Poor start has SEC staggering into league play

Poor start has SEC staggering into league play

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Southeastern Conference figured to take a step backward this season after being home of the national champions and having the most NBA draft picks of any league last year.

Still, few expected the SEC to get knocked around like it has during its nonconference schedule.

``I do think there are some teams going through some transitions just like we are,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ``That's probably made for a little lesser performance in nonconference play.''

That has translated into mounting losses.

SEC teams have gone 3-6 against the Atlantic Coast Conference, 2-5 against the Big 12, 2-4 against the Big Ten, 4-13 against the Big East and 4-5 against the Pac-12. SEC teams also are just 3-11 against the Top 25. Missouri's 82-73 victory over No. 10 Illinois on Dec. 22 is the SEC's lone win over a top-10 team in eight attempts.

The SEC's nonconference performance could mean that going slightly above .500 in conference play may not be enough to reach the NCAA tournament.

Alabama visits No. 10 Missouri on Tuesday in the season's first conference game.

SEC coaches say it's too early to panic - or to write the conference off.

Florida's Billy Donovan believes it's unfair to base a league's reputation solely on its November or December performance.

``I never really agreed with that,'' Donovan said. ``I think teams get better. I think the one thing that's happened in our league is a lot of teams in our league have lost a lot of people. Kentucky's lost a lot. Vanderbilt's lost a lot. Mississippi State's got a new coach. South Carolina's got a new coach. There's been a lot of turnover in personnel of key guys.''

Florida guard Kenny Boynton is the lone first-team or second-team all-SEC performer from last season who has played at all this year. The only other 2011-12 all-conference player to return to school was Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon, who is redshirting this season because of an injured left knee.

Each of the top three picks in the 2012 draft came from SEC programs: Kentucky teammates Anthony Davis and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist and Florida guard Bradley Beal. The SEC had 12 players drafted overall. That figure moves up to 15 if you include Missouri teammates Kim English and Marcus Denmon and Texas A&M's Khris Middleton, who went to college while their schools still belonged to the Big 12.

All those departures have made an impact.

Only two SEC teams are ranked in the Top 25: Missouri and No. 11 Florida. Every school in the conference already has at least two losses. Vanderbilt (6-6), Auburn (6-7), Georgia (5-7) and Mississippi State (5-7) are all at .500 or below.

``If we're going to start judging teams on who we are in November or December... let's have the tournament Jan. 1,'' South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. ``But if the tournament's going to be in March and April, let the season play out and let coaches do their job.''

Donovan cited last year's Tennessee team as evidence of how a team can improve over the course of a season. After losing six of its first nine games last year in Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin's debut season, the Volunteers went 10-6 in conference play.

``You cannot argue that Tennessee in February and March was totally different than Tennessee in November and December,'' Donovan said. ``I think that's what you're going to see inside of our league.''

Tennessee's 10-6 conference record still wasn't good enough to reach the NCAA tournament because of its subpar non-conference resume. SEC teams are crossing their fingers that the conference's poor early-season performance won't cause problems with the NCAA tournament selection committee this year.

``I think the SEC's a solid conference no matter what,'' Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. ``You've still got Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, teams like that. ... If you win those games, that should be enough to get you to the tournament.''

Maybe, but the league will likely have to overcome its unimpressive nonconference play. The SEC had three schools ranked among the nation's top 15 teams in the preseason: No. 3 Kentucky, No. 10 Florida and No. 15 Missouri.

Not only have SEC schools lost the majority of their games against other major-conference teams, they've struggled against teams from traditional one-bid leagues.

Auburn lost to Winthrop. Mississippi State fell to Alabama A&M. Texas A&M couldn't handle Southern. Youngstown State defeated Georgia. Mercer beat Alabama.

``If you want to say at this point in time, the SEC's maybe had some difficult, challenging, tough losses... I think that's a fair assessment,'' Donovan said. ``But to say the league is down or bad, I don't think that would be fair until we've seen the whole thing play out.''

Not even defending national champion Kentucky has been immune. Kentucky (9-4) already has doubled its loss total from last season as it attempts to replace six draft picks. The Wildcats have won five of six since losing consecutive games to Notre Dame and Baylor.

``We've lost some games, but those teams that we've lost to haven't lost many games,'' Kentucky coach John Calipari said. ``And we weren't ready - when you're playing four freshmen - to beat those kind of guys.''

Defending conference tournament champion Vanderbilt has made a steeper decline after losing first-round draft picks John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli plus second-round selection Jeffery Taylor. In its fourth game of the season, Vanderbilt lost 50-33 to Marist, a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference program with a 4-11 record.

Stallings is hopeful his young team will turn the corner. He also believes his conference will bounce back soon. Noting that Florida nearly gave the SEC two Final Four teams last season, Stallings attributed the conference's early-season struggles to college basketball's cyclical nature.

``Whether it's cyclical or transitional or whatever you want to call it, it won't last long,'' Stallings said. ``Trust me, it won't. Our league's too good for that. Historically, if we have a down year, we never stay down. That's just not the nature of our league.''


AP Sports Writers David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., and Gary Graves in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.

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Wizards vs. Pacers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Pacers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic and the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Season series on the line

The Wizards and Pacers square off for the third and final time this season on Saturday night and the game will represent the tiebreaker for the season series. The Wizards beat the Pacers in their first meeting on Feb. 5 and Indiana then got even on March 4. The first game did not feature Victor Oladipo. John Wall didn't play in either of them.

Whichever team wins on Saturday night will own the playoff tiebreaker, meaning that team will get the better seed in the even they finish with the same regular season record. Right now only one game separates the teams, so that could definitely come into play. With a win over the Pacers, the Wizards could also move into third place in the East. They would tie the Pacers by record and own the head-to-head series. The one variable there is the Cavs play the Bulls on Saturday. If they win and the Pacers lose, the Cavs will be in third.


Wizards have been struggling

The Wizards won their last game on the road against the Celtics, but have lost five of their last eight overall. They remain in good shape in the big picture, but could use some positive momentum. A win over the Pacers would certainly give them that with three off days awaiting on the other end before they head out to San Antonio to face the Spurs.

Defense has been the problem. During this eight-game stretch, they have allowed the second-most points in the paint per game (53.8), the ninth-most points per game (111.0) overall and the fourth-highest opponents shooting percentage (49.3). 


Pacers are tough

The Pacers may be missing two of their best big men on Saturday as Domantas Sabonis has been ruled out and Myles Turner is questionable. Both are nursing sprained left ankles. That bodes well for the Wizards' defense in the paint, but Indiana still has plenty of firepower.

Oladipo is having a terrific season with averages of 23.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. There's also Bojan Bogdanovic, a former Wizards player who is averaging 14.0 points and shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three this year. Bogdanovic has scored 20 points or more in each of his games against the Wizards this season. The Pacers as a team have won six of their last eight.


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No. 16 UMBC shocks No. 1 Virginia to make NCAA history

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No. 16 UMBC shocks No. 1 Virginia to make NCAA history

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Senior guard Jairus Lyles scored 28 points, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County pulled off the most shocking upset in NCAA Tournament history, defeating Virginia 75-54 on Friday night to become the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed.

Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after going 31-2 this season, including 20-1 in ACC competition.

But the Cavaliers couldn't get anything generated on offense and the nation's top-ranked defense couldn't contain American East Conference champions.

The 74 points were the most Virginia had allowed this year.

Lyles was the catalyst.

He diced up Virginia's defense in the second half, getting the hole easily on six different occasions and making easy layups. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as UMBC built a 16-point lead.

Lyles finished with 23 of his points in the second half and Joe Sherburne finished with 14 points.

The game was tied at halftime, but the Retrievers came out confident and motivated in the second half and built a double-digit lead that Virginia could never erase.

Sherburne scored on an and-one drive and then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key after a behind-the-back pass from KJ Maura. After Virginia made a foul shot, the shifty 5-foot-8, 140-pound Maura drove the lane for uncontested layup.

A Tony Bennett timeout couldn't stop the bleeding, as Lyles hit two more 3's and Sherburne hit one to extend UMBC's lead to 14 with 14:57 left in the game. Lyles was fouled on a 3-point shot and suddenly the Retrievers led by 16.

A corner 3-pointer and a layups off a fastbreak by Arkel Lamer gave UMBC its biggest lead at 67-48. From there, the party was on as chants of "UMBC" rang through the arena.

It was yet another early exit for the Cavaliers in a season that seemed to hold so much promise.


UMBC: Despite being undersized and unknown, they shocked the world and made history with an epic game.

Virginia: This isn't the first time Virginia has struggled as the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers trailed by five at halftime in 2014 to Coastal Carolina but went on to win 70-59.


UMBC: Will face No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday in the second round.