Florida suffers a big injury; SEC teams make their NCAA case

Here’s what’s happening that’s news, in and around the Southeastern Conference, this week. 

BIGGEST STORIES

Florida’s Egbunu out for the season

It’s been a total team effort for Florida this year; note that there’s just one Gator listed among the top 15 candidates for SEC Player of the Year below. The reason that UF is so good is simple: the Gators get quality contributions from as many as nine guys on the roster on any given night, making the Gators debatably the deepest of any SEC team in that regard.

So, when Florida center John Egbunu went down with a season-ending knee injury earlier this week, it may not have made news headlines everywhere. But Egbunu, who stands 6-foot-11, 255 pounds, is easily the most physically-imposing player in the roster, and another layer of defense if you can get by UF’s cat-quick guards like Kasey Hill or Chris Chiozza

His replacement, Kevarrius Hayes, leads the team with 41 blocks, and it’s not hard to imagine him being a capable replacement. But that also leaves the Gators perilously thin behind him, and there are additional problems: Hayes averages 15.4 minutes and averages 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes, so it’s questionable as to whether he’ll have the stamina (and the defensive discipline) to be on the floor as much as coach Mike White needs. 

Either way, he’ll have to step up, because the options behind him aren’t good.

The postseason chase

The NCAA Tournament is now about a month away, and the SEC has three teams—Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina—that are near-locks for an NCAA Tournament bid.

The question is whether a fourth team can join them.

The good news for the SEC is that Arkansas, which faded last week with an awful loss at Missouri, recovered for a huge win at South Carolina. With that, the consensus seems to be that the Razorbacks are in the field, though barely.

What about a fifth team? Tennessee really hurt its chances with a one-point home loss to Georgia, and Vanderbilt, a long-shot anyway, probably killed its chances by also losing at Missouri.

Georgia, with Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier, has the talent to make it, but lacks big wins. Alabama and Ole Miss have made late charges; I’m not sure either team is good enough, and neither have a resumé anywhere close to good enough to make it right now. 

And for that matter. the Razorbacks haven’t banked a lot of great wins, either, and don’t have many more regular-season chances to do so. 

A fourth team in the NCAAs would be a success for a league that’s getting better, but isn’t playing at the level of the big boys like the Big 12, ACC, Big East and the Big 10.

POWER RANKINGS

  1. Florida (21-5, 11-2 SEC)
  2. Kentucky (21-5, 11-2)
  3. South Carolina (20-6, 10-3)
  4. Arkansas (19-7, 8-5)
  5. Tennessee (14-12, 6-7)
  6. Vanderbilt (13-13, 6-7)
  7. Alabama (15-10, 8-5)
  8. Georgia (15-11, 6-7)
  9. Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6)
  10. Auburn (16-10, 5-8)
  11. Texas A&M (13-12, 5-8)
  12. Mississippi St. (14-11, 5-8)
  13. Missouri (7-18, 2-11)
  14. LSU (9-16, 1-12)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  1. Sindarius Thornwell, PG, South Carolina
  2. Yante Maten, C, Georgia
  3. Malik Monk, G, Kentucky
  4. De’Aron Fox, PG, Kentucky
  5. Sebastian Saiz, PF, Ole Miss
  6. Isaiah Briscoe, G, Kentucky
  7. J.J. Frazier, PG, Georgia
  8. Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky
  9. Luke Kornet, C, Vanderbilt
  10. Moses Kingsley, C, Arkansas
  11. Tyler Davis, C, Texas A&M
  12. Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
  13. Ke’Vaughn Allen, G, Florida
  14. Quinndary Weatherspoon, SG, Mississippi St.
  15. Dazon Ingram, PG, Alabama