ATHENS, Ga. — The SEC East race took on the look of a demolition derby last weekend as the top three teams lost.
The good news for first-place Georgia Monday was that it had the same one-half game lead over Florida as before Saturday's 86-84 loss at Vanderbilt. The lesson of the weekend, however, had been taken to heart.
"It lets you know anybody can beat anybody,'' said Georgia guard Rashad Wright before Monday's practice for Wednesday night's game at South Carolina. Before the weekend, Vanderbilt and Arkansas each had only two Southeastern Conference wins, but on the same day the Commodores beat the Bulldogs, Arkansas won at home against Florida — giving the Gators two straight losses.
Meanwhile, Kentucky's Rupp Arena advantage took another hit when the Wildcats were beaten at home by Alabama. That dropped Kentucky into a third-place tie with Vandy at 3-3 in the East.
For years, SEC coaches have talked about the conference being the toughest in the nation, top to bottom. As Georgia hits the midpoint of the 16-game conference schedule Wednesday night, Coach Jim Harrick has a good appreciation of the difficult battles still awaiting his team in February and March.
"That's the nature of the league; the league is hard,'' Harrick said. Harrick is not complaining about Georgia's record thus far. It fell only one spot to No. 16 in Monday's Associated Press poll, At 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the SEC, Georgia still ranks as the biggest surprise in the league.
"If we hit the midpoint with two losses, I wouldn't be too made about that,'' Harrick said with a smile.
Last year, Georgia finished 16-15, and it entered this season picked to do no better than compete for a National Invitation Tournament bid and finish somewhere near the bottom of its division. Now Georgia is in good position to land a strong NCAA seeding if it can continue on its current pace.
Harrick noted that 12-4 has been good enough to win the East each of his first two years in the conference. Despite its back-to-back losses to Georgia and Arkansas, Florida (15-3, 4-2) can still finish the year as the top team in the league, as most predicted in the preseason.
Florida plays host to Kentucky tonight, and with a win over the Wildcats it could pull back even with Georgia in the East.
"I do know it's a long, long season,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said Monday in a teleconference. "There are a lot of bumps in the road for every team in this league.''
Added Donovan: "Before the year started, people felt Florida and Kentucky were head and shoulders above everybody else. If you had asked myself and (Kentucky coach) Tubby (Smith) that, we would have probably disagreed, knowing how tough the league is.''
After last weekend, few could argue with Donovan.
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.