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FBI Fiasco Could Help Coaches on Hot Seat

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

When it comes to on-the-floor results, Georgia's Mark Fox is on the hottest seat among the men's basketball coaches in the Southeastern Conference.

Yet Fox could be safe and secure given what is transpiring away from the game.

Fox is deep into his ninth season with the Bulldogs, having guided the program to a pair of one-and-done NCAA tournament trips and to a 16-12 overall record this winter and a 7-9 mark in SEC play. Georgia has not, however, been linked in any way to the ongoing federal investigation into the sport, and Fox emerged this past weekend as the league's sharpest critic to those running afoul of the rules.

"The way people have treated our game is just disgusting," Fox said after Saturday afternoon's 93-82 win over visiting LSU, "and it starts with the coaches."

Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are the SEC schools that, to this point, have been linked to the federal investigation, according to Yahoo Sports reports. Alabama and Kentucky announced this past weekend that touted freshmen Collin Sexton and Kevin Knox would be allowed to play after internal investigations by those two schools, and Yahoo reported Sunday that the NCAA has been looking into the recruiting practices of LSU first-year coach Will Wade for the last several months (LSU stated Monday that the NCAA is not actively investigating the program).

Wade coached at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

Tennessee's Rick Barnes said late last week that he was "not surprised" by the revelations being uncovered, but Fox heightened the rhetoric Saturday, mentioning not only coaches as the problem but the NCAA as well.

"The NCAA is made up of member institutions, so how are the institutions handling it?" Fox said. "That would be my first question. How are they handling it? Are they putting their head in the sand and looking the other way, or are they dealing with it?"

Should Georgia president Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity choose to fire Fox, they could run the risk of hiring a new coach who might have a tendency to challenge the guidelines. Georgia took a chance on Jim Harrick in 1999, but that led to NCAA sanctions in 2003 after it was discovered assistant Jim Harrick Jr. provided $300 in expenses to a player and gave "A" grades to three players who didn't have to attend a coaching principles course he taught.

McGarity repeatedly has stated that he is pleased with how Fox runs the program, but Fox lost a commitment Monday from 2019 five-star point guard Ashton Hagans of Covington, Ga. The Bulldogs are down to their final few games with seniors Yante Maten and Juwan Parker, and then it will be up to university brass to determine whether Fox will return to coach a program that is perceived higher from a moral standpoint than as an NCAA tournament threat.

"I'm past anger and sadness," Fox said. "It's just disgusting. We are really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody. The game educates kids and teaches so many lessons, and we have treated the game so poorly.

"I believe you can still do this job in the right way, and that's how we're going to do it."

Two in the hunt

Auburn (24-5, 12-4 SEC) and Tennessee (21-7, 11-5) head into the last two games of the regular season seeking to win the conference crown.

The Tigers play at Arkansas tonight and host South Carolina on Saturday, while the Volunteers play at Mississippi State tonight and close at home this weekend against Georgia. Should the two teams finish tied, Auburn would be the top seed in next week's SEC tournament due to its 94-84 win in Knoxville on Jan. 2.

Auburn hasn't won the SEC's overall regular-season title since 1999, and Tennessee's last overall crown was in 2008.

Heating up

The league's hottest team entering the final week of the regular season is Kentucky, which has consecutive double-digit victories over Alabama (81-71), Arkansas (87-72) and Missouri (87-66). The Wildcats entered Saturday's drubbing of Mizzou ranked 345th out of 351 Division I teams in made 3-pointers per game, but they connected on 10 of 16 long-range tries against the Tigers.

"This team is getting better," Kentucky coach John Calipari said in a news conference afterward. "What you're seeing is a team that can play fast and a team that can grind it out."

The Wildcats (20-9, 9-7) host Ole Miss on Wednesday night and close their regular season Saturday at Florida.

Will Porter play?

Touted Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. has started practicing and took some shots before Saturday's game in Rupp Arena, but he did not play. The 6-foot-10, 215-pounder has been out since undergoing back surgery in November.

"I don't have a timeline," Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin said Saturday when asked about Porter's potential return. "The most important thing is that he's healthy and able to play in games. He wants to play, and I think that's the good thing about it."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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February 27, 2018
 
 
 

 

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