The last college football game of the season was played nearly a month ago. Even if you're going by the NFL's standards, the Super Bowl was last Sunday. Football season is over, and it's finally time to focus on bask-
(drowned out by raucous laughter)
This is the SEC. Football season never ends, and it most emphatically did not end this week in particular, as all 14 schools were focused on getting their future stars (and busts, and "character issues") to sign on the dotted line for their football programs. It gets a bit tricky to focus on all that bouncing and shooting when there are visions of five-stars dancing in your head.
Our favorite infectious disease just keeps rolling on, though, whether you like it or not. We hit the midpoint of the conference season this week, and we're coming into the home stretch: 9 games to go in the regular season. This means exciting and important games for some teams, but don't fret if your team isn't among this group: it also means that the end of the season is fast approaching, when you can start thinking about spring football! Let's see what went down this week.
Kentucky (69) - Georgia (58)
The Wildcats started this game in vintage form, starting with a 11-1 run and stretching the lead to as much as 17. However, they didn't seem as interested in finishing the job in the second half, and the Bulldogs clawed back to as close as 5 with just over two minutes remaining. UK woke up in time and closed it out to go to 22-0. Kentucky is pretty much the Alabama of SEC basketball right now, possessing an embarrassment of riches, while Georgia is getting the basketball equivalent of that uniquely SEC phenomenon of having a great signing class that only looks bad compared to Alabama's.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox probably isn't looking for any sort of moral victory but the Bulldogs' effort Tuesday night at Rupp Arena probably qualifies. A shorthanded Georgia squad fell to undefeated Kentucky 69-58 in a game that turned pretty competitive in the second half.
Calipari has given this team permission to lose, and they almost went ahead and did it. Drives me crazy when they show no character in their game like in the second half tonight.
I'm still holding to my prediction that they lose in the regular season.
Mississippi State (71) - Tennessee (66)
Don't look now, but Mississippi State's not awful anymore. They proved it with a big road win over a Volunteer team with tournament aspirations. Ridiculously hot shooting (55.8% from the field, 72.7% from 3) from the Bulldogs canceled out Tennessee's athletic advantage and got Rick Ray's guys the win. Right now, MSU just got the amazing class that everybody is saying is going to turn things around, while Tennessee must feel like their best verbal commit just picked someone else.
In true SEC fashion, neither of these teams' blogs could spare the time for a recap for a game played on NSD eve. (OBLIGATORY TENNESSEE JOKE HERE)
Vanderbilt (67) - Florida (61)
The Commodores got off to a 15-0 start versus Florida and held off the Gators the rest of the way to break a 7-game losing streak, leaving Missouri all by its lonesome in the SEC basement. Take that, Commodore Tom! This is like Florida seeing if they could still out-recruit Vanderbilt even if they took the whole summer off. They couldn't, but it was close! Andy just picked up some random 3-star. Nice, but it won't make much real difference.
Sure, Florida outscored Vanderbilt by a 61-52 margin over the final 32:22 of the game. But there are holes too deep to escape, and these Gators are experts at digging them. And in regards to the NCAA Tournament, this may have been a last swing of the spade.
Siakam had one of the greatest games of his career with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks and his frontcourt mate Jones added 13, seven, and four to carry their team to a much-needed victory. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Commodores. It had been the program's worst deluge since 2003.
Arkansas (75) - South Carolina (55)
The Gamecocks were shorthanded and foul-prone, and that's a recipe for a blowout loss to a Mike Anderson team. SC: Disaster class, riven by injuries and busts. Arky: Doing what they do.
The best shot for South Carolina to win this type of game, or any road game, is to make it as ugly as possible and try to squeak it out. The ugliness was sure there but the lack of depth, foul trouble, another poor shooting performance (27.9%), and Arkansas' superior talent is what doomed the Gamecocks.
The win improves Arkansas to 6-3 in SEC play, still tied for 3rd place in the league with Ole Miss and LSU, who both play later in the week. South Carolina came into the game with an RPI just outside the top 100, so this was a game Arkansas really needed to win. The Gamecocks were expected to be one of the sneaky-good teams in the SEC this season, especially after defeating Iowa State in December on a neutral court, but they've struggled in the first half of SEC games. If they can play better in February this has potential to be a nice resume win.
Just be happy that you didn't pull a Tennessee, guys. Don't get greedy.
Ole Miss (69) - Texas A&M (59)
Two teams currently projected as being among the last teams in tangled in a key matchup last night, and the Rebels were able to come away with the much-needed win, ending a 6-game Aggie winning streak. Fortunately for Andy Kennedy's guys, this win means a bit more than winning the argument over who has the SEC's 6th-best recruiting class.
With 1:56 left in the second half and the Aggies trailing by 6 to Ole Miss, there was a great fast break opportunity to cut the lead to 4. Jalen Jones cut between two defenders, then passed the ball to a nonexistent player in the corner for a turnover. I feel like that play summed up the evening pretty well. Just a whole lot of nope on display out there tonight.
Tonight's win tallies Ole Miss' fourth in a row and snaps the Aggies' six-game streak since January 13th (sorry). The Rebels' record now sits second overall in the SEC, and it's kinda satisfying that this jump comes against the only other team to take Kentucky to overtime this year, which happens to be A&M's last loss. Coming into the game, the Aggies' RPI ranked no. 32 in the county, and so the Rebels have beaten three top-35 RPI squads this year (Arkansas and Cincinnati were ranked No. 24 and 34, respectively). Although human spark-plug Anthony Perez more or less sat this one out, the Rebel regulars banded together for victory over an Aggie squad also projected as an 11-seed by Lunardi. Coincidence? #TheNetwork? We may never know.
Alabama (62) - Missouri (49)
Another potential win ruined by a truly horrific offensive performance. Lather, rinse, repeat. Alabama got a class full of not stars, but blue-collar guys who work hard. Coach 'em up, Anthony Grant. Meanwhile, it feels like Missouri forgot to recruit a quarterback. And a wide receiver. And a running back. Kind of missing anybody who can score, really.
No one is going to confuse this 'Bama team with a great team, but they play with great effort and determination every game. A Grant team typically isn't pretty, but they almost always have a chance, simply because of the defense that the team plays. Whether or not that will be enough to reach the post season, and/or keep Grant's job remains to be seen.
Hey, everybody! I have great news! Missouri's offense almost literally can't stay this bad! Mizzou's eFG (effective FG%, which is basically FG% plus extra credit for 3-pointers) for the last two games has been 36.1% and 35.7%. For the season, Grambling currently ranks last in the country at 38.6%. Alabama and Ole Miss are pretty good defensive teams, but they're not that good. In theory, at some point Mizzou is going to stop missing makable shots! So we have that going for us!
If you aren't already thinking about next fall, there's likely to be some fun games over the next month or so of SEC basketball. Although only Kentucky (and possibly Arkansas) have locked up tournament spots, there's a whole crowd of bubble teams who will be fervently hoping they don't screw up. Plus, there's always the fun of seeing whether Kentucky will lose! Chris will be here Sunday and I will be back next week to recap it all for you.