Hoops: Who’s a LOCK right now for “The Big Dance?!”

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It’s that time of the year. We are inside of three weeks until “Selection Sunday” where we find out the 37 out large teams that fill-out the NCAA Tournament field of 68.

I have covered the NCAA tournament process on the local/regional level in Florida followed by the national level for the likes of Sirius/XM Radio, Fox Sports Radio and now TuneIn Sports online for going on 25 years! And it seems like now more than ever, that everybody, their neighbor and nephew has a tourney bracket projection online. But, let’s go with what I know and at the end of this, a couple of sites that I trust the most to project which teams are IN (no doubt) “the Big Dance.”

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Hoops: Remember the “Mardi Gras Miracle” 1994? Kentucky does!

Tonight in Baton Rouge, #1 and unbeaten (23-0) Kentucky invades the Maravich Center to take on LSU. And no matter what happens, it likely will not come close to the craziness/drama of February 15th, 1994, at the same site.

If the headline alone did not chase you LSU fans away, you probably want to exit now!

Back to that night in ’94.  Rick Pitino’s Wildcats pulled off a stunning  31 point rally in the final 15:00 of the game that is obviously still being talked about 21 years later! Famed ‘Cats Travis Ford, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty led the charge, as Kentucky made an incredible 12 of 15 three pointers and scored an astounding 62 points in the second half for the rally!

Here’s the footage (you will want to go to about the 7:30 mark  where the comeback starts) to verify what transpired on that night on the Bayou:

It’s not only the greatest comeback in a half in major college basketball history, but it ranks near the top (if not #1) on most single game comeback lists. In fact, USA Today rated it #1 all time , ANY SPORT, ANY SINGLE GAME, in this September 2013 article : Greatest Comebacks Ever

What will happen in “The Deaf Dome” tonight at 7 Eastern? Who knows?!

Again, it can’t match a 31 point comeback in the final 15 minutes.

I  Gare-un-TEE ya! (Cajun accented ending)

Wise: Are the Hogs back? Saturday road test in Gainesville!

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Our SEC14.om Hoops analyst, Mark Wise gets ready to work Arkansas/Florida on radio Saturday. He’s been studying the Hogs and likes what he sees…..

Three years ago Arkansas went 0-9 on the road. Bagel. Donut. The next year they improved by a whopping one game, finishing at 1-9. Then bigger steps were taken last season when Mike Anderson’s team went 3-7 including an overtime win in Rupp Arena against the UK team that went to the NCAA title game.

That improvement has bounced its way into this season. The Razorbacks are 3-3 in away games and are one of only four teams in the land to have two top 25 rpi wins in true road games (@ Georgia/@ SMU). Considering the other 3 teams are Kansas, Virginia, and Duke, that feat is high above the rim.

Saturday, they travel to Florida. No, this is not Billy Donovan’s best team. LSU went into the O’Connell Center and overwhelmed the Gators. But it’s still the Rowdy Reptiles and CBS will be in town. Arkansas is 2-1 in SEC road affairs in 2015 but easily could be 1-2 if Wes Clark of Missouri had made free throws with less than a second remaining. So there is concern. We have heard it before. The system does not travel. The constant trapping and at times chaotic style of play requires the Bud Walton faithful for that extra boost of energy. And most of that is true.

However, the reason Arkansas has found their sea legs is because they have players. Really good ones. Experienced ones. Bobby Portis might be the best Sophomore in the country. A big that can score both facing and with his back to the basket. A rarity in college hoops these days. Junior Michael Qualls has developed into more than just a high-flying/high energy guy. Qualls has scored 20 or more 8 times this season. Senior Rashad Madden gives Anderson a big point guard with skills.

The result has Arkansas as the best team in the league minus that platoon group from Lexington. Their RPI is an outstanding 19. They will absolutely go dancing for the first time since 2008. It’s would also obviously, be the first time in the  Madness for Anderson (a Nolan Richardson disciple)  since he returned to Fayetteville 4 years ago. And, the Hogs have not seen the Sweet 16 since 1996. You get the picture.

This is not a game Arkansas has to win. That moniker probably belongs to the Gators. And getting desperate teams playing on their home court is always an iffy proposition.

But when the NCAA Selection Committee meets and finalizes selections, they ask these three questions: Who did you play? Who did you beat? Where did you beat them?

Finally, the Hogs can point to that last question and talk about success in that area.

Will that trend continue on Saturday?!

Hoops: Where have you gone, “Round Mound of Rebound?!”

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As the 2015 SEC hoop season unfolds, sure there’s drama and interest:

Will Kentucky run the table (as Florida did in the SEC a year ago) and finish the conference (and entire regular season) unbeaten?

Speaking of the Gators, are we looking at the standard of success over the past decade in SEC play potentially being LEFT OUT of the dance?!

How far can an obviously improved Arkansas team go, not only in league play, but also come post season?

So, there are story lines to unfolding involving teams.

But, where are the players that really make you want to watch???

Yes, Kentucky has deep talent, but ask yourselves this: if you are not in the “Bluegrass State,” is there really one guy that you have to stop what you are doing to find when his game is on? Have to check online to see his highlights or box score?

For that matter is there a player in the SEC right now that fits that mold? Think about it.

Now, if I say Jahil Okafor of Duke? Frank Kaminsky of WisconsinMontrez Harrell of Louisville? Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson of Arizona?

These are guys on the offensive end that entertain, even make regular spectacular plays/highlight moves/dunks. They make you want to see what they are doing/when they are playing again.

Can you say the same for: Bobby Portis of the Hogs? Jarrell Martin of LSU? Damian Jones of Vandy?

Look, I am not insulting the SEC or calling what’s going on boring (although some will interpret it this way, I’m sure).

I am just used to Anthony Davis of “Big Blue” being in the SEC two years ago. John Wall before that. “Big Baby” Davis on the Bayou before them. Names like Shaq, Barkley, Mashburn, Chris Jackson, Vernon Maxwell, Corliss Williamson, that were on the marquee over the last 30 years in this conference and on and on.

Guys you HAD to see game after game. Star attractions.

Forgive me for pointing out that the current crop is a little underwhelming in that department this season. Maybe it changes/someone goes bonkers in the next 45 days. But, I think we are stuck with teams being the story down the stretch (not always bad, either).

And ultimately, the wining and losing trumps all, anyway.

But as an interested observer, I want the SEC stars to be just that….exciting/entertaining!

Too much to ask?

Tell me how wrong I am.

Wise: Talking UGA….hoops?! Yes we are!

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Our SEC14.com Hoops analyst, Mark Wise is back….and profiles one of the SEC’s up and coming teams, U-G-A.

In today’s basketball world of low scoring games and tempos more geared for baseball than hoops, it is refreshing to see a team whose offensive skills mesh and make a cohesive unit. Take Georgia.

Having done the Seton Hall game on TV, and watching UGA jump all over Florida from the opening tip last Saturday while working on radio, this team is hard to guard. The pieces fit.

In my opinion, the recipe for a good offense must contain these three ingredients:

One, you must have shooters.

Somehow people have forgotten that the court is 50 feet wide. Spacing the floor is critical. But you must have some bodies that can knock down shots. For the Dawgs, Kenny Gaines, is a catch and shoot guy (37%), who shoots a true jump shot. With with his size and elevation, can shoot over most defenders. JJ Frazier also shoots from the arc (39%) with more range and has become a cagey point guard. Nemi Djurisic gives them a stretch 4 (an American term) with a European game (He is from Montenegro). Thus, Georgia is a threat from “bonus-land.”

Two, you must establish a low block presence.

UGA has that in Senior Marcus Thornton. Finally healthy, Thornton gives Mark Fox a steady low post option who can get the tough points in the paint. He leads the team in scoring at 14.5. Thornton has added a mid range jumper to his offensive repertoire which makes him more of a headache for opposing coaches. He is playing the best basketball of his career. The Dawgs can feed it into Djurisic at times to give them a high low option who has become a DF scorer. The offense will also utilize Charles Mann at 6’5 and 215 lbs. to overpower smaller guards. So, Georgia can player power hoops with a lot of confidence.

Third, and perhaps the most overlooked, is getting to the FT line.

Analysts make way too much about FT% and way too little about FT attempts. Research is showing getting to the line is more connected to winning than what percentage you shoot. Here, Fox’s team excels. They average more than 27 attempts per game. Mann alone, because of his ability to drive and post, goes there more than 7x per game by himself. Thornton more than 5x. You get the picture. Outscoring your opponents at the line is like the football team with a great running game. You just never seem to get the ball enough.

The result of these pieces has Georgia sitting at 12-5 and 3-2 in the SEC after winning their last 3. If they had closed games better in the first two league attempts against Arkansas (4 pt loss) and at LSU (2ot loss), the Bulldogs could easily be sitting at 5-0 with a home and home vs Kentucky down the road that EVERYONE would already be talking about.

Georgia’s resume is more than solid. The RPI is 24, with a SOS of 15. Combine that with top 50 wins over Seton Hall and on the road at Ole Miss, the Dawgs are safely in the Madness. Don’t expect that to change. If anything, this is a team that could end up in the 5-7 seed line before all is said and done.

No, Georgia does not always defend at a high level. And the lack of depth could come into play if an injury occurs. But, they actually want to play games in the 70s.

And isn’t that a breath of fresh air for all of us “hoop junkies.”