Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.
A Look Back
Monday on the SEC Basketball Coaches Teleconference, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury took some exception to the idea that there is a trend with the East playing much better than the West. He mentioned that in his time at Mississippi State, his teams have gone 41-41 against the East and 10-8 in SEC conference tournament play. Let me start by saying that anyone that can that quickly pull up those numbers probably has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. But now, let’s just take a look at the numbers.
Last year, the SEC West finished 39-57 against SEC East. This year in head-to-head games, the West is 2-4 against the East. A week ago, Auburn managed a mere six points in the first half against LSU. Alabama, a team picked to finish third of six in the West, lost to St Peter’s early in the season. The East currently has a 74.7% winning percentage with a 9.5 point scoring margin to the West’s 59.2% and 4.6 margin.
The East has quality wins against Florida State, Kansas State, Washington, Notre Dame, Louisville, Villanova, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Marquette. The West has beaten um, well, Auburn got a lucky one against Florida State.
Ed. Note: There has also been some notable player movement recently around the SEC: Former Mississippi State sophomore Twanny Beckham will try to find increased playing time at Kentucky and could be eligible as soon as next January (we’re not sure how transferring to Kentucky will net Beckham more time amongst a sea of stud freshmen next season than the 15.7 minutes per game he earned under Stansbury, but if it makes him happy, why not?). Beckham’s former teammate, maligned Bulldog Elgin Bailey, dismissed after last month’s infamous scuffle with Renardo Sidney, will hope to start fresh at Southeast Louisiana, and suspended Kentucky Wildcat Darnell Dodson is headed to Southern Mississippi. Lastly, Auburn will welcome forward Noel Johnson from Clemson. While none of these players are necessarily high-impact types, hopefully they will thrive for their new schools.
- Kentucky (14-3, 2-1) – The Wildcats lost one last week to Georgia and responded by taking out their frustrations on SEC cellar dwellers Auburn and LSU. The Cats beat Auburn 78-54 in a midweek contest in which Terrence Jones set the Kentucky single game freshman scoring record by coming off the bench and scoring 35 points. That record of course was only 24 days old, having previously been set by Doron Lamb, who also came off the bench to score 32 against Winthrop.
- Georgia (13-3, 2-1) – After beating Kentucky at home last week, Georgia lost to Vanderbiltin a game that was close the whole way. Going 5-21 from three makes it hard to win in the SEC East, and that really is the Achilles heel for the Bulldogs. They are currently last in the SEC in three-point shooting at 31 percent. The Dawgs followed that loss with a 98-76 thumping of Mississippi. The poor point shooting will cost Georgia in close ones, but for now they’re winning, having gone 10-1 since losing two straight to Notre Dame and Temple.
- Florida (13-4, 2-1) – Both Mississippi and Tennessee gave Florida tougher games than they should have and then Florida lost to South Carolina. Still, head coach Billy Donovan said on Monday that he feels his team is still getting better and playing better defense. No worries though, they probably won’t need it this week against Auburn.
- Vanderbilt (12-4, 1-2) Vanderbilt has been disappointing of late, having dropped two of their last three to South Carolina and Tennessee with a win over Georgia sandwiched between. I think this speaks to the competitiveness of the East. Vanderbilt should make quick work of reeling Mississippi this week and then take on a surging St. Mary’s team that has won 10 straight.
- South Carolina (11-5, 2-1) The Gamecocks held Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezelito only seven points on two of seven shooting and fouled him out in overtime. South Carolina got the win by holding the Commodores to only 39 percent shooting, but the problem is that the Cocks followed that up by laying an egg in Tuscaloosa, only scoring 47 points in a ten-point loss to Alabama. The win against Florida in Gainesville is a good sign however.
- Arkansas (12-4, 2-1) A close win over Tennessee at home, a close loss to LSU away and a close win over Alabama at home. A good week, but not enough to get overly optimistic about. The Razorbacks have a tough week with games at dangerous South Carolina and still improving Florida. Going 0-2 this week is not unlikely. Going 1-1 would be good, 2-0 makes Arkansas the clear favorite to win the West.
- Tennessee (11-6, 1-2) I think a lot of people became very optimistic that this very talented, seriously under-performing team had turned a corner after beating Memphis 104-84 in Knoxville, but this is not your John Calipari’s Memphis team and it should be remembered that this game was just a shooting match where both teams shot better than 45 percent from the field. Tennessee found losses to Arkansas and Florida and a close win over Vanderbilt. This week, the Volunteers face Georgia and Connecticut on the road and could very well find themselves 0-2 on the week and 1-3 in SEC play. Making the NCAA Tournament is looking tougher and tougher.
- Alabama (10-7, 2-1) Alabama looks to be getting its season back on track after an embarrassing early season by starting 2-0 in SEC play. The Arkansas loss is nothing to be ashamed of – no one has won in Fayetteville this season. This week, Alabama, the league leader in points allowed per game at 56.8, and Kentucky, the league leader in points scored per game at 79.9, face off in Tuscaloosa.
- Mississippi State (10-7, 2-1) I would like to say that Mississippi is playing much better now that Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost are finally on the court together, but the Bulldogs lost to Alabama to begin conference play and had to pull out a close one over in-state rival Mississippi before beating Auburn by 21 at home. But honestly, who hasn’t beaten Auburn by 20?
- Mississippi (12-6, 0-3) The Rebels need to find a cause because it’s getting ugly in Oxford. Ole Miss was tabbed to finish second in the West and is now 0-3. Not bloody likely at this point. Three straight losses is bad for any team. When you lose by 22 on your home court, the fans stop showing up.
- LSU (10-8, 2-1) The Tigers held Auburn to only six points in the first half. Yeah, six. Then they beat Arkansas in a 56-53 snoozer. At 2-0, things seemed to be looking up for LSU, but then the Tigers were humiliated 82-44 at Rupp Arena and everyone remembered that LSU lost to North Texas by 20 on their home court and is only 4-6 in their last 10.
- Auburn (7-10, 0-3) Well this is a familiar place. The game against LSU was the low point of the season for the Tigers who are suffering through a tough season of injuries, unexpected departures and ineligible players. A very tough start for coach Tony Barbee, but these are the cards he was dealt. I wonder if he’s questioning that advice that long-time friend and former boss John Calipari gave him encouraging him to take the Auburn job. Given some time, I think he will do well. One quick note, Frankie Sullivan came back from injury and Auburn won four straight including a win over Florida State, the team that just dealt the evil Blue Devils their first loss. He goes down again and Auburn loses three straight.
A Look Ahead
Tennessee at Georgia and Tennessee at Connecticut are intriguing games to me because of the confusing story that is the Tennessee Volunteers. I want to see if this team that can beat anyone or lose to anyone, mostly the latter of late, can pull out a couple of good wins to follow up their come-back win over Vanderbilt.
Kentucky at Alabama – I think at this point with Kentucky as the only team in the top 25 and playing very well of late, a loss to Georgia notwithstanding, you have to mark all Kentucky games on your calendar, particularly in this match-up where Alabama’s league leading point per game defense will be tested by the highest scoring offense in the league.