It's mid-February. Right now, the temperature is painfully cold, snow is everywhere, and the ol' seasonal affective disorder is setting in hard. Take heart, though! The greatest sports weekend of the year is just one month away! With Selection Sunday fast approaching and the regular season approaching crunch time, now is a good time to look into which SEC teams still have a shot at gracing your TV screens in a month's time.
This may surprise you, but the SEC doesn't exactly have the best reputation when it comes to basketball. I've even heard that SEC basketball incompetence has become a meme in some circles. (Horrors!) However, the results this year haven't really supported the "SEC does not understand this bouncysqueakyhoops thing" narrative. While the SEC can't claim the top-to-bottom strength that other power conferences have, there are teams in this conference (besides Kentucky) playing some quality hoops. Even outside the tournament contenders, there are teams like Tennessee and Florida who are perfectly capable of playing spoiler. As such, the tournament situation is considerably better than last year's lousy showing.
Here's where the current projections see the SEC's squads:
COULD NOT BE A BIGGER LOCK, EVEN IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY PART OF THE PANAMA CANAL: Kentucky
Comfortably in: Arkansas
Bubble: Georgia, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, LSU
NIT at best: Alabama, Florida, Tennessee
Playing spoiler/Spring sports season: Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Auburn, Missouri
As it so happens, most, if not all, of the SEC bubble teams are making it into the field in the projections currently, which would give the conference a respectable 5-6 teams in the field. Not great for a conference with 14 teams, but far from 2014's 3-team embarrassment. That said, with 4 of those teams on the bubble, this house of cards could all fall apart in just a few games. Let's check in on how they're doing, shall we?
Kentucky (66) - Tennessee (48)
Style points were lacking as UK ticked off win #26 in Knoxville, but the Wildcats could care less about that. They are now 5 games away from an undefeated regular season, 8 from going into the NCAAs without a loss, and 14 from attaining eternal fame.
So if you thought the game looked ugly, perhaps it was, but on the score sheet it was way less ugly than on the television. Kentucky surrendered a lot of points in the first half, but a game is two halves long, and they got all of it and a little more back in the second in terms of defensive efficiency. That’s another reason why beating Kentucky is so hard — if you have a lapse, you are liable to wind up on the short end of an 18-point deficit. Not the Wildcats most impressive victory of the season, but then again, every road win in the SEC is beautiful, especially against the Vols.
The Vols tried to get Kentucky stuck in the mud, and it worked (for thirty minutes.) Worth a try, says Rocky Top Talk:
Really, this felt like a Kevin O'Neill game against some of Rick Pitino's equally amazing Kentucky squads: make it slow, make it ugly, don't turn the ball over. Donnie Tyndall's zone was even more inviting to shoot threes on by design tonight, and Kentucky took the bait: 5 of 22 from the arc, including just 2 of 9 from Devin Booker who scored 18 points but shot 5 of 16 from the floor.
South Carolina (64) - Georgia (58)
Georgia suffered an unfortunate stumble at home, dropping their second game of the season to the Gamecocks. This...is not exactly what they wanted as a bubble team. The Bulldogs are one of the better situated teams on the bubble, currently hovering around 8/9 seed territory, but this loss cold drop them down into the 11/12 danger zone.
South Carolina's 64-58 win over Georgia tonight was their first SEC road win of the season and it put the Gamecocks over .500 overall (13-12, 4-9). It also proved another thing to Frank Martin, something he hopes people understand about his team. In a post-game interview with the SEC Network crew, he stated that the Kentucky game was "an aberration," saying his team had no fight then but that they "have fight," and "had fight tonight."
The Bulldogs emerged from halftime with much more energy on the defensive end and that helped them to find a bit of a rhythm offensively. Georgia opened the second half with a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 10 points. They continued to chip away and a pair of free throws by Yante Maten tied the game at 51-51 with 4:31 remaining.
South Carolina responded by scoring the next five points including a three-pointer by Tyrone Johnson that was set up by an offensive rebound Mindaugas Kacinas. The Bulldogs would threaten again in the final moments but three missed free throws in the last minute undermined their efforts.
Alabama (79) - Auburn (68)
Not a whole lot on the line in this one, besides bragging rights, but the Crimson Tide completed the season sweep of their in-state rivals with a win at Auburn Arena.
The Alabama AD may well be weighing the pros and cons of a new men's basketball coach. Roll Bama Roll saw this game as evidence in Anthony Grant's favor.
If Grant was actually coaching for his job he put on a good audition. He actually drew a technical foul early in the game after Kessens was called for a highly questionable foul on a hard screen. The Tide coach showed more fire than has been seen out of him in quite a while, getting his money's worth in chewing on the official's ear. The team played more up-tempo, moving the ball around with crisp passes and running several back door cuts. Grant's teams always play hard, but seemed to play with an edge tonight that was missing Saturday night in the loss to Vanderbilt. 'Bama seemed to respond to Grant after some say he threw them under the bus, saying that "I hope they realize they threw away great opportunity tonight."
Harrell and Mason and anyone else on the Tigers' roster can score all night, but it's defense that's killed us in Auburn Arena. Canada might've worn his number, but there's only one Tahj Shamsid-Deen, and his scrap and spark on both ends of the court have been sorely missed in SEC play since he had season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this month. If Auburn stands any reasonable chance at impressing in the SEC tournament—better yet, the rest of SEC regular-season play—it's going to have to find an answer on defense. Alabama was able to shoot comfortably from all over the court all night long.
Texas A&M (68) - LSU (62)
In a clash of bubble teams, the Aggies solidified their position, and the Tigers' already puzzling resume took another shot.
The Tigers’ winning ways on the road came to an end in College Station by a final score of 68-62. The game had its share of ups-and-downs, scoring streaks, and momentum shifts for both teams. For the casual college basketball fan, it was an exciting game. But, for the die-hard LSU fan, it was another gut wrenching defeat like others previously on the year.
Make no mistake... we're not in. Not yet. But for the first time in the BK era, we can see it from here. And the view is just as nice as I remembered.
Florida (50) - Vanderbilt (47)
Every week, #SECBasketballFever singles out one game for special attention. This was that game.
Vanderbilt is now 1-8 in games that have either been decided by five points or fewer or gone into overtime. Wednesday's defeat was the second in seven days where they had the lead with fewer than three seconds left on the clock and still lost. In both cases, free throw problems - from some of the team's steadiest shooters! - ultimately cost this team a chance to earn a statement win. Couple those losses with a breakdown vs. LSU (where the 'Dores failed to score a single point in the final 3:08 of regulation) and you've got the difference between a winning conference record and the 4-9 mark that currently has Vandy in the bottom third of the SEC.
This game was a poor showing by both teams, and though it's nice for Florida to get the win, I can't really give you a single player I thought had a game worth touting. (Maybe Devin Robinson, but we'll get to that.) As opposed to having two tales, this game had quite a few chapters that were hilarious, awesome, painful, or just worth noting. And in the end, Florida was able to end a four-game losing streak without their top two scorers. It was that kind of night.
Arkansas (84) - Missouri (69)
The Razorbacks are in, unless they do several stupid things, like losing to Missouri, for instance. They avoided that fate with relative ease, sending the Tigers to their twelfth straight defeat.
Man oh man, have we been waiting for a game like this from the freshmen. As has been the case all year, a plus has been greeted by two minuses, and the performances by the five NON-freshmen was pretty horrific -- six points and three rebounds over 33 minutes for Rosburg and Post, eight turnovers from J3, two points on four shots from Shamburger, nothing from Bello. Still, we long ago entered into "just find hope for next year" mode, and four of five freshmen playing well certainly qualifies. As does any part of J3's game that didn't involve minor things like handling or passing the ball.
But again, this was a game Arkansas just had to have. It was the best chance Arkansas had of a seriously bad loss on their resume. The Tigers won their SEC opener but haven't won since, losing 12 straight now and has an RPI getting closer to 200. The Hogs just had to take care of business tonight and they did. They probably would have lost a seeding line if they'd lost tonight.
While it seems unlikely that the SEC will give us any all-time classic games over the rest of the season, this many bubble teams and frisky potential spoilers means that at least some games should be fun to watch over the next couple of weeks. Chris will be back Sunday recapping the weekend action. I will see you all next week.