SEC Way-Too-Early 2015-16 Power Rankings

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 23rd, 2015

The SEC coaching carousel’s dust appears to have settled with Avery Johnson, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland having moved into their new offices at Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State, respectively. Kentucky’s John Calipari is making the recruiting rounds with a new pitch after seven more of his players declared for this summer’s NBA Draft. Anthony Grant is getting re-acclimated to the assistant’s chair next to Billy Donovan at Florida that has worked out so well for both of them in the past. There’s still more to be determined about how the SEC will look heading into next season, but here are some way too early predictions on the season to come.

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season (AP Photo)

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season. (AP Photo)

Coach of the Year

  • John Calipari, Kentucky

Player of the Year

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Freshman/Newcomer of the Year

  • Ben Simmons, LSU

All-SEC First Team

  • Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
  • Stefan Moody, SG, Ole Miss
  • Danuel House, SF, Texas A&M
  • Ben Simmons, SF, LSU
  • Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky

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What Jordan Mickey’s Early Exit Means For LSU

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 2nd, 2015

Jordan Mickey joined former teammate Jarell Martin in declaring for the NBA draft this week, forgoing two years of eligibility and depriving the college basketball world of an LSU team that could have legitimately given next year’s Kentucky team a run for its money in terms of talent. Here is a rundown of what his departure means for the Tigers.

Jordan Mickey will enter the NBA draft after two highly productive seasons at LSU (lsusports.net).

Jordan Mickey will enter the NBA draft after two highly productive seasons at LSU. (lsusports.net)

  • Surprise Factor: Low. It took him a little longer than his teammate Martin to announce his decision, but this was expected.
  • Legacy: Mickey certainly got his money’s worth during his two years in Baton Rouge. He racked up all-SEC honors both years (1st and 2nd teams) and landed on the all-defensive team twice. He also leaves LSU with the second-most blocked shots in program history (218), looking up only to Shaquille O’Neal. He’s meant a lot for Johnny Jones as well, who used his North Texas/Dallas connection to get the top-50 prospect to LSU. Mickey had become a legitimate NBA prospect after his freshman year, and while that’s not shocking for a guy with his pedigree, recruits ranked where he was can be somewhat hit and miss. Jones should use Mickey’s clear development as a selling point when sitting in future prospects’ living rooms.

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The Non-Kentucky SEC Postseason Review

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 1st, 2015

Only one of the SEC’s eight postseason teams is still playing, and you may have heard of them a time or two over the weekend. For the other seven schools, the season is now over. Let’s take a look at whether they met, exceeded or fell short of their postseason expectations.

Jarvis Summers and the Rebels stormed back against BYU, but couldn't find the same shooting touch against Xavier (espn.com).

Jarvis Summers and the Rebels stormed back against BYU, but couldn’t find the same shooting touch against Xavier. (Getty)

Three That Exceeded Expectations

  • #11 Ole Miss (beat #11 BYU in the NCAA First Four; lost to #6 Xavier in the Second Round). The Rebels’ magical second-half outburst to beat BYU in Dayton was a real treat and it gave Andy Kennedy just his second NCAA Tournament win at Ole Miss. That alone has to qualify the Rebels’ postseason journey as a success, especially since the team had lost four of five to end the season and had to be feeling fortunate just to be there. It’s a shame M.J. Rhett has used all of his eligibility since his inside/outside game was instrumental in the First Four comeback and was one of the few players to perform well against the Musketeers.
  • #6 Alabama (beat #3 Illinois in the NIT First Round; lost to #2 Miami (FL) in NIT Second Round). The Tide’s underwhelming season ultimately cost Anthony Grant his job, but for the team to stick together to win at least one game just days afterward is impressive. There’s also no shame in losing to a Miami team that had several big wins this year and ended up reaching the NIT Semifinals in New York. The big question now is whether the gobs of money Alabama has reportedly thrown at Gregg Marshall will be enough to lure him to Tuscaloosa.
  • #5 Vanderbilt (beat #4 St. Mary’s in the NIT First Round; beat South Dakota State in the NIT Second Round, lost to Stanford in the NIT Quarterfinals): The Commodores looked primed for a run in the SEC Tournament but were knocked out in their opener against Tennessee. A run eventually came in the NIT, however, and the future appears bright for Kevin Stallings’ club. Vanderbilt opened with a road win in Moraga and fought to the bitter end against Stanford in Palo Alto. The Commodores’ are certainly pleased with this week’s news that Damian Jones intends to return. Stallings will pair him with a stockpile of sophomore guards (Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Shelton Mitchell, Wade Baldwin IV) that will keep Vanderbilt competitive.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 North Carolina State 66, #9 LSU 65

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

What a Comeback by the Wolfpack (USA Today Images)

What a Comeback by the Wolfpack (USA Today Images)

  1. LSU melted. Much like it did against Auburn in the SEC Tournament, LSU completely fell apart in the game’s final stanza. After surrendering just one offensive rebound in the first half, the Tigers gave North Carolina State 10 second-chance opportunities in the second half. Their man-to-man defense – rock-solid for the majority of the night – gave way to a 10-0 Wolfpack run just when they look poised to put the game on ice. Jordan Mickey missed four straight free throws in the final two minutes, and no one boxed out BeeJay Anya on the crucial (but less notable) second-to-last possession. This loss – these types of losses – will haunt Johnny Jones and his young team this offseason.
  2. North Carolina State’s guards brought it here, but the frontcourt carried it to victory. The three-headed backcourt monster that is Anthony Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner carried North Carolina State offensively this season, accounting for more than 50 percent of the team’s scoring and coming up with big late-game shots. But that didn’t happen tonight. Instead, it was the Wolfpack’s frontcourt that made the winning plays. Sophomore Kyle Washington scored nine points off the bench, including a tip-slam that Gottfried said “helped our team in an emotional way.” Athletic freshman Abdul-Malik Abu scored 13 points and energized the crowd with a massive block and an emphatic dunk. And while BeeJay Anya – all 300 pounds of him – scored only four points, they happened to be the last four points of the game. On a night when North Carolina State’s guards shot just 4-of-21 form behind the arc, the big play of the big men was crucial.
  3. The Tigers will be back. Sophomore guard Tim Quarterman finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists tonight – an eye-popping line – while several other young players also showed serious promise. Even if sophomore forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey opt to go pro (they are both projected as late first/early second-round NBA picks), Jones will have an excellent young nucleus to complement incoming super-recruits Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney. Better days are ahead in Baton Rouge.

Star of the Game: BeeJay Anya (four points; game-winning basket). North Carolina State was subpar for the vast majority of the night, so it’s only fitting that the sophomore – who scored all four of his points in the last 44 seconds – was the star of the game. He’s a very large man who used that frame to his advantage when the Wolfpack needed it most.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s evening games. Enjoy the Madness.

#1 Villanova vs. #16 Lafayette — East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) — 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan / City of Basketball Love)

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan/City of Basketball Love)

After leading Lafayette back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, Fran O’Hanlon now gets the pleasure of facing his alma mater in the Round of 64. Problem is, there won’t be anything pleasurable about it. Villanova enters the Dance hotter than arguably any team outside of Kentucky, ripping off 15-straight wins to end season and drubbing opponents by nearly 17-points per game in that span. The Big East champs boast the fourth-most offense efficient in college basketball, while their defense has allowed over one point per possession just five times since January 19. The Leopards might actually wind up exceeding that mark – their offense is really good, and no other team in the tournament shoots as well from long distance (41.4% 3PT) – but their Patriot League-worst defense simply won’t be able to stop the Wildcats on the other end. Darrun Hilliard (37.8% 3PT), Josh Hart (46.8% 3PT) and the rest of Villanova’s motion attack should have a field-day from behind the arc against O’Hanlon’s zone, and Lafayette doesn’t really have the athletes to stop their dribble-penetration. Leopards’ forward Seth Hinrichs (13.1, 5.8) is a legitimate stretch-four and could have his moments on the offensive end, but barring some strange Pennsylvania voodoo, expect Jay Wright’s bunch to light up the scoreboard and win going away.

The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova

#8 Cincinnati vs. #9 Purdue – Midwest Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Just like in the Butler/Texas match-up, the lower seed is the favorite in this one. Purdue, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, is a two-point favorite in this match-up of contrasting styles. The Boilermakers are led into action by junior center A.J. Hammons and Big Ten defensive player of the year, junior Raphael Davis. Purdue’s biggest advantage on any given night is its size. Matt Painter has two seven-footers at his disposal in Hammons and freshman big man Isaac Haas. While Purdue averages a respectable 70 points per game, Cincinnati struggles in that category as it puts up just 62.4 a game. The Bearcats do get strong production from junior forward Octavius Ellis, who leads the team in both scoring at 10 points per game and rebounding at 7.3 boards per game. Expect this game to be a low-scoring grinder that will likely be close until the final buzzer. That being said, Cincinnati’s offensive issues will be too much to overcome and Purdue will move onto the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Purdue

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What SEC Teams Seek This Weekend

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 18th, 2015

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The Southeastern Conference has been hit hard in the national media and on social media and everywhere else for its less than stellar basketball reputation. To be fair, it’s not completely unwarranted. Ole Miss opened the season with a loss to Charleston Southern. Mississippi State lost to Arkansas State and McNeese State. Missouri boasts a loss to UMKC. Those are bad losses to be sure, but the SEC is definitely not a one-team league, and the NCAA Tournament is a very good time to prove it.

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But, the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament this season, including undefeated Kentucky, which is a step in the right direction. You have to wonder, though, how much the Wildcats running through the conference without a loss has tarnished the perception of the rest of the league. Close followers of the SEC recognize its depth of talent from top to bottom this year but college basketball success is often defined by how the conference performs in March. Whether you subscribe to that opinion or think it’s bunk, it is important for the SEC to prove its worth on the national stage this weekend. Below we will examine what each team stands to gain during the NCAA Tournament in addition to bolstering the overall perception of the conference.

  • Kentucky: ESPN has made you acutely aware that Kentucky is chasing history, but even though the Wildcats are on the pursuit of perfection, there are still plenty of doubters. Everybody knows haters are gonna hate, but there is really only one way to silence those detractors, and that’s to win. For Kentucky, anything short of a National Championship will bring out a chorus of “I told you sos” from the numerous Twitter trolls who have persistently claimed that Kentucky has benefited from a weak SEC slate. John Calipari‘s club is on a mission to achieve something much more substantial than providing trash talk ammunition for the Big Blue Nation to take on Louisville fans. The 2012 version of the Wildcats may very well have been a better team than this season’s crew, but the Anthony Davis Wildcats can’t claim a 40-0 record. With six more wins the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats will forever be remembered as one of the great teams in college basketball history. Lose, however, and this team might be categorized in the same breath as the 2009-10 John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats; a talented team that fell short when it counted the most.

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Why Each SEC Team Will Win in the Round of 64

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 17th, 2015

You printed out your bracket and you were sly enough to carry it in your portfolio into the Monday morning staff meeting. All you need now is for the office suck-up to bring in kolaches (ask the College Station folks if you’ve never had one!), a working pen (you really forgot to bring a pen to the staff meeting?), and a reason to advance every SEC team into the Round of 32 and beyond.

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

The SEC put five teams into the Big Dance but the casual college basketball fan who started paying attention in March doesn’t realize that the conference actually packs a bit more of a punch this season. At the same time, do you really trust teams that are coming off a loss to Auburn to advance deep into the tournament? Before you decide to be the SEC homer that has Georgia vs. LSU in the Elite Eight, lets focus first on how each SEC team can get to the Round of 32.

Kentucky. If you need to be convinced that Kentucky can win its first game then consider saving the $5 you were going to put into the office pool and buy five of those chocolate bars that Lois from accounting is selling for her grandson’s school fundraiser. For the sake of a good argument, lets assume Manhattan beats Hampton tonight. Former Kentucky player Steve Masiello would love an opportunity to end the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection on his mentor Rick Pitino’s home court. Masiello has something that none of the current Wildcats yet have, a degree from the University of Kentucky. So there’s that. Is there any valid reason to think the Jaspers could pull off a victory though? Well, to get to this point, Manhattan will have beaten Iona. Iona beat Wake Forest. Wake beat North Carolina State. NC State beat Duke. But Duke didn’t beat Kentucky. Nobody has. And there’s not much reason to think that Manhattan will either. Moving on.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 16th, 2015

All things considered, the Selection Committee ended up being kind to the SEC this year. Kentucky grabbed the number one overall seed with no suspense and five league teams heard their names called. That’s a very welcome result after consecutive years of only three conference teams making the field. LSU’s inclusion as a #9 seed was especially interesting. The prevailing wisdom held that the Tigers’ SEC Tournament loss to Auburn had planted them firmly on the bubble. The fact that Johnny Jones’ team safely made the field could reveal that the committee had a high opinion of the conference. Here is a quick look at what these five SEC teams face in the coming days.

34-0. (USA Today Images)

34-0. (USA Today Images)

Kentucky

  • Seed: #1, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Wildcats will play the winner of MEAC champion Hampton and MAAC champion Manhattan. There’s a reason they always play the games but this is not the instance where a #1 seed finally falls to a #16 seed. That said, there are intriguing storylines with both potential matchups. Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello (who played at Kentucky) was headed to South Florida before a lie on his resume cost him the job before he’d even started. Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua left John Calipari’s bench to take the job instead. The Jaspers should be able to handle sub-.500 Hampton, but the MEAC has a troubling history with the SEC. Two MEAC champions have taken down highly-seeded SEC (or soon to be SEC) schools: Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997 and Norfolk State over Missouri in 2012 (although both were #15 seeds)
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: It would take a magical and seemingly improbable run, but a regional final matchup with Texas would be a fun one. The Longhorns have largely underachieved this season, but they are one of the few teams with the requisite size to match up with Kentucky. The two teams met in Lexington on December 5 and the Wildcats managed to pull out an 11-point win after a tie game at halftime. Texas, however, was without star point guard Isaiah Taylor at the time. Could he have made the difference? Maybe we’ll get to find out.
  • Final Word: The Wildcats have a few threats in this region but that’s a given for the NCAA Tournament. Kansas as a #2 seed is a much better fit than Wisconsin, Gonzaga or Virginia, since the Jayhawks have a banged-up frontcourt and were battered by Kentucky at the start of the year. It would be fun to watch Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton stretch the Wildcats’ defense in the regional final, but all things considered, the Wildcats are the clear favorite to get out of the Midwest.

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SEC Tournament Preview: What Teams Are Playing For

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2015

As Nashville awaits the inevitable Big Blue mist that will descend upon it Friday afternoon, let’s take a look at what each of the 14 SEC teams has to play for with the start of tonight’s SEC Tournament.

SEC tournament bracket 2015

The Outsiders

  • Missouri (9-22, 3-15). After winning its SEC opener against LSU, Missouri earned only two more conference victories all season — at home against Florida and Auburn. Kim Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been a trying one, and there likely will not be much sadness when this campaign comes to a merciful end sometime soon.
  • Mississippi State (13-18, 6-12). Given that Rick Ray won seven league games in his first two seasons in Starkville, this year’s six-win campaign is a substantial improvement. This appeared to be a team that would struggle to win any conference games, so getting six has surely earned Ray the right to coach a fourth season at Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs have nothing to play for beyond Nashville, expect them to be motivated to move into Thursday’s round against Texas A&M.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2015

For the next two weeks, or however long it takes, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume X, including games from March 2 to March 8.

Player of the Week. Kentucky has no shortage of star power, but Karl-Anthony Towns is the most complete player on the roster and gets the nod as the final regular season Player of the Week. The 19 points he scored against Georgia included two layups in the final minutes while the Wildcats were squashing the Bulldogs’ upset bid. Against Florida he controlled the paint as he has all season with six blocks. Towns has been an impact player on both ends of the court, but might be John Calipari’s most reliable offensive threat heading into postseason play. Andrew Harrison has shown a willingness to attack the paint lately, Devin Booker has the ability get hot and Aaron Harrison has a postseason track record, but it’s Towns that has shown an ability to constantly find high percentage looks. He’s been lethal finishing at the rim (74.7 percent), effective as a mid-range shooter (51.3 percent) and more than solid at the free throw line (79.0 percent). There are some compelling cases for SEC Freshman of the Year, including Riley LaChance and Booker, but Towns would get my vote because of the well-rounded role he’s played on the country’s top-ranked team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week. The spotlight is yours, Kentucky. The Wildcats finished off their perfect regular season in beating Georgia and Florida, and it wasn’t without some drama in Athens. The Bulldogs held a 62-56 lead and the ball with under five minutes to go, and as Jay Bilas pointed out at the time, Kentucky looked to be in real danger. But Willie Cauley-Stein forced turnover that began a transition opportunity that ended in an Aaron Harrison and-one. Cauley-Stein rebounded the miss off the free throw and dunked it to complete a major swing in momentum. Just like that, Kentucky didn’t look back and didn’t allow the Bulldogs many good looks the rest of the way. Towns starred offensively in both games, and his back-to-the-basket game is peaking at the right time. Pairing that with Andrew Harrison’s recent aggressive play should make for a lot of easy opportunities in both upcoming tournaments. History has been increasingly nipping at the Wildcats heels, but they don’t seem to be feeling any pressure. Just nine more wins separate Kentucky from joining the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers as the only teams to finish a season unbeaten.

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SEC Stock Watch: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

We have reached the end of the regular season in the SEC, and this is our final look at who is trending up, down, and who is flat. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Upsets over Bubble Teams. First, it was Florida beating Texas A&M at home, handing the Aggies a crucial loss as they seek to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, on Wednesday, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU by 15 points. This was the same group of Tigers that led the Vols by 27 points at the half in Knoxville 18 days earlier. Neither of these underdogs had as much to play for as their opponents, and they both deserve credit for not quitting. But for the Aggies and especially the Tigers, they will have to sweat these and other losses on Selection Sunday.
Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

John Calipari and Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

  • Undefeated Kentucky. It is a mere formality now that the Wildcats will finish the regular season a remarkable 31-0 when they dispatch Florida on Saturday in Lexington (the term “Senior Day” doesn’t mean much there, so we have forgone its use). Many would argue that it’s a formality that the Wildcats will finish the deal and run through the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville to finish 34-0 going into the NCAA Tournament. Given the way they have dominated league play, that is very likely.
  • Comebacks. Kentucky trailed Georgia by nine points with less than eight minutes to play on Tuesday in Athens. The Wildcats then turned the burners on and put away a game Bulldogs team. Last night, on senior night in Columbia, South Carolina overcame a 20-point first half deficit to take an 11-point lead of its own with less than six minutes to play. Arkansas then finished the game on an 18-3 run to steal the win. The Kentucky comeback was unsurprising, but the Razorbacks’ effort is further evidence that Mike Anderson’s team has turned a corner from its old disappointing ways.

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