Wiedmer: SEC now must deal with cynical committee

Wiedmer: SEC now must deal with cynical committee

March 16th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

SEC Southeastern Conference

ATLANTA - Fourteen points.

If by some grave miscarriage of justice the Tennessee Volunteers are left out of the NCAA men's basketball tournament by a Selection Committee who's apparently allergic to Southeastern Conference basketball, that's the stat that may do them in.

When you score just 14 points in the second half of a conference semifinal game, as UT did in losing 56-49 to Florida on Saturday, you leave those who doubt you an out to leave you out.

Doesn't mean the Vols won't make the field this evening. Doesn't mean they shouldn't make the field, especially given some of the officials' whistles that went against them in the final minutes against the Gators.

But it also means that Cuonzo Martin's third Big Orange squad best hope that ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's assessment that Tennessee is no worse than an 11th seed is correct.

"They are going to be, I think, a very difficult team in the NCAA tournament from what I've been able to see this year playing them three times," said Florida coach Billy Donovan.

"I think, certainly, they're an NCAA tournament team. I don't think there's any question about it."

When you've missed March Madness the last two years, there's always questions. When the SEC is perceived to be so weak that on more than one occasion ESPN's Dick Vitale has proclaimed, "You could argue that the SEC only has two teams that deserve to get in -- Florida and Kentucky," there's no way to avoid questions.

And having the top-ranked Gators and curious Cats face off in today's conference title game does nothing to weaken that argument.

Particularly when Kentucky has won each of its games in this tournament by double figures and Florida held the Vols to 14 points in the final 20 minutes after UT owned a seven-point advantage (35-28) at the break.

No one may indeed beat Florida the rest of the season. The Rolling Reptiles are that good, blessed with the kind of chemistry and consistency that is so often found in teams starting four experienced, talented seniors.

So it's no disgrace that Tennessee lost, though the actions of official Pat Adams in teeing up UT forward Jeronne Maymon in a tie game with 4:39 to go bordered on disgraceful.

Maymon did make a gesture toward the UT bench as Adams went to the scorer's table to record what would have been Maymon's fourth foul. But Maymon never looked at the official and never said a disparaging word. A better ref would have, at the very least, told Maymon to calm down or Adams would be forced to give him a T.

Instead, the technical became Maymon's fifth foul, which meant he was disqualified, Florida hit all four free throws on the play and while UT somehow rallied to tie it at 49 with 2:48 to go on Jordan McRae's lone made 3-pointer of the game, they were never in control from Maymon's technical on.

And all that ignores the foul on Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin with 1:20 to play, that appeared to be an elbow to Vols guard Antonio Barton's head but was merely ruled an offensive foul, which kept UT from shooting free throws and possessing the ball.

If Adams works another tournament game this spring at any level -- today's SEC final, the NCAA tourney, the NIT or one of those pay-your-way tourneys the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men are competing in, there needs to be an investigation.

But that doesn't mean the Vols would have beaten Florida if Adams had been circling the moon. Florida's defense just wouldn't let them score.

And because Georgia couldn't score enough to beat Kentucky, it would appear that the Gators, Wildcats and Vols are the only three SEC schools likely to make the NCAA field.

But that doesn't mean it's completely fair. The Bulldogs' Rating Percentage Index was 67 on Saturday afternoon, too low to be a serious bubble team. The 19-13 record also isn't much to shout about, especially given early losses to Davidson and Georgia Tech.

But while Iowa has lost six of its last seven games, including a loss to lowly Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, Georgia has won five of its last seven, including a road victory at LSU, which was something Kentucky couldn't do.

Yet the latest NCAA projections have the 20-12 Hawkeyes as a 10th seed and the 19-13 Bulldogs nowhere to be found.

"They're a lock for the NCAA tournament. We're not," Fox said without mentioning Iowa by name.

"Who is picking the field? Is it a computer? Is it just numbers, or do we look at who is a good basketball team right now?"

It appears that right now it may be better to get run over in the Big Ten than win in the SEC. But with football spring practice under way, and the SEC tourney again overrun with Kentucky's Big Blue Nation, it's hard to know if anyone but the players and coaches really cares. And until that changes, the SEC's sparse NCAA bids may not.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com