Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC football and basketball storylines to watch this week

SEC bowl season is officially here, and conference play is about to begin on the hardwood. Chris Lee discusses both SEC football and basketball in his last SEC blog for 2015.

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES

Bowl games!

I briefly previewed the bowl games a few weeks back; the SEC’s slate got underway on Tuesday night, when LSU, behind a 212-yard effort from running back Leonard Fournette against an awful Texas Tech defense, ripped the Red Raiders by a 56-27 score. It’s been a tumultuous season for embattled coach Les Miles, who was nearly fired a month ago, but the Mad Hatter finished the year 9-3.

LSU has struggled to a 7-5 record despite the performance of freshman sensation Ben Simmons. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

Running back Leonard Fournette led LSU to a 56-27 romp over Texas Tech. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

Running back Leonard Fournette led LSU to a romp over Texas Tech.

Had LSU’s season-opener vs. McNeese State not been rained out, Miles likely would have had an eighth 10-win season in 11 years in Baton Rouge.

Nine other SEC teams will play their bowl games, starting with Auburn facing Memphis on Wednesday morning.

The underachieving Tigers

Much was expected of LSU basketball, ranked 19th in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll and 21st in the AP Poll. It wasn’t hard to understand why. 

LSU returned a nice backcourt with Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby, and added the No. 2 (Ben Simmons), 13 (Antonio Blakeney) and 42 (Brandon Sampson) recruits in the country according to Rivals. The Rivals ranking of Simmons is probably conservative; it’s hard to conceive of a player in this class more talented than Simmons, who leads the league in rebounding (13.0) while ranking third in steals (2.2) and field goal percentage (56.5), fourth in assists (5.5) and scoring (19.3), and had a 43-point, 14-rebound, seven-assist game against North Florida on Dec. 2

LSU has struggled to a 7-5 record despite the performance of freshman sensation Ben Simmons. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

LSU has struggled to a 7-5 record despite the performance of freshman sensation Ben Simmons. PHOTO COURTESY LSU ATHLETICS

Yet with all that talent, the Tigers sit at 7-5 as of Wednesday, with no quality wins and bad losses at College of Charleston and Houston. What’s gone wrong?

First, an injury to Hornsby hurt LSU. Hornsby missed the team’s first seven games; he’s second on the team in scoring (16.4 ppg) and hits 48.1 percent of his shots, which include ten 3s. 

Second, the Tigers can’t shoot from outside, with Simmons being part of the issue.

Still, much of the blame has to lie with coach Johnny Jones, who’s not exactly regarded as one of the game’s top Xs and Os coaches and has done nothing to help his cause this year.

The opportunities to redeem the season are shrinking.

LSU may have dug itself a hole with its RPI (138) that’s too much to climb out of; if the Tigers are to reach the NCAA Tournament, they’ll have to start quickly, because their next nine games feature eight teams (Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma) that would all be in the running for an NCAA Tournament bid if the season ended today.

Labissiere disappointment

The one guy that Rivals ranked ahead of Simmons? That’s Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, who is averaging just 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game so far. That playing time has been dwindling, too: the Haitian freshman has played more than 16 minutes just twice in his last six games, and logged a season-low 10 minutes in UK’s win over Louisville on Saturday.

The Louisville game prompted a blistering criticism from an anonymous NBA scout which included the words, “… no strength, no toughness, no game.” 

That prompted a balanced rebuttal by Gary Parrish and crew on the CBS Eye on College Basketball Podcast.

There’s still plenty of potential there; Labissiere was still listed as the No. 5 pick according to DraftExpress in its recent mock draft. That said, Labissierie appears to be too thin to handle the rigors of the SEC, potentially putting a huge dent in UK’s national championship hopes for this fall. 

Vanderbilt should benefit from the return of injured freshman Camron Justice. PHOTO BY JOHN RUSSELL/VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

Vanderbilt should benefit from the return of injured freshman Camron Justice. PHOTO BY JOHN RUSSELL/VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, RPI through games of Tuesday)

  1. Kentucky (10-2, 8): Wildcats (wins over No. 15 Duke, No. 18 Louisville) have the league’s only two wins over AP Top 25 squads…
  2. Texas A&M (10-2, 14) … and the Aggies (No. 23 Baylor) have the other. 
  3. South Carolina (11-0, 32): Gamecocks join Xavier, Oklahoma and SMU as the country’s only unbeaten teams. 
  4. Vanderbilt (7-4, 36): Commodores should get guard Camron Justice (groin injury) back this week.
  5. Florida (8-4, 23): Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen went for 32 in UF”s 73-71 loss to Florida State on Tuesday.
  6. Georgia (7-3, 35): Yante Maten is the league’s only player in the top 10 in scoring (ninth), rebounding (ninth), field goal percentage (second), free throw percentage (10th) and blocks (sixth). 
  7. Alabama (8-3, 33): The Crimson Tide host Norfolk State before beginning SEC play Jan. 7.
  8. Ole Miss (10-2, 41): Rebels received a lone vote in the AP Top 25 this week; Stefan Moody (23.8 ppg) leads the league in scoring. 
  9. Tennessee (7-5, 88): Six-foot-4 forward Armani Moore went over 100 blocks for his career this week. 
  10. Arkansas (6-5, 119): Razorbacks lead the SEC in scoring (85.0 ppg) and turnover margin (+4.2). 
  11. LSU (7-5, 159): Tigers had just five offensive boards, 17 turnovers in loss at Wake Forest.
  12. Auburn (6-5, 71): Tigers suffered a pair of double-digit losses to Harvard and Hawaii in the Diamond Head Classic. 
  13. Mississippi St. (6-5, 121): Good news: MSU leads the SEC in free throw percentage (75.1 percent). Bad news: Bulldogs have 43 fewer attempts than Alabama, which ranks 13th in attempts.
  14. Missouri (6-6, 150): Coach Kim Anderson told his team that if it held Arkansas Pine-Bluff to under 30 points, he’d cancel Wednesday’s practice; UM players earned a day off with a 78-25 win.