Sports, Thrill of Victory

Chris Lee’s Around the SEC: Kentucky finding its rhythm

Our Chris Lee returns with his weekly installment of Around the SEC. This week, he discusses a potential shake-up in the Florida football staff and also hits on Kentucky basketball finally finding its way on the hardwood.

Let’s jump right in.

BIGGEST STORIES IN THE SEC

Nussmeier to Southern Miss?

Southern Miss football coach Todd Monken left Hattiesburg to become the offensive coordinator and receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving USM with a head coaching vacancy.

As a result, USM has been in contact with Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier; FootballScoop.com calls him “a strong candidate.

Vanderbilt's Matthew Fisher-Davis celebrates a victory over Florida. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis celebrates a victory over Florida. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

The Gators ranked just 112th in the country in total offense, but truth be told, Nussmeier didn’t have much to work with and lost his most gifted offensive player, quarterback Will Grier, to a mid-season suspension. Should Nussmeier leave, the Gators would be looking for a fifth offensive coordinator in six years, and that’s not a good situation for coach Jim McElwain.

Kentucky hitting its stride

This season has been full of unpleasant surprises for Kentucky, ranked No. 1 in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

The Wildcats got a pair of nice pre-New-Year’s wins over Duke and Louisville, but also picked up three losses to teams ranked outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 60 (No. 61 UCLA, No. 62 LSU and No. 69 Ohio State) before picking up a completely inexplicable loss to No. 166 Auburn last week. 

The problems have run deeper than just the losses. 

Many players have underachieved. Center Skal Labissierie, ranked the No. 1 freshman in America by many, has been so ineffective that he’s not played more than 20 minutes in any of UK’s nine games, and played only four minutes against Alabama and Vanderbilt.

Guard Isaiah Briscoe, the 10th-ranked player in this freshman class by Rivals, has had a few abysmal shooting nights and hasn’t canned a 3-pointer in nine games.

Clarksville native Alex Poythress has been productive, but can’t stay out of foul trouble. 

LSU's Ben Simmons is still the clear choice for Player of the Year. PHOTO COURTESY LSU

LSU’s Ben Simmons is still the clear choice for Player of the Year. PHOTO COURTESY LSU

As a team, the ‘Cats have serious shooting limitations, too. UK ranks 244th in America in 3-point shooting percentage (32.1 percent) and 259th from the foul line (67.1).

But since the Auburn loss, it’s been a different UK team.  The next time out, the ‘Cats went on the road and put an 80-66 thumping on Arkansas, handing the Razorbacks their only home loss off the season.

On two days’ rest, they returned home to issue a 19-point beat-down of Vanderbilt, handing the Commodores their worst loss of the season. On Wednesday, they humiliated Missouri by an 88-54 score in a game that was more lopsided than that. 

This UK team isn’t nearly as good as the 2012 national title team, or last year’s Final Four squad. But there are plenty of parts here; Labissierie and Briscoe have started to show some improvement, point guard Tyler Ulis is terrific, and the ‘Cats have depth and talent elsewhere. 

The bottom line: the Wildcats are still the most talented team in the league and despite the struggles, this team’s getting better quickly.

Kentucky’s just one game behind Texas A&M in the loss column, and I’m not sure I’d bet against the ‘Cats to win it all. 

SEC BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

  1. Texas A&M (17-3, 7-1 SEC)
  2. Kentucky (16-4, 6-2)
  3. South Carolina (18-2, 6-2)
  4. Florida (13-7, 5-3)
  5. Vanderbilt (12-8, 4-4)
  6. LSU (13-7, 6-2)
  7. Arkansas (10-10, 4-4)
  8. Alabama (11-8, 2-5)
  9. Tennessee (10-10, 3-5)
  10. Georgia (11-7, 4-4)
  11. Ole Miss (13-7, 3-5)
  12. Auburn (9-10, 3-5)
  13. Mississippi St. (8-11, 1-6)
  14. Missouri (8-12, 1-6)

SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE

  1. Ben Simmons, SF, LSU
  2. Moses Kingsley, C, Arkansas
  3. Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
  4. Wade Baldwin, PG, Vanderbilt
  5. Kevin Punter, SG, Tennessee
  6. Stefan Moody, SG, Ole Miss
  7. Alex Caruso, PG, Texas A&M
  8. Dorian Finney-Smith, SF, Florida
  9. Gavin Ware, PF, Mississippi St.
  10. Jamal Murray, SG, Kentucky
  11. Jalen Jones, SF, Texas A&M
  12. Tyler Davis, C, Texas A&M