In their exhibition debuts, both Kentucky and Arkansas registered lackluster performances, while Mississippi State rebounded from a poor first-half showing with a second-half blowout. Florida and Tennessee wasted no time in their domination.
No. 10 Tennessee (117) vs. North Alabama (79)
Knoxville, Tenn., Oct. 30, 2009
The Volunteers dominated North Alabama in every way and lent evidence to my prediction of their taking the SEC Eastern Division title. The squad shot 65.7 percent from the field, including a barn-burning 58.8 percent from behind the arc.
While six UT players registered double-digit efforts, sophomore Scotty Hopson finally showed a flash of his potential by nailing 8-of-10 of his shots from the floor, including 4-of-5 from three. The Vols put up a 1.23 assist-to-turnover margin, forced 28 turnovers, and won the rebounding battle 46-30.
In his debut as a Volunteer, freshman power forward Kenny Hall impressed the crowd by shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor, hitting all four of his free throws, and grabbing seven rebounds. He fouled out, however, which looks to be an issue he needs to work on.
While almost all of the game was positive for the Orange fans, one thing was not: defense. Allowing 79 points to UNA isn't a positive sign, and Tennessee won't be averaging 117 points a game. The Vols need to work on defense if they truly want to contend for a National Title.
Player of the Game: Scotty Hopson (20 pts, 80.0% FG, 80.0% 3PT, 4 ast, 2 stl)
Stat of the Game: +16 Tennessee rebounding margin
No. 18 Mississippi State (82) vs. Oklahoma City (54)
Starkville, Miss., Oct. 31, 2009
The Bulldogs of the SEC West struggled with consistency and offensive smoothness in this game's first half, despite never trailing. MSU led just 38-33 at the half. State figured out OCU's zone defense in the second, however, and dominated the rest of the game.
Four MSU players registered double-digit scoring, led by outstanding junior shooter Ravern Johnson's 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including a 6-of-10 effort from behind the arc. All-everything senior Jarvis Varnado led the game with 11 rebounds on top of eight points and four blocks. The Bulldogs finished the game well ahead in every major category.
Renardo Sidney is still awaiting an NCAA decision on his eligibility, and big man John Riek was benched in hopes his exhibition game would count toward his nine-game suspension. Wendell Lewis continued his impressive preseason performance, grabbing eight rebounds in just 13 minutes. Shaunessy Smith had four assists without a turnover, but not much else.
As a team, this was a very nice performance against a solid lower-division team. If Johnson continues his streak of hot shooting as he did during last season's non-conference schedule, this will be a very dangerous team.
Player of the Game: Ravern Johnson (23 pts, 5 rbs, 53.3% FG, 60.0% 3PT)
Stat of the Game: MSU +15 rebound margin after trailing at halftime
Arkansas (77) vs. Dillard (59)
Fayetteville, Ark., Nov. 2, 2009
The Razorbacks could have very well lost this game if it weren't for Michael Washington's tremendous 25-point, 10-rebound double-double effort. Even with him, the 'Backs shot just 39.2 percent from the field and just 21.9 percent from three.
Ranked as the best shooting guard in the nation this offseason, Rotnei Clarke managed just 5-of-15 shooting and 4-of-13 from behind the arc. Courtney Fortson handed out nine assists to four turnovers.
Hyped freshman Marshawn Powell didn't play, though power forward Glenn Bryant stood out amongst the remainder of the newcomers. He put up the 'Backs' second double-double with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Julysses Nobles and Jemal Farmer, the team's other two participating freshmen, each grabbed six rebounds and combined for seven points.
This team is as expected thus far—talented but thin. Most will be willing to shake this performance off as preseason jitters and hope that Powell makes a big difference, but Clarke and Fortson (who combined for 7-of-25 shooting) need to improve their efforts if this team wants to make a run for the postseason.
Player of the Game: Michael Washington (25 pts, 10 rbs, 62.5% FG, 3 blks)
Stat of the Game: Arkansas without Washington: 32.7% FG
Florida (95) vs. Saint Leo (46)
Gainesville, Fla., Nov. 2, 2009
Florida came out about as hot as the Vols did, on both ends of the floor. The big story was incoming all-star freshman Kenny Boynton, who led the team with 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-9 from three, and grabbed six rebounds. Not to be lost was Erving Walker's nine assists and no turnovers, coupled with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Florida outshot Saint Leo by 30.3 percent and held them to 4.8 percent shooting from three.
Erik Murphy, the team's other freshman, had a nice game as well: nine points on 3-of-4 shooting and six rebounds.
If Walker can keep up his impressive team-leading and Boynton remains this dominating, I might just be wrong about Florida. Granted, the competition was weak, but this could mean Florida might very well have a stake in the SEC East title after all.
Player of the Game: Kenny Boynton (22 pts, 6 rbs, 50.0% FG, 55.5% 3PT, 3 stl)
Stat of the Game: Five Florida players with at least five rebounds
No. 4 Kentucky (74) vs. Campbellsville (38)
Lexington, Ky., Nov. 2, 2009
The Wildcats got off to a fast start, holding CU to just 11 points in the first half. There were large stretches in the second half, however, where UK was bogged down and was outscored. For a top-five team, this was a disappointing debut.
While the team shot well (50.0 percent) from the floor, my prediction as to its lack of outside shooting presence rang true (21.4 percent). This team is seriously going to miss Jodie Meeks.
Freshman Darnell Dodson was the star of the game, scoring 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting along with six rebounds.
Turnovers look to be a serious issue for the young team as well, as it handed the ball over 23 times, though it forced 25 CU turnovers.
John Wall is still serving a two-game suspension, while results from the other freshmen were mixed. Behind Dodson's big game, DeMarcus Cousins pulled down a respectable 11 points and six rebounds and blocked four shots. Eric Bledsoe looks talented if he can limit the turnovers, as he managed nine points, four rebounds, four assists (to four turnovers), and four steals.
Jon Hood and Daniel Orton weren't as impressive: They combined for seven points on 3-of-7 shooting.
Lots of great pieces to the puzzle, but no glue to make them stick. I hear there's a brand of Wall Glue being released this month, so stay tuned.
Player of the Game: Darnell Dodson (19 pts, 6 rbs, 50.0% FG, 2 stl)
Stat of the Game: Kentucky's 3-of-14 (21.4%) three-point shooting