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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

    No point guard in the Southeastern Conference has played better the last month than Alabama sophomore Trevor Releford, who has increased his scoring output as the need has arisen.

    Releford has led the Crimson Tide in scoring in four of its last six games, including a season-high 20 in a victory over LSU. In that span Releford is averaging 15.5 points on 38-of-56 shooting (.679) while handing out 18 assists and making 15 steals. Releford has made 33 of 41 of his two-point attempts (.802) and led the Tide in 3-point shooting (.333).

    “I think his approach over the last several weeks with the way he has come prepared to practice and getting himself in the gym and understanding the opportunity like he has to lead this team has been a big reason for his success over the last several games,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “He has been a beneficiary of things that some of our guys have been able to create on defense as well.”

    Releford’s run started with a 19-point effort against Oklahoma State. He followed that with 18 points against Jacksonville and a near-flawless performance against Georgia Tech when he made 8 of 8 shots from the field, grabbed four rebounds, handed out four assists and made two steals while committing just one turnover.

    Given how well he’s played, it wasn’t surprising that when Releford was contained (3-of-8 shooting, seven points, four turnovers) against Mississippi State last Saturday, the Tide lost. He’s become that important to the cause.

    Speaking of Alabama guards, the return of Andrew Steele has been impressive to watch. After having been forced to give up the game a year ago because of health concerns, Steele rejoined the team just before SEC play began and became an instant contributor. He’s averaging 16.3 minutes, 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in four games.

    Stokes makes impact in debut: Tennessee fans didn’t have to wait long to see if midseason signee Jarnell Stokes could contribute right away. Thirty-one seconds after taking the floor against Kentucky in his first college game last Saturday, the 6-8, 270-pound freshman from Memphis found himself guarded by the Wildcats’ 6-11 senior Eloy Vargas. Taking time to size up his options, Stokes calmly tossed in a running jump hook.

    “It gave me confidence when that shot went in,” Stokes said after the game. “Going in to this game, I was a little worried how I would do coming out of high school. But once that shot went in, I felt pretty good.”

    Clearly, Stokes felt at home against Kentucky’s conglomeration of five-star recruits. A couple of minutes after his first basket, Stokes—who was rated a consensus top 20 recruit in the class of 2012—got the ball at the left elbow, pump-faked defender Terrence Jones and let fly with a jump shot that found the bottom of the net.

    Before the game, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin gave Stokes the green light to score, and the big man took full advantage.

    “I just told him, if there’s one guy [guarding him], shoot the ball,” Martin said. “If there’s two guys, a double team, pass the ball. If it’s one on one, make plays.”

    Stokes logged 17 minutes against the Wildcats despite having practiced just four times since becoming eligible on Jan. 11 and got a lot out of his time on the floor: nine points, four rebounds and an assist. Stokes also committed three turnovers, but his debut was nonetheless impressive.

    “He wasn’t intimidated at all,” Martin said. “It was fun to see him out there. It’s tough against that level of talent to be able to pick things up so quickly, the different schemes and not a lot of time to prepare. I thought he did a tremendous job.”

    Yeguete makes most of start: With Florida’s starting post man Patric Young nursing an injured ankle, sophomore Will Yeguete had to take his place in the starting lineup at South Carolina and he responded with a Young-like performance: 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting and a team-high eight rebounds.

    Given that the Gators won their first road game of the season after four losses, might that change become permanent? Not a chance, but Yeguete will continue to have a role as he continues his impressive ascent.

    As a freshman, the 6-7, 222-pound Yeguete averaged 1.3 points and 2.6 rebounds. This season he’s averaging 5.2 points and 6.4 boards, second on the team to Young’s 6.9, and is shooting .597 (40 of 67) from the field.

    Yeguete’s pinch-hit performance for Young wasn’t the first time he’s started this season. He logged five other starts in relief of an injury Erik Murphy.

    Wade hot from the arc: His freshman teammate B.J. Young is getting most of the attention this year, at least from the media, but 6-2 sophomore Mardracus Wade is getting plenty of attention from opposing coaches as they have to account for his newfound 3-point shooting ability.

    Wade leads the SEC in that department (.493, 36 of 73), after shooting just .205 from behind the arc a year ago. As a freshman, Wade averaged 4.0 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.7 assists; this season he’s increased those numbers to 11.0, 2.3 and 1.6.

    Known as a rugged and willing perimeter defender before he arrived at Arkansas, Wade has added 3-point marksman to his list of duties as he’s helped the Hogs replace the production lost when junior forward Marshawn Powell’s season was ended with a knee injury



     
     

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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.”