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SEC First Round Recap

March 13, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Southeastern Conference First Round Recap

Recap by Matt Jones

Here begins the journey into the soul of humanity known as the SEC Tournament. I have been coming to this tournament for the better part of 13 years and it has become one of my favorite times of the year. Originally it was a chance for me to experience a trip with my grandfather, who imparted upon me his lifelong love of SEC basketball and his belief that every player now-a-days walked whenever he made a move to the basket. Back then the tournament was about Shaquille O’Neal, Jamal Mashburn and Allan Houston, and the chance to see which suits Rick Pitino would wear and when Dale Brown would self-destruct. After my grandfather passed away, the tournament became a chance to get together with my friends from high school, college and law school, as we would take the opportunity to make a road trip and taunt the likes of Will Perdue and Barry Booker. The names then were Jamal Magloire, Matt Bonner and Mario Austin, but the pure, unadulterated joy was the same.

This year represents a different endeavor for me at the tournament. For I have now found the beautiful world of the press pass. I must say that even a hard-nosed reporter such as myself can become a bit star-struck when you walk alongside the likes of Charles Barkley, Kenny Walker and C.M. Newton in the backstage area. I was unable to get an exclusive one-on-one interview with Barkley for Hoopville, but I am sure that was just a mere oversight on his part and he will likely look me up in the future. I am still however hoping that I will be able to get Rex Chapman in the “Matt Jones Hot Seat” before the end of the week. But much more importantly than these matters, the press pass has allowed me an amazing array of food that helps me understand why all reporters end up with huge bellies. Luckily for me, I have a day job that does not involve all-you-can eat buffets, but if I did, it would be a different story.

(5E) Georgia 73, (4W) Auburn 59
As to the actual game I was there to cover, I must admit it was much less exciting than seeing Cameron Mills roaming the corridors. Georgia pounced on Auburn early and ended up winning in convincing fashion, 73-59. Georgia was led by a Freshman guard Levi Stukes who went for a career high 25 points and tied the SEC Tournament Record with 8 three pointers in the winning effort. Auburn had no answer for this youngster, as he torched the Tigers with a flurry of three pointers and hounded the Tigers’ guards on defense. Cliff Ellis’s team looked completely uninspired and found a way to make what is usually an unexciting event (the play-in rounds on Thursday of the tournament), even more mind-numbing. Georgia managed to look very impressive at some points during the game and showed enough toughness inside to make tomorrow’s showdown with Kentucky quite interesting.

One side-note to the game was the attempt by my friends to get Georgia Freshman Joey Waldrop a good bit of playing time at the end of the game. Waldrop is the type of player that fans can truly pull for as he is (to put it kindly) shaped less like a basketball player, and more like…..well the sportswriters that I have encountered at the game. Coach Dennis Felton played him for a grand total of 40 second and then immediately pulled him out of the game and gave him a tongue-lashing. My friends vowed to never again cheer for Dennis Felton as he officially now is their nemesis. I will be here to report to you, my readers, about any updates on the Dennis Felton-DJ Sharpe and Chris Mosley rivalry as they occur.

(3E) South Carolina 91, (6W) Arkansas 81
The second game of the day picked up on the excitement that filled the arena during the first one as South Carolina won an absolute snoozefest, 91-81. South Carolina was led by Senior Guard Mike Boynton, who scored a career high 32 points in the win. As in the last game, South Carolina pounced on the Razorbacks early, posted a 20 point lead by halftime, and then spent the second half cruising to a victory and getting ready for their showdown tomorrow with LSU.

I spent most of the game watching the always-entertaining South Carolina Coach Dave Odom. For those of you that have not had the pleasure of watching a Dave Odom-coached game, it borders on the best in reality television. There is no doubt that Odom is one of the best and most underrated coaches in the game and the work he has done with this Gamecocks team has been nothing short of remarkable. Having said that, he is the biggest whiner this side of Wimp Sanderson and has an uncanny ability to always look have a look on his face that screams, “What? No! You can’t be serious! This is outrage! I will be contacting my congressman!” At one point in the game, South Carolina was up by 18 points and Freshman Renaldo Balkman (whose hair makes him a potential Matt Jones favorite) was called for a questionable charging call. Odom threw something down (maybe an assistant coach) and began to shout at the top of his lungs, “This is RIDICULOUS!” At that moment, an older gentleman sitting next to me whispered in my ear, “he reminds me of my wife….only he cannot cook as well.” I have no idea what that means, but to me it sums up the beauty of the SEC Tournament.

This game also marked the continuation of my infatuation with former Vanderbilt guard and now SEC television commentator, Barry Booker. Over the last couple of years, my friends and I have developed a bond with Booker and we always seek him out during the tournament, often forcing him to talk to us as he desperately attempts to find someone more important, like Ricky Blanton, to talk to. However once again this year we trapped him and I was able to engage him in this conversation.

Me: Hi Barry. Do you remember me?

Barry: Yes I do…how in the world did you get a press pass?

Me: I do some writing for Hoopville.com about the SEC.

Barry: I have heard of that site…but I now have lost all respect for them.

Me: Well I am going to do a column about you for the tournament.

Barry: (Sarcastically) Boy I am honored!

Me: Oh Barry hush…it will be the most press you have gotten in years.

With that Barry walked away defeated, but vowed to fight another day. I must admit that this afternoon session was not the most exciting thing in the world. As a matter of fact, it was likely the most boring session I have ever attended at the Tournament. However it still is better than anything else I could be doing. And tonight things get interesting. Vanderbilt vs Ole Miss and Tennessee vs Alabama. Set those VCRs and TIVOs ladies and gentleman, its March Madness in Atlanta!

(4E) Vanderbilt 70, (5W) Ole Miss 50
After a bit of a break, it was time to get back to action with this storied rivalry between the Commodores and the Rebels. Because of immense affinity for both Justin Reed and Matt Freije, I expected this game to be highly entertaining and to keep me on the edge of my seat. It didn’t. Vanderbilt center Dawid Przbyszweski did his best Dirk Nowitski impersonation and started a’blazin and helped Vandy take a huge lead at the beginning of the game which they never relinquished. There was almost no entertainment to be found, unless you count the sight of little-used reserve Martin Schnedlitz flying through the lane and hitting a put-back dunk entertaining. I don’t and thus game three of “Boring Thursday” once again let me down.

However the real legacy of this game for me and you, my loyal readers, will be my first-ever participation in a post-game press conference. Now if you are like me, you probably have watched post-game press conferences on television and thought that they looked extremely interesting. I mean here are a group of exhausted warriors who have just been through a difficult battle, sitting next to their fearless coach who has helped lead them to the promised land (or embarrassing defeat). When they speak, there must be magic in the air as they let outsiders know the inner-workings of the basketball battle.

Well having just attended one, let me dispel any such notions of grandeur. I attended the Vanderbilt post-game pow-wow and found the experience somewhat less interesting than watching C-Span during a Commerce Committee hearing. Coach Kevin Stallings and players Matt Freije and Dawid Przbyszewski were asked a series of uninteresting questions (“So Coach, did you feel that your team responded to your call to play Ole Miss with the type of tenacity that it takes to defeat them?”) and promptly stepped up to the plate by turning on the cliché machine and answering them in short, fragmented answers (“yes, it was a hard-fought game.”). They spoke for approximately 15 minutes and I noticed that all around me, reporters were quickly scribbling down every word. I tried to write something that I thought could be interesting, but all I found was Coach Stallings’s quote that Matt Freije “ought to make more free throws.” Stop the Presses! That is one to lead with in tomorrow’s morning edition! (I am speaking the language of the business at this point.) The highlight of the entire experience was watching my fellow members of the press corps taking turns hitting on the SEC media volunteer who was in charge of the microphone for reporters. Whoever that girl is, she should be given a raise as no human should have to tolerate that much attention from so many men with mustard stains on their shirt. While I am not sure I gained anything valuable from it, the press conference experience is one that will stay with me for a lifetime, and will likely never be repeated.

(3W) Alabama 84, (6E) Tennessee 49

In the last game of the session, Alabama completely embarrassed the Vols, thus making it four straight years that my friend Dewayne Lawson has made the trip to the tournament without once seeing Tennessee win a game. Alabama played a fine game, but the real stories here were (1) the absolute dreadful performance of Tennessee and (2) the effects of my sleep deprivation from getting up at 5 a.m. As to the first, nothing went right for Tennessee, from the early going when team leader Dane Bradshaw got in foul trouble, to the end when Buzz Peterson looked as if he might cry from his team’s lack of effort. This Volunteer team has completely self-destructed in the last month and I am at a loss as to why. Either way, my “Buzz Peterson for President” column of a few months ago is becoming more and more embarrassing.

As we move toward the midnight hour, I am literally about to have my head fall on the computer keyboard due to a lack of sleep. I always love the first day of the SEC Tournament because even though the games are usually bad (and this year they were utterly awful), there is some giddiness that accompanies the arrival of me and my boys here in Atlanta. But about this time, that giddiness becomes complete misery as exhaustion takes over and the sight of a Brandon Crump post-move makes one want to hurl him or herself through a window. Thus I will now retreat to the Howard Johnson Suites to live and write another day.

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