Alabama coach Anthony Grant
was asked at his press conference on Monday whether it was difficult to suspend three key players - JaMychal Green
, Trevor Releford
and Andrew Steele
- before a game at LSU on Saturday.
“Those sorts of decisions are always difficult,” said Grant, whose team lost at LSU. “Because they affect so many people.”
First of all, kudos to Grant for his decision, which, unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, came on the heels of the suspension of forward Tony Mitchell
. Releford and Steele will return for Tuesday night’s game against Florida. The status of Green, who’s on his third suspension in Grant’s three seasons, and Mitchell remains uncertain.
Grant was right when he said his decision to suspend so many key players affects a lot of people. It may well affect the SEC come March, when NCAA Tournament bids are handed out. As of right now, ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi
still has five SEC teams earning bids, and Alabama is one of them. But if the absence of Green and Mitchell causes the Tide to lose some games down the stretch run that it could have won, that number could drop to four.
To Grant, the integrity of his program matters more than an NCAA bid, and he’s right.
“The main thing right now is for our guys to understand the importance of making good decisions and understanding the consequences when you make poor decisions and moving on and learning and growing from there,” Grant said. “We are dealing with that. It’s disappointing. It’s unfortunate we have to deal with this in the middle of the season, whether it’s year one, year three, or whatever year it is.
“Right now, as a team, we’ve got to focus on the things that we can control. We’ve got a very challenging game against a very talented opponent in Florida. We’ve got to get ready to play the game.”
The importance of that game can’t be overstated. For Alabama, it’s an opportunity to show that it can overcome the loss of two preseason All-SEC players, still beat a quality opponent and keep alive its hopes for an at-large NCAA bid.
For Florida, which got whacked at Kentucky last Tuesday and was surprised at home on Saturday by an ever-improving Tennessee team, it’s a chance to regroup and bag a road win that will come in handy when the NCAA selection committee determines seeding.
NCAA BIDS, PART TWO
: If four bids - to Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State - is the low number the SEC can expect, what’s the ceiling?
That’s a good question that can start to be answered this week. Arkansas (17-8, 5-5), 17-0 at home but 0-7 on the road and 0-1 at a neutral site, can aid its cause by winning at Tennessee on Wednesday. The Vols (13-12, 5-5), in turn, have won three straight and still hope to win enough league games to impress the committee, though the fact Alabama went 12-4 in the league last season and didn’t get a bid doesn’t bode well.
Finally, Ole Miss (15-9, 5-5), can keep itself in the picture with a homecourt win over Vanderbilt on Thursday.
DAVIS BLOCK WATCH
: Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis
has already set the school record for blocked shots and passed the SEC freshman standard of Shaquille O’Neal
. With 127, Davis is now taking aim at the SEC record, set and later matched by Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado
in 2009 and 2010.
Varnado’s record is certain to fall. What’s going to be interesting to see is whether Davis can break the NCAA record of 207 set by Navy’s David Robinson
in 1986. This is probably going to be Davis’ only opportunity, given that he’s pretty much a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in June.
Robinson’s blocks were amassed in 35 games. Kentucky (25-1, 11-0 SEC) has five regular-season games left, probably three more in the SEC Tournament and the potential for up to six in the NCAA Tournament. Davis has gone crazy the last four games, blocking seven, eight, four and seven shots. That’s an average of 6.5 per game.
If the Wildcats play in the title games of the SEC and NCAA tournaments, that would give Davis 14 more chances. He would have to average 5.9 rejections per game to pass Robinson, but because he blocks so many shots out of his area—including 13 on 3-point attempts this season—Davis has a chance.
MCBEE FOR THREE
: As Florida coach Billy Donovan was watching Tennessee’s Skylar McBee
toss in four 3-pointers in the Vols’ upset win in Gainesville on Saturday, he might have been reminded of a Gator from the recent past, Lee Humphrey
, who holds the NCAA Tournament record for career 3s (47 in 15 games).
Like Humphrey (Maryville), McBee is from East Tennessee (Rutledge) and is primarily a 3-point shooter who, at first glance, would appear to be a step slow when it comes to defending in the athlete-laden SEC. But like Humphrey, who could move his feet a lot better than people gave him credit for, McBee has held his own on the defensive end of the floor. If he couldn’t guard, he wouldn’t be playing for first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin
The benefit for Martin - who has led his team from an occasionally rocky first two months to a sweep of Florida, a win over then No. 12 Connecticut and three straight SEC wins since the new year began - is McBee’s touch from 3. Since being promoted to the starting lineup in a game against Georgia on Feb. 4, McBee is shooting .500 (9 of 18) from behind the arc. He’s also been helpful in late-game situations as a free-throw shooter; in the last three games, he’s 14 of 16 from the line (.875).
McBee’s effort and the sudden resurgence of sophomore guard Jordan McRae
, who’s averaged 11.3 points in his last three games, has allowed the Vols, who had sometimes struggled to break 50, to post their highest points totals in SEC games (73 against Georgia, 69 against South Carolina, 75 against Florida).
ROBINSON LEADS DAWGS
: His college career may be winding down quickly, but Georgia senior guard Gerald Robinson
seems determined to make his final games memorable. The Bulldogs (12-12, 3-7) had struggled offensively this season after the loss of NBA draft picks Trey Thompkins
and Travis Leslie
, but last week Robinson stepped up and provided some point production in two victories.
Robinson seemingly got to the rim at will and scored 27 points against Arkansas, surpassing his previous career high of 22. Robinson scored 13 at Mississippi State on Saturday, 10 of them coming in the last 28 seconds of regulation and overtime. He hit the shot that sent the game into OT, then scored eight in the extra period to give his team the upset.
Robinson has tended to force the action at times in his career, but he’s reigned in the high-risk, high-reward aspects of his game for the common good. A year ago, he handed out 133 assists, but committed 100 turnovers. This year, his numbers are 88 and 62.
Stuck with a shortage of firepower, Georgia coach Mark Fox
has slowed down tempo and focused on defense and valuing possessions. The Bulldogs are ninth in the nation in turnovers per game (10.6), and committed just four in 45 minutes against Mississippi State.