Checking in on the… SECPosted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2009
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the ACC, SEC and Big West Conferences.
Meeks may very well inherit the conference with a Kentucky SEC Championship this season, but last night the Wildcats were shocked in a road loss to Ole Miss, whose 1-4 conference record was hardly intimidating. But the Rebels held the Wildcats to 38.5% shooting on the way to their first SEC loss. Kentucky still sits atop the SEC East standings with a half-game lead over Florida, and Ole Miss moves into third in the SEC West with a half-game lead over ‘Bama (trust me, we’ll get to them later).
Not to take away from the Rebels’ victory, but I’d like to take a moment to take away from the Rebels’ victory by bestowing further praise on Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks.
For most shooting guards, a 4-15 shooting night (3-10 from three) could be thrown away as a garbage game. But Meeks still managed to put up 21 points because he was able to get to the line and hit all ten of his charity shots. This is our sign that Meeks is the real deal and will be able to score at the next level – even when the defense focuses on him and his shot isn’t falling, the 6’4″ junior can put up enough points to keep his team competitive. Pat Patterson led the ‘Cats with 24 by going 8-12 and hitting 8-9 free throws, but Meeks put up a game that reassured anyone not sure if he was ready for the big time. More than his 54-point performance, showing that he’s able to get his even in the midst of a bad shooting night proves his ability.
So! Back to the Rebels. Congrats! Beating a red-hot Kentucky is impressive for an injury-riddled team that hovers around .500 overall and is just 5-7 in their last twelve games. Does it mean that they can overtake LSU and Mississippi State for the SEC West crown? Not necessarily, but it does mean that they have the potential to win the big games. Three players scored 20+ for Ole Miss, a balanced attack that they haven’t shown much of during the rest of the season.
This win was more likely a right-place, right-time situation for the Rebels. Why? Ole Miss shot 67.9% from the line – better FT shooting could have buried the ‘Cats, but instead let them hang around – and they only got five points off the bench. That’s a lot of reliance on their five starters, who thus far haven’t put together too impressive a resume. We’ll see what kind of game they’re able to put together against Mississippi State this Saturday – a win will not do much in way of the standings, but a loss will all but hand the West title to MSU or LSU. Then the Rebels get two (relatively) cake games against Auburn and Vandy before they face LSU. Hey, if Ole Miss goes 4-0 in those games then they’re obviously a team to keep on your radar. Keep one eye on them for now – the Kentucky win is enough to warrant that.
The East is far more competitive at this point, as three teams have just one loss and they’re all potent threats. Tennessee lost a thriller to Memphis last weekend and faces LSU in a must-watch game tonight, while Florida tails Kentucky by just a half-game and should breeze by Georgia tonight. Therefore, the loss meant much more to Kentucky than the win did to Ole Miss because so many teams are nipping at the ‘Cats heels for that #1 spot in the East (South Carolina is also in the mix, and draws Vandy and their 1-4 SEC record tonight).
If all three East teams win tonight, then we’ve got a tie for first (Kentucky & Florida), one team a half-game back (Tennessee) and one team a full game back (S. Carolina). That’s (hmm… carry the two) four teams within one game of each other for first place in the SEC East. I bet Kentucky wishes they really hadn’t dropped that one last night.
The battle of the underachievers takes place tomorrow night, as ‘Bama (2-3) faces Arkansas (0-4). We all know by now that Tide coach Mark Gottfried “resigned” over the weekend, and that it was probably not a voluntary resignation – but before we shed a tear for the man, take a look at the 2,175,000 condolences he’ll be receiving from the university. Not saying that he wouldn’t rather be earning it as a coach – just that, hey, that’s a lot of money to do nothing. Does anything in sports make less sense than a buyout? Play on, playa.
Is the move going to make a big difference for the Tide this season? Probably not, as they’ve already dug themselves a treacherous hole, and quite frankly don’t have the overall talent needed in a competitive conference. Also, their best player is often hurt. I suppose it could help them get a jump-start on recruiting next season, but I’ve never really been a fan of the mid-season fire.
The hits don’t stop coming as Saturday will be a huge day with six SEC games on the slate – including some dandies. First and foremost, Florida at Tennessee. If the SEC East scenario plays out like I predicted above, then this game will have huge implications. The winner will have a clear upper hand – and if Kentucky falls again, first place. Also don’t miss South Carolina at Kentucky, as we’ll see if the ‘Cats’ loss to Ole Miss was a fluke or a warning shot.
The SEC East’s top four teams facing off against each other Saturday = sorry Baby, we can visit your mother next week.