SCOTT: Rating the winners and losers

While LSU's Tyrus Thomas is likely to be the first SEC player to be selected in the 2006 NBA Draft, LSU won't be the SEC's biggest loser in the draft.

That status would more likely go to South Carolina or Arkansas if their most prominent players decide to pursue their desire to turn pro.

 

Thomas is regarded as a possible No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, which makes his departure a huge loss for the Tigers. Still, this is a team that returns Glen Davis and eight other players who should see significant playing time next season.

 

In addition to Davis and senior forward Darnell Lazare, sophomore forwards Tasmin Mitchell and Magnum Rolle, freshman guards Garrett Temple and Ben Voogd, the Tigers welcome back senior guard Tack Minor, who missed most of the 2005-06 season with a suspension and a knee injury. LSU coach John Brady is particularly excited about the future of Rolle, who is expected to take on a much larger role in 2006-07.

 

LSU also welcomes junior wing Dameon Mason, who was a budding star at Marquette, and Terry Martin, a 6-6 guard who will eligible at the end of the first semester after transferring from Texas Tech.

 

Add it all up, and the Tigers appear loaded for an SEC championship and another run deep into postseason.

 

The same cannot be said of Arkansas if it loses Ronnie Brewer or South Carolina if it loses Renaldo Balkman.

 

Balkman, a 6-8 forward who earned MVP honors in the NIT after leading South Carolina to its second consecutive NIT title, has decided to test the draft waters. The NBA Underclassman Advisory Committee told Balkman he could be drafted as high as the middle of the second round, so Balkman said he will not sign an agent. That would allow him to return to South Carolina without losing any eligibility.

 

While South Carolina coach Dave Odom said he supports Balkman, he can't be eager about losing what would easily be considered his best player, especially if that player is not drafted until late in the second round – or not at all.

 

The feeling would be the same at Arkansas, where Brewer, a 6-7 junior guard, has declared his intentions to enter the draft under the same circumstances as Balkman.

 

Brewer said he will not sign with an agent, but he is considered a possible first-round pick and may find it difficult not to take the plunge and turn pro. Considering the way Brewer led Arkansas to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001 and the returning personnel on the Razorbacks' roster, losing Brewer would be a huge blow for coach Stan Heath.

 

Meanwhile, the SEC's biggest winner is Florida, with the talented trio of sophomores Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer all deciding to make good on their intention to return to Florida for their junior season.

 

That had to be particularly difficult for Noah, who was projected as a possible No. 1 pick by many draft analysts, and Brewer, whose family has financial concerns to address. Glenda Brewer, Brewer's mother, had to deny a media report last week that claimed Brewer was seriously considering entering the draft without an agent. Brewer is projected by many draft analysts as a mid-to-late first round pick.

 

With the deadline passing on Saturday, this means all five starters will return from a team that won its first national title in school history.

 

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It's hard to find many true surprises in a baseball conference where as many as 10 teams have been ranked this season and parity is rampant. LSU and Florida fans may be stunned, with good reason, by the surprising struggles of their teams, but no one should be more pleasantly surprised than Ole Miss fans.

 

The Rebels lost a long list of key players from a team that finished 48-20 and advanced to the NCAA Super Regional, losing to eventual national champion Texas, and opened the season with a 13-11 record and five losses in their first six SEC games against Vanderbilt and Alabama.

 

Instead of settling for a rebuilding year Ole Miss then went to Georgia the next week and swept the series. The Rebels followed by winning two of three at home against Auburn, beat Mississippi State 1-0 in a midweek game on April 11th and lost the first two games at South Carolina before winning the Sunday game.

 

The Rebels added to their hot streak by sweeping LSU at home and then swept Tennessee this past weekend. In the Friday game, the Rebels pounded the Vols 13-5 with 17 hits. On Saturday, they outbombed the Vols 21-13 with 21 hits.

 

"It was one of those days," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "I don't really know what to say. It is not often that the losing team scores 13 runs. We really hit the ball throughout the line up. It was not just one guy producing for us. They only scored in one inning where we didn't answer them and that helped keep us in the game and extend the lead. We haven't been hitting home runs, but we are getting the timely hit and are knocking in our runners in scoring position."

 

The Rebels suddenly find themselves at <<<<<EITHER 30-15, 13-8 in the SEC OR 29-16, 12-9 IN THE SEC>>>> and ranked as high as 22nd nationally entering this weekend's series at Kentucky. Ole Miss still has a lot of work to do to secure a spot in the SEC Tournament, May 24-28 in Hoover, Ala., but their momentum and confidence are definitely surging at the right time.

 

"We kind of got on a roll," shortstop Zack Cozart said. "From then on, we just had that much confidence that nobody could really beat us. I think you're going to see the same thing. We've got the highest confidence that you could have right now."

           

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The first day of the 2006 NFL Draft produced some definite winners and losers among the SEC programs.

 

The biggest winners:

 

The biggest winner of all had to be Vanderbilt and quarterback Jay Cutler. The Commodores had only one player chosen on the first day, but that's a big deal for Vanderbilt. Even better, the Denver Broncos traded up to pick Cutler with the 11th selection of the first round. In the process, Cutler became the first SEC player taken in the 2006 draft.

 

DB Jason Allen, Tennessee – He missed most of the 2005 season with a dislocated hip, but the Miami Dolphins, with coach Nick Saban swearing the club had done completed all due diligence concerning Allen's medical status, selected Allen in the first round with the 16th pick overall. Most NFL draft analysts considered his selection a huge reach at No. 16, but Allen won't complain on payday or gameday.

 

RB Joseph Addai – The Indianapolis Colts lost starting running back Edgerrin James to free agency and picked Addai at No. 30 in the first round. This is an excellent opportunity for Addai to make an immediate impact on a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

 

CB Jonathan Joseph – Joseph became South Carolina's third first-round pick in the past three years, going to a team on the rise in the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

FS Roman Harper – NFL draftnicks didn't think as much of Harper as NFL teams did, but NFL teams obviously saw the same intangible qualities that made Harper such an important player at Alabama. That's why the New Orleans Saints made him the 11th pick of the second round.

 

OT Marcus McNeill – McNeil has first-round size and talent but he also has a back problem that scared teams away, dropping him out of the first round and into the second. Still, going to the San Diego Chargers with the 18th pick of the second round isn't such a bad thing considering the team some teams handled him in recent months. If he stays healthy, McNeill could be the biggest steal of the draft.

 

OT Andrew Whitworth – He went about where he should have expected to go, or maybe even a little higher, as the 23rd pick of the second round. Even better, the Cincinnati Bengals are going places.

 

TE Leonard Pope – He probably fell further than he thought he would, as the eighth pick of the third round, but the Arizona Cardinals appear to be putting together some dangerous offensive weapons and Pope could find himself at the right place and the right time.

 

RB Jerious Norwood – As the 15th pick of the third round by the Atlanta Falcons, Norwood will soon find himself in the playing rotation splitting time with Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett.

 

WR Chad Jackson – After renting out a hotel conference center for a draft party, Jackson slipped a lot further than he had planned as the fourth selection in the second round. However, he's going to the New England Patriots, a Super Bowl contender in need of receiving help.

 

The biggest losers:

 

DB KO Simpson – Simpson decided to pass up his senior season at South Carolina and entered the draft, only to be passed over on the first day. Agents told him he could go as high as the late first round but the NFL people told him he would be a third-rounder at best. Guess he listened to the wrong people.

 

DT Claude Wroten – Wroten has first-round NFL talent to go with a late-round CFL head. Between a drug-related arrest, a failed drug test at the NFL Combine and his own conflicting interviews during meetings with NFL team, Wroten should feel fortunate to be selected in the third round by anybody, let alone the St. Louis Rams.

 

LB DeMeco Ryans – Character and intelligence should matter more than it does in the NFL, but this is more proof that that GMs, coaches and scouts are all talking about the side of their mouths when they ramble on about the qualities that will make Ryans a worthy NFL player for a long time. As if slipping into the second round wasn't bad enough, Ryans went to the Houston Texans. He deserved better.

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham based sports writer, author and a featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at RScottfree@aol.com.


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