Sports, Thrill of Victory

Southeastern Conference basketball snapshot

The winter has flown by, and two weeks from now, our city will be hosting the Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. But between now and then, there’s plenty of interesting action and storylines to follow as the SEC goes through its final three games of the regular season. Chris Lee gives the latest in storylines and team, player and coach ratings.

Biggest storylines

  1. Kenny Gaines dunks the ball as Alabama Crimson Tide forward Shannon Hale tries to defend. PHOTO COURTESY UGA ATHLETICS

    Kenny Gaines dunks the ball as Alabama Crimson Tide forward Shannon Hale tries to defend. PHOTO COURTESY UGA ATHLETICS

    Six in the Big Dance? For several weeks, most of the “bracketologists” have pegged the SEC to get six teams in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s the case again this week. Among those six, Kentucky is going to get a one-seed unless it has perhaps the biggest and most unexpected collapse in collegiate basketball history down the stretch. Both Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi have Arkansas (five-seed in both) and Ole Miss (eight in both) safely in, but from there, it gets dicier. Georgia (10 by Palm, eight by Lunardi) bought itself breathing room with a win at Ole Miss, LSU (nine, 10) didn’t help itself a lot, but avoided potential bad losses vs. Florida and Auburn, and A&M (11, nine) has hung on by winning three of its last four, with the one loss being a road game at Arkansas that didn’t hurt. Now, e’ll see if those six can hang on down the stretch.

  2. Georgia gets healthier. I think I’ve written about the Bulldogs’ health for about a month and a half straight, which tells you how much of an issue it is. This week, UGA had its five starters all healthy at once for the first time, and lo and behold, the Bulldogs pulled off back-to-back road wins at Alabama and Ole Miss. It also helped to have reserve forward Kenny Paul Geno back; that gives coach Mark Fox another solid option off the bench for a team that, according to Ken Pomeroy, ranks 266th in America in minutes played by its reserves.
  3. Kentucky’s march towards an undefeated season. Ho-hum.

Power rankings 

(SEC record follows, average of Sagarin, Pomeroy, RPI and BPI rankings in parenthesis)

  1. Kentucky, 15-0 (1): How deep is UK? Andrew Harrison, who leads the ‘Cats in minutes, ranks 34th in the league in that category, by my quick calculations.
  2. Arkansas, 12-3 (24): Nobody has a tougher road down the stretch than do the ‘Hawgs (at Kentucky, at Carolina, home vs. LSU).
  3. Georgia, 9-6 (34)
  4. Ole Miss, 10-5 (37): Rebels are doing it with guys understanding their roles; that includes under-appreciated forward Sebastian Saiz, who ranks fourth in the league in effective field goal percentage (60.0) among players who’ve logged 750 minutes or more.
  5. LSU, 9-6 (39): Keith Hornsby (984 minutes), Jarell Martin (962) and Jordan Mickey (953) rank first, fifth and sixth in the league in playing time, respectively.
  6. Texas A&M, 10-5 (39): Aggies RPI (33) has them in good shape, but they may need to do something in the conference tournament: they’ve got only two wins (both vs. LSU) over teams that likely make the NCAAs, and have no more regular-season opportunities to get wins there.
  7. Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet putting away a dunk in the Commodores win over Tennessee Thursday night. PHOTO COURTESY OF VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

    Vanderbilt’s Luke Kornet putting away a dunk in the Commodores win over Tennessee Thursday night. PHOTO COURTESY OF VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

    Vanderbilt, 6-9 (63): Commodores scored a huge come-from-behind win in Knoxville on Thursday, hitting their last 13 shots.

  8. Alabama, 7-8 (63): Barring a minor miracle, Anthony Grant’s swan song appears to be playing in Tuscaloosa.
  9. Florida, 6-9 (57): The recipe for losing at Missouri is simple: lose your best two players to injury and suspension, and hit nine of your 23 foul shots.
  10. Tennessee, 6-9 (102): Reeling Vols have now lost eight of 10.
  11. South Carolina, 4-11 (80): Gamecocks have played the league’s toughest in-conference slate, according to Pomeroy.
  12. Mississippi State, 5-10 (147): Bulldogs were surprisingly competitive against some of the league’s best teams the last two weeks.
  13. Auburn, 4-11 (155): Guard K.T. Harrell ranks in the league’s top 10 in minutes (eighth), effective field goal shooting (fifth) and points per shot (ninth).
  14. Missouri, 2-13 (185): That win over UF snapped a school-record 13-game losing skid.

Player of the Year

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas: First in the league in points per 40 (24.1) and fourth in rebounds (11.6).
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU: If he didn’t turn the ball over more than any other front-court player in the league, he might have a case for No. 1.
  3. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Ranks No. 2 in the league in effective field goal percentage (60.7) and fourth in blocks per 40 (2.4).
  4. Jarell Martin, LSU: His presence underneath is a big reason that the Tigers rank 22nd in Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
  5. Tennessee's Josh Richardson against Vanderbilt Thursday night. PHOTO COURTESY OF TENNESSEE ATHLETICS

    Tennessee’s Josh Richardson against Vanderbilt Thursday night. PHOTO COURTESY OF TENNESSEE ATHLETICS

    Josh Richardson, Tennessee: Vols may be running out of gas, but he’s not.

  6. Levi Randolph, Alabama: It’s hard to rank second in the league in minutes, do a bit of everything and do it efficiently, but that’s Levi Randolph.
  7. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky: First in blocks per 40 (4.6) and second in boards (12.9); lack of minutes is the only thing holding him down here.
  8. Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: Leads league in free throw percentage (91) and second in points per 40 (23.6); I may have made a mistake by not ranking him in past weeks.
  9. J. Frazier, Georgia: I continue to be the only one to beat this drum, but look at his overall efficiency numbers and consider what it is that a point guard’s supposed to do, and tell me what I’m missing?
  10. Alex Caruso, Texas A&M, and Rashad Madden, Arkansas: Madden shoots a bit better, Caruso defends better, and you really have to split hairs to put one over the other.

Coach of the Year

  1. John Calipari, Kentucky
  2. Mark Fox, Georgia
  3. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss; Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M; Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee and Rick Ray, MSU