5-at-10: Miller shines amid controversy, SEC hoops tournament rankings, Titans start rebuild

Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) drives against South Carolina forward Gregory Jackson II (23) on the way to scoring the go-ahead basket in overtime of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. Alabama won 78-76. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) drives against South Carolina forward Gregory Jackson II (23) on the way to scoring the go-ahead basket in overtime of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. Alabama won 78-76. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

SEC hoops-la

Wow, so, has anything happened in the world of SEC basketball over the last 36 hours?

We'll wait.

Before we get to the actual hardwood, let's deal with the hard issue in the room.

After details of Brandon Miller's involvement in the events that led to Jamea Harris' murder in mid-January emerged Tuesday -- some of which have been refuted or denied by Miller's attorneys -- the sports news cycle has revolved around the Alabama program.

(Side note: I even added a third column to the plate Wednesday, rewriting my original Alabama-Miller column from yesterday's 5-at-10. You can find my updated take in the pages of today's fishwrapper, which is online here, starting on Page D1.)

By now the details are being hashed and rehashed more than Fat Vader's side order at the Waffle House.

But we can agree on the following:

-- Brandon Miller is still on the Alabama basketball team because he is un-bleepin'-believably great at basketball. Case in point, with the South Carolina student section chanting "Lock him up" and "GILLLLLL-TEEEEE" every time Miller touched the ball last night, he went nuclear. Miller finished with 41, including the game-tying basket in regulation and the game-winning bucket in OT. It was as good a regular-season performance by a single player I have ever seen at least since Lenny Bias beat gave UNC its first ever loss in the Dean Dome 37 years ago this past Monday.

-- And let's be very clear: Alabama is not alone in that fact, both in sports and in life. The talent-to-trouble-your-bosses-can-tolerate U-curve is steep and high arching.

-- I'm not sure Nate Oates will ever live down the "wrong place, wrong time" comment from Tuesday, whether that's fair or not.

-- The pro-Alabama camp trying to blame the media -- traditional and social -- for this is downright laughable. Even more laughable is the "let's wait for all the information to come out" group. Gang, we are reacting to new information from the courts and the cops, not BubbaGBO27272 or TankWARDAM2827. This is new information, and the looming questions are how much of this did Bama leadership know and when. Plus, if they are still learning things about the incident -- as Bama AD Greg Byrne said Wednesday on ESPN -- then how is that acceptable?

-- When will major athletic departments like Alabama or UT or most of the SEC and almost all of the Power Five schools now realize that they need a crisis media manager. I should hang my shingle, because think of the difference in perception and process between these two scenarios:

Scenario A -- The best college basketball player in America on arguably the best team in America drives a gun to a teammate who hands it to a friend who shoots up a car and kills a 23-year-old mother. The rest plays out like we have witnessed in the Alabama scenario, which both wreaks of cover-up and has become at least a 48-hour national news story.

Scenario B -- The best college basketball player in America on arguably the best team in America drives a gun to a teammate who hands it to a friend who shoots up a car and kills a 23-year-old mother. Nate Oates, rather than going 100% Hallmark card in every post-incident interview, and the Alabama staff, rather than quickly scrubbing former player Darius Miles from the halls and the website, crafts the following strategy centered on this.

"Here's what we know that I can say because this is an ongoing investigation of the most serious nature, and we must remember that a 5-year-old boy lost his mother.

"Darius Miles is no longer with our program. According to authorities, he was directly involved in the killing of Jamea Harris.

"Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley were at the scene. We are confident in the information we have gathered that neither had a knowing role in crime, but we are going to suspend them indefinitely so they can cooperate fully with authorities to get to a just conclusion.

"As I said, because this is an on-going investigation, I will answer no questions on this -- nor will our team -- and we will refer you to Tuscaloosa authorities for more details.

"Again, our prayers are with the victim's families and we will completely support Brandon and Jaden as we all work together to discover the truth in this horrible, senseless crime."

Scenario B is 100% the better play, right? And this is not hindsight, this is the clearest of plays because Alabama and Oates have very little to lose, if they are being truthful with what they are saying this week.

If you sit Miller and Bradley for a week or three, Alabama is still getting into the tournament, and if they are being on the up-and-up with comments that are not "wrong place, wrong time" with those dudes back, you are still going to make a run toward the Final Four in Houston next month.

Under the current cloud of Scenario A, even if Alabama cuts down the nets in early April, the headlines are part Tide title history and part "Alabama sold its soul to win it all."

SEC hoopla (basketball version)

We need an SEC review around the league. So much has happened.

Let's cut from the bottom.

LSU is cooked, and likely cooked Vandy's goose with last night's upset in Red Stick.

Ole Miss is cooked, and you have to believe Kermit Davis' coaching chair is roasting somewhere between "hot" and "dang hot" right now.

Of course, South Carolina's done, but Lamont Paris' bunch is fighting to the end, and last night outplayed every Tide player not named Brandon Miller.

Georgia is also cooked, but looking at the standings, I think the Bulldogs are going to be a problem moving forward, especially if Mike White can get them back into the metro-Atlanta recruiting scene. This also is the time to note that the conversation between Doug and Chas earlier this season about the difficulties of winning conference games on the road has 100% proved true in this SEC, and Georgia may be the face of that statement. The Bulldogs are 13-2 at The Steg and 1-9 away from it.

Florida is cooked, too, but Todd Golden looked the part of a young Billy Donovan last night as the under-manned Gators took every body blow Kentucky could land and kept coming back for more.

That leaves eight remaining SEC teams looking toward March and hoping for Big Dance invites.

Alabama is in. The Tide look to be a (public enemy) No. 1 seed. (And yes, everyone with a FaceSpace or who is on the Tweeter has seen the "create shots for teammates" and "set important screens" one-liners.)

Tennessee is in. How long they are in for, however, is anyone's guess with those offensive struggles.

I think A&M has punched its ticket despite a horror-show performance in the non-conference. I also think last night's win at Florida has Kentucky firmly inside the bubble and maybe inching its way into a seven or six seed.

That's your top four, and they have to feel pretty good-to-certain about getting a bid. Yes, if A&M or UK lost out, there would be some sweating on Selection Sunday, but I still believe each is safely inside.

That leaves four more SEC teams, and I will list them in my order, in terms of talent and bid appeal.

Arkansas. I think the Hogs will get a pass from the committee for some of the ugly losses in the -ry months because of injuries. And I think if Nick Smith returns close to 100%, no one -- no one -- wants to see an eighth-, ninth- or 10th-seeded Arkansas in round 2.

I'd give Auburn a slight edge over Missouri for the next spot, especially in the eyes of the committee because while the résumés are somewhat similar, Auburn waxed Missouri just last week.

Jerry Palm has Arkansas as a 10, Missouri a seven and Auburn a nine in his most recently updated bracket. In the NET, Arkansas is a gaudy 15th in the country, Auburn is 33rd and Missouri is a very worrisome 51st.

Then there is Mississippi State, which Palm has as one of his last four teams in. MSU is No. 41 in the NET rankings.

That said, none of the last four -- especially an Auburn team that closes with an extremely difficult at UK, vs. UT and at what will be a raucous Alabama bunch -- need to be packing their bags just yet.


Visor tip to Omar

So, regulars around these parts know I think "The Wire" is as good a TV product that has ever been released.

It is filled with characters and greatness. None check both boxes like Omar Little, a Baltimore street "Robin Hood" who has a deep love for great quotes, other men, cold cereal and street justice.

Among his many great quotes is, "you come at the king, you best not miss."

I thought of Omar's Shakespearean street credo as the Tennessee Titans started cutting familiar names and franchise mainstays Wednesday.

Gone are Taylor Lewan, Robert Woods, kicker Randy Bullock and linebacker Zach Cunningham as the team tried like the devil to rectify their desperate salary cap situation.

To paraphrase Omar in the modern-day, cap-structured NFL, when you go for the crown and miss, the rebuild will be nasty.

The Titans are now left with an aging running back, a QB that is best described as a middle-of-the-road game manager, and a roster devoid of true match-up problems with the possible exception of Jeffrey Simmons.

If the Colts adequately address its QB situation, the Titans will go from having the No. 1 seed going into the AFC playoffs in January 2022 to likely being picked third in the less-than-stellar AFC South heading into September 2023.

Man, that's what even Omar would call a big-time miss.

This and that

-- So some dire TV numbers of interest: The Daytona 500 race was third least watched on record. The NBA All-Star Games was the least watched on record. The XFL cratered compared to last year's season-opening windows. According to SportsMediaWatch.com, the 500 averaged a 4.4 rating and 8.17 million viewers. Only the rain-impacted races in 2020 and 2021 drew fewer eyes. The NBA All-Star disaster saw a 29% dip in ratings and a 27% drop in viewers from last year, and the 3.1 rating and the 4.59 million viewers were easily the worst ever. As for the XFL, each of the first four games of the opening weekend were down close to 50% from the XFL openers three years ago. The XFL numbers were also down across the board compared to last year's USFL opening weekend.

-- I humbly apologize that it has taken me this long to learn about and ultimately share this story. Mississippi State has a switch-pitcher. Jurrangelo Cijntje pitched four innings for Mississippi State on Wednesday, striking six right-handed and one left-handed. He hit 97 on the gun with his right and 92 on the gun with his left. Oh my.

-- If there's ever been a day to have an SEC star athlete's name appear on the police blotter, it's this day with all the Brandon Miller buzz. With that, Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson apparently got arrested last month for some fast and furious street driving action. Here's more.

Today's questions

Anything goes Thursday, so fire away, friends.

And remember the mailbag.

As for today, Feb. 23, let's review.

On this day in 1455 Gutenberg printed his first Bible. Gang, there are truly history-altering days through time -- Dec. 7 has a spot in this conversation -- and inventions but it would be almost impossible to keep Gutenberg's printing machine off those lists.

On this day in 1997, scientists cloned a lamb and named her Dolly.

I think we have done a Rushmore of Dolly, and yes, Ms. Parton was far left.

Rushmore of lambs and be creative.

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