The SEC Week That Was: Volume VI

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 10th, 2015

For the next six 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 VI, including games from February 3 to February 8.

Team of the Week. This week provides several compelling candidates. Kentucky could win this award every time and this week was no exception as the Wildcats handled a quality Georgia team on Tuesday and survived a difficult environment in Gainesville afterward. Arkansas got healthy with two comfortable wins after seemingly scratching by for weeks. Even Vanderbilt tossed its name into the conversation by shaking off a seven-game losing streak and going 2-0. Despite all these worthy choices, Ole Miss gets this week’s nod after notching a big win against red-hot Texas A&M and then following it up with a road win at Auburn (which itself was coming off an impressive win at LSU). The Rebels last week showed that they can win games in different ways. They needed a solid defensive performance to get past the surging Aggies and were especially effective using ball pressure to frustrate Alex Caruso. But it was the Ole Miss offense that showed up against Auburn (57.8% FG, 40.0% 3FG) to negate a great scoring night from Bruce Pearl’s backcourt. The Rebels may not necessarily be peaking right now, but they seem to be rounding into form. Anthony Perez has emerged as a solid wing/post hybrid who can stretch the floor. Dwight Coleby has developed into a reliable rebounding and shot-blocking presence. Those two, along with Sebastian Saiz and MJ Rhett, give Andy Kennedy a solid frontcourt rotation to support his veteran backcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky's wins over Georgia and Florida (

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky’s wins over Georgia and Florida (

Player of the Week. You can only seek alternatives to Kentucky in this league to a certain point. Karl-Anthony Towns gets the nod after leading the Wildcats to two hard-fought victories over Georgia (KenPom #33) and Florida (#35) last week. The Bulldogs surprisingly outrebounded Kentucky in their game, but Towns stepped up to grab more than half (13) of the Wildcats’ 24 total rebounds. Against the Gators, Towns was only the Wildcat who was able to generate consistent offense at the game’s start, which quietly helped Kentucky stay within contact of the fired-up Gators. Towns’ great week (34 points, 21 rebounds, four blocks, six assists, 10-of-10 FT) is an encouraging sign for John Calipari. The freshman recently went through a four-game stretch where he didn’t score more than seven points or grab more than four rebounds in any single game. Whether it was due to foul trouble, growing pains or some combination of both, it bodes well for the Wildcats that he has now strung together a few great outings. See how Kentucky focused on getting him the ball in this week’s edition of Freeze Frame.  Antoine Mason also deserves mention here for cracking 20 points against LSU (24 points) and then following it up with 23 against Ole Miss.

Tournament Chatter. Last week’s eight-team pipe dream proved to be too much to handle, and it will be difficult for either of Tennessee or Florida to make a case for inclusion again. But we’ll always have last week. Still, Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology contains six SEC teams in the fold, which would double what the league received in the last two seasons. Everyone will certainly take that if it comes to pass.

  • Kentucky (23-0; beat Georgia, beat Florida) keeps marching toward perfection and the top overall seed. The Wildcats sealed the Florida game at the line by hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the last minute of action. On the season Kentucky is shooting 70.0 percent from the stripe as a team (135th in the country), which is two percentage points higher than what John Calipari’s group shot last year. Further improvement from the stripe would be a pleasant boost as March gets closer.
  • Arkansas (18-5; beat South Carolina, beat Mississippi State) did what it does: Bobby Portis scored a lot of points; the Hogs forced 44 turnovers; and they swept two games in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks have bounced back from consecutive SEC losses to win five of six games and are back in the national polls. Three of their next four contests are on the road, so the good times may not last long unless Arkansas flips its tired old script.
  • Texas A&M (16-6; lost to Ole Miss, beat Missouri) saw its winning streak end in Oxford but came back over the weekend to handle a sinking Missouri team on the road. The Aggies have crept up to the #10-seed line in Lunardi’s latest bracket, putting this team firmly into the picture. Billy Kennedy’s team now has three straight home games against quality teams (Georgia, Florida, LSU) and a sweep would really bolster their profile. Of note from last week was Peyton Allen’s 2-of-3 performance from deep against Missouri. It was only the third time this season that the freshman has hit multiple threes in an SEC game. Texas A&M has lacked an effective three-point threat outside of Danuel House, so Allen finding his stroke will be important down the stretch.
  • Ole Miss (16-7; beat Texas A&M, beat Auburn) has climbed up to #10 seed in Lunardi’s latest projection as well. This comes after the Rebels appeared barely on the fringes just a few short weeks ago. Their RPI currently sits at #36 and two of their most difficult games left (Georgia, Arkansas) are at home.
  • LSU (16-7; lost to Mississippi State, beat Alabama) has now dropped games to Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State — a frustrating dose of inconsistency. Josh Gray bore the brunt of the fallout from the Auburn loss, seeing just 11 minutes against Alabama while being replaced in the starting lineup by Tim Quarterman. The Tigers’ NCAA Tournament position is becoming more tenuous with a big game looming tonight against Kentucky.
  • Georgia (15-7; lost to Kentucky, beat Tennessee) had a “hold steady” week that featured a hard-fought loss in Lexington. Mark Fox got his 100th win as Georgia’s head coach against the Vols, but more importantly for him, Marcus Thornton was back on the court. For the Bulldogs to reach their peak, Charles Mann will need to play better, and he said as much last week. His turnover percentage is five percentage points higher than last year, skyrocketing to 30.4 percent in SEC play.
Josh Richardson's 30 points weren't enough to keep the Vols from falling to Mississippi State.

Josh Richardson’s 30 points weren’t enough to keep the Vols from falling to Mississippi State.

Had a Rough Week. Close losses are losses nonetheless and Tennessee’s 0-2 week has bumped it from the NCAA Tournament discussion for now. Let’s not be harsh, though: The fact that the Vols were a legitimately in contention for a bid at all this season is a testament to the coaching of Donnie Tyndall and the play of Josh Richardson. The Vols’ loss to Georgia was certainly understandable, but the midweek defeat at home to Mississippi State is what really hurt. The Vols caught the Bulldogs at a bad time, as they are playing much better now than they were just a few weeks ago, but Tennessee simply cannot afford to drop winnable games at Thompson-Boling Arena. A blistering shooting game from Craig Sword (7-of-8 FG; 4-of-5 3FG) and Fred Thomas (5-of-7 FG; 4-of-5 3FG) was too much for the Vols, even with Richardson carrying the offense by scoring 30 points. Games like this happen from time to time, and I’m hesitant to pile on a team that has overachieved all year long, but the empty week probably knocks Tennessee out of the picture.

Looking Ahead. The picks this week go to Kentucky at LSU (February 10, 7:00 ET), Georgia at Texas A&M (February 11, 7:00 ET) and Arkansas at Ole Miss (February 14, 9:00 ET). If you like NBA-level big men, you’ll want to watch the Big Blue head south to Baton Rouge tonight. There will likely be seven frontcourt players who will see time at the next level, an absurd proposition. A Tigers’ win here would be shocking, but LSU certainly has the talent to hang with the Wildcats in this game. Georgia has a solid overall resume but no truly marquee win. Its game with Texas A&M isn’t a resume-altering opportunity, but it would still represent the Bulldogs’ best win of the year. This is a compelling game because you can make the same case for Texas A&M. Ole Miss shot the cover off the ball in Fayetteville and the Rebels are 4-1 in conference play at the Tad Pad. That doesn’t bode well for Arkansas, but the Hogs have an opportunity here to pick up a noteworthy win in what should be a fast-paced game with plenty of scoring.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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