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Post SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament preview

Thursday March 5, 2009

A quick two-game winning streak to finish the regular season snapped an unprecedented five-game losing streak and put the Lady Dogs squarely in the middle of the SEC standings entering this season’s SEC Tournament in Little Rock which gets underway today. In most seasons the SEC Tournament is a formality for Georgia, but the mission is much different this year. There’s no question that the Lady Dogs must turn some heads this weekend in order to earn an NCAA Tournament bid and avoid missing the national tournament for only the third time in program history.

SEC Women's Tournament

Georgia heads to Little Rock as a classic bubble team: several impressive wins and several devastating losses. First, the good: three wins over ranked teams who are also three of the top four SEC seeds. The bad: losses to Ole Miss and Arkansas, a late-season five-game losing streak, and five nonconference losses against a pretty weak slate. In a sub-par season by Georgia standards, the Lady Dogs have occasionally thrilled and often disappointed. They’ve shown that they can beat the teams that stand between them and the semifinals, but with the WNIT not an option do they have a season-saving run left in them?

After several seasons of LSU and Tennessee duking it out for top honors in the conference, both of those powerhouse programs are rebuilding this year. That has allowed a bit of a shakeup in the SEC standings this year, and names like Bonner, Wirth, and Dotson have taken over for Parker and Fowles. The biggest difference this year is that the SEC hasn’t proven to have a national contender. Auburn is a Top 5 team with only two losses, but their only real nonconference test was Ohio State. No one else has looked like more than a Sweet 16 team.

Auburn won the regular season title with room to spare, and they avoided the slumps that can get to the best of teams. Now they get to deal with the pressure of the top seed. That might not be a big deal for some of the other top seeds who are more used to the spotlight, but Auburn was just the sixth seed last year. This is a talented team in new territory as the favorite, and we don’t know how they’ll respond.

Back for its third season is my breakdown of the SEC Women’s Tournament field.

The Favorite

  • #1 Auburn (12-2). The dominant play of Auburn has been the story of the season. They raced to a 20-0 start punctuated by a 82-68 dismantling of Tennessee. Setbacks to decent Vanderbilt and Georgia teams come with the territory and showed some vulnerabilities, but the Tigers have been the class of the league this year. Likely SEC Player of the Year DeWanna Bonner leads the way at forward, but solid guard play provides nice balance.

Contenders

  • #2 Vanderbilt (10-4). With wins over Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, and Florida, you’d expect Vandy to be one of the favorites to win the tournament. They’ve already beaten the rest of the top seeds. But puzzling losses to teams like Georgia, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State show that there isn’t much margin for error for this team. If Vanderbilt has a glaring weakness, it’s lack of size. They rely a lot on the potent outside shooting of Wirth and Marsh and depend on effort and position from an undersized frontcourt for points and rebounds inside. In the season finale, they were outrebounded 45-23 by Tennessee yet weren’t that far away from winning in Knoxville. Bigger opponents can be effective inside against Vandy, but the Commodores usually shoot and defend well enough to handle most SEC teams.
  • #3 LSU (10-4). A few weeks ago, LSU was 5-4 in the SEC with games left against, among others, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Van Chancellor’s team had massive turnover after saying goodbye to seven seniors last year, and true freshmen now make up the bulk of the LSU lineup with the exception of standout guard Allison Hightower. The Tigers took their lumps early in the season, but since that 5-4 record they’ve won five straight and have vaulted from the bubble to become one of the SEC’s stronger teams. They still play tough defense, keep the scoring low, and have found enough offense to stand as one of the hotter teams entering the tournament. That winning streak will likely be tested on Friday by Mississippi State who beat LSU twice during the regular season.
  • #4 Florida (9-5). If any team could challenge Auburn for the best start to the season, it was Florida with their 22-2 record. A lone road loss at Auburn was their only SEC blemish. But since Feb. 12, Florida has lost four of five games and slid from a likely #2 seed to a shaky #4 seed. Defense has become spotty; opponents scored over 80 points in three of those four losses. The Gators were the #11 seed just two years ago, and their rapid rise might have led them to think they were better than they were. Still, this is a team that has impressive wins over FSU, Pitt, Arizona State, and Tennessee. But if they don’t snap out of this recent funk, they might not survive a Friday rematch with Tennessee.
  • #5 Tennessee (9-5). It’s been a down season by Tennessee standards, but you still have to include them as a contender. For only the second time in program history they aren’t among the top four seeds and will have to play on Thursday. Tennessee, like LSU, lost a tremendous amount of talent from last season, and they’ve had their difficulties getting the newcomers to play at a consistently high level. They’ve been prone to significant lapses in scoring and have had to rely on effort in defense and rebounding to keep them in a lot of games. That effort has been hit or miss at times, and it’s been frustrating to Pat Summitt to have to coach effort out of her young team. They’ll surely be up for the tournament and should have no problems with Alabama, but after that they’ll have to avenge regular season losses in order to advance. It’s been that kind of season where I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee reach the finals…or get bounced on Friday.

Looking to make noise

  • #6 Mississippi State (8-6). At 21-8 overall and 8-6 in the SEC, MSU seems set in the NCAA Tournament. They have a season sweep of LSU and a win over Vanderbilt to their credit, and they have really no bad losses. Even a close loss to Arkansas doesn’t seem that bad now. If seeding holds, the path to the finals goes through three teams they’ve beaten during the regular season. The possibility is there for a big improvement in NCAA seeding if they can make a deep run. Alexis Rack will shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. If she’s hot, look out. If not, they won’t last long.
Houts and Landers
Please, sir, just 30 seconds of rest…

On the bubble

  • #7 Georgia (7-7). After getting swept in two games against Kentucky (including an SEC Tournament loss) last season, the Lady Dogs hope to return the favor this year. Thanks to the clutch play of Ashley Houts, Georgia emerged with a win in Lexington just a week ago. But it wasn’t easy or pretty. Houts will be key again in the rematch against a relatively weak UK backcourt. Phillips and Robinson can match up with Kentucky’s strong frontcourt, but they’ll need to avoid foul trouble. When Houts, Phillips, and Robinson play well, Georgia is usually successful. When they get that plus a contribution from Marshall and/or Puleo, they can run with any team in the league. The biggest danger sign is early foul trouble on a post player, and a sloppy night from Houts usually means disaster. Kentucky tried to focus on stopping Houts last week, and she still came up big. They’ll likely try the same strategy in the rematch, and she’ll need to be every bit as determined this time around. Win and the postseason hopes remain alive. Lose and the season is over.

Spoilers

  • #8 Arkansas (6-8). Before losing badly to Auburn in the regular season finale, Arkansas had reeled off five straight wins to overcome a 1-7 SEC start and climb out of the cellar. During their winning streak they knocked off Georgia and Florida. They’re athletic and play straightforward without any complicated offense, and they’ve been an interesting story down the stretch. But it’s unlikely that they’ll get past Auburn on Friday.
  • #9 Ole Miss (5-9). Wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt highlight an otherwise unremarkable season for Ole Miss. They’ve looked dangerous in close losses at Tennessee and Auburn but have shown no consistency. They lost by 11 to Arkansas just a few weeks ago, and they’ll have to come up with some more road toughness to survive another game with Arkansas in Little Rock.
  • #10 Kentucky (5-9). The Cats were the #4 seed last year and lost a bit of talent, but a win over Tennessee proved that they still have some punch. They don’t score or shoot particularly well, but they can rebound and play quality defense. Their frontcourt can match up with most in the league. Victoria Dunlap is the SEC’s top rebounder in addition to being a productive scorer, and wing Amani Franklin is a dangerous player who can score inside or outside.

Didn’t make hotel reservations

  • #11 South Carolina (2-12). At times, South Carolina has been able to put a scare into SEC teams. They came within four points of Auburn, six points of Georgia, ten points of Vandy, and seven points of LSU. They have the ability to challenge Mississippi State on Thursday but likely won’t get past a motivated opponent.
  • #12 Alabama (1-13). The Tide have had a single SEC win in each of the past two seasons. They won’t improve on that against an angry Tennessee team.

Post Things I don’t get

Monday January 26, 2009
  • How the UGA Athletic Association can use the “sovereign immunity” defense with a straight face and no shame against Decory Bryant. Come off it, UGA.
  • How this “100-0 win” story ends up with the winning coach getting canned for refusing to apologize for his team’s accomplishment. I doubt you’d find this outcome next fall after any lopsided Texas high school football games. The best lesson from all of this comes from the team that was held scoreless. They brushed it off and moved on – losing and losing big was nothing new to them. Too bad everyone else felt the need to manufacture outrage and go after the scalp of the guy put in the position of playing such a mismatched opponent.
  • What’s so wrong about Rep. Jack Kingston opposing a resolution honoring the national champion Florida Gators. Congrats to the Gators and all, but that doesn’t mean that Georgia fans have to like it. It’s a “no” vote, folks, and about as meaningful as any other rubber-stamp resolution that goes through the Congress. It’s not like significant (any) time or money was put into this thing.

    For those who like to complain that the Congress should find something more important to do with their time, the representatives don’t seem to be the only people with their priorities out of whack.

    Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford said the congressman got more phone calls on that vote than just about anything else he did that year — from Georgia fans congratulating him, and Florida fans chastising him.


Post Early signing day, transfers, and gatekeepers

Tuesday January 13, 2009

I can’t let it go just yet after reading a few items of news like this.

You might think of your outgoing transfers as head cases, malcontents, dead weight, or simply bad fits, but one thing they shouldn’t be is "chattel". If schools are going to put these kinds of restrictions on transfers, I’m even less inclined to be sympathetic when the programs complain about unsigned prospects changing their minds and requiring a bit of hand-holding during the recruiting homestretch.

It’s mine, you understand? Mine! All mine! Get back in there! Down, down, down! Go, go, go! Mine, mine, mine! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

Daffy
Consequences, schmonsequences, as long as I’m rich.

While we’re on the subject of chattel and recruiting, let’s come back to the story about South Carolina and Tucker High School. It’s always good to get a laugh at the expense of South Carolina and Spurrier, but I’m not really concerned about South Carolina’s blunder. Recruiting is about relationships, and they blew it. I’m more interested in the high school coach declaring his school off-limits for a specific college program.

It’s fine for Tucker’s coach to say that the Gamecocks are "no longer welcome" at the high school. It’s his decision who he welcomes into his office, and it’s a bridge burned. But it is most certainly not his place to dictate that "South Carolina will not be recruiting any more Tucker players."

It’s easy to accept and get behind since we’re talking about South Carolina, but a high school coach deciding who may not recruit a prospect seems about as meddlesome as the college coaches putting restrictions on transfers. Of course a prospect might and often does seek the counsel of a coach, and that’s the prospect’s choice, but a coach only does a disservice to his players by inserting himself as a gatekeeper before the fact. It’s not his call whether or not South Carolina recruits any more Tucker players.


Post Church musical beats Led Zeppelin for family-friendly concert experience

Thursday October 16, 2008

There’s a great piece in the AJC today that could almost pass for an Onion article. I credit a UGA journalism grad for coming up with such a clever backhanded compliment of the football experience on North Avenue.

I must concede her point. If you care nothing about the quality of competition and the world revolves around keeping your five-year-old entertained, taking in a major college football game probably isn’t for you. McDonald’s will be a better dining choice than Five and Ten. A Thomas and Friends DVD would be a better family entertainment option than the Atlanta Symphony. It’s tough for wiggly kids to sit through Rachmaninov.

Offered as points in Tech’s favor:

  • "Tech routinely has family deals and free ticket promotions. Last year for the Tech-Duke game we bought tickets that included a hotdog and Coke for each person."
  • "This year we actually got FREE tickets for me and the kids…You will get free ticket offers every Tuesday."
  • "Because Tech’s stadium isn’t usually filled to capacity, it is very easy for families to spread out. We sat in the top deck and had plenty of room."
  • Plenty of family-friendly events…just avoid those soul-sucking video games.
  • Parking is tight in Athens, and a walk back to the car can be of some distance. "I am certain the sight of me struggling up that hill with three children prevented some co-eds from having sex that night." Notice she said "some" and not "all" …that’s how you can tell she was describing the Georgia campus.

It’s all true, I’m afraid. If you can round up enough neighborhood kids, you might even be able to set the starting time to suit your busy schedule. And if the scene at Tech still proves too rowdy for you, try your local 8-year-old rec league.

I see this sentiment as nothing but win-win. Georgia tickets are in high demand, and the fewer that get used by uninterested kids and dispassionate parents who’d consider a Tech game a viable substitute, all the better. Anything to protect the kids from this:

"Two years ago when Michael took our then 3-year-old son to the Georgia game, there was a bunch of apparently drunk college girls trying to cuddle him." First, we have to clarify whether the girls were trying to cuddle the 3-year-old or Michael the husband. Cute kids are second-only to bulldogs as chick magnets. Either way, she writes as if this is a bad thing. The kid has learned a valuable lesson: at age 3, he’s already getting more female attention at a Georgia game than any guy who chose the alternative.


Post

Monday September 25, 2006

“If we can’t score two times, we don’t deserve to wear G’s on our helmet.”
– Joe Cox to teammates before taking over during the Colorado game


Post “This is one my best

Monday January 16, 2006

“This is one of the best wins of my career. The only thing I thought about when Sundiata gave me that great look was get it above the rim and hopefully give it a chance to go in.”

- Levi Stukes, on his buzzer-beating gamewinner at South Carolina


Post A lot of these guys

Friday January 2, 2004

“A lot of these guys have gone through a lot. We’re going to end up with an 11-win season and, hopefully, finish in the top 10. We had guys going pro, guys with season-ending injuries, suspensions. Somehow, we found a way to get here.”

- Georgia coach Mark Richt on the end of the 2003 season


Post “The great thing about football

Friday January 2, 2004

“The great thing about football is that you can pick each other up.”

- QB David Greene on Kregg Lumpkin’s overtime redemption


Post “Probably South Carolina, a lot

Friday May 23, 2003

“Probably South Carolina, a lot of people from around here lose their minds and end up going to school there.”

- Incoming Bulldog freshman Danny Verdun on the game he’s looking forward to in 2003


Post “I am one of the

Friday May 23, 2003

“I am one of the most aggressive DB’s you’ll ever see. I love to hit. I cant stand to let anybody catch the ball on me, but when and if they do I like to make them pay.”

- Incoming Bulldog freshman Paul Oliver


Post “Had Georgia beat them last

Friday May 23, 2003

“Had Georgia beat them last year they probably would’ve won the national championship, they would’ve at least played for it and this year its time to take care of business. They have had our number for a while now and it’s time to put a stop to it.”

- Incoming Bulldog freshman Thomas Flowers on the Florida game


Post “There has been this growing

Thursday February 20, 2003

“There has been this growing trend in the last decade, at least, of fan behavior getting worse. We’re not going to totally solve the problem, but hopefully we can turn the corner a little bit.”

– Vince Dooley on a Sportsmanship Summit he will chair to address unruly fans


Post “The main ingredient of mat

Thursday February 20, 2003

“The main ingredient of mat drills is mental toughness, but the second is team unity. We are all working together. There are no stars, no heroes, there are no great players, we are all a team. We are all dressed alike, we are all doing the same exact drills, we are all getting treated alike, and then the unity comes.”

– Coach Dave Van Halanger on the philosophy behind the infamous mat drills


Post “Right now, I plan on

Tuesday February 18, 2003

“Right now, I plan on coming back. College is fun. I love it here. I still need to work on some things.”

– Jarvis Hayes on his plans for next season.


Post

Sunday January 19, 2003

“I think they can win a national championship in a year or two and I want to be on a national championship team.”

- LB Marcus Howard on his decision to commit to Georgia