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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.

Article written by John Reecer

4 Comments for SEC Basketball Weekly Roundup: One Tough Weekend

  1. weneedpitino
    10:01 pm April 1, 2019 Permalink

    I am thrilled that Cal has inked his name to his new contract, he’s a heck of a coach while also being an excellent human. I envision better days on the horizon for UK basketball in the near future. I have considered trying to get in contact with UK to try and arrange a meeting between Mr. Calipari and I. I feel that I have many pointers and some coaching concepts that I would like to share with him that might just help him in the future. You know a meeting between two great coaches like Coach Cal and Coach Weneedpitino, heck we could even have this meeting at Dunkin Donuts if he wanted. Well honestly enough about that i’m just thinking out loud right now. Go Cats, and go to better days on the horizon for UK!!

  2. VirginiaCat
    12:36 am April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Mr. Reecer makes the point that Cal was out coached by Bruce Pearl, which is a view shared by many in the BBN. It is a reasonable to conclude that had this not occurred, we would be looking forward to a FF this weekend. Lets be honest here, folks, Cal is out coached with some degree of regularity. It is not blasphemy or an exaggeration to point that out. Doesn’t make Cal is a bad person. He makes millions of dollars to out coach the other guy, but that is not often the case. Everyone is ecstatic that Cal has been offered a contract for life. That’s fine if we are content to occasionally lose games to inferior teams and are satisfied to make reasonably deep runs in the tournament that eventually falter. Many schools would be thrilled with that level of success, but we are Kentucky. We are the BBN. Many of us believe that we should strive for a higher standard and get concerned when our head coach wastes precious opportunities because he is out coached. Kentucky is special because we have won national championships under five coaches. It is the fan base that makes the program great because we push for excellence. Our program is bigger than any single coach, even Cal.

  3. mashburnfan1
    12:50 am April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Careful there John, you know these idiots on KSR think Cal is the only good coach in basketball. Most even think Coach K, and his five titles, is a bad coach. I do appreciate you pointing out the fact Cal made no adjustments, he never does. That is my only complaint with Cal, his in game coaching. How often has he said “I probably should have called a timeout” with his young team yet he never does. How often do we see a team doing something over and over and over and we do nothing to try to prevent it. Like you said it happened Sunday and what did we do to stop it, nothing, yet Cal said after the game “I tried everything”. Huh?

  4. bluebew
    10:00 am April 2, 2019 Permalink

    If we are supposed to be the “gold standard” why is it always blasphemy to bemoan Cal’s repetitive nickel-plated results. Free throw issues. Non adjustments. No timeouts to “coach” the final possessions when clearly needed. These are themes and they seem to lead more than they should to defeats to lesser talented, but more expertly coaches teams.