SEC Saturday Storylines: League Title Up For Grabs?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 6th, 2016

A little over a week ago it looked like Texas A&M was about to run away and hide with the SEC’s regular season title. The excursion into non-conference play and exciting win over Iowa State obscures the fact that the Aggies are now on a two-game SEC losing streak after dropping a game in Nashville Thursday night. That puts Johnny Jones‘ LSU squad in a tie for first midway through conference play. Just as everyone predicted, right? The regular season title scramble highlights a crucial weekend in the league.

Didn't expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (

Didn’t expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (

  1. Break out the binoculars and tape measures, we’ve got a race! The Aggies and Tigers are tied atop the standings, and five more teams sit within two games of the lead. LSU should take care of business against Mississippi State at home – although the Bulldogs have been competitive lately – and put pressure on Texas A&M to rebound against a hungry South Carolina team. The winner of Kentucky and Florida will position itself nicely for a run at pole position, as well. But don’t forget about Vanderbilt. Less than week after a disappointing performance in Austin, the Commodores have renewed momentum with that Texas A&M win. They now face Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State, and if they run through that manageable stretch undefeated the ‘Dores will be sitting pretty at 9-4 in league play. We were due intrigue in the league title race after Kentucky and Florida won the league by an average of 5.5 games the past two seasons, and we’ve definitely got it.
  2. Can Florida round out its resume with an impressive road win? The Gators got their marquee win at home against West Virginia and followed it up by taking care of business against Arkansas. The next challenge? Beat a quality team on the road. On the other side, Kentucky will be looking to play with more energy after letting Tennessee dig itself out of a 20-point hole in Knoxville. The Wildcats had massive trouble defending the Vols’ guards without fouling, and that should play into KeVaugh Allen‘s hands. It’ll also be crucial for Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee to avoid foul trouble since no one else on the Kentucky roster matches up well with Dorian Finney-Smith. Then again, the Gators are just two games removed from scoring just 0.86 points per possession at Vanderbilt. Despite the foul issues, they’ll face a good defense in Rupp Arena in looking to take their recent home success on the road.
  3. How strong is Ben Simmons’ grip on SEC POY? Non-establishment candidates are all the rage in the presidential race, so why not in the SEC POY race too? It’s a nice thought, but it’ll be shocking, to say the least, if Simmons doesn’t end up winning the award. There are others out there that a case can be made for, including Stefan Moody, who leads the conference in percentage of possessions used (31.8%) and is sixth nationally in points per game. Other than former Gator Eli Carter at Boston College and super freshman Jaylen Brown at Cal, no player is relied upon heavier in a power conference than Moody. He’s been more efficient than ever, too, improving both his effective field goal percentage and assist rate from last season. All this is impressive, but he will likely remain a fringe candidate, along with Jalen JonesKevin Punter and Tyler Ulis, as long as Simmons calls this conference home
  4. Don’t forget about Arkansas. On the far reaches of the bubble, there’s an argument to be made for the Razorbacks…if only they hadn’t dropped early games to Stanford, Wake Forest and Mercer. Mike Anderson‘s teams always have a distinct identity, but this one has taken on the added dimension of being a great three-point shooting team behind Dusty Hannahs and Anthlon Bell. Their 4-5 SEC record has come against the league’s toughest in-conference strength of schedule, and three of the losses were by four points or less. The way the schedule sets up (Tennessee, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Auburn, Missouri) there’s a five-game winning streak waiting to happen. Even if that happened and Arkansas sat at 16-11, 9-5, it wouldn’t quite have the heft to get in the picture, even in a year rife with parity. Still, why not make things interesting and set up an intriguing situation at the SEC tournament in Nashville? Any potential run starts with a home game against a confident Tennessee team on Saturday.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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