Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.
A Look Back
So Bruce Pearl gets slapped with an eight game suspension and what does Tennessee do but turn around and win the NIT Tip-Off championship. Last year, Bruce Pearl dismissed Tyler Smith from the team after he was arrested on misdemeanor gun and drug charges and suspended Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams, who were all arrested with Smith. How did Tennessee respond then? They held #1 Kansas to 38 percent shooting and beat the Jayhawks 76-68. Tatum, Goins and Williams were reinstated and Tennessee went on to the NCAA Elite Eight, the Volunteers’ best finish in the NCAA Tournament in the history of the program. Talk about responding to adversity. Hey, maybe if Tennessee fields an all walk-on team with Richard Simmons as head coach they’ll make a Final Four appearance.
NBA scouts are abuzz about Kentucky’s Terrence Jones who has probably played his way into top five pick status. He handles the ball as well as any big man in America and in three games against Oklahoma, Washington, and Connecticut he averaged 23 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks, good enough for SEC freshman of the week honors.
As I have said before, the East is much stronger than the West and I’m going to continue to harp on it. The East has three teams in the RTC top 25 (Kentucky #14, Tennessee #15, Florida #19). The West has none. While I do expect Mississippi State to enter the top 25 at some point, I’m not sure if any other team from the West will get a sniff at it.
As of now the SEC East is 29-6 (.829) with no bad losses. By way of contrast, the SEC West is 19-12 (.613). Ok so they’re not the NFC West, but they definitely need to step it up. The West already has the following losses:
- LSU 53 Nicholls State 62
- Arkansas 65 UAB 70
- Alabama 78 Seton Hall 83
- Alabama 47 Iowa 55
- LSU 53 Nicholls State 62
- Alabama 49 St. Peters 50 (St Who?)
- Auburn 69 UNC Asheville 70
- Auburn 68 Samford (and son?) 79
- Auburn 54 Campbell 61
- Auburn 55 Jacksonville 55
- Mississippi State 59 Florida Atlantic 61
I’m not giving Mississippi State a bye on their loss to Florida Atlantic even if they’re playing shorthanded. There should still be plenty of talent here to beat a team that lost to American University.
Time will tell if Mississippi’s loss to Dayton will look bad as the season progresses. It’s not looking good right now though. A week after beating Mississippi, the Flyers were doubled up by Cincinnati 68-34 in a mercy killing. Losing to a very average Miami (FL) team doesn’t help the Rebels either. Mississippi’s 78-71 win over Murray State is the West’s best win so far. Murray State is now 3-3 and will have to win a lot of games the rest of the way to help Mississippi’s reputation.
So let’s get down to business here.
- Tennessee (5-0): Can there be any question here? Scotty Hopson was named the SEC’s Player of the Week as he averaged 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists while leading the Volunteers to the NIT Tip-Off championship. He was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, leading his team to victories over VCU and then seventh ranked Villanova, whom they held to 34.5 percent. If history holds, Tennessee will probably be holding teams to 25 percent once Brucey’s suspension begins.
- Florida (5-1): took care of business this week getting wins against in-state foes Florida Atlantic at home and Florida State away. The 55-51 win over the Seminoles wasn’t pretty, though. The Gators shot only 38.1 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers to only 8 assists. You’re usually lucky to come away with the win in a game like that, especially on the road. But a good road win it is for the Gators.
- Vanderbilt (5-1): Unfortunately, the shine on that win over North Carolina is already coming off. UNC played a close one against College of Charleston this week and then lost in a game that they never even showed up for at Illinois. All Vanderbilt did this week was trample one of the worst teams in the country, Grambling State, 92-59 in a game in which they outrebounded the Tigers 60-21. They followed that up with an 86-73 win over Appalachian State. Not bad for a week’s work.
- Kentucky (4-1): Well, the Wildcats got a great win over Washington 74-67, but they laid an egg the next night against a surprising Connecticut team that had beaten then-#2 Michigan State the previous night. Kentucky allowed Connecticut to shoot 57.7 percent while only shooting 36.7 percent themselves. After the Wildcats’ first game, Doron Lamb stated that the Cats hoped to be the best shooting team in the nation. I guess he wasn’t talking about free throw shooting. Prior to Kentucky’s game against Boston the Cats were shooting an embarrassing 59.7 percent from the line. Insert Calipari teams’ free throw shooting comment here. Against Boston, the Wildcats shot 59.3 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from three and 70.8 percent from the line.
- LSU (5-2): Three wins this week, albeit against Centenary, South Alabama and Houston, is good enough to be the highest ranked team out of the West. LSU doubled up Centenary 78-36. Now I don’t care if Centenary’s 0-6, anytime you double up a team and hold them to 28.3 percent shooting, you’ve played well. LSU beat the teams they were supposed to beat, soundly.
- South Carolina (4-1): The Gamecocks picked up a couple of wins this week by beating South Carolina Upstate 57-41 and Western Kentucky 87-85. I’ve said it before. I like these Cocks. They are leading the nation in rebounding at 49.2 per game. Rebounding comes down to hustle and this team has it. Who knows, keep winning in the preseason and maybe there is a tournament bid for this team, but it’s an uphill battle in the stacked East.
- Mississippi State (4-1): An overtime win over lowly Troy (1-4) this week isn’t anything to write home about, especially since the Bulldogs took their first lead in the game against the Trojans with only 4:54 to play. The Trojans also had a 51-38 rebounding advantage over State and that’s just unacceptable, I don’t care who is missing from your starting lineup. And apparently there aren’t enough guns on this team to get past the likes of Florida Atlantic. After losing to FAU, it looks like the Bulldogs need Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney more than we thought. In the mean time, Ravern Johnson is playing like a star and never getting a breather. Prior to the loss to Florida Atlantic, Johnson was averaging 27.3 points per game, good enough for first in the SEC and fifth in the nation. Johnson is also averaging 38.3 minutes, 4.5 rebounds and shooting 56.3 percent from three.
- Alabama (3-3): Well, at least they didn’t have to face St. Peter’s again this week. Alabama beat Alabama A&M 76-50. Here’s a tidbit. Tony Mitchell is the model of consistency. He’s had between 12 and 15 points in all five games this season and had a 12/15 night against A&M. Despite losing three games early this is still a team that I think will pull themselves together and finish strong. A dominating win over the Bulldogs was a step in the right direction.
- Arkansas (4-1): Not much exciting going on here. They beat Southeast Missouri State, a team that is now 0-6, and then lost to UAB. What I do find interesting is that coach John Pelphrey is playing eleven guys at least eleven minutes a game. Now that’s going deep.
- Mississippi (5-2): I’ve already picked on Mississippi, so there’s no need to get into that further except for to say that when you play a weak preseason schedule, coach Andy Kennedy, you really pay the price when you lose to those same weak teams. Especially when there are no opportunities to make up for those losses with a quality win or two.
- Georgia (4-2): came out and got what looked like a good win against Colorado without Trey Thompkins and then it turned out that Colorado’s not any good. So all they have to hang their hat on now is a hard fought loss to Old Spice Classic champion Notre Dame. They followed that loss with a loss to Temple. At least they beat Manhattan (2-4) by three. Thompkins just hasn’t been himself since returning from injury. He’s shooting only 40 percent from the field and scoring 14.7 per game. That’s 3 points less than his average last year. Prior to his return, the Bulldogs were 3-0, since returning, 2-1. I don’t get it. This guy was the media’s pick for preseason conference player of the year.
- Auburn (2-4): I feel for Auburn. I really do. They lost their entire team from last year, and they weren’t any good last year. And then this year, they lost their top two recruits, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Luke Cothron, to ineligibility. That said, there is a time and a place to play Division II teams and it’s called practice. There is nothing to be gained by beating Georgia Southwestern. It doesn’t help your team gain confidence to beat a D-II team and it does nothing for the selection committee at the end of the year as they don’t factor in wins against lower division schools. Furthermore, if you do lose to a lower division team, you look awful. Don’t do it again, Coach Barbee.
A Look Ahead
- Kentucky takes on North Carolina on Saturday, and even though UNC is looking pretty weak as of late, this is one of those games that both teams really want and when you’ve got two of the all-time winningest programs on the same court, you watch, period.
- Alabama plays Purdue on Saturday. If the Tide want to salvage their preseason, this is the game to do it. Beat Purdue, and there’s still an outside chance at an NCAA berth, lose and they may have to get 12 wins in conference play.
- Like Georgia against Colorado, Arkansas vs. Oklahoma Wednesday night is a game that has less value today than it did when it was announced, with Oklahoma going through a nightmare in Maui. Creampuffs dilute the rest of the action this week, but next week will see some fantastic SEC basketball.