It’s hard to quantify what Muhammad Ali meant to the city of Louisville.
On one hand, you have the brash, slick-talking, greatest-of-all-time champion who predicted when he would knock out his opponents and turned press conferences into circuses. The Louisville Lip.
On the other, the humanitarian and social activist who was called a draft dodger, a Muslim extremist and an agitator. The former Cassius Clay. The man who converted to Islam, changed his name and marched for justice in several realms outside the ring.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. I should’ve respected this sooner.
It was a surreal feeling to get the news Friday night – a man that almost felt too big to be bothered with something like death. The same man who took on both George Foreman and the United States government. And won.
We knew you were ours. This was your city. You were Louisville’s native son. We’ve seen you accomplish so much, anything more these days seemed trivial. The same man whose name adorns a museum, a street and countless other monuments within the city limits got the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Cool. What else happened today.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. Your best should’ve always been recognized.
He was a man that, no matter the constraints of his time, always appreciated where he came from. He gave credit to Louisville when he could. Notably shouting the city out after beating Foreman in Zaire when the world was watching. Yet from all I’ve heard and seen, some from older generations didn’t reciprocate. And some of those from younger generations didn’t study your history enough appreciate it.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. You deserved better.
Men like Ali come around once in a lifetime. He was lucky enough to be the best during boxing’s heyday and also thrown in the mix during a period in United States history when the country was in turmoil. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were ripe for a champion to speak up and be heard when he was the voice for millions. Muhammad Ali was that voice.
Whether you chose to hear it usually determined how you feel – and how those that came after you feel – about him now.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. Your voice was powerful.
On the way home from work last night, I drove my usual stretch of Muhammad Ali Boulevard, this time with the final moments of the call from the Rumble in the Jungle blasting. It’s one of the top calls in sports history, made possible by Ali again defying the odds in front of millions.
“Ali has won. Ali has won by a knockdown. By an knockdown. The thing they said was impossible, he’s done it.”
Impossible. Ali did it. It became second nature. Foreman. Frazier. A federal conviction. Boxing exile. Parkinson’s Disease. He beat it all by how he lived with the situation he was dealt.
But now, that’s all we have. The epic memories of a man who impacted billions around the world with his kindness, bravado and an unwillingness to bend to you or anyone else’s beliefs.
At his very core, Ali was a man who stood for what he believed in in front of the entire world. And he made sure you knew he wasn’t backing down.
I’m sorry, Muhammad. There should be more like you.
You shook up the world, Champ. You’re a bad man.
RIP The Greatest.
College recruiting is a giant gray area. There are a number of ways to lock up recruits that aren’t wrong and don’t break any rules. Their only crime is being obvious.
One of those ways is a prominent college coach hiring the parent of a prominent prep player to, eventually, earn a signature on a National Letter of Intent.
It (officially) happened on Wednesday with Memphis coach Josh Pastner’s hiring of Keelon Lawson as his third assistant. It’s no surprise the at a successful Memphis-area coach (Lawson was the head man at Hamilton High School and has won a state title for the school) could and would get an assistant job for a program in an area that’s a hoops hotbed.
It just so happens that Lawson has four sons, all of which are staring — or will be staring — major Division I offers in the face. D.J., Detric, Chandler and Jonathan Lawson all have a shot at being near the top of their respective prep classes, D.J. had already committed to Memphis prior to his dad’s hire, and Pastner smartly hired their dad to help get them to campus.
It’s far from a new trend in college basketball. Temple just hired Rick Brunson for their coaching staff. Brunson’s son, Jalen, is one of the top players in the class of 2015.
It’s worked in the past at some places. Other places it didn’t. Here’s a look at some of the best father/son package deals in college basketball.
Danny and Ed Manning – Kansas, 1984
In the spring of 1984, Danny Manning was the hottest name on the high school hardwood. Ed Manning, a 10-year NBA veteran, was his father. Larry Brown, then the coach at Kansas, wanted to sign Manning. So he made the move to hire Ed as an assistant on his staff, which in turn, netted him Danny and four years later, helped the Jayhawks raise a national title.
Danny Manning went on to average 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and shot 60.5 percent from the floor before being selected as the first overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. Ed Manning followed Brown to the Spurs, joining his staff as a scout.
This may have been arguably the greatest father/son package in the history of college basketball. Anything that leads to a national title has to be up for that discussion.
Mario and Ronnie Chalmers – Kansas, 2005
I’ve got to give it to the Jayhawks. When the package it, they go all-in. Ronnie Chalmers was a big-time high school coach in Alaska and his son, Mario, was the best player in the Great White North in 2005. Not to mention, he was ranked as the a Top 2 point guard in the nation by most recruiting services.
Kansas coach Bill Self wanted Mario, as did most of the coaches in Division I. But Self was the one who hired Ronnie Chalmers as his director of basketball operations, which all but sealed Mario heading to Lawrence. Three years later, Chalmers helps Kansas to their first national championship since their last famous father/son package was on campus in the Mannings.
Mario Chalmers stacked up three-year averages of 12.2 points, 3.8 assists and shot 41.8 percent from three-point range and was selected in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft. Ronnie Chalmers resigned from his post at Kansas right after Mario went pro in 2008.
Allan and Wade Houston – Tennessee, 1988
The Houston’s situation was made even more interesting with fact that Wade was an assistant under Louisville coach Denny Crum for 13 seasons. During his son Allan’s senior year at Ballard High School in Louisville, Houston was hired as the head coach at Tennessee.
Allan Houston, who would be named Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky and would help the Bruins win the state title in 1988, was rumored to be a strong UofL commitment before his dad got the Vols job. He promptly committed to UT, and flourished in Knoxville from 1989-1993, finishing as the school’s all-time leading scorer, averaging 21.9 points per game. Wade Houston got out of coaching after the 1993-94 season.
Allan would go on to be the 11th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, while Wade lasted one more season at Tennessee before being fired with a 65-90 career record and just two NIT appearances to his credit.
Dajuan and Milt Wagner – Memphis, 2001
Dajuan Wagner was another possible Louisville target whose father had strong ties to the Cardinals, but then got a coaching job with another school and the son followed. Dajuan was arguably the best scorer in the 2001 class and, like his father Milt, was a standout at Camden High School. Milt went on to star for Louisville as part of the Camden Connection that Crum had forged with recruits in the area and started as a fifth-year senior on the Cardinals’ 1985-86 national championship team.
Those around the fanbase thought Wagner was a lock to follow his old man. But, just like with the Houston episode, Milt Wagner was hired as a coach by another program, John Calipari and Memphis, prior to Dajuan’s graduation from high school.
Wagner signed with Memphis, led them to the NIT title in his lone season with the Tigers, clocked 21.2 points per game and shot 45.3 percent from three before being selected as the 6th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Milt was most recently a member of Tony Barbee’s staff at Auburn. Barbee was fired after this past season.
Got a better idea? Did we forget anything? Hit us on Twitter at @TBBChronicles or at TBBChronicles@gmail.com.
Think hard. Really hard. What’s the one thing that Bo Ryan’s good Wisconsin teams have always had?
I’ll give you a hit. Alando Tucker. Need another? Jordan Taylor.
Yea, smart point guards.
With Josh Gasser out for the season with a torn ACL and Taylor exhausting his eligibility, the Badgers don’t have that smart point guard. It showed in a 74-56 thrashing at the hands of Florida on Wednesday night. And the game wasn’t even that close.
The numbers aren’t staggeringly bad. Through two games, Wisconsin has 18 turnovers against 26 assists. But it was clear in an admittedly hostile arena like the O’Connell Center, you need a calming presence. Gasser was that. Taylor was that. Without it, a team can give up 74.
Gasser, Tucker and Taylor were also incredibly good on-ball defenders. Taylor averaged a steal per game while Gasser was at 0.7 per game last season. Tucker averaged a little under a steal per game for his career. When you don’t have that, the opposing teams’ guards does his thing. Dre Evans scored 13 for Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener and Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario combined for 25 points in the Gators’ win.
It’s not like the Badger could do anything about this. Gasser suffered the injury on Oct. 27. But the point is, they have no choice. Find a replacement, or the closest thing to it, or have fun losing a few games you should win.
Florida is by-and-large a good team. With proven scorers like Rosario, Boynton and Erik Murphy (24 in the win), along with a serious banger like Patric Young, they are a tough match-up for anyone.
But one thing that Bo Ryan’s best teams have had is a great point guard who can control the team in the half-court and one that can hold down the perimeter defensively. Gasser can’t be that guy this year and it’s going to have tragic consequences in B1G play if Ryan can’t find someone to replace him to some extent. Whether individually or by-committee.
Much like the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference-USA has one dominant team, and several others looking up hoping and praying they will get an NCAA Tournament berth.
C-USA Preseason Rankings:
1. Memphis. The Tigers have all of the tools to not only easily win the conference, but to also make a deep tournament run for the first time in Josh Pastner’s reign. Memphis lost their best perimeter scorer in Will Barton, but an Adonis Thomas-led frontcourt will be the backbone of this team. The best news for the Tigers this year? They’ve got Shaq! Shaq Goodwin that is, a 6’8″ big man who was rated the 31st best recruit by ESPN. Replacing the scoring of Barton will be Joe Jackson, who averaged 11 a game last season. Chris Crawford will also be a key wing player for the Tigers. An easy schedule will benefit Memphis, at least until postseason play — Memphis plays only one team, Louisville, currently ranked in the top-25 in the nation.
2. Marshall. You’re going to want to learn DeAndre Kane’s name this year. After a stellar sophomore season for the Thundering Herd where he did a little bit of everything, including leading the team with 16.5 ppg., Kane is back for his junior year to lead Marshall. Joining him for Marshall will be Dennis Tinnon, who averaged a double-double last year (10 ppg., 10 rpg.). Marshall struggled in conference last year, going 9-7, this coming after beating Cincinnati in out-of-conference play and having a close game with Syracuse. The Thundering Herd have one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, playing Kentucky, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Villanova.
3. Central Florida. The Golden Knights return three of their top four leading scorers, led by Keith Clanton who has averaged at least 14 the last two seasons. Isaiah Sykes will join in on the offense with Clanton. I like Sykes to be a big breakout candidate as he averaged 12 points and six rebounds last year, after not doing much at all his freshman year. He will need to pick up the offense with Marcus Jordan deciding not to return to UCF. If Sykes improves on his three-point field goal percentage (29 percent), he could very well be the team’s leading scorer this year. Unfortunately, UCF is barred from postseason play due to recruiting violations, so even an improvement off their 20-win season last year won’t take them dancing.
4. Tulane. No really, Tulane. Plagued by injuries last year, this team finished dead last in the conference, but I have reason to believe they belong in the top-five. Ricky Tarrant is fresh off of a 15 ppg. season last year, and he will be joined by Kendall Timmons, who only played half of the year last season after tearing his Achilles. Timmons is the long-distance threat Tulane needs (48 percent 3P%). With Jordan Callahan and Josh Davis returning, the Green Wave return almost all of their scoring, and will also likely get back Tomas Bruha, one of their big frontcourt weapons. An NCAA Tournament berth may be a stretch, but don’t be shocked if they make the NIT.
5. UTEP. There’s about five teams I could put here, and with expectations so high for the Miners I’m giving them the nod. UTEP returns five of their top seven scorers and four of their top five rebounders. If that wasn’t enough, they got high school All-American Twymond Howard, as well as fellow freshman Chris Washburn. I really like what UTEP is doing, and if all the pieces click, this could easily be a top-three team in the conference. Leading scorers John Bohannon and Julian Washburn both return for UTEP.
Preseason C-USA First Team
Adonis Thomas- Simply put, this man is a beast. At 6’7″ and 242 points, Thomas averaged just 8.8 points per game last season, but that was in his freshman season where he was only getting 24 minutes a game. Look for improvement in every category this year, and for his minutes to get over 30 a game. He needs to become a better rebounder, as he averaged just 3.2 a game last year. But this physical specimen has all of the tools to be a top contributor for the Tigers.
DeAndre Kane- This guy can do it all, probably because he has to. Averaging 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists is good enough to get on this list. He had very similar numbers his freshman year, which makes me believe if he still has room to grow. His field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages were all down from his freshman year, but if those go up he could be a guy that challenges for Player of the Year in the conference.
Keith Clanton- For a while it looked as if Clanton was on his way out, as the NCAA gave UCF heavy recruiting sanctions. Thank God he’s not, because there is no way the Golden Knights would contend for an NCAA Tournament berth without him. The double-double machine averaged 14.5 and 8 last year, and he can also hit from deep (1.2 three’s a game). A guy that can shoot in the post and from outside, as well as being a solid rebounder is a tough guy to guard.
Rick Tarrant- This sophomore guard will be the reason behind Tulane’s surge to the top half of the conference. Averaging 15 points, with 3 assists and 3 rebounds last year, Tarrant had a freshman season as good as anyone last year. He poured in 24 points and seven rebounds when Tulane beat Georgia Tech last year.
Dennis Tinnon- As a junior college transfer for his junior year, Tinnon averaged a double-double for the Thundering Herd. He, along with Kane will be counted on to keep Marshall in the hunt this season. He had 12 double-doubles last season, including an 18 and 11 performance in Marshall’s NIT loss to Middle Tennessee State.
Coach of the Year:
Ed Conroy- Tulane is going to surprise some people, let me tell you. Conroy is now in his third year at Tulane, and we all know the third year is when team’s make that big jump. They may not be the fourth best team in the conference like I’m predicting, but I guarantee they will be in the top half of the conference.
Player of the Year:
Keith Clanton- You know you’re good when you turn down the chance to play for University of Kentucky. Clanton could have jumped ship and went to Lexington this summer, but he decided to stay with UCF despite no chance at postseason play this year. UCF lost several key members of their team last year, so Clanton will be counted on even more this year. He led the team in points and rebounds a year ago.
Miss us? Well we’re back. This week we’ll be previewing the six major conferences, beginning with the Big Ten.
1- Indiana. Not only will they be the team to beat in the Big Ten, but they will likely begin the season ranked No. 1 in the country. The Hoosiers bring back most of their team, including some talented newcomers, that went 27-9 in a breakout year last season. Cody Zeller, perhaps the favorite to win the Naismith Award, is back to man the middle, with Indiana also returning three more players that averaged at least 10 points per game (Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo). This is as deep as any team in the nation, as Indiana will have Yogi Ferrell compete for the starting point guard position with Hulls. In what will likely be a 10 or 11-man rotation, the Hoosiers will likely get back Maurice Creek, who has had his share of injuries three years removed from leading Indiana in scoring. This may be Indiana’s best chance at getting back to the Final Four, and anything less would be considered a disappointment.
2- Michigan. I’m a firm believer that the Wolverines have the best backcourt in the country in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Those two led Michigan to a 24-10 record a year ago, both scoring over 14 points a game. With Burke opting to come back for his sophomore year, expectations will be high in Ann Arbor. The frontcourt is a different story, as they had several graduate, but Mitch McGary will likely start down low and I think he will be one of the best freshmen in the conference. Burke and Hardaway, Jr. will lead the way, but for the Wolverines to make a run this season they will need guys like McGary and Glenn Robinson III to not play like freshmen.
3-Ohio State. The Buckeyes come into the 2012-13 season with maybe more question marks than anyone. Graduating Jared Sullinger will certainly hurt, but they also lost another solid starter in Willam Buford. But if Deshaun Thomas does what he did in last year’s NCAA Tournament, then there may not be much of a reason to worry. Thomas scored at least 14 points in four of Ohio State’s five tourney games, including 31 in their opening-round win over Loyola. He will get the ball often from Aaron Craft, who may be the best floor-general in the country. For the Buckeyes youngsters, including Shannon Scott and Amir Williams, it will be trial-by-fire because Thad Matta will need them to contribute right away.
4-Michigan State. The Spartans return most of their team, except of course Draymond Green, who was an All-American last year in his senior season. Replacing a player of Green’s caliber is tough, but Tom Izzo will look to Keith Appling to step up his production for his junior year, as he is the leading returning scorer at 11.4 a game. Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix all averaged at least seven a game, but Nix is coming off a rocky summer as he was involved in a drug arrest. Michigan State has one of the deepest teams in the country, along with Indiana, and will also look from solid production from freshman Gary Harris. Losing Green won’t be the end of the world for a Wolverine team as deep as any they’ve recently had.
5- Wisconsin. Even without Jordan Taylor, the Badgers will still contend for a top-five spot in the Big Ten thanks to Ryan Evans, a swingman who averaged 11 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds a year ago. Jared Berggren (10.5 ppg., 4.9 rpg) will also be back, but Sam Dekker is who they’re really excited about in Madison. The talented freshman will likely make an instant impact, as he was rated the No. 17 recruit in the nation by ESPN.
Cody Zeller – The 7-foot big man did a little bit of everything last year, averaging over 15 points and six rebounds, while also getting one steal and one block per game. That was in his freshman year, and we can expect a big improvement for Zeller’s sophomore year. It has been said for five years that Cody is the most talented of the Zeller brothers, and with his older brothers graduated, the spotlight is on Cody to prove he’s not only the best Zeller, but the best player in the nation.
Trevor Mbakwe– Now in his sixth, yup sixth, year at Minnesota, this selection all depends on Mbakwe’s health. After already missing two years due to injury, he only played ten games last year, averaging a near double-double with 14 points and 9.1 rebounds. Last year it was his ACL, but he appears like he will be ready to go by the start of the season. If he’s fully healthy, a spot on the first-team Big Ten seems like a lock.
Aaron Craft– Is there a better point guard in the nation? You could argue Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, but he is also counted on as the Racers’ go-to scorer.Pierre Jackson and Shabazz Napier are two more popular names, but I’m not sure if anyone brings what Craft brings. He’s not known for his scoring (8.8 ppg.) but with 4.6 assists to only 2.2 turnovers a game, Craft does a good job of managing the game. What he’s best known for is his ability to be a shut-down defender, averaging 2.5 steals a game a year ago. Thad Matta may count on more offense this season from Craft, but his defense will still be there.
Trey Burke– Perhaps the most talented freshman guard in the nation last year, Burke decided to come back for his sophomore year. He helped fuel a Michigan turnaround with nearly 15 points and five assists a game, and as a sophomore he will look to lead the Wolverines deep into the NCAA Tournament. He has a ton of weapons around him, and if he matures and improves on his decision maker, Burke could challenge Craft as the best point guard in the conference.
Deshaun Thomas– You can count on Thomas to provide the scoring that is lost for Ohio State after Jarred Sullinger’s departure. He scored 16 points a game a year ago with Sullinger, and for the incredibly athletic forward, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he upped that to the low-20s. Ohio State will need that out of Thomas, as they will be a very inexperienced team besides him and Craft.
Most Undervalued Team
Iowa– With 18 wins a year ago, I wouldn’t be surprised for the Hawkeyes to make a big splash this season. This will be a young team, likely starting two freshman, a sophomore and two juniors, and they lost their leading scorer in Matt Gatens, but the youngsters will carry them. The good thing for those young players is an easy schedule to begin the year. It would be tough for the Hawkeyes to go undefeated in their non-conference slate, but all of their games appear to be winnable. Iowa has a solid backcourt in Josh Oglesby and Roy Marble, and the frontcourt will be led by freshman center Adam Woodbury, a top-40 recruit, along with Aaron White. Iowa usually isn’t a team mentioned with the best of the Big Ten, but this team has all the talent to be in the top half of the conference and grab an NCAA Tournament berth.
Most Overrated Team
Northwestern– I don’t see Northwestern repeating their surprising year from last year when they went 19-14. 20-point per game John Shurma is gone, and starting two-guard JerShon Cobb has been suspended for the season for a violation of team policy. Drew Crawford will carry the scoring load, but I’m not sure if they have much behind him. They have two transfers manning their frontcourt in Jared Swopshire and Nikola Cerina, two guys who never did much impressing at their previous schools. David Sobolewski will be one quality big man for the Wildcats, but I just don’t think they have enough pieces to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Even last year they didn’t impress me, only beating one ranked team all season. With losing their go-to guy, the 2012-13 season won’t be as pretty for Northwestern.
Sleeper Impact Player
Maurice Creek– The Indiana junior could be a huge x-factor this year for the Hoosiers. Three years ago when IU was the laughingstock of the Big Ten, Creek averaged 16 points a game in his freshman season. He got hurt just before Big Ten play began, and was out the rest of the season. He wasn’t his normal self for his sophomore season, clearly not at 100 percent. He only played half of that year, and none the past season. Creek appears to be healthy now, and no one expects him to average 16 points a game, but he still be a big weapon off the bench for the Hoosiers. If he stays healthy, Creek is a guy who provide 10 points a game in a reserve role. IU is a deep team, and to have a guy like Creek as your 7th or 8th man on the bench, they will be in good shape.
Michigan’s John Beilein, like Indiana’s Tom Crean, helped turnaround a dismal Michigan basketball program. But the thing with the Wolverines, no one quite expected it. They should be one of the top teams in the conference this year because a load of depth. They have stars in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., but also quality freshmen that will make this a special team. Michigan won their first Big Ten title since 1986 last season, and though they may not win it this year, they will be right in the thick of the race.
Photos courtesy of Fox59.com and whenlarrymetmagic.com
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.
Don’t look now, but the Tennessee Volunteers are creeping up the ranks as a possible bubble team for the NCAA Tournament.
Winners of eight of their last nine games, Tennessee found a way to grab the No. 2 seed for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, despite five teams lower than them having better overall records.
With a strong finish to the regular season, including wins at Florida and at home over Vanderbilt — two locks for the tournament — the Volunteers have surprised a lot of people under first-year coach Cuzono Martin.
Nobody expected this for the Vols — many thought they would dwell in the cellar of the SEC. After early season losses to Austin Peay, Charleston and Oakland, that prediction seemed likely.
But something changed, all it took was a 69-44 blowout victory to national title perennial favorite Kentucky to put a spark into this team, as they have just lost once since that game at the end of January. Sweeping the season series with the Gators and beating the Commodores shockingly gave them the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed in the SEC.
This year’s Vols don’t necessarily have the star power they have had in the past, with Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris both leaving early after last season’s drama involving Bruce Pearl. But they have had a couple guys come out of nowehere to provide big lifts. Trae Golden, a guy who averaged all of three points a game last year, is currently leading Tennessee in scoring with 13.4 per game. He posted 17 points in each of the most recent Florida and Vanderbilt games.
Jeronne Maymon, in his second season at Tennessee after transferring from Marquette, has seen his minutes increase from just 9.1 last year to 27.8 this year. He has been the main post-presence for the Vols, averaging 12.6 and 7.8 a game. He picked it up when it counted too, scoring at least 12 points in every SEC game.
Perhaps the best player of the three is Jarnell Stokes, who came to Tennesee in January after graduating high school early. In his first start, he posted 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in an upset win over UConn. He’s scored in double figures six times this season, and is still just two months removed from his 18th birthday. Stokes has perhaps been the wild card on this team, as they have lost just three times since his first start nearly two months ago. He has quickly become one of the best freshman in the conference this side of Lexington.
What Martin has done this year in his first year at Tennessee coach is pretty remarkable, considering they lost 70 percent of their scoring from last year. They have had unknowns step up big, and that takes a special kind of coach to make that happen.
Those bad early season losses won’t go away, however, and that’s what will hurt Tennessee the most when it comes time to determine if they are good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. But with those big conference wins, as well as the non-conference win over Connecticut, things are looking good in Knoxville.
They aren’t in yet, but a win or two in the SEC Tournament this weekend will surely help their cause. They’ve got Ole Miss on Friday, a team they beat 73-60 last month. If they win that one they will likely play Vanderbilt, who they beat just last weekend. They are on the outside looking in at the moment, but that can change this weekend. And don’t be surprised if they keep on with their surprises.
The bubble teams can rejoice. Creighton and Murray State were both able to win the conference tournaments, albeit in close fashion, thus giving them automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.
The best part about that for the bubble teams is that those two squads were going to be locks anyway. If Illinois State were to win the Missouri Valley or Tennessee State win the Ohio Valley, it would have taken a bid away from a team like Miami or Texas.
Illinois State and Tennessee State sure made the bubble teams worry though. After upsetting No. 14 Wichita State the previous day, the Redbirds were in good position to knock off Creighton in the MVC championship. Nic Moore drove coast-to-coast for a layup with 6.5 seconds left to force overtime with the Bluejays. Creighton’s Antoine Young took over in the extra period, however, scoring eight of his 14 points in overtime to preserve the victory for the favorite.
As for Tennessee State, they had already defeated Murray once this year — the only loss of the year for the Racers. They almost did it again, up seven points with just over five minutes left. Murray was somehow able to come back and get the automatic bid. Jewaun Long drove the baseline to scored the winning layup with 4.4 seconds left to win it for Murray.
So what does this mean for the rest of the country? The MVC was going to get two bids regardless of the conference tournament, Wichita and Creighton. Likewise for the OVC, where Murray is a lock. This gives the bubble teams a much better chance at making the Big Dance.
Both Creighton and Murray State are threats to make a run in the tournament and possibly pull off an upset. They both feature stars (Isaiah Canaan for Murray and Doug McDermott for Creighton), they are both deadly from deep and they both rebound well — all of which are key in making a March run.
North Carolina-Ashville and Belmont were the top other squads that punched in their automatic bids over the weekend. Ashville will likely be a 15/16 seed, possibly playing one of the first round games. Belmont could possibly be a sleeper to make a run, having not lost since Jan. 21. In their season-opener they lost to Duke by just one point, 77-76. Depending on who they play, their opposition should be on alert next week.
On that note — next week — that feels good to say. This is going to be a fun week for all of us in Championship Week, but the real fun begins next week.