SEC Roundup: Week Six

Another hectic week in Southeastern Conference basketball saw three teams and players make statements. Scout's Ben Love gives them kudos and takes an early look at which league teams are in and out of the Big Dance.

CONFERENCE STANDINGS


1. Kentucky (23-0, 10-0)
2. Arkansas (18-5, 7-3)
3. Texas A&M (16-6, 7-3)
4. Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3)
5. LSU (17-6, 6-4)
6. Georgia (15-7, 6-4)
7. Tennessee (13-9, 5-5)
8. Florida (12-11, 5-5)
9. Alabama (14-9, 4-6)
10. Mississippi State (11-12, 4-6)
11. Vanderbilt (13-10, 3-7)
12. Auburn (11-12, 3-7)
13. South Carolina (11-11, 2-8)
14. Missouri (7-16, 1-9)

After taking Florida’s best shot on Saturday night, No. 1 Kentucky emerged from the O’Dome unscathed and still on a path to perfection. Big Blue Nation’s quest for the first undefeated season since Indiana in 1975-76 makes a pit stop in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night before the Wildcats host South Carolina this weekend.

Bolstering the top of the league standings are Arkansas and Ole Miss, both of which went undefeated last week to get to 7-3 in conference play, joining Texas A&M. The only other team to win both its games in the week that was: Vanderbilt, which snapped a seven-game losing streak with consecutive home wins over Florida and South Carolina.

Hovering closer to the middle of the pack are LSU and Georgia at 6-4 in SEC action. The Tigers stubbed their toe at home versus Auburn while the Bulldogs’ midweek loss in Rupp Arena was significantly more understandable.

Sliding back are a quartet of teams that dropped a pair of games last week – Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Missouri. The Vols and Gators, playing .500 ball in the league, could still salvage something from their seasons while the same cannot be said for the Gamecocks and cellar-dwelling Tigers.

MAKING STATEMENTS


It’s that time of year when teams play themselves in and out of the tournament, as well as into and out of seeds, while individual players can put their stamp on the proceedings, too.

This section of the Roundup is looking back at three such players and teams from the SEC that made statements last week.

First up is Kentucky sophomore guard Aaron Harrison. One-half of the league’s most potent twin duo lit up Florida in front of the Rowdy Reptiles when his Wildcats needed it most.



Harrison had a big night at Florida
John Calipari’s crew trailed by two at the half but left the O’Connell Center a 68-61 winner, in large part due to Harrison’s game-high 23 points. The reigning Mr. Big Shot from his exploits last March made Kentucky’s only three trifectas in the ballgame and finished a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.

Not to be swept under the rug was a whopper of a game from freshman big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who posted 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in the win. Towns is coming on strong, but Harrison reminded everyone that when Kentucky needs a bucket, or a player to rise above the moment, he’s the man for the job.

Next up is Ole Miss, which has delivered its own statement over the last three weeks. Andy Kennedy’s squad has won five in a row, the longest winning streak in the SEC after the ‘Cats (no other team currently owns more than two straight victories).

The Rebels enjoyed arguably their biggest win this past Wednesday, topping Texas A&M in Oxford 69-59 while ending the Aggies’ six-game unblemished streak in the process. Transfer guard Stefan Moody, who continues to play like an all-SEC performer, battered A&M with 19 points and five assists in the critical clash in the Tad Pad.

For its efforts Ole Miss now resides comfortably on the “in” side of the Big Dance bubble (see below for more).

Finally, Arkansas deserves some love not only for getting two wins, but for getting them decisively and, for the first time in almost a month, putting some space between itself and out-manned opposition.

The Razorbacks dusted off South Carolina and Mississippi State, both in Fayetteville, by 20 points apiece. Consider that in the Hogs’ four previous games, the final margins (win or lose) were: one, five, one and two.

Mike Anderson’s troops, like Georgia and LSU, have struggled at times to live up to preseason billing, more often than not allowing less talented teams to hang around late in games. So it’s good to see the ‘Backs showing a killer instinct and, in a big boost for the league, showing it belongs in the NCAA Tournament as a single-digit seed.

LET’S TALK TOURNEY


Beginning at the top there is no doubt Kentucky is locked in as a one-seed and, barring something unforeseen, should be the No. 1 overall national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

After UK, casting a wide net, it is still theoretically possibly that teams two through nine in the standings have a shot at going dancing depending on their final eight games. Although in my opinion two outfits in that grouping – Tennessee and Alabama – are very unlikely and all but out at this juncture.

Another team, Florida, is a special case. Billy Donovan & Co. are undeniably teetering on the brink, having lost five of seven. If they were another less heralded team in the SEC, UF would fit in with the Vols and Tide, on its last leg. But because it is Florida, which has made four straight Elite Eights, the selection committee may give the Gators the benefit of the doubt if they finish with a flurry.

At 12-11 overall, 5-5 in the league, it’s still a longshot for Florida, but if the close call with Kentucky energizes the defending SEC champs . . . you never know.

Onto the more realistic, there are five teams left that should contend for three or maybe four spots. Those teams are Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia.

Based on their current bodies of work, I believe Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia are in while LSU is among the first four teams out and Texas A&M is in the next four after that.

There’s still plenty to be determined, and this week will help sort out these five teams. Georgia, now with forward Marcus Thornton back from a concussion, and A&M square off on Wednesday night while LSU can play its way back into the tourney with a win at home Tuesday night versus Kentucky.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT


Week six in SEC play features a few key matchups, including midweek games for Ole Miss in Gainesville and Kentucky on the bayou. Arkansas, the conference’s current number two, will play a pair on the road, including a Saturday date with the Rebels in Oxford. Texas A&M will try to stay afloat in the top half of the league with two home games, but Billy Kennedy’s crew will be challenged with Georgia and Florida trekking to College Station.

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



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