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    • SEC "Fast Break": February 26

      Apparently, eight Southeastern Conference teams were having so much fun last Saturday they didn’t want it to end.
    • SEC Fast Break with Chris Dortch

      The first month of the season was largely forgettable for the Southeastern Conference by almost any barometer. Where to start?
    • November Offers Challenges for SEC Teams

      It seems like only yesterday Kentucky players were cutting down the nets in the New Orleans Superdome after winning the Southeastern Conference’s third national championship in a seven-year span. But that was more than seven months ago, and now it’s time for college basketball to crank up again.
    • One on One with Chris Dortch: Marquis Teague

      Was there ever a question Marquis Teague could take his place among the elite point guards coached the last four seasons by Kentucky’s John Calipari? We profile Teague, a likely first round pick in this week's NBA Draft.
    • Instant Reaction: Kentucky Claims Title

      About a month ago, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari asked a question of his team.

    SEC Fast Break With Chris Dortch

    Here’s a little factoid the Fast Break found hard to believe:

    When Kentucky junior Darius Miller scored 22 points in the Wildcats’ 90-59 dispatching of South Carolina last Saturday, it marked only the second time in his career he had reached that barrier (Miller got 20 against Wake Forest in the 2010 NCAA Tournament).

    Compare that output with Kentucky guard Brandon Knight, who’s already scored 20 or more 11 times, setting a school record for freshmen.

    Therein lies Kentucky coach John Calipari’s frustration. Miller—who also knocked down 6-of-8 three-pointers, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots against the Gamecocks—has the ability to dominate a game if he were so inclined. Cal isn’t expecting 22, nine and a boatload of threes every night, but he does wish Miller would be inclined more often.

    That’s why, even during the best game of Miller’s life, Calipari noticed a bit of slippage he wasn’t going to tolerate.

    “I said, ‘Why would you do that?’ ” Calipari said. “You just played one of your better games since I have been your coach.  But then you hit a two-minute spurt where you just, you know, go soft again, get pushed out of the way. Why? You had nine rebounds. You played above the rim. You were strong with the ball.’

    “But, again, you have game slippage. Some of it may be guys playing too many minutes.”

    Calipari has pretty much stuck with a six-man rotation this season, so fatigue probably has factored in when the Wildcats have struggled, particularly on the road. But mindset could also be an issue in Miller’s case. For too long he’s deferred to upperclassmen or five-star freshmen. If he’s finally decided he wants to dominate night in and night out, Kentucky will have to be reckoned with in March.

    MITCHELL IS THE MAN: One of the biggest reasons Alabama (18-8, 10-2) has dominated the Western Division and has a chance to finish with the best overall record in the SEC has been the play of sophomore forward Tony Mitchell, who, regardless of whether he’s started or come off the bench, has put together an impressive run of games.

    Mitchell’s career-high 27-point effort against Arkansas last Saturday marked the fifth time in six games he scored more than 20 points. He’s starting to get rave reviews—and not just from his coaches and teammates.

    “He is getting better every game,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. “He’s very confident right now, and that shows in the three-point shooting. He’s a high-energy guy and he’s constantly flying to the basket for those offensive rebounds. He impacts the game with the transition baskets, the offensive rebounding and he’s worked very hard.”

    “You can tell he’s worked on his game a lot,” said Arkansas forward Glenn Bryant. “He has grown a lot from last year to this year.  This year he dribbles better and shoots a lot better. He plays hard every possession.”

    Most people know Mitchell as a high-flying, YouTube/ESPN highlight reel dunker. And yes, he does own 50 of Alabama’s 102 dunks this season. But Mitchell has also improved his shooting percentages from three-point range and the free-throw line and has made more of an impact on defense. With 45 steals, he ranks second in the SEC.

    Mitchell stuffed his stat line against Arkansas. In addition to those 27 points, he contributed nine rebounds, including six on the offensive glass, three assists, two blocked shots and two steals.

    PRICE IS RIGHT: Minutes after Georgia’s first win at Tennessee in 10 years was in the books last Saturday, there was Jeremy Price, the star of the game, waiting to speak with CBS color analyst Bill Raftery.

    That was a scene second-year Georgia coach Mark Fox probably didn’t envision when he took over the program nearly two years ago.
     
    “I’ve told [Price] this,” Fox said. “It’s not a secret. There weren’t a lot of good things being said about him when I got there. Now there are a lot of people saying good things about him because he’s really matured as a student, a player, a person.”

    Asked if Price epitomized Fox’s rebuilding job in general, the coach shook his head. It took a while—and a few trips up and down the stairs and famed Sanford Stadium—for Fox’s message to get through to the Bulldogs. But get through it did, as evidenced by the fact that the Bulldogs, though sometimes vulnerable at home this season, have toughed up and become road warriors.

    Georgia’s win at Tennessee was its seventh on the road this season, the most at the school since the days of Hugh Durham (the Dogs were 7-5 away from Athens in 1995). The Bulldogs had put together just one winning road record since (6-5 in 2002).

    Price was a particularly resistant convert to the cause.

    “We fought a lot,” Fox said. “And I just said basically, ‘I’m more hard-headed than you are.’ But he’s got such a wonderful heart. He’s such a good kid. He’s allowed himself to be coached. And he’s gotten out of his own way in a lot of phases in life, and really committed to doing things right.”

    That much was apparent at Tennessee. On a team that has at least two NBA prospects, Price was the man, scoring 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbing six boards in 29 minutes. The 20-point game was Price’s third of the season, triple the number he’d logged in his first three years.

    Georgia has all but salted away a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Given the state of the program when Fox first set foot on campus, well, the ‘Dogs have surprised even their coach.

    “I never put a timetable on it,” Fox said. “I don’t want to say we’re ahead of schedule, because I don’t think we’ve accomplished anything yet. I also didn’t want to suggest I didn’t think these kids could accomplish something. [But] to be in a position, in the middle of February, in year two, I didn’t see that when I first got there. Did I see that [last] August? Yeah, I did. But I didn’t see it the [previous] August.”

    WALKER BACK IN ACTION: Six seconds remained in Vanderbilt’s Dec. 29 home game against Marquette when Andre Walker, suddenly finding himself alone after two defenders converged on Commodore point guard Brad Tinsley, flashed to the middle of the lane. Vanderbilt trailed 76-75, but Walker calmly received a pass from Tinsley, took one hard dribble to his right and soared in for a layup that won the game.

    Two days later, in practice, Walker suffered an ankle injury Commodore coaches said was among the worst they had ever seen. Vanderbilt fans were afraid that image of Walker winning the Marquette game—one of the Commodores’ best victories in a 20-win season—was the last they would have of him all season. But then last Saturday against Auburn there was a Walker sighting.

    His minutes were few (11) and his contributions limited (six points, one assist), but Walker’s coaches and teammates were just glad to see him back on the floor after he had missed all the SEC season to that point. It’s been a crummy year health-wise for the junior forward, who missed four games before Christmas with mono and had played in just eight games when he injured his ankle.

    "He looked a little rusty and he hobbled a little, but he has to get back in there some time,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said after the Auburn game. “We decided today was going to be the day, for better or for worse. He went in and did a nice job. He held his hand on the ball. He was afraid of his ankle a little bit, but at the same time, he still gave us some good minutes."

    Getting Walker back is huge for Vanderbilt as it positions itself for the NCAA Tournament. Walker does a little bit of everything well, serving as the Commodores’ glue guy while contributing whatever it takes, including facilitating offense with his passing. He’ll also give Stallings, who had been relying on an eight-man rotation, more depth.

    "He does a tremendous amount of things for us,” said Vanderbilt junior Jeffrey Taylor. “He can take the ball up against the press, catch the ball in the middle zone, and distribute the ball to the scorers. Having Andre back means a great deal to us."



     
     

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    Chris Dortch Bio

    Chris Dortch estimates he’s covered close to 1,500 college basketball games since he was sports editor of his college student newspaper back in the late ’70s. “And it never gets old,” he says. “I always get pumped up to watch college hoops.”

    Dortch came to love basketball growing up in the basketball crazy state of Illinois, watching Missouri Valley Conference and Big Ten games every Saturday and pouring over the sports section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think I learned how to read a box score before I learned how to read,” he says.

    In college, first at George Mason and later at East Tennessee State, he came under the influence of two coaches that gave him a behind-the-scenes look at basketball from a coaching perspective. “After that I was hooked,” he says. “I knew I wanted to cover college basketball for a living.”

    And so he did, focusing on the Southeastern Conference at four newspapers and then for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the famed “bible” of college basketball which Dortch began editing in 1996.

    In a 30-year career, Dortch has written for numerous publications and websites, served as a college basketball correspondent for Sports Illustrated, appeared on more than 1,000 radio shows and written five books, including String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball.

    Dortch has provided commentary for CSS, Fox Sports South, NBA TV and the Big Ten Network and also taught sports writing at East Tennessee State and Tennessee-Chattanooga, where his students call him “Professor D.”