The SEC Week That Was: Volume V

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 3rd, 2015

For the next seven weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume V, including games from January 26 to February 2.

Team of the Week. I want to preface this by saying that Kentucky could – and probably should – be the team of the week every week. You don’t get to 21-0 without that being the case. But the Wildcats get plenty of praise from all corners of the web, so why not challenge ourselves with this week’s selection? The nod goes to Florida, the same team that Billy Donovan declared as being dead in terms of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week ago. The Gators’ long-term resurrection is still something of a pipe dream, but if the miracle occurs, last week is where it all will have started. Florida enjoyed a perfect week in knocking off solid opponents Alabama (KenPom #44) and Arkansas (#43) in ugly fashion. These were probably the Gators’ two best wins of the season, which with an overall record of 12-9 overall underscores how much work they still have to do. From a bid perspective, Florida is 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and 4-3 against the next 50; contrast this with fellow bubble team Kansas State  — which is 12-10 overall but 4-6 against the RPI top 50 — and you can see that Florida’s resume may not have the requisite depth to compete for a bid. Despite the pair of victories, last week highlighted some of the Gators’ inconsistencies that have plagued them all year long. After a 27-point outburst against Ole Miss, Michael Frazier scored just 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Similarly, Chris Walker followed up one of the best games of his career against the Tide (12 points and four rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting) with a dud against the Hogs (one point, two rebounds). Still, Florida is trending in the right direction as it approaches the ultimate chance for a quality win: Saturday in Gainesville against Kentucky.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in assists and third in steals (

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in assists and third in steals (

Player of the Week. Danuel House was the SEC’s pick as Player of the Week, but we’ll give it to his slightly less-heralded junior teammate, Alex Caruso, as Texas A&M ran its winning streak to seven games with victories over Auburn and Vanderbilt. In both games Caruso was his usual stat-stuffing self, racking up averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. I firmly believe that the transitions of transfers House and Jalen Jones to their new team has gone so smoothly in large part because of Caruso’s play-making. He’s a bona fide SEC star who does not command the ball, and that is extremely valuable for a team looking to make the leap from also-ran to the NCAA Tournament. We may also be witnessing the rise of one of the great players in recent Texas A&M basketball history. Since 2009-10, no player in the conference has held as high of a career assist percentage (33.9%) or steal percentage (4.4%) as Caruso. LSU’s Jordan Mickey deserves mention in this space solely for his ridiculous 25-point, 20-rebound game in the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State.

Tournament Chatter. Shut the front door. Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology is bursting with SEC flavor, as he currently lists six (six!) league teams with an invitation: Kentucky (#1), Arkansas (#7), Georgia (#8), LSU (#10), Texas A&M (#11) and Ole Miss (#11). As an added bonus, Tennessee is among his First Four out with Florida among the Next Four out. All of these teams other than the Wildcats, Aggies and Rebels took a loss last week, showing that the conference may have a tiny bit of room for error.

  • Kentucky (21-0; beat Missouri, beat Alabama) continues cruising through the SEC. Karl-Anthony Towns’ offensive aggressiveness early against the Tide was an encouraging sign. This week brings two fresh challenges with the first of two match-ups against Georgia and Florida.
  • Texas A&M (15-5; beat Auburn, beat Vanderbilt) assumes sole possession of second place in the league on the strength of its seven-game winning streak. Things look good in College Station. The only concern? The Aggies don’t have many quality wins on their resume. They’re 1-3 against the RPI top 50 with their best wins coming at LSU and at Tennessee. They seem to finally be on the right side of the bubble now, but not by much.
  • Arkansas (16-5; beat Tennessee, lost to Florida) had just enough to get by Tennessee and almost hung on to beat Florida last week. The Hogs have played with more fire during the last few weeks, but they can’t afford to drop home games this week against South Carolina and Mississippi State.
  • LSU (16-5; beat South Carolina, lost to Mississippi State) has now lost to the two worst KenPom teams in the league in Missouri (#179) and Mississippi State (#177). It’s a not a good look for the Tigers, but road hiccups will happen. Still, the loss to the Bulldogs shows just how dangerously small the Tigers’ margin for error is. LSU lost a game it should have won with Mickey’s 20/20 outing because Jarell Martin (1-of-4) and Tim Quarterman (1-of-10) both struggled offensively. LSU shouldn’t test the Selection Committee much more.
  • Georgia (14-6; beat Vanderbilt, lost to South Carolina) was without Marcus Thornton (concussion) in the team’s loss to the Gamecocks, which should cut them some slack. They’ve done well to get solidly into the Tournament picture, but are facing a tough three-game stretch with battles to come against Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Going 1-2, especially if Thornton misses more time, could be pivotal.
  • Ole Miss (14-7; beat Mississippi State, beat Missouri) didn’t have great wins in its 2-0 week, but it has become one of the more reliable league teams with the rise of Stefan Moody. Anthony Perez has also suddenly become a solid contributor over the last three games. The Rebels seem on the cusp but they can’t afford too many more setbacks. Does that sound familiar?
  • Tennessee (13-7; lost to Arkansas, beat Auburn) has proven it is a solid team that can win the games it should, including an emotional victory over Auburn’s Bruce Pearl last week. The Vols have a manageable four-game stretch (Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU) leading into its game against Kentucky that may reveal whether they’ll be in the NCAA Tournament picture for the long haul.
  • Florida (12-9; beat Alabama, beat Arkansas) gets back into the mix, but make no mistake, the Gators need a magical month with at least one win against Kentucky to really make a case for themselves. Notable: Florida somehow beat Arkansas despite shooting 34.6 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from three.

Had a Rough Week. You can’t punish a team for going to Rupp Arena and losing by 15 points, especially without one of its best players. Nonetheless, Alabama gets the nod as this week’s dog. After a 2-0 start to league play (which extended a winning streak to six games), the Tide have gone 1-5 since, with their lone win a nail-biter over Auburn. The three non-Kentucky losses have all been by two points or less, with the most recent being last Tuesday’s 52-50 loss at home against Florida. The Tide fought to tie the game and even had the ball with less than a minute left before Dorian Finney-Smith went ballistic. This was very disappointing for the Tide, because with a win, Alabama would have: (1) beaten a reeling Gators team; (2) crept above .500; and (3) kept themselves in the NCAA Tournament picture. It wasn’t to be. The Tide’s schedule eases up considerably over the next few weeks (Missouri, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Auburn) so there is still a chance to salvage their conference record, but time is running out quickly. Anthony Grant could desperately use Ricky Tarrant back in action, as freshman Justin Coleman has had three tough outings following his 22-point outing against Arkansas.

Perhaps matching up against the talented Kentucky front line will get Chris Walker going (

Perhaps matching up against the talented Kentucky front line will get Chris Walker going (

Looking Ahead. Kentucky at Florida (February 7, 9:00 ET); Georgia at Kentucky (February 3, 7:00 ET); Texas A&M at Ole Miss (February 4, 7:00 ET). Two league teams get their first of two shots at Kentucky this week. Any time the Wildcats travel to the O-Dome it will be a can’t-miss game, but this one is especially important for Florida because their NCAA Tournament chances could be on the line. And although no one besides Finney-Smith is playing particularly well for Florida right now, the Gators do have adequate size to throw at Kentucky. Some of the luster will be removed from the Georgia game if Marcus Thornton can’t go, but the Bulldogs are still not a team to sleep lightly on. Finally, Ole Miss and Texas A&M present each other with an opportunity for a quality win. Expect a close game between two veteran, physical teams that are playing well.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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