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Plainslinks runs in place to get ahead

Nashville's Sommet Center, Jeff Lebo's salvation ... or doom. One or the other.

Tourney talk. Fields of Donahue takes a useful look at the upcoming men’s SEC Tournament and the road Auburn might have to travel. And as it turns out, less might be more in terms of Auburn’s place in the league standings:

Auburn might be better off finishing #5 in the West as opposed to #4. Right now, Alabama and Auburn sit at identical 4-8 SEC records. If Auburn finishes #4, they open with the East’s #5 (likely South Carolina) but then must turn around and play East #1 Kentucky the next day. If Auburn finishes #5, they will have a slightly tougher first game against the East’s #4 team (likely Florida), but would then draw the West #1, Mississippi State or Arkansas, in round two.

The Tigers can’t tank just yet–there’s still an outside shot at the No. 3 slot, which would even better (East 6 followed by East 2). And, yeah, they can’t really tank at all with even one loss potentially playing a huge role in the chase for an NIT bid. But if Alabama wants to go on a winning streak and relegate Auburn to the West fifth seed? I’m not going to complain.

Of course, everything may change after the Tigers take the court tonight against Ole Miss, the team that currently holds that No. 3 slot. A win in Oxford might make Auburn’s shift up to that position actually feasible. Too bad the Rebels’ decisive win in Auburn–along with their likely desperation after dropping five of six and slipping out of even the kindest bracket projections–makes its seem kind of unlikely. We’ll see.

Notes from the beat. It didn’t make any of the other write-ups that I saw, so it was interesting to read this revealing quote from Chizik in Luke Brietzke’s complete transcript of his recent presser:

(Chizik has signed a lot of former high-school quarterbacks. Is that something he tries to do?)
I do. I like quarterbacks. I like guys that are very athletic that bring a knowledge of the game right now. That’s whether he’s on offense or defense. Sometimes they have a different way of seeing the game simply because of what they were doing in high school. That could be for a defensive back, a wideout, can be a tailback. I’ve recruited them as corners, safeties and linebackers as well. I think, again, when they’ve done that in high school they have a great feel for the game for maybe a different perspective than other guys have had.

I’d kind of assumed that the position coaches were the guys responsible for bringing in their respective QB-to-Other projects, but apparently this is a directive straight from the Chiznick. When you consider how many players we’re talking about here–Donate Aycock, Travante Stallworth, Emory Blake, Trovon Reed, Ryan White, Ryan Smith, maybe someone else I’ve forgotten–Auburn’s got a lot invested in this strategy. Here’s hoping it comes up aces.

Brietzke’s also continuing his countdown of 10 “under the radar” players for spring with Craig Sanders, Rollison and Moseley, and Phillip Lutzenkirchen. Lutz’s write-up is particularly worth a read; did anyone else know Taylor was taking potshots at Lutz’s fitness?

Elsewhere, Eric Smith has filed a predictable countersuit in the case that won’t go away, and Jay Tate looks at the uphill climb for Kodi Burns this season.

BlAUgosphere. Check out the find from Jay at Track’Em:

Despite Jay’s ambivalence and the admittedly iffy-looking results from the above experiment, I remain pro-orange jerseys … provided that first they have some blue on the sleeves, and second, that rather than using them as a motivational gimmick for a big game they’re used as a fun change-of-pace vs. the Furmans or Ball States of the world.

Elsewhere, PPL previews weekend baseball opponents Boston College and Missouri.

WBE Book Club. Like a lot of guys I know, myself included, Will Heath received Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball for Christmas, and his (positive) review is worth a read:

I discovered Simmons’ writing while I was in college (when he first began appearing regularly on espn.com’s Page 2) and have read everything he’s written ever since. Frankly, Simmons represented everything I ever wanted to be as a writer: he didn’t care about showing his biases, wrote with no attention whatsoever to length and always (ALWAYS) wrote what he wanted to write about. I even find his constant squabbling with his employer endearing; there’s something almost noble about the back-and-forth between ESPN and its most popular writer. I even plopped down $10 for “Now I Can Die in Peace,” even though I despise the Red Sox.

Still, anyone who reads him regularly knows that his destiny as a writer was this book. An unabashed NBA fan since his childhood, Simmons is one of the few writers who can make you care about things you didn’t before you started reading him. At least that’s the way it’s been for me: I’ve always liked basketball but lacked the energy for the pros … until I started reading Simmons regularly. Quite simply, through the power of his writing he made me interested in the NBA. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But that’s the truth.

I couldn’t bring myself to buy his first book–Simmons’ Sox columns rank only behind his beyond-obnoxious Vegas columns in terms of his work I’d rather avoid–but I’m also a fairly devoted Simmons fan who found his understanding of the NBA so enriched by his work that he wound up paying attention to a league he’d abandoned when the Hawks traded away Dominique Wilkins. I agree that this was the book Simmons was born to write, and I’m not going to pretend I didn’t devour all 700-some-odd pages in a matter of days. Simmons has always been immensely, even joyously readable at his best, and The Book of Basketball is no exception.

But I disagree that with Will that we can’t gripe about the endless pop culture references and frat humor. Like I (we) said, this book was his magnum opus, his one real chance to write something that transcended the “Bill Simmons” brand and became something that wasn’t just a blast to read but that said something, something important about the league and sport he loves. In the chapters about growing up a Boston fan and the son of a Boston fan during the Bird days, he starts to get there, but it dissolves in page after page featuring shout-outs to porn stars and ’80s comedies. Sorry, but I don’t imagine the definitive book on NBA history filtering Tim Duncan’s astounding career through the lens of Harrison Ford.

So I liked it. I’d recommend anyone with a passing interest in the NBA or a love of Simmons’ work to give it a read. But it disappointed me. Simmons takes plenty of jabs at players who could do one or two things well but never took themselves to that extra level that might yield a championship; I feel like his book was him becoming the exact same kind-of shoulda-been as a writer.

Etc. The bookies join the punditry in setting up the Tide as next season’s national title favorite; I’m delighted, as you’d expect … Ben Tate talks to the AUfficial site about preparing for the draft, though aside from his happiness with Gene Chizik and his senior year he doesn’t say anything terribly revealing, unfortunately … Daren Bates’ linebacker cousin might come to Auburn if he can snag an offer.

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