He’s expected to be introduced in College Station tomorrow.

Jeff Goodman is reporting that LSU’s Tony Benford will join Williams at A&M as an assistant. Benford has been serving as LSU’s interim coach since Will Wade was suspended and managed to get the Tigers to the Sweet 16. Benford served on Williams’ staff at Marquette from 2008-12.

Who wins in a sweat-off: Williams or Bruce Pearl?

UPDATE: Texas A&M has now confirmed the news. Williams, an assistant for the Aggies from 2004-06, will be introduced tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. at Reed Arena.

“I am so humbled and honored to return home to Texas A&M, and proud to lead the Aggies,” Williams said in a press release. “I’d like to thank Chancellor Sharp, President Young and Scott Woodward for this incredible opportunity.  This is our home, and we are ready to join with the 12th Man to win championships, graduate our players and represent this world-class university with integrity.”


Photo: Getty Images

Former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse in contract negotiations with Vanderbilt

Photo: Getty Images

The push for big-name coaching talent joining the SEC continues.

According to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, former NBA All-Star and current Memphis Grizzlies assistant Jerry Stackhouse is in “contract negotiations” with the Vanderbilt Commodores.

The deal is not complete, but according to Rothstein, “the two sides are headed towards a marriage.”

Stackhouse played in the NBA from 1995 through 2013, including back-to-back All-Star honors with the Detroit Pistons in 2000 and 2001.

While he hasn’t ever been a head coach at the collegiate level, he did coach the Toronto Raptors’ G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905, to a title and was named G-League Coach of the Year in 2017.

Vanberbilt fired head coach Bryce Drew following a 20-game losing streak and a 0-18 record in conference play, good for worst in school history. In fact, it was the first time the SEC has seen a team fail to win a single game in-conference in 65 years.

He finished with a 40-59 overall record, including just one NCAA Tournament appearance, in three years at the school.


SEC Basketball Weekly Roundup: One Tough Weekend

The College Basketball season is another week old, and the SEC consistently provides the sport with several talented players and teams. Here are the major storylines surrounding conference teams from the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play. (AP Rankings accurate up until April 1, 2019.)

1. Auburn Makes School History

If you had told me at the start of the tournament that the Auburn Tigers would be making the Final Four, I would have laughed at your face. No offense to Auburn, but I thought it was clear in the regular season that North Carolina and Kentucky were better basketball teams.

Well folks, that is why they play the games.

Not only did the Tigers completely annihilate a very good Tar Heel team, but they defeated the Wildcats on Sunday thus earning their first Final Four in school history. Let’s not understate this: This was the biggest achievement in the history of Auburn basketball.

Head Coach Bruce Pearl is sitting at the top of the college basketball world alongside Tom Izzo, Chris Beard, and Tony Bennett. I honestly did not believe that Pearl would ever find himself back to this position, but he deserves all the praise. Getting the Tigers to play their best basketball against two of the most iconic programs in college basketball history is certainly an outstanding achievement.

But still managing to play that well against Kentucky without star Chuma Okeke (a potential first-round draft pick) is incredibly impressive. After his player’s terrible injury against UNC, Pearl was able to provide one of the best soundbites of this year’s tournament.

Overall, I’m not really sure that Auburn will beat Virginia. However, I don’t think that’s what the story should be right now. Pearl was a guy who was previously fired at Tennessee of all places, and he has now rejuvenated his career at a noted football school. This is, without question, one of the best stories from the SEC this year.

2. Kentucky Misses Fourth Straight Final Four

Not everything was good news for SEC teams this weekend. Only one team could move on from the conference matchup between Kentucky and Auburn. Sadly, the Wildcats had their season was cut surprisingly short as the program failed to make the Final Four for the fourth straight year.

What made this loss even more agonizing was the fact that Kentucky defeated the Tigers by almost 30 points just a month and a half ago even without Reid Travis. So, what on Earth happened here?

To be fair, this loss was the result of a multitude of different factors. First, there is the fact that the Wildcats shot an embarrassing 57% from the free throw line and 23% from beyond the arc. For what was supposedly Calipari’s best free-throw and three-point shooting team during his time at the school, this was a complete and total disaster of a shooting performance.

I don’t like to point out individual players, but Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro had one of their worst games this season. Having your starting guards play that poorly this late in the Tournament just screams disappointment.

Finally, there is the fact that Calipari was out-coached here by Pearl. Auburn saw that they had a clear advantage offensively in the pick-and-roll, and absolutely nothing was done differently to stop it from UK’s side. Plus, not going to Quickley at all down the stretch and not calling a timeout at any point during UK’s last possession in regulation are questionable decisions at best.

Either way, the blame does not fall on any one individual. This was a total program failure across the board from the players to the coaches. That’s just the nature of the tournament sometimes. Either way, this was still another season in which the Wildcats won 30 games and made the Elite Eight. That’s a very good season, no doubt, but not winning the SEC Tournament and not making a Final Four are very disappointing results.

3. LSU Fails Without Wade

Keeping in with a very disappointing tone, the LSU Tigers failed to make the Elite Eight as they lost to a red-hot Michigan State team in the Sweet Sixteen.

Yes, the Tigers outperformed their preseason ranking this season, but they had the talent to make the Elite Eight. Their outside shooting combined with their incredible athleticism was a dangerous combination. However, they looked lost at times in the second half without their Head Coach Will Wade on the sidelines.

Is Michigan State the better team? Probably. However, I would have loved to have seen LSU take on the Spartans at full strength. That would have been a very interesting matchup.

Now, the Tigers enter a very strange offseason. What will become of Wade? How long is his suspension going to last? And what will the NCAA do to discipline LSU because we all know they will come down in some way. Overall, it stinks that their season ended this way. This was a very fun team to watch. Who knows if LSU will ever be this good again in the immediate future.

4. Tennessee Flames Out Quick

Possibly the biggest disappointment out of this weekend’s results was that the Volunteers failed to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. That is just a travesty. Tennessee had two of the best players in the nation in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield and neither one of them ever made it to the Elite Eight in their careers.

Purdue just happened to catch absolute fire from the three-point line in what was a classic game. No one really knew who Ryan Cline was beforehand, but his shooting performance in the second half is the stuff of legend.

Similar to Auburn, this was possibly the best season in program history for the Volunteers. However, similarly to Kentucky, not winning the SEC Title game and not reaching the Final Four is an incredibly disappointing result considering their talent. The NCAA Tournament takes no prisoners, and this year was no different.

5. Let’s Talk About John Calipari

We hear the same complaints every single season in which Kentucky disappointingly losses in the NCAA Tournament: It’s all Coach Calipari’s fault. Every time the Wildcats depressingly lose to a lesser team, it’s always a constant pile on this man and yesterday was no different.

Why does this always happen? I will admit even I reacted strongly on social media to my disappointment of Calipari’s coaching in the second half against Auburn. I’ve already stated above the reasons why I thought he was out-coached so there is no need to go over them again.

It’s obviously nowhere close to just being any one person’s fault. The NCAA Tournament is the hardest championship to win in sports. Coach Cal isn’t the one out there on the court missing open shots and turning the ball over. That’s on the players. It’s so easy in such an emotional moment to focus all our blame on just one powerful man rather than the team as a whole.

However, despite the deep respect fans have for Calipari and for the players, it should be reasonable to hold both him and those athletes accountable. No one is above criticism no matter how many points you score, how many Elite Eight’s you reach, or how much money you make.

Is Kentucky lucky to have Coach Cal at the helm? Of course. Is he a good coach? Again, of course. Any other program in the country would kill to make as many Elite Eight’s as the Wildcats have during his time at the school.

However, Kentucky basketball is not “any other program.” The standard has already been set in Lexington. Wildcat fans must realize and enjoy the success the program is having while it’s here, but it’s perfectly acceptable for fans to be concerned on when the Bluegrass state will have its one shining moment once again.


Auburn runs North Carolina off the floor, moves on to the Elite Eight

Auburn runs North Carolina off the floor, moves on to the Elite Eight

Well, that was fun.

The No. 5 Auburn Tigers absolutely destroyed No. 1 North Carolina this evening, winning 97-80 to move on to the Elite Eight.

Sophomore forward Chuma Okeke, who suffered a gruesome knee injury late in the second half, led the Tigers with 20 points (8-11 shooting, 3-5 from three), 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block.

Junior forward Danjel Purifoy was second on the team with 14 points on 5-7 shooting and 4-6 from three.

As a team, the Tigers finished with a ridiculous 17 3-pointers on 46 percent shooting.

After the game, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl got extremely emotional when discussing the significance of Okeke’s injury…

The winner of Kentucky vs. Houston will face Auburn for a spot in the Final Four.

#SEC