Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 14th, 2011

Gerald Smith (@fakegimel) is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • That’s Why You’re Mad: Kentucky was seeing red on Saturday as they dropped a game to Indiana. Coaches across the country (especially in the SEC) had a good look at the blueprint to upset Big Blue: Hot outside shooting, strong post play, and good interior defensive positioning to take charges on driving Wildcats. Much has been made about Terrence Jones‘ malaise and Marquis Teague‘s resurgence. Although the Wildcats have plenty of time to lick their wounds the pride of being the last undefeated SEC team was trampled by the Hoosier faithful rushing their court.
  • Desperately Seeking 3-Goggles: Another SEC power-team also had its pride damaged last week. Dayton exploited Alabama’s weakness — awful three-point shooting — to pull off a 74-62 upset. Though the Crimson Tide’s next game yielded a better result (64-52 win over Detroit), the three-point shooting woes continued (2-15 vs. Detroit, 10-58 the last four games). Coach Anthony Grant was counting on one or more of his freshmen guards — Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph — to provide the outside shooting. None of them have risen to the challenge yet. Alabama will be particularly vulnerable to upsets from streaky-shooting teams until they find a solution to their outside shooting woes.

The Iron Has Been Unkind To Trevor Lacey's Three-point Shooting. (Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE)

  • Big: A pleasant surprise in the SEC this season has been the play of Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie. The transfer from UTEP, averaging 17.1 PPG and 11.2 RPG, is exceeding the expectations set for him. Unfortunately the 6’11” forward is battling with knee tendinitis. He has missed three games for the Bulldogs, including yesterday’s 75-68 victory over FAU. Moultrie will hopefully be ready for Mississippi State’s next series of games which include two away games, including a tilt at #6 Baylor.
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Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 6th, 2011

Gerald Smith is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Big East Beatdown:The SEC left this past weekend’s Big East/SEC Challenge battered and bruised. Despite a tight road win for Mississippi at DePaul, the SEC only won four of the twelve games of the Challenge. Several of the high-profile swing games were close but did not turn in the SEC’s favor: Florida‘s three-point barrage wasn’t enough to lift it over Syracuse’s offensive rebounding and free-throw rate; Alabama could not slow down Georgetown’s offense enough to catch up; and Vanderbilt folded late in regulation and offered no counter to Louisville’s defense in overtime. The eight SEC teams that lost in the Challenge games scored an average of just 59.8 points, which includes Florida’s respectable 68 points and South Carolina’s surprising 67 points. Those eight losing teams also were out-rebounded by an average of 4.6 rebounds per game, with five teams out-rebounded by at least six rebounds. Those are some big talking points for coaches as they take their teams into the the final warm-ups for conference play.
  • And All I Gave You Was Goodbye: Vanderbilt’s problems are almost too numerous to count. Everybody notices the absence of injured center Festus Ezeli; others have picked up on its underwhelming point-guard play. A recent disturbing trend is Jeffery Taylor‘s ineffectiveness late in Vandy’s last two games. Most of the senior’s stats this year (14.9 PPG, 47.3% FG, 6.3 RPG, 2.9 APG) are career bests… except for free-throw shooting (57.5%, down from 71.9% last season). Against Xavier, Taylor didn’t score after the 8:17 mark in the 2nd half. Against Louisville, Taylor didn’t score after the 17:25 mark in the second half, and gave up five turnovers from that time until the end of overtime. We hope he and his coaching staff can figures out what’s happening to him late in games and fix yet another problem dragging down his team.

Vandy's Jeffery Taylor doesn't want to go back to December after his dismal late-game performance against Louisville. (AP/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Yeah, Click-Clack: The Head Ball Coach is mostly done with Bruce Ellington, and not a moment too soon for coach Darrin Horn. The Gamecocks lost four of their first six games before Ellington hit the floor last Thursday in a 76-67 loss to Providence. On Sunday, the sophomore guard and his teammates beat their in-state rival Clemson 58-55 in part to Ellington’s nine points which included 4-4 FT. With Ellington back in the fold — and without any significant injuries from his time playing football — the Gamecocks can finally get their offense moving again.

Power Rankings


  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #3 – Southeastern Conference

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2011

Gerald Smith of is the RTC correspondent for the SEC. He also contributes to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on twitter @fakegimel.

Reader’s Take I

The SEC/Big East Invitational features all 12 SEC teams in action.


Top Storylines

  • Everything In Its Right Place: After several years of coaching changes and lackluster out-of-conference performance, the SEC is finally ready to jump back into the national discussion of powerful basketball conferences. The movement is powered by young coaches (Alabama’s Anthony Grant), older but new-to-the-SEC coaches (LSU’s Trent Green, Georgia’s Mark Fox) and the SEC coaching stalwarts (Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury, Mississippi’s Andy Kennedy, Kentucky’s Johhn Calipari). Thanks to the solidifying of the coaching guard, the conference is flush with top talent: 13 McDonald’s All-Americans will be playing this season across six different teams. The national basketball pollsters have noticed and have rewarded the SEC’s upward mobility with four teams in the preseason Top 25 polls; the first time the conference has had four or more teams in a preseason poll since the 2006-07 season (incidentally, also the last time an SEC school won it all).
  • Sit Down. Stand Up. (Snakes & Ladders): Kentucky head coach John Calipari brings arguably the greatest recruiting class in SEC history to join an already-talented roster. The hype for this season was already building in Lexington even before the 2010-11 season began when Calipari netted McDonald’s All-Americans Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer; when Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb elected to return for their sophomore seasons to rejoin senior Darius Miller, expectations were raised to national championship status. It remains to be seen if Calipari’s freshmen will wilt against more experienced teams that will play them tough physically and mentally. One thing is for sure: This Kentucky team will score in downpours not seen in Lexington since the 1995-96 National Championship team.

Will Sidney Finall Reach His Full Potential This Year?

  • My Iron Lung: After an infamous season that included fighting his own teammate, Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney realizes that the college basketball public is watching him for more screw-ups. He spent this summer working out in Houston with former NBA player/coach John Lucas in order to improve his conditioning and attitude. Sidney’s lackluster performance in MSU’s first game Monday (nine points and three rebounds in just 23 minutes of play) won’t easily squelch his critics. Unless he can finally meet the expectations of his talent level, the Bulldogs will be wheezing all season long.
  • Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box: This season the Southeastern Conference removed the divisional formatting for its basketball conference standings. The teams with the top four overall conference records regardless of schedule strength will receive a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. The SEC East and SEC West divisional championships now exist only in the past. And perhaps the future: With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M in the 2012-13 season, going back to the two basketball division format may be necessary.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011


Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

The NCAA Sitting on Their Thumbs: Am I the only one that finds the NCAA to be a little ridiculous?   This week, the omnipotent governing body of college athletics released its findings on Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl regarding his little BBQ incident with potential recruits.  I hope they were Memphis style ribs by the way — those are my favorite.  Anyway, while I’m not really interested in commenting on the findings as there really wasn’t anything here we weren’t already aware of, except for a previously undisclosed secondary infraction committed by Bruce Pearl and assistant Tony Jones.  Last summer they spoke with 2012 recruit Jordan Adams prior to the start of basketball practice.  That was a no-no, but secondary violations are of little consequence.

What I want to talk about is the 22-month investigation undertaken by the NCAA.  I mean really?  22 months to tell us what we already knew, that Bruce Pearl attempted to influence others to provide the NCAA and Tennessee “with false and misleading information concerning their involvement.”  I gotta ask; what the heck is the NCAA doing up in Indianapolis?  Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to Indianapolis, it’s a fine town, but surely at some point you can take a break from screwing around on the river next to your office and get some work done.  I mean, two years!  I guess I should give them some credit though.  I mean, they did waste about 11 months or so sitting on information about Enes Kanter trying to decide what to do about his eligibility and I’m sure that kept them pretty busy.  So maybe they just didn’t have time to work on Bruce Pearl’s case.

In the end, it worked out well for Tennessee as they followed this news with a win over Vanderbilt this week.  Whenever the Volunteers are faced with adversity, they just go ahead and win their next tough game.  Need I remind you of last year when half the team got suspended and Tennessee went out and beat number one ranked Kansas for good measure.  I’m telling you, if the NCAA really wants to punish Tennessee, the best thing they can do is just leave the whole matter alone.  The entire season will be a disaster.

A Lot of Politicking: Yesterday on the SEC Basketball coaches’ teleconference, multiple coaches were asked about the potential of reseeding the SEC tournament 1-12 instead of the current 1-6 divisional seeding.  I found the statements from coaches disappointing overall.  The question was dodged and deflected by SEC West coaches with political acumen.  They really held the party line which read, “I’m sure we’ll have some things to discuss when the coaches meet this spring,” and as Andy Kennedy put it, “I just want to do what’s best for the conference.”  In other words, “I don’t want to answer that question.  Doing so would reveal that I like the unfair system currently in place that benefits lower tier teams from the weaker West Division.”

Not surprisingly, East Division coaches were quite comfortable speaking on the matter.  Kentucky coach John Calipari noted that his team is 3-3 against SEC West teams and that he feels lucky to be 3-3.  As far as he’s concerned, however, if there was no SEC tournament, “I’d be fine with that too.”  Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings prefers reseeding, but Georgia coach Mark Fox was the most eloquent.  He suggested that if they can’t agree to reseeding altogether, perhaps they could go to a system where both division leaders still receive the top two seeds and the rest of the teams are seeded 3 through 12.

While Fox’s suggestion sounds nice and it’s probably a compromise that coaches would buy into, this RTC correspondent is still displeased.  A compromise here means that they’re still going to do something wrong, just not as wrong as before.  Such a compromise ignores the problem that the SEC is rewarding poorer performing teams by giving them with an easier path to the championship.  Get it right and move on.


Power Rankings

1. Florida (22-6, 11-3) The Gators beat Georgia at home and Chandler Parsons had 16 points in his return from injury.  By winning that game, the Gators clinched at least a share of the SEC East Division for the first time since 2007.  The Gators then fell to Kentucky in Lexington, but then again, nobody beats Kentucky in Lexington.  Due to the Gators’ conference record and the fact that they took the first meeting with the Wildcats in Gainesville, they easily maintain their spot atop the power rankings.

2. Alabama (19-9, 11-3) Is the Tide slipping?  A close game against SEC last place Auburn in which they just escaped with a 51-49 win followed by a 68-63 loss to Mississippi is not a good at this point in the season.  On the flip side you could say that Alabama had a good week by reaching 15-0 at home and beating Auburn despite shooting just 26 percent from the field.  A team that finds a way to win despite shooting that poorly is usually in a pretty good place.

3. Kentucky (20-8, 8-6) The Wildcats’ road woes continue.  They lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville bringing their conference road record to just 1-6.  This despite the fact they outshot the Razorbacks 42.3 percent to 38.4 percent, outrebounded them 43 to 35, allowed only seven assists to the Arkansas’ 10, blocked 11 shots to the Hogs’ six and committed 16 fouls to 18.  In other words, they won every statistic except for the one that matters, points.  The Cats followed that game with a win at home over Florida where John Calipari remains undefeated in his time in Lexington.  The game was also the 500th win of his career.  He is now 500-151.  Darius Miller had his second career high in three games with 24 points topping his previous high of 22 against South Carolina.  Brandon Knight scored a career high 26 points in the loss at Arkansas and was selected as freshman of the week by the SEC, his fifth such honor this season.  That was Knight’s 12th twenty-point game, a freshman record at UK.  Yes, that’s even more than a certain Mr. John Wall (who had eight of them)

4. Vanderbilt (21-7, 9-5) Vanderbilt lost to Tennessee at home.  That loss means that Vanderbilt can now at best win a share of the SEC.  After that loss, the Commodores took out their frustrations on the LSU Tigers winning 90-69.  Lance Goulbourne had 16 points and 17 rebounds, particularly impressive numbers after he scored a total of four points in his last four games.

5. Georgia (19-9, 8-6) The Bulldogs shot 60 percent from the field in the first half but still lost to Florida.  Georgia held South Carolina to just 28 percent from the field and 1 for 19 from three.  But more significant, the Dawgs got their 19th victory on the season, matching their highest win total since Jim Harrick Coach left the program in ruins after a scandal plagued 2003 season.  A win against LSU this week should be enough to get an at-large bid.

6. Tennessee (17-12, 7-7) Despite the win over Vanderbilt this week, I am feeling less and less confident about Tennessee’s tournament chances, especially after losing 70-69 to Mississippi State at home.  Tennessee is just 3-4 at home in conference play and has lost 5 of 7.  No worries, Tennessee still has a home date with Kentucky to close out the season, and Kentucky is terrible on the road.

7. Arkansas (18-10, 7-7) A single win over Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena may have saved coach John Pelphrey’s job.  Good for him as he has quite the class coming in next year with four players in the ESPN top 100.  That class is ranked sixth in the nation by ESPN and is certainly a sign of good things to come in Fayetteville if the fans can hold on just a little longer.  Pelphrey’s great class could also be a liability in some ways however as programs like to bring coaches in at a time when they can make a first year splash.  Rotnei Clarke was named SEC player of the week after scoring a career high 26 points in the win over Kentucky. Clarke is also just 6 three pointers away from passing Scotty Thurman, who is on the staff at Arkansas, for third on the Razorbacks’ all-time made three-pointers list.  He now has 262 in his three seasons at Arkansas.  It is likely that he will pass Pat Bradley some time next year becoming Arkansas’ all-time leader.  Bradley recorded 366 three pointers.

8. Mississippi (18-11, 6-8) The Rebels followed their worst loss of the year at South Carolina with their best win of the year over Alabama.  Chris Warren had 25 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals as Mississippi overcame an 11-point second half deficit to beat likely SEC champion Alabama.  But it’s too little too late for a team that came into the season looking like a potential at-large candidate.  Gonna take a conference tournament championship now.

9. South Carolina (14-12, 5-8) The Gamecocks were able to snap their five game losing streak by beating Mississippi 79-73 despite a career high 33 points by the Rebels’ Chris Warren.  There was simply too much Sam Muldrow for the Rebels to overcome as he came away with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.  The Cocks’ next game against Georgia, however, was dismal.  Only 48 points on 28 percent shooting can really get you down.

10. Mississippi State (18-11, 6-8) Despite shooting 56 percent from the field and outrebounding LSU 38-32, Mississippi State managed to lose 84-82 to the Tigers.  How you’re able to pull that off, I don’t know.  But it has been a season on weirdness in Starkville.  The Bulldogs followed that loss with a 70-69 win in Knoxville, their first at Tennessee since 1999.

11. Louisiana State (11-18, 8-9) The Tigers ended their ten-game losing streak, barely, by beating Mississippi State 84-82 in Starkville but quickly resumed their losing ways at home in an embarrassing 69-90 loss to Vanderbilt.  Don’t blame Storm Warren, though.  He had eight assists, no turnovers and a career-high 24 points (he averages 7) on 12-of-20 shooting in the loss.

12. Auburn (9-19, 2-12) The Tigers don’t have a lot of weapons and are very young, but they have played two of the best defensive games of any team in the SEC this season.  Earlier in the year the Tigers held SEC leading Florida to under 30 percent shooting overall and 20 percent from three in a 45-40 loss.  This week they did just that again in a 51-49 loss to SEC leading Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  The Tide’s Jamychal Green had to make a tip-in with .3 seconds to play for Alabama to get the win, but this game could very well have gone Auburn’s way.  In the Tigers next outing, Arkansas’ Delvon Johnson had to get a dunk with six seconds remaining to give the Hogs a 57-55 win in Auburn.  Credit coach Tony Barbee and his team for playing guts out defense.  That takes heart when you’re having such a tough season.  I see good things in Auburn’s future.

A Look Ahead

This time of year there’s always a lot of “Win and you’re in.”  Let’s take a look at the games of consequence this week.

  • March 1, Alabama @ Florida. No question, this is the game of the week.  There are still those that claim Alabama is on a soft bubble.  Getting the win at Gainesville all but guarantees the SEC crown and puts Alabama in “lock” status for the NCAA Tournament, a loss to St. Peter’s notwithstanding.  These are the top two teams in the conference peaking at just the right time.  Watch this game.
  • March 1, Vanderbilt @ Kentucky. As it stands Vanderbilt gets the number two seed out of the East.  If Wildcats win this one at Rupp, where John Calipari is undefeated in his two seasons at Kentucky, they have a shot to steal the number two seed.  Plenty at stake here between two teams that shoot the three very well.
  • March 5, Georgia @ Alabama. The Bulldogs probably still need a quality win to feel really comfortable about their at-large status.  This game has been gift-wrapped as a late season opportunity to stand out in the minds of the selection committee.  Win and they’re in.
  • March 5, Auburn @ LSU. There’s something special about battles in futility.  Here you have a clash of last place teams.  LSU needs this win to avoid sharing last place with Auburn.  Auburn needs it to avoid taking last place outright.  LSU won the previous meeting at Auburn 62-55.
  • March 5, Vanderbilt @ Florida. If Vanderbilt loses to Kentucky the Commodores can still hang onto the number two seed by beating Florida if Kentucky loses to Tennessee in Knoxville.  Wouldn’t hurt their seeding in the NCAA’s either.
  • March 6, Kentucky @ Tennessee. The Volunteers’ bubble is getting pretty soft despite their strong strength of schedule.  Win and they’re in.
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2011


Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

There was little change in SEC standings this week, which bodes well for the SEC’s chances at getting six bids to the NCAA Tournament, the most since 2008.  And that’s just how Joe Lunardi sees it as he currently projects six SEC teams in his bracket.  That means that Tennessee and Georgia both remain in the tournament despite suffering losses this week.  The SEC is second only to the Big East in total conference bids, which is currently projected at eleven.  While I think that is a little excessive, it’s quite obvious that the big winners in the expanded 68-team field are the major conferences; especially with the number of historically strong mid-majors sitting squarely on the bubble.  Memphis and Gonzaga are probably barely in, meaning one more little trip up and they lose their bid.  Saint Mary’s is on the edge of losing its at-large bid after a loss to Utah State on Saturday and Butler, last year’s national championship runner-up, is just barely playing its way back into at-large consideration.  The mid-majors’ loss is the SEC’s gain.

Power Rankings

1. Florida (21-5, 10-2): Florida went to LSU and got a win without Chandler Parsons.  Now on a five-game winning streak, Florida has established enough breathing room to feel confident about its chances of winning the SEC East if not the conference.  I was critical of the Gators early, but they have proven me the fool.

2. Alabama (18-8, 10-2): The Tide is 7-1 against SEC West opponents including wins over Arkansas and at LSU.  Last week, Alabama clinched the SEC West, its third SEC West title and first since 2005.  Alabama is also 14-0 at home.  How’d the Tide do it?  Well for starters, holding conference opponents to a league-leading 38 percent from the field really helps.  This team is only getting better and seems poised to make a good run in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Kentucky (19-7, 7-5): Mississippi State gave the Wildcats more than they wanted in Rupp Arena, closing the Cats’ lead to just four with under a minute left after Kentucky built a 12-point lead with 3:26 to play.  The Wildcats followed that win with an easy victory over reeling South Carolina in a game that Kentucky opened up with 15-0 lead.  Darius Miller, who has been known to disappear at times, scored a career-high 22 points.

4. Vanderbilt (20-6, 8-4): The Commodores have won five straight since dropping two in a row to Arkansas and Florida.  With this week’s two wins, Vandy reaches the 20-win mark for the sixth time in the Kevin Stallings era.  Jeffery Taylor continues to shine, recording a double-double at Auburn where he scored 20 points and pulled down ten rebounds.

5. Georgia (18-8, 7-5) Despite the loss to Vanderbilt, the win over Tennessee should be enough to solidify the Bulldogs’ at-large chances barring a late season meltdown in conference play.  The win in Knoxville was also Georgia’s first in ten years.  Mark Fox is doing everything right in Georgia, which finished with four, three and five conference wins and a last place finish in the SEC East in each of the last three seasons, but now has a good chance of finishing second in the East with just four games to play.

6. Arkansas (16-10, 5-7) The Hogs won easily over Florida A&M at home this week in a rare late season non-conference matchup, but couldn’t get the win at Alabama despite a 31-31 tie at the half.  Then again, no one has beaten the Tide at home this year.  The Razorbacks host Kentucky this week in what should certainly be a rowdy one as it always is when the Cats come into Bud Walton Arena.

7. Tennessee (16-11, 6-6) After dropping three straight to Alabama, Florida and Kentucky in the Volunteers’ toughest stretch of the season, the Vols beat South Carolina, 73-67, but couldn’t get the home win over Georgia despite Scotty Hopson’s career high 32 points.  Inconsistency is making home games very frustrating for the Volunteers, who are now 10-6 at home, including 3-3 in conference play.

8. Mississippi (17-10, 5-7) The Rebels beating Auburn handily 90-59 is good, but losing to in-state rival Mississippi State twice in a season for the second straight year is frustrating.  The Bulldogs controlled the second half despite a 33-33 tie.  On the bright side, Chris Warren made all four of his free throw attempts in the loss to improve his nation-leading free-throw percentage to 94.3 percent.

9. South Carolina (13-12, 4-8) After a strong start to the SEC, where the Gamecocks got wins over Vanderbilt and Arkansas and at Florida, the Gamecocks seem to be withering now.  The Cocks are also losers of seven of their last eight, including five straight after opening SEC play at 3-1.  Credit that to the Cocks’ poor shooting (40.4%) and terrible turnover ratio (0.8:1).  Couple that with a stretch that includes games at home against Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and on the road against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky, and wins can be hard to come by.  It doesn’t help either when freshman leading-scorer Bruce Ellington has played nine straight games without shooting at least 50 percent from the field, including a 1-12 performance against Georgia and 1 for 11 at Kentucky in his last three games.  They’ll be better next year.

10. Mississippi State (14-12, 6-6) The Bulldogs suffered a second straight loss at Kentucky following their season low-point loss to Auburn, but were able to follow that up with a 71-58 home win over in-state rival Mississippi.  The Bulldogs have now won five straight against the Rebels and when you’re having a rough year, it’s always nice to be able to say at least you’re dominating your rival.

11. Auburn (9-17, 2-10) As usual, Auburn had a tough week, losing 90-59 at Ole Miss and 77-60 to Vanderbilt despite keeping it close for most of the game trailing by just two with 14 minutes to play.  If you’re looking for a bright spot, Earnest Rost is averaging 19.3 points per game over Auburn’s last four and is shooting 54.5 (12-22) from three and 56.5 percent overall.  Compare that to last year when he averaged just 2.8 points per game.

12. LSU (10-17, 2-10) Monday on the SEC Coaches Teleconference, Tigers Coach Trent Johnson said, “Believe it or not, we’re starting to play better.”  I’m gonna go with the “or not” option.  The Tigers have lost ten straight, including home losses this week to Alabama and Florida.  The dubious stretch has to be among the longest current active losing streaks.  Furthermore, LSU is currently last in conference play in the following categories: scoring, scoring margin, three-point field goal percentage and assist to turnover ratio and second-to-last in free throw percentage, field goal percentage, rebounding, blocked shots, steals and turnover margin.  But Coach Johnson thinks things are getting better.  Apparently those rose-colored glasses are working out pretty well for the LSU coach.

The Week Ahead

At this point, every game matters, whether for seeding or just getting into the NCAA Tournament.  Let’s see what’s on the docket:

  • February 22, Tennessee @ Vanderbilt.  Rivalry games are always fun and the Volunteers probably need to win this one to feel really comfortable with their chances for an NCAA berth, especially with games against Florida and at Kentucky still remaining on the schedule.
  • February 23, Kentucky @ Arkansas.  The Wildcats have to get this win on the road against “Unforgettable” Kentucky alum John Pelphrey in Fayetteville if they want to have any chance of winning the conference regular season, much less the East.  They haven’t been strong on the road and Bud Walton is always particularly hostile to the Cats.
  • February 24, Georgia @ Florida. Georgia won the last one 101-94 in double overtime.  The Bulldogs can stay in the hunt for the East or at least a second-place finish with a win at Florida.  Florida’s NCAA seeding gets better with every win.
  • February 26, Florida @ Kentucky.  Florida holds a 9-4 advantage over Kentucky in their last 13 meetings, a fact not lost on the Wildcat faithful who have learned a special hatred for the Gators of late.  The Gators won the last meeting on February 5, 70-68.  A win by Florida here all but guarantees them an SEC East championship and brings an end to coach John Calipari’s 31-game win streak at Rupp Arena, where he is undefeated in his two seasons at Kentucky.
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

Mississippi State’s Ravern Johnson was suspended indefinitely this week.  Of course, at Mississippi State “indefinitely” generally means a game or two.  In this case, two.  This team was picked to win the SEC West, but talk about a team in turmoil.  Let’s take a look at the timeline:

  • Nov. 12 Mississippi State begins the season without point guard Dee Bost and power forward Renardo Sidney.  The Bulldogs get a 75-65 win over Tennessee State. Record 1-0.
  • Dec. 18 Sidney plays in his first college basketball after a year and a half suspension.  The Bulldogs lose 88-57 to Virginia Tech. Record 7-3.
  • Dec. 21 Sidney is suspended for a game after playing in just one game for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
  • Dec. 23 Sidney returns and the Bulldogs defeat San Diego 69-52. Sidney and forward Elgin Bailey get in a fight in the stands after the game while watching Utah play Hawaii, because Elgin Bailey wouldn’t move his feet for Sidney to get through.  Record 8-4.
  • Dec. 24 Sidney and Bailey are suspended indefinitely.
  • Jan. 3 Mississippi State announces that Elgin Bailey will seek a transfer and has been granted a release.
  • Jan. 8 Sidney and Bost return from suspension and open SEC play with a 75-57 home loss to Alabama. Record 8-7 (0-1).
  • Feb. 4 Following a 75-61 loss to Alabama, Ravern Johnson sends “inappropriate tweets” and violates a class attendance policy.  He is suspended indefinitely. Record 11-10 (3-4).
  • Feb. 12 Johnson’s “indefinite” suspension ends after two games.  He returns just in time for the low point in the Bulldogs’ season, a 65-62 loss to SEC last place team Auburn in a game that MSU led 51-32 with 11:25 to go.

The reality here is that coach Rick Stansbury has completely lost control of this team both on and off the court.  This season is nothing short of a train wreck and I hope that this will be the last time that I write about the silliness that is Mississippi State basketball.

  • In less ridiculous news, Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology has six SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament.  If his prediction holds true and Florida, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama all make the tournament, that will be the best showing in the Big Dance for the SEC since 2008, when last place Georgia made a crazy run through the SEC tournament and became the sixth team to qualify along with Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Power Rankings

1. Florida (20-5, 9-2) At this point, there can be no question that Florida should be in the top spot here.  While still having deficiencies, Florida by hook or by crook has managed to get to 20-5 overall and 9-2 in conference play by gutting out close ones whether at home or on the road.  Florida has won nine games decided by six points or less.  The Gators have also played in four overtime games this year, winning three of them.  Two of those overtime wins came on the road.  However, just when things are starting to look really good for the preseason SEC favorites, Chandler Parsons sustained a deep thigh bruise and internal bleeding associated with it.  He is likely to miss the Gators’ game against LSU on Sunday.  If LSU were not on an eight-game losing streak, I might be a little concerned.

2. Alabama (16-8, 8-2) After a disappointing early season in which Alabama started 5-6, the Tide has become one of the best defensive teams in the nation holding teams to just 58.4 points per game.  Because of that defense and an improved offense, Alabama is 11-2 in its last 13 games.

3. Kentucky (17-7, 5-5) Right now, you have to ask whether this team is just not as good as we thought, or is it simply a bad road team?  Maybe it’s a little bit of both.  Kentucky still has good wins over Washington, Notre Dame and Louisville, but that seems like a long time ago for a team that is 2-6 in true road games, with five of those losses coming in league play.  Lucky for Kentucky, only two of the Wildcats’ last six games are away.  The Wildcats should be safe this week as they don’t have to go on the road for their contests against Mississippi State and South Carolina.

4. Vanderbilt (18-6, 6-4) Vanderbilt had a great week after winning two close ones at home against Alabama and Kentucky.  Like Kentucky, Vandy has been weak on the road, going just 1-3 in conference road games.  Unlike Kentucky however, the Commodores must go on the road for four of their last six including games at Georgia, and Kentucky.

5. Georgia (17-7, 6-4) Georgia lost to Xavier early in the week in a game that was close throughout.  This was the first game between the two teams since 2008 when they met in the NCAA Tournament following Georgia’s Cinderella run through the Southeastern Conference tournament, winning three games in two days after a tornado at the Georgia Dome forced the league to move the games to Georgia Tech.  Xavier won that game in 2008, too.  Following their loss to the Musketeers, the Bulldogs held South Carolina to just 30.5% shooting and 4-23 from the field.

6. Arkansas (15-9, 5-6) After losing three straight to Georgia, Mississippi and Mississippi State, Arkansas finally got a win at home against Louisiana State.  Rotnei Clarke scored 25 points while going 5-6 from three.  More importantly though, the Razorbacks have now won 15 games for the first time in three seasons, having won 14 games in each of the past two seasons.

7. Tennessee (15-10, 5-5) It’s been an up-and-down year for the Volunteers, mostly down of late.  Coach Bruce Pearl made his return from suspension to face Kentucky in Lexington.  The result?  Tennessee was thoroughly outplayed in a game where Bruce Pearl said he didn’t help his team.  The Vols followed that up with a tough 61-60 home loss to Florida.

8. Mississippi (16-9, 4-6) Chris Warren tied his season high of 26 points in a win over LSU.  Speaking of Chris Warren, he’s made 29 of his last 31 free throws in Mississippi’s last three contests and leads the SEC in free throw shooting at 93.8 percent.  Not only that, but Warren now has 1,821 career points, good for fourth place on Ole Miss’ all-time scoring list.  It is all but a given that Warren will pass Carlos Clarke’s 1,822 points in the Rebels’ next game taking his place as Ole Miss’s third leading scorer.  It remains unlikely that Warren passes number one Jon Stroud (2,328 points) and number two Joe Harvell (2,078 points).

9. South Carolina (13-10, 4-6) Things haven’t gone well for the Gamecocks of late.  They started the conference season at 3-1 including wins over Vanderbilt and at Florida.  Now the Cocks are losers of five of their last six.  A terrible shooting night at home against Georgia this week only added to their woes.  In that game, Bruce Ellington shot just 1-12 from the floor.  But then again, he hasn’t shot at least 50 percent in a game since a January 12 loss at Alabama.

10. Mississippi State (13-11, 5-5) Look, it’s never good when you lose to Auburn, but when you blow a 19-point lead with 11:25 to go in the game, well that’s just completely unacceptable.  At one point Auburn went on a 17-0 run.  Really?  Auburn?  I don’t think Auburn’s gone on a 17-0 run in years.  How did they possibly manage it this year with such and offensively challenged team?  I’m sure Mississippi State’s utterly despicable play had a little something to do with it.  Really Bulldogs, this is just getting embarrassing.

11. Auburn (9-15, 2-8) With all of the players, that Auburn lost from last year’s team including 73 percent of the Tigers’ scoring and 62 percent of their rebounding  and then losing three freshman commits in Luke Cothron, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Josh Langford who were all expected to contribute right away, Auburn has more excuses than any other team in the league.  Add to that the fact that leading returning scorer Frankie Sullivan has only played in six games and you have a team that just can’t get a break.  So simply not being in last place for just one week is quite an accomplishment.

12. LSU (10-15, 2-8) Somehow, LSU has been able to wrest the bottom spot from Auburn and that is quite a feat.  LSU has now lost eight straight games, including an 80-61 loss this week at Arkansas.  LSU is one unusual team that seems to do really well or really bad.  Let’s look at how LSU has finished in each of the past five seasons.

  • 2006 – 27-.9 Won SEC, Final Four
  • 2007 – 17-15 Last in SEC West. No tournament.
  • 2008 – 13-18 Fourth in SEC West. No tournament.
  • 2009 – 27-8 Won SEC. Lost to UNC in second round of NCAA Tournament.
  • 2010 – 11-20 Last in SEC. No tournament.

The Week Ahead

  • Feb. 16 Vanderbilt @ Georgia I’m not convinced that Georgia is firmly entrenched in the NCAA Tournament just yet.  A win over the Commodores could go a long way towards cementing that spot.
  • Feb. 19 Georgia @ Tennessee Same story as above, except substitute Tennessee for Georgia.
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 2nd, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

How the West Has Won: So I’ve been pretty rough on the SEC West, but after this week I think it’s time I let it go for a while.  Let’s briefly look at the turnaround in the SEC West.  Mississippi State, which I previously labeled as tied with Tennessee for biggest disappointment in the conference beat SEC East leader FloridaArkansas beat Vanderbilt in a game that the Hogs controlled throughout.  Auburn finally got a conference win this week when the Tigers beat South Carolina.  Mississippi beat Kentucky in a close one in Oxford and Alabama now sits solely in first place in the league at 5-1 with a win over Kentucky to boot.  Furthermore, Joe Lunardi has dropped Georgia from his latest Bracketology and replaced the Bulldogs with Alabama.  What a difference a week makes.

Power Rankings

  1. Kentucky (16-5, 4-3) Despite the three losses to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, all on the road, the resume is still good with wins over Washington, Notre Dame and Louisville, but there are noticeable chinks in the armor here (depth) and an inability to win road games usually says something about the mental fortitude of a team.
  2. Florida (17-5, 6-2) Florida needed double-overtime to beat Georgia on the road and then lost to Mississippi State, and right now, it’s not good to be losing to Mississippi State.  The win over Vanderbilt helps, but then again, Vanderbilt seems to be slipping right now.
  3. Alabama (13-7, 5-1) After a dismal preseason, the Tide seem to be rolling.  Alabama has the best record in the league and is winning by increasingly greater margins.  Alabama beat Kentucky by two, Auburn by 10 and LSU by 24.  Coach Anthony Grant seems to have corrected his team’s problems, as he attributed early difficulties to players still learning their roles.  Alabama has enough talent to win the West and possibly challenge for the conference if Grant is right.
  4. Vanderbilt (15-6, 3-4) Vanderbilt is having a rough go of it of late, sitting at 3-4 in conference.  In a home game against Arkansas, Vanderbilt never looked good and the Commodores allowed Rotnei Clarke to make shots from everywhere, as he scored 36 points on 12-16 from the floor and 6-8 from three.  That’s not going to work.
  5. Tennessee (14-7, 4-2) Now that Tennessee is at 4-2 in conference with wins over Vanderbilt and at Georgia, I want to say that things are back on track in Knoxville, but many were fooled once before when the Volunteers knocked off then-#21 Memphis after losing four of six, so I’ll give it another week before I make up my mind on this one.
  6. Arkansas (14-6, 4-3) After a disappointing week where the Razorbacks lost at Georgia and got pummeled at Florida, they turned around and got wins over lowly Auburn and at Vanderbilt where they outrebounded the ‘Dores 26-21 and shot 57% from the field including Michael Sanchez‘s 8-12 for a career high 20 points.  He averages 4.1 a game.
  7. South Carolina (12-7, 2-2) Despite the fact that I don’t think we should compare Bruce Ellington to Devan Downey (he’s better than Downey), I will say that they do have one thing in common.  They both have low shooting percentages.  Ellington Is currently shooting 37 percent and shot only 4-12 in a loss to Auburn. But we shouldn’t single him out in this case.  The entire team was abysmal shooting 37 percent from the field, 21 percent from three and 57 percent from the line.  Time to work on squaring up to the basket.
  8. Georgia (14-6, 3-4) The Bulldogs have underperformed of late and their 3-4 SEC mark is an indicator of that.  The Dawgs finished a ten-game winning streak when they beat Kentucky in their SEC opener, but have now lost four of six, including two this week – one at Florida and the other at Kentucky.
  9. Mississippi State (11-9 3-3) The other Bulldogs lost at Vanderbilt and won at Florida.  I continually marvel that a team with Ravern Johnson, Kodi Augustus, Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney is still playing as poorly as they are.  This team has lost seven of its last 11 games.
  10. Mississippi (14-8 2-5) Things still are not going well for the Rebels, but the win over Kentucky is huge.  Maybe this will give this underperforming squad a little momentum against an improving Razorbacks squad in Fayetteville.
  11. LSU (10-11 2-4) With LSU’s four-game losing streak, the SEC now has two teams with overall losing records.  The Tigers have not scored more than 53 points in any of their last five contests and are losing by an average of 28 points over their four-game losing streak.
  12. Auburn (8-13 1-6) Well look who got a nice little conference win over a decent team.  As I mentioned above, the other Tigers held South Carolina to terrible shooting numbers but what’s more is they outrebounded the bigger Gamecocks 45-32.  Nice work, boys.

A Look Ahead

  • Feb. 5 Kentucky @ Florida. Kentucky is in the NCAA Tournament.  Now the Wildcats are playing for seeding.  The selection committee really cares about road wins and Kentucky doesn’t have a whole lot of those.  You see what I’m getting at here.
  • Feb. 10 Alabama @ Vanderbilt. If Alabama can get the win in Nashville on Vanderbilt’s weird court and get to 6-1 in conference, I don’t think anyone in the West can catch the Tide.  And with a favorable schedule after that, an SEC championship is not out of the question.  But this game is really big if that is to remain a possibility.
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • Interestingly, Kentucky coach John Calipari cursed at Terrence Jones repeatedly during a time-out in Kentucky’s 66-68 loss to Alabama, and ESPN got the whole thing, audio not included.  While it was largely a non-issue until Calipari issued an apology, it was later discussed on “Around the Horn,” perhaps the most boring show in sports, and “Pardon the Interruption.”  While some have blown it out of proportion, others have regarded the whole situation as silly, saying that Calipari had no need to apologize.  That’s just coachspeak.
  • I have to appreciate what Coach Cal did.  His apology was completely unrequested and unforced, but he felt the need to say something and in this day and age of so much coarse language, unrepentant vitriol and media-induced faux-apologies, it is refreshing to see someone who realizes that he did something inappropriate giving a sincere apology without any pressure to do so simply because his conscience told him to do it.
  • More news from Vols camp involves Tennessee’s Renaldo Woolridge shooting his own music video at a bar and he not paying for the time that he was there filming, an action that could theoretically constitute an NCAA violation.  However, Woolridge was cleared of wrongdoing after an internal investigation into the matter. Tennessee isn’t exactly in the good graces of the NCAA right now, so this figures to be one less headache from the higher-ups.
  • To follow up on Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury’s comment last week that he doesn’t feel there is that much difference between the SEC East and West, the East is now 82-29 to the West’s 64-49 and is winning by an average margin of 9.2 points per game to the West’s 3.5.  Furthermore, the East is now 9-3 in head to head matchups against the West.

Power Rankings

  1. Kentucky (15-4, 3-2) Kentucky continues to have trouble on the road.  All four of the Wildcats’ losses have come at road or neutral sites, and while the Alabama loss doesn’t look good, they took care of business at South Carolina to get a good win in a tough environment.
  2. Vanderbilt (14-4, 2-2) Vanderbilt went 2-0 this week with an 84-74 win over Mississippi and a good win over West Coast Conference leader Saint Mary’s.  A great week for the Commodores, but not quite enough yet to knock Kentucky off its perch at the top of the power rankings.
  3. Florida (15-4, 4-1) I want to say that Florida is looking good at 4-1 in conference, especially after pasting Arkansas 75-43, but they only shot 28.3 percent from the field including 5-26 from three… against Auburn, and the game was tied with under two minutes to play.  Starting guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton combined to go just 6-28 from the field.  Not a good sign.  Auburn is probably the only BCS conference team in the country against whom you can shoot 28.3 percent and still win.  Step it up Gators.
  4. Georgia (14-4, 3-2) The Bulldogs posted a two-point loss to the ever-enigmatic Tennessee Volunteers and then pasted the mess that is Mississippi State.  1-1 against the two most disappointing teams in the SEC is nothing to get overly excited about, but nothing to panic over yet either as Joe Lunardi has Georgia in the NCAA Tournament in his latest bracketology.
  5. South Carolina (12-6, 3-2) The Gamecocks continue to be a feisty bunch getting a win over Arkansas and then forcing Kentucky to flinch by closing what was an 18-point second half deficit to just five with 1:16 to play.  And can I just say right now, Bruce Ellington is not the next Devan Downey.  Bruce is his own man, and though he posts near identical stats to Downey, when all is said and done, he will be the better player.  Coach Darrin Horn is putting things together in Columbia and his recruiting Ellington is just one piece of the puzzle.
  6. Alabama (12-7, 4-1) Alabama is certainly moving up after getting a nice win against Kentucky, but that loss to St. Peter’s might be too much for the selection committee to bear and right now, Joe Lunardi agrees.  Despite Alabama’s recent winning ways, it’s going to take some kind of a special conference season to make the NCAAs.
  7. Tennessee (12-7, 2-2) The win at Georgia is nice.  The loss to Connecticut is acceptable, but a win would have really helped to get the Volunteers’ minds back in the right place now that conference play is heating up.  The Volunteers did hold Kemba Walker to a season-low 16 points.  There’s something to be said for that I guess when you consider some of the teams Connecticut has played this year.
  8. Arkansas (12-4, 2-3) Conference play started well for the Razorbacks, but then they had to face a couple of SEC East teams.  This week, the Hogs posted a seven-point loss to South Carolina and an embarrassing thirty-two point loss to Florida in a game that was not entirely dissimilar to their ugly loss to Texas just prior to conference play.  It was tough to watch folks.
  9. Mississippi State (10-8, 2-2) With or without Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost, this team continues to disappoint.  There is plenty of talent here between Sidney, Bost, Kodi Augustus and Ravern Johnson, but the Bulldogs still posted an embarrassing 86-64 loss to Georgia in their only game last week.
  10. Mississippi (13-7, 1-4) Hey, look who got a conference win, and on the road, no less.  Of course it was at LSU, but if you’re Mississippi, you’re just repeating to yourself, “ A win is a win.”
  11. LSU (10-9, 2-2) The Tigers shot only 32.9 percent and were outrebounded 31-17 at home by Mississippi.  That doesn’t bode well for upcoming games against Tennessee and Alabama.  Of course both of those teams have shown they can beat or lose to any team in the nation, so maybe LSU goes 2-0 this week.
  12. Auburn (7-10, 0-5) Five straight losses is never fun.  Getting close against Florida after playing your best defense all year is a heartbreaker.  I’m rooting for the Tigers to get at least one win this week against Arkansas or South Carolina.

A Look Ahead

  • Florida @ Georgia, January 25.  Neither of these two teams shoot well, so this could get ugly, but both of these teams have some good wins, so there is potential for this to be a fun competitive game.
  • Georgia @ Kentucky, January 29.  This is the payback game.  I don’t expect to see the Wildcats come out as flat as they did against Georgia in Athens, but the one thing that gives Kentucky trouble more than anything else is a team with a quality big man.  Georgia just so happens to have one such big man in Trey Thompkins.
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

Monday on the SEC Basketball Coaches Teleconference, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury took some exception to the idea that there is a trend with the East playing much better than the West.  He mentioned that in his time at Mississippi State, his teams have gone 41-41 against the East and 10-8 in SEC conference tournament play.  Let me start by saying that anyone that can that quickly pull up those numbers probably has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.  But now, let’s just take a look at the numbers.

Last year, the SEC West finished 39-57 against SEC East.  This year in head-to-head games, the West is 2-4 against the East.  A week ago, Auburn managed a mere six points in the first half against LSUAlabama, a team picked to finish third of six in the West, lost to St Peter’s early in the season.  The East currently has a 74.7% winning percentage with a 9.5 point scoring margin to the West’s 59.2% and 4.6 margin.

The East has quality wins against Florida State, Kansas State, Washington, Notre Dame, Louisville, Villanova, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Marquette.  The West has beaten um, well, Auburn got a lucky one against Florida State.

Ed. Note: There has also been some notable player movement recently around the SEC: Former Mississippi State sophomore Twanny Beckham will try to find increased playing time at Kentucky and could be eligible as soon as next January (we’re not sure how transferring to Kentucky will net Beckham more time amongst a sea of stud freshmen next season than the 15.7 minutes per game he earned under Stansbury, but if it makes him happy, why not?). Beckham’s former teammate, maligned Bulldog Elgin Bailey, dismissed after last month’s infamous scuffle with Renardo Sidney, will hope to start fresh at Southeast Louisiana, and suspended Kentucky Wildcat Darnell Dodson is headed to Southern Mississippi. Lastly, Auburn will welcome forward Noel Johnson from Clemson. While none of these players are necessarily high-impact types, hopefully they will thrive for their new schools.

Power Rankings

  1. Kentucky (14-3, 2-1) – The Wildcats lost one last week to Georgia and responded by taking out their frustrations on SEC cellar dwellers Auburn and LSU.  The Cats beat Auburn 78-54 in a midweek contest in which Terrence Jones set the Kentucky single game freshman scoring record by coming off the bench and scoring 35 points.  That record of course was only 24 days old, having previously been set by Doron Lamb, who also came off the bench to score 32 against Winthrop.
  2. Georgia (13-3, 2-1) – After beating Kentucky at home last week, Georgia lost to Vanderbiltin a game that was close the whole way.  Going  5-21 from three makes it hard to win in the SEC East, and that really is the Achilles heel for the Bulldogs.  They are currently last in the SEC in three-point shooting at 31 percent.  The Dawgs followed that loss with a 98-76 thumping of Mississippi.  The poor point shooting will cost Georgia in close ones, but for now they’re winning, having gone 10-1 since losing two straight to Notre Dame and Temple.
  3. Florida (13-4, 2-1) – Both Mississippi and Tennessee gave Florida tougher games than they should have and then Florida lost to South Carolina.  Still, head coach Billy Donovan said on Monday that he feels his team is still getting better and playing better defense.  No worries though, they probably won’t need it this week against Auburn.
  4. Vanderbilt (12-4, 1-2) Vanderbilt has been disappointing of late, having dropped two of their last three to South Carolina and Tennessee with a win over Georgia sandwiched between.  I think this speaks to the competitiveness of the East.  Vanderbilt should make quick work of reeling Mississippi this week and then take on a surging St. Mary’s team that has won 10 straight.
  5. South Carolina (11-5, 2-1) The Gamecocks held Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezelito only seven points on two of seven shooting and fouled him out in overtime.  South Carolina got the win by holding the Commodores to only 39 percent shooting, but the problem is that the Cocks followed that up by laying an egg in Tuscaloosa, only scoring 47 points in a ten-point loss to Alabama.  The win against Florida in Gainesville is a good sign however.
  6. Arkansas (12-4, 2-1) A close win over Tennessee at home, a close loss to LSU away and a close win over Alabama at home.  A good week, but not enough to get overly optimistic about.  The Razorbacks have a tough week with games at dangerous South Carolina and still improving Florida.  Going 0-2 this week is not unlikely.  Going 1-1 would be good, 2-0 makes Arkansas the clear favorite to win the West.
  7. Tennessee (11-6, 1-2) I think a lot of people became very optimistic that this very talented, seriously under-performing team had turned a corner after beating Memphis 104-84 in Knoxville, but this is not your John Calipari’s Memphis team and it should be remembered that this game was just a shooting match where both teams shot better than 45 percent from the field.  Tennessee found losses to Arkansas and Florida and a close win over Vanderbilt.  This week, the Volunteers face Georgia and Connecticut on the road and could very well find themselves 0-2 on the week and 1-3 in SEC play.  Making the NCAA Tournament is looking tougher and tougher.
  8. Alabama (10-7, 2-1) Alabama looks to be getting its season back on track after an embarrassing early season by starting 2-0 in SEC play.  The Arkansas loss is nothing to be ashamed of – no one has won in Fayetteville this season.  This week, Alabama, the league leader in points allowed per game at 56.8, and Kentucky, the league leader in points scored per game at 79.9, face off in Tuscaloosa.
  9. Mississippi State (10-7, 2-1) I would like to say that Mississippi is playing much better now that Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost are finally on the court together, but the Bulldogs lost to Alabama to begin conference play and had to pull out a close one over in-state rival Mississippi before beating Auburn by 21 at home. But honestly, who hasn’t beaten Auburn by 20?
  10. Mississippi (12-6, 0-3) The Rebels need to find a cause because it’s getting ugly in Oxford.  Ole Miss was tabbed to finish second in the West and is now 0-3.  Not bloody likely at this point.  Three straight losses is bad for any team.  When you lose by 22 on your home court, the fans stop showing up.
  11. LSU (10-8, 2-1) The Tigers held Auburn to only six points in the first half.  Yeah, six. Then they beat Arkansas in a 56-53 snoozer.  At 2-0, things seemed to be looking up for LSU, but then the Tigers were humiliated 82-44 at Rupp Arena and everyone remembered that LSU lost to North Texas by 20 on their home court and is only 4-6 in their last 10.
  12. Auburn (7-10, 0-3) Well this is a familiar place.  The game against LSU was the low point of the season for the Tigers who are suffering through a tough season of injuries, unexpected departures and ineligible players.  A very tough start for coach Tony Barbee, but these are the cards he was dealt.  I wonder if he’s questioning that advice that long-time friend and former boss John Calipari gave him encouraging him to take the Auburn job.  Given some time, I think he will do well.  One quick note, Frankie Sullivan came back from injury and Auburn won four straight including a win over Florida State, the team that just dealt the evil Blue Devils their first loss.  He goes down again and Auburn loses three straight.

A Look Ahead

Tennessee at Georgia and Tennessee at Connecticut are intriguing games to me because of the confusing story that is the Tennessee Volunteers.  I want to see if this team that can beat anyone or lose to anyone, mostly the latter of late, can pull out a couple of good wins to follow up their come-back win over Vanderbilt.

Kentucky at Alabama – I think at this point with Kentucky as the only team in the top 25 and playing very well of late, a loss to Georgia notwithstanding, you have to mark all Kentucky games on your calendar, particularly in this match-up where Alabama’s league leading point per game defense will be tested by the highest scoring offense in the league.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference

A Look Back

Now that non-conference play is all but over, I thought we should take a look at the biggest surprises and disappointments thus far, as well as a couple other notes from around the conference.

Biggest Surprise – Vanderbilt

Having lost AJ Ogilvy and leading scorer Jermaine Beal, Vanderbilt looked to be a team that would have a tough time in the stacked SEC East, but the holdovers from last year have stepped up and made this Vanderbilt team even better than last year’s.  No one has improved more than junior Festus Ezeli, who has gone from 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last year to 13.1 and 7.1 respectively.  Vanderbilt finished the pre-conference season 11-2 with quality wins over Nebraska, North Carolina and Marquette and losing only to West Virginia and Missouri.  Even more impressively, the Commodores outscored opponents by 16 points per game.  Look for the ‘Dores to finish second in the SEC.

Biggest Disappointment – Tie, Tennessee/Mississippi State

Both of these teams leave me shaking my head.  Tennessee started the season 7-0 against teams that are a combined 65-27 including Big East powers Villanova and Pittsburgh.  Since that time, Tennessee has gone 2-4 against teams that are a combined 48-37, and Bruce Pearl hasn’t even started his suspension yet.  They have all the same players they started with and the schedule has gotten easier.  I just do not get it.

As far as Mississippi State, this is a team that started the season as a possible SEC championship contender once Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost became eligible.  Then Sidney was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team after playing only one game and suspended again after his second game in a Bulldogs uniform for a fight with Bulldogs senior Elgin Bailey.  In Sidney’s defense, the other players say it was mostly Bailey’s fault.  But mostly doesn’t help Mississippi State, who desperately needs Sidney on the court if they are to salvage this season and have any chance at making the NCAA tournament.

Other Notes

  • It appears that the NCAA delights in antagonizing Wildcat fans by dragging their feet through the procuess surrounding the appeal of Enes Kanter’s ineligibility ruling. The NCAA was able to declare Cam Newton eligible in a day, but has been considering the Enes Kanter case for the better part of seven months now. The NCAA declared Kanter permanently ineligible for receiving benefits over and above actual expenses while playing for a Turkish professional team as a teenager but has allowed Kentucky to resubmit their case in light of the Cam Newton case as a precedent. There were some that thought a decision would come quickly, but after two weeks of standing around and patting themselves on the back for its near endless display of inconsistency, the NCAA announced this week that no decision would come before the New Year. In the meantime, Enes Kanter’s father, stated that if declared ineligible for this season but allowed to play next year, a la Renardo Sidney, Enes Kanter would indeed return to school next year and play, rather than declare for the NBA, again making the case that Kanter’s desire all along has been to play “amateur” college basketball in the United States under coach John Calipari.
  • You will perhaps recall that I previously lamented the lack of quality matchups in the SEC/Big East Invitational which this year involved Arkansas, Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Auburn and Pittsburgh.  It was announced around the holidays that beginning in 2011, six SEC teams and six Big East teams will participate in an annual event whose title will alternate between the BIG EAST/SEC Challenge and SEC/BIG EAST Challenge.  I for one can’t wait to see the matchups.  Cross your fingers for Kentucky/Syracuse, Tennessee/Georgetown, Vanderbilt/Louisville, Mississippi State/Pittsburgh.

Power Rankings

  1. Kentucky (11-2) Kentucky is winning games by a league-leading 17.5 points per game, including 23.3 over the last six which includes wins over Notre Dame and in-state rival Louisville.  Speaking of Kentucky’s win over Louisville, senior center Josh Harrellson scored a career high 23 points and 14 rebounds in 37 minutes of play.  Contrast that with last year, when he played a total of 88 minutes and scored 28 points and pulled down 27 rebounds in 22 games. Kudos are also in order for Doron Lamb, who led the Cats with 32 points making seven of eight threes and setting the freshman scoring record for Kentucky against Winthrop. That record was previously held by Jamal Mashburn, who on February 3, 1991 set the previous record at 31 against Georgia.
  2. Vanderbilt (10-2) Vanderbilt scored a good win over Marquette and then an easy 80-52 win over Davidson without leading scorer John Jenkins (concussion) and starting forward Andre Walker (twisted ankle).  Vanderbilt has played a tough early schedule with multiple injuries and come out of it very well.  I expect a great SEC season for the Commodores.
  3. Florida (10-3) In hindsight, Florida’s loss to Central Florida doesn’t look so bad as Central Florida is now 13-0 with wins against Florida, Miami and likely Southern Conference challenger Furman.  Florida is playing well, having gotten a tough road win over Xavier this week, but they still need better shooting out of Kenny Boynton and a better assist to turnover ratio out of Erving Walker.
  4. Georgia (11-2) Georgia is 11-2, but they’re not winning by much, only 6.7 points per game.  That said, they are on an eight-game winning streak, the longest in the conference, albeit against decidedly weak competition.  What can be said about the Bulldogs however is that they’re beating the teams that they should and not losing to the teams that they shouldn’t. Dustin Ware (7 points in his last three games) and Gerald Robinson (18 in the same span) are sputtering badly.
  5. Arkansas (10-2) While the Razorbacks don’t yet have a big win, they do have a 14.3 point per game scoring margin in their favor, meaning that when they win, they win decisively and they currently have the best record in the SEC West.
  6. Mississippi (11-3) Like Georgia, Mississippi hasn’t really lost to anyone bad, but they haven’t really beaten anyone good, either.  Mississippi is going to need at least 10 SEC wins to get to the NCAA Tournament and maybe 11.
  7. Alabama (7-6) Alabama had five players in double figures in an easy 83-60 win over Pepperdine in the Tide’s only game this week.  While not as disappointing as Tennessee’s and Mississippi State’s preseason, the Tide has certainly underperformed with losses to St. Peter’s and Iowa.  This was supposed to be a better team than last year, but they played an easier preseason schedule and came out with a worse record than last year when the Tide was 11-4 going into conference play. Senior Charvez Davis, who came off the bench to score 22 points on 5-6 from deep against Lipscomb, had a night to remember while his team has had a lot of them to forget.
  8. Tennessee (9-4) I usually like to say you can throw out the first seven games of the season because teams aren’t yet in a rhythm and they’re still getting used to new personnel or coaches.  It looks like Tennessee literally “threw out the first seven games.”  After getting great wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh, the Volunteers have been terrible, losing to Oakland, Charlotte and Southern California and then barely beating Belmont and Tennessee-Martin before losing to College of Charleston.
  9. South Carolina (8-4) The Gamecocks are in free fall mode after starting 7-1. A loss to Ohio State may be understandable, but not losing to Furman for the first time in 30 years. Poor shooting (37 percent) and 19 turnovers led to a weak seven-point victory over 2-12 Jacksonville State.  Follow that with a home loss to Boston College and the Cocks are losers of three of four.  Now comes the hard part, conference play.
  10. LSU (8-7) The Tigers have lost five of seven and not necessarily to stellar competition either (no disrespect to North Texas, who thumped LSU by 20).  Let’s run down the list here: College of Charleston, Wichita State, North Texas, Rice and Virginia.  Trent Johnson has no seniors, four freshmen, and five sophomores, so we can hope that with experience and a good recruiting class, the Tigers will be better next year.
  11. Mississippi State (8-6) To recap a little of what I said earlier, this team has been a serious disappointment.  The Bulldogs have lost two straight including four of five.  That’s their third two game losing streak in their first 14 games.  Not exactly what we expected when this season started.
  12. Auburn (6-7) Auburn is on a three-game win streak, its longest so far this season, but even with that short streak and Mississippi State’s woes, I still say the Bulldogs beat Auburn handily, so here Auburn sits, at the bottom of the heap.

A Look Ahead

  • Arkansas @ Texas, Jan. 4. This is the Razorbacks’ chance to get a quality win over a non-conference foe on the road.  Do that and an NCAA berth is very likely in a weak Western division.
  • Tennessee @ Arkansas Jan. 8. I want to see how the Volunteers do without Coach Pearl at the helm.  In the preseason, it appeared that wins against Eastern division teams would be hard to come by; as Tennessee has been disappointing of late, this a prime opportunity for Arkansas to score one.
  • Mississippi @ Florida Jan. 8. Well, Mississippi kind of walked through the non-con portion, but may be the best team in the West.  Florida was tabbed as the preseason favorite in the East.  This will be a good game to gauge where these two teams really are.
  • Georgia @ Kentucky, Jan. 8. Last year, an overachieving Bulldog team led by first year head coach Mark Fox ran with the Cats for a half.  I’m interested to see what this improved Georgia team can do against a new litter of Cats led by freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
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