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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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2014

As expected, the SEC earned only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Top-ranked Florida and Kentucky have been locks for some time, and Tennessee secured its status with an impressive finish down the stretch. Based upon their finishes, it’s hard to argue that Missouri and Arkansas, both of which spent significant time on the bubble this year, deserved to get in. We look at how each of the three teams that did make it fared with their selections, and where they go from here.

Florida Gators (No. 1 seed, South Region)

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

  • Opening Round Opponent: The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the Tournament, open with the winner of the Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s First Four game in Dayton. It’s a safe bet that Florida won’t be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16.
  • Looking Ahead: With a win in the second round, Florida will face the winner of Colorado/Pittsburgh game in Orlando. The Gators will have a significant advantage playing in their own backyard, and should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they should get VCU or UCLA, and a trip to the regional finals could involve a match-up against Kansas, Syracuse or Ohio State.
  • How Far Can They Go? A potential Elite Eight game with Kansas could be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best, though both teams have work to do before than they can think about that. The Gators have a favorable draw to the regional final, though UCLA could present a challenge if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, we think Florida plays good enough defense to emerge from this region, and the Gators should make the Final Four. We’d be foolish to the think the overall top seed in the Tournament, which has now won 26 consecutive games, can’t win it all.

Kentucky Wildcats (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region)

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The SEC Rundown: Spring Cleaning Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2014

Conversations about which teams are on the bubble, what school needs a big win to improve its seeding, and the coaches who are on the hot seat are all signs that March is quickly approaching. But if you find yourself without one of those gadgets that allows you to play games, take phone calls, and view a calendar, another sure way to know March is coming is by the peculiar weather patterns that late February brings for most of the country. There’s six inches of snow on the ground one week and it’s 70 degrees the next — and it’s that kind of drastic turn of events that inevitably brings my wife into spring cleaning mode.

Scottie Wilbekin deserves the SEC player of the year, and other random thoughts.

Scottie Wilbekin deserves the SEC player of the year, and other random thoughts.

Needless to say, I had a lot of time to collect my thoughts this weekend as I scrubbed our patio furniture and deck within an inch of its life. I am confident we could eat on our outdoor deck right now, and I’m not talking about serving a meal, picnic style, on the patio furniture. No, I mean I could literally serve food on the deck and eat straight off the wood. It’s that clean. A broken hose nozzle, a minor slip and fall accident, and two trips to Home Depot later, I had a lot of time to collect my thoughts. And while this time wasn’t necessarily conducive to a full, well-considered post, it did lend itself well to a collection of random thoughts, questions, and SEC basketball predictions as we round the corner into tournament time.

My notes from a warm and sunny spring southeastern day:

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Despite Attrition, Vanderbilt Finding Surprising Success in SEC

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2014

Expectations for Vanderbilt were relatively low coming into the season, as the Commodores were predicted by most to finish in the bottom half of the SEC. A team beleaguered by defections and suspensions in the offseason started the year with an inexperienced nine-man rotation, but the loss of Josh Henderson to a torn ACL and leading scorer Eric McClellan to dismissal appeared to spell doom for the Commodores as they embarked upon conference play. Using a seven-man group that has forced starting guards Kyle Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker along with forward Rod Odom to essentially play with no rest, Vanderbilt’s start in the SEC went largely as expected with home losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss contributing to a 1-4 record. But after the Ole Miss loss, the Commodores went to Texas A&M and Georgia and grabbed wins, following that up with a home win over Mississippi State last weekend. On Wednesday night, they extended their winning streak to four after edging Tennessee, 64-60, to surprisingly move a game to 5-4 at the halfway mark of SEC play. With Arkansas coming to Nashville on Saturday, the Commodores have a realistic shot of adding to their current hot streak.

Vandy Continues to Surprise (S. Myers/Tennessean)

Vandy Continues to Surprise (S. Myers/Tennessean)

While Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has endured his share of criticism for underachieving with several upper echelon SEC squads, the job he has done with this year’s team has drawn rave reviews. Included among the seven players who are part of the rotation are slender freshman Luke Kornet, who would have been a natural candidate to redshirt under different circumstances, and forward Shelby Moats, who logs just over 10 minutes per game. Fortunately for Stallings, he is especially able to rely upon the underrated Odom, who has stepped his game up to an all-SEC level.

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