SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part IIPosted by Christian D'Andrea on January 4th, 2014
Conference play is just around the corner in the SEC, and that means it’s time to judge the league’s 14 teams based on their early-season schedules. SEC teams loaded up on cupcakes and quality opponents alike, but the real test for these programs will start when the ouroboros of league play begins. The conference boasts plenty of teams with winning records, but not all victories are built to last – and the drop under .500 could be a precipitous one in a league of “haves” and “have-nots.”
Today, we’ll look at five more SEC teams that will be jockeying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament behind big performances this winter. You can find the first part of the non-conference review that was published on Friday here. We’ll have part three, with the final four teams in the league, ready to go in the coming days.
- Record: 10-3
- Best Win: A seven-point home win over #6 Louisville.
- Lowest Point: A 1-3 record against ranked teams. Kentucky’s only win over a ranked opponent came at home, while two of those losses came on neutral(-ish) courts.
At this point in the season, Kentucky has lost to more ranked teams than it’s beaten, but John Calipari’s young team appears to be rounding into shape with SEC play on the horizon. The Wildcats have 11 days to reflect on their season-defining win over #6 Louisville before jumping into conference play against rebuilding Mississippi State and Vanderbilt teams. That should give John Calipari plenty of time to build some momentum behind his young, talented roster.
- Record: 9-2
- Best Win: A two-point home overtime victory over 10-2 Butler.
- Lowest Point: Scratching out a two-point win over Texas Tech, a team that 5-7 Alabama put away by a dozen points. LSU has handled a modest schedule well by blowing out the teams they’re supposed to, but a mediocre TTU team gave them more problems than a legitimate NCAA Tournament team should have expected.
The Tigers are trending upwards thanks to the frontline duo of Johnny O’Bryant III and Jordan Mickey, but they’ll have to prove that they can beat quality opponents on the road before they become a hot bracketology pick. LSU is beating opponents by an average of 15.7 points per game, but they’ve lost both of the match-ups they’ve had against ranked programs. A quality win against Butler is the crown jewel of their resume – and that alone won’t be enough to earn an invitation to the Big Dance this spring.
- Record: 9-3
- Best Win: A five-point neutral-site victory over South Florida.
- Lowest Point: A non-conference schedule where the only major-conference opponents on the ledger were South Florida and TCU.
It’s tough to fault MSU’s weak non-conference slate after a disastrous 10-win season in 2012. Second-year coach Rick Ray is rebuilding a program that Rick Stansbury left bare, and the team has decided to slowly break in its young roster with a healthy portion of cupcake match-ups. Craig Sword and Gavin Ware look like they’re ready to make the jump from underrated freshmen to solid SEC sophomores, but it’s too soon to tell against a list of opponents that aspires to qualify for the CBI.
- Record: 11-1
- Best Win: A nine-point home win over #18 UCLA.
- Lowest Point: A 65-64 loss to 11-2 Illinois.
Mizzou’s rebuilding year has started off on the right foot. Though the Tigers can only really hang their hat on that home win over the Bruins, it’s been enough to vault them into the Top 25 as conference play looms. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has come on in a big way to propel this team back to the upper crust of NCAA basketball. His presence has helped this team get past the losses of players like Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers.
- Record: 9-3
- Best Win: A 10-point, neutral-site victory over 9-4 Georgia Tech.
- Lowest Point: Losing to a Mercer team that lost to Evansville by 13 points.
The Rebels have had a fairly nondescript non-conference schedule. They were routed by a very good Oregon team, beat Georgia Tech and Penn State, and then lost any early season momentum when they lost at home to Mercer before Christmas. Mississippi got back on track by beating Western Kentucky on the road, but the Rebs look weaker than their solid record indicates heading into league play.