SEC Basketball February 2011 Update
We have made it through the first month of SEC play and it was just as I figured it would be: Crazy. Now we enter February and get into the heart of conference play. Let's take a look at each team.
The Florida Gators (16-5, 5-2) are where a lot of people predicted they would be in the SEC East: first place. The Gators have been a team that has grind out wins in the SEC. That has not been the case for Coach Donovan since his NCAA Championship teams. The Gators two losses in league play came at home to South Carolina and on the road at Mississippi State. Both losses came after overtime games on the road and with shooting guard Kenny Boynton not even scoring in double digits in points. With Erving Walker leading the way from the point, they will need more help from the other Gators to keep them the running for the league title.
For the Kentucky Wildcats (16-4, 4-2) it was an early struggle to begin conference play. They lost on the road to the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Struggling on the road in conference play is expected with young players. The Wildcats finally broke through with a road win at South Carolina and find themselves along with the rest of the East in a fight for the division title. The big three of freshman Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb lead the way for Kentucky. Coach Calipari is looking for toughness from his team and would like to see Darius Miller step up and be more aggressive on offensive. If Kentucky can play a full 40 minutes, they will be tough.
Speaking of up and down teams, no one fits that more than the Tennessee Volunteers (14-7, 4-2). Without head coach Bruce Pearl Tennessee started out 0-2 in the conference. They were down 17 points to Vanderbilt at home before a furious run gave the Volunteers a win and they have won four straight in the SEC since, but did lose to Connecticut in the middle of those four games. The defense has been taken up a notch in the four game SEC win streak, holding three of their four teams to under 60 points. Tennessee only has two games left before Coach Pearl returns to the sidelines. This just happens to be a road game at Kentucky.
Another puzzling team in the East is the Vanderbilt Commodores (15-5, 3-3). They are one of the best offensive teams in the country averaging close to 80 points a game. They also have two great offensive weapons with John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor. But Coach Kevin Stallings teams has lost twice on the road to teams they should have beat and then lost to Arkansas at home. The offensive weapons are there for the Commodores, but they need to find a way to stop SEC foes. If they can find the defense they will have a great shot to win the SEC.
The South Carolina Gamecocks(12-7, 3-3) were in first place in the SEC East after winning at Florida in the middle of January. But after starting out 3-1 in the SEC, Darrin Horn squad has lost two in row. South Carolina was a surprise early, but they now seem to be settling back to the lower half of the division, where they were expected to finish. There are pieces there for the Gamecocks though. Bruce Ellington is continuing the run of excellent points in Columbia. Ramon Galloway has also added a scoring threat in the back court. They will be a dangerous duo the next couple of seasons.
The Georgia Bulldogs (14-6, 3-4) started out conference play by defeating the Kentucky Wildcats in Athens, although Mark Fox's team ended January with a loss to Kentucky in Lexington. The Bulldogs have talent, but they are young and are learning as they go in the SEC. That can be tough for any team. The junior trio of Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson have lead Georgia, but the supporting cast has been up and down in league play. This is still a team that no one wants to play in the SEC Tournament.
Perhaps the surprise team after the first month of league play is the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-7, 5-1). Anthony Grant's team made a statement win when they were able to beat Kentucky at home. While they almost blew a 20 point lead in that game, they still held on to a win and sit in first place in the SEC West. JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell have lead the way so far for the Tide. They are undefeated at home in league play. Alabama may not score a lot of points, but when they are playing defense they don't need to. Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to get to 70 against them and Kentucky got 66. No other team has reached 60. Right now Alabama fans are talking basketball and not just looking forward to spring practice.
The Arkansas Razorbacks (14-6, 4-3) are another SEC team that has been up and down this season. They do have good wins against Tennessee, Alabama, and at Vanderbilt. They also have losses at LSU and South Carolina. This is not the season that John Pelphrey needed. He was already on the hot seat with fans. Rotnei Clarke had been quiet until a 36 point outburst at Vanderbilt. If Arkansas wants to stay in the race for the SEC West, they will need Clarke to do that more. Delvon Johnson has been another bright spot for the Razorbacks. They have a favorable schedule down the stretch, but will have to win to try and secure an NCAA berth.
For the Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-9, 3-3) Coach Rick Stansbury just has to be happy that his team is at .55 so far. With this team you really have no idea what you are going to see each game. Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson give the Bulldogs scoring punches and Renardo Sidney gives an inside presence. But there have been so many distractions involving this team. From player fights to suspensions, they have seen it all. They do have a tough schedule ahead of them, though. They might not be a NCAA team right now, but they still can make noise if they win games.
The LSU Tigers (10-11, 2-4) were the surprise team of the SEC after the first week of conference play. They were 2-0 and in first place in the West. Then cam a trip to Lexington to face Kentucky. After a 38 point loss to the Wildcats, the Tigers are in the middle of a four game losing streak. The talent is there but it is young. Ralston Turner leads the Tigers in scoring, but he is a freshman. Like Georgia, the Tigers will have to go through some growing pains in the league before they can be seen as a serious threat. It will take time, but they will get there.
Perhaps the most disappointing team so far in league play is the Mississippi Rebels(13-8, 1-5). Ole Miss had a tough opening stretch to start conference play. After starting the season 12-3, the Rebels figured to be one of the favorites to win the West. But a lack of defense have hurt Ole Miss. Chris Warren has been the lone bright spot for coach Andy Kennedy squad. Mississippi will have a tough road if they want to try and make a run. They might not be able to win the West, but they can try and position themselves for a favorable draw in the SEC Tournament.
Fans of the Auburn Tigers(8-13, 1-6) might still be celebrating the BCS National title their football team brought home and it might be for the best. The Tigers just do not have the pieces it takes to compete in the SEC this year. But a bright spot came at the end of January as the Tigers were able to go on the road and win at South Carolina. Tony Barbee has a lot of talent in freshman and sophomore classes, but it is just not enough to make any noise in the league. Auburn has a great new basketball arena and given time they will build a solid team, it's just going to take a couple of seasons.
Here are some games to watch out for this month:
- Feb. 1 Vanderbilt at Florida
- Feb. 5 Kentucky at Florida
- Feb 8. Tennessee at Kentucky
- Feb 12 Kentucky at Vanderbilt
- Feb. 19 Arkansas at Alabama
- Feb. 26 Florida at Kentucky
What do you think?
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