Bama is attainable, but Wildcats out of reach

Given its struggles over the past two decades, Tennessee basketball should not aspire to be like Kentucky. It should aim at Alabama.

Kentucky's program is out of reach.

Alabama's has been, too, but not always.

Since Don DeVoe took the Vols to five straight NCAA Tournament bids (1979-83), Tennessee has played in just five NCAA tournaments and won three games.

During that time, Alabama has won 17 NCAA tourney games in 13 appearances.

Since 1990, Tennessee has won nine SEC tournament games. Since the league expanded before the 1992 season, the Vols are the only team that has failed to reach the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Since 1990, Alabama has won 19 SEC tournament games and two tourney titles. The Crimson Tide played in the championship game in 2002.

Alabama extended its dominance over Tennessee, going 6-0 against Buzz Peterson's Vols with an 18-point win in Knoxville. The Crimson Tide, outrebounded 46-23 at Florida in the previous game, crushed UT 43-19 on the boards. It was 18-3 late in the first half.



Kentucky continues to raise the bar in basketball.

Since 1983, the Wildcats have played in 18 NCAA tournaments, won 50 games and been to five Final Fours.

Arkansas has the second-best record over the past 21 years with 15 NCAA invites, 27 wins – 18 as an SEC member – and three Final Fours.

Alabama is next with 17 wins and 13 appearances followed by Florida (16 wins, 11 invites), Auburn (12, eight), LSU (11, 12), Mississippi State (eight, six), Georgia (seven, eight), Vanderbilt (six, six), Tennessee, (three, five), Ole Miss (three, five) and South Carolina (zero, four).

Florida has been to two Final Fours, LSU and Mississippi State one each. Vanderbilt has been to three Sweet 16s.



Kentucky also has a chance to do the unthinkable – go unbeaten in SEC play.

Considering Kentucky lost more talent – Eric Daniels, Cliff Hawkins, Gerald Fitch – than any SEC team and would rely on a trio of high school All-Americans, some didn't pick Tubby Smith's team to win the East Division.

But they're 10-0 with only three challenges ahead – games at South Carolina, at Alabama and at Florida.

Twice in the past 10 years, Kentucky went unbeaten in SEC regular season play. In 2002-03, the Wildcats didn't lose to an SEC team for the first time since 1952. For this Kentucky team to be 19-2 overall and unscathed in SEC play this late in the season is a testament to Smith's brilliant coaching.



South Carolina doesn't have much space in its trophy case. That's one reason Steve Spurrier took the job. A program with great facilities and fan support hasn't achieved much success.

He hopes to change that – just as he did at Florida some 15 years ago.

``They haven't done much here,'' Spurrier told The Sporting News. ``That doesn't mean it can't change.''

Jerri Spurrier, Steve's wife, said: ``He's found that fire again.''

It was a fire that barely had a flicker after two disappointing years in the NFL.

``I admit it – it beat me down,'' Spurrier said of his NFL days. ``I did a lousy job. I was embarrassed for myself the way I attempted to coach. And I won't do it again, I can assure you of that.''

Spurrier used some of his salary to lure an impressive staff that includes four former Division 1-A defensive coordinators. He's been motivated by a strong fan base. But he's more humble, reserved, and not talking about a Fun ‘n Gun offense.

He is interested is helping 39-year-old receiver Tim Frisby, a retired military man who made the team as a walk-on last year, achieve some measure of success.

``We're going to get him a catch this year,'' said Spurrier, making a rare prediction since becoming a not-so-cocky Gamecock.



Jay Myers, former editor of Basketball Times, projects the SEC will have five teams in the NCAA Tournament with a sixth on the bubble.

As of last week, Myers had Kentucky as a three seed with Alabama a six seed, Florida a seven, Mississippi State a 10 and South Carolina a 13. He's got LSU on the bubble.

While there is no question the ACC is much stronger than the SEC, he's got the ACC with just five teams: one seeds North Carolina and Wake Forest, two seed Duke, Georgia Tech an eight seed and Maryland a nine seed.

He predicts the Big East will have the most teams in the Big Dance: seven. He's got the Big 12 getting six bids.



Gregg Doyel, senior writer for, said a dozen college coaches are on the hot seat, and two reside in the SEC.

Doyel said Tennessee's Buzz Peterson and Ole Miss' Rod Barnes are in trouble.

Doyel said recruits are beginning to bail on Buzz and that if UT plans to keep Peterson, it needs to give him a vote of confidence. He lists Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson as a possible replacement.

Barnes won with predecessor Rob Evans' talent, Doyel said. He noted that Barnes signed his best class in November, but it might be too late. Possible replacement: Mike Anderson at UAB.

Others on the hot seat: Pete Gillen at Virginia, Steve Fisher at San Diego State, Evans at Arizona State, Mike Davis at Indiana and herb Sendek at N.C. State.



Georgia coach Dennis Felton took a shot at Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, then fired a few harsh barbs at South Carolina senior forward Carlos Powell.

What Felton said sounded like a man speaking out of frustration.

Felton said he has found himself answering questions about the Bulldogs being ``a physical team and a dirty team,'' charges that he said aren't true. ``I'm disappointed because it is being sparked by disparaging remarks from around the conference recently, from opposing coaches and players.''

Felton said the remarks are ``dangerous and harmful to our ability to compete on an even playing field, and it's not fair.''

Gottfried wasn't happy after six Georgia players fouled out and Alabama shot 42 free throws in a recent contest: ``Everybody can choose to play a certain style. To me, that's not basketball.''

Felton said his team gets ``pushed around on a nightly basis because we're young and underdeveloped athletically'' and he was upset that Gottfried implied ``we're dirty or out to hurt somebody.''

Powell left the Georgia game with his left eye shut after being poked twice. He later said he felt like he'd been through a 30-round foxing match.

Felton said Powell was grandstanding. Felton accused Powell of being a ``faker and a flopper'' whose antics border on ``cheating.''



Kentucky and Florida have finished in the top two of the SEC East race each of the last five seasons, but that doesn't make their game a rivalry.

In fact, Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story said the game isn't a rivalry because the Wildcats have won eight straight and 10 of the last 11.

Wrote Story: ``Florida and Kentucky are not basketball rivals. The reason being that Florida has not earned the right to be considered a Kentucky rival.''

Even so, Kentucky respect Florida wing man Matt Walsh, even if the Wildcat fans don't. Even with a neater trim, Walsh's curly blonde locks were a target for Kentucky fans during pregame warm-ups.

Kentucky's Bobby Perry questioned of the wisdom of such taunts.

``I don't know why they give him such a hard time,'' Perry said. ``He's a great player, obviously. He's one of the best in the league. I have a lot of respect for his game. He's a competitor.''

Last March, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart wrote a letter of apology to the Florida athletic department after fans in the student section directed a derisive cheer toward Walsh during the game.



Junior safety Bobby Williams, who led Mississippi State in interceptions with four, has been dismissed from the team for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.

Williams had flirted with turning pro early.

``Darren came to me and told me he was contemplating entering the NFL draft,'' said State coach Sylvester Croom. ``During that time, while he was deliberating, he violated some team rules.''

Williams is the latest in a mounting number of players signed by former coach Jackie Sherrill to be disciplined by Croom.

Four other players have been dismissed or suspended for disciplinary reasons. Also, eight others have left the team, transferred or plan to transfer. Still another, junior college cornerback Brian Staley, left after just one season.

That leaves the Bulldogs with 60 players on scholarship. Because of sanctions handed down by the NCAA for violations committed under Sherrill, State can have just 81 players on scholarship this fall, four under the maximum.


EXTRA POINTS: The first recruiting class of Illinois coach Ron Zook was ranked No. 4 by It included a former Florida signee who went to a prep school – receiver Derrick McPhearson. …  Ed Zaunbrecher, former Florida offensive coordinator, has joined Zook at Illinois as quarterbacks coach. Zaunbrecher, former offensive coordinator at LSU, was demoted by Zook in 2004 and will work under Illini offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who was running backs coach and offensive coordinator at Florida. … Alabama's Kennedy Winston and Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts are the only two SEC players who made the Naismith top 30 players at midseason. The ACC had eight. … South Carolina's ninth-year baseball coach, Ray Tanner, was the first candidate to talk to president Andrew Sorensen about the school's A.D. job. Tanner has guided the Gamecocks to three straight College World Series and he's won more games than any college coach over the past five seasons. … Ole Miss coach Ed Oregeron will make his debut on ESPN with a Labor Day game (Sept. 5) against Memphis.




Jimmy Hyams is a featured columnist in Tiger rag and the program director for WNOX in Knoxville, Tenn. Hyams, one of the most respected sports personalities in the SEC, can be reached by e-mail at

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