NEW ORLEANS I’ll bet you first-year Georgia coach Tubby Smith didn’t call Mississippi State’s Richard Williams this week to ask for advice on being successful in the SEC Tournament.
Smith, obviously, is 0-0 in the league’s postseason roundball party.
Williams, whose No. 25-ranked Bulldogs won the Western Division title for the second straight season, has a not-so-glamourous 1-9 record in this 12-team basketball fest.
But one coach did call Williams last week for some postseason advice Williams’ former assistant coach, John Brady. The result Brady’s top-seeded Samford club lost its opening round game to the No. 8 seed in the Trans America Conference Tournament. Save your quarter next time, John.
“I’ll have to get together with Brady again to see if we can figure out a way to win a tournament game,” was Williams’ tongue-in-cheek response.
Nobody, certainly not this writer, is suggesting that Williams can’t coach in tournaments. If that was the case, how would you explain how Williams directed the Bulldogs into the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last year? It’s just that nobody knows where to find the SEC Tournament’s exit door better than Williams.
“A lot is made of my 1-9 record,” he said earlier this week. “Well, our first three years we had very little chance to win. In 1991, we were the first seed in the tournament and lost to Tennessee. We had just won the SEC (regular season title) and never came down off that high.”
Then last season, State came into the tournament in Atlanta in the same position top seed, first-round bye, the rewards for a successful season. So what happens? Florida, a team the Bulldogs had rallied to beat 70-47 during a wild regular season game, whacked them 80-64 in the tournament.
“They (Florida) were essentially the same team that played in the Final Four the previous year,” Williams said. “It’s not like we didn’t play a very good basketball team.”
This week, State’s tournament scenario here at the Superdome is similar. The Bulldogs won the West and received a first-round bye. They’ll play Friday against the winner of today’s Auburn-Vanderbilt game. Neither opponent will be a pushover for the Bulldogs.
Remember, Vandy knocked off the Bulldogs 69-64 last week in Nashville. As for Auburn, the Bulldogs won both meetings this season, taking an OT win at Auburn, 78-75, and winning last Saturday, 67-51, to clinch the division title.
“I don’t know if I’d prefer to play either team,” Williams said. “We played Vanderbilt once and lost to them. We were able to beat Auburn twice, so you’d think we’d like to play them again. But it’s very difficult to defeat a team three times in one year, unless you’re a superior team, and I don’t think that is the case.”
I think this is the year that Richard’s tourney troubles evaporate. Read on.
Tournament predictions: (First round) Florida over Ole Miss, Vandy over Auburn, South Carolina over LSU, Alabama over Tennessee. (Second round) Kentucky over Florida, MSU over Vandy, S.C. over Arkansas, Georgia over Bama. (Semifinals) Kentucky over S.C., MSU over Georgia. (Finals) Kentucky over MSU.
Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.