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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

    On a night when its other big guns were a combined 8 of 32 from the field, Florida found a way to battle past Marquette and into the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight for the second straight year.

    How did the Gators get it done? Defense and Bradley Beal.

    The Gators, not necessarily known for their defense, hunkered down and limited the Golden Eagles to 30.8 percent shooting. And Beal put together one of the most impressive stat lines in the NCAAs so far: 21 points on 8 of 10 shooting and 3 of 5 from 3-point range, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

    A shooting guard by trade, Beal took turns at power forward and found himself guarding Marquette’s Jae Crowder at times. And he hit big shot after big shot as the Gators were able to open up some separation and pull away to a double-figure win.

    Beal’s assessment of his great game was simple.

    “I found ways to get open and just stayed aggressive and just tried to make plays,” Beal said.

    The two coaches in the game had much more to say about Beal’s handiwork. Florida’s Billy Donovan talked about Beal’s adjustment to the college game, especially during a period when his shot wasn’t falling. Beal didn’t handle that well at first.

    “I think he realized when he wasn't shooting the ball well that there was other parts of his game that he could step up and impact the game,” Donovan said. “With his rebounding, his driving, his assists. He's a total chemistry guy.”

    “Nothing against Erving Walker, nothing against Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Patric Young,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “But in a lot of ways I think Bradley Beal is their swing vote, because he's so multi-versatile, talented, can guard multiple guys. He plays multiple positions, whether they're small, whether they're big. He can beat you off the bounce using their ball screens; he can catch and shoot. I think he's their leading rebounder, isn't he? He's really good.”

    The game sets up an Elite Eight showdown against Donovan’s mentor Rick Pitino, the former Kentucky coach who’s taken Louisville on an extended NCAA run of its own.

    “Outside of my parents, he's been the most influential person in my life,” Donovan said. “I'm very thankful for the opportunities he's provided me, as a player, as a coach. …

    “But I do think the game is really about the players that are playing in the game that are going to be competing on Saturday. Both teams have earned the right to play. And the competition part of it will never, ever get in the way with me for our relationship, ever.”

    WILDCATS-HOOSIER PART II: Besides Christian Watford’s game-winning 3-pointer as the final horn sounded, two other things stood out the first time Indiana played Kentucky this season. The two teams square off again Friday night in Atlanta with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.

    First, freshman Anthony Davis, who has already won a couple of national player- and freshman-of-the-year awards, got in foul trouble and was limited to 24 minutes, six points and nine rebounds. Second, sophomore forward Terrence Jones finished with more turnovers (six) than points (four) and rebounds (one) combined.

    “I just didn't play well,” Jones said. “They came out doubling me. I just wasn't making good decisions from there.”

    Jones’ regular-season contributions were limited a bit by inconsistency, but in the postseason he’s asserted himself. In five games counting the SEC and NCAA tournaments, he’s averaging a team-high 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds, second on the team behind Davis’ 11.4.

    A change in attitude has made a big difference in Jones’ game.

    “Just really having a more aggressive mindset/mentality to each game and just try to have more fun and not think too much really,” he said. “It's just been fun playing together.

    “I think that's what's making it much easier on each individual player. There's not been a lot of pressure on just one player because of guys stepping up in different games. When they try to have a game plan to stop two guys, the other three just step up.”

    Davis learned a lot from the first Indiana game. He’s fouled out just once since — against Vanderbilt on Feb. 25 — but otherwise has committed no more than three fouls in any game.

    “I think I played saying I'm not going to foul,” Davis said of his first game against the Hoosiers. “Coach [John Calipari] always tells me, if I get in foul trouble, it hurts my team, and my teammates are hurt as well.

    “So when I'm not on the floor, the teams try to attack the basket knowing I'm not going to block shots. It makes it a lot harder for my teammates. So I just try to play without fouling.”

    COACHING SEARCHES: Besides Kansas State coach Frank Martin, a couple of other interesting names have surfaced at South Carolina. How interesting? How about former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith? Or former Illinois coach Bruce Weber?

    Not many people remember that Smith - whose Minnesota team is headed to the NIT Final Four in New York next week - spent three seasons as an assistant at South Carolina and knows the lay of the land. Of course, he was also the head coach at Georgia, so he’s more than familiar with the SEC.

    Smith has won and produced postseason tournament teams everywhere he’s been (Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota), yet he’s often been maligned for not winning enough. Critics laid into him again this season, despite the fact his best player, Trevor Mbakwe, was lost for the year after suffering a knee injury.

    Smith will be 61 in June and some might see his hiring as a stopgap measure. But his experience could help turn South Carolina around and set the program up for his successor five or six years down the road.

    The same goes for the 55-year-old Weber, who told the media earlier this week that his period of mourning after being ousted at Illinois is over - perhaps his $3.9 million buyout helped with that - and he’s ready to find another coaching job.

    It would be interesting if Weber were hired at South Carolina. That would give the SEC three disciples of former Purdue coach Gene Keady, including Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings and Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin.

    At Mississippi State, the latest name to surface for the opening created by Rick Stansbury’s retirement is Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, who’s got ties to the state, having played at Northeast Jones High in Laurel, Miss., where he won the state’s Mr. Basketball award in 1985. Payne went on to play for Louisville and helped the Cardinals win the 1986 national championship.

    Judging by all the other names the Fast Break has been hearing, it seems as though Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin is focusing on hiring someone with head-coaching experience. Most prominent among the list of names associated with the job is Murray State’s Steve Prohm.



     
     

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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.”