The SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 3rd, 2015

For the next three 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 IX, including games from February 24 to March 1.

Team of the Week: With all due respect to undefeated Kentucky (which won its highest-profile SEC game by beating Arkansas), this week’s award goes to LSU. The Tigers avoided a black mark by picking up a road win at Auburn, and then added a top 50 RPI win by knocking off Ole Miss at home. The win over the Rebels also gave LSU the tie-breaker for conference tournament seeding purposes if the two teams are still knotted at the end of the week. The question for the Tigers, at least in terms of how high their ceiling is, was always going to be how well the roster developed around big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Depth hasn’t arrived and Josh Gray has struggled his way into Johnny Jones’ doghouse, as he hasn’t logged more than 21 minutes over the last five games. But Jones seems to have found a five-man lineup that he likes and is having success with. Tim Quarterman recorded only the seventh triple double in program history, and first since Shaq did the trick in 1992, against Ole Miss. This was an indicative of the all-purpose role he’s played all year. Jalyn Patterson has also stuffed the stat sheet all season (nine points, five assists, four rebounds against the Rebels) and has clearly improved throughout the year and earned Jones’ trust as a freshman. Along with Keith Hornsby, the Tigers have three solid parts to plug alongside their two stars and a team that is athletic, defends well and is deadly in transition. The concern is that Jones has still played fast (seventh highest adjusted temp according to KenPom) despite the thin rotation, and this could catch up to LSU, especially in a back-to-back game tournament setting. But the Tigers know what they are, and there’s something to be said for that at this time of year. Honorable mention goes to Missouri, which snapped its 13 game losing streak against Florida midweek. And let’s also say something for Vanderbilt, which picked up solid wins over Alabama and Tennessee and sits at a respectable 7-9 in SEC play.

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (

Player of the Week. At this point in the season it doesn’t hurt to spread the love as much possible, so let’s split the award among three freshmen: Trey Lyles, Wade Baldwin IV and Namon Wright. Lyles had his finest week as a college player, at least in terms of scoring, with a career-high 18 points in back-to-back games. Often times this season defenses have been content with the Wildcat offense settling on two-point jump shots from Lyles, so it was encouraging that he scored those 36 points on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting. Baldwin has quietly had a strong freshman season, and this week put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and just four turnovers while leading Vanderbilt to two wins. He’s a big, aggressive lead guard that should be fun to watch over the next few seasons, especially alongside Riley LaChance and the other young Commodores. Wright carried Missouri for much of its streak-busting win against Florida, dropping in a career-high 28 points and going six-for-eight from three. Besides a season-opening hot stretch from Teki Gill-Caesar, none of the Mizzou freshmen have shown the type of offensive explosion Wright did in that win over the Gators. Not to get greedy, but Quarterman deserves some more ink for his triple-double too.

Tournament Chatter. The SEC holds steady with six bids in both Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi’s latest projections. The only team on seriously thin ice in either bracket is Texas A&M in Palm’s, as he has the Aggies slotted in a play-in game. At this point, six bids seems more likely than four, and having at least five SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament seems like a safe bet. This would be a huge win for league.

  • Kentucky (29-0, 16-0; beat Mississippi State, beat Arkansas) breezed by its test against Arkansas and enters the home stretch in its bid for perfection. It’s not the same as playing the Anderson pressure in Bud Walton Arena, but Tyler Ulis didn’t turn the ball over in 22 minutes and Andrew Harrison only turned it over twice in 27 minutes against the Razorbacks. That type of ball security will be pivotal in the coming month. A stiff test against Georgia and a home game against Florida are all that stands between the Wildcats and a clean regular season. At this point, a loss shouldn’t threaten the Wildcats hold on the overall number one seed even if Virginia runs the table.
  • Arkansas (23-6, 12-4; beat Texas A&M, lost to Kentucky) nearly coughed up a gigantic lead at home against Texas A&M, but was able to hold on and avoid an embarrassing loss. The Razorbacks should be in line for a four or five seed if they can sweep South Carolina and LSU this week.
  • Texas A&M (20-8, 11-5; lost to Arkansas, beat Auburn) would’ve gone a long way towards locking up a bid if it had finished its furious comeback against Arkansas. At the very least, they saved face by beating a short-handed Auburn team that was playing without Antoine Mason, who may be done for the year after the tragic death of his father. The Aggies need to beat Alabama at home this week to feel good heading in the SEC tournament. A clean week would lock up at least a third place for the Aggies, and would be a great accomplishment for Billy Kennedy.
  • LSU (21-8, 10-6; beat Auburn, beat Ole Miss) has taken care of business since a loss to Auburn on February 5. The Tigers have beaten the teams they should (Tennessee, Auburn, Florida), lost forgivable games (at Texas A&M, Kentucky) and picked up a solid win (Ole Miss). If that trend continues at home against Tennessee, LSU should feel good about where it stands entering the league tournament, regardless what happens against Arkansas.
  • Georgia (19-9, 10-6; beat Ole Miss, beat Missouri) has bounced back nicely from its rough patch with three straight wins. J.J. Frazier (10 points, five assists against Missouri) had his best game since suffering a concussion in mid-February. He looked aggressive on offense, and it would be a huge boost for the Bulldogs if he got back to scoring like he did in January. The nice thing for Georgia is that the Kentucky game is essentially house money. But falling again to Auburn would be a costly sub-100 RPI loss, of which the Bulldogs already have two.
  • Ole Miss (19-10, 10-6; lost to Georgia, lost to LSU) had a rough week (see below) and currently sits at a less-than-ideal #48 in the RPI. Despite this, both Palm and Lunardi still see the Rebels as solidly in the field as a nine seed. This is a good sign for a team whose only real national exposure was that near-win in Rupp Arena way back in the conference opener. The Rebels have a manageable yet far-from-a-cakewalk final two games against a pair of 7-9 teams in Alabama and Vanderbilt. They would be wise not to test the Selection Committee’s opinion of the strength of the SEC.

Had a Rough Week. Ole Miss’ first losing streak of the season came at an inopportune time. The good news is that if you are going to have an empty week, falling to Georgia and LSU shouldn’t kill you. Still, it was a week of missed opportunities since winning either game would’ve given the Rebels just their fourth top 50 victory. By dropping them both, however, Ole Miss sits at just 3-7 against the RPI Top 50. The Rebels also lost the tiebreaker by being swept by both teams, which could be crucial as all three currently sit at 10-6. Again, this isn’t the roughest of weeks, but the Rebels need to bounce back to feel completely safe. An odd footnote to this successful Ole Miss season has been the plight of Aaron Jones. The senior has been buried on Andy Kennedy’s bench and did not play a single minute in the seven games leading up to this week, but got in briefly for four minutes against Georgia and six minutes against LSU. It’s likely the lack of playing time has something to do with his early season suspension, but nonetheless it’s a steep drop for a guy that averaged nearly 30 minutes per game last season and was one of the SEC’s best shot blockers.

Andy Kennedy's Rebels picked a bad time for their first losing streak of the season.

Andy Kennedy’s Rebels picked a bad time for their first losing streak of the season.

Looking Ahead. This week’s picks go to Kentucky at Georgia (March 3, 9:00 ET, ESPN), LSU at Arkansas (March 7, 2:00 ET, ESPN) and Florida at Kentucky (March 7, 2:00 ET, CBS). The Wildcats walk right into another marquee game with what might be their most challenging SEC road test of the year. Georgia gave them a good fight in Rupp Arena without Marcus Thornton, and the Bulldogs can remove any Selection Sunday suspense with a win. Arkansas has a tricky road game at South Carolina, but after that gets an LSU team with a rare opportunity at a statement win. Both the Razorbacks (seeding) and Tigers (an invite, period) will have a lot on the line, and Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and Bobby Portis will be putting the finishing touches on their cases for SEC POY. And finally, if Kentucky gets out of Stegeman unscathed, the undefeated regular season will be on the line against Florida. The Gators gave the Wildcats a scare in Gainesville, and they will have plenty of pressure working against them. Can they finish the job, or could we have a repeat of the 2004-05 Illinois team that lost its bid for perfection in its final conference game against Ohio State?

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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