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The Morning Dish Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 25, 2017 The Morning Dish 1 Comment

The SEC will have at least one team in the Final Four. It’s a guarantee that an SEC team not named Kentucky will make it. And the SEC is the only conference who could have more than one member in the Final Four.

Those are not small notes from probably the best night on the hardwood for the SEC in quite some time.

All three SEC teams that reached the Sweet 16 advanced, with all three playing last night. They swept away Madison Square Garden, with South Carolina continuing their magical run by convincingly beating Baylor 70-50 and Florida getting a buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime by Chris Chiozza to beat Wisconsin 84-83. Florida and South Carolina will meet in the East Regional final on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Kentucky could go to the Final Four as well. In Memphis, the Wildcats won their rematch with UCLA 86-75 behind a terrific night from the backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, who combined for 60 points on 21-37 shooting. Fox upstaged Lonzo Ball, scoring a career-high 39 points on 13-20 shooting, handing out four assists with just one turnover as Kentucky shot 49 percent from the field, including 10-23 from long range. They won despite UCLA shooting over 52 percent, as Kentucky won the turnover battle 13-6. Ball had ten points and eight assists along with four turnovers, shooting 4-10 from the field including 1-6 from deep.

Next up for Kentucky is another rematch, as North Carolina took out Butler 92-80 before that. The Wildcats beat North Carolina in a classic in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas back in December, and this should be every bit as highly-anticipated as Friday night’s rematch with UCLA was.

The end result is the SEC has three teams in the Elite Eight, while the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 and West Coast Conference each have a single team. For the SEC, it is surely a good time, as the conference has been maligned on the hardwood in recent years. It has faced the question of who besides Kentucky can be a consistent winner, a nationally relevant program. The Wildcats may have slipped a bit around a decade ago, but since John Calipari took over they have been what we expect Kentucky to be.

Who can join them? Florida may be returning to that, but otherwise, there is a question there. South Carolina wasn’t relevant for quite some time before Frank Martin arrived, Arkansas has been up and down and Vanderbilt has been good, but not always NCAA Tournament-good. Texas A&M had a good run recently and stumbled a bit this year after heavy personnel losses. Teams like Ole Miss, Georgia and Tennessee have been good, but not always NCAA Tournament-good. LSU looked like they had a chance to make some noise, but faltered, then the bottom fell out. Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State have potential with newer coaches.

The SEC has had its place among the conferences because of non-conference performance – the same thing that has put the Big 12 at the top in recent years. This year, the SEC is 9-11 against the ACC, 9-7 against the Big 12, 3-6 against the Big East, 3-6 against the Big Ten and 3-7 against the Pac-12. This is similar to some other recent years.

The NCAA Tournament is a great time to change that story, however, and SEC teams are doing just that. The ACC was the talk of the regular season, and deservedly so, but now the SEC should be the talk of the postseason.

 

Side Dishes

With UCLA done, the questions naturally came about the future of Lonzo Ball and head coach Steve Alford. In a result that surprises only in the timing of it, Ball said he is done at UCLA and headed to the NBA Draft. Alford, meanwhile, said he is not interested in the Indiana job. We would be wise to consider the timing with Alford – right after a season-ending loss. Ball has long been thought to be a one-and-done player, likely to be a high lottery pick, so this news is only surprising in that it got revealed so soon. We will see in time if Alford is to remain in Westwood instead of heading back to his home state. You can’t blame him for denying interest in the job at a time like that, although his comments were more convincing that we usually hear from a coach in this situation.

The hire of Cuonzo Martin by Missouri has paid an immediate divided. Martin hired former Washington assistant Michael Porter, whose son committed to play in Columbia on Friday. Michael Porter Jr. is widely regarded as one of the very best prospects in the class of 2017, and the one-time Washington signee is following his father to the school. The decision is one that makes sense on a family level, as the family lived in Missouri previously, Porter Sr. was an assistant women’s coach at the school, Porter’s sisters play there, and his aunt is the head women’s coach.

In surprising moves, two Power 5 schools elevated assistant coaches to the top job on Friday. California promoted Wyking Jones to replace Cuonzo Martin, giving him a five-year contract, and Oklahoma State elevated Mike Boynton Jr. to replace Brad Underwood. Both are head coaches for the first time. Jones had been an assistant at Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount before going to Cal in 2015, while Boynton played at South Carolina and had been an assistant at his alma mater, before he was with Underwood at Stephen F. Austin and followed him to Stillwater.

Cleveland State has hired Tulsa assistant Dennis Felton to take over for Gary Waters. Felton had a successful run at Western Kentucky before spending six years at Georgia, then he spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Tulsa. Hoopville is keeping track of all the coaching changes right here.

One head coach who was thought to be possibly on the move is not going anywhere, and that is Middle Tennessee mentor Kermit Davis. Davis has already been at the helm for 15 years, and this new seven-year deal will keep him there through 2023-24. He has led the Blue Raiders to a first round win in the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons and has turned them into a consistent winner.

Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac is declaring for the NBA Draft, the second Seminole to do so as he joins Dwayne Bacon. Isaac made the ACC All-Freshman team and is projected as a likely lottery pick. A list of early entrants to the NBA Draft is being actively kept right here on Hoopville.

 

Tonight’s Menu

By the end of the night, we will know two of the Final Four teams.

  • In San Jose, No. 1 Gonzaga takes on No. 11 Xavier in the West Regional final (6:09 p.m.)
  • In Kansas City, No. 1 Kansas takes on No. 3 Oregon in the Midwest Regional final (8:49 p.m.)
  • Earlier in the day, two CIT quarterfinals are on tap: Furman at Campbell (2 p.m.) and St. Peter’s at Texas State (5 p.m.)

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Paul Borden says:

    As dramatic and clutch Chris Chiozza’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer was for Florida, in my view the play of the game, maybe even the tournament, was Canyon Barry’s block of the potential layup by Khalil Iverson that likely would have clinched it for Wisconsin. Unbelievable play.

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