UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: SEC divided on 18-game schedule

Jerry Tipton
Jerry Tipton

The political season brings the debate between Hillary Clinton's it-takes-a-village interdependence and conservatism's every-man-is-an-island self-reliance. So, too, does the sporting world contain a version of this dueling dynamic.

The Southeastern Conference leaders discussing how to schedule in future basketball seasons must weigh the collective good versus individual best interest.

Kentucky sits squarely on the side of independence. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart will continue trying to convince the SEC not to expand from 16- to 18-game league schedules. A smaller number of league games frees Kentucky to schedule its traditional opponents (North Carolina, Louisville and Indiana) and other made-for-TV matches in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

"Mitch has made that very plain," said Larry Templeton, the former Mississippi State athletics director who now heads a four-man panel seeking a formula for future schedules in all sports.

When asked whether Barnhart has been lobbying for a 16-game SEC schedule, Templeton said, "I don't know if I'd use the word 'lobby.' I think Mitch was very organized in his presentation. The ADs listened. I'm sure it'll get back on the table because we've got to go back there. Knowing Mitch, I don't think that conversation is over."

Templeton noted that another athletics director will try to convince the SEC to go back to divisional play in basketball. He declined to say which athletics director.

But knowing that Rick Stansbury of Mississippi State was the only coach to vote to continue divisional play, a good guess would be State Athletics Director Scott Stricklin. Stansbury saw divisions as a way to give more teams a chance to play for a championships, and no doubt avoid finishing, say, in 13th place.

"It'll be on the table," Templeton said of a return to divisional play. "It'll be decided by a vote of the ADs."

What was perceived as the collective good led the SEC to expand its basketball schedule from 16 to 18 games. That was supposed to happen this season, but the league decided to table the move for a year so it would coincide with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC in 2012-13.

The idea behind the move to 18 games could be likened to the philosophy often attributed to John F. Kennedy: a rising tide lifts all boats. To get more NCAA Tournament bids, league teams had to play tougher schedules. Two more league games meant two more quality opponents to enhance each team's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

Kentucky's oft-proclaimed exceptionalism applies in this case. UK needs no RPI enhancement. "They've been the ones to step up and play what we'd consider the best of the best schedule," Templeton said.

If, as expected, the league adopts an 18-game schedule, how will it be played? That's to be decided by the Templeton-led group that includes Executive Associate Commissioner Mark Womack and associate commissioners Mark Whitworth and Greg Sankey.

The "natural assumption" is that playing each SEC team once makes for 13 games, Templeton said. Then five opponents would be played a second time. SEC consultant C.M. Newton will meet with Templeton's group this week to discuss.

Templeton expressed hope that a model can be presented to ADs at either the SEC men's or women's tournament in March.

Football teams will continue to play eight-game SEC schedules. When asked about adding a ninth game, Templeton said, "I don't hear any talk whatsoever, and I don't think there's anybody who even wants to put it on the table."

With SEC football already so competitive, and some teams already playing a quality non-conference opponent (think Kentucky-Louisville or the 2012 opener pitting Alabama against Michigan), a ninth league game would be too much of a good thing.

Flopping

The eternal block/charge debate revived by UK Coach John Calipari last week raised a sidebar issue: What about flopping?

A referee can call a technical foul on a defender who flops. But have you ever seen that called? "I've not seen it called," said John Adams, a former referee and now the NCAA national men's basketball officiating coordinator.

Adams said he could not agree with the idea that coaches teach players to flop. There are many (blush) who think they do.

"I think flopping is a growing concern for everybody involved in our game," Adams said.

Flopping made a mockery of the game in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some players seemingly spent more time trying to sneak into position to take a "charge" than playing basketball. Most memorably, Dan Issel picked up his fifth foul near mid-court when he accidently ran into the late Vaughn Wedeking of Jacksonville.

"It's OK for the time being," Adams said of the frequency of flopping. "Till we determine flopping is an epidemic. Then we'll get a Manhattan Project after it."

Adams said he equated flopping with a foul on the defender.

"We used to say, the flopper is the fouler," he said. "If you flop, you foul."

But players get away with flopping sometimes. And no flopper gets a technical foul.

Adams suggested a way to differentiate a flop from a charge.

"When a flopper throws his head back, he's generally flopping," Adams said. "Because if I hit you in the middle of your body, your reaction is to bend over. ... If I'm looking for contact, I throw myself back. That's flopping."

Upon further review

Blue Ribbon Yearbook editor Chris Dortch agreed last week to provide a mid-season review of his publication's predicted All-America team for 2011-12. He saw only one player he'd drop: UK forward Terrence Jones.

"I looked up the stats of all our first-team All-Americans, and four of the five are having about the sort of years we expected," Dortch wrote in an email.

Kris Joseph (Syracuse), Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin) lead their teams in scoring. While stats are not everything, few would argue with those selections.

A mini-question involves Taylor's shooting (39.3 percent overall, 31.3 percent from three-point range going into last week). But his 81 assists and only 31 turnovers in 19 games bolsters his case.

"The only player who hasn't performed up to the level we anticipated is Terrence Jones," Dortch wrote. "The question many would ask is, does that reflect negatively on our powers of prognostication or on Jones' ability? My answer would be that of the five schools that produced a first-team Blue Ribbon All-American, none of them, save Kentucky, has been impacted so significantly by newcomers. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are just special; that's all you can say. And I think that in a way, Jones has deferred to them. He hasn't had to do as much as we thought he was capable of doing."

Dortch noted his reluctance to put freshmen on Blue Ribbon's pre-season All-America team. So he did not place such stars as Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall on Blue Ribbon's past teams.

"If I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen what Davis and MKG are doing now, I might have placed one of them on the team ahead of Jones," Dortch wrote. "And in hindsight, I might have made North Carolina's Kendall Marshall the point guard, given his off-the-charts assist totals and assist-to-turnover ratio."

In UNC's first 18 games, Marshall had 173 assists and 50 turnovers.

"Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish we'd have put Thomas Robinson of Kansas on our first team because, at this point, he's probably the consensus choice to be national player of the year," Dortch wrote. "If there's anyone we really missed on, it's him."

Ouch

We know that newspapers are waning while bloggers/tweeters/talk shows are whining.

But did Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury have to twist the knife during last week's SEC teleconference?

When acknowledging that his players probably would not treat Mississippi merely as the next opponent, Stansbury said, "It's human nature (to be excited by a rivalry). Kids read the paper. Or your blogs."

Stumbling to recover, Stansbury added, "Probably don't read no paper. (Players) read your blogs on those telephones."

Word play

Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" to label a gut feeling that seems truth, even if the facts don't cooperate. It was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society.

Auburn Coach Tony Barbee took the lead last week in the race for SEC basketball word of the year.

During the league's weekly teleconference, a reporter asked about the importance of scoring from Frankie Sullivan, who had 19 points against Ole Miss the previous weekend.

"It's a 'humendous' addition for us when he's scoring the ball," said Barbee, seeming to combine the words "huge" or "humongous" and "tremendous."

As with "truthiness," anyone listening knew what Barbee meant: Sullivan can be a key contributor for the Tigers.

"We're still looking for that catalyst," the Auburn coach said. "One or two guys who can step up and make plays" in the clutch.

Barbee noted how Sullivan's work ethic made him a worthy candidate for go-to guy.

Major/minor domo

Bob Kesling, the voice of Tennessee basketball, used the post-game radio interview as a way to show a difference in approach by new coach Cuonzo Martin and his predecessor, Bruce Pearl.

"With Bruce, you just asked three questions," he said. "With Cuonzo, you ask 20 questions."

Translation: Martin is not as verbose as Pearl. So more questions are needed to fill the time.

"Bruce was the Pied Piper, the majordomo," Kesling said. "Cuonzo pushes the band out in front of him."

GPAs

The Kansas men's basketball team posted a 2.63 grade-point average in the fall semester of 2011. That team GPA included walk-on and scholarship players, spokesman Chris Theisen said.

By comparison, UK's basketball team had a 2.71 GPA.

Kansas announced that eight of its teams posted a grade-point average of 3.0 or better. The school said that 239 of its athletes — or 47 percent of its teams in 2011-12 — made the Athletics Directors' Honor Roll with GPAs of 3.0 or better. Eighteen had 4.0 GPAs.

Overall, Kansas athletes combined for a 2.84. Football had the lowest GPA: 2.46.

Correction

A note last week incorrectly stated that Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Roy Williams (UNC) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) are the only coaches to head Atlantic Coast Conference programs for more than three seasons.

Wrong.

There's also Seth Greenberg, who is in his ninth season at Virginia Tech.

'Big Blue Slam'

This week will see the annual Big Blue Slam, a competition between UK and Florida fans involving blood donations. Kentucky won three of the previous four "Slams."

The Kentucky Blood Center and Gainesville's LifeSouth Community Blood Center participate in the event, which is intended to increase blood supplies when winter weather can cause them to decrease. The KBC centers (Beaumont and Andover in Lexington, plus Somerset and Pikeville) will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day this week.

Fans can schedule an appointment at Kybloodcenter.org or by calling 1-800-775-2522.

To spur fans, each donor will receive a Big Blue Slam T-shirt and be entered in a drawing for an entertainment package that includes a 50-inch 3-D Smart TV, Blu-Ray home theater system, X-Box 360 with Kinect and popcorn machine.

Happy birthday

To Rupp's Runt Larry Conley. He turns 68 today. ... To Perry Stevenson. He turns 25 on Monday. ... To N.C. State Coach Mark Gottfried. The former Alabama player and coach turned 48 on Friday. ... To Southern California Coach Kevin O'Neill. The former Tennessee coach turns 55 on Tuesday.

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