SEC Saturday Storylines: Is Alabama Really On The Bubble?Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2016
This Saturday will contain more conference title drama in the span of just a few hours than the SEC has had over the past two seasons. The top four teams play each other on a day that could go a long way toward determining which squad arrives in Nashville as the SEC regular season champion. Here are three stories to keep track of with a lot at stake this weekend.
- Which team will have a leg up in the title race on Sunday morning? With the top of the SEC standings muddled as we enter mid-February, the schedule-makers have smiled on us this weekend. Kentucky, South Carolina and LSU all sit at 8-3 with Texas A&M and Florida right behind that trio at 7-4. The Wildcats and Gamecocks will meet in Columbia while the Tigers and Aggies face off in Baton Rouge. The most pressure of the weekend might be on Billy Kennedy’s club, since a fifth straight SEC loss — a situation nobody would have thought possible just a few weeks ago — could put an end to the Aggies’ championship hopes. South Carolina might have the most to gain, however. A win for the Gamecocks could put Frank Martin’s team in a commanding position since its remaining schedule is the most manageable. South Carolina’s remaining road games? At Missouri, Mississippi State and Arkansas. That’s hardly a murderer’s row, even with the trip to Bud Walton thrown in there. There’s a lot of basketball still to come this season, but we may look back on this Saturday as the most pivotal day in the SEC race.
- How will South Carolina and Kentucky deal with each other? To take nothing way from LSU, Texas A&M and even Florida, the most intriguing game with title implications might be between Kentucky and South Carolina. The Gamecocks made a statement by beating the Tigers and Aggies last week, and Kentucky, whether fair this season or not, gets the benefit of the doubt. The Wildcats generate most of their offense from the perimeter, so South Carolina will have its hands full containing guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray. P.J. Dozier is long and athletic, but he is not the ideal candidate to stop Ulis’ dribble penetration, and the same could be said for similarly big-bodied guards Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell. Keeping Ulis from drawing help defenders will be especially important because the Gamecocks have allowed opponents to shoot 37.9 percent from three in SEC play, and they certainly can’t afford to give Murray any openings. But it’s not all doom and gloom for South Carolina as Kentucky faces a matchup problem of its own. The Wildcats have had significant foul issues lately and will face a Gamecocks team that is excellent at getting to the line. It should be a fun chess match between wily veteran coaches John Calipari and Frank Martin on Saturday.
- Should we really be talking about Alabama as a bubble team? Alabama has more wins over ranked opponents this season then any other SEC team, with the latest coming over Texas A&M last Wednesday. The job that Avery Johnson has done maximizing the Crimson Tide’s talent in his debut season is remarkable, but there are several holes in their resume that makes any bubble talk premature. First, Alabama’s 5-6 SEC record has come against 10th most difficult conference strength of schedule, and the Tide’s win over Wichita State — which looks better every passing day — happened while star guard Fred VanVleet was injured. Yet there are plenty of positives too. Few teams can boast as impressive a quintet of wins as Alabama and the team’s only truly bad loss was at Auburn. If Johnson’s team isn’t already on the bubble, it can certainly get there by splitting the next two games at Florida and LSU. Sweep those and the first-year head coach might start to give Martin and Calipari a run for this season’s SEC Coach of the Year award.