...And we're back!
The SEC conference season is underway, and with it, by popular demand*, comes the triumphant return of #SECBASKETBALLFEVER!
*Which is to say, nobody told us not to do it, so...
Yes, it's your twice-weekly roundup of everything you need to know about Southeastern Conference men's basketball, brought to you once again by HHKB Chris and myself. I will be posting on Thursday afternoons this season, covering the Tuesday and Wednesday games, while Chris will bring you reports on Thursday and Saturday action on Sunday. Recaps of the games, reactions from our fellow SEC team sites, highlight reels, snarky commentary, white-hot hatred of certain home courts: we've got it all! (For certain definitions of "all".)
Now then, let's get down to business. Coming into the conference season, the SEC boasts college basketball's consensus top team in Kentucky...and not much else. Arkansas is ranked and LSU is receiving votes, but everybody else has put themselves somewhere on the continuum from okay to bad with their performance in the non-con, thanks to a laundry list of embarrassing losses and near-losses. Even Florida, a #1 seed last year, looks decidedly mediocre. When you look at Kentucky's competition, it's not surprising that many commentators were predicting an undefeated season when the Wildcats got past Louisville. They surely aren't going to have any real trouble with this motley crew, right?
Kentucky (89) - Ole Miss (86) (OT)
Or, maybe Mississippi will take them to overtime in Rupp Arena. Kentucky got all they wanted and more from a super-hot Rebel squad, who came at the king and just barely missed. I'm on record as saying that Kentucky will not go undefeated this year, and this is the reason why. While talent gives them a pretty big advantage, there will be nights when enough crazy shots are falling to cancel that out. I don't expect Kentucky to lose more than once, mind you, but they will get everybody's best shot.
I don’t know what to say to Ole Miss. They played their hearts out, and they shot lights out tonight. There was literally nothing they could possibly do much better than what they did. Let’s face it, Kentucky is bigger, stronger, and more talented, but… great shooting and drop-dead hustle, along with a healthy dollop of experience, can make up for most of that, and it darn near got Ole Miss the upset of the year. Great game, Rebels. You can be proud of this one.
Stefan Moody went off for 25, but leg cramps knocked him out of the game at a critical point. Red Cup Rebellion is left to ponder what might have been:
But cramps forced Moody out of the game twice down the stretch, once towards the end of regulation and again in overtime. The second time he left was immediately after being fouled while shooting a three with the game tied. College rules dictate that if a free throw shooter is injured and can't take the shots, the opposing teams gets to pick the shooter. Kentucky chose M.J. Rhett (68 percent free throw shooter on the season) and he promptly missed two of the three shots. Kentucky outscored the Rebs 11-6 from that point on.
(With a surprise guest appearance by the J.T. Tiller Rule!)
(It's still stupid.)
Say, an Ole Miss player taking ridiculous shots. Does that remind you of anyone?
Andy's quote of the night: "Moody’s a little bit like Marshall Henderson, and thank God only a little bit."
— Hugh Kellenberger (@HKellenbergerCL) January 7, 2015
Thank God indeed.
Arkansas (79) - Georgia (75)
The big news in Fayetteville Tuesday was the announcement of Mike Anderson's contract extension, and the team seems to have reacted well to the news, picking up a road win (!) at Georgia. Anderson's best Mizzou teams were able to avoid the road problems that have been a hallmark of his career. Are these Razorbacks gearing up to do the same?
Arkansas Fight is feelin' good (well, as good as you can feel exactly 1 game into the conference schedule):
All it means is that Arkansas is 1-0 in the SEC for the first time since hosting Mississippi State at Bud Walton back in 2012. They aren't starting out in a hole like they've been accustomed to. They've now won two quality road games against SMU and Georgia, and they haven't even started playing the bad SEC teams yet. There's still plenty of work to do to get where they want to go, but they're unquestionably in great position to have a great season.
A promising start for the Bulldogs faded under the assault of Arkansas's relentless pressure. Dawg Sports:
The tide started to turn however as Arkansas press started to wear down the Bulldogs. Turnovers started to mount and an offense that was crisp in its execution in the first half grinded to a halt in the second.
Vanderbilt (64) - Auburn (52)
Bruce Pearl's return to SEC play was not ideal, as Auburn was unable to recover from a poor start and fell to Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Vanderbilt had plenty of problems on Tuesday night. Auburn just had more.
The on-court results aren't quite there yet, but College and Magnolia notes that Pearl has already had an impact on fan excitement:
3) Bruce Pearl has Auburn fans excited about basketball again. Several hundred, maybe a thousand, Auburn fans showed up in the unholy Memorial Gym tonight to support the Tigers. Auburn should have a presence in most road venues this year thanks to Coach Pearl. When we get the students back, our home court advantage should be impressive. After hearing Coach Pearl's in-game interview (which I hope ESPN never asks him to do again), it's not hard to figure out why he has Auburn fans excited.
Getting "maybe a thousand" SEC fans to go to a road basketball game? Bruce Pearl: #SECBasketballFever patient zero.
Alabama (65) - Texas A&M (44)
The Tide rolled at home, meeting little resistance from the misfiring Aggies.
In Anthony Grant's six seasons at the Capstone, the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team has been know for defense. Tuesday night in Coleman Coliseum, Alabama played one of their better defensive games of the Grant era, holding Texas A&M to 44 points on 30% (16-of-52) shooting. Admittedly, the Aggies were without their leading scorer and rebounder in Jalen Jones, but as well as the Tide played, his presence may have made little difference.
Okay, I'll geek out for just a second. When you know a team can't shoot from outside, you can play a zone defense. When you know a team doesn't have any threat to penetrate 18-12 feet and score consistently, you collapse that zone. Think about it like putting 8-9 in the box on defense on 4th and 1. The offense has allllllllllllllll that space outside the tight ends to use, but you know they can't. They won't. That's what Alabama did to the Aggies tonight. The response from Billy Kennedy was, well there wasn't one. There was a stretch where we realized that we can penetrate near the free throw line and then dish to Allen, and it worked well. And then we pulled Allen out of the game. There's no excuse for that. It's that simple. Sure Allen is a freshman, but there is no excuse for pulling your leading scorer out of the game and sitting him until the end when the game is well out of reach. That's just poor rotation management, poor game management, and bad coaching. There was plenty of that on display tonight.
I get the feeling that they wish it was still football season. Also, that Billy Kennedy's job security is in grave danger.
Florida (72) - South Carolina (68)
Florida overcame the suspension of starting center Jon Horford to pick up their 19th straight SEC win. The Gators never quite put South Carolina away, but held off the Gamecocks' late rally.
The Gators hit 25 of 30 free throws, including their last 8, to clinch the win. Alligator Army is incredulous.
From the files of I Didn't Expect That To Happen, Florida won a game down the stretch by making free throws.
South Carolina's stars didn't shine, and the trademark Frank Martin physicality was lacking. Garnet and Black Attack:
South Carolina's defense and rebounding was uncharacteristically bad for much of the second half. They allowed Florida to shoot 43% from the field and outrebound them by 14. Sindarius Thornwell found himself in foul trouble for much of the game while Duane Notice looked passive and inept tonight offensively. Notice, who had averaged 17.1 points per game on 52% shooting in his last eight games, combined with Thornwell to go 1-of-11 from the field for 10 points.
Tennessee (61) - Mississippi State (47)
Tennessee committed 32 fouls, shot 35%, and won. Easily. This game was SEC basketball at its worst.
Rocky Top Talk isn't even apologizing! The cads!
It was ugly, in part due to things outside of Tennessee's control. But this is not the year to complain about ugliness. It may even be the year to celebrate it. Either way, the Vols open 1-0 in the SEC and are now 9-4 overall. Competition ramps up Saturday when Alabama comes to Knoxville.
Tennessee's hot performance from behind the arc likely sealed the win but the Vols were assisted by State's inability to get the ball through the hoop. The Bulldogs only hit 11 field goals in the entire game. ELEVEN! Yes, the Bulldogs actually scored more points from the free throw line than they did from their field goals (23 points from the floor and 24 from the free throw line).
This despite the fact that Mississippi State missed 20 free throws. Egads. Let's hope Missouri can be more respectable than that tonight.
So, one classic, two close games, two duds, and a total clunker. See? SEC basketball isn't completely unwatchable!
That's all for this season premiere edition of #SECBasketballFever. Chris will be recapping the weekend games Sunday, and I'll be here again this time next week. Until then, try not to be Mississippi State.