SEC Roundup: Week Two

The Gators and Crimson Tide are two of league's teams on the rise as Kentucky was forced to sweat in the opening week of SEC play, writes Scout's Ben Love.

CONFERENCE STANDINGS


1. Kentucky (15-0, 2-0)
2. Arkansas (13-2, 2-0)
3. Alabama (12-3, 2-0)
4. Florida (9-6, 2-0)
5. LSU (12-3, 1-1)
6. Vanderbilt (11-4, 1-1)
7. Ole Miss (10-5, 1-1)
8. Tennessee (9-5, 1-1)
9. Auburn (9-6, 1-1)
10. Missouri (7-8, 1-1)
11. Georgia (9-5, 0-2)
12. South Carolina (9-5, 0-2)
13. Texas A&M (9-5, 0-2)
14. Mississippi State (7-8, 0-2)

One week into league play four teams remain unblemished in the Southeastern Conference – Kentucky and Arkansas, the SEC’s two ranked teams, as well as Alabama and resurgent Florida.

The Gators, bogged down by a tough non-conference schedule and breaking in a new core, won a tight game at pesky South Carolina in the midweek before smoking Mississippi State by 25 in Gainesville on Saturday. Billy Donovan’s crew has a real chance at making it to 4-0 this week if it can navigate a trip to Athens over the weekend.

After the first four lingers LSU, an enigmatic team that watched a pair of second-half leads dissolve last week only to split the games in a combined three overtimes.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the opening week, other than Kentucky’s vulnerability (see below), is Georgia’s 0-2 start. The Dawgs faced a brutal gauntlet – versus No. 23 Arkansas and then at LSU – but Mark Fox’s group doesn’t belong in the league’s bottom four. However, the Bulldogs will have to show some serious resolve to climb back into the top half of the conference, and the journey begins Wednesday at underrated Vanderbilt.

DRAGO IS BLEEDING


Talk of an undefeated season for No. 1 Kentucky felt downright foolish this past week as the Wildcats rattled off consecutive head-scratching results . . . at least given how dominant they were prior to SEC play.

First the ‘Cats eked past Ole Miss in Lexington Tuesday night, surviving in overtime 89-86. Then, even with the benefit of four days’ rest, Big Blue nearly bit the dust in College Station before escaping Reed Arena with a 70-64 double-overtime victory.



Aaron Harrison and Kentucky with two wake-up calls
Much like seemingly invincible Russian boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Kentucky has now been cut, twice, and the rest of the league can see the juggernaut bleeding.

The important question moving forward: Will anyone be able to capitalize on the Wildcats’ susceptibility or, having felt its mortality for the first time this season – remember, only Louisville came within single digits of Kentucky heading into January – will John Calipari’s group thrive from its brushes with defeat?

Regardless of whether there’s a Huckleberry (or Rocky Balboa, in this example) out there, a few flaws for Kentucky were exposed, primarily on the defensive end.

Ole Miss burnt the Wildcats, shooting 49.2% from the field and a scorching 52.9% from beyond the arc. The Rebels did almost all of their work in the backcourt, too, with the starting perimeter trio of Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody and Ladarius White combining to score 63 of Hotty Toddy’s 86 points.

They’re still very talented, very long and have the capability to make every game a suffocating experience with their depth, but the Wildcats are also human. And if any team is going to slay the dragon, they better have guards that can fill it up.

WHO’S LURKING AS A THREAT?


Behind undefeated Kentucky, but clearly ahead of the rest of the pack currently, is Arkansas, entrenched as the conference’s second-in-command following an impressive win at Georgia to open its SEC schedule.

But who else has a real chance to challenge the Hogs for that spot?

Trendy preseason picks LSU and Georgia had plenty of downs to go with some ups in the opening week – the two teams even tried to give each other a game in Baton Rouge that the Tigers ultimately won in double-overtime Saturday. They’re both still contenders but will have to elevate their levels of play, mostly in end-game, close-out scenarios, to make good on their potential.

Two teams that are doing just that early in SEC action: Florida and Alabama.

It was almost impossible not to see this coming for the Gators, who, as was said here a week ago, are taking a step down into conference play given the team’s trying non-conference slate (Miami, Georgetown, UNC, Kansas, Florida State, Connecticut). UF’s experienced duo of Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier II combined for 37 points in the team’s win at South Carolina, one that’s helped the reptiles gain momentum.

As for ‘Bama, Anthony Grant’s squad continues to show it deserves consideration as one of the SEC’s top teams this season and one that could potentially make a run to the Big Dance. The Tide has that kind of talent and, most importantly, is playing the type of lockdown defense that will keep it in every game. So far, in a pair of games versus Texas A&M and Tennessee, Alabama is conceding an average of 41 points.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT


Every team will once again play one on the road and one at home this week. Maybe the team that’ll be challenged most is up-and-comer Alabama, who travels to desperate South Carolina in the midweek before hosting the nation’s top team. The path is also treacherous for Georgia, still seeking its first win in the league, and Ole Miss, taking on projected top-half teams LSU and Arkansas.

Alabama: at South Carolina (Tues), vs. Kentucky (Sat)
Arkansas: at Tennessee (Tues), vs. Ole Miss (Sat)
Auburn: at Florida (Thurs), vs. South Carolina (Sat)
Florida: vs. Auburn (Thurs), at Georgia (Sat)
Georgia: at Vanderbilt (Wed), vs. Florida (Sat)
Kentucky: vs. Missouri (Tues), at Alabama (Sat)
LSU: at Ole Miss (Wed), vs. Texas A&M (Sat)
Mississippi State: at Texas A&M (Tues), vs. Vanderbilt (Sat)
Missouri: at Kentucky (Tues), vs. Tennessee (Sat)
Ole Miss: vs. LSU (Wed), at Arkansas (Sat)
South Carolina: vs. Alabama (Tues), at Auburn (Sat)
Tennessee: vs. Arkansas (Tues), at Missouri (Sat)
Texas A&M: vs. Mississippi State (Tues), at LSU (Sat)
Vanderbilt: vs. Georgia (Wed), at Mississippi State (Sat)



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