SEC men's basketball notebook

Few argue that top to bottom the Southeastern Conference is the toughest basketball conference in the nation. On any given night, any team in the SEC is completely capable of defeating any other.

The SEC ranks first in the nation in Non-Conference RPI, according to the latest poll by CollegeRPI.com, as of January 20. The ACC is second, followed by the Big 12.

The SEC ranks first in Strength of Schedule among the top eight conferences, according to CollegeRPI.com, as of January 20. Conference USA is second, followed by the Big 10.

Close Calls

Winning conference games have not been easy this season as evidenced by some tight games decided by the slimmest of margins. Of the 21 conference played through January 16, nine have been decided by six points or less, including one overtime game. Meaning almost 43 percent of league games have been won in the final minutes.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama plays at home against Kentucky at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 25th. The game will be televised on ESPN. Alabama's game at Ole Miss found Tide coach Mark Gottfried coaching his alma mater against Ole Miss' Rod Barnes who is coaching his alma mater. Both played against one another in college, Gottfried at Alabama from the 1984-85 season to the 1986-87 season and Barnes from 1984-88. As head coaches Barnes now leads 5-4 in a series that has found the home team winning each of the last nine meetings. Erwin Dudley continues to be the only player in the SEC who is averaging in double digits in both scoring and rebounding. Junior Emmett Thomas, playing against the team his father played for in college, had a season high 20 points at Auburn on Saturday.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas scored just 15 points in a half for the second straight half. The Razorbacks had just 15 points in the second period of the 52-37 loss to Auburn on Jan. 11 and trailed Georgia, 33-15, at the half on Saturday. In the second half against Georgia, the Razorbacks scored more points than the previous two periods combined, 49. Freshmen Eric Ferguson and Kendrick Davis scored 15 points each in the second half. Also against Georgia, senior forward Dionisio Gomez had a career-high 17 rebounds, including a personal-best 12 offensive boards. Arkansas entered the Georgia game with the best offensive rebounding team in the league and improved that average with 24 offensive boards against the Bulldogs. The Razorbacks have lost five straight games, the first five-game losing streak for the Razorbacks since 1986 when Arkansas dropped consecutive games to SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and Houston. Arkansas is holding opponents to an average of 63.7 points per game and scoring 63.4 points per game. If those figures hold, it would be the lowest averages allowed and scored by Arkansas since 1985.

Auburn Tigers

After opening SEC play with two of three games on the road, Auburn is in the midst of playing three-straight games against nationally-ranked teams. The Tigers defeated #9 Alabama 77-68 Saturday in Auburn and then travel to Kentucky, Wednesday and to Georgia, Saturday. UK holds a commanding 75-17 series lead over Auburn. The Wildcats have won 16 of the last 17 games in the series. Auburn is 15-0 this year when holding its opponent under 72 points. The Tigers are 0-2 when allowing the opposition to score 72 points or more. No team in America has more wins than Auburn's 15. The Tigers are tied for the most wins nationally with Florida, Butler and Creighton. The Tigers has surpassed the win total of last year's 12-16 team and equaled their SEC win total of 4-12. Auburn's 15-2 start is the sixth best start in school history, and the hottest since the 1999-00 season when the Tigers began with a 16-1 record. Auburn is 4-0 in SEC play for the first time since 2000. The Tigers haven't been 5-0 in league play since the 1999 SEC Championship season. The Tigers' best start ever in league play was a 13-0 mark in 1958-59.

Florida Gators

The Gators won their 11th straight game on Saturday night, rallying from a seven-point halftime deficit to defeat South Carolina 77-75. Matt Bonner scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the second half and broke a 72-all tie with a dunk with only :33 seconds remaining in regulation. Matt Walsh scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half, while Bonell Colas scored a career-high 16 points off the bench for the Gators. Bonner added nine rebounds, as did David Lee, while Walsh had eight. The 11-game winning streak is the second longest in Florida history, trailing only last year's 14-game winning streak. In a 77-64 victory over Tennessee, Matt Bonner scored a season high 25 points, including 5-of-7 from three-point range, while David Lee added 14 points and seven rebounds. Brett Nelson posted a season-high 13 points, adding five assists. The Gators got a combined 10 three-pointers from five different players, the fifth time in the last seven games the Gators have reached double figures in three-pointers. The win was also the Gators' 13th straight at home overall.

Georgia Bulldogs

Jarvis Hayes has made his last 10 field-goal attempts, including his last six shots from 3-point range. He's shot less than 50 percent in just two games this season and not since a game against California on Dec. 7. Hayes and Ezra Williams have combined to shoot 50.7 percent from 3-point range. Their teammates have combined to make 31 of 100 tries from behind the line. Rashad Wright moved into the school's top 10 list of career assist leaders. He now has 336 for his two-plus seasons. In the most recent NCAA statistics, Georgia leads the nation in assists at 19.6 per game. No Bulldog team has ever claimed a statistical national championship in any category. Five times in their 1 ½ seasons together have Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams scored 20 or more points each in the same game. They've done it three times this season, most recently on Jan. 5 against LSU. Georgia is 5-0 in those games. Georgia's strength-of-schedule rating is now 1st nationally, according to the latest RPI listings. The 2001 Bulldog team had an identical ranking at season's end. Georgia has won all five games in which Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams score at least 20 points.

Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky carries its seven-game win streak and its unbeaten SEC record against two Alabama power-houses this week. The Cats faced SEC Western Division-leader Auburn in Lexington on Wednesday, before traveling to face host Alabama on Saturday, formerly the nation's top-ranked team. UK is coming off a sterling 88-73 win over 10th-ranked Notre Dame. Chuck Hayes led the Cats with a career-high points (17), rebounds (16), assists (5) and blocks (3) as UK beat a top-10 opponent for the second time this season. The Cats are now 4-1 against ranked opponents. In the last three games, no UK opponent has shot better than 39% and in the last seven games, the Cats have shot 49% or better from the field six times. For the season, Kentucky is shooting 49.1% from the field, its best effort since the 1986 season, the last without the three-point shot. The Wildcats have beaten Auburn 15 of the last 16 times and haven't lost to the Tigers in Rupp Arena since 1988. Alabama has beaten Kentucky in three of the last four meetings and the Wildcats haven't won at Tuscaloosa since 1997.

LSU Tigers

The Tigers had its 11-game home winning streak snapped Saturday by Ole Miss, 67-57. In all three SEC contests, LSU has allowed the opposition to shoot over 50 percent from the field. LSU was 20-of-52 and 1-of-13 for the game from three-point range. Ronald Dupree had another double double against Ole Miss with 12 points and 12 rebounds and he continues to lead the league in rebounding in league games at 11.3 per game. Jaime Lloreda continues to lead the league in field goal percentage (62.7) and Torris Bright leads the league in assists (5.73). The Tigers take to the road for two games this week, traveling to Arkansas and Mississippi State. Arkansas leads the overall series, 23-10, but LSU and Arkansas have split the last eight games with LSU winning both regular season meetings in 2000 and 2002. It's a quick turnaround for LSU and Mississippi State since they played in Baton Rouge on Jan. 11 when the Tigers won 85-72. LSU leads the series, 97-84, but the Bulldogs lead the series in Starkville, 52-33, with LSU's last win there in 2001.

Ole Miss Rebels

The Rebels opened a 3-game homestand Jan. 21 vs. Alabama. Ole Miss continues its homestand against Arkansas Jan. 25 and Mississippi State Jan. 29. Arkansas leads the all-time series with Ole Miss 34-16, but the Rebels have won 5 straight and 8 of the last 10 encounters. Ole Miss is now 18-5 vs. ranked opponents in Tad Smith Coliseum since the 1994-95 campaign. The win at No. 23 LSU was the Rebels' first over a ranked team on the road since the 1998-99 season (head coach Rod Barnes' first year). That year, Ole Miss posted a 76-65 win over No. 19 Arkansas in Fayetteville on Jan. 9, 1999. Junior Aaron Harper is closing in on 900 points for his career. After his 16-point performance at LSU, Harper now has 880 points. Aaron Harper is shooting 54.5 percent (12-of-22) from the arc in the last 3 games. Freshman Jonathan Loe recorded season highs for rebounds (3) and assists (4) vs. LSU.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

The Bulldogs look for their first SEC win of the season as they host both South Carolina and LSU this week. MSU owns an all-time 7-5 series lead over South Carolina. The Bulldogs have claimed four of the five prior Starkville meetings with the Gamecocks. USC's lone road win over MSU came during the 1996-97 season. Having dropped an 85-72 decision in Baton Rouge earlier this month, the Bulldogs turn around and play host to LSU this Saturday just two weeks after visiting the Tigers. MSU owns a 15-5 series lead over LSU dating back to the 1993-94 campaign, including an 8-1 record versus the Tigers in games played in Starkville during that span. In last week's 68-62 overtime loss at Alabama, the Bulldogs relinquished a 17-point, first-half lead to mark the largest lead surrendered in an MSU loss during the Stansbury era. State followed the previous Stansbury-era superlative for largest lead surrendered in a loss by reeling off nine consecutive wins on the way to winning the 2002 SEC Tournament.. Junior Mario Austin enters this week's action with 957 career points, needing 43 more points to become the 25th player in MSU basketball history to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

South Carolina Gamecocks

In Saturday's game versus Florida, both teams had a season low turnover mark. The Gators had three and USC totaled four. USC had just two steals after averaging 9.77 its first 13 games. South Carolina also had two players score more than 20 points in the same game for the first time this year. Kerbrell Brown and Tony Kitchings both had 22 points in the Florida game. Rolando Howell was just shy of his second straight double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. Carlos Powell scored in double figures for the 12th time in 14 tries this year. Chuck Eidson, already first in school history in steals with 248, moved to eighth on the USC career list for assists in the Florida game with 10. He sits at 375, passing Mike Dunleavy (1973-76) who had 370 career assists. He is also just three steals away from tying Kareem Reid (Arkansas, 1996-99) for third in SEC history with 251. South Carolina plays its next four of five games on the road, posting a home game on Feb. 1 versus Kentucky. The Gamecocks play only once this week at Mississippi State on Wednesday.

Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee travels to Athens, Ga., to play its third road contest in five SEC games. The Vols are coming off a 71-66 win over Vanderbilt Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Thaydeus Holden came off the bench to lead the Vols with 17 points. Holden shot 5-for-5 from three-point range to tie UT's school record for three-point percentage. C.J. Watson has raised his scoring average to 10.1 points per game and is averaging 13.8 points in SEC games. Jon Higgins, who hit 2-of-3 three-pointers against Vanderbilt, is shooting 48.4 percent behind the arc this season and ranks second all-time at Tennessee by making 40.7 percent of his career three-pointers. Ron Slay, who currently ranks 22nd on UT's scoring lists with 1,226 career points, needs 18 points to become one of Tennessee's Top 20 all-time scorers. After shooting just 43.2 percent in its first nine games, the Vols are shooting 49.2 percent from the field in their last four games. UT's three-point shooting has improved from 35.1 percent in its first nine games to 41.7 percent in its last four contests.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Matt Freije and Corey Smith led all scorers with 18 points apiece as Vanderbilt dropped to 8-7 and 1-3 in the SEC Saturday with a 71-66 loss at Tennessee. Brian Thornton also added 16 points and eight rebounds. It was the first time this season the Commodores had three players score at least 16 points in a game. Freije scored all 18 of his points in the second after battling foul trouble in the first half. With his 18 points at Tennessee, Freije became the 35th member of Vanderbilt's 1,000-Point Club. With 1,011 career points, he has already moved into 34th place and is just 42 points away from the Top-30. The Commodores shot 47.3 percent (26-55) from the field, which is their highest mark in a loss this season. Vanderbilt also shot 42.1 percent (8-19) from three-point range and has shot 51.1 percent (24-47) on threes in the past three games. Next up for Vanderbilt is a road trip to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the Florida Gators. Vanderbilt leads the all-time series with Florida, 58-44, while the Gators hold a 31-20 advantage in Gainesville. Last season Florida claimed victories in both games between the two schools.

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