Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC basketball at a glance

We’re now over a quarter of the way into the Southeastern Conference season, at which point some interesting things are starting to emerge. Today, I take a comprehensive look at the SEC, from the developing storylines to ranking the coaches, players and teams.

Biggest storylines

  1. UK teamCan anyone beat Kentucky? It’s no longer a question of whether the Wildcats win the league’s regular-season crown, but only by how much. However, the Wildcats have looked more ordinary than invincible in three of their SEC games (Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M), and against run-of-the-mill teams, no less. The Rebels and Commodores showed that if you can hit your open 3s that you have a chance, and A&M proved that if you can drive the ball at the heart of the ‘Cat defense and get a favorable whistle or two on your home floor, that might also do the trick. Can coach John Calipari continue to get his young team to bring the effort every night? That may have a lot to do with how this turns out.
  1. Overall parity after Kentucky. There’s a huge drop after UK to the rest of the league, but it appears that the league has as many quality teams as it has had in a long while. In fact, if you believe the computers (see below), the SEC has 11 teams that right now would arguably deserve a spot in either the NCAA or the NIT. That should make for a more interesting winter than SEC fans have seen in a while.
  1. The failings of Florida. The Gators would be one of those 10 teams in the mix outside of Kentucky, but computer rankings aside, coach Billy Donovan would probably be hard-pressed to get his 10-8 team in even the NIT right now. Simply put, the Gators replaced the veterans like Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young with former blue-chip recruits like Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and Chris Walker, but none of the three have met expectations. A few breaks here or there in games against Miami, Georgetown, Kansas and Connecticut, and the Gators might have a Top 25 resume; instead, those games all went against them and now, UF has back-to-back, double-figure losses to LSU and Georgia.

Power poll

Josh Richardson has his Tennessee Volunteers surprising the SEC early under coach Donnie Tyndall.  PHOTO COURTESY UT ATHLETICS

Josh Richardson has his Tennessee Volunteers surprising the SEC early under coach Donnie Tyndall. PHOTO COURTESY UT ATHLETICS

Here are my rankings of each of the league’s 14 teams, with a team’s average national computer ranking (I used Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin’s rankings, along with ESPN’s BPI and RPI) and record. From four to 11, I probably could have thrown them in a hat and done about as well as I did here, but maybe we’ll see some separation in the coming weeks.

  1. Kentucky, 1 (18-0, 5-0 SEC)
  2. Arkansas, 33 (13-4, 2-2): There may not be a better trio of offensive players in the SEC than Bobby Portis, Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls.
  3. Georgia, 29 (12-5, 3-2): ‘Dawgs getting it done despite having no true stars.
  4. LSU, 46 (14-4, 3-2): I’m not sure there’s a more unpredictable team in the league than the Tigers.
  5. Alabama, 51 (12-6, 2-2): It’s a make-or-break year for coach Anthony Grant, who could be saving his job.
  6. Tennessee, 66 (12-5, 4-1)
  7. Ole Miss, 45 (11-7, 2-3): Rebels have been a quiet surprise even though their best player, Jarvis Summers, is having an off-year.
  8. Florida, 50 (10-8, 3-2)
  9. Texas A&M, 58 (12-5, 3-2): Aggies getting it done through a balanced effort with mostly anonymous players.
  10. South Carolina , 70 (10-7, 1-4): Gamecocks got some nice wins early, but are reeling now.
  11. Vanderbilt, 69 (11-7, 1-4): If the young Commodores could just start winning some close games, they’re plenty talented enough to move up.
  12. Missouri, 163 (7-11, 1-4): It’s been an awful debut year for coach Kim Anderson.
  13. Auburn, 143 (10-8, 2-3): Unfortunately for Bruce Pearl, he just didn’t inherit enough basketball players.
  14. Mississippi State, 181 (9-9, 2-3): Coach Rick Ray is 9-32 in the SEC, though two of those wins are in his last two games.
Bobby Portis of Arkansas. PHOTO COURTESY OF ARKANSAS ATHLETICS

Bobby Portis of Arkansas. PHOTO COURTESY OF ARKANSAS ATHLETICS

Player of the year

Here are my top five in order:

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas: scores more points (24.6) per 40 minutes than any player in the league, and is efficient (58.7 effective field goal percentage) too.
  2. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: You could argue that he’s not even the best big man on his own team, but that’s a statement about the incredible talent on his own team rather than an indictment.
  3. Jordan Mickey, LSU: Averaging 18 points, 12.4 boards and 4.4 blocks per 40.
  4. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky: He’s the league’s second-best rebounder (13.3) and leading shot-blocker (5.3) per 40.
  5. Levi Randolph, Alabama: Versatile guard gives the Crimson Tide a bit of just about everything.

Next 10: Josh Richardson, Tennessee; Jarrell Martin, LSU; Damian Jones, Vanderbilt; Riley LaChance, Vanderbilt; Devin Booker, Kentucky; Tyler Ulis, Kentucky; Rashad Madden, Arkansas; Dakari Johnson, Kentucky; Michael Qualls, Arkansas; Kenny Gaines, Georgia

Coach of the year

  1. John Calipari, Kentucky: I know, I know, a lot of coaches can win with all that talent, but he’s the guy who assembled it. Also, it’s sort of hard to argue against the coach of the team who’s ranked No. 1 in all four previously-referenced computer ratings, and got just about every vote in the two major polls this week.
  2. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee: The Vols were picked 13th in the SEC, rely on youth all over the floor, have no legitimate big men, and have a small forward (Richardson) playing point, and yet somehow, they’re in second place as of this writing.
  3. Mark Fox, Georgia: The Bulldogs aren’t super-talented, and they’ve even had several key injuries, but Fox’s ability to get buy-in on defense has helped his team overachieve.