SEC Basketball: A Look Back at a Big Weekend
So looking back at Friday's blog post, I went 5-of-6. Not bad for a weekend full of big matchups.
Saturday featured two SEC bubble squads improving their chances approaching postseason play, with one laying a big egg. Let's investigate together, shall we?
No. 2 Kentucky (65) at No. 19 Tennessee (74)
RPI: Kentucky: 4th, Tennessee: 14th
Kenpom: Kentucky: 10th, Tennessee: 29th
Sagarin: Kentucky: 4th, Tennessee: 20th
My prediction: Tennessee wins, 72-64
I called this one extremely closely. The Vols gave the Wildcats a relative butt-whooping to successfully take down both the top-ranked and second-ranked teams this season. Bruce Pearl gets his teams up for the big games, and this was no exception.
Despite ranking as the league's top offense, John Calipari's squad was held to just 35.0 percent from the floor and 2-of-22 from deep (9.1 percent three-point shooting). Kentucky isn't perfect, and Tennessee proved it.
J.P. Prince had a career game, going for 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Sharpshooter Scotty Hopson fell short of his billing in the limelight, though, hitting just one of his six trey attempts.
DeMarcus Cousins was himself, scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds along with his typically un-classy and thuggish attitude on and off the court. John Wall scored 19 and handed out six assists but turned the ball over five times as well.
Though Tennessee's record isn't necessarily overly impressive, its RPI of 14 is. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vols in the three-seed range come Selection Sunday, and a two seed isn't out of the question if Pearl can win out and claim the SEC Tournament title. Kentucky is still holding onto a top NCAA seed, but can't afford to lose too many more times before the big day.
No. 16 Vanderbilt (89) at Arkansas (72)
RPI: Vanderbilt: 15th, Arkansas: 143rd
Kenpom: Vanderbilt: 25th, Arkansas: 100th
Sagarin: Vanderbilt: 19th, Arkansas: 117th
My prediction: Vanderbilt wins, 84-77
I also caught this result well, although the Commodores were a bit more impressive than I expected. With the Kentucky loss, Vandy is now fully in the overall SEC title race and with the Mississippi State win, Arkansas lost its chance at claiming the SEC West title outright.
Unlike Kentucky's offense, Vandy's was untouched on the road. The 'Dores hit 53.3 percent of their shots in Fayetteville and 20-of-23 free throws for 87.0 percent. This kind of intensity and focus is exactly what Kevin Stallings' squad needs for a big NCAA Tournament run.
Immensely-talented Arkansas freshman Marshawn Powell scored 27 points on 12-of-21 shooting to lead all scorers, and he also claimed 9 rebounds. Five 'Dores scored in double digits, balance that the team will need in March.
Arkansas is toast after this loss. Its remaining two games are no easier (at no. 19 Tennessee, Ole Miss at home) and it will need to take both of those games to take a share of the SEC West. A tough pill to swallow for a team that held a one-game lead in the West just a couple of weeks ago.
Vanderbilt is set up nicely for a solid three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament and is a solid dark-horse for a Final Four run.
Ole Miss (76) at Alabama (73)
RPI: Ole Miss: 53rd, Alabama: 111th
Kenpom: Ole Miss: 50th, Alabama: 69th
Sagarin: Ole Miss: 46th, Alabama: 85th
My prediction: Ole Miss wins, 70-65
Again, an accurate prediction. It was a hard-fought win for Ole Miss, who trailed for most of the game. Ole Miss moved into a tie for second place in the SEC West with the Arkansas loss, and now has a chance to claim a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. If Mississippi State loses its final two (unlikely), then the Rebels would claim a share of the division title.
Ole Miss' offense joined 16th-ranked Vanderbilt and Mississippi State as road teams whose offenses flourished Saturday. The Rebels drained 12-of-25 shots for 48.0 percent from outside, actually better than the team's 45.3 percent shooting from the field.
Five Rebels scored in double digits, led by star point guard Chris Warren's seven assists and 12 points. Terrico White, who's struggled this season, had a solid night with 15 points and six rebounds, but five turnovers.
Mikhail Torrance has been stepping up big for the Tide lately. He scored 19 points and dished out six assists Saturday. Not enough for 'Bama, though.
Ole Miss stays alive on the NCAA bubble, but barely so. The team will need to win its final two, hosting LSU and traveling to Arkansas, to have a hope on Selection Sunday.
Florida (76) at Georgia (78)
RPI: Florida: 46th, Georgia: 88th
Kenpom: Florida: 46th, Georgia: 79th
Sagarin: Florida: 39th, Georgia: 82nd
My prediction: Florida wins, 64-60
This is the one I got wrong. Florida has been inconsistent and the Bulldogs strong, but I wasn't brave enough to call the upset. Though Mark Fox's squad has shown an incredible improvement from a year ago, Georgia's record of 13-14 is very poor and Florida's loss is going to hurt. The Gators have lost three of their last six, and are suddenly doubtful approaching Selection Sunday. The squad's last two games are against 16th-ranked Vanderbilt at home and a trip to No. 2 Kentucky, and if both equate to losses, Donovan might be staring at another NIT bid.
The exact opposite of what I predicted took place, with both teams catching fire offensively. Florida shot 11-of-23 for 47.8 percent from long-range. Sounds hard to beat until you look at Georgia's 53.8 percent mark from that distance and 57.4 percent mark from the floor. UGA also out-rebounded the Gators by three and had 21 assists.
Florida has tons of role players, but they don't seem to play together well. This time it was Chandler Parsons leading the squad, scoring 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Kenny Boynton also put up 22. Georgia's heavily-underrated big-man Trey Thompkins led his squad with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
If Florida loses its next two, which is likely, the Gators will need a win or two in the league tournament to be in the selection committee's good graces.
Mississippi State (76) at South Carolina (63)
RPI: Mississippi State: 57th, South Carolina: 82nd
Kenpom: Mississippi State: 41st, South Carolina: 87th
Sagarin: Mississippi State: 47th, South Carolina: 77th
My prediction: Mississippi State wins, 73-71
This joined Tennessee's win as Saturday's surprise blowouts. The 13-point winning margin was Mississippi State's second-biggest of their league season and guaranteed MSU at least a share of yet another SEC West title, as well as the West's top seed in the SEC Tournament and the corresponding first-round bye. The Bulldogs effectively traded places with Florida, pushing ahead to the right side of the bubble after having won five of their last six— including the "shoulda- won" game against Kentucky. One more win for MSU, and the West will belong to the Bulldogs exclusively.
For the fifth time this season, five Bulldog players scored in double digits. Balance has been the strength of this squad, but shooting consistency has not been. Columbia was kind to MSU though, as Rick Stansbury's team hit 10 of its 21 three-point attempts and shot an even .500 from the floor.
Interestingly enough, five Gamecock players scored in double-digits as well. Devan Downey was held to just 12 points, his lowest point total in SEC play, on 0-of-7 shooting from deep. Mississippi State's all-star Jarvis Varnado scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead all players in both categories.
One more win should get the Bulldogs in, and three or four more— obviously including the league tournament— could get the team into an eight or nine seed, where a short NCAA run wouldn't be impossible.
LSU (59) at Auburn (74)
RPI: LSU: 221st, Auburn: 139th
Kenpom: 186th, Auburn: 98th
Sagarin: 188th, Auburn: 116th
My prediction: Auburn wins, 85-68
Another semi-correct prediction. Though I wasn't close on the scoring, the margin was pretty similar. This game was a non-issue for both teams, though. Neither team will likely finish over .500 on the year.
Auburn got heavily out-rebounded (32-19) but took care of the ball and shot well. Because of the turnover margin (16-8), Jeff Lebo's squad attempted just two shots less.
Both teams had big-time scorers, as Auburn's Tay Waller scored 26 on 6-of-10 from three and LSU's Bo Spencer notched 23.
From here on out, these teams are only playing the role of spoilers.
The next week is crucial for all the SEC teams. Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee are all trying to stay in the NCAA's top four seeds. Mississippi State, Florida and Ole Miss are all fighting the Tournament bubble battle. Oddly, it appears that there's a solid shot of the league placing six teams into the Big Dance and none in the NIT. No squads are fighting for an NIT spot, but whichever league bubble teams don't make the cut will be there.
Stay tuned to see how it plays out. Follow me on Twitter @HoopsKnowItAll and become a fan of the blog on Facebook HERE .
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