The Southeastern Conference sent eight teams to the postseason; for some, things have gone well, for others, not so much. Our Chris Lee breaks down how those teams have fared so far, and what’s around the corner.
So, Kentucky didn’t start well and didn’t finish well, but let’s face it, if the Wildcats played Hampton 1,000 times in the NCAA Tournament, they might lose once or twice, and most of all, they know it. In other words, who cares that the ‘Cats beat a team by 23 that they easily could have beaten by double that. The good news for UK: it got 21 points and 11 rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s developing into a star between bouts of inconsistency, on track. I suppose crazier things have happened than the ‘Cats not making the Final Four, but do you know anybody that doesn’t have UK getting there (at a minimum) in their bracket?
Arkansas was a popular upset victim from fans picking brackets, but I thought the Razorbacks had too much height for Wofford, and though that’s not exactly how it turned out, it was the Hawgs’ athleticism that did the Terriers in. On that note, it was mostly dunk machine Michael Qualls, who hit all but one of his shots in scoring 20 points, who did the damage. A tough matchup with North Carolina is around the corner, and Arkansas needs Bobby Portis to step up his game from what we’ve seen from him the last two weeks.
Vanderbilt put on an absolute offensive clinic in the second half of its NIT win over South Dakota State on Friday night, scoring 59 points and shooting 81.8 percent from the field in the second half. I don’t know whether it was more impressive that VU did it mostly without its best shooter, Riley LaChance (foul trouble) or that freshman point guard Wade Baldwin wound up one assist from a triple double, which would have been just the second time in school history that’s happened. One more interesting thing: VU set program records for blocks in a game in each of its last two contests. The Commodores have a road game coming up against either Stanford or Rhode Island, but the important thing here isn’t so much that but the fact that VU is quickly making itself a preseason Top 25 team for 2015-16.
We all figured Alabama would suffer a quick exit from the NIT after coach Anthony Grant’s firing, but instead, the Crimson Tide obliterated Illinois in what might have been their best performance of the season. Senior guards Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph combined for 39 points, showing they’re not ready for their collegiate careers to be done. However, the real story in Tuscaloosa revolves around who replaces Grant; the word is that ‘Bama is going to throw big, big money out there in an effort to get a name coach.
Winning in the NIT often comes down to who’s motivated, and evidently, Texas A&M took its NCAA snub personally as it routed Montana by 17. It was one of the stranger games you’ll see, with Montana erasing an 18-point deficit earlier. Like Vandy, the Aggies return most everyone next year and are looking to se themselves up for better things then. All-SEC guard Danuel House is still out, so we’ll see how far this run can go for now.
See you next year
So, if you were going to pick a team in the NCAAs that was going to blow a 16-point second-half lead by missing its last 12 shots from the field and its last six from the line, would LSU not have been tops on your list? N.C. State, with former Tiger Ralston Turner scoring 10, hit a shot at the buzzer to send LSU back to Baton Rouge, where coach Johnny Jones will wait to see if stars Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin return. Even if not, the Tigers have a nice backcourt trio of Tim Quarterman, Jalen Patterson and Keith Hornsby coming back, and five-star recruits Antonio Blakeney and Ben Simmons (the latter, the country’s top recruit) coming in. The question that haunts all LSU fans is this one: can Jones do anything to help them from the bench?
It was a nice run for Ole Miss, which was never supposed to make it as far. The Rebels had a memorable comeback over BYU before falling hard to a better Xavier squad. The Rebels lose three huge pieces in seniors Jarvis Summers, M.J. Rhett and LaDarius White, plus contributors Aaron Jones and Terence Smith, and so coach Andy Kennedy is almost certainly rebuilding next year.
Georgia got a tough draw in Michigan State, and so it was no surprise to see the Bulldogs lose a close NCAA Tournament game. The Bulldogs lose the heart of their team in post players Marcus Thornton and and Nemanja Djurisic but return an underrated backcourt and freshman shot-blocker Yante Maten, too. Mark Fox is one of the league’s better coaches and so Georgia shouldn’t be counted out for next season.