Stallings: NCAA wins won’t quiet critics of SEC basketball

A multi-year effort to raise the profile of Southeastern Conference basketball heads into the all-important NCAA Tournament this week.
But no matter the success teams might have, SEC basketball will still have a perception problem, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said Monday.
Noting how three SEC teams reached the Sweet 16 with Kentucky and Florida in the Final Four, Stallings said, “We’re trying to have major post-season success.”
Then, he added, “I still don’t think it’s going to quiet the critics.”
As to why the SEC basketball profile isn’t higher, Stallings said, “I don’t know if it’s the monster we know as football.”
The premise being SEC football dwarfs everything else, or makes any other success somehow seem small.
“Our coaches are used to it,” Stallings said. “We don’t mind.”
As for SEC football being a hindrance, Kentucky Coach John Calipari quipped, “I think we should go to Division II in football.”
More seriously, Calipari said SEC basketball needed to use football to its benefit.
“If we’re so good at this (football),, we can be good at anything,” he said. “. . . We just need to feed off football.”

Pearl: UK will try to stifle KT Harrell

No player in the Southeastern Conference Tournament has been a more prolific scorer than Auburn guard KT Harrell. But Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl does not expect Harrell to automatically add a bunch of points against Kentucky Saturday.
“Everything we do to get KT the ball, they could care less about,” Pearl said. “Because they’re just going to switch everything out. And it doesn’t matter which monster is going to guard him. . . .
“They’re going to make somebody else beat them.”
Through three games in Nashville, Harrell has averaged 24.3 points. He’s made 16 of 32 shots (10 of 17 from three-point range). He’s also gotten to the foul line, making 31 of 39 free throws.
But Harrell has been susceptible to turnovers. In those three games, he’s gotten credit for four assists while committing 15 turnovers.

Ross-Miller recalls his brief time as a Kentucky recruit

Auburn guard KC Ross-Miller committed to Kentucky during Billy Gillispie’s two seasons as coach.
“Committed when I was in the eighth grade,” he said Friday.
He de-committed before ever getting to Kentucky.
“I was aware after a couple years that Coach Gillispie was going to be fired,” he said. Since John Calipari did not show any recruiting interest in bringing Ross-Miller to Memphis, the player decided he should look for another school.
Of committing to Kentucky as an eighth grader, he said, “I knew there were not too many schools better than Kentucky.”
Ross-Miller recalled playing in Rupp Arena on Feb. 21 as unusual.
“It was pretty weird,” he said. “But I was excited. We were all excited.”

Referee Pat Adams: Gutsy call? Or not letting players decide game?

One of the smallest persons on the court at Bridgestone Arena Thursday looms as the biggest figure in the first two days of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Referee Pat Adams’ foul call with seven-tenths of a second left led to South Carolina beating Ole Miss 60-58.
The call arguably decided the game, and it was sure to ignite a debate about whether Adams should be saluted for calling what he saw no matter the time and score factors or criticized because, as the sporting cliche terms it, he did not allow the players to decide the game.
The call was part of  a chaotic final 10 seconds in which that eternal debate about officiating swung back and forth.
With South Carolina ahead 57-54 inside the final 10 seconds, the Gamecocks wanted to intentionally foul near mid-court rather than let an Ole Miss team with a knack for shooting threes get off a potential game-tying shot.
But South Carolina did not make the foul obvious enough, Coach Frank Martin said. The Gamecocks had not practiced fouling in that situation for “a month of so,” Martin said in second-guessing not rehearsing that maneuver.
Television replays appeared to show a South Carolina player grabbing Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody a moment later. But none of the referees — Joe Lindsay, Lee Cassell nor Adams — either saw the foul or had the wherewithal to make the call.
Instead, Moody passed to teammate Jarvis Summers, who hit a three-pointer from the corner while being fouled. The four-point play put Ole Miss ahead 58-57. After checking the sideline monitor, the referees determined that 3.3 seconds remained.
That was enough time for South Carolina to inbounds the ball to Tyrone Johnson near the mid-court line. He took a few dribbles and then throw up a desperation heave as Ole Miss’ LaDarius “Snoop” White reached for the ball.
Adams’ foul call interrupted Ole Miss’ victory celebration and sparked a wave of disbelief in the arena.
After again checking the monitor, presumably to make sure the foul occurred before time expired, Adams shot a questioning glance at SEC Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officials Jake Bell, who sat court-side in front of his own monitor.
Adams seemed to like the message he got from Bell. The referee nodded in the affirmative as if to say he appreciated the confirmation of a correct call.
Not surprisingly, both teams saw the call differently.
When asked after the game if it was a foul, White simply said, “Not at all.”
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy, who glared at Adams when the game ended, said afterward, “It doesn’t matter what I think.”
Martin chose his words carefully. “I don’t know if it was a foul or not,” he said before adding, “It looked like a foul to me.”
Commentators on the SEC Network said Adams made the correct call. Ex-UK All-American Tony Delk told viewers that White had gotten caught “reaching into the cookie jar.”
Adams’ call evoked memories of the 2010 SEC Tournament finals. A non-call on John Wall breaking into the lane too soon to rebound a last-second free throw miss helped Kentucky beat Mississippi State 75-74 in overtime.
The loss cost Mississippi State a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss, which came into the SEC Tournament saying it needed to win a game or two to solidify its case for a NCAA bid, sounded resigned to being left out. Kennedy spoke about how athletics teaches people how to accept failure as well as success.
White summed up the Rebels’ sense that its NCAA bubble had burst by saying of the team’s post-season resume’, “I don’t feel we did enough.”

Committee chair: UK a virtual lock as overall No. 1, Wisconsin looms

Kentucky is a virtual lock to be the overall No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, the chair of the Selection Committee said Wednesday.
To win the championship, the Cats will likely have to deal with playing Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and then open NCAA Tournament play Thursday in Louisville, he added.
Oh, and UK will likely be in the same region as Wisconsin, the likely No. 2 seed.
Chair Scott Barnes, the athletic director at Utah State, suggested that Kentucky, the only unbeaten team in Division I, would be the overall No. 1 seed.
“Given the circumstances, as of today, that certainly is a good read on the situation,” said Barnes, who added that he could not remember so clear-cut an overall No. 1 seed.
The Committee no longer uses what was called the “S curve,” meaning the best No. 1 seed would be paired with the worst No. 2 seed.
Keeping teams close to home is a “key component” in the committee’s work, Barnes said.
That seemed to indicate that if Wisconsin did not elevate itself to a No. 1 seed, the Badgers would be a No. 2 seed in Cleveland, where Kentucky is expected to be the No. 1 seed.

WCS, UK offer no complaint about Portis as SEC POY

Willie Cauley-Stein offered no complaint about the Southeastern Conference coaches voting Bobby Portis as Player of the Year.
“Honestly, you can give him Player of Year,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ll take 31-0 any day of the week. You know, he’s a good player, but that’s what it is. I’d rather be undefeated than get Player of Year.”
UK assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for John Calipari at a news conference Monday, noted the difficulty of picking a difficulty of picking an individual UK player for an award. He also noted that SEC rules prohibited coaches from voting for players on their teams.
“Probably more voters looked at numbers more than anything else,” he said. “That’s kind of natural a little bit.”

WCS defensive about being SEC Defensive Player of Year

Instead of taking bows, Willie Cauley-Stein seemed a bit defensive about being named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year on Monday.
On a day he was named a first-team All-American by The Sporting News as well as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Cauley-Stein said he planned to have a metaphorical chip on his shoulder going into the SEC Tournament and beyond.
Why?
“People saying I’m a one-sided player,” he said. “I don’t believe that. My team doesn’t believe that. And that drives me nuts.”
Clearly, Cauley-Stein does not like being labeled a defensive player, or, more precisely, ONLY a defensive player.
“I’m a ballplayer,” he said. “I’m not just a defensive player. I’m not out there just to play defense.”
In response to a question, Cauley-Stein said he scored as a high school player.
“I had to,” he said. “Here, you don’t have to score, and I think that’s why I play the way I play. Because we’ve got so many weapons.”
That might change in the future, Cauley-Stein said.
“One game I’m probably going to have to score,” he said. “Eventually, (opponents) are going to start to play on Karl (Anthony Towns) heavy. I’m going to have to step up and score some baskets.”
Of course, as the sporting axiom goes, defense wins championships. Cauley-Stein acknowledged the wisdom of that saying.
Yet, he’s like to be known as a well-rounded player who can contribute at both ends.
“I don’t feel I get enough credit on that,” he said of his ability to score. “At the end of the day, that’s what drives me. So I’m going to continue to let it drive me.”

WCS, Towns, Booker, Cal win SEC awards

Except for Player of the Year, Kentucky swept the Southeastern Conference’s major awards for the 2014-15 season.
His SEC colleagues voted John Calipari as SEC Coach of the Year, Willie Cauley-Stein as Defensive Player of the Year, Karl-Anthony Towns as Freshman of the Year and Devin Booker as Sixth Man of the Year.
Only the Player of the Year award eluded Kentucky. It went to Bobby Portis of Arkansas.
This is the second SEC Coach of the Year honor for Calipari, who led the Wildcats to a perfect 31-0 regular-season record. UK became the second team (following Florida last year) to post an 18-0 regular-season SEC record.
It was the third time Calipari has been named SEC Coach of the Year and, dating back to his time at UMass and Memphis, the eighth time in his career he been tabbed his league’s top coach.
Kentucky’s 31 consecutive wins to open the season are the most in one season in SEC history, and the 31-game winning streak is the second-longest in SEC history. Kentucky won 32 in a row in the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons.
Cauley-Stein and Towns were named to the All-SEC first team, while Booker and Aaron Harrison were named to the all-league second team.
Booker and Towns were joined by teammates Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis on the All-SEC Freshman Team, while Cauley-Stein earned his second career All-Defensive Team honor.
Cauley-Stein became the third player under Calipari’s direction to earn the Defensive Player of the Year honor. Anthony Davis (2012) and Nerlens Noel (2013) were the previous Wildcats to earn the accolade.
Cauley-Stein led the Wildcats with 44 steals and ranked second with 49 blocks.
Portis averages 17.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while posting 11 double-double this season. He became the first Razorback to be named SEC Player of the Year since Corliss Williamson won back-to-back honors in 1994 and 1995.
Towns, who is a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for national freshman of the year, is averaging 9.7 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds for the top-ranked Wildcats.
Towns is the sixth consecutive Wildcat to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors by the league’s coaches, joining John Wall (2010), Terrence Jones (2011), Anthony Davis (2012), Nerlens Noel (2013) and Julius Randle (2014)
Booker, who is also a finalist for the Tisdale Award, comes off the bench to average 10.9 points and shot 43.6 percent (51-of-117) from behind the 3-point arc.
Other Wildcats to be named SEC Sixth Man of the Year in recent seasons are Darius Miller (2012) and Kyle Wiltjer (2013).
The SEC named Alabama’s Levi Randolph as Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He had a 3.45 undergraduate grade-point average and a 3.75 graduate level grade point average in Marketing. The senior from Madison, Ala., became the first Academic All-American in Alabama men’s basketball history when he was named a second team selection earlier this month.

A complete list of the 2015 SEC Men’s Basketball postseason awards follows:

First Team All-SEC
Bobby Portis, Arkansas – F, 6-11, 242, So., Little Rock, Ark.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky – F, 7-0, 240, Jr., Olathe, Kan.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky – F, 6-11, 250, Fr., Piscataway, N.J.
Jarell Martin, LSU – F, 6-10, 236, So., Baton Rouge, La.
Jordan Mickey, LSU – F, 6-8, 235, So., Dallas, Texas
Stefan Moody, Ole Miss – G, 5-10, 179, Jr., Kissimmee, Fla.
Josh Richardson, Tennessee – G, 6-6, 200, Sr., Edmond, Okla.
Danuel House, Texas A&M – G, 6-7, 207, Jr., Fresno, Texas
Damian Jones, Vanderbilt –C, 6-10, 240, So., Baton Rouge, La.

Second Team All-SEC
Levi Randolph, Alabama – G, 6-5, 210, Sr., Madison, Ala.
Michael Qualls, Arkansas – G, 6-6, 210, Jr., Shreveport, La.
KT Harrell, Auburn – G, 6-4, 212, Sr., Montgomery, Ala.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida – F, 6-8, 218, Jr., Portsmouth, Va.
Marcus Thornton, Georgia – F, 6-8, 235, Sr., Atlanta, Ga.
Devin Booker, Kentucky – G, 6-6, 206, Fr., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky – G, 6-6, 212, So., Richmond, Texas
Craig Sword, Mississippi State – G, 6-3, 194, Jr., Montgomery, Ala.
Jalen Jones, Texas A&M – G/F, 6-7, 223, Jr., Dallas, Texas

SEC All-Freshman Team
Anton Beard, Arkansas – G, 6-0, 190, Fr., North Little Rock, Ark.
Devin Robinson, Florida – F, 6-8, 178, Fr., Chesterfield, Va.
Devin Booker, Kentucky – G, 6-6, 206, Fr., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Trey Lyles, Kentucky – F, 6-10, 235, Fr., Indianapolis, Ind.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky – F, 6-11, 250, Fr., Piscataway, N.J.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky – G, 5-9, 155, Fr., Lima, Ohio
Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt – G, 6-3, 195, Fr., Belle Mead, N.J.
Riley LaChance, Vanderbilt – G, 6-2, 194, Fr., Brookfield, Wisc.

SEC All-Defensive Team
Marcus Thornton, Georgia – F, 6-8, 235, Sr., Atlanta, Ga.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky – F, 7-0, 240, Jr., Olathe, Kan.
Jordan Mickey, LSU – F, 6-8, 235, So., Dallas, Texas
Josh Richardson, Tennessee – G, 6-6, 200, Sr., Edmond, Okla.
Damian Jones, Vanderbilt –C, 6-10, 240, So., Baton Rouge, La.

SEC Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky
SEC Player of the Year:  Bobby Portis, Arkansas
SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Levi Randolph, Alabama
SEC Freshman of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
SEC Sixth-Man of the Year: Devin Booker, Kentucky
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

Tickets available for SEC’s Wednesday night session

The Southeastern Conference announced Monday that a limited number of tickets are available for Wednesday’s opening-round session of the SEC Tournament.
The tickets, priced at $15 each, are for games in which Mississippi State plays Auburn (tip-off set for 7 p.m. EDT) followed by South Carolina against Missouri.
All seating for Session 1 will be general admission, the SEC said.
All reserved books are sold out for the tournament, which will run Wednesday through Sunday in Nashville.
To buy tickets, fans can visit www.SECsports.com and visit the ticket page or visit the Bridgestone Arena box office or any Ticketmaster location.

Cauley-Stein: Winning helps UK players sacrifice

Sacrifice might be the word to associate with Kentucky basketball this season. So many players setting aside concerns about playing time or personal statistics or NBA aspirations for the good of the team.
“That’s the story,” UK Coach John Calipari said after a 67-50 victory over Florida Saturday completed an undefeated regular season. “This is a great story for college athletics (and) for society. Instead of me, me, me, it’s us, us, us.”
Maybe. But if Kentucky didn’t win, win, win, the Cats might not be so accepting, Willie Cauley-Stein said.
“You know, ultimately, if you’re winning, you’re all good,” he said. “It’s easy to sacrifice when you’re winning. So let’s just win.
“Because if we lose, I’m blaming you, you’re blaming me. ‘Oh, I’m not getting as many minutes.’”
Winning every game makes it more difficult to balk at sacrificing minutes, statistics or draft status.
“If you’re winning, it doesn’t matter,” Cauley-Stein said. “You have nothing to blame (anyone) on. It’s a lot easier when you’re winning.”
Of course, Calipari set in motion the premise of sacrifice and collective achievement during Kentucky’s August trip to the Bahamas. Cauley-Stein saw at that early stage the kind of sacrifice Calipari had in mind.
“You could tell from the jump what Cal had in mind,” he said. “Cal is a genius. You know he’s got soemsthing in his head that he’s planning. Most of the time, it works. So you just got to run with it.”