Talking Baseball And Tournament Time

Phillip Marshall writes about the Southeastern Conference's basketball postseason fade and the start of the SEC baseball season.

It was an interesting first round in the NCAA basketball tournament. There were upsets, routs and buzzer-beaters. That's the way it is most seasons, which is why the tournament has become so immensely popular.

Some highlights and lowlights:

MOST CREATIVE STORY: Florida coach Billy Donovan wins this one. He told us all that the fight was nothing, really, but a harmless thing between two dedicated basketball players during a physical practice. So what if Brett Nelson's cheekbone was broken and he had to have surgery? Boys will be boys and all that, you know. Florida promptly got bounced from the tournament by Creighton.

MOST OVERRATED LEAGUE: Not much doubt here. The Southeastern Conference has been No. 1 in the RPI all season and has been proclaiming its superiority. Six teams were in and five were seeded No. 4 or higher in their regions. One team, old reliable Kentucky, is left. Among the conquerors of SEC teams: Creighton, Southern Illinois and Kent State.

MOST OVERRATED TEAM: Gonzaga. It became all the rage to talk about the Zags as if they'd romped through a real conference on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Mark Few has done a terrific job at Gonzaga. Does anybody really believe the Zags would have finished the season in the Top 10 if they'd played in the SEC, Big 12 or any other power conference?

MOST UNDERRATED TEAM: Missouri. The Tigers started off the season ranked in the top five. They hit on hard times and fell hard. They barely made the tournament field with a No. 12 seed. Now they are in the Sweet 16.

BIGGEST CHOKE: Georgia wins this one easily. It's one thing to blow a 20-point lead, like Texas almost did, against Mississippi State. It's another to be 19 points ahead of Southern Illinois and lose. The Bulldogs don't like the postseason. When the big-timers step up, they step back.

BEST GAME: UCLA's 104-101 double-overtime win over Cincinnati. It won't be remembered like Kentucky-Duke, but it will go down as one of the tournament's all-time great games.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: Tayshaun Prince's 41 points for Kentucky against Tulsa. A big-time game by a big-time player.

BEST ARGUMENT AGAINST AUTOMATIC BIDS FOR SMALL CONFERENCES: Winthrop. The Eagles get in every year, it seems, and lose by 50.

BEST ARGUMENT FOR AUTOMATIC BIDS FOR SMALL CONFERENCES: Florida Atlantic. FAU lost to Samford and Birmingham-Southern in the regular season, then almost beat Alabama in the first round of the tournament. Honorable mention to North Carolina-Wilmington, Creighton, Southern Illinois and Kent State.

REDDEST FACE: Surely, it has to belong to former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, a CBS analyst for the tournament. He drew a circle around Jarvis Hayes' parents on the teleprompter and wrote a couple of profane words. It was during a timeout and he knew it wasn't going out on national TV. What he didn't know was that it was going out on a dozen or so screens at the arena. Oops!

TALKING BASEBALL

It's too early to tell how many wins it will mean, but Auburn might have the best pitching staff in the history of its baseball program.

Eric Brandon accomplished the remarkable feat earlier this month of pitching a perfect game against Murray State. Colby Paxton almost matched it Sunday against Kentucky. In the end, he pitched a one-hitter in a 5-0 Auburn victory. The only hit was a bunt single. The Tigers gave up just four earned runs in the three-game series against the Wildcats.

The biggest surprise of the weekend in the SEC was Florida's total domination of Ole Miss in Gainesville. It was a series between two Top 10 teams, but the Gators made the Rebels look like anything but that. And how about Vanderbilt winning two out of three in Baton Rouge. The Commodores clearly have their best team in several years. LSU, in the first season of the post-Skip era, obviously isn't what it used to be.

Auburn has a big opportunity on the road next weekend. The Tigers go to Tennessee, a disappointment in the preconference season and a sweep victim at Alabama over the weekend. If they can get a couple of wins there they'll put themselves in good position before an ominous trip to Florida the following weekend.

Pitching and defense are going to give the Tigers an opportunity to win most games. Whether they can generate enough runs to make a run at a division championship is the question that still must be answered.

Until next time…


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