Pac-12 Offseason Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2014

With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.

Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on June 12th, 2014

Finishing off the group, we’re going through each Pac-12 team one by one to recount the season and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Cal.

What Went Right

Seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon turned in their best seasons in their careers in Berkeley; there was some promising production out of the freshman class; and the Golden Bears got off to a promising 5-0 start in conference play, with three of those wins coming on the road. Heading into the tail end of January, it looked for all the world that it would be Cal – rather than some of the other league teams like Oregon, UCLA and Colorado, each of which had flashed a little leg earlier in the season – that would have the best chance to challenge Arizona’s presumed dominance in the conference.

In Mike Montgomery's Final Year On The Sidelines, The Golden Bears Underachieved (credit: Doug Benc)

In Mike Montgomery’s Final Year On The Sidelines, The Golden Bears Underachieved (credit: Doug Benc)

What Went Wrong

But, on the heels of that optimism, the Golden Bears went to USC and lost in a terrible effort, allowing a bad Trojans team to cut through their defense without much effort. Mike Montgomery’s squad was never the same after that point. They took advantage of a rowdy Saturday night home crowd and an injury to Brandon Ashley to knock off Arizona a couple weeks later, but won only four more games the rest of the way (they lost nine of their last 14 games) prior to an NIT invitation. The root causes of this failure are many, but relying on freshmen like Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews for offensive firepower did not help things. Tyrone Wallace, despite showing tremendous improvement in his sophomore campaign, was still inconsistent. And the frontcourt of Solomon and junior David Kravish never really scared anyone.

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Get to Know Cuonzo Martin: Cal’s New Head Coach

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2014

With the sudden announcement on Tuesday that California had hired Cuonzo Martin – last seen taking Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen – as their new head coach, the Pac-12 coaching carousel appears to be done for the year, barring a major surprise. After names like Chris Mooney, Chris Mack, Russell Turner, Eric Musselman and, last season’s associate head coach under Mike Montgomery, Travis DeCuire, were brought up and discarded, landing a talented young coach like Martin is a strong hire for Cal and its athletic director, Sandy Barbour. And Martin isn’t headed to Berkeley alone, as before he was even officially announced as the new guy, 7’1” recruit Kingsley Okoroh released the news that he would be changing his commitment from Tennessee to California. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.

Cuonzo Martin's Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California's Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

Cuonzo Martin’s Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California’s Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

First, Martin hadn’t really even been on the radar for the Cal job until Tuesday morning, as the hot name had been primarily Mooney. But he was anxious to get away from Tennessee, where he was never embraced despite good success there: In three seasons, he logged three postseason appearances including one NCAA Tournament appearance (in which his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen), and one year where the Volunteers were the first team left out of the Big Dance, all while taking over a program that Bruce Pearl had left in something of a mess. Still, Volunteers fans started an online petition (with 36,000+ signees) before the season was over to fire him and bring back Pearl, so his ducking out the door despite recently pledging his commitment to the program is no big surprise. In fact, the players who battled for Martin this season came out to publicly support his decision to move on. For Martin, really, this is a no-brainer. With the Vols losing seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and with Jarnell Stokes heading to the NBA a year early, Martin gets out of town, signs a new, secure contract and gets a minimum of three or four years to prove that he is worthy of an extension at Cal.

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Morning Five: 04.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 16th, 2014

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  1. So all that complaining Tennessee fans did about Cuonzo Martin before he led the team to a Sweet 16 appearance? It is looking even more idiotic now after he announced that he will be moving to California. The move was quite a sudden turn as Martin had just picked up a commitment from Kingsley Okoroh to play at Tennesseee less than 24 hours before. Tennessee is now faced with a difficult situation of finding a coach in the middle of April after the last coach, who made the Sweet 16, left in large part because of the lack of support he had there.
  2. Yesterday was a busy day for early-entry candidates. At Arizona, Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson announced that they would be leaving. As we noted yesterday, Gordon is expected to be a top-10 pick and while Johnson is most likely a mid-second round pick he probably would not improve that stock with another year of college so he might as well start making money even if it is overseas. At Michigan, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III also decided to leave school early to end the NBA Draft. Stauskas is potential lottery pick so it makes sense, but Robinson’s decision is somewhat puzzling especially his decision to declare so early when he could just wait for his father to get him more feedback and apply by the NBA deadline.
  3. Outside of the major NBA announcements there were two other big decisions yesterday. Michigan State forward Branden Dawson elected to return to East Lansing for his senior season. This probably will not be enough to make the Spartans threaten Wisconsin for Big Ten supremacy (at least on paper) it should put them in the next tier. At Washington State, Royce Woolridge announced that he would be transferring to be closer to his ailing grandmother. Woolridge, who already transferred from Kansas to Washington State after his freshman season, is expected to graduate this spring and is expecting to play at a school in Arizona next fall to be closer to his grandmother. Between the graduate student waiver and the family hardship waiver he should have no problem being eligible to play next season.
  4. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Yesterday, the NCAA passed a series of proposal designed to benefit student-athletes with the most notable one allowing the schools to provide all of them (even walk-ons) with unlimited meals. The prior rule was not quite on the level of the cream cheese ban that was so widely panned, but it was still a bad look for the NCAA. On the surface it might seem like a very minor allowance (along with the other improvements), but it seems like it is a step closer to approaching the cost of attendance number that is so often thrown around.
  5. If you thought that the early entries were too much to keep track of, wait until you get a look at the transfer list. Fortunately, Jeff Goodman has taken his transfer list to ESPN.com (previously at Fox Sports and CBS Sports). There are not many pages that we would tell you to bookmark (outside of our main page and microsites obviously), but this will be a good one to check in on every once in a while because we have no idea how Jeff can keep up with so much movement, but he manages to do so.
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Michigan 73, #11 Tennessee 71

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #2 Michigan’s 73-71 win over #11 Tennessee. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

  1. Michigan’s first half explosion was the reason it was able to win. The Wolverines have been an extremely high octane offensive unit all season and that continued against Tennessee. Michigan scored 45 points in the first half. It shot 61.5% overall and 77.8% from three in the opening 20 minutes. John Beilein’s squad was moving the ball around so easily and efficiently that it was easy to see why its shooting numbers were so good, as they were getting such open looks. In a game that came down to the wire, Michigan being able to use its phenomenal offense to grab an 11-point halftime lead was a ridiculously huge factor in it ultimately being able to leave with the victory.
  2. Tennessee stormed back with great tenacity. The Volunteers fell behind by 15 with 10:56 to play before storming back to trim Michigan’s lead to just one with 10.8 seconds to play. Tennessee was led on the comeback trail by senior guard Jordan McRae, who recorded 16 of his 24 points in the second half. McRae’s ability to both hit shots and get to the rim had the Michigan defense in disarray for a good portion of the final 20 minutes of the game. After pretty much allowing Michigan to do anything offensively over the first 30 minutes of the game, Tennessee made adjustments to lock down defensively and force several key turnovers late in the game. Cuonzo Martin’s squad is probably hurting now because its season is over, but those players have nothing to hang their heads about. Michigan was given everything it could handle and then some. That was a gutty and resilient second half from the Volunteers.
  3. John Beilein deserves more attention for his coaching job this season. Michigan went to the National Championship game last year due in large part to the contributions from guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and the emerging force of Mitch McGary. After the season, both Burke and Hardaway Jr. wisely declared for the NBA Draft and Michigan was left with a lot of inexperience in its backcourt. The Wolverines’ winning experience took another hit in late December when McGary was lost with a back injury. Somehow, Michigan is still advancing to its second straight Elite Eight and a majority of that credit should go to coach John Beilein. Under Beilein’s guidance, Michigan has become an extremely cohesive unit that has time and time again, found a way to win this season.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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SEC M5: 03.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 26th, 2014

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  1. Billy Donovan has a great chance to win his third national title at Florida. If that were to happen, the pull of the NBA (which temporarily swooped him up for a few days in 2007) would seem even stronger. But that nightmare scenario for Gators fans became less likely on Tuesday as Donovan signed a contract extension that runs through 2018-19 at $3.5 million a year. This is big news for Florida, but it’s also important for the SEC as a whole as it struggles to boost its overall basketball profile. As long as Donovan is at Florida and John Calipari is at Kentucky there’s a good bet the conference will have two strong contenders that demand national attention every season. That’s not a bad base from which to build.
  2. The storm that had been brewing around Cuonzo Martin might have reached a fever pitch had Tennessee lost its First Four game to Iowa. Auburn had just snatched up Bruce Pearl, and the thousands of people that signed an online petition to return Pearl to his perch in Knoxville would’ve had quite a bit of ammunition. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen, however, can cure a lot of ills. A few hundred fans greeted the Vols as they flew in from Raleigh at 2:30 in the morning, and the Tennessee allotment for an ultra-tough ticket in Indianapolis sold out quickly. It turns out that winning at this time of year gets people’s attention in a positive way. An interesting subplot to the Vols’s upcoming game against Michigan is Martin coaching against Glenn Robinson III, since he played with Robinson’s father, the Big Dog, at Purdue.
  3. Not surprisingly, Gary Parrish has the Kentucky-Louisville game as one of the games he can’t wait to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of this game doesn’t top the one two years ago in the Final Four, but it comes close since it’ll be played less than 200 miles from each school’s campus. And of course there is the ever-present intrigue of two highly-quotable coaches, and Rick Pitino’s history at Kentucky. The current state of this rivalry has so many sideshows and subplots that we as a college basketball audience need to be thankful for getting two NCAA Tournament games between the two powerhouse schools in the last three years.
  4. Arkansas’ season finally came to an end late Sunday night with a 75-64 loss at Cal. It was the Razorbacks’ first game in the state of California since 1973, which seems like an especially long time. Fittingly the season ended with a road loss, but there were plenty of positives in Arkansas’ 2013-14 campaign. The late collapse that washed away a likely NCAA bid can’t be sugarcoated, but this was the Razorbacks first 20-win season since 2007-08 and Mike Anderson picked up a postseason win in the NIT. Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis (if he returns) will form a solid duo next year, with Portis a legitimate contender for preseason SEC Player of the Year. Anderson’s recruiting class isn’t as highly-ranked as it was this year (two three-stars, a two-star and an unranked player on Rivals.com), but Anderson had great success with less-heralded recruits at Missouri.
  5. LSU was also shown the door in the NIT on Sunday, courtesy of a blistering shooting performance from SMU (57.9% FG, 9-of-14 from three). It was good to see Andre Stringer (15 points) and Shavon Coleman (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) go out with nice games. Like Arkansas, we’ll look at the bright side of things for the Tigers. Johnny Jones got himself a postseason win and finished with an RPI almost 20 spots higher than last year. The Tigers may also have some of the best long-term prospects in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida. Jones has proven he can bring in talent (Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin, incoming five-star freshman Ben Simmons), and that’s the fastest way to ascend in the standings. If Mickey, Martin and Johnny O’Bryant stick around (a big if), LSU has to be in the discussion as a favorite to win the league next year.
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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 83, #14 Mercer 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Led by Josh Richardson Saturday night, Tennessee rolled on to the Sweet 16. Cuonzo Martin’s squad was dominant in two Raleigh wins. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  1. Tennessee dominated in the paint. The Volunteers have two wide-bodies in the post and they made good use of them tonight. In the first half, Tennessee hammered the Bears on the glass, holding an incredible +20 edge in total rebounds in route to a 42-27 halftime lead. With eight minutes to go in the game, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes had 16 rebounds and the entire Mercer team had nine. In Friday’s big upset over #3 seed Duke, the Bears found success attacking the weak Blue Devil interior to the tune of +16 in points-in-the-paint. But against the rugged Volunteers, that edge went to Tennessee by a convincingly margin (+12). Stokes has become one of the most impressive performers in this year’s Tournament, sporting averages of 20.3 points and 15.0 rebounds in the three Tennessee wins.
  2. Mercer needed this to be a close game going down the stretch. Coming into the game, the Bears had a decided edge in close game performance, but they just couldn’t get the score tight enough in the second half for that to matter. Part of the reason that Tennessee is rated so highly by possession-based computers — despite a less than gaudy 23-12 record coming into the game — is that the Volunteers have won a lot of blowouts, but have lost all five games decided by five points or less on the season. By contrast, Mercer went 8-2 in close games, which includes winning five of its six overtime contests during the year. Down by 19 early in the second half tonight, the Bears got the lead down to 11 with just over two minutes left, but were never close enough to put any real game pressure on Tennessee. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 78, #11 Iowa 65

Posted by Chris Nguon on March 19th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways in Tennessee’s First Four win.

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with #52 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa Hawkeyes at UD Arena on March 19, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with Jordan McRae during the Vols’ seesaw victory over Iowa State. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  1. Per the norm, the numbers are usually right. Going into Wednesday’s contest, virtually all advanced metrics revealed that these two teams were evenly matched and that certainly played out on the court. When one team looked as if it was going to pull away, the other team found a way to gather itself and stave off absorbing of the knock-out blow. Tennessee’s performance was absolutely gritty to the fullest effect and I am sure Cuonzo Martin is very proud of his guys. The Volunteers trailed (albeit only by a small margin) for the majority of the second half but Martin’s squad simply refused to take “no” for an answer. Tennessee was down by as much as five points in the second half but finally took the lead with 3:12 left when Antonio Barton nailed a trey. Two minutes later, the Vols re-took the lead with a bucket from Jeronne Maymon. And even though Roy Devyn Marble put the crowd in a tizzy with his game-tying jumper with 18 seconds left, the Volunteers stayed poised and controlled the entire five minutes of overtime to earn a very impressive victory.
  2. Marble’s teammates picked him up big-time, but it wasn’t enough. With the season on the line and their star standout struggling from the field, the other Hawkeyes didn’t sulk or tighten up like many teams have been known to do. Instead, players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and Zach McCabe picked up the slack in the grandest of styles – keeping Iowa afloat with an array of gutty plays down the stretch until their senior leader finally found the bottom of the net. For all the hair-pulling that Iowa fans experienced this season, watching Marble’s definitive answer after the Volunteers took a two-point lead with 3:12 left must have been a sight to see. For good measure, Marble added a handful of other big plays in the final two minutes – none bigger than his jumper with 18 seconds remaining to tie the game. However, if Marble had shot better than 3-of-15 from the field (0-of-6 from three), I think even he would admit that his Iowa team wouldn’t have found itself anywhere near overtime. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Wednesday Night

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2014

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the next two games this evening.

#16 Cal Poly vs. #16 Texas Southern — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

Losing Record, No Problem: Cal Poly is Dancing

Losing Record, No Problem: Cal Poly is Dancing

Battling for the right to face one-seed Wichita State in St. Louis on Friday are Big West Tournament champion, Cal Poly, and SWAC Tournament champion, Texas Southern. Cal Poly enters Wednesday evening’s action with an uninspiring 13-19 record, but it should be noted that five of those 19 setbacks came on the road against fellow NCAA Tournament teams (at Arizona, at Oregon, at Pittsburgh, at Stanford, and at Delaware). The team caught fire in the Big West Tournament and won three games in three days to punch its ticket to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs are led by senior forward Chris Eversley, who averages a team-best 13.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. While the Mustangs are 327th in the country in scoring average, their defense is fairly stout, as the opposition only averages 63.4 points per contest – good for 36th nationally. Texas Southern is nearly the polar opposite of Cal Poly, as it has scored well all season but has failed to defend with any regularity. The well-traveled Aaric Murray (formerly of La Salle and West Virginia) leads the way for the similarly well-traveled Mike Davis (formerly of Indiana and UAB) and the Tigers. Murray averages 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and will create a significant match-up problem for the Mustangs on the interior. Look for Murray to lead the way for Texas Southern, as it will advance to battle #1 seed Wichita State on Friday.

The RTC Certified Pick: Texas Southern

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Is Tennessee the Most Dangerous “Play-in” Team Since VCU in 2011?

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2014

In 2011, the field for the NCAA Tournament was expanded from 64 to 68 teams, and the NCAA decided to call the first four games, played on the Tuesday and Wednesday following Selection Sunday, the “First Round” –thus creating the comical idea that some 60 teams receive byes into the second round. Everyone is wise to this, of course, and realizes the “First Four,” as the games are also named, are, in actuality, four “play-in” games. That year, upstart VCU snuck into one of the NCAA Tournament’s last four at-large spots, beat co-#11 seed USC in Dayton, and proceeded to win four more times in advancing to the school’s first Final Four. Since VCU’s historic run took place three seasons ago, it appears no team may be as well-equipped to duplicate the Rams’ feat as Tennessee this year. Prior to the season, the Volunteers were, in most places, considered a Top 25 team, and a shoo-in for the Big Dance. Things didn’t play out as expected, however, and Tennessee had to go 5-1 down the stretch – with the only loss coming to overall #1 seed Florida – to earn one of the last bids to the Tournament. Now that they’ve made the field, could this be the start of a run that could put all questions about Cuonzo Martin‘s job status to rest?

With Cuonzo Martin's job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)

With Cuonzo Martin’s job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)

Based upon Tennessee’s recent play, which saw the Vols destroy its last four regular season opponents and South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament by an average of 23 points, and gave #1 Florida a great test before falling short, there is evidence to suggest it may be. The Volunteers are experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors, and talented, with two first-team all-SEC performers in guard Jordan McRae (18.6 PPG) and Jarnell Stokes (14.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG) — one of two SEC players to average a double-double this season. They also have another rebounding stalwart in fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon, who missed the 2012-13 campaign as a result of microfracture surgery. Maymon has struggled to regain his form, but he has shown signs lately of regaining some of his old skill set. The bulk Tennessee has on the inside with Stokes and Maymon presents a significant challenge for each of its opponents.

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SEC Tournament Preview: Which Coach Has the Most on the Line During This Postseason?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 11th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament all week by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question has to do with the personalities on the sidelines. Postseason tournaments can make or break a coach’s reputation. Which coach has the most on the line during this postseason?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): The coach with the most on the line during this postseason is Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. Volunteer fans are clamoring for former head coach Bruce Pearl to return to the sidelines in his orange blazer after serving time on a three year show cause penalty. Pearl took the Volunteers to six NCAA appearances in his six seasons in Knoxville, including an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. Pearl was wildly successful in orange, but one thing he never did was win an SEC tournament championship. Meanwhile, Martin hasn’t even made it to Saturday in the SEC tournament, much less Sunday for the championship game. Tennessee hasn’t won more than one game in the SEC tournament under Martin. The Vols didn’t make an NCAA tournament appearance either in his first two seasons at the helm, instead settling for early round exits in the NIT. Tennessee finally has a chance to return to the Big Dance as long as the Vols don’t slip up in the quarterfinals on Friday against fellow bubble team Arkansas, or worse, bottom dwellers Auburn or South Carolina. There is unrest in Knoxville, and it will only get louder with a slip up in the Georgia Dome. An untimely loss in the SEC tournament could ultimately leave Martin’s team on the wrong end of the bubble come Selection Sunday, and then the murmur among fans could become a full on uproar. The only way to quiet the desire for Pearl is to create your own success, and Martin and Tennessee have a chance to do that this March.

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