Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC basketball snapshot: LSU fading, UGA ailing, MSU rising

We’ve reached the halfway point in the Southeastern Conference season, and not surprisingly, Kentucky remains undefeated and well ahead of the pack. But many other interesting storylines are brewing also; here’s a look at those things, and the latest power rankings and player and coach of the year standings.

Biggest storylines

  1. Mississippi State's Craig Sword. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI STATE ATHLETICS

    Mississippi State’s Craig Sword. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI STATE ATHLETICS

    Tigers take a tumble. LSU’s Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and Tim Quarterman all have a chance to make the NBA one day. But I’ve noted LSU’s depth problems and now, the Tigers have another big issue: bad losses. The Tigers had already dropped road games to Missouri (RPI: 163) and Mississippi State (165) and last night, LSU fell to Auburn (125) in the last seconds, too. LSU does have three good wins over teams that would right now make the NCAA Tournament (Ole Miss, Georgia, West Virginia) but any time you start losing to teams in the 100s, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee takes notice. LSU had better not lose the rematch with Auburn on Feb. 24, and had best start racking up some more quality wins elsewhere, because I’m not sure the Tigers would now make the tournament if it were selected today.

  2. Georgia’s Marcus Thornton out with a concussion. In my opinion, Georgia had, this time a week ago, established itself as the league’s best team behind Kentucky, and a large share of credit had to go to Thornton, UGA’s undersized center, who led the team in scoring and had also played good defense. But Thornton suffered a concussion in last week’s win over Vanderbilt, making him unavailable for road games at South Carolina and Kentucky, both of which the Bulldogs lost. One would hope that Thornton would be back for Saturday’s home game with Tennessee, but there have been no updates in four days, and concussions can be tricky things. The Bulldogs have already suffered injuries in other places and aren’t terribly deep, and so an extended absence from Thornton could threaten coach Mark Fox’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
  3. Craig Sword leads Mississippi State’s resurgence. Coach Rick Ray still hasn’t been able to accumulate a lot of talent in his third year in Starkville. His best player coming into this year was unquestionably Sword, a junior guard, but Sword started the season missing the first five games due to back surgery and wasn’t close to the same player when he returned. Well, he may be now: Sword tallied 26 in MSU’s upset of Tennessee, and has averaged 18 over his last five games. MSU has stunned everyone with victories over Vandy, Auburn and LSU also over a six-game stretch, meaning that the one game that SEC fans had circled as an automatic win for their teams before the season started certainly isn’t that anymore.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KENTUCKY ATHLETICS

PHOTO COURTESY OF KENTUCKY ATHLETICS

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

  1. Kentucky, 9-0 (1): Not to diminish what Wildcats have done, but Ken Pomeroy notes UK’s played the second-easiest SEC slate so far.
  2. Georgia, 5-4 (28): This takes into account the Thornton injury, plus, the fact UGA has played the second-toughest SEC schedule to date.
  3. Ole Miss, 6-3 (28): Rebels hitting an astounding 79.9 percent of their free throws.
  4. Texas A&M, 6-3 (43): That now-extinct six-game winning streak included three road wins.
  5. Arkansas, 6-3 (27): Doesn’t it say something that the SEC didn’t fine coach Mike Anderson after he ripped league officials following the Florida loss?
  6. LSU, 5-4 (51)
  7. Florida, 5-4 (43): A win at Vandy could have gotten Florida close to NCAA discussion again, but alas, it didn’t happen.
  8. Tennessee, 5-4 (86): Not to diminish what coach Donnie Tyndall has done, but the Vols have benefitted from Pomeroy’s easiest SEC schedule so far.
  9. Alabama , 4-5 (53): Crimson Tide have lost six of their last 8
  10. South Carolina, 2-7 (67): Gamecocks play the 10th-best defense in America according to Pomeroy.
  11. Mississippi State, 4-5 (151): I can’t completely buy into MSU this high, but four wins has to mean something, right?
  12. Vanderbilt, 2-7 (71): Of VU’s nine remaining games, only Ole Miss (March 7, road) would make the NCAAs if the season ended now.
  13. Auburn, 3-6 (116): Coach Bruce Pearl doesn’t have a lot of talent, but the Tigers are clearly better than they were at conference season’s start.
  14. Missouri, 7-15 (1-8): A lot of the misery can be explained by youth: Tigers are the country’s 312th-most experienced team by Pomeroy.

Player of the Year

  1. Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall. PHOTO COURTESY OF TENNESSEE ATHLETICS

    Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall. PHOTO COURTESY OF TENNESSEE ATHLETICS

    Bobby Portis, Arkansas: SEC’s leading scorer has also been efficient (57.9 EFG%)

  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU: Leads the league with 79 blocks.
  3. Josh Richardson, Tennessee: Vols’ do-it-all player is doing it all while playing out of position.
  4. Levi Randolph, Alabama: Nobody in the SEC is doing more things well than him.
  5. Michael Qualls, Arkansas: Perhaps the league’s best guard when it comes to scoring/rebounding combo.
  6. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: As good a year as it’s been for him defensively, scoring and rebounding per 40 minutes (13.8, 10.1) are not as special as they could be for a player of his caliber.
  7. Jarell Martin, LSU: Leads the league with 774 minutes.
  8. J. Frazier, Georgia: His 1.7 points per shot leads all SEC players.
  9. Alex Caruso, Texas A&M: Overall numbers are excellent, but there’s a feeling that his contribution transcends the numbers.
  10. Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: VU big man has had a tough last month, but overall numbers (20.6 points and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes) are still nice.

Coach of the Year

  1. John Calipari, Kentucky
  2. Mark Fox, Georgia; Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss; Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M and Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee: If you can distinguish between the four and tell me who’s done the better job, you’re a smarter person than I am.