Conference Reset: The SEC is UK, MU, UF and then everybody else
Here's our SEC Reset ...
Most memorable moment to date: It seems like forever ago now. But Florida actually opened the season on an aircraft carrier and played a half before its game with Georgetown was suspended because of condensation on the court. The Gators led 27-23 when the game was called. It was ruled a no-contest. It was silly.
Storyline you were too busy to notice: Tennessee entered the season with lots of promise based somewhat on the idea that Cuonzo Martin would have one of college basketball's best frontcourt duos in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. But Maymon missed UT's first 12 games with a knee injury, and the school announced Sunday that the 6-foot-7 senior who averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds as a junior has decided to redshirt. The good news for the Vols is that they'll now have an experienced and talented forward on next season's roster that they wouldn't have otherwise had. The bad news for the Vols is that making the Field of 68 this season will now be a lot tougher than it would've otherwise been.
Coach feeling the heat: Kevin Stallings is a smart basketball coach who can match wits with anybody. But he's in a total rebuilding mode in his 14th season at Vanderbilt, and no fan wants to see a coach totally rebuilding in a 14th season. Barring a surprise, Stallings is about to post his first losing mark in the SEC since 2005-06. What some are asking is whether he'll be able to avoid posting another one next season. And if he can't, it's fair to wonder whether Stallings will find himself on the proverbial hot seat, just another example of a coach who might've stayed in the same spot too long.
Player who needs to step up: Folks have criticized Alex Poythress for his inconsistent play, and I get it. But the Kentucky freshman is still averaging 14.0 points and 6.3 rebounds. That's not bad in the grand scheme of things. But what's up with Alabama's Devonta Pollard? CBSSports.com ranked the 6-foot-8 freshman as the 22nd-best prospect in the Class of 2012, just seven spots behind Poythress. But he's only averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds after Tuesday night's loss to Missouri.
Team better than its record: That six SEC schools have better records than Kentucky is hilarious and a testament to the type of weak schedules most power-conference teams assemble. So, yeah, UK is better than its 9-4 record -- especially when you consider KenPom.com projects the Wildcats as favorites in 17 of their 18 SEC contests.
Team not as good as its record: South Carolina is 10-3 with 10 wins against teams ranked worse than 190th at KenPom, and one of the losses came to Elon. It's also worth noting that this 10-3 team is an underdog Wednesday night to Mississippi State, and do you realize how hard it is to be an underdog to a Mississippi State team that's 5-7 with losses to Troy and Alabama A&M?
Three must-see games:
- Missouri at Florida on Jan. 19
- Missouri at Kentucky on Feb. 23
- Florida at Kentucky on March 9
Player of the Year favorite: Phil Pressey is averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 assists for a team that's 42-7 over the past two seasons. He makes lots of spectacular plays and some frustrating ones, too. But the good outweighs the bad. He's mostly terrific.
Freshman of the Year favorite: Kentucky's Nerlens Noel is the pick just ahead of his teammate Archie Goodwin because of what Noel does on both ends of the court. The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 10.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. That's not as good as the 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks Anthony Davis averaged last season, but it's still really solid for a first-year player.
Ranking the teams from first to worst …
- Kentucky -- I realize this ranking flies in the face of our Top 25 (and one) that features Missouri and Florida but does not feature UK. But the Top 25 (and one) is about what's happened on the court while this is a prediction of which team I believe will win the SEC. What can I say? I'm still a sucker for talent. And Kentucky still has more talent than everybody else.
- Missouri -- Laurence Bowers suffered a sprained MCL in Tuesday's SEC opener, which is unfortunate because he's important and needed. But the senior forward is only expected to miss a couple of games. So it's hard going forward not to like this team led by Phil Pressey, a tiny point guard with remarkable vision who's averaging 12 assists in his past four games.
- Florida -- KenPom.com actually projects the Gators as SEC champions, which suggests it's reasonable to pick any of the three schools ranked first, second or third here. Florida enters league play with an offense ranked sixth and defense ranked 10th. Long as Erik Murphy doesn't miss much time with fractured ribs, the Gators should earn a seed in the Field of 68 that makes a third consecutive Elite Eight possible, if not likely.
- Ole Miss -- The Rebels project as the "best of the rest" in the SEC, which probably says more about the SEC than Ole Miss. Andy Kennedy's team is 11-2 with a win over the Rutgers team that beat the Pittsburgh team that blasted Georgetown late Tuesday. Junior College All-American Marshall Henderson is averaging 18.2 points in 28.7 minutes per game.
- Arkansas -- The Hogs' 9-4 record is uninspiring, but the four losses are to four teams (Michigan, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Arizona State) with a combined record of 53-7. So there's nothing to be really embarrassed about there. What is embarrassing, though, is that BJ Young has missed 32 of the 43 3-pointers he's attempted. He needs to be better for Arkansas to make a run at the Field of 68.
- Tennessee -- Cuonzo Martin would've taken this team to the Field of 68 if not for Jeronne Maymom having to redshirt. Now, who knows? The Vols are terrible from beyond the arc and limited in general. But they did beat Wichita State at Thompson-Boling Arena, so perhaps they'll get a couple of nice home wins to boost their resume.
- LSU -- Johnny Jones is recruiting well enough where you can count on LSU being good again soon, but the Tigers are still probably a year away from competing for a spot in the Field of 68. Yes, the 9-2 record looks nice. But the best win is against Seton Hall, which means LSU is still looking for a quality win.
- Alabama -- It's tough to win anything of significance when you're slow and subpar offensively, and that's exactly what Alabama is. The Crimson Tide turn it over too much, rarely get to the line, and their impact freshman hasn't been that impactful. That's why they've dropped six of their past eight games.
- Texas A&M -- The Aggies won't have the same kind of successful transition to the SEC in basketball that they had in football, mostly because they don't have the equivalent of a Johnny Manziel. That two of their first three SEC games are against Kentucky and Florida means things probably won't get off to a nice start.
- Georgia -- The Bulldogs have underachieved. That's undeniable. But six of the seven losses are to teams ranked in the top 100 at KenPom.com, so the record isn't as bad as it looks. Either way, Georgia has won four straight heading into its SEC opener. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is shooting 54.5 percent from the field during this stretch. That might be sign that the McDonald's All-American is starting to get it.
- Vanderbilt -- The Commodores had one of the 25 most efficient offenses in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. This season's offense is rated 207th at KenPom.com. So now you understand why the Commodores are 6-6 and struggling.
- Auburn -- There's little evidence to suggest Tony Barbee's third season at Auburn will be much different than the first two -- especially now that Chris Denson and Jordan Price are sidelined with stress fractures. That said, Auburn is coming off a close loss to Illinois and win over Florida State. So let's keep an open mind for now.
- South Carolina -- The rest of South Carolina's schedule is against power-conference schools, and the Gamecocks are 0-2 this season (with losses by an average of 16.5 points) in games against power-conference schools. Take that for what it's worth.
- Mississippi State -- First-year coach Rick Ray is operating with just seven scholarship players, few of whom are capable of competing at the SEC level. Can the Bulldogs win even two SEC games? Maybe. But that's only because they're fortunate enough to get home games against Auburn and South Carolina.
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