SEC basketball notebook

The SEC has had six teams in the NCAA Tournament field in each of the last four seasons. The Southeastern Conference led the nation in Overall RPI during the last three seasons and was first or second over the same span in Non-Conference RPI heading into the NCAA Tournament. This season, seven different SEC teams have been ranked in both polls.

Upcoming Schedule

MARCH 5 (Wednesday)
*Mississippi State at Tennessee 7:30 p.m. ET
*South Carolina at Alabama 7:00 p.m. CT
*Arkansas at Auburn 7:00 p.m. CT
*LSU at Ole Miss 7:00 p.m. CT
*Vanderbilt at Kentucky [JP] 8:00 p.m. ET

March 8 (Saturday)
*Alabama at LSU [JP] 1:00 p.m. CT
*Kentucky at Florida [CBS] 2:00 p.m. ET
*Ole Miss at Arkansas 2:05 p.m. CT
*Auburn at Mississippi State [JP] 3:00 p.m. CT
*Tennessee at Vanderbilt 7:00 p.m. CT

March 9 (Sunday)
*Georgia at South Carolina [CBS] Noon ET

Team-by-Team Notes

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
It will be a special night in Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night when the Tide's senior class, a trio credited with bringing Alabama basketball back as a national power, makes its final regular season home appearance in Coleman Coliseum. In a ceremony prior to tip-off, Alabama will honor Erwin Dudley, Kenny Walker and Terrance Meade. The three have been an impact class, all jumping into the starting lineup as freshmen and taking the program a giant leap further each season. Despite taking their lumps that first year, individually, each found his name among the SEC's top 10-15 individual stats. In 2001, their sophomore year, they won 25 games and advanced to the NIT championship game; In 2002 they won a school record 27 games, won the SEC regular season championship, made it to the SEC tournament final and advanced to the NCAA tournament. And in 2003 they made history in December when the Crimson Tide reached its first No. 1 national ranking. They have been equally successful off the court. All three will walk together among the University of Alabama's May 2003 graduating class.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS
Arkansas plays its final road game on Wednesday when the Razorbacks travel to Auburn looking for a split of the season series. Auburn beat Arkansas in Fayetteville, 52-37. Arkansas leads the series 16-9 with a 16-8 advantage since joining the SEC. Auburn has a 6-5 lead at Auburn. The teams have split the last four meetings, but the Razorbacks have won five of the last seven. Arkansas freshman Eric Ferguson averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the two wins last week over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. UA has won consecutive conference games for the first time this season. The win over the Bulldogs is Arkansas' second in 18 games this year when scoring less than 70 points and also the second in 16 games when trailing at the half. The 53 points scored against MSU are the fewest Arkansas has scored in a victory since Dec. 5, 1987, when the Razorbacks beat Southwest Missouri State, 53-47, at home. In the 84-54 Mississippi State victory over UA in Starkville on Feb. 8, MSU led 52-18 at the half. In Saturday's Arkansas win, the Bulldogs scored 51 points for the game.

AUBURN TIGERS
This is the 26th meeting between the Tigers and Razorbacks with Arkansas holding a 16-9 series lead. The Tigers have a 6-5 series edge in Auburn. The Tigers have won three of the last four games between the two teams in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum with the loss coming in an 83-77 defeat last year. Tiger head coach Cliff Ellis is 6-12 vs. Arkansas while Arkansas head coach Stan Heath is 0-1 vs. Auburn. Auburn is looking for its first season sweep of Arkansas in 10 years, dating back to the 1992-93 season. The Tigers defeated the Razorbacks 52-37 Jan. 11 in Fayetteville in the teams' first meeting this season. Auburn honors a trio of seniors in pregame ceremonies Wednesday in Marquis Daniels, Derrick Bird and Donny Calton. Daniels and Bird will graduate this May in Sociology while Calton will graduate this summer in Communications. Auburn held Arkansas to its fewest points in 37 years in a 52-37 victory in Fayetteville Jan. 11. A preseason last place pick in the SEC's Western Division, Auburn finds itself one game behind Mississippi State for first place with only two games to play.

FLORIDA GATORS
The Florida Gators set a school record with their 24th regular season win, surpassing the 1999-00 and 1993-94 Final Four teams with a 73-70 victory at Auburn. The victory capped a perfect 6-0 mark on the year against the SEC West, the third time in the last four years the Gators have swept the West. Matt Bonner scored in double figures for the 22nd time in 28 games, leading the way with 23 points. Bonner is just seven points shy of 1,500 for his career. David Lee and Brett Nelson each added 12 points as the Gators beat Auburn for the fourth straight time. The Gators dished out 20 assists for the evening. The win matched the Gators' school record for SEC wins in the 16-game format with 12. Florida is now 12-2 in conference play after going 12-2 in non-conference play. Florida returns to action on Tuesday night against Georgia on ESPN, the Gators' fifth and final Super Tuesday appearance of the season. Florida won its 19th consecutive home game on last Tuesday night against South Carolina, 96-63, establishing a new school record.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Georgia plays host to Florida in its mid-week game before closing out the regular season at South Carolina. Historically, both of these games have been very challenging to Bulldog teams. Florida has won in Athens four straight years by an average margin of 15 points, while Georgia has won just once in Columbia since USC joined the SEC in 1992. Jarvis Hayes begins the week just nine points shy of 1,000 for his Georgia career. If he does it Tuesday vs. Florida, it will have taken him 55 games to reach that mark, five games faster than UGA career scoring leader Litterial Green. Rashad Wright needs nine assists to become just the fourth player in school history to reach 400 career assists. He's already the only player ever to hand out 100 assists in each of his first three seasons. Georgia is assured of at least a .500 record in SEC play for the third straight year. It's just the fifth time in the history of the SEC that Georgia has done it three straight times. Last week Georgia completed its first-ever undefeated sweep of the Western Division. Georgia picked up their first home loss versus Kentucky on Sunday, 74-66. Ezra Williams had 17 for Georgia which had won four straight.

KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Kentucky claimed at least a share of its 42nd SEC Championship and a share of its ninth Eastern Division title after a 74-66 victory over host Georgia, which was unbeaten at home this season. The Wildcats can win the league titles outright with a victory in either of its last two games or a loss by Florida. The Cats will play Vanderbilt on Senior Night Wednesday before visiting Florida for a nationally televised season finale on Saturday. Against the Commodores, UK will honor Keith Bogans, Jules Camara and Marquis Estill in the popular pregame ceremony, as well as John Stewart, who had signed with the Cats in the fall of 1998 but collapsed and died during an Indiana State Tournament game in March 1999. UK owns the nation's longest win streak this season at 18 games, which equals the ninth-longest in school history. Eight of UK's 14 SEC opponents have shot less than 40% from the field, including Georgia, which hit 37.5% Sunday. UK is 10-1 against ranked opponents this season. The Cats beat Vandy, 74-52, on Jan. 14, the last time UK found itself trailing at halftime.

LSU TIGERS
The Tigers won two games last week, beating Auburn on Wednesday night (94-63) and at Tennessee (88-67) on Saturday. LSU broke the school record for threes against Auburn, hitting 16 and then reset the mark on Saturday against Tennessee making 17, tying for the 12th best team single game in SEC history. Collis Temple had 42 points on the week, 19 against Auburn, 23 at Tennessee, hitting 9-of-13 treys in the process. Torris Bright had 33 points for the week, 14 vs. Auburn, 19 at Tennessee, hitting 9-of-16 treys with 11 assists. Tigers had 27 assisted baskets out of a possible 30 against Tennessee and last week had 53 assisted baskets out of a possible 62. Seven times in the Brady years at LSU have the Tigers had at least 80 percent of their baskets come off assists. LSU plays at Ole Miss on Wednesday and vs. Alabama on Saturday. The Alabama game has been moved to 1 p.m. for JP Sports' wild-card telecast. Ole Miss won the first meeting between the two teams, 67-57 in Baton Rouge, while Alabama was a winner over LSU in Tuscaloosa, 75-66.

OLE MISS REBELS
The Rebels will host LSU Wednesday. The Tigers lead the all-time series 106-76, but Ole Miss holds a 47-30 lead in games played in Oxford. Wednesday's game vs. LSU will be "Senior Night" for the Rebels. Ole Miss has won its last 7 "Senior Day" games and have a 9-3 "Senior Night" record since 1990-91. The Rebel seniors are Derrick Allen, Shaun Holtz, David Sanders and Emmanuel Wade. The 2003 seniors have won 78 games, the third-most by an Ole Miss senior class. Ole Miss and LSU are familiar "Senior Night" opponents, as they have played each other on either program's special night the last 5 years. The Rebels have been rather successful from the three-point line the last 4 games. Ole Miss has hit an average of 9.5 treys per contest and is shooting 44.2 percent from the arc in those 4 games. Junior Justin Reed recorded the 9th 20-point game of his career vs. Alabama Mar. 2. He now has 1,196 career points, and needs only 6 to move into the No. 17 spot on the Rebel all-time scoring chart, passing his head coach, Rod Barnes. Derrick Allen is averaging 14 points and 5 boards off the bench in the Rebels' last 2 games.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
The 18-7 Bulldogs enter the final week of the regular season bidding to claim their first divisional championship and subsequent No. 1 seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament since the school's 1995-96 Final Four campaign. State is also looking to earn back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths and post successive 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1994-95 and 1995-96 campaigns. MSU opens the week by heading to Knoxville for a "Senior Night"encounter with the Ron Slay-led Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday. State then returns home to honor seniors Derrick Zimmerman and Michal Ignerski by playing host to Auburn Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.) in a televised contest that has been picked up Jefferson-Pilot Sports as the second half of the network's wildcard doubleheader. The average scoring margin in the five MSU-UT meetings during the Stansbury era has been just 5.0 points per game. The Bulldogs are looking for a fifth consecutive victory over Auburn for the first time since a decade ago (1991-93). Prior to Saturday's 53-51 loss at Arkansas, the Bulldogs had won 36 consecutive games when holding the opposition to 65 points or less.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
USC needs just one more SEC win to match last season's total of six. USC plays two key games this week - at Alabama and hosting Georgia on Sunday. Carlos Powell set career highs with 21 points and seven assists as South Carolina beat Vanderbilt 76-64 Saturday. Chuck Eidson added 18 points, and Rolando Howell had 13 points as the Gamecocks (12-13, 5-9 Southeastern Conference) ended a two-game losing streak. It was his first game in double figures since the Clemson game on Feb. 12. Matt Freije led the Commodores with 22 points, which has lost seven straight. Chuck Eidson's four steals give him 266 for his career. He needs 12 more to move into second place on the all-time SEC list. USC will have its final chance to say good-bye to its four seniors on national television, when CBS comes calling on Sunday. The Noon game against Georgia and South Carolina will feature a pre-game salute to seniors Chuck Eidson, Tony Kitchings, Marius Petravicius and Chris Warren. The Georgia-Carolina game will be Carolina's 14th television appearance this season. USC is 6-7 record on television in 2002-03, but 6-1 at home.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Five Tennessee seniors (Drew Clemmons, Jon Higgins, Thaydeus Holden, Ron Slay and Zach Turner) will be making their last appearance on the basketball court at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, March 5, when the Vols host Mississippi State in UT's home finale. During the last four seasons Tennessee has posted a 78-44 record, won an SEC title and made two NCAA Tournament appearances. The Vols will be looking to put a stop to a four-game losing streak that was extended by a hot shooting LSU team last Saturday. The Tigers set a Thompson-Boling Arena record with 17 three-pointers on their way to an 88-67 win. Tennessee hasn't lost five games in a row since dropping five in a row in February 2001. During the streak, UT has allowed 80.2 points per game after giving up just 64.3 in its first 21 games this season. Ron Slay needs three points to become just the 14th player in Tennessee history to score 1,500 career points. Slay currently leads the SEC in scoring with 21.8 points per game. UT leads the SEC with a 73.2 free throw percentage.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES
Vanderbilt's losing streak stretched to seven games Saturday evening with a 76-64 loss to South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Matt Freije once again led all scorers with his 22 points, while adding six rebounds, two assists and a block. Freije has been the Commodores' leading scorer in nine of the past 11 games and only once this season has he gone more than one game without being Vanderbilt's leading scorer. Junior Scott Hundley made his first start of the season at South Carolina, finishing with six points, four rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes. For the fifth time this season, sophomore Brian Thornton missed a double-double by two rebounds or less after scoring 13 points and grabbing nine boards against the Gamecocks. Vanderbilt outrebounded South Carolina, 37-26, which is just the third time in SEC play the Commodores have won the battle on the boards. Also, the 11-rebound advantage was the second-largest of the season and just the second double-figure rebound edge for Vanderbilt this season. The Commodores travel for the final time in the regular season Wednesday when they take on Kentucky in Rupp Arena - a place where Vanderbilt has never won.

Four SEC Players Tabbed Naismith Finalists

The Atlanta Tipoff Club, announced on February 19 the 20 finalists for the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Award. Florida's Matt Bonner, Georgia's Jarvis Hayes, Kentucky's Keith Bogans and Mississippi State's Mario Austin made the list.

The Naismith Board of Selectors began the selection process earlier this year and have reduced the number of finalist by balloting to the twenty top male players they felt most deserving of the award. The winners of the Naismith Awards, the most prestigious individual honor in college basketball, will be honored in Atlanta on Friday, April 11, 2003.

SEC in Strength of Schedule

Six SEC teams are ranked among the 20 toughest schedules in the country, according to CollegeRPI.com, as of March 3.

1. Georgia .6222
2. Arkansas .6090
11. Alabama .5869
13. Vanderbilt .5833
17. South Carolina .5805
18. Kentucky .5787
31. Mississippi State .5698
38. Auburn .5656
42. Florida .5643
50. Ole Miss .5582
52. Tennessee .5566
56. LSU .5537


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