|June 23, 2009||SEC Hoops: Back on Top?||2 comments|
|June 22, 2009||Blog Bag: Off Vacation||5 comments|
|June 22, 2009||Cohen Keeps Adding Arms, Doing the Math||no comments|
|June 22, 2009||Sidney Case: Expediency Sought||3 comments|
|June 22, 2009||What'd I Miss? A Recap||4 comments|
|June 13, 2009||Premature Preview: Ole Miss||243 comments|
|June 12, 2009||Blog Bag Answers: Vacation Time||3 comments|
|June 12, 2009||Premature Preview: Arkansas||2 comments|
|June 11, 2009||Premature Preview: Alabama||2 comments|
|June 11, 2009||Varnado, the Draft, & Many Links||no comments|
It being a slow – and already steaming hot – June day, my thoughts naturally drifted toward SEC basketball. Actually, it's been on my mind a while. One week ago, players had to decide for sure if they were going to enter the NBA Draft (it's Thursday) and return for another year of school.
Quite a number of high-profile SEC players flirted with the draft before deciding to return to college. I don't know if that speaks to their wisdom or their ability – or both – but it can't be a bad thing for the SEC. Let's run down the list of guys who put off the NBA for another year:
• Dominique Archie (6-7, F, Sr.), South Carolina
• Devan Downey (5-9, G, Sr.), South Carolina
• Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, F, Sr.), LSU
• Patrick Patterson (6-8, F, Jr.), Kentucky
• Tyler Smith (6-6, F, Sr.), Tennessee
• Jarvis Varnado (6-9, F/C, Sr.), Mississippi State
• Michael Washington (6-9, F/C, Sr.), Arkansas
The only players of note to leave early were Florida point guard Nick Calathes, who left prior to his junior year to play ball in Greece; Ole Miss guard David Huertas, who is skipping his senior year to play in Puerto Rico; and Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks, who would've been a senior.
So how much will all this retention help the SEC? Tremendously, I would think. Hard not to see at least some improvement. Only three SEC teams made the NCAA tournament last year – would've been two if MSU hadn't won the league tourney – and nobody got past the second round. Tennessee had the highest RPI (25) of any SEC teams, and the league as a whole had only the sixth-best RPI, just ahead of the Mountain West.
I expect the SEC to make a significant leap forward this season, and not just because of all the aforementioned players returning, but because of all the parts that will surround them. South Carolina returns four starters thanks to its dynamic duo returning; LSU, the West champ, lost some key players but has underrated point guard Bo Spencer back; Kentucky's got new coach John Calipari and that dynamite recruiting class; Tennessee returns a lot, including four key seniors and Scotty Hopson; MSU returns all its starters and, if all works out, will also plug in big-time recruits John Riek and Renardo Sidney; and Arkansas will again have that good inside-outside combo of Washington and point guard Courtney Fortson.
Order of finish, anyone? Seth Emerson gave it a shot the other day.
Now that I'm back from vacation, Blog Bag also returns from its short hiatus. So hit me with your best questions.
By the way, I mentioned in a blog post this morning that I'd have more on the Renardo Sidney case in tomorrow's Journal. That story's being pushed back to Wednesday, and after you see tomorrow's tiny sports section, you'll know why. Also working on a column about baseball coach John Cohen trying to figure out scholarship numbers, probably to run Thursday.
A few other things in the works, too. Stay tuned.
Mississippi State's baseball team has one glaring need: Pitching. The Bulldogs ranked last in the SEC in ERA this season (6.59 in all games, 7.83 in league games). So last week, coach John Cohen signed three right-handed pitchers: Corey Collins, Michael Dixon and Jared Miller. The first two hail from the juco ranks, while Miller went 11-0 with a 1.66 ERA for Class 3A state champ Sumrall, which posted a 36-0 record.
That brings the 2009 signing class to 19 players, 11 of whom are listed as pitchers. Eight of those pitchers will be true freshmen, the others juco transfers (Dixon spent his freshman season at San Diego State, then went to Blinn College in Texas).
"When you get freshman arms, it bodes well for the future, but it takes freshmen a while to figure out the Southeastern Conference," Cohen said this afternoon as he took a break from doing paperwork. "We feel like there’s some real skill level there that’s gonna come out (of this group)."
Speaking of paperwork, Cohen's got to figure out the math on scholarships. MSU lost nine seniors this year and is still waiting on the decision of first baseman Connor Powers, who was drafted by the Dodgers but might return to MSU. Of Powers, Cohen said he thinks "there’s better than a 50-50 chance at this point that he’ll come back, but you never know."
The scholarship juggling act is always a tough one, and some attrition would make it less complicated. Jason Nappi has already left for Harding University, and Cohen expects more departures. "I think there will be (more). There are still some things that hang in the balance; it’s still early in the summer," Cohen said.
Cohen said he's probably done signing guys for 2009 unless Powers chooses to go pro. Still, it's a big class, which brings us to the unpleasant math. No more than 27 of the 35 players on a college roster can be receiving any scholarship aid (that's reduced from 30 this past year). There are 11.7 scholarships to be divided among those 27, and each player must receive at least a quarter of a scholarship.
"There’s just a lot of adding and subtracting," Cohen said. "You’re really trying to make sure everybody’s getting taken care of in the process."
Donald Jackson, attorney for MSU basketball signee Renardo Sidney and his family, said the necessary paperwork regarding the NCAA's amateurism evaluation of Sidney will be sent off later this week. "I'll say between Wednesday and Friday this week," Jackson said this morning via cell phone.
The NCAA won't be getting the family bank statements it requested, with Jackson saying "it's not going to be an unbridled fishing expedition." (Questions have arisen about the Sidneys' ability to afford rent on a $1.2 million pad in Los Angeles.) However, the NCAA will be getting even more information than it asked for. That's part of Jackson's strategy to prevent any sort of delays by the NCAA. Jackson knows delays, having represented MSU's Mario Austin and Ole Miss' Jerrell Powe in academic cases.
"They can’t turn around and say, ‘We need additional documents and additional information.’ The goal is to provide them five times the amount of information they need," Jackson said. He added that he's received assurances from the NCAA that the case will not be dragged out.
The NCAA will interview Sidney and his parents early next month at Jackson's Montgomery, Ala., office. In the meantime, Sidney is making plans to arrive in Starkville and enroll for MSU's second summer term, which begins July 6.
I'll have more on this in Wednesday's Daily Journal.
I'm officially back from vacation, although I haven't made it into the office yet. Had a lovely time in Branson, Mo., with my wife, kids and the in-laws. Except for the part where I took my phone swimming. It's OK, I got a new one.
So, what happened with Mississippi State while I was away? Besides the entertaining repartee that took place on my last blog post, I mean.
• Jarvis Varnado (6-foot-9, 223 pounds and rising), was one of 12 players named to the roster of the USA Basketball World University Games Team after his tryout in Colorado. He and the team will travel to Belgrade, Serbia, to compete in the World University Games from July 2-12.
• During a media gathering I was unable to attend, football coach Dan Mullen said WR Arceto Clark will be ineligible to play this season after failing the spring semester while dealing with his legal issues. Clark is still working out with the team (via Dawgs' Bite).
• Women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning got a new contract. She'll make $230,000 a year through the 2012-13 season. She led the Lady Bulldogs to the second round of the NCAA tournament this year.
• Former Lady Bulldog Tan White landed with another WNBA team over the weekend, a little more than a week after being released by Indiana, the team that drafted her second overall in 2005.
• Baseball coach John Cohen has been signing players left and right. Just last week, he reeled in a trio of right-handed pitchers: Corey Collins (Seward County [Kan.] CC), Michael Dixon (Blinn [Texas] College), and Jared Miller (Sumrall).
• Athletics director Greg Byrne reported via Twitter yesterday that all the cancer (melanoma) was successfully removed during his June 10 procedure.
There, did I miss anything? Oh, by the way, exactly one month until SEC Media Days in Birmingham. Guess that means I better start pondering Football Journal ideas.
We wrap up this series with the Egg Bowl. And just in time, because I'm on vacation as soon as this thing's posted and Tweeted. Let's get to it.
Ole Miss Rebels (Nov. 28, in Starkville)
• Conference: SEC West
• 2008 record: 9-4 (5-3, 2nd), beat Texas Tech 47-34 in Cotton Bowl
• Final ranking: No. 14 (AP), No. 15 (ESPN/USA Today)
• Coach: Houston Nutt (1 year, 9-4 record)
• Returning starters: 16 (6 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists)
• Last year: Ole Miss 45, MSU 0 (in Oxford)
• On the Web: OleMissSports.com
I was talking with an acquaintance Friday evening, an Ole Miss fan. Like most Rebel fans I come across, he gets a little nervous when discussion turns to preseason expectations for his team. Many pundits have Ole Miss as a top-10 team, and a few even consider the Rebs a dark horse to win the BCS title. My pal said a 10-2 record would be the "high end" of his personal expectations. The optimism in Oxford is largely guarded.
So, what will be on the line for Ole Miss when this game rolls around? An SEC West title? An overall SEC title? A (gasp!) perfect season? Pretty good chance it'll be something big. Beyond ruining the Rebels' best-laid plans, will MSU be playing for something? A bowl game?
All that aside, MSU does not want a repeat of last year's debacle. Ole Miss lost DT Peria Jerry to the NFL, but Jerrell Powe looks like he's ready to knock heads, and Greg Hardy is near impossible to handle. Offensively, QB Jevan Snead is being pitched as a Heisman candidate, and RB/WR Dexter McCluster will again lead the "Wild Rebel" attack.
Regardless of what's on the line, or what the records are, a win over Ole Miss would be sweet beyond words for the Bulldogs.
Good questions, as usual. Note: I am leaving tomorrow for a week of vacation, so no Blog Bag then. I'll be back June 22. I'll get y'all that last Premature Preview (Ole Miss) before I head out.
Q: Do any of our track and field athletes have a realistic chance of winning a national championship?
A: MSU doesn’t have anyone favored to win, but the Bulldogs could make some noise. You can track results (get it?) here.
Q: What is MSU’s record/result when hosting a Super Regional?
A: Let’s just include all Super Regionals MSU’s played in since that became the format in 1999: 2000, at Clemson, lost 0-2; 2001, at Fullerton, lost 0-2; 2007, at Starkville, beat Clemson 2-0. So that’s a 2-4 record overall.
Q: Do you have any insight on the men's basketball schedule?
A: This was asked just before we got the news about MSU playing UCLA in the Wooden Classic. Beyond that, nothing right now. Still trying to fill a couple of dates.
Q: If you can confirm the Wooden Classic, what other teams would be involved?
A: MSU confirmed its participation in the event yesterday. We also know that Washington will play, but we don’t know the fourth team.
Q: Any chance of getting a shot at UNC or Duke? Any hope of getting a game with USC?
A: Heh, a USC matchup would be even more ironic than the UCLA game. Too early to say. Would be awesome, though.
Q: Where is MSU with football season ticket sales now?
A: As of the middle of last week, about 33,500. Haven’t been able to get an updated figure.
Q: What are Dan Mullen's expectations for the upcoming season?
A: Dan’s not going to put a number out there. He’s probably said this in so many words at some point, but what he wants is 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time, and solid execution. Coach speak, sure, but it’s true. He has also said he’s not sure how patient he’ll be, so it’s clear he won’t suffer losing for long.
Q: Who is the strongest player on the football team? How much does he bench? Who is the fastest player? What is his 40 time, and his 100-yard time?
A: Thank you for those questions, and I’d love to know that myself, but I was told that such information is not going to be disclosed by the team right now.
Q: Can our kickers hit field goals at 50 yards on a regular basis?
A: Juco transfer Sean Brauchle certainly has the leg for it. On a regular basis? We’ll just have to wait for the season to see. But, in two years at Gulf Coast CC, he made 33 of 44 field goal tries, including a 55-yarder last year and a 52-yarder as a freshman.
Q: Can our punters hit the coffin corner (inside the 5-yard line)?
A: Juco transfer Heath Hutchins has not only a good leg, but good control. So yeah, Hutchins can do that.
Here is a look at Mississippi State’s Week 11 opponent.
Arkansas Razorbacks (Nov. 21, in Little Rock)
• Conference: SEC West
• 2008 record: 5-7 (2-6, T4th)
• Final ranking: Unranked
• Coach: Bobby Petrino (1 year, 5-7 record)
• Returning starters: 19 (8 offense, 9 defense, 2 specialists)
• Last year: MSU 31, Arkansas 28 (in Starkville)
• On the Web: arkansasrazorbacks.com
Arkansas is one of those teams that really tempts you when making preseason predictions. Two problems: A) The Hogs still have much to prove; B) the West is so dang loaded at the top. But if there is a sleeper team in the SEC this season, it’s Arkansas.
Coach Bobby Petrino can win, we know that. And he’s got some good tools to work with this year, both old and new. Old: slippery tailback Michael Smith (1,072 yards, 8 TDs), a senior. New: QB Ryan Mallett, the transfer from Michigan who’s now eligible to play and, Petrino hopes, play well. We’ll know by this point in the season if Mallett is as good as advertised.
What’s good for Mallett is that Smith isn’t the only returnee. Arkansas is returning 99 percent of its rushing and 98 percent of its receiving production from last season, when the Razorbacks ranked fourth in the SEC in total offense (373.1 ypg).
State will need to exploit what could again be an iffy defense. The Hogs ranked dead last in the league in scoring defense (31.2 ppg), total defense (375.2 ypg) and rushing defense (170.8 ypg), and 10th in pass defense (204.4 ypg). What Arkansas might lack in skill, it’ll have to make up for with aggressiveness.
Up next: Ole Miss
Today, the big news has been about Alabama's textbook scandal and the fallout thereof. But that won't have anything to do with the 2009 product. So here we go.
Alabama Crimson Tide (Nov. 14, in Starkville)
• Conference: SEC West
• 2008 record: 12-2 (8-0, 1st), lost 31-17 to Utah in Sugar Bowl
• Final ranking: No. 6 (AP, ESPN/USA Today)
• Coach: Nick Saban (2 years, 19-8 record)
• Returning starters: 16 (5 offense, 9 defense, 2 specialists)
• Last year: Alabama 32, MSU 7 (in Tuscaloosa)
• On the Web: rolltide.com
After winning all 12 regular season games, capturing the SEC Western Division title and earning a Sugar Bowl berth, it was like old times in T-Town. The national championship talk got squashed by Florida in the SEC title game, but Alabama was back where its fans think it belongs. Needless to say, the expectations this season are higher than they should be. Not that the Crimson Tide can't have another outstanding season, but you know how college football fans can be, especially ones from Alabama.
First, though, some big needs have to be addressed. John Parker Wilson is being replaced at QB by junior Greg McElroy, who's gotten good early reviews. Then there's running back, which opened up after Glen Coffee left early for the NFL. Enter true freshman Trent Richardson, a big-time recruit who should win the starting nod. And then there's that gaping hole at left tackle, once occupied by Andre Smith. And the hole at center, where Antoine Caldwell once directed things up front.
The Tide ought to be in fine shape come Nov. 14. MSU will be coming off a bye week, while Bama will have just played LSU in what will likely be a good ol' SEC West throwdown. Maybe that'll help the Bulldogs.
Alabama didn't exactly tear it up offensively against State in last year's meeting – 364 total yards – but Javier Arenas had six punt returns for 153 yards, including an 80-yard TD return early in the third quarter to break open a tight game. Arenas is back for another year. And let us not forget about Julio Jones, who might have a field day against MSU's cornerbacks.
Up next: Arkansas
I had a feature today on Mississippi State senior Jarvis Varnado, who's working to get stronger for the upcoming season. We learned earlier this week that he's already up to 223 pounds (from a listed weight of 210 last season) and is aiming for 240. I spoke with strength coach Richard Akins, who said aside from Varnado's better eating habits, the biggest factor in his weight gain is physical maturity.
"I talked to his dad, and his dad told me he was built the same way when he was the same age," Akins said. If you've seen Winston Varnado, you know he's a full-grown man. So the potential is there for Jarvis to get thicker. Akins is already seeing that happen, and the added bulk has aided him in other areas.
"He runs better, he's jumping better, and that comes with getting better with age and strength level," Akins said.
• The MLB Draft continued yesterday, with one current Bulldog and two future Bulldogs (unless they go pro) taken. Other Northeast Mississippi guys were drafted, including Itawamba AHS product Brian Dozier of Southern Miss. Dozier, by the way, will be on the roster for the College World Series, which starts Saturday. Speaking of USM …
• We had a feature today on assistant coach Richy Harrelson, a.k.a. "The Bazooka from Iuka." Harrelson played at Ole Miss and had a successful high school coaching career, leading Lafayette County to the Class 4A state championship in 2006. He then went to Northeast CC as an assistant before joining Corky Palmer's staff this year as a volunteer assistant. Speaking of Palmer, he got a call from Gov. Haley Barbour after leading USM to the CWS.
• MSU's track and field team has already begun Day 2 of the NCAA championships in Fayetteville, Ark. Day 1 saw the men's 4x100 relay team break a school record, clocking a time of 38.96 seconds to qualify for the final, which is today. Read more here.
Today's Random Link: Ray Melick of the Birmingham News says Alabama athletics needs an intervention.