Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina 6-2
Mississippi State 7-2
It was a very slow week in the SEC as three teams did not see any action at all. Kentucky and Mississippi State represented the SEC well in the SEC/Big East Invitational while Florida and Georgia lost their matchups. Both Mississippi teams have been coming on strong and supplying some firepower to the West; Tennessee has only one setback and they should challenge UK all season. The big story for the rest of the year will be the race to 2000 wins between UK and North Carolina. Kentucky has pretty much assured themselves of being the first team to break the 2000-win plateau as they currently have 1998 wins to 1992 for UNC.
Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina 6-2
Mississippi State 5-2
Anyone doubting the SEC’s resurgence this season had to be pouring themselves a big glass of “hater-ade” after taking a look at the weekly Top 25 polls. The SEC, which sent only three teams to the NCAA Tourney last season now has three teams perched in the Top 10 and four teams are among the Top 25 in the nation.
Kentucky used a win over North Carolina to leapfrog Purdue into the #4 spot in the AP Top 25 and now have that spot in both polls. Tennessee only had one game last week, but moved to #9 in both polls due to other teams’ misfortunes, and the resurgent Florida Gators now occupy the #10 spot in the AP Top 25 and the 11th spot in the ESPN/USA Today Poll. Mississippi debuted in the AP Poll at #25 and fell just outside the top 25 at #29 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. In contrast to that, Vanderbilt was #24th in the ESPN poll and #28 in the AP Poll.
The sports world may have told us that this was a college football weekend, but we know better, right?
That Kentucky vs. UNC is Meaningful Again. Now that John Calipari is at Kentucky and his Cats are ranked in the Top 10 with a legitimate shot at postseason glory for the first time in a long while, it’s good to have this game on the early-season schedule. UK rode a masterful 28-2 run to build an early 19-point lead behind John Wall’s 16/5/7 assts even though he spent much of the game cramping up, and the record crowd of 24k+ at Rupp Arena loved it… until UNC got their young legs settled in the second half, and a late 12-1 run got the Heels within one bucket with 0:33 remaining. Eric Bledsoe and John Wall made five pressure-filled FTs to close it out 68-66 and UK moved to 8-0 on the season while UNC fell to 7-2. One thing was clear, though — both of these teams are going to get a lot better before March – can we set a rematch in Indy on Semifinal Saturday four months from now?
Oregon State. For putting an end to the discussion that was already gurgling (ahem) about the Pac-10 getting swept in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. The Beavers defeated Colorado 74-69 on Friday night to give the Pac-10 its first win in the Series, and through the weekend games, only Cal’s dominant home victory over Iowa State was the other. The Big 12 now leads 8-2 in the matchup, and with two games remaining at Pac-10 venues, we’re still not coinvinced that the league will get another win (Oklahoma State @ Stanford & Texas A&M @ Washington).
Reggie Jackson. It didn’t count, but lordy… Jackson damn near brough the entire world down with this ridiculous dunk (below) at the end of the BC-Miami (FL) game on Sunday. Still, Jackson dropped 18/9 in a conference opener for both teams that showed both of these teams will be heard from in the ACC this season. BC dominated the glass 43-19, but it was Jackson’s FTs (not a dunk) with three seconds remaining that gave BC the home win to go to 1-0 in league play.
Dunk to Win. How about a dunk that did count? On Saturday afternoon, Ole Miss’ Eniel Polynice broke free for a throwdown right before the buzzer that ended up being the winning margin, 81-79, over Southern Miss. This was the capper on a wild game that saw the 7-1 Rebels come back from six pts down in the final minute to take the lead and win the game on that dunk. We’ve yet to find online video of this play but it’s really impressive, so if someone finds it a link to the dunk only, please let us know. Chris Warren added 20/6 assts for Ole Miss, while Gary Flowers contributed 20/8 for Southern Miss. Afterwards, USM coach Larry Eustachy found time to throw Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury under the bus for not playing his team. Good times.
Gravity. If you haven’t heard by now, Ohio State superstar Evan Turner took a nasty spill after attempting a dunk in the first few minutes of the Buckeyes’ 111-60 mauling of Eastern Michigan on Saturday afternoon. He landed on the small of his back and broke two vertebrae which will shelve the early-season leading candidate for NPOY for at least eight weeks. Ohio State will undoubtedly have trouble recovering from his loss during that time. For a more detailed description and video of the fall, see our report from Saturday.
A 22-point Half. You probably missed this on Friday night, but we didn’t. Pitt and New Hampshire tried their best to set the game back fifty years with a wretched offensive performance during a 15-7 first half. You read that right. 15-7. The 22 combined points was the lowest for a half in the shot-clock era, which began in 1985. It may as well have been 1955, though, as Pitt won 47-32 with the two teams combining for 31% shooting and Pitt in particular getting almost all of its points from two players — 23 from Ashton Gibbs and 19 from Brad Wanamaker. In fact, the entire Pitt front line contributed a total of three points. We’re not sure what exactly caused this, guys, but let’s please not let this happen again, ok?
She Looks Different With the Lights On. Nouveaux-riche WCC powers Portland and San Diego are learning what it’s like to be Gonzaga after all these years. Just one week after one of the most successful weekends in both schools’ basketball history, the giant red target that was placed squarely on their backs is weighing down both teams. On Sunday, both teams took blowout losses at the hands of schools that were clearly fired up to get a shot at a team playing with the big boys into their arena. Portland, the media RTC darling of a week ago, lost its second straight game to a middie after finishing as the runner-up to West Virginia in the 76 Classic. Idaho ran out to a 16-pt first-half lead and never looked back, holding Portland to 32% shooting and 6-22 from deep. Things have been even worse for San Diego since returning as the runner-up in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Toreros have dropped three straight games, including Friday night’s loss to UC Riverside and a 37-pt (19% FG) stinker on Sunday at Fresno State (note: Brandon Johnson did miss the game for disciplinary reasons, but SD was still down 38 pts in this one at one time – ugh). It was Idaho’s first win over a ranked team in 27 years and Fresno’s first win in five tries. Both of these WCC teams are going to need to right the ship in home games this week (Denver and New Mexico, respectively) or be considered irrelevant by Christmas after such good starts.
Coming into this season, there were two main storylines to watch for the conference as a whole. The first was if the SEC, after a down year and having only three NCAA teams last year, could rebound and regain its status as an elite conference. The second one was if the influx of new talent in the SEC, both in the coaching and playing ranks, would help to raise the prestige level of the SEC.
The jury is out as to whether the SEC is going to be an elite conference this year. So far, the SEC has an unimpressive 32-12 record so far. There have been embarrassing losses, the key one being #19 Mississippi State losing to Rider by 14 points. Add to this the fact that the SEC have not knocked off a “name team,” yet. Just last night, #9 Tennessee lost to #6 Purdue and #24 Vanderbilt lost to Cincinnati. The East division is clearly the class of the league with a 17-5 record and all three of the SEC’s ranked teams residing in that division. So far, only Kentucky, Florida, and LSU have escaped the first two weeks of the season unscathed.
Okay, so the Southeastern Conference has…well…embarrassed itself. Kentucky got the party started with a home loss to VMI and as of this posting, only four unbeatens remain in what was formerly considered a “power conference.” This season is looking like a major reloading session for the SEC, as nearly every team is falling short of pre-season expectations. Stars like Shan Foster, Chris Lofton, Jamont Gordon and Marreese Speights have exited and the conference is feeling the losses in a big way. Let’s get to this week’s SEC rankings…
Week One Power Rankings
#12 Tennessee (3-0)
Mississippi State (4-0)
#17 Florida (3-1)
South Carolina (3-0)
Ole Miss (3-1)
For now, we’ll classify the teams in terms of how they are performing versus how they were expected to before the season. This category will change pretty often, depending on the week, but each one will feature a short snippet of each team in the conference.
While “expectations” are subjective, these are teams that are playing above the level they were expected to at this point in the season.
Mississippi State – The Bulldogs’ offseason seemed to be one gigantic nightmare. The most potent duo in the conference in Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes departed for the NBA (or not) and a third starter in Ben Hansbrough to transfer. Instead of taking a step backward, the squad has meshed surprisingly well on the shoulders of reigning National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who is thus far averaging just short of a triple-double with 10.3ppg, 13.0rpg, and 7.8bpg. Varnado again leads the nation in blocks and has helped State lead the SEC in seven statistical categories thus far. Freshman point guard Dee Bost has been outstanding in early play, currently leading the SEC in assists per game with 6.75apg. The competition has been weak, but while other league teams are dropping those games, the Bulldogs have been owning their opponents so far.
LSU – The other West standout is in a very similar situation as Mississippi State, except that expectations for the Tigers are high considering their high talent level and experience versus the rest of the Western Division. LSU’s competition level has been similarly weak, but LSU is defeating teams by an average of 25.7ppg and is looking to be the surprise team of the SEC. The Tigers are stacked with potent offensive players in Bo Spencer, Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton, but are surprisingly stingy on defense as well. With the conference down, LSU could win enough conference games to make the NCAA Tournament as long as the squad stays healthy. LSU lacks depth, so any loss would be a disaster.