Last week, I attempted to use science to unravel the secrets of the SEC. Results were inconclusive, but it seems that the mere attempt has ticked off the mysterious, but apparently vindictive, forces that control SEC basketball. They have reacted by delivering a collection of results that are currently making me feel like a complete doofus.
(Yes, we've switched from science to mysticism. All I can say is, #SECBasketballFever has made me desperate for answers, wherever they may be found.)
I have to say, this seems a bit unfair. I mean, I've never held myself up as a perfect prognosticator. Would it really hurt to let me get a few things rig-
GAAAH! *Catches breath*
But, I'm not really that big of an idiot, am I?
That's not even my name-
Okay, that was just gratuitous. Let's just get to the games already.
LSU (79) - Florida (61)
LSU went into Gainesville and walked out with an easy 18-point win. The Tigers are about where I expected them to be, as a upper-echelon team with some solid tournament potential, although the way they have gotten there raises a few eyebrows (How, exactly, is Missouri's lone SEC win against these guys?) Florida, on the other hand? Sure, I thought, they've had an up-and-down non-conference schedule, but surely they will settle down in conference, providing a decently strong, if distant, #2 to Kentucky, right? That undefeated SEC season feels like a long time ago now, with the Gators losing big at home and their tournament hopes in deep trouble.
Giving up leads has haunted this LSU team all year. And The Valley Shook sees the fact that the Tigers clamped down and finished this time as a sign of maturity.
More importantly, it was how the Tigers got it done. Faced with the daunting possibly of another lead thrown away, this time after being up a whopping 17, LSU never let it get that far. When UF had all the momentum and the ball down 10 after a 7-0 run, the Tigers got a stop. They ripped off five straight points. That's how maturing teams finish things off. I'd still like to seem them do it when it's a two-possession game in the final minutes, but not letting it reach that point in the first place is also the mark of improvement.
There's no commonality in this group. It's young guys searching for their chance to get the most playing time combined with upperclassmen who are, at the same time, struggling to become leaders. I think Billy Donovan is a great coach, and I think he has the ability to find answers when no one else can seem to find one, but that doesn't mean there's always an answer — and this year, with these players, at this point in their careers, there might not be one to find.
Georgia (69) - Ole Miss (64)
Georgia came back from a 6 point halftime deficit to grab their third straight win after starting the conference season 0-2. Ole Miss is very confusing. The Rebels have played their best against the conference's best, taking Kentucky to overtime and crushing Arkansas (both of those happening on the road!), but their showing against the SEC's middle class is less impressive, losing to LSU and now to Georgia.
The Rebels went stone-cold from three-point town last night. Against Arkansas, Ole Miss shot 8-of-15 beyond the arc, while at Georgia they stalled on 4-of-18. A Rebels basketball squad making four three-pointers in one game? Huh?
As we saw against LSU, the Rebels’ performance in the post against athletic teams this season is less than exceptional. In fact, it’s mediocre; often enough, it’s worse than mediocre. If Ole Miss wants to have any chance against top-tier teams in the SEC or even NCAA tournament, they need to muscle up in the paint. They’ve gotta work that outside-inside passing into an art, because too many dishes from the parabola end up batted away for turnovers.
Thornton overcame some late foul trouble and led Georgia with 16 points. Charles Mann finished with 12 points and seven rebounds while J.J. Frazier and Djurisic added 11 points each. Frazier hit a pair of huge three-pointers to give the Bulldogs a bit of a cushion coming down the stretch. Georgia wins despite an off night from Kenny Gaines who finished with just five points on 1-7 shooting. Georgia converted 21-31 free throw attempts for the game but were clutch late and that was difference.
If you get 31 chances, it doesn't matter quite as much when you brick a third of them.
Tennessee (66) - South Carolina (62)
Tennessee once again gave up a huge lead and almost let the game get away from them, but escaped (again) to go to 4-1 in the SEC. As far as South Carolina goes, I thought that Frank Martin would have gotten his recruits in and have them playing his trademark ugly-but-effective style of basketball. I saw the Gamecocks at least in the middle of the conference pack, potentially making a tournament run. Instead, things haven't come together like they did at K-State, and it's beginning to look like another year among the dregs for SC. Tennessee, I missed big the other way. I predicted major struggles for the Vols in Donnie Tyndall's first year, but they are playing great, at 12-5 (4-1). Tyndall may still have his own problems to deal with, but for now, everything's coming up roses in Knoxville.
I mentioned earlier that Florida had given up its assumed #2 spot in the conference pecking order, which means it's up for grabs. Rocky Top Talk thinks Tennessee has as good a case as anyone for it.
But Tennessee is winning games it has no business winning, and playing more efficiently - at least for the first 35 minutes - than this group has any business playing. Tonight, right now, the Vols are one of the best teams in the SEC and are making a very serious case for something more. We need to celebrate that right now. And then we need to go get the next one.
When Frank Martin teams don't play Frank Martin's way, things get messy. Garnet and Black Attack:
Offensively, the lack of execution was evident and it was furthered evidenced when Frank Martin conceded that he called a lot of plays but rarely were they run by his team. Martin also added that the leadership, focus, and energy on his team has changed since the Iowa State win. In regards to practice, Martin said his players work ethic and attention to deal wasn't the same it had been earlier this season.
Kentucky (65) - Vanderbilt (57)
Oh, Kentucky. Before the season, I predicted that Kentucky would not get through the SEC unbeaten. 18 games is a long time, someone will get hot and catch UK napping, right? Well, it's only 5 games into SEC play, and Kentucky has swung from invincible to shockingly beatable (needing 3 overtimes to dispatch Ole Miss and Texas A&M), back to invincible (crushing Missouri and Alabama), and now putting up an unimpressive effort against a Vanderbilt team that just lost to Mississippi State. Vanderbilt was, indeed, hot, but not quite enough to beat Kentucky. Apparently, the Wildcats are just mocking my predictions by alternately barely besting them and making them look silly.
Excellent shooting got the Commodores close, but Anchor of Gold says Kentucky's athleticism carried the day.
The Commodores threw it back to Jermaine Beal's heyday to stay alive, utilizing transition three-pointers to keep the Wildcats off balance. LaChance and Fisher-Davis each had huge counter-punching shots that kept the Rupp Arena crowd from leaving early, and cut the Vandy deficit to 51-54 with five minutes left to play. However, a turnover and a blocked shot on the ensuing two possessions dropped the 'Dores back into a seven-point rut. Another Fisher-Davis three extended Vandy's hopes, but the UK defense tightened up in time to hold VU without a field goal for a key two minute stretch that effectively clinched a Kentucky win.
Kentucky REFUSES TO LOSE, says A Sea of Blue:
Once again, this Wildcats squad has shown itself to be loss-phobic. When the going got tough, the tough grew hair on their palms, hulked up and made plays. That’s what great teams do when faced with an off night.
No need to rub it in, guys.
Texas A&M (62) - Missouri (50)
The Tigers played one good half. It wasn't enough. Add Mizzou to the list of teams I was totally wrong on. That 8-10 conference record prediction now looks like it was made through the homeriest of glasses.
But! Good Bull Hunting failed to claim the victory with a recap! (here's their preview/game thread.) By ancient SEC Basketball Blog Law, that means that we get it, right? Right?
Mississippi State (78) - Auburn (71)
The Bulldogs won! Again! On the road, even! If you haven't been counting, this broke a 22-game road losing streak in the SEC for MSU. This win puts them approximately 1.7 wins ahead of where I predicted them to be right now. Meanwhile, although Auburn has improved under Bruce Pearl, this loss makes it clear that there's still plenty of work to do.
Bulldog basketball is at a crucial impasse. At 9-9 with 13 games remaining in the regular season, Rick Ray has set up MSU to turn their season around and save himself. Can he do it? I'm not sure, but there's a first time everything and maybe this is the springboard his team needs to finally break through and consistently play the way they are capable of playing. Or maybe it's just another fluke. Time will tell.
Fast-paced was the name of the game for Pearl's squad. The Tigers showed flashes of brilliant basketball tonight on both ends of the court, but we couldn't do it consistently—at least not at the level the Bulldogs could. Cinmeon Bowers was given Pearl's blessing earlier this week to act more like a point guard in fast-break situations, but during several times in the game, Bowers mishandled the ball, giving State the opportunity to score on fast breaks of its own. You can't fault the big man, though, because his emotion, his presence, and his raw power give Auburn an edge we haven't experienced down in the paint since Breadtruck Chuck himself.
Well, there you have it. Chris said Sunday that the SEC was filled with chaos, but there's an easy way to predict exactly what will happen: look at what I say, and pick the exact opposite. You couldn't do better with a sports almanac from the future. Until next week, this is your perpetually incorrect SEC correspondent, signing off.