Well, we have gone through another basketball season. Kentucky won the Conference Championship. Some random team from the West 'got screwed' but didn't do what they needed to do to get into the NCAA tourney. The SEC was the last conference to have more than one team left, but the SEC still sucks, according to the basketball literati. Yawn.
In other words, a thoroughly normal season.
Let's talk post-season awards. Who deserves SEC Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, and why?
John Calipari easily wins Coach of the Year. I didn't have much faith in his ability to coach a team of very good players to perform beyond the sum of their parts. I was wrong. Dead wrong. They looked like the best coached team in the NCAA tournament most of the time. His development of Josh Harrellson and use of his bench was fantastic. Yeah, I know it is easy to coach talent, but Coach Cal hasn't shown the ability to do that before in his career. He did this year and then some.
I'm torn about player of the year. It is easy to say Chandler Parsons or Brandon Knight or Terrence Jones and move on, but that is almost too simple. To me, I still say it was Vandy's John Jenkins. His FG and 3pt shooting were in the 40+% range, he never fouled out, he rarely turned the ball over. Just a strong, strong player.
Which program was the most pleasant surprise? Why?
Alabama. After the epic fail of their pre-conference schedule, anyone thinking 'Bama would win more than a couple of games in conference was just delusional. Had Calipari not shown such strong coaching in the post season, Anthony Grant was my easy pick to win Coach of the Year. As a bonus, they made a deep run in the NIT, losing in the championship game to Wichita State.
Which program had the most disappointing season? Why?
Tennessee. Easy choice. Up and down all season. Never got much traction. Cookoutgate and Phonegate just distracted this talented team all season. Then the epic, soul-crushing non-sense of the tournament happened. I'm talking about Mike Hamilton's mouthrunning about Pearl's future at UT a mere 36 hours before his team tipped off. The 30 point beat-down at the hands of Michigan was really just a minor epilogue of the whole story.
Which coach's seat is hottest going into 2011-2012? Will he survive to see another season?
I have two. Darin Horn and Rick Stansbury.
Horn, for obvious reasons. He is in year four and his teams have regressed each season. Yes, they had some interesting wins, but overall, good basketball hasn't been played in Columbia. Put that in with playing in the SEC East, Horn needs to finish at least third in the East and make the NCAA next year to be assured a job in fall 2012. Fail to do either and he could be looking for a job.
Rick Stansbury for less obvious reasons. Mississippi State was very embarrassed when two of their starters got into a fracas in the stands during an early season tourney in Hawaii. Stansbury made the practical decision to keep the talented but troubled Renardo Sidney around after he and Elgin Bailey traded punches on TV. Bailey had been the instigator, but considering Sidney's history, it could have gone either way. The Bulldogs still finished 17-14 and not playing in a post season tourney for the first time in four years. Have that kind of player issues or worse yet have Sidney get into yet more trouble or another fight, while not making the post season, and Stansbury will be in deep trouble.
The league will have two new coaches next year: Arkansas's Mike Anderson and Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin. What do you see in their futures?
Mike Anderson will have to win and win big at Arkansas to keep them happy. Yes, his teams have made deep runs, but he has peaked early at both his stops, then have teams regress. It happened at UAB (Sweet 16 his second season, then two first weekend exits. It happened at Mizzu (Elite 8 in his third season, then two first weekend exits). Plus, he never finished higher than 3rd in the Big 12. At Arkansas, they expect to compete for SEC titles and make plans for regional finals. Anderson will have to show he can do that to stay longer than Pelphrey. The pressure (and pay) are higher and the fan base will turn on him fast if he doesn't produce. He'll have to win the West more often than not to have a seriously long tenure.
Can he? Magic eightball says 'future is cloudy, check again.'
Cuonzo Martin, absent some miraculous run, is what Lane Kiffin is to Southern Cal football: a caretaker. That being said, he'll be given a lot longer leash than Mike Anderson, due to the expected beat-down the NCAA is going to give Tennessee. I just don't think that leash is long enough to get through the sanctions and back in the top echelon of the SEC. This isn't going to be some three year deal. He'll have to pull some Scott Drew like resurrection with Tennessee to stay. The UT fan base will still be in the 'hey, we're one of them top programs' mindset, even though they will have gone through two years of 9 scholarships, continuing probation, and recruiting limitations (sound about right?). They are just crazy enough to think the hot young coach at some other school would love to coach for them and run Martin off.
Many thanks to Gamecock Man at Garnet and Black Attack for his able hosting of the Poll this season. It has been a blast.