While March Madness launched last week interesting news was released from the SEC that was probably lost in the chaos for a lot of folks.
The league has hired former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese to serve as “Special Advisor” for men’s basketball to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.
The SEC has been trying to increase its basketball profile for quite some time. Nothing seems to have worked.
There has been discussion and focus on the non-conference schedule. It’s been a topic at the spring meetings in Destin. Coaches have talked about the importance to schedule well not only for their own sakes but for the sake of the league.
Still, this time around only two at-large bids were extended to SEC teams. Kentucky won the conference’s automatic bid and obviously would have gotten in had Florida or someone else won the title.
But even down the stretch there just wasn’t a lot of talk about SEC teams on the bubble. Alabama was a hot name there for a while before the Tide played itself out of the conversation. So did LSU.
For a long time it looked like South Carolina might gain a bid, but at the end the Gamecocks were NIT bound and another example that number of wins – Carolina had 23 in the regular season before losing to Georgia in Nashville – doesn’t really matter.
Vanderbilt, one of the league’s under-achieving teams, got the bid over the Gamecocks and was placed in Dayton for a first-round game, what some people call a play-in game.
Neither South Carolina nor Vanderbilt won an SEC tournament game, and both had RPIs of at least 60. Carolina is at 60, Vanderbilt at 69.
The difference was Vanderbilt had twice as many RPI top 50 wins as South Carolina with four. The Gamecocks won twice but only played three top 50 opponents.
Vanderbilt was 4-8 against the top 50.
South Carolina had a strength of schedule rating of 124, while Vanderbilt’s was 139.
Vanderbilt played five power five conference opponents in the pre-SEC schedule while South Carolina played one.
Simply playing a power five team doesn’t mean you’ve done a good thing. You can play some of those with stinking RPIs, but South Carolina had nine non-conference opponents with an RPI of 140 or lower. Six of those were lower than 200.
Clearly the Gamecocks were held accountable for their schedule.
I have always liked Andy Kennedy’s approach to putting together the Ole Miss schedule, and that didn’t change this year when his schedule had a strength rating of 97.
Kennedy takes his team to neutral site events, to road games and will play a regional mid-major in its gym too.
The problem this year is the mid-majors he played on the road were way too weak. Bradley and Southeast Missouri State have had good programs before, but this year Bradley had an RPI of 304, Southeast Missouri of 342.
You get no real boost for beating those teams.
In other seasons you might get a real boost from beating Memphis and UMass on the road, which the Rebels did, but Memphis had an RPI of 142, UMass of 172.
Then there were the stinker losses. The Rebels lost in Charleston, S.C., to George Mason, a 204 RPI team that finished 11-21.
In doing so their second-round game was against Towson State, a 154 RPI opponent.
They left that event with a game against Seton Hall, a 12-point loss to a 23 RPI team. It could have been a great quality win, but the Rebels, as evidenced by their George Mason loss three days earlier, were still sorting themselves out at this time.
While Ole Miss deserves credit for a 10-8 SEC record, the fact remains that there were not enough quality wins inside the conference to affect the RPI.
Only three SEC teams ranked in the top 35 in strength of schedule.
The question is what can Mike Tranghese offer to the discussion?
I may be simplifying things too much here, but it just seems like the answer is just to schedule tougher games.
Basketball schedules aren’t worked out in advance to the degree that football schedules are, but there is that element to consider. Sometimes you have to commit to a neutral site event when you think a team might be better than it turns out to be.
I’m sure there are some finer points to consider, and maybe Tranghese can bring those to the table.
We’ll see. I do think it’s an aggressive move by Sankey to correct an embarrassing problem that won’t seem to go away.
The SEC has a reputation of being a football conference, and rightfully so, but those who have followed the conference a long time remember successful and colorful basketball coaches like Wimp Sanderson, Hugh Durham, Dale Brown, Sonny Smith, Nolan Richardson and others.
Remember those SEC tournament games with Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky when Arkansas had just entered the league? Those days seem long, long ago. …
So, the Rebels get a road series win to start SEC play, what did we learn?
One, we learned that Wyatt Short is not Super Man, but we were reminded that he’s very, very good.
Short had not given up a run on the season going into the series, but that was a little misleading because he’d pitched only about nine innings.
He entered Game 1 in the eighth inning Friday night in a 2-2 tie. Ole Miss had just tied the game in the bottom of the inning on JB Woodman’s solo home run. Short got the third out of the eighth, and after Ole Miss failed to score in the ninth it looked like the game was headed for extras when he got a swinging strikeout and a called strikeout against the first two hitters. But the Vols rallied with a double and a single, both hits early in the count, and the game was over. The Rebels had a 12-game win streak snapped and were 0-1 in the conference.
It was a solid start for Brady Bramlett, who pitched into the sixth with two runs allowed – one earned – against a very good offensive team. The Vols were fourth in the league in hitting going into the weekend. Bramlett walked one and struck out nine, and the Ole Miss bullpen was scoreless until the Vols got to Short with their final out.
Short stood tall in Game 2.
The Rebels got a little more offense with six runs on 10 hits including an insurance run in the top of the ninth.
Redshirt freshman Michael Fitzsimmons came off the bench at DH and went 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and two RBIs.
Short came on in the ninth with a 6-4 lead and struck out the side in order for his fifth save.
Before that there was good relief work by Brady Feigl who came on for Chad Smith with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth. Feigl got ahead in the count and got a swinging strikeout to srtand three.
Feigl faced only four batters in the sixth, giving up an infield hit. Looks like he might have tired in the seventh when he hit a batter and gave up a double, and two runs scored.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco had no problem going quickly to Short at crunch time in Game 2.
The Rebels had more offense with 10 runs on 15 hits in a 10-7 win in Game 3. It looked on paper like Ole Miss might have an advantage on Sunday because Tennessee listed TBA in its probable pitching rotation.
However, the Rebels didn’t get a good start from Sean Johnson, who was gone after three innings in which he gave up two runs on four hits and four walks.
It’s a bit of a concern that neither Johnson nor Chad Smith, the 2 and 3 starters, reached the fifth inning.
The Ole Miss bullpen has been very good this year and was very good this weekend, but it’s going to get worn out if it’s constantly called into action before the fifth inning.
Every Ole Miss reliever gave up at least one run Sunday.
Freshman right-hander Andy Pagnozzi gave up three but not until after he settled things down in relief of Johnson.
Pagnozzi pitched a scoreless fourth with a double-play ball and a perfect fifth. He again faced the minimum with another double-play ball in the sixth.
When he loaded the bases with a two hits and a walk in the seventh he had surpassed nine innings for the week. Pagnozzi went 6 1-3 in a start at UAB earlier in the week.
David Parkinson allowed Pagnozzi’s first baserunner to score on a sac fly then gave up a three-run home run.
Fortunately for the Rebels, Sunday was about offense and not pitching.
Ole Miss is back in action Tuesday morning at 11 at home against Tennessee-Martin. South Carolina, which won twice at home against Arkansas over the weekend, visits this Oxford this week for a series that begins on Thursday.