While Kentucky may be on the verge of running away with the men’s Southeastern Conference basketball title, it’s certainly not because the rest of the league is weak. Chris Lee takes a look at that, and more, in this week’s snapshot of the league.
- An improving league. Every week, I keep track of where each team ranks in what I feel are the three most meaningful computer ratings (Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin and ESPN’s BPI) as well as the RPI, and then I average them just for kicks. The league has nine teams that are still within striking distance of a tournament bid, and guess what? Seven of the nine improved last week, with each team on average moving up just under eight spots. That in itself isn’t important, but what is important is that the NCAA uses the RPI, and the SEC now has eight teams in the top 59 there, with a talented Florida team lurking at 66. Most experts say the SEC will get four teams in the tournament, but that could improve if this trend continues.
- Woof! Three weeks ago, Georgia was 0-2 heading to Vanderbilt with three key injured players. Guess what? UGA not only won at Vandy, but it hasn’t lost since. The key: moving freshman J.J. Frazier, who erupted for 37 points at Mississippi State, to the point, and letting Charles Mann, who was turning the ball over too much, to small forward. The result is a Cinmsteady, cohesive club that’s easily in the NCAA Tournament if it started today.
- Can LSU hold up? The surging Tigers got two huge wins since I last wrote (at Vandy, home vs. South Carolina). I love their combo of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey in the front court and I like guards Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman, too, and though Josh Gray, a shooter by trade, isn’t ideal at the point, LSU’s making it work. After that, freshman shooter Jalyn Patterson has been excellent off the bench, and… hmmmm… er… well, that’s the problem, because there aren’t really any other skilled players on the roster, and an injury to any of those key six might mean the difference between the Big Dance and the NIT.
Power poll (SEC record, computer average through Thursday evening in parenthesis)
- Kentucky (7-0, 1): Wildcats seem to get bored against lesser teams, but will it really matter?
- Georgia (5-2, 25)
- Arkansas (5-2, 31): Defense may be Arkansas’s undoing, but they’re an NCAA Tournament team for now.
- LSU (5-2, 37)
- Texas A&M (5-2, 42): With Jalen Jones healthy again, Aggies are making a run.
- Tennessee (4-3, 72): There may not be a player in the league more valuable to his team than defensive stud Josh Richardson, who’s learned to play the point out of necessity.
- Ole Miss (4-3, 45): Rebels are shooting one tenth of a percent below 80 percent from the free throw line; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
- Florida (4-3, 44): With home games vs. Arkansas and Kentucky up in the next eight days, the Gators have a chance to get some signature wins to perhaps launch them into NCAA contention.
- Alabama (3-4, 55): Four out of ‘Bama’s last five games have been decided by exactly two points. Unfortunately, the Crimson Tide lost three of them.
- Vanderbilt (1-6, 72): Commodores rank 350 of the nation’s 351 teams in Pomeroy’s “luck” ratings (look it up).
- South Carolina (1-6, 72): Those wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State seem forever ago…
- Auburn (2-5, 148): Cinmenon Bowers leads the league with 14.9 boards per 40 minutes.
- Missouri (1-5, 157): It’s stunning how quickly the talent level has fallen in Columbia.
- Mississippi St. (2-5, 179): Craig Sword (27 points vs. Ole Miss) may finally be getting healthy.
Player of the Year
- Bobby Portis, Arkansas
- Jordan Mickey, LSU
- Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
- Josh Richardson, Tennessee
- Levi Randolph, Alabama
- Jarell Martin, LSU
- Michael Qualls, Arkansas
- J. Frazier, Georgia (I’m not kidding; look how efficient he’s been)
- Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Coach of the Year
- John Calipari, Kentucky
- Mark Fox, Georgia
- Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee