published Monday, March 31st, 2014

Wiedmer: SEC sure is a terrible men's hoops league

So sorry if I offend any of you this morning, but I have to type this in all caps regarding the upcoming Final Four: S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C!

How could this be, Selection Committee? Florida and Kentucky making up half the Final Four from a three-bid league that you snubbed so badly you crassly put two of them -- UK and Tennessee -- in the same Midwest Region?

What will do you next? Call an emergency reseeding meeting to force the Wildcats and Gators to meet in the semis so there's absolutely no chance of an all-SEC final? Find a way to let your beloved ACC, Big 12 or Atlantic-10 entries have a crack at whoever ultimately wins the Final Four in Dallas? Kind of a bonus round?

One word on your eye tests, gentleman: As Charles Barkley would say -- Turr-i-ble.

Yet however much Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman's committee screwed up the seeding, if you take away the top-ranked Gators' 10-point win over Dayton in Saturday's South Regional final, the other three regionals couldn't have produced much better regional finals, especially Wisconsin's overtime win over West No. 1 Arizona and UK's last-second triumph over Michigan.

Even Connecticut's stunning rally from 10 down to beat Michigan State 60-54 inside the Huskies' second home at Madison Square Garden featured high drama and determination in Sunday's East Regional final.

Couple that with the fact that the last time UConn won it all in 2011, the Final Four was also in Texas, the Huskies' singularly brilliant Kemba Walker taking over Houston's Reliant Stadium, and it's easy to make a case for Connecticut winning it all a week from today.

Especially since Huskies point guard Shabazz Napier -- who was a scrappy freshman on that 2011 team -- may actually be as unstoppable as Walker was three years ago. Beyond that, UConn was also the last team to beat Florida back on Dec. 2, thanks to a Napier last-second basket.

Now they meet again in Saturday's first semifinal, though if any guard in the nation appears more unstoppable at the moment than Napier it has to be Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin.

And because of that, plus the fact that Florida seems noticeably superior everywhere else, the SEC champs should roll into next Monday night's title game on the strength of their 31st straight victory.

What will happen in the other semifinal is more difficult to predict. Wisconsin 7-footer Frank Kaminsky turned in the most impressive single performance of the tournament with his 28 points and 11 rebounds against the Cactus Cats, and UK big man Willie Cauley-Stein being lost for the rest of the season with a stress fracture won't make it any easier to control the big fella.

But no team in the field has overcome a tougher road than eighth-seed UK, which has knocked off a No. 9 seed (Kansas State), an undefeated No. 1 seed (Wichita State), a 4 in defending champ Louisville and a 2 in Michigan, which the committee said would have been a No. 1 seed if the Wolverines had won the Big Ten tourney instead of losing to Michigan State in the final.

And given that, plus the dramatic improvement John Calipari's Kiddie Cats -- they're the first team since the Fab Five in 1992 to advance to a Final Four starting five freshmen -- it should surprise no one if Big Blue reaches the title game.

A final word about Tennessee's Vols, or actually the entire UT athletic program. Everyone knows of the Curse of the Bambino on the Boston Red Sox after Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees. Many UK football fans believe a Curse of the Bear haunted their football program after Bear Bryant left UK for Texas A&M in the 1950s. But what if the Big Orange Nation is now being plagued by the Curse of Fulmer after Phil Fulmer was fired following the 2008 season?

This is in no way to suggest Fulmer would ever want anything bad to happen to his alma mater's athletic teams. To the contrary, he's still often seen at Volunteer athletic events, his loyalty and enthusiasm never questioned.

But to look across the board, not just the football program, is to wonder what's come over an athletic department -- excepting Ralph and Karen Weekly's softballers -- that was once seen as one of the nation's most powerful.

It's not just that questionable officiating calls helped defeat the UT hoops men in each of their last two losses. Or that the Lady Vols haven't so much as reached the Final Four since Fulmer was let go. Throw in all the tough zebra whistles against the football team -- at LSU and the Music City Bowl in 2010, this past year's overturned fourth-down stop against Vanderbilt -- and it seems as if some otherworldly curse has struck the Vols.

But while the Big Orange Nation ponders its men's basketball future should Cuonzo Martin leave -- and doesn't UT athletic director Dave Hart's first phone call have to be to Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, followed by a call to Dayton's Archie Miller should Marshall say no? -- the rest of the college basketball world turns to Dallas and the Final Four.

Come next Monday, it should be watching two teams from the BCS conference that the selection committee deemed the weakest fight it out for No. 1. Having already beaten UK thrice, expect Florida to win a fourth against the Cats for coach Billy Donovan's third national championship, the SEC gone from turr-i-ble to terrific in three short weeks.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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jomo11 said...

Mark, I love you brother , But . . .Yes Florida was the #1 seed in tourney and yes Kentucky may have been under-seeded, but the rest of the SEC was NOT very good , at all . . . .just because UCONN is in the Final Four, that doesnt mean that the American Athletic Conference was all that good either. Anything can happen in a tourney format. Teams dont have to be better than other teams, just be better for ONE game. I dont think that means if Kentucky is better than Michigan ONE time that means that Missisippi State was under-rated all season . .the rest of the SEC really stunk

March 31, 2014 at 9:47 a.m.
chas9 said...

Enjoyed the column, but it's a mistake for The Orange to dwell on bad calls. Does a disservice to the fine effort and play they blessed us with. They lost the Wolverine game in the first half and at the FT line. Not on a close-call play when LeVert stripped the ball anyway.

March 31, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.
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