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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 26

    Apparently, eight Southeastern Conference teams were having so much fun last Saturday they didn’t want it to end.

    How else to explain a day that saw four games decided in overtime, and two of them—Alabama at LSU and Tennessee at Texas A&M—go into triple, and quadruple overtime, respectively? Georgia needed just a single overtime to beat South Carolina, and Kentucky outlasted Missouri in overtime.

    Actually, there’s a better reason to explain all those hotly contested games. It’s no coincidence that three of them had NCAA Tournament implications. Missouri needed a road win to help solidify its NCAA credentials, but Kentucky desperately needed a victory to remain in consideration. ESPN bracketology wonk Joe Lunardi had the Wildcats in his dreaded Last Four Out category before the game, but elevated them into the Last Four In after they won on the strength of senior Julius Mays’ 24 points.

    Where would Kentucky be if Mays had decided to finish out his career at Wright State instead of transferring with immediate eligibility after he earned his degree? He’s shooting .455 from the 3-point line in league games only.

    Alabama could have used a road win to continue to add to its solid effort in league play that had the Crimson Tide in contention to return to the Dance for the second time under coach Anthony Grant. But LSU has postseason aspirations too, and in the longest game in the 40-year history of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers prevailed behind sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant’s SEC-leading 12th double-double.

    Finally, Tennessee had to win at Texas A&M to keep alive its slim hopes for an NCAA bid, and behind Trae Golden’s 32 points, 23 from Jordan McRae and a 20/16 double-double from Jarnell Stokes, the Vols won the longest game in program history.

    Broadcaster Joe Dean, Jr. got a first-hand glimpse of what that gut-check win meant to Tennessee.

    “I was leaving the arena when the Tennessee came into the hallway at the end of the game,” Dean said. “They were screaming and hollering, I mean they were pumped up. One of the kids hollered out, ‘That’s how you win a ball game.’ You could just feel the juice on the team.”

    Dean, an observer of SEC basketball his entire life and a former assistant coach at Kentucky, knows the value of momentum. Tennessee had won four straight heading into the Texas A&M game.

    “I think Tennessee can win the conference tournament,” Dean said. “I really do. They need to keep winning in the regular season so they can get in the top four and get double bye, but the way they’re playing right now, I could see them winning three games in three days in Nashville.”

    SPEAKING OF THE VOLS: If Tennessee (16-10, 8-6) does want to claim a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament, it needs to beat Florida in Knoxville on Tuesday night.

    Getting past the No. 8 Gators won’t be easy, but for whatever reason, the Vols have been able to handle Florida in recent years. In the last seven seasons, or since the Gators won the first of two consecutive national championships, Tennessee is 10-5 against them, including sweeps in 2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09 and last season. The Gators struck back in former coach Bruce Pearl’s last season, 2010-11, by sweeping the regular season and winning a game in the league tournament, but the Vols’ ability to handle a perennial national championship contender has been impressive.

    Florida coach Billy Donovan is wary of Tennessee, which he says isn’t the same team that lost consecutive games to Georgetown and Virginia without scoring more than 38 points in either.

    “They are not the same they were in November,” Donovan said. “They are not the same team they were in December. They’re not the same team they were in January. They have continued to get better and continued to improve.”

    Second-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin is 2-0 against Florida, but that doesn’t make him overconfident against a team he says in a national championship contender.

    “They have all the parts to be a Final Four team and ultimately win it,” Martin said. … “So many moving parts within that offense. You’ve always got to identify five guys on the floor. In most cases, you’ve got two or three guys, but they have five guys. Easier said than done to stop them.”

    Florida goes to Knoxville with two key pieces from its eight-man rotation out of the lineup. The Gators have pressed on without forward Will Yeguete, still recovering from a knee injury, for several games, but they lost freshman guard Michael Frazier, for the Tennessee game at least, after he suffered a concussion on Saturday. Frazier is leading the SEC in 3-point shooting in league games only (.549).

    HENDERSON SUPER SUB: Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson still leads the SEC in scoring (19.7 ppg), but he’s struggled in recent games because defenses around the league figured out how to deal with him. After missing 4 of 17 shots in a surprising loss at South Carolina last week, Henderson found himself coming off the bench against Auburn on Saturday.

    The decision by coach Andy Kennedy paid off—Henderson made a school-record tying eight 3-pointers (in 12 attempts) and scored 28 points in 26 minutes.

    “He [was] putting a lot of pressure on himself,” Kennedy said after the game. “We had a long talk after his 4-for-17 performance. Sometimes you can try too hard, especially when you make a living shooting from 27 or 28 feet. If you’re trying too hard, it works against you. I was just trying to slow him down a little bit.”

    TURNER HOT AGAIN: Texas A&M senior Elston Turner owns the top three scoring performances in the SEC this season. After his 40-point outburst against Kentucky on Jan. 12, he was a marked man for a while as defenses keyed on him. But last week Turner erupted for 21 points against Auburn and 38—a Reed Arena record—against Tennessee. Turner also torched Ole Miss for 37 points earlier this month
     



     
     

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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.”