You never want to read a game recap that has the words "gruesome injury" prominently featured.
Losing, in itself, isn't that bad. Every team loses from time to time (well, almost every team). Even when you lose a lot, there are usually bright spots that you can look to: incremental improvements, hope for the future. Even if they are few and far between, you can almost always pick out at least one.
But when a player suffers one of those "limb bending the wrong way" kind of injuries, it makes it pretty hard to say "Well, at least D'Angelo Allen found his 3-point shot." And the injury didn't happen to just anyone, it had to be Wes Clark, who has been working his tail off this season trying to provide a spark whenever he could. When the basketball gods turn on you, they don't take half measures.
Man, I'm depressed. Let's take a mental vacation and think about some teams that have something to be happy about.
Kentucky (71) - LSU (69)
You are such a tease, Kentucky.
This was a game that a lot of people had circled as a potential loss for the Wildcats, and it lived up to the billing. Kentucky looked to have the game sewed up with a 13 point lead halfway through the second half, but they blinked, and before you knew it, LSU had gone on a 21-2 run. Unfortunately for upset fans, the Tigers' offense then went into hibernation, and UK was able to crawl back into the lead and eventually ice the win.
Kentucky hopefully learned that you cannot celebrate a win at the 8-minute mark in the second half. Even if 90% of teams fall apart and are trampled, 10% don’t. This was another case of Kentucky not respecting their opponent.
The difference? Kentucky just knows how to close, and LSU doesn't, at least not yet. The Tigers have now had leads during the final four minutes in six of their seven defeats. UK, meanwhile, keeps holding off supercharged SEC teams, one after another. To borrow a script from LSU's most prominent coach (who cheered from the student section for a bit), it's old hat at this point.
Plus side: you got a set of steak knives!
South Carolina (65) - Missouri (60)
This might have been Missouri's best chance to win again this season, up against a similarly undermanned and underwhelming South Carolina team, but events in the other Columbia conspired otherwise.
The most impressive stretch of South Carolina basketball in the last week then ensued. Missouri made a pair of baskets, highlighted by a thunderous dunk. The Gamecocks came right down the floor each time and answered right back. Thornwell hit a big three after the dunk and Chat drilled a jumper following a Tiger jumper.
The Tigers may be bad, but at least they're bad in an interesting way. That's a plus, right?
In terms of Four Factors season averages, Mizzou now ranks better than 200th in exactly one: eFG% defense (164th). The Tigers are 225th in Off. TO%, 232nd in OR%, 275th in eFG% offense, 278th in Def. TO%, 293rd in Off. FTA/FGA, 300th in DR%, and 317th in Def. FTA/FGA. That's brutal. But experiencing these stats in real time, we know that in any given game, a couple of them have been relative strengths and a couple have been abysmal. I don't know if "sporadically awful" is better or worse than "consistently bad" when it comes to fixing things in the future, but it's been interesting to experience.
Arkansas (101) - Auburn (87)
Some great shooting by the Razorbacks, along with lots and lots of fouls, got this score up into NBA range. Arkansas was never really challenged on the road as they rolled to their 8th SEC win.
We have to talk about the officiating in college basketball for a moment. It's absurd. Arkansas has played a game this season in which they only took 7 free throws, and by contrast, in this game there were 53 fouls called (and it would have been much more if the game was close and the teams were still at optimal defensive intensity the last several minutes). Discrepancies of this magnitude mean the players are playing games with different rules. The Razorbacks scored 101 points in this game, and many people found it hard to watch. It's ridiculous.
Exclude their points as bench players, and Auburn's bench was only responsible for 12 points to the Hogs' 25.
Almost the entire Razorback roster was on the scoresheet tonight, and it certainly helped to have fresh legs throughout the night as the calls from the officials got worse. It was a mismatch that Auburn struggled to keep up with all night long.
Alabama (55) - Mississippi State (51)
It took an impressive (by which I mean very much the opposite) game to beat out MU-SC for most #SECBasketballFever game of the night, but danged if the Tide and Bulldogs didn't pull it off. Bama's tournament hopes are nearly extinguished, but this win kept them alive (for another 3 days, at least).
Mississippi State won the battle of the boards 37-33 and out-shot 'Bama 37% to 32%. The Bulldogs turned the ball over 15 times, while the Tide had 11 miscues. It is hard to win a game when getting out-shot and out-rebounded but the Tide found a way to pull this one out.
There was no recap from For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. Come on, guys. You're
good slightly less awful now!
Georgia (62) - Texas A&M (53)
In a battle of teams with more realistic tournament hopes, Georgia went on the road and topped the Aggies, picking up a key win.
The Bulldogs used a late 10-2 run to take a 51-43 lead with 6:42 remaining. The Aggies would threaten but Georgia continued to have an answer. Kenny Gaines overcame second half foul trouble and knocked down a big three-pointer to put the Bulldogs up 58-51 with just 43 seconds remaining. Georgia closed the game out from the free throw line and escaped College Station with a big win.
Come March, you have to out-scheme your opponents to win. Good Bull Hunting was unimpressed last night.
The Aggies are in a stretch of games where they will be facing very similar talent and athleticism to their own. It's also a stretch of games where we will be facing a group of teams that don't exactly wow you with their offensive sets. Georgia made a small adjustment defensively when Caruso and House started to get things going. The Aggie staff didn't have an answer for it. The foul trouble didn't help things, and a guy like Space who hasn't seen much of the hardwood in the last month or so is forced into action on the court. It was obvious he hasn't had many meaningful miutes lately. The types of personnel sets we put on the court forced Caruso or House to be the only scoring threats at times, and Georgia's defensive pressure was mostly able to keep them in check. I'd definitely like to see the staff improve at adjusting to what they see during the game, and not trying to force a game plan that simply isn't working any longer.
Tennessee (76) - Vanderbilt (73) (OT)
This rivalry game went down to the wire, as the Vols made a comeback (aided and abetted by some lousy Vanderbilt free throw shooting) to first tie, then win it.
Many of Tennessee's close games were the result of nearly blown leads for the Vols or near misses in a loss. But this time, Tennessee was the better team in the final seconds of a game that was close throughout - neither team led by more than five in the final 33 minutes and overtime - and while Vanderbilt has to sit with how they missed so many free throws to let it get away down the stretch, the Vols get to walk away knowing they made every play they had to make in the final minutes to get this win, on the road in a building that has gotten the best of us many times. They got this win because of Richardson's 27 points, Hubbs last-second shot, Punter's late three, Reese's big tip, Mostella being forced into action and getting a steal, etc. The Vols need something from everyone, and tonight they got it.
The Vanderbilt frontcourt came alive against an undersized Tennessee team, but it wasn't enough to lift the Commodores to a win over their arch rivals on Wednesday night. Vandy fell to Tennessee, 76-73 in overtime. A lack of veteran leadership reared its ugly head once against as the 'Dores couldn't hit their free throws and hold a late five point lead to fend off their arch rivals.
I won't blame you if you move on to some more appealing hashtags at this point, but #SECBasketballFever rolls on. Check back Sunday for more. And get well soon, Wes.