UK basketball notebook: Dykes sees a need to re-seed in SEC

SEC Tournament setup gives weak Western teams unfair edge

jtipton@herald-leader.com,Jerry TiptonJanuary 2, 2011 

UK's Doron Lamb, left, was fouled by U of L's Gorgui Dieng during the second half Friday. Lamb seems to have adjusted well to his role as UK's sixth man.

CHRIS HALL — Chris Hall

With Southeastern Conference play beginning next weekend, there seem to be two leagues to ponder. All six Eastern Division teams will go into SEC play boasting a top-100 Ratings Percentage Index. Across the basketball tracks, only one Western Division team — Mississippi — has an RPI in the top 150.

That kind of disparity makes for interesting speculation. The team that finishes last in the Eastern Division might receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, while the team that wins the Western Division does not.

Although Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl surely has more pressing problems on his mind, the SEC dichotomy of haves and have-nots gives new life to one of his ideas. A year ago, he proposed that the SEC re-seed its post-season tournament rather than automatically assigning first-round byes to the teams that finish first and second in each division.

ESPN's lead analyst for SEC basketball, Jimmy Dykes, agrees.

"The teams third and fourth in the East will be superior to the teams first and second in the West," he said last week. "There's nothing fair about that no matter how you look at it."

Dykes, once on Eddie Sutton's UK staff, would take Pearl's idea a step further. In basketball, he'd eliminate the SEC divisions altogether. One league, one set of standings like the Big East, Big 12 and ACC.

But how would the SEC schedule its games with 12 teams? Dykes advocates a 22-game double round-robin schedule. Two games each season against Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt would increase the chances of lifting the little boats in the Western Division out of the RPI muck.

Another plus is fewer non-conference games makes scheduling easier.

"If I was a coach, I'd push for that," Dykes said.

Somehow, it's hard to see perpetually insecure coaches giving up six easy non-conference victories for an extended grind through the SEC.

But, Dykes countered, "All of us in the college basketball world are educated well enough now to know winning 20 games doesn't mean anything. It's who you play.

"Winning the West means absolutely nothing. It doesn't guarantee you anything with the (NCAA Tournament) Selection Committee."

Neither Ole Miss nor Mississippi State, co-champions of the Western Division in 2010, received an NCAA Tournament bid. In 2009, South Carolina won the Eastern Division but did not get an NCAA Tournament bid.

Dykes noted the scarcity of any significant victories — or even eye-catching games — for Western Division teams. Going into this holiday weekend, the Western Division had played only two games against teams ranked in the top 25. Arkansas lost to then-No. 25 Texas A&M 71-62 in overtime. LSU lost to then-No. 19 Memphis 70-61.

That's it.

One chance to make the waters ripple slipped away Wednesday when Mississippi State lost by 22 points to St. Mary's, which has been receiving a few votes in The Associated Press top 25 poll. One last non-conference chance comes Tuesday when Arkansas plays at Texas.

With 10 of their final 16 games against their lowly Western Division colleagues, these teams seem saddled with poor RPIs.

"The pressure to beat somebody in the East is doubled," Dykes said.

Bad luck has contributed to the mild, mild West. Injuries sidelined would-be stars Marshawn Powell of Arkansas and JaMychal Green of Alabama.

Poor performance moved Mississippi's all-conference guard Chris Warren off the radar. Going into Thursday's game against Alcorn State, he had made only 39 percent of his shots (27.5 percent from three-point range).

Mississippi State, arguably the best of the West, is waiting for point guard Dee Bost to come off suspension. The same now applies to rock 'em, sock 'em teammates Elgin Bailey and Renardo Sidney.

Of course, there's time for Western Division teams to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. But to Dykes' eye, it will take something extraordinary.

"A team in the West will have to make an unbelievable run," he said, "something like 14-2 or 13-3 to get consideration."

'Father figure'

Former All-America quarterback Derrick Ramsey's return to UK last week as Coppin State's athletics director seemed like the happy homecoming of a conquering hero. UK fans and officials, plus Committee of 101 ushers took turns shaking his hand and patting him on the shoulder.

Perhaps the most moving welcome home went unnoticed.

Steve Tressler, who writes the Armchair Quarterback blog on the Herald-Leader's Kentucky.com Web site, wanted it known how much he loved his "dad."

Since Ramsey is black and Tressler white, this induced a double-take and puzzled say-what?

Tressler, 37, said that when he met Ramsey, he was 24 and grieving the death of his father. He was waiting tables when Ramsey came into the Lexington steakhouse for dinner. A former Marine who had served in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, Tressler approached Ramsey.

"Sir, are you from Somalia?" he asked Ramsey. "I was in Somalia and a lot of people looked like you."

Ramsey took no offense. "Son," he told Tressler, "most of the people in Africa look like me."

Tressler apologized profusely.

With that misstep began a relationship that saw Ramsey persuade Tressler to join Big Brothers/Big Sisters and later convince him to continue his education.

"He's become a real father figure to me," Tressler said.

At the time, Tressler could not afford to continue his college education. He told Ramsey he was sick of school and would use his wits to succeed in life. He'd decided to take the summer off.

"Son, I haven't had a summer off in 25 years," Ramsey said. "My advice is to get over it."

In addition to the tough love, Ramsey wrote Tressler a check to clear up his debts and return to school.

"My philosophy has been you either work hard for those four years (of college) or you work the rest of your life hard as hell," said Ramsey, who had no reservations about supporting Tressler. "I really love this kid like a son. It's easy to want to help someone when they listen. Not only listen, but they do what you say."

His own experience led Ramsey to want to help others.

During his time at UK, Ramsey received a dollar or two or five in the mail from churchgoers in his hometown in Florida, he said.

He also recalled a high school librarian he didn't know who gave him the chance to work logging books and doing research rather than frittering away a study hall hour each day."

"I was a knucklehead, too," Ramsey said of his coming-of-age years. "So many people in my life helped me, I couldn't fail."

Ramsey, in turn, has wanted to help others.

"I understand what it's like growing up poor," he said. "I understand the value of an education and working hard."

No. 1-seeded UK?

Bracketologist Joe Lunardi really likes Kentucky.

On ESPN.com last week, Lunardi wrote, "Kentucky should be back in the top 10 by now (No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, No. 12 in the ESPN/USA Today poll). The Wildcats will get better and better on their way to another SEC title and No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed."

Sixth man

UK Coach John Calipari noted last week how freshman Doron Lamb had accepted coming off the bench. Not all players are temperamentally suited for a reserve role. To cushion the blow, Calipari has referred to Lamb as Kentucky's "sixth starter."

Of course, the glorified title of "Sixth Man" can be linked to UK basketball. Former UK All-American Frank Ramsey became basketball's first celebrated "Sixth Man" with the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Like his successor John Havlicek, Ramsey was the Celtics' first substitute at either guard or forward.

"I knew I was playing behind two all-star guards in Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman," Ramsey said last week. "They were established pros when I got there. So I didn't take it as an affront."

To help Lamb accept the role, Calipari said he explained his thinking to the freshman.

By contrast, Boston's famed coach, Red Auerbach, gave Ramsey no explanation. "I was just the first substitute," Ramsey said.

Ramsey came to enjoy the role. He noted that opponents had grown accustomed to a reserve entering the game as a sign of weakness. A substitute was presumed to be less of a threat, so the opposition relaxed. "So I got a whole lot of shots," Ramsey said. "To me, it was great. I was playing on a good team. We were all friends. There were no jealousies. And we were winning."

Ramsey acknowledged the possibility of a problem when a player used to starring on a high school team is asked to come off the bench as a college freshman.

"It might get to your ego if you let it," he said.

Fortunately for Kentucky, there's no sign of that with Lamb.

Historically bad

From SI.com came notice last week that Auburn is on pace to be the worst-ever BCS-league team. According to Jerry Palm, operator of CollegeRPI.com, the Tigers are projected to finish with an RPI of No. 292.

The previous worst RPI by a team in a BCS conference came in 2007-08 when Oregon State finished at No. 269. The worst SEC team ever was the 1993-94 Tennessee Vols, at No. 235.

Going into Thursday's play, Auburn had an RPI of No. 332. That put the Tigers between Savannah State at No. 331 and New Jersey Institute of Technology at No. 333.

There are 345 Division I schools in men's basketball, meaning only 13 had a poorer RPI than Auburn.

Harrellson as 'Wolverine?'

Reader Ben Adams took notice of Josh Harrellson's on-again, off-again beard. He offered a suggestion.

"If he could realistically grow a modified 'Wolverine' look, how cool would that be for a nickname?" Adams wrote in an e-mail. "With 20,000 cheering, 'Wolverine! Wolverine! Wolverine!' "

This was a reference to the 2009 movie with a fuzzy-faced Hugh Jackman in the title role.

To boost the idea, Adams noted, "Hey, Dan Issel was known as 'the Beast of Batavia.' "

Adams, 58, is a native of Pineville. His father, Bill Adams, coached Pineville High School's football teams in the glory days of the late '60s and early '70s.

802-49

Kentuckian Steve Smith recently notched his 800th victory as coach for high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. A graduate of Asbury College, he takes a career record of 802-49 into the new year.

"Obviously, it's attributable to the players," Smith said of his .942 career winning percentage. "I can count on one hand (the victories) where I felt I had a hand in a game."

Smith said he took pride in Oak Hill playing a national schedule. "It's not like I got (800 victories) from playing a local schedule," he said. "... We earned our wins."

Happy birthday

To Eloy Vargas. He turned 22 on Thursday. ... To Travis Ford. He turned 41 on Wednesday. ... To Irving Thomas. He turns 44 on Sunday. ... To Aminu Timberlake. He turned 37 on Saturday.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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