The SEC Week That Was: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2015

For the next two weeks, or however long it takes, 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 X, including games from March 2 to March 8.

Player of the Week. Kentucky has no shortage of star power, but Karl-Anthony Towns is the most complete player on the roster and gets the nod as the final regular season Player of the Week. The 19 points he scored against Georgia included two layups in the final minutes while the Wildcats were squashing the Bulldogs’ upset bid. Against Florida he controlled the paint as he has all season with six blocks. Towns has been an impact player on both ends of the court, but might be John Calipari’s most reliable offensive threat heading into postseason play. Andrew Harrison has shown a willingness to attack the paint lately, Devin Booker has the ability get hot and Aaron Harrison has a postseason track record, but it’s Towns that has shown an ability to constantly find high percentage looks. He’s been lethal finishing at the rim (74.7 percent), effective as a mid-range shooter (51.3 percent) and more than solid at the free throw line (79.0 percent). There are some compelling cases for SEC Freshman of the Year, including Riley LaChance and Booker, but Towns would get my vote because of the well-rounded role he’s played on the country’s top-ranked team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week. The spotlight is yours, Kentucky. The Wildcats finished off their perfect regular season in beating Georgia and Florida, and it wasn’t without some drama in Athens. The Bulldogs held a 62-56 lead and the ball with under five minutes to go, and as Jay Bilas pointed out at the time, Kentucky looked to be in real danger. But Willie Cauley-Stein forced turnover that began a transition opportunity that ended in an Aaron Harrison and-one. Cauley-Stein rebounded the miss off the free throw and dunked it to complete a major swing in momentum. Just like that, Kentucky didn’t look back and didn’t allow the Bulldogs many good looks the rest of the way. Towns starred offensively in both games, and his back-to-the-basket game is peaking at the right time. Pairing that with Andrew Harrison’s recent aggressive play should make for a lot of easy opportunities in both upcoming tournaments. History has been increasingly nipping at the Wildcats heels, but they don’t seem to be feeling any pressure. Just nine more wins separate Kentucky from joining the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers as the only teams to finish a season unbeaten.

Tournament Chatter. The other shoe finally dropped and the six-bid dream took a hit, with Joe Lunardi  and Jerry Palm both dinging Texas A&M in their latest projections. Palm has the Aggies as his last team in, while Lunardi left them out entirely. This is hard to argue with after they had an empty week at a crucial time. But don’t hang your head, SEC basketball fanatic. As we’ve been writing all season, five bids is a definite step on the journey towards league respectability.

  • Kentucky (31-0, 18-0; beat Georgia, beat Florida) is the cream of the college basketball crop, and should almost certainly be the top overall seed, even with a loss to Alabama or Florida. The Tide didn’t put up much of a fight in either game against the Wildcats this season, but continue to intrigue me (even if I should know better). Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, Jimmie Taylor and Michael Kessens all have the length to match up with Kentucky. Maybe the third time’s the charm? More than likely not, especially without Ricky Tarrant.
  • Arkansas (24-7, 13-5; beat South Carolina, lost to LSU) enters the SEC Tournament after dropping a winnable game at home against Jordan Mickey-less LSU. It wasn’t a good look for seeding purposes, but at this point that’s all that is on the line. The Razorbacks will make their first tournament appearance under Mike Anderson, and have a player in Bobby Portis that is capable of carrying them to a few wins. Anthlon Bell was instrumental in Arkansas’ come-from-behind win against South Carolina, and has been heating from three lately with four or more triples in three of his last four games. A role player like Bell emerging alongside Portis, Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden could be the Razorbacks’ ticket to the second weekend.
  • LSU (22-9, 11-7; lost to Tennessee, beat Arkansas) took the harrowing road to a negligible week. The Tigers last-second win Fayetteville was great for the resume, but was desperately needed to offset a home loss to Tennessee. Their win at West Virginia long ago could separate them from the SEC’s pack of 11-7 teams. Mickey will be back for the SEC Tournament, and one win should be enough for LSU (RPI #50) to feel comfortable come Sunday, especially if it comes against Texas A&M.
  • Georgia (20-10, 11-7; lost to Kentucky, beat Auburn) atoned for a home loss to Auburn by just barely beating the Tigers in the regular season finale on the Plains. The best part about the Bulldog’s double-bye is the extra rest it’ll give Kenny Gaines, who missed the Auburn game with a turned ankle. It’s a stretch to say the Bulldogs are safe, but are in decent shape at #40 in the RPI. This could force an interesting decision from Mark Fox if Gaines isn’t 100 percent come Friday. Georgia is at a big disadvantage without its most physical perimeter defender.
  • Texas A&M (20-10, 11-7; lost to Florida, lost to Alabama) has work to do after coming up empty last week. But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Aggies. They still don’t have a loss to a sub-100 RPI team, which is something Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia cannot say. But on the flip side, their two best RPI wins come against LSU, which is currently #50. There’s not a lot of meat on their resume, which means two wins in Nashville is probably a must. This would mean beating the Tigers a third time. The bad news? They’ll likely have to do this without Danuel  House, who Billy Kennedy said was as “stretch” to play in the Aggies’ opener after a foot injury against Florida. This puts a lot of pressure on Alex Caruso and Jalen Jones to carry the Texas A&M offense.
  • Ole Miss (20-11, 11-7; beat Alabama, lost to Vanderbilt) dropped a somewhat-damaging game to a hot Vanderbilt team. The Rebels are an interesting case, with a middling RPI (#51) and three sub-100 RPI losses that came early in the year (TCU, Western Kentucky, Charleston Southern). On that same token, they also got a pair of sneaky-good top-50 wins in the non-conference against Oregon and Cincinnati. They’ve taken care of business in SEC play after the early season tumult, and should be fine as long as they avoid disaster against Missouri or South Carolina.
  • Vanderbilt (19-12, 9-9; beat Mississippi State, beat Ole Miss) gets some ink because why not. No one is going to “bleepin’ kill” us for including the Commodores. They are a far cry from real consideration, but a five-game winning streak to finish conference play has them set up nicely for next year (especially if Damian Jones sticks around). Vanderbilt owns no top-50 RPI wins (0-6), but there’s the nice thing: the Commodores are on the opposite side of the bracket from Kentucky. A run to finals, which their 17th-ranked KenPom offense could make possible, would likely give them two top-50 wins (Arkansas and Georgia) and run their win total to 21. That probably still isn’t enough, but it warrants some conversation.

Had a Rough Week. The Texas A&M snippet above should say it all. The Aggies had built their NCAA Tournament case on not having any bad SEC losses and then dropped a home game to Alabama. It’s not devastating and came without Danuel House in the lineup, but this is not the type of result to dangle in front of the Selection Committee so late in the year.

Looking Ahead. This week’s nods go to Missouri against South Carolina… just kidding. There should be some good matchups in Nashville, but any game that Kentucky plays in will be the one to watch. If the Commodores get by Tennessee, the Vanderbilt-Arkansas quarterfinal match could be a fun, high-scoring game. It’ll also be worth seeing how Texas A&M responds in its opener against either Auburn or Mississippi State. The Aggies have everything to play for and will be up against a free and easy team with nothing to lose.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *