Posted by Brian Joyce on January 9th, 2013
- SEC play started Tuesday night, and for one team the message was simple: Just win. Tennessee enters conference play without forward Jeronne Maymon, with injuries to freshman Derek Reese and point guard Trae Golden, and with anything but an assurance of an NCAA berth carrying a mediocre 8-4 record. “I wouldn’t say [there's] pressure,” Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We just need to win ball games.” The Volunteers open up with Ole Miss this evening and will need Golden to play much better. Over the last three games, Golden is 1-of-16 from the field and is averaging just 6.3 points per game.
- Fans in Lexington may want revenge against Vanderbilt on Thursday given the Commodores’ narrow victory over the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament final, but Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t expect his players to have a chip on their shoulder. “The guys I’m coaching may not even know that game happened to be honest with you. I’ve watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us. All three games were wars. We happened to win two; we could’ve lost all three – or we could’ve won all three. But they were wars, and so I expect nothing less than that going up [to Nashville].” As Kentucky continues to rely upon freshmen in this one-and-done landscape, it becomes increasingly likely that current players will be unfamiliar with long-term institutional history. Rivalries may change year to year just as the teams do in Lexington.
- Saddled with injuries and a youthful team, Auburn has turned to junior swingman Allen Payne at the power forward position. Payne, a 6’5″ junior with lingering knee issues after a suffering ACL and meniscus tears last season, is undersized for the post but his solid play against Illinois and Florida State has earned him the praise of coaches and teammates. “He’s always been tough,” center Rob Chubb said. “But now he’s starting to get more touches, he’s starting to get a feel for himself and realize he’s a skilled bigger player.” Payne stepped up in a big way last week in a win over Florida State with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
- Could Ole Miss give the SEC a chance at four bids in the NCAA Tournament? Well, it’s never too early to start projecting the bracket, and at this point the Rebels seem to be squarely on the bubble. Ole Miss has neither quality wins nor bad losses, with a win over Rutgers as its “best” victory thus far. A win over the Scarlet Knights is hardly a resume builder. Three bids remains the most likely scenario for the SEC this year, but a rise from the Rebels in conference play gives the conference its best chance at securing another bid in the Big Dance.
- Mississippi State coach Rick Ray says Mississippi State is “getting ready to turn the corner.” Despite some embarrassing losses, the first-year coach likes the direction his Bulldogs are taking considering the circumstances. “But the semester break has been key for us as far as our individual player development and our team getting better,” Ray said. “I felt that all came to fruition in our game against New Orleans when we went out and played better than we did that first 15 minutes against Alabama A&M. We’re headed in the right direction as far as improvement as a ball club and improvement individually as we start SEC play.” Mississippi State is “all the way up to a booming seven scholarship players,” forced to use trainers and managers to field a full 10-man scrimmage in practice. Considering the circumstances, patience is in order in Starkville.