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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

    After Vanderbilt’s homecourt loss to Kentucky on Feb. 11, Commodore coach Kevin Stallings told his two star players, John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, they needed to take ownership of crunch time.

    More specifically, Stallings wanted the SEC’s top two scorers to put the ball in the air more often when games were on the line. Clearly, this was an edict with which Jenkins and Taylor had no problems complying.

    Both made huge impacts on the Commodores’ last two games, important road wins that could have been the difference in whether they earned a bye in next month’s SEC Tournament. Losses in both would have put that bye into question. But Vanderbilt (19-8, 8-4) won both behind the potent one-two punch of Jenkins and Taylor and is now in good shape to avoid playing a Thursday game in the league tournament in New Orleans next month.

    Taylor scored 28 points in 29 minutes against Ole Miss, knocking down 5 of 6 3-pointers. Jenkins didn’t miss a shot (5 for 5 from the field, 4 of 4 from 3) and made 12 of 15 free throws in scoring 26 points in 28 minutes.

    Jenkins was even better at Georgia on Sunday. With his team struggling in the second half, Jenkins went off for 16 points as Vanderbilt pulled away for the win. He finished with 28. For the week, he missed fewer 3-pointers (10 of 12) than free throws (18 of 21).

    Jenkins is now shooting 46 percent from 3, eighth in the nation, and has drained 102 3-pointers, most in the country. His average of 3.9 3s per game leads Division I. He’s got an outside chance of breaking former Vanderbilt star Shan Foster’s SEC single-season record of 134 3-pointers.

    The most impressive stat about Jenkins, though, is this: He’s made at least one 3 in his last 47 games. You would think some team would have devised a way to shut him out from behind the arc, but it hasn’t happened, for three reasons.

    One, obviously, is the technical perfection of his stroke. Two, he’s got the fastest release in the college game. Jenkins can catch and launch in a blink. Three, he’s gotten craftier as his career has progressed, learning to put the ball on the floor to keep teams from crowding him on the perimeter and adopting a deadly pump fake that buys him separation from his defender.

    WALKER’S TOUCH RETURNS: Has any starting backcourt in the country delivered this season the way Florida’s did in a surprising rout of Arkansas on Saturday? Erving Walker (31), Kenny Boynton (25) and Bradley Beal (21) combined for 77 of the Gators’ 98 points. The Razorbacks, who had been unbeaten at home this season, could muster just 68.

    Walker, a shooting guard by trade who has made himself into a setup man, became Florida’s all-time assist leader recently, passing the mark of 503 set by Ronnie Montgomery from 1985-88. But the Gators are better when the little man is scoring. In Florida’s four games before the Arkansas explosion, during which it went 2-2, Walker averaged 5.7 points and struggled with his shot (8 of 33, 24.2 percent). Against the Hogs, he tossed in 5 of 6 3-pointers, was 9 of 12 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.

    Not to be overlooked was Beal’s performance, which helped him earn the SEC’s freshman-of-the-week award for the sixth time this season. Not even Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (three), the frontrunner to be chosen national freshman of the year, has won that honor as often.

    Though the Gators (21-6, 9-3) got thumped a couple of times earlier this month, they’ve still been as consistent as any SEC team not named Kentucky. Florida is 4-1 on the road in league play, no small accomplishment, and has won 9 of its last 11.

    STRUGGLE FOR FINAL BYE: With four games to play in the regular season, four teams—Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee—are tied for fourth place at 6-6, and two more—Arkansas and Ole Miss—are right behind at 5-7.

    A glance at the remaining schedule shows that Ole Miss (15-11, 5-7) has the most opportunity to affect which team earns that coveted bye—the Rebels play Alabama, LSU and Tennessee, the first two at home.

    Mississippi State, which in the last two weeks has dropped out of position for what seemed like a certain bye with three straight losses, two of them in overtime, might have the toughest remaining schedule. It plays host to No. 1 Kentucky Tuesday night, has to play two road games in a row, including at Alabama, and finishes at home against Arkansas, which has already beaten the Bulldogs.

    A key game between the four teams vying for the bye might be at LSU on Feb. 29, when the Tigers play host to Tennessee. The Vols have defied preseason expectations (they were picked to finish 8th in the league), mainly on the strength of sweeping Florida, which will probably finish second.

    JOHNSON ON LINSANITY: Give LSU coach Trent Johnson credit. He’s been asked numerous times the last couple of weeks why he didn’t recruit New York Knicks surprise sensation Jeremy Lin, who played his high school basketball games across the street from Stanford when Johnson was the coach there. And he’s patiently answered the question over and over again.

    But as Johnson told the Fast Break, it wasn’t as though he didn’t think Lin couldn’t become a player. Like every other school that evaluated Lin, Johnson was concerned about Lin’s size—he weighed less than 160 pounds—but was willing to give him preferred walk-on status, as did Cal and UCLA. No mid-major offered Lin a scholarship.

    “That, to me, is the amazing thing,” Johnson said. “Where was everybody else? When I was the coach at Nevada, I’d have jumped all over him, because in terms of his build, he reminded me of Todd Okeson, the point guard we had at Nevada who helped us get to the Sweet 16 in 2004. The question I had with Todd [who weighed 165 pounds] was, physically, could he hold up? That’s the one thing you can’t predict when you’re talking about a kid who’s that skinny.”

    “I had the same question about Jeremy, but we still wanted him to walk on at Stanford, maybe develop his body. Go back and look at all the guys who walked on for me and played. There was a history there. I liked [Lin’s] skill level and the fact that his teams won.”




     
     

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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.”