SEC Full Court Press: Nothing Easy On the Road

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 17th, 2012

The SEC Full Court Press is a quick hitting review of my thoughts and observations from the last week, as well as a look ahead.

The Week That Was (01.09.12 – 01.15.12)

  • Florida’s Kenny Boynton seemed to prefer a high degree of difficulty on his way to 15 points against Georgia. He was 1-6 (16.6%) from two point field goals on Saturday, but 4-7 (57.1%) from three-point range.
  • Now that his time playing football for Steve Spurrier is over, South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington has excelled on the hardwood. This week he averaged 18.5 points and three assists per game against Vanderbilt and Florida. Coming into these two games, Ellington had only scored in double figures twice all season.
  • Vanderbilt got to the free throw line 44 times (making 30) against Georgia, showing improvement in its aggressiveness and ability to establish a presence in the low post.
  • Three-point shooting continues to be an issue for Alabama. The Crimson Tide were 1-9 (11.1%) in a loss in Starkville against Mississippi State.
  • Arnett Moultrie continues to rack up video game type numbers with 25 points and 13 rebounds against Bama. At one point, Moultrie scored 14 straight points for the Bulldogs.
  • While I still think Moultrie is the SEC Player of the Year, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has made a fairly significant case for most valuable player. He finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds against Tennessee, but came up big in the clutch when Kentucky needed him most.
  • Speaking of Kentucky, the Cats have as many conference road wins already this season (two) as they had on the road throughout the entire SEC slate last season.
  • Who says John Calipari-coached teams can’t shoot free throws? Since the beginning of SEC play, the Cats are shooting 75% from the charity stripe. And they’ve been there 69 times in the first three conference games.
  • For all my NCAA Tournament bubble talk last week, I now believe the SEC will end up as a five-bid league. LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas looked as though they could wind up on the bubble, but all three are far too inconsistent to make a serious run.

Beat the Press

  • The team I was most impressed with this week was the Mississippi State Bulldogs.  After struggling last week in a fast paced affair with Arkansas, Mississippi State got two important wins this week. First, the Bulldogs won 62-58 over the Tennessee Volunteers and then outlasted Alabama for a 56-52 win. The offense wasn’t clicking for the Bulldogs on either night, shooting under 45 percent from the field in both, but they found a way to win. This week will be even more telling as Mississippi State hits the road for contests against in-state rival Ole Miss and then on to Nashville for a tough game at Vanderbilt.

Anthony Davis needs one block to tie the single season blocks record at Kentucky

  • This week, not only did Anthony Davis beat the press, but he swatted it into fifth row of the stands. Davis was key down the stretch in Kentucky’s victory over Tennessee as the freshman center showcased some offensive moves in the post. He finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks against the Vols, averaging 16 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, 2.5 steals and two assists on the week. Davis handles the ball on the perimeter often for the Cats, but had zero turnovers in either game.  With his eight blocks this week, Davis is now two blocks away from setting the single season blocks record (one block to tie) at Kentucky.

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SEC Morning Five: 01.05.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 5th, 2012

  1. Florida coach Billy Donovan is pleased with the development of guard Erving Walker into more of a multi-faceted point guard. Walker is second in the SEC with 5.2 assists per game, which is an increase of almost two assists per contest over last season. “The thing I’m most pleased with tonight more than anything is that Erving Walker could take four shots last game and not be in the flow of the game and then he can come back in this game and score 23 points,” Donovan said. Walker and guard Kenny Boynton have improved their shot selection as evidenced by an increase in field goal and three point shooting percentages for both players. Now if Donovan can get them to simply feed center Patric Young in the post, the Gators could be even more efficient on the offensive end.
  2. South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington played in the Gamecocks’ Capital One bowl game for Steve Spurrier’s football team, and turned around and took to the hardwood for Darrin Horn the next night against South Carolina State. Although Ellington was 3-3 from beyond the arc, he played for a season-low 13 minutes. It has been difficult for him to play both sports in such a busy time of the season. “Sometimes I don’t want to shoot after practice, but our trainer does a good job of getting me in there and getting shots up,” Ellington said. “He gets me in there every day to work on my shot, and it’s getting better.” It will be interesting to see this Gamecocks squad at full strength once Ellington is able to fully concentrate on basketball.
  3. Red Cup Rebellion wonders if former McDonald’s All American Jelan Kendrick is worth the trouble that he causes. Kendrick did not play for Ole Miss on Tuesday night against SMU, the second time this season that Kendrick did not play due to a decision made by coach Andy Kennedy. According to a poll on the RCR website, 39% of Rebel fans don’t think Kendrick is worth the wait, while another 36% aren’t sure yet. He is averaging just 2.7 points in three games this season. Kendrick became eligible in early December. At 6’7″, he could be a huge mismatch for the Rebels if he can make his way into the lineup.
  4. Coach Kennedy is happy with Ole Miss’ win over SMU, but he is realistic with what kind of team he has this year. “It’s going to be a grind, so grab on with both hands,” Kennedy said. “It’s who we are.” The Rebels scored 50 points in each of their last two games, but got the victory this time around. Ole Miss had been on a three-game losing streak coming in to Tuesday night. The Rebs shot 34.1% from the field and are still figuring out who will be effective for them on offense. “We got some guys that are playing with the yips. They’re not playing with the confidence that we need,” Kennedy said. I’m not certain what the yips are, but it sounds bad. Real bad.
  5. The Kentucky General Assembly tackles some of the most pressing issues in the state. They must have taken notice when Kentucky coach John Calipari openly questioned which rivalries his Wildcats would continue in non-conference play (or they read Rush the Court’s post on the rivalry) because Senator Tim Shaughnessy is attempting to pass into LAW a bill that would REQUIRE UK and Louisville to play each other in both basketball and football each year. Seriously. In all fairness, Kentuckians take their basketball rather seriously. While Shaughnessy is at it, can he pass a law that requires college freshmen to return to school rather than opting to enter the NBA Draft? THAT would ensure the best interests of the Kentucky basketball program, if that is his true intent.
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SEC Morning Five: 12.14.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 14th, 2011

  1. Is 2011 the worst year in the history of Tennessee athletics? Bruce Pearl resurrected a Tennessee basketball program from the depths of the SEC, building the program from the ground up, only to singlehandedly burn it to the ground with a BBQ in his backyard. As much good as Pearl did for the state of UT basketball, he did far more to tear it down after the NCAA forced the Volunteers’ hand in firing him. The state of the Tennessee basketball program has fallen to the point where the Vols lost to a 1-9 Austin Peay team last week, and nobody gave the box score a second look. New coach Cuonzo Martin will restore Tennessee to a place where it has become accustomed, but it cannot be stressed enough just how far the Volunteers have fallen.
  2. Kentucky’s loss to Indiana on Saturday was an instant classic. The atmosphere in Bloomington, the buzzer-beating shot to win it all and the fall of the number one program in the land made for must-see TV. The game drew 3.5 million viewers, which is impressive, but as Gary Parrish points out, the series could be canceled because of the imminent addition of two SEC games to UK’s schedule. My knee jerk reaction is the same as Parrish’s — college basketball is better because of home-and-home series with bitter rivals. And so are the teams that get the experience of playing on the road in a hostile environment. Kentucky may have lost the game last Saturday, but the Cats will likely be a better team come March because of it.
  3. Much has been made over the last several days on the microsite regarding Terrence Jones‘ disappearance in Kentucky’s last game. Jones didn’t show up, and nobody, including Jones, is arguing that point. But it wasn’t just fans and overzealous bloggers who took notice of his disappointing play. Several NBA scouts are divided on where to take Jones in the next NBA Draft. Some indicate they would take him in the top half of the lottery while other scouts would pass on Jones altogether. The sophomore forward returned to Kentucky to win a National Championship and to raise his stock in the NBA Draft, and he can’t continue to play with the poor attitude he displayed on Saturday if he wants to reach either of those goals.
  4. Florida Atlantic gave Mississippi State everything the Bulldogs could handle Tuesday night until MSU pulled away in the final minute for a 75-68 win. Rick Stansbury’s club obviously missed the production of forward Arnett Moultrie, who sat out with knee tendinitis. Moultrie averages 17.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season. Overweight forward Renardo Sidney did everything he could to fill in for Moultrie with 10 points and eight rebounds, but looked exhausted in the final few minutes. Sidney walked up and down the court in the second half, and still doesn’t have the conditioning or desire to be a star for the Bulldogs. Instead he has settled in nicely as a role player that complements Moultrie’s production. However, it is clear that Sidney doesn’t have the motor to provide the hustle and effort that Moultrie gives day in and day out for Mississippi State.
  5. South Carolina got a much needed 66-55 win over Presbyterian College on Tuesday night. Bruce Ellington came off the bench to give a steady influence the Gamecocks need at the guard position. Ellington scored 15 points and committed only two turnovers in 25 minutes of play. The Gamecocks have won two games in a row after a three-point win over Clemson on December 4. But wait… do the Gamecocks really think they can beat Ohio State on Saturday if they play like they did in the second half of the PC game? To be fair, the author says USC has “a proverbial puncher’s chance” and Ellington’s return has South Carolina looking like a much better team. At this point, there is no word on Jared Sullinger’s return from a back injury that sidelined him for the Buckeyes’ loss last weekend to Kansas. Maybe South Carolina’s chances aren’t such a longshot after all.
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ATB: Belmont’s At-Large Chances, Minnesota’s 11 Wins, and the Itinerant Laval Lucas-Perry…

Posted by rtmsf on December 14th, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. It’s day two of Finals Week and, although tonight wasn’t as dry to the bone as Monday was, it was still rather light around the college basketball world. Still, a couple dozen games included a handful of ranked teams and even a questionable RTC in a place called Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Let’s jump into it…

Your Watercooler Moment. Belmont Loses to Middle Tennessee — Are Their At-Large Chances Kaput?

MTSU Fans RTC'd After Beating Belmont Tonight (Nashville Tennesseean)

Middle Tennessee State and Belmont tipped it off for the second time already this season — in a scheduling quirk, the two teams als0 played on November 20 at MTSU, a double-overtime Belmont win — but this time, it was the home Blue Raiders who held on for the close victory, 65-62. As we discussed in tonight’s Night Line, Belmont now has three losses in its first nine games, and even though the Nashville school remains every Pomeroy/Sagarin disciple’s mid-major darling (the Bruins are currently #26 in Pomeroy, #31 in Sagarin), it appears increasingly difficult to map out a scenario where the Bruins could earn an at-large NCAA bid should they lose in the Atlantic Sun Tournament next March. The A-Sun’s next best team is Mercer, rated #140 in Pomeroy, and the only other team in the top 100 on Belmont’s schedule is C-USA’s Marshall, which the Bruins will play twice (12/19 at Marshall; 12/29 at Belmont). Obviously, Rick Byrd’s team needs to win both of those — no easy task — and run the table in the Atlantic Sun to even get serious consideration for an at-large. Its non-conference SOS is currently rated #47 by Pomeroy, but it’s unlikely to rise much more than it is now, with each of its remaining four non-conference opponents ranking below that mark. Furthermore, its overall SOS will get progressively destroyed by 18+ games against Atlantic Sun teams during January through March. One of the peculiarities of the NCAA Tournament system is that a really good team like Belmont could find itself the victim of a catch-22 in trying to schedule as well as you can (Duke, Memphis) without actually winning any of the games. Yet, their hands are tied in that they’re unlikely to get many power conference teams to play them anywhere else. We’ll most definitely be rooting for the Bruins to get back to the NCAAs in March, but they’ll certainly have a lot of pressure on them to win that conference tourney again.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

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ATB: Entertaining SEC/Big East Challenge Deadlocked After One Night

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Big East Earns Two Road Wins in SEC/Big East Challenge.

The Length of Kentucky Frustated St. John's to the Tune of 18 Blocks (LHL/P. Alcala)

The first of the three-night SEC/Big East Challenge is in the books, and at least at this point, the Big East appears to have the upper hand. After Georgetown and Providence earned road wins at Alabama and South Carolina that neither was expected to achieve, the conferences are tied at 2-2 going into Friday night’s quadruple-header. Kentucky and Ole Miss saved face for the SEC with two wins of its own, but the Rebels barely survived at DePaul and UK was a heavy favorite over St. John’s. With three Big East schools hosting games on Friday night, and all three positioned as significant favorites, the league will be in a great spot to take a commanding lead in the 12-game challenge heading into Saturday’s final four games. Can the SEC simply send Kentucky’s long-armed corps of flyswatters to each Big East arena instead?

Your Watercooler Moment. Hollis If Ya Hear Me!

Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson came through with a big-time play on the road at Alabama tonight when many lesser teams and players would have crumbled under the pressure. After methodically imposing its defensive will on the Crimson Tide for 38 minutes to take a nine-point lead with a little over two minutes remaining, Alabama went on a 10-0 run behind its stars JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell to take a one-point advantage into Georgetown’s final possession. As the video above shows, Jason Clark, a Thursday All-American, dribble handed off to Thompson on the right side and he drained the long three for the win, ending Alabama’s 24-game home winning streak (fourth longest in the nation). The Hoyas are playing better than anyone could have anticipated and have now defeated two top-15 teams (Memphis as well) while giving another (Kansas) all it wanted. Credit is deserving to John Thompson, III, who has fashioned another really good team after losing his stellar backcourt of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman to graduation last season.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

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Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: Providence @ South Carolina

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 1st, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Gerald Smith and Patrick Prendergast will battle one-on-one to break down Providence’s visit tonight at South Carolina.

Gerald Smith: The first Big East/SEC Challenge matchup is a cold, calculated move by the WORLDWIDE LEADERS at ESPN: After 30 minutes of Providence at South Carolina, fans nationwide will be eager to jump into the St. John’s @ Kentucky game 30 minutes later. Prior to Providence’s better performance against Holy Cross Tuesday night, both teams scored less than 62 points their last three games. Opponents of bothhave been averaging seven three-pointers made per game. The Gamecocks and Friars didn’t have the highest of expectations this season yet both have chalked up some disappointing losses — Providence was manhandled by Northern Iowa and South Carolina dropped its fourth game of the season to Southern California on Saturday.

Will Gill Get Rowdy? (credit: 247sec.com)

Perhaps the national audience might get drawn in if freshman forward Anthony Gill gets kinda rowdy early. When Gill is active, coach Darrin Horn’s team has a pulse: Gill uses his athleticism and size to grab rebounds (5.2 RPG), score inside (61.3% FG on 31 attempts) and draw fouls. When Gill is too rowdy, he is forced to sit; Carolina is 1-3 when Gill plays 23 minutes or less. Gill is a legitimate talent that could steal SEC Freshman of the Week honors at least once this season.

For Providence, which player (or players) might keep fans from switching the channel?

Patrick Prendergast: The Friars (5-2) run on the “3 Cs,” a backcourt trio consisting of 6’2” junior point guard Vincent Council (18.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.7 APG), 6’5” sophomore wing Gerard Coleman (16.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 APG) and 6’1″ shooting guard Bryce Cotton (14.6 PPG). With no seniors on the roster the junior, Council is the leader and floor general. Coleman, a starter a year ago,” has been used predominantly in a sixth-man role to add scoring punch off the bench for a team that can be offensively challenged. While Council and Coleman lead the charge, Cotton may be the best barometer of success for Providence as he has averaged 19.2 points per game in their five wins and just three per game in their two losses.

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SEC Make or Break: South Carolina Gamecocks

Posted by Gerald Smith on October 26th, 2011

The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. This post features the South Carolina Gamecocks.

One must wonder if South Carolina coach Darrin Horn just swung by Gigi’s to fill out his non-conference schedule. Most of the mid-majors scheduled — including Southeastern Louisiana, Wofford, Presbyterian and South Carolina State — are predicted to struggle in their own conferences. (If you’re a smart RTC reader, you’d already know this thanks to our awesome Conference Primer series.) In games with preseason #1 North Carolina and preseason #3 Ohio State, USC will get a strength-of-schedule boost but will be heavy underdogs. With a slew of transfers and guard Bruce Ellington‘s availability for the team in question, don’t blame the Gamecocks for wanting to schedule lightly while they piece together a team that can compete in a much-stronger Southeastern Conference. Coach Horn’s team might need to rely on a hard-working defense during November and December while they learn who can score on a consistent basis. Then the team must hope Ellington can play major minutes when the SEC schedule starts up.

This is what Bruce Ellington looked like in a basketball jersey during last year's SEC Tournament. We won't see him looking like this again until probably the end of the Gamecocks' football season.

Three Four key non-conference games that will make or break the Gamecocks’ season:

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SEC Morning Five: 10.21.11 Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on October 21st, 2011

  1. Rally the troops! Sound the Horn of Nerdfighting and CHARGE! The ESPN/USA Today Preseason Top-25 poll has been released! The Southeastern Conference has four members on the list: Kentucky at #2 (with one 1st place vote), Vanderbilt at #7, Florida at #10 and Alabama at #17. (Future SEC member Texas A&M checks in at #19.) Mississippi State was the only other SEC school receiving votes from the coaches.
  2. Returning all five starters helped Vanderbilt garner their highest Preseason Top-25 ranking since 1965. Those 1965-66 Commodores, led by legendary coach Roy Skinner, were coming off their first NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance. This year’s Vanderbilt team has been upset in the past two NCAA Tournaments, leaving some observers to doubt their ability to make a serious run for the NCAA title. Others, such as CBS Sportsline’s Gary Parrish thinks Vandy had enough offensive talent and experience to advance further than the First Second Round. (Our very own Brian Joyce should soon have an interesting analysis of Vandy’s ability to succeed in the postseason. Keep yer eyes peeled!)
  3. After many years of success and orange body paint, it seems strange not seeing Tennessee listed on this Preseason Top 25 list. Their omission is understandable: Hitting the reset button to expunge the Bruce Pearl era, new Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin faces a strong schedule with a hodge-podge of athletic players who don’t exactly fit his system. After many years of being the big hounds on the block, Vols fans will need to change to root for the underdogs of the SEC East. One way to start will be getting ticket sales back on track.
  4. Mississippi State basketball fans have more to look forward to than a fitter Renardo Sidney and a team that has the potential to make all sort of noise come March. This is the 100th season of Bulldog basketball! (Please, don’t ring all your cowbells at once. It’s early.) The MSU Athletic Department has compiled a list of twenty All-Century team members: modern members include the versatile Mario Austin, incredible marksman Dontae’ Jones and swat-machines Jarvis Varnado and Erick Dampier. MSU fans can select the starting five from all these All-Century team members and the top five greatest games of Mississippi State history. Sounds like a fun start to a great year’s worth of events.
  5. Early in the 2011-12 team practice season there still remains more questions than answers for South Carolina. With only nine scholarship players, Coach Darrin Horn admitted to the media on Wednesday that he has yet to find a starting five players for his team. Horn’s challenge, he says, is that he has seven players that could start on any given night. The USC blog Garnet and Black Attack has speculated on a regular starting rotation that includes improving sophomore center/forward Damontre Harris and highly-regarded freshmen shooting guard Damien Leonard. The Gamecocks are currently practicing without point guard Bruce Ellington as he finishes the season for the Gamecock football team. With Ellington’s role on the football team possibly increasing due to the season-ending injury to running back Marcus Lattimore, Coach Horn may not know how much he will be able to play Ellington once he rejoins the basketball team. Horn is currently encouraged by the offensive effectiveness he’s seen in practice thus far but reincorporating his only returning experienced scorer remains a mystery.
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Conference Report Card: SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 18th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • It was a good year for the Southeastern Conference. After a weak showing in the NCAA Tournament last year, the SEC was the only conference with multiple teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Elite Eight. The SEC also got five teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years. It was a major improvement over the sad slump that was 2009 when the SEC only qualified LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State at 8, 9, and 13 seeds, respectively.
  • When the season started, I predicted the conference could get five and possibly six teams in the tournament and I still contend that Alabama was snubbed.  But regardless of that, five teams is a good showing and a sign of improvement for a conference that lost a little respect as an elite conference in the past few years.
  • Florida was consistent all year, winning close games by playing calmly even when trailing late, but the biggest turning point for the conference came when Kentucky finally was able to win those same close games.  The Wildcats were sitting at 7-9 in conference play and likely facing a first-round game in the SEC when they won close games against Florida, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee finishing the regular season 10-6 and easily marching through the conference tournament.  Kentucky was the favorite at the Final Four in Houston, but poor shooting likely cost the Wildcats their eighth national championship.  And the debate about John Calipari’s ability to win it all with young teams goes on.
Brandon Knight came up big for John Calipari when he needed the star freshman guard the most.

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SEC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

 

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC. With tournament action set to tip from Atlanta on Thursday, get set with RTC’s regular season recap and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

Hottest Teams Going Into The Postseason:

  • FloridaPasting Alabama to close out the season is a really good sign.
  • KentuckyLooking good on a lot of people’s brackets after winning two tough ones and they’ve been top 10 at KenPom.com all season.

Tournament Sleeper: Mississippi State – Too much talent here to not be dangerous when push comes to shove.  The question is, will they play the way they’re capable or the way when they’ve fumbled?

Best First Round Matchup: Tennessee vs. Arkansas, Thursday - The South Carolina/Ole Miss game doesn’t carry much weight, and I don’t see Georgia having too much trouble with Auburn, nor Vanderbilt with LSUArkansas is the higher seeded team here due to the wackiness of the Southeastern Conference Tournament seeding (more on that later).  Arkansas won the previous meeting 68-65 in Fayetteville.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.03.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 3rd, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

It’s a light night across the college basketball landscape but two teams will look to increase their NCAA chances with a win tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Tennessee @ South Carolina – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

Hopson Should Have a Big Night Tonight

The Volunteers are likely in the NCAA Tournament with their quality wins against the second-ranked schedule, but it would be in their best interest to win at least one of their final two games. It’s possible that Tennessee could lose both and fall to 7-9 in SEC play heading into the conference tournament and therefore need at least a win or two. After tonight, the Vols host Kentucky in the regular season finale on Sunday.

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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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