Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.
A Look Back
- Count me as one who didn’t see Festus Ezeli coming. Vanderbilt’s player with the coolest name in the Southeastern Conference was named SEC player of the week for his superior play against Western Kentucky and Belmont, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks including a 24/10 performance against Belmont. He now sports numbers of 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game. And he’s doing it in only 21.3 minutes an outing. He also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 67.7%. No bad for a guy who last year averaged 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest. I for one was critical of Vanderbilit in the preseason claiming they would be weak inside after losing AJ Ogilvy. Uncle Festus has done a fantastic job thus far and will be pivotal in some of the close SEC contests that Vanderbilt is likely to face in the stacked SEC East.
- Speaking of Vanderbilt, three different Vanderbilt players — Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli — have been named player of the week. Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson is the only other player in the league to be given the honor. Also, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris have been trading off freshman of the week honors. If the pattern holds, it’s Jones’ week, a sight Wildcats fans would welcome after Jones’ horrendous 3-17 foul-out performance against North Carolina on Saturday.
- In other Wildcat news, after Auburn football’s Cam Newton was declared eligible by the NCAA, the University of Kentucky opted to re-submit their case for Enes Kanter’s eligibility from a different angle rather than go through the appeals process. The NCAA explained their decision to allow Newton to play by stating that there was no evidence that Newton had any idea that his father was shopping his skills to universities for pay. In the NCAA’s eyes, as Newton was unaware that there was any issue with his amateurism, he should remain eligible to play. UK hopes that the NCAA will hold form in what it sees as a similar case with a precedent and pass down a favorable ruling on Kanter, who is a Turkish national that received benefits above expenses while playing for a professional team in his homeland. Kanter, his family and the school maintain that Kanter intended to play college basketball all along and did not intentionally violate any rules. The NCAA allows foreign players to play on professional teams and maintain their amateurism so long as they do not receive benefits above expenses.
- Auburn and Missisippi State have yet to play a road game. Auburn at least will head to Pittsburgh to play Rutgers in a neutral site game as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational. Mississippi State, however, will be relaxing at home this week as they won’t hit the road until December 18, when they face Virginia Tech. Hey, isn’t that when Renardo Sidney finally plays?
- Tennessee (6-0): Tennessee is the lone undefeated team in the SEC. Plus they didn’t play this week, which means their record went untarnished. The Volunteers are taking an 11-day break while they prepare for Pittsburgh. I guess it’s kind of tough to recover after facing Middle Tennessee at home.
- Vanderbilt (7-1): Vanderbilt just keeps climbing. Their only loss is to West Virginia. No shame in that, and should they beat Missouri on Wednesday, they are all but guaranteed a top 25 ranking – A pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish fifth in East by the media, this writer included.
- South Carolina (6-1): Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina continues to impress. Their sole blemish is a hard-fought loss to Michigan State in their second game of the year. Again, no shame in that. This week, they beat Delaware State and then beat Clemson in a 64-60 thriller that came down to the final minute, just the way you like to beat an in-state rival.
- Georgia (6-2) After two straight tough losses to Notre Dame and Temple, Georgia has won three in a row. One of those is a three-point win against Manhattan, a team that is now 2-6 and hasn’t made the Tournament since 2004. Georgia followed that up with a 66-64 win over UAB and a 73-72 close call against rival Geogia Tech. With Trey Thompkins playing better after a couple of unsteady early games, all should be back on track in Athens. Thompkins is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting well after scoring 13 in each of his first two games on 37% from the field.
- Kentucky (5-2): What to do with Kentucky? They lost to North Carolina in their only game this week, so perhaps they should go lower than some other teams on this list, but to drop them to sixth or below seems absurd. Kentucky had no answer for Tyler Zeller on Saturday and the hole inside became a gaping chasm on Saturday when big men Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas combined for 15 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 assist and only 13 points on 5-19 shooting. I can hear the “Free Enes” chants coming from UK’s campus even with my headphones blasting Smashing Pumpkins. (Hey, I’m a nineties kid).
- Arkansas (5-1): Arkansas went 2-0 this week against Oklahoma and Troy. But then again, who in the SEC hasn’t beaten these teams? Kentucky beat Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost four since and the SEC is beating up on Troy left and right. The Trojans have already taken their licks from Alabama and Mississippi State and now Arkansas. Their lone win is against Division-II Huntington (AL). Coach Pelphrey, I’d love to rank you higher this week, but I can’t against these teams. Come back with a couple more wins next week and we’ll talk.
- Florida (6-2): The Gators lost to Central Florida after eking out a close one against Florida State. I know they went and pummeled American just after that and I know UCF is now 7-0, but I also know that a team with Florida’s talent shouldn’t be dropping games like that. When starting forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combine to go 1-14 against much smaller competition, there are problems. Furthermore, I didn’t think it was possible, but Kenny Boynton is even worse from three this year than last year. He is currently shooting 26.5 percent, compared to 29.4 percent in 2009-10. Dreadful. I wasn’t convinced this group of Gators was much better than last year’s, when the media was picking them to win the SEC and possibly make a Final Four run and they are proving me the wiser. Step it up, Florida. There’s a lot of work to be done before conference play starts.
- Mississippi (4-2): Luckily for the Rebels, Chris Warren can make those off-balance threes when they matter. Well, at least against Southern Mississippi he can. He’s only shooting 28 percent on the year from three, but he shot 4-9 from deep against Southern Miss in his best game this season. That’s a good win for Mississippi against a quality opponent. Look for Southern Mississippi to do good things in Conference USA this year.
- Mississippi State (4-1): The Bulldogs didn’t play this week, but Ravern Johnson still leads the SEC in scoring at 25.4 per game, and he’s got plenty of breathing room. Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is second at 19.0 points per game. Additionally, Kodi Augustus continues to lead the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
- LSU (5-2): Also didn’t play anyone this week. The Tigers have been on the road exactly once so far, against South Alabama. They return to the Maravich to square off against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the second of seven straight home games. Show me something, Trent Johnson.
- Auburn (3-4) Well, this is the first week Auburn hasn’t been in last place. I’m not totally sure they deserve the honor, if you want to call it that. It’s never impressive to see a Division-II team on the schedule. Auburn beat Georgia Southwestern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, both at home. I guess when you’re playing the tough ones, you want to give yourself that homecourt advantage.
- Alabama (4-4) The Tide beat South Alabama 72-50 and then got worked over by Purdue 66-47 in a game in which they went 0-9 from three. I really thought Alabama was going to be better than this. The three-point shooting is terrible and they turn the ball over too much. And it’s not like they’ve played the toughest competition. Purdue is the first team Alabama has played that should have had a shot at beating the Tide. On the bright side, I’m sure they’ll jump back in front of in-state rival Auburn next week.
A Look Ahead
The SEC/Big East Invitational is this week and can I just say that this event has turned out to be a major disappointment on the part of the conference’s planners. Here is the lineup this year:
12/8: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
12/11: Auburn vs. Rutgers, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh
As my father used to say about my shoddy yardwork, “This ain’t cuttin’ it.” Can we please get some kind of a legitimate invitational here? The matchups in this series are continually disappointing. We’re lucky that Notre Dame has been surprisingly good this year, or the Tennessee/Pitt game would be the only one worth watching. There are 28 teams between these two conferences and these are the eight teams they schedule? Where are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt? Where are Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown, and Villanova? Instead of providing us with some marquee publicity-generating matchups, we are given perennial cellar dwellers Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall. Really? As I said, it ain’t cuttin’ it.
Other Important Games this Week
12/8 – Vanderbilt at Missouri: If Vanderbilt picks up a win here and wins the games they are supposed to through the rest of the preseason, they’ve probably all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid. All that’s left is the seeding.
12/11 – Kentucky vs. Indiana: Twelve championships between them and a long-standing history of hoops tradition. What’s not to like?