ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
The Crimson Tide capped the 2003 season with its second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, making it the school's 16 NCAA postseason tournament selection trip since 1975. Alabama's inclusion also meant that head coach Mark Gottfried has advanced to postseason play 17 of the last 18 years of his collegiate playing and coaching career (14 NCAA, 3 NIT at Alabama as a player for 3 seasons, at UCLA as an assistant coach, at Murray State as head coach and at Alabama as head coach). Alabama's year including setting the school record for consecutive home win streaks at 28, increasing home attendance by 1,944 per game (from 2002), seeing Erwin Dudley climb into the school's top 10 all time in scoring and rebounding and set the school record for career stars, producing SEC stats champions (SEC vs. SEC games) with Erwin Dudley winning the league rebounding title and Mo Williams the free throw shooting title, and, it's greatest moment, achieving the school's first ever No. 1 basketball ranking, taking the top spot for two straight weeks to end December.
Freshmen ended the season as the top three scorers for Arkansas. Jonathon Modica led the club with 11.5 points per game. Arkansas played 17 games against teams earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, winning four of those. UA's freshmen (Modica, Kendrick Davis, Eric Ferguson, Rashard Sullivan and Wen Mukubu) accounted for 1,033 of the team's 1,726 points (59.8 percent) and 398 of 1,063 rebounds (37.4 percent). Offensively, Arkansas averaged 61.6 points a game, its lowest total since 1967 when the Razorbacks scored 60.3 points in a 6-17 campaign. Defensively, the Razorbacks allowed just 66.5 points, the lowest total since 1988 when UA gave up 64.9 during a 21-9 season. Arkansas averaged 38.0 rebounds a game, its best since the 1998 team claimed 39.6 boards per game. UA's positive rebounding margin (+5.5) is its first since the 1994 national championship team had a plus 1.1 and is the best since the 1984 club had a plus 6.5. Arkansas had consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1971 and 1972 and consecutive seasons without advancing to postseason for the first time since 1975 and 1976.
Auburn, which is 12-7 (.632) in NCAA Tournament action, is making its third appearance in five years in the Big Dance. It is Auburn's eighth appearance overall in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers defeated seventh-seeded Saint Joseph's 65-63 in overtime in this year's first round before upsetting second-seeded and #8 Wake Forest 68-62 in the second round. The Tigers last appeared in the Big Dance in 2000. The furthest the Tigers have advanced is the Elite Eight when Auburn lost to eventual National Champion Louisville 84-76 in the NCAA West Regional Final in Houston. Auburn has won seven-straight opening round games in the NCAA Tournament. The only opening round game the Tigers have lost was in their NCAA Tournament debut against 12th-seeded Richmond, 72-71, in 1984. The Tigers are 7-1 in first round play. Auburn is 5-2 in NCAA Tournament play under head coach Cliff Ellis. This marks Auburn's second Sweet 16 appearance in five years, and it's fourth overall. The Tigers have reached this round in 1985, 1986, 1999 and 2003.
The Gators closed out the 2002-03 season with a loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, capping a 25-8 season. The Gators set a regular season record for wins with 24, while finishing with the third highest win total in school history overall. Florida set school records for consecutive 20-win seasons (5), consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (5), regular season non-conference wins (12) and overall non-conference wins (13), while reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history. Matt Bonner finished his career eighth on the all-time Florida scoring list with 1,570 points, while Brett Nelson leaves as the school's all-time leader in three-pointers made (274). The Florida senior class exits with a record of 100-32, the highest four-year total in Florida history, while having reached the NCAA Tournament four straight years. The Gators will return 10 of 13 players next season. The Gators were in Tampa as the No. 2 seed in the South region, their highest seeding ever - they had previously been a No. 3 seed in both 1994 and 2001.
Georgia finished its season at 19-8 overall, 11-5 in SEC games. For the first time ever, Georgia won double-digit SEC games in consecutive seasons. For just the fifth time in the past 50 years, Georgia finished the season with single-digit losses. Georgia's schedule was ranked #1 nationally in difficulty for the second time in three seasons. Eight of its 11 non-conference opponents are playing in the postseason, including five NCAA Tournament teams. In all, 18 of Georgia's 27 games were against post-season teams. Ezra Williams ended his Georgia career with 1,349 career points, good enough for 14th place on UGA's career scoring list. Rashad Wright completed his junior season with 405 career assists, which ranks 3rd on Georgia's career list, just 61 behind all-time leader Litterial Green. Jarvis Hayes became Georgia's first two-time consensus All-SEC first-team pick since Dominique Wilkins in 1981-82. The Bulldogs' 11 league wins marks the program's highest total since the 1990 SEC championship season, when that team went 13-5 in conference play. Georgia was the league leader in Assist/Turnover Ratio all season. Georgia was 5-4 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this season.
The Kentucky Wildcats return to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in nine seasons, a feat no other team has accomplished. Top-seeded UK will battle No. 5-seed Wisconsin in the Midwest Region semifinals. The winner will play the winner of the Pitt/Marquette game. The Cats advanced to the second weekend for the fifth time in Tubby Smith's six seasons by beating IUPUI and Utah. Seven of the Cats' last eight opponents have failed to top 40% shooting, including all five postseason opponents, and none of the last eight opponents have shot better than 30.8% from beyond the three-point arc. Kentucky's win streak stands at a nation's best 25 games. In the Wildcats' last 20 games, only five teams have come within 10 points of the Cats at the final horn. Keith Bogans still leads all scorers with 16.0 ppg and this past weekend, passed Tony Delk for fourth place on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,903 points. Kentucky last appeared in Minneapolis' Metrodome in 1996, defeating Utah and Wake Forest en route to the NCAA Championship. Tubby Smith earned Sporting News and USBWA National Coach of the Year honors last week.
LSU concludes the 2002-03 season with a 21-11 record and a tie for second in the SEC West with an 8-8 record. LSU won two games in the SEC Tournament, including a win over No. 7 Florida in the second round. The 2003 NCAA marked the third postseason appearance in four years for LSU and its 17th overall in the NCAA. Torris Bright would finish his career with a school record 128 starts, a record 237 treys and would finish 4,250 minutes played, 26 minutes short of the school record. Ronald Dupree joined Shaquille O'Neal, Durand Macklin and Bob Pettit as the only players to finish in the top 10 at LSU in both scoring and rebounding. LSU's seniors Bright, Dupree, Brad Bridgewater and Collis Temple III all were a part of 80-plus victories at LSU in their four years and five of those came over Top 10 teams. LSU's 2003 beat three AP Top 10s in 2002-03 (No.1 Arizona, No.7 Mississippi State and No.7 Florida) joining the 1981 LSU team as the only Tiger teams to beat three AP Top 10s in a single season.
OLE MISS REBELS
The Rebels finished the 2002-03 season with a 14-15 record. This is the first year since 1995-96 that Ole Miss had a losing record and did not go to a postseason tournament. Despite the below .500 season, Ole Miss is still the winningest program in the SEC Western Division with 142 overall victories since 1996-97. The Rebels' 142 wins since 1996-97 are also the 3rd most among all SEC teams. Rod Barnes won his 100th game as the Rebel head coach when Ole Miss defeated South Carolina in the 1st round of the SEC Tournament. Barnes is only the 2nd coach in Rebel history to reach the milestone. The 2003 Rebel seniors finished their careers with 80 victories, the 3rd most by a senior class in Ole Miss history. Senior Derrick Allen finished his career with consecutive double-doubles in the SEC Tournament vs. South Carolina (10-16) and Mississippi State (11-15). The performances were his 4th and 5th career double-doubles, and the 16 boards vs. South Carolina tied a career high. Junior Aaron Harper hit 65 three-pointers in 2002-03, the 4th most for a single season in Ole Miss history. Harper holds the school record with 83.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Brandon Miller hit a runner with 6.2 seconds left to lift 12th-seeded Butler to a 47-46 upset of No. 5 Mississippi State on Friday night in the first round of the East Regional. Mario Austin had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Mississippi State. Mississippi State lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991, spanning three trips. With a runner-up finish at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the 21-10 Bulldogs received the No. 5 seed in the East Regional bracket in Birmingham, Alabama. Having posted a second-straight 20-win season for the first time since 1994-95 and 1995-96 and with back-to-back, 20-win campaigns for only the fourth time in school history, the Bulldogs made successive NCAA Tournament appearances for only the second time in the school's history. This year marked State's sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and 11th all-time postseason tournament berth in school history. MSU's Rick Stansbury became the fourth basketball coach in school history to reach the century mark for career coaching victories. With 514 career assists, Senior Derrick Zimmerman replaced Al Perry as the school's all-time assists leader.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
South Carolina fell to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament, 62-56. South Carolina never led. Ole Miss had three less field goals than South Carolina but made 18-of-20 at the foul line. The Gamecocks were 4-of-6. South Carolina ended their season at 12-16. A year ago, the Gamecocks made an improbable run to the SEC Tournament semifinals in Atlanta. South Carolina, which played in the NIT the last two years, hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998. South Carolina had two chances to tie the game in the final two minutes. After Chris Warren hit a 3-pointer to pull the Gamecocks within 53-51, Carlos Powell stole the ball from Justin Reed during a scramble near midcourt. Powell missed an off-balance jumper at the side of the lane, and Reed made two free throws at the other end to give Ole Miss a four-point cushion. Mike Boynton sank a 3 to make it 55-54, but Ole Miss countered with a layin with 46 seconds left. South Carolina senior Chuck Eidson missed a jumper late and Ole Miss' Emmanuel Wade was fouled, making both free throws with 25 seconds to clinch the victory.
Tennessee made its fifth postseason appearance in the last six seasons when the Vols met Georgetown in the NIT. It marked UT's 10th NIT appearance and the school's 23rd postseason appearance overall. Despite falling to the Hoyas in the first round of the tournament, Tennessee exceeded the expectations of many basketball observers. Picked to finish fifth (some preseason publications even had the Vols picked as low as sixth) in the SEC's Eastern Division, Tennessee's 9-7 league record tied for the fourth-best in the entire SEC. Overall, UT finished the 2002-03 campaign with a 17-12 mark. The Vols were led by SEC Player of the Year and Wooden Award Finalist Ron Slay. Slay returned from a devastating knee injury as a junior to lead the SEC in scoring with 21.2 points per game. Slay finished his career 14th on the school's all-time scoring lists with 1,569 career points. C.J. Watson finished his first season in the SEC, averaging 5.52 assists per game on his way to earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team.
Vanderbilt finished the 2002-03 season on a positive note as the Commodores defeated Alabama, 82-69, in the first round of the SEC Tournament before falling to eventual tournament champion Kentucky. The first-round victory was Vanderbilt's first SEC Tournament win since 2000. Igniting the Commodores' upset of Alabama was freshman Mario Moore, who scored a career-high 25 points on the strength of 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range. Moore followed that performance with 18 points against Kentucky, which eclipsed the regular-season high of 17 points that he scored at home against Kentucky. Matt Freije, who was named Second Team All-SEC by the SEC coaches and Third Team All-SEC by the Associated Press, scored 24 points versus Alabama and then 13 points against Kentucky. With his 37 points in the SEC Tournament, Freije finished the season by moving past Jeff Turner and Will Perdue into 19th place on Vanderbilt's career scoring list with 1,284 career points. Freije ended the season by scoring at least 20 points in nine of the final 14 games and was Vanderbilt's leading scorer with 17.9 points per contest.