Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC news, notes, quotes and mishaps of the past week. Here’s what we’ve been stewing over …
The 2017 NCAA Tournament is boring, they said. Too much chalk, too few upsets.
“Hold our beer,” the college basketball gods replied. And on the fourth day, they delivered.
Or rather SEC basketball delivered, proving once again that 2017 is the year Earth became Bizarro World.
The conference has three teams in the Sweet 16. Florida destroyed Virginia, Kentucky held off a feisty Wichita State squad that was clearly under-seeded and South Carolina knocked off a Duke team picked by many to win the tournament (including yours truly).
Amazingly, Arkansas nearly made it four SEC teams advancing to the second weekend. The Razorbacks held a 5-point lead over top-seed UNC late, but the Tar Heels (aided by a bad charging no-call) went on a 12-0 run in the game’s final minutes to survive the upset bid.
Vanderbilt, too, had a shot at defeating tourney darling Northwestern and giving the conference another March Madness win.
So, that’s a 7-2 composite record for the SEC so far, with three of the country’s top 16 teams among its conquests (UVA, Duke and Wichita State, per KenPom). Not bad for a conference that at one point looked like it might only get three teams into the Big Dance.
South Carolina’s monster upset alone would have been a major statement for the SEC. The Gamecocks, as Coach K himself said, are clearly “building something special.” Their coach is outstanding, their defense posed major problems for a high-powered Duke squad and — with the notable exceptions of seniors Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice — are mostly led by a nucleus of young up-and-comers like forward Chris Silva.
Five seasons ago, Frank Martin inherited a team that went 2-14 in the SEC and a program that hadn’t won an NCAA tourney game since 1973. Now, South Carolina is in the Sweet 16, where the school has never won a game, and holds wins against Duke, Syracuse and Michigan this season — big-time schools with big-time coaches. Martin has done one heck of a job reshaping Gamecocks basketball.
That’s not to discount the SEC’s non-tourney teams. Alabama coach Avery Johnson has the Crimson Tide recruiting with the best of them. Ben Howland has a young Mississippi State team on the rise. Bruce Pearl is starting to flex his recruiting muscles at Auburn (*insert compliance jokes here*). Ole Miss beat Syracuse in the NIT.
Even the SEC basement should get better. Missouri tabbed Cuonzo Martin as its new coach and you can expect LSU will at least pursue Tom Crean. VCU’s Will Wade is the purported front-runner.
Ken Pomeroy — a much smarter man than I’ll ever hope to be — might not expect a big jump in the conference’s level of play. But let’s be real: Projecting future college basketball performance is basically impossible. Heck, the “experts” can’t even make decent brackets, and they’ve had 30-plus games to evaluate these teams by now.
The SEC has one of the strongest basketball coaching rosters in the country and they’re luring more talent to the conference every year. A few years down the road, assuming all goes as planned, John Calipari’s expectation of eight or even nine SEC reps at the Big Dance doesn’t seem so far-fetched. I agreed with him last week, well before this weekend’s madness had played out.
Look out, world: #SECHoopsFever is real and spreading fast.
So, the SEC put three teams into the Sweet 16. Can they keep winning? More importantly, could we actually see two SEC teams matched up in the Elite Eight?
Here’s a quick look at games this week:
Spring football is all about one question: Who’s next?
Despite losing Leonard Fournette, Boom Williams and Alvin Kamara, the SEC returns a boatload of talent at the tailback position. Derrius Guice, Rawleigh Williams, Ralph Webb, Nick Chubb and Kamryn Pettway highlight maybe the deepest group of rushers in the country.
Thing is, SEC teams aren’t treating them like 400-carry-per-year workhorses. In fact, Webb led the conference in rushing attempts with 250 last season, the conference’s first without a 300-carry guy since 2012. Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky — the top three rushing attacks in 2016 — all had multiple backs go for 800-plus yards.
So, with that in mind, here are five guys who look poised for a bigger workload in 2017:
Butch Jones received a social media ribbing when he made his “5-star hearts” comment on National Signing Day. Well, here’s Tennessee making a hype video that revolves completely around 5-star signee Trey Smith, whom the Vols bill as the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation.
I’m not sure which service ranked him No. 1, but the point is Tennessee emphasizing recruiting rankings when Jones specifically downplayed their importance.
On top of that, making a hype video about a freshman who hasn’t played one snap yet. … Pressure much? UT better hope he lives up to the billing.
#1 overall recruit in the nation is proving it every day. SKY IS THE LIMIT for @smithtrey98! #DOM1N8 pic.twitter.com/hCThyJKc3z
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) March 12, 2017
An interesting read over on DawgNation from Seth Emerson, who talked with several Georgia donors for a story about the athletic department’s spending habits (or lack thereof).
There has been much angst around the Bulldog fan base regarding the school’s facilities and whether athletic director Greg McGarity is doing enough to ensure UGA remains competitive with its SEC rivals. According to Emerson, Georgia has $77 million in reserve funds.
Alabama spent $132 million in 2014-15 fiscal year alone, according to USA Today. Florida followed at $125 million. Georgia? $96.6 million — 10th in the SEC — despite drawing $116 million in revenue (15th in the nation). So, the frustration is understandable in that sense.
At the same time, the SEC’s athletics amenities arm race has turned locker room waterfalls seemingly into the new norm. That’s the reality of modern college football, but we should simultaneously question whether that should be the reality of modern college football, no?
Plenty of options to sift through following this weekend’s tourney action, but this clip of Robinson from the Florida-Virginia beat-down gets the nod for comedy value.
Notice the reaction from the Gators bench. He left that 3-pointer sitting on the table, though.
Most effective jab step ever? pic.twitter.com/2xav1UWkh7
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2017
ESPN’s Tom Farrey published a concerning story on The Undefeated last week entitled “The gentrification of college hoops,” which examines evidence that first-generation students are starting to disappear from the sport.
From 2010-15 alone, the number of first-generation students — i.e. those who are the first members of their family to attend college — dropped from 28 to 19 percent in men’s basketball. Women’s hoops fell from 24 to 17 percent, while softball and men’s tennis declined by 8 percent.
The data directly refutes what we read so often, the “disadvantaged athlete gets a free education because he’s great at sports” story. Since providing free schooling is the NCAA’s strongest argument that its athletes are really amateurs, the big-wigs in college’s sports governing body are rightly freaking out.
“I’m deeply attentive to what you’re describing,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told Farrey. “We need to make sure we’re not cutting off access.”
So, why is this happening? The issue is complex and the whole story is well worth the read, but one factor to consider is the cost of training. Take football, where players attend camps year-round and players like Blake Barnett fly out to California to train with George Whitfield for a summer.
You can’t teach athleticism, of course, but kids whose families can afford 1-on-1 coaching and the best equipment have a natural advantage — especially when it comes to the more expensive sports such as tennis, golf, hockey and gymnastics. That has to be a troubling trend.
First-generation college students are disappearing from NCAA sports. Outstanding story by @TomFarrey. https://t.co/0R9cVyDyzj
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) March 18, 2017
The post The Crock Pot: SEC basketball fever? NCAA Tournament shows conference has something big cooking appeared first on SEC Country.