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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": February 13

    By: Chris Dortch
    SEC Digital Network

    Following in the footsteps of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Florida’s Billy Donovan has made a commitment to champion the cause of USA Basketball.

    Donovan’s commitment is on a much smaller scale than coaching a Dream Team in the Olympics, but it’s no less important to the development of the game in this country.

    For the second consecutive year, Donovan, Gonzaga coach Mark Few and VCU coach Shaka Smart will coach a team of some of the finest young players in the U.S. A year ago, that trio led the USA U18 team that included Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes to the FIBA Americas championship.

    This summer, the challenge is the FIBA U19 World Championship, which will be played June 17-July 7 in Prague, Czech Republic.

    “It’s a commitment, but it’s something I really enjoy,” Donovan said. “Just getting a chance to coach and talk basketball on a regular basis with[Few and Smart] has been a lot of fun. What USA Basketball is trying to do is get college coaches that can be involved and can give a commitment, maybe not every single year, but to help out when they can. I’m glad that I’ve been able to help out some.”

    ORIAKHI ON THE MOVE: ESPN numbers guru John Gassaway recently included Missouri senior forward Alex Oriakhi on a list of his most underutilized players in the country, reasoning that the big man, at the time his list was compiled, was taking just 17 percent of the Tigers’ shots.

    Gassaway’s numbers don’t lie, but then again, perhaps Oriakhi doesn’t need to take many shots to be effective. That was certainly the case last Saturday against Ole Miss. Oriakhi delivered a career-high 22 points to go along with 18 rebounds, tied with Tennessee’s Stokes for the most in the SEC this season. Ten of those boards were on the offensive glass.

    Oriakhi made 7 of 10 shots and also got to the free-throw line 10 times, where he cashed in with eight makes. He added three blocked shots and a couple of steals in 33 minutes.

    “He was big, he was physical, and he just punked us out there,” Ole Miss guard Nick Williams told the media after the game.

    DAWGS KEEP ON ROLLING: Georgia coach Mark Fox probably wouldn’t get too many votes for SEC coach of the year at the halfway point of the conference season, given that his team is 12-11 overall and suffered some puzzling losses in the nonconference portion of its schedule. But if the last five games were the only barometer, Fox and Kentucky’s John Calipari would be battling it out for the honor.

    The difference is that, though Kentucky and Georgia have each won their last five games, Calipari has done it with a collection of five-star talent. Fox has one five-star player in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a largely unheralded supporting cast to go along with him.

    The streak began after the Bulldogs started 1-4 in the league. A win at Texas A&M on Jan. 26 was the catalyst for improvement for a team that wasn’t sure of itself through nearly the first three months of the season.

    “Our team had a slow start to the year and never really became confident,” Fox said. “We’ve just been fighting uphill most of the season. That day in College Station, we beat a good basketball team, and that helped us gain some confidence. It was a game we had to play well to win. That helped us maybe get a level of confidence we hadn’t had prior to that point in the season.”

    Beyond confidence, Fox listed some reasons the Bulldogs have made such dramatic strides. Three of those five straight wins have come on the road.

    “We have been for the most part, pretty good defensively,” Fox said. “We have improved throughout the year offensively. And now we have a lot of guys who are chipping in and making a couple of plays every game. We’re playing like a team. That’s really helped us more than anything.”

    MAYS A KEY FOR CATS: Kentucky’s five-game winning streak has been fueled in part by senior Julius Mays, who is third in the SEC in 3-point shooting in league games only (.471). Mays moved into the starting lineup on Jan. 19 against Auburn and since has scored in double figures four times and made four 3-pointers in a game three times.

    The well-traveled Mays, who played two years at NC State and a year at Wright State before transferring after last season to Kentucky, has done exactly what he was brought in to do. Because he had graduated with eligibility remaining, NCAA rules allowed Mays to play for the Cats without having to sit out a year. His experience, timely perimeter shooting and defense have helped prop up Calipari’s young team.

    Despite his experience, or perhaps because of it, it took Mays a while to hit his stride. At Wright State, the ball was in his hands most of the time and he was expected to make plays on his own. He’s been more of a spot-up shooter for Kentucky, but there’s no understating the role he’s played. Without him, the Wildcats would be scrambling for an NCAA Tournament berth. With him, that spot is well within reach.



     
     

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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.”