SEC Weekday Primer: Road Tests Await NCAA HopefulsPosted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014
The third week of SEC play is upon us after a Saturday in which the standings started to morph into what many thought they’d be. Florida (4-0) and Kentucky (3-1) survived close games to inch toward the top, while surprise front runner Texas A&M (3-1) lost an overtime affair in Starkville. The weekday slate has a couple games that could play a big role in the SEC’s desperate quest for non-Gator-and-Wildcat NCAA bids.
Don’t Miss This One, Part I: Arkansas @ Tennessee (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)
The Razorbacks are right back where they want to be after a loss in Athens: on the road. That’s sarcasm, of course, but Arkansas needs a win in the worst way, especially away from home. If they lose Wednesday they’ll fall to 1-4 in league play which is no place for a team with tournament hopes, regardless of how dazzling that one conference win was. But the Vols, however, aren’t the match up Mike Anderson is looking for. Tennessee has the third best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, and the Razorbacks have struggled to keep teams off the offensive glass this season. The Vols are also coming off a game in which they handedly beat Kentucky’s talented front court on the boards.Don’t Miss This One, Part II: Missouri @ LSU (Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET)
Anderson’s former team has also had its struggles on the road is looking for a win to boost its sagging resume. The Tigers are 2-9 in conference away from Mizzou Arena since joining the SEC. A win in Baton Rouge would be a big boost after losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt. LSU is also in need of a quality win and are coming off a dominant home win against the Commodores. The zone may be Johnny Jones’s best friend in this game. Andre Stringer (98.9 dRTG) and Anthony Hickey (94.8 dRTG) are solid to great defenders, but are also both under 6’0” and could be mismatched against Missouri’s big guards.
The College Basketball Junkie Game: Auburn @ Mississippi State (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)
You probably won’t dig through the WatchESPN app for this one, but you should. Auburn has had a tough luck start to conference play: games against Missouri and Ole Miss came down to the final shot, they were competitive in Knoxville, and hung with Florida until the end. But Tony Barbee has nothing to show for it and it’ll be interesting to see how the Tigers respond in Starkville. KT Harrell and Chris Denson are as dynamic an offensive duo as there is in the SEC, and can punish teams looking past Auburn. Meanwhile, Rick Ray has quietly had a great second season at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have already surpassed last year’s win total and own a win against rival Ole Miss. The match up to watch is how a thin Tigers front court deals with Gavin Ware, who has 40 points in his last two games. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum seems to be in perpetual foul trouble and Allen Payne would be out of position guarding a power post player like Ware.
Player To Keep An Eye On: Alex Caruso
The Texas A&M playmaker is leading the SEC in assists per game (5.2) and assist percentage (36.9%) and at 6’5” won’t be as bothered as most by the size of the Harrison twins. Caruso’s playmaking has been vital to an Aggies offense that has been stagnant all too often this season. The sophomore is also leading the SEC in defensive rating (87.5), and that metric will be put to the test whether he’s denying James Young the ball or marking the Harrison twins. Texas A&m won its first game as a SEC team in Rupp Arena, but Elston Turner isn’t coming to the rescue this year.