The last few weeks of SEC basketball have been pretty weird. Weird enough that I was scrambling to find answers in science, magic, and everything in between. The one thing we could count on was chaos, in large amounts. So what did we get in this week's Tuesday-Wednesday slate? Oh, just 6 games that were entirely predictable. The teams that should have won won, the teams that should have lost lost, and all was right with the world.
To recap: I said the SEC was unpredictable, and it responded by being completely predictable. I wasn't kidding when I said that the forces governing SEC basketball were hellbent on proving me wrong about everything. I might have to sacrifice a chicken at this point.
Vanderbilt (62) - Georgia (70)
Two teams moving in different directions collided in Athens Tuesday evening, and there was no change whatsoever in momentum. Georgia took its fifth straight victory after losing their first two conference games, and the 'Dores slid to their sixth straight loss since opening their SEC books with a win over Auburn. Kevin Stallings has often worked miracles with inferior talent, but it doesn't look like that's going to be the case this year. Meanwhile, the Dawgs are looking like a genuine, non-fraudulent tournament team.
You can do a lot of things right, but if you can't shoot and rebound, that doesn't much matter. Anchor of Gold:
Vandy tied a season-low with just seven turnovers and put up 15 more shots than their opponent but still trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half. The 'Dores used some clutch shooting from Matthew Fisher-Davis and Luke Kornet, but the 'Dawgs knocked down all their important shots from the free throw line to hold off the visiting team's comeback. Damian Jones led all scorers with 16 points, but he had only five boards in a game where Vanderbilt was out-rebounded 37-27.
The Bulldogs used a balanced effort at both ends of the floor to turn away the Commodores. Georgia used an 18-4 second half run to turn a one point deficit into a 53-40 lead. Vanderbilt was able to fight back to within four points with under three-minutes to go but some solid execution and free throw shooting from the Bulldogs enabled them to stave off the threat. Georgia has had its struggles from the free throw line but has been much improved during its current winning streak. The Bulldogs made 7-8 in the final minute of the game and were 23-25 overall from the charity stripe.
Mark Fox wasn't happy with his team's defensive effort early on but the Bulldogs were able to clamp down in the second half and held the Commodores to just 36 percent shooting for the game. Georgia held Vanderbilt's leading scorer Riley LaChance scoreless as he went 0-5 from the field.
Florida (52) - Alabama (50)
The Gators held a 13-point lead at the half, but somehow had only scored 15 points 19-plus minutes into the second half. Not surprisingly, this let the Tide back into the game, and it was tied at 50 apiece when Dorian Finney-Smith blocked Michael Kessens's lay-up attempt to keep it that way. Then Finney-Smith did this:
And then he blocked Levi Randolph's last-ditch try and got the rebound to boot, sealing the win for Florida. A pretty good 60 seconds for that man.
After going more than 60 minutes without a basket over Florida's last two contests, Finney-Smith — who finished with two points, one made field goal, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks, well off Eli Carter's team-high 13 points and Chris Walker's six buckets (tying a career high) — dominated the last minute of this game.
Florida raced out to a big half-time lead and held on at the end to eke out a 52-50 victory over Alabama on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. The loss by 'Bama was likely a dagger in their NCAA Tournament chances, and possibly a dagger to Coach Anthony Grant's future at the Capstone. The loss dropped 'Bama to 13-7 overall and 3-4 in the SEC. Florida is now 11-8, and 4-3 in the conference. Grant's record against his mentor, Billy Donovan, fell to 0-9. The Tide has now lost 10 straight and 21 of the last 24 against Florida.
Tennessee (64) - Arkansas (69)
The Vols' bid to knock off Arkansas for the second time in two weeks, this time on the road, fell just short when a potentially game-tying three didn't fall for Robert Hubbs.
It's frustrating to be so close and lose, especially with so many good opportunities lost in the final minutes, but the fact that Tennessee went on the road at Arkansas and gave themselves a chance after already beating the Hogs in Knoxville was very encouraging.
Sure, it was a loss. But it was a Quality Loss™, and you need some of those to go dancing.
Arkansas came close enough to losing the last three games that it's left many uncomfortable, but the team still has won these last three games. The Razorbacks are certainly a flawed team that can make mind-boggling plays at times, but they are a good team. And in college basketball, all that matters is getting wins.
Quick, somebody tell Kentucky this!
Texas A&M (71) - Auburn (61)
So, um, A&M won again. Against Auburn, but still. They are 5-2 in conference. We might just have to admit that the Aggies are actually good now. I still don't know how they are doing it, but results don't lie.
I tried to articulate this before the season, but I'll touch on it again real quick - our depth was the basis of my optimism this year. Not just because it meant we could withstand injuries, but because for the first time in three years it meant one of our key contributors could have an off night without submarining the team's chances.
KT Harrell was not locked in tonight. Tahj Shamsid-Deen's shoulder is more serious than we thought. Alex Thompson needs some defensive pointers. And the list goes on and on.
All of these things, believe it or not, are fixable—even the shoulder (we hope, and we wish Shamsid-Deen a speedy recovery)—but it's going to take more time than perhaps we thought (even being realistic about Pearl's ability to turn the Tigers around this season). To have at least gotten some breathing room tonight with a home win against a good Aggie team would've perhaps made the negative aspects of the game seem less, well, negative, but there should be a few more opportunities for Auburn to beef up its resume before March rolls around.
South Carolina (58) - LSU (64)
The Gamecocks uglied it up in true Frank Martin style, but 13 (!) LSU blocks propelled the Tigers to victory.
With the loss the Gamecocks have officially lost four in a row and six of their last seven games. I think I'm going to tell ChickenHoops I have an allergy to South Carolina basketball and that I can't write anymore.
Sorry, my friend. Once the symptoms appear, it's already too late.
So I'll dwell on the positives from this. LSU has won three consecutive SEC games for the first time in 2 years, a stretch of 37 league games. The Tigers are three games over .500 in conference for the first time since 2008-09. They've won 16 of their first 20 for the just the third time since 1990.
Mississippi State (73) - Ole Miss (79)
The basketball Egg Bowl didn't draw quite as much attention as the football edition last fall, and by "not quite as much," I mean that neither For Whom the Cowbell Tolls nor Red Cup Rebellion provided a recap. RCR did give us a drinking game for when you're watching the SEC Network replay.
As for the game itself, the Bulldogs continued their recent run of friskiness, jumping out to a big early lead and then, after Ole Miss responded with a big run of their own to cut it to 4 at halftime, raced out to a 45-32 lead 3 1/2 minutes into the second. The Rebels, however, continued to chip away and took the lead for good with 5:42 to go.
So, if the other six weekday games went according to plan, what does that mean for tonight? Will I be made wrong yet again by a surprisingly competitive matchup, or will they hit me with the tried and true crushing loss for Mizzou?
(It's probably the latter. It is a classic, after all.)
As always, meet me here again next week for your recap of the latest SEC shenanigans!