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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 the deal on Kentucky as it prepares for a rematch with Indiana in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game in Atlanta: If Marquis Teague is capable of scoring 24 points, as he did in the Wildcats’ third-round victory over Iowa State, this team is going to be extremely difficult to derail on its way to the national championship.

    Teague began this season as another in an ever-growing line of elite point guards to play for Kentucky coach John Calipari. Like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight before him, Teague had to adjust his game as he went from being prolific scorer in high school to setup man in college.

    Teague’s major adjustment was all about decision-making. Calipari didn’t want him forcing shots early in the shot clock. But if left wide open, or if he needed to make a play with the shot clock winding down, Teague was free to do his thing.

    Iowa State, and it’s hard to argue with the strategy, tried hard to double Kentucky’s post players, leaving Teague open. The risk was that if Teague made shots, Kentucky was probably going to win easily. Teague did make shots — 10 of 14 — and scored a career-high 24 points. Kentucky won, 87-71.

    “They really left him,” Calipari said. “They left him to trap in the post. They left him on the perimeter. And I told him, ‘Look, you've got to keep people honest. Score the ball. I know you can score.’ He scored 25 a game in high school. He can score, but he doesn't have to on this team.”

    That’s because Teague has grown into his role as leader of the offense, as senior Darius Miller noted after the Iowa State game.

    “He did a great job.” Miller said. “He was even talking to us, being vocal, talking to us about what we needed to do. He was putting guys in great places on the floor and just being a great floor general.

    “When he saw scoring opportunities, he took them.  That was a huge part, and we needed them tonight, especially with Doron {Lamb] being in foul trouble.”

    One more thing about Kentucky before we move on: Freshman Anthony Davis has now won two national player-of-the-year awards (The Sporting News, USBWA) as he edges closer to consensus POY status.

    GATOR GUARDS CAN BOARD: After watching No. 15 seed Norfolk State’s upset of No. 2 Missouri last Friday, Florida was ready for the Spartans, who over matched Missouri with its overall size, including 6-6 and 6-5 guards. Florida’s backcourt, by contrast, is smallish, but that didn’t stop the Gators from neutralizing Norfolk State’s advantage.

    Freshman Bradley Beal, who might be the best rebounding guard in the country, grabbed nine boards and junior Kenny Boynton eight. Florida crushed Norfolk State on the glass, 48-31, and won handily.

    “My approach was to pay attention to film, and I saw the way they beat Missouri,” Boynton said. “And down the stretch they had big rebounds, so I told myself every rebound I could grab I would try to go after with aggression.”

    Florida laid waste to second-and third-round opponents Virginia and Norfolk State by an average of 30 points. Could the Gators be hitting their stride?

    “I think we're playing better,” said coach Billy Donovan, who has led the Gators to a 17-2 record in their last four NCAA appearances. “When (sophomore forward Will) Yeguete got hurt, I thought we were playing well. When he got hurt, it changed our team, and there was an adjustment period.

    “I think we're playing better because we've played more games without him. We have a better understanding of our role and what needs to be done.”

    VANDERBILT LOSS DISAPPOINTING: The play was drawn up and the best shooter in the country had the ball in his hands, but unfortunately for Vanderbilt, the most important 3-pointer John Jenkins would take this season — with four seconds to play and the Commodores trailing 59-57 in their third-round NCAA Tournament game against Wisconsin — missed.

    The ensuing 60-57 loss kept the SEC from having three Sweet 16 teams, and it ended an era of Vanderbilt basketball that was tantalizingly successful. Over the last four years, Vanderbilt seniors Jeffrey Taylor, Festus Ezeli, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang averaged nearly 23 wins, had a 39-25 record in SEC games and won the 2012 SEC Tournament, but the NCAA Tournament record — what many will remember them for in the final analysis — was 1-3.

    Much was expected of this team in 2011-12, given its experience and talent level. Some pundits even considered Vanderbilt a dark horse Final Four team. But injuries and a series of puzzling homecourt losses derailed the Commodores’ progress. They put things together for three straight days at the SEC Tournament in New Orleans and ended their streak of first-round NCAA Tournament ousters by dispatching Harvard, but the Wisconsin loss was a tough one to take, considering any number of single plays throughout the course of the game could have changed the outcome.

    Coach Kevin Stallings’ run of four NCAA tournament appearances in the last five years is unprecedented at Vanderbilt, though, and despite the fact he faces a massive rebuilding job, the program is on a firm foundation. The question for the Commodores now is will Jenkins, who’s just a junior, stay in school or opt for the NBA draft? He’s been turning up in some mock drafts as a first-round pick because the NBA loves shooters.

    NIT PARTY’S OVER: The last SEC team standing in the NIT, looked in great shape to advance on Monday night. With 7:11 to play, Tennessee led Middle Tennessee, 64-56, and seemed to have momentum after senior Cameron Tatum saved a ball on the Blue Raiders’ end of the floor and tossed it to teammate Jordan McCrae, whose layup brought the surprisingly large (12,308) and vocal Tennessee crowd to its feet.

    McRae’s layup would be the last points the Vols would score, though. Middle’s 15-0 run to close the game sent Tennessee packing and prevented former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith’s return to SEC country. His Minnesota team, which won at Miami on Monday, will play at MTSU, not Tennessee, on Wednesday night.

    The loss was a disappointing way to end a season that was filled with struggles but ultimately will be remembered for a remarkable turnaround engineered by first-year coach Cuonzo Martin. Tennessee finished 19-15 and 12-6 in the SEC despite the loss of four starters from 2010-11 and the tumult caused by the NCAA issues and subsequent firing of former coach Bruce Pearl.

    Looking ahead, Martin’s team loses just two seniors, Tatum and little used Renaldo Woolridge, and returns a beefy front line of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, the freshman whose midseason acquisition helped reverse the team’s fortunes.

    COACHING SEARCHES CONTINUE: All sorts of names have been tossed about in connection with the SEC’s two job openings at Mississippi State and South Carolina.

    Tommy Amaker (Harvard) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State) have been mentioned most prominently at South Carolina, but Kansas State coach Frank Martin reportedly has serious interest in the job. Martin has led the Wildcats to four NCAA Tournament appearances in his four seasons at K-State, and the Miami native is known as a relentless competitor — check out that menacing stare of his — and recruiter.

    At Mississippi State, it’s been reported that Steve Prohm of Murray State is the top target. The job Prohm did in his only season as a head coach (31-2) was brilliant, and he’s got ties to SEC country, having grown up in Georgia, gone to school at the University of Alabama, and recruited the South, most notably Mississippi, while at Murray State and also as an assistant at Southeastern Louisiana, Centenary and Tulane.

    Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton has also been mentioned. Sutton has done more than enough at ORU to deserve a shot at a power conference job. This season the Golden Eagles finished 27-7 and 17-1 in the Summit League but were denied an NCAA Tournament bid after losing to Western Illinois in the semifinals of the SL Tournament.

    In 13 seasons, Sutton is 250-162 and has led Oral Roberts to three NCAA tournaments and a pair of NITs.




     
     

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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.”