VETTEL: Mid-Season SEC Hoops Notes

At this stage it appears the SEC will be able to count on at least four NCAA bids and perhaps six, but who goes and who doesn't is still to be determined. Right now the closest thing to a "lock" would be Florida. I'm hesitant to call anyone a lock, because to me a team that is a "lock" for a bid does not need to win another game. Florida has at least nine games to go, and 20-11 might get them in, but maybe not.

After the Gators, you to look at Tennessee (16-3) and LSU (15-6) being in great shape. Then it gets interesting. Kentucky will get the benefit of any doubt because of its tradition but with seven losses already the Wildcats need a strong finish. Arkansas (15-6) was an early-season disappointment but has put itself in pretty good shape while Alabama (12-8) has little margin for error. Georgia (14-8) has hopes of getting into position for an at-large bid while the others appear to be playing for a spot in the NIT.

Mid-Season Coach Arguable

Billy Donovan was named "National Coach of the Half Year" but should he automatically be the "SEC Coach of the Half Year?" It seems to come down to the Florida head man and Tennessee's first-year mentor Bruce Pearl. Pearl has the advantage of having beaten Florida and leading the SEC East, while Donovan's big plus is the 20-2 overall record.

Pearl really walked into an ideal situation taking over a talented, experienced under-achieving squad. That's a great recipe for first-year success. Donovan had to overcome losing his top three scorers from last year but he has the advantage of putting together a roster over several years. It's a tough call, but I'd have to vote for Pearl.

Mid-Year All-SEC Pretty Clear

I did not find it all that tough for choose my five-man first half All-Conference squad. I start with a backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Taurean Green. Green moved ahead of LSU's Darrel Mitchell with his phenomenal performance Saturday night. Mitchell and Chris Lofton of the Tennessee Vols would be my second team.

In the front court I go with LSU's Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas and Ronnie Brewer of Arkansas. Davis and Thomas both average near a double-double while Brewer might be the league's top talent. Alabama's Jamareo Davidson is a second-team choice with the way he has stepped it up on both ends after the Tide lost Chuck Davis. Jonathan Modica (Arkansas) is my undersized small forward with a Gator the other guy.

Should it be Al Horford or Joakim Noah? In conference play the numbers are so similar. Noah gets more points (13.3-11.8), Horford more rebounds (8.6-6.4). Noah has more blocked shots (17-13), Horford more steals (11-5) and assists (16-13). While Joakim has had the more spectacular games, I'll go with Horford for his consistency in a very close call. If I get a 12-man squad as they have had some years, give me Noah and Tennessee's C.J. Watson please.

Assorted Hoops Tid-Bits

Tennessee probably has the toughest second-half schedule of the contenders with five games on the road including Kentucky and Florida. LSU must also visit Gainesville while Florida faces tough Western road trips to Tuscaloosa and Fayetteville.

If the second half records match the first, Kentucky will have to play in the first day of the SEC Tournament while Florida and Tennessee enjoy byes. The Wildcats have not played in the first round since 1979.

The Gators won their first SEC Tournament title last year. The longest current winless streak belongs to Vanderbilt, which won its only SEC Tournament crown in 1951. South Carolina has never won a tournament, but they've only been around for 14 of them.

Mississippi State big man Charles Rhodes had one of the SEC season's best days Saturday. Rhodes had 21 points and 19 rebounds in helping the Bulldogs beat Auburn 71-53. The win ended a seven-game losing streak, the longest such stretch under Coach Rick Stansbury.

And a final note outside the SEC…. Duke survived a scare from Florida State Saturday thanks in large measure to the men in the striped shirts. First, they tossed Seminoles big man Alexander Johnson on a bogus double-technical. Then they gave the ball back to Duke on a deflection out of bounds that almost everyone watching saw go off Sheldon Williams of the Blue Devils. The proper call would have given FSU a possession at the Duke end with a two to tie or three to win the game.

For the game, FSU shot 11 free throws and Duke shot 43. A Seminoles win would have really helped FSU's NCAA tournament hopes and bolstered Florida's R.P.I. at the same time.

No wonder it's so hard to visitors to win at Cameron Indoor.

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