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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

    Among the more eye-popping statistics Kentucky coach John Calipari has racked up in his three seasons in Lexington is this one: he’s never lost at Rupp Arena. If that 47-game winning streak is to end anytime soon, perhaps it could be tonight, when Florida comes to town for what should be the game of the season in the Southeastern Conference.

    There’s one thing that’s a given about the No. 1-ranked Wildcats. Opponents aren’t going to be able to score inside, or if they do, it’s not going to be easy. With freshman Anthony Davis - who has already broken school and SEC freshman records for blocked shots (116), sophomore Terrence Jones (42) and even freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (27) patrolling the paint, many teams have been forced to alter their strategy.

    That won’t be the case with the Gators, who lead the nation in 3-point field goals per game (10.5) and are 12th in 3-point percentage (.402).

    Not every Florida player kills it from 3, it just seems that way: guards Kenny Boynton (.438) and Erving Walker (.393) are among the league leaders. Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario is shooting 39 percent and freshman Bradley Beal is starting to knock down shots after a slow start (.345 overall and .400 in SEC games). Even reserve guard Scottie Wilbekin (.357) is a threat.

    But the player Calipari is most concerned about is 6-10 junior Erik Murphy (.461), the best stretch four man in the conference. This guy’s become a real weapon.

    “With Murphy, they spread the floor out,” Calipari said. “A year ago, you could kind of predict that [Florida’s] four or five is going to be close to the rim and you’ve got a chance to guard them in the post. Right now, with Murphy being able to shoot the 3 the way he does, it makes it even more difficult to try to zone in on their big guys and makes them harder to guard.”

    Kentucky leads the nation in defensive field-goal percentage (.360) because most of its opponents have been forced to try to shoot over the top of the defense. Not many teams shoot from the perimeter the way Florida does, but coach Billy Donovan doesn’t want his team to be one-dimensional.

    “Because we’ve got, at times four guys out there who can shoot 3s, we may be able to stretch the defense to be able to take some of those shots,” Donovan said. “But I don’t think in this league you can be totally one dimensional, because in this league, there are going to be teams that can take certain things away from you.”

    Kentucky has also been pretty good at preventing the 3 (No. 3 in the SEC at .309). But the fact Florida has so many shooters on the floor at any given time will present a challenge the likes of which this young team hasn’t faced this season.

    “When we’re open,” Donovan said, “I want our guys shooting it.”

    MITCHELL SUSPENSION: It can’t help Alabama’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament that junior forward Tony Mitchell has been suspended by coach Anthony Grant, but then again, Grant has never worried about how disciplinary actions might affect his team.

    If suspending a player is the only way to get his attention, Grant isn’t afraid to do it, as last season’s short banishment of JaMychal Green would attest. Green came back better and more focused after Grant reinstated him.

    The one thing in Alabama’s favor as it prepares to play at rival Auburn tonight is that the Tide has depth at the perimeter positions, especially after the return of senior Andrew Steele. The Crimson Tide will miss Mitchell’s rebounding (7.0 rpg), but what this team really needs is for a player or two to start knocking down 3-pointers.

    Alabama shoots .265 from 3. That’s last in the SEC and somewhere in the nether regions of Division I. NCAA statistics list only 283 D-I teams in 3-point percentage, and the last one, Navy, is shooting .277 behind the arc.

    GRADING THE FIRST HALF: At the half way point of SEC play, here is the Fast Break’s assessment:

    ALL-SEC TEAM: G-John Jenkins, Vanderbilt; Kenny Boynton, Florida. F-Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky. C-Anthony Davis, Kentucky. (Who plays the point? Who cares?)

    ALL-SEC FRESHMAN TEAM: Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, B.J. Young, Arkansas; Bradley Beal, Florida; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia.

    MVP: Davis. His name is at the top of several key SEC statistics, including rebounding (2nd, 10.2 rpg), field-goal percentage (1st, .650), and of course, blocked shots (1st, 4.7 bpg). But the numbers don’t begin to tell the story of how impactful he’s been so far.

    BEST FRESHMAN: See above.

    BEST TRANSFER: Moultrie. This one was as easy to call as the previous two. Moultrie is a double-double machine (he’s fourth in the SEC in scoring at 16.8 ppg and leads in rebounding at 11.3 rpg) and may be the best rebounder in traffic in the country.

    MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor and Auburn’s Kenny Gabriel. Not that Taylor wasn’t already good; he’s just gotten better by making himself a consistent 3-point threat. Gabriel has become a stat-sheet stuffer.

    COACH OF THE YEAR: John Calipari. Yes, Kentucky has a ton of talent, but look at the effort stats. This young team defends and rebounds. It takes coaching to bring that out of players who aren’t necessarily inclined to perform the game’s blue-collar chores.



     
     

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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.”