SEC Roundup: Midway Point

Near the halfway point of the conference schedule, Scout's Ben Love names his midseason All-SEC team while singing the praises of up-and-comer Texas A&M as a surprise contender.

CONFERENCE STANDINGS


1. Kentucky (21-0, 8-0)
2. Texas A&M (15-5, 6-2)
3. Arkansas (16-5, 5-3)
4. LSU (16-5, 5-3)
5. Georgia (14-6, 5-3)
6. Ole Miss (14-7, 5-3)
7. Tennessee (13-7, 5-3)
8. Florida (12-9, 5-3)
9. Alabama (13-8, 3-5)
10. Mississippi State (10-11, 3-5)
11. South Carolina (11-9, 2-6)
12. Auburn (10-11, 2-6)
13. Vanderbilt (11-10, 1-7)
14. Missouri (7-14, 1-7)

Another week in Southeastern Conference basketball meant more of the same in many respects. Kentucky still hasn’t lost while challengers Arkansas, Georgia and LSU, masters of the rollercoaster ride this season, couldn’t gain any ground on each other after all losing road games.

Of course with that trio taking a step back, there were three SEC squads which propelled themselves forward last week. Aside from Big Blue, the other three league teams to win both of their games were Texas A&M, winners of six straight since starting 0-2 in the conference, Ole Miss and Florida.

They should all be considered threats to challenge for the coveted second spot in the SEC by season’s end, making things more interesting atop the league than they’ve been in a number of years.

With the good, however, comes the bad. Missouri and Vanderbilt have dropped a combined 14 straight games, each on seven-game losing benders, while the state of Alabama went 0-for-4 in its games this week.

AGGIES AHEAD OF SCHEDULE


Texas A&M basketball is supposed to be on the rise. It’s just that most thought that would begin next season when the Aggies’ stellar 2015 recruiting class hits campus.

Well, whether the rest of the free world was/is ready or not, Billy Kennedy’s team is playing like a contender this season.



House has been outstanding moving to the SEC
Following two straight losses – at Alabama and in double overtime to No. 1 Kentucky – to usher in league play, Texas A&M has rattled off six consecutive victories, including wins at top-half teams LSU and Tennessee.

The catalysts have been a pair of transfers in Jalen Jones (from SMU) and Danuel House (from Houston, and there’s plenty more on him below).

It’s no coincidence that Kennedy’s crew is unbeaten since Jones returned from a high-ankle sprain after that tough home loss to the Wildcats. Since then, during the six-game streak, Jones is averaging 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds and shooting 46.0% from the floor. He’s scored at least 13 points in all six contests.

His running mate, House, has been prolific as well, particularly from the three-point line, where he shoots an impressive 43.2%.

The Aggies play a methodical, slow-it-down style, but they’ve gotten nice distribution in the halfcourt. As a team Texas A&M ranks 55th in the nation, fifth in the SEC, with 14.7 assists per game. Starting point guard Alex Caruso, a junior, is the ringleader, dishing out an average of 5.6 dimes.

Their mettle will be tested this week as A&M plays twice on the road. Wednesday night’s trek to Oxford may in fact be the most important SEC game of the week, and that’s taking into consideration Kentucky playing in Gainesville.

That goes to show the kind of ball the Aggies are playing right now, when their games (and the outcomes) matter as much as anybody’s across the league.

MIDSEASON ALL-SEC PICKS


The SEC season is eight games old, and while nine may technically represent the halfway point, this is as good a time as any to roll out my midseason All-SEC team.

I’ve decided to roll with eight players, as the league’s coaches do at the end of every season, as opposed to five, as the Associated Press does, for inclusion purposes . . . and because the top half of the conference, where most of the best players hail from, is so scattered currently.

Without further ado here are my top eight players in SEC play so far, ranked in order from top to bottom with no positional consideration and with stats only coming from conference play (not the entire season).

Jordan Mickey, LSU – 16.5 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 3.6 bpg
Bobby Portis, Arkansas – 19.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Danuel House, Texas A&M – 16.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 43.2% 3s
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky – 13.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.6 spg
Stefan Moody, Ole Miss – 17.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 91.1% FTs
Marcus Thornton, Georgia – 13.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 spg
J.J. Frazier, Georgia – 13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.9 apg
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky – 6.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg

NOTES

- On the omissions, which is where everyone goes any time a list like this is released: It was extremely difficult to leave three players off – Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones, LSU’s Jarell Martin and Arkansas’ Michael Qualls. We touched on Jones above, but here are the SEC numbers on Martin and Qualls.

Martin: 12.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
Qualls: 16.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 apg

Ultimately I felt the eight players selected had more of an impact on their teams than did these three. But it’s razor-thin in some cases. For example the statistics on Cauley-Stein aren’t through the roof, but he’s the primary reason teams can’t attack the rim on Kentucky, plus he’s long enough to get steals and affect passes all over the floor on the defensive end. He changes the game completely.

Martin was the conference’s leading scorer entering SEC play, but he’s slumped a bit over the past eight games, posting only four points in LSU’s loss at Mississippi State Saturday. Qualls has had his spectacular moments as well, including a 30-point performance this week in a win over Alabama, but he’s also posted five and eight points in the Hogs’ two games sandwiching that one.

The hardest omission is Jones. My suspicion is he’ll make this list at the end of 18 league games, but I need to see a bigger sample size considering he missed two of the Aggies’ eight contests already.

- A few final notes: Two of the eight players on my list are dealing with injuries. Thornton missed the Bulldogs’ last game due to a concussion while Mickey hurt his right ankle in LSU’s weekend loss in Starkville . . . Perhaps the biggest revelation on this list has been Moody, a high-rising small guard who scores it well, taking much of the load off Jarvis Summers, and hardly ever misses a free throw for Ole Miss. That the Rebels are above .500 in conference play is largely attributable to the junior college transfer.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT


Week five in the SEC brings us the funkiest schedule yet. Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt will each play a pair at home while Mississippi State, South Carolina and Texas A&M will spend their entire week on the road. The highlight games: Florida welcomes in No. 1 Kentucky to the O’Dome on Saturday and Ole Miss hosts Texas A&M on Wednesday night.

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



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