The SEC basketball season got started this week in full force, and the week provided a number of super contests. On Wednesday, Kentucky and Tennessee battled back and forth the entire game in Knoxville. In the end, though, it was the Volunteers who were unable to finish the deal as the Wildcats dealt UT their first SEC loss of the season. On Saturday’s early Jefferson-Pilot contest, Tennessee traveled to Mississippi to take on the Rebels. In a hard-fought battle in which the Rebels jumped out in front early, UT fought back and was able to play even with the Rebels throughout the game. Everytime Mississippi pulled ahead, the Vols put together a few plays of their own to fight back. A three-point shot was missed, but the following tip-in gave UT a two-point lead with less than three seconds to go, and that was enough to give the Volunteers the rebound they needed after a tough loss to Kentucky earlier in the week.
Vanderbilt officials chose to move the start time of the Commodores’ game with Alabama back to an 8:00 CT time starter due to the Tennessee Titans’ playoff game. It worked out perfectly because the Commodores worked some of their Memorial Gym magic in Nashville. Vandy jumped out in front early on Alabama, up by as much as 32-20 at one point, and took a six-point lead to halftime. The Tide, as expected, battled back and took the game right to the wire. As usual, though, the Commodores were able to knock down both some three-point shots and their free throws. A Mo Williams shot from beyond the arc just before time expired still left ‘Bama behind by one, and the Commodores captured their first win of the SEC season while presenting the Tide with their first loss of the conference season.
The real thriller of the week came in Gainesville, however. Georgia and Florida, both ranked in the top 25, squared off for the first of two times this season. UGA took a 45-35 lead early in the second half but saw it evaporate and turn into a 56-49 UF lead. The Bulldogs, led by the hot-shooting of SEC Player of the Year candidate Jarvis Hayes, tied the game at 61-61. After the game was again tied at 63 and an offensive foul called on Hayes, the Gators took the last shot. Freshman Anthony Roberson rammed home a three from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded to give the Gators their second win of the week over a top 25 team.
After playing even for the first half on Saturday, Auburn heated up while Arkansas cooled down. The Hogs scored only 15 points in the entire second half while Auburn’s scorers poured in the baskets as the Tigers cruised to their second SEC win of the week. There were a couple of evening games Saturday, the first an SEC East matchup, South Carolina at Kentucky. The Gamecocks jumped out in front early in the game, but the Wildcats went on a run and never looked back, capturing their second conference victory much easier than their first. Mississippi State, who came into the week ranked in the top ten, travled to Baton Rouge and was trying to avoid their second loss of the week. That wasn’t to be, however, as the Tigers stole the lead from the Bulldogs and never gave it back as they cruised to a 13 point win over Mississippi State.
LSU will likely move into the top 25 this week thanks to wins over both Houston and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are sure to drop heavily due to their two losses this week. Alabama will also move down but not as much as MSU. Florida should soar high into the rankings this week after being ranked 11th and 12th in the two major polls last week. Kentucky will advance while Georgia may lose some ground. The SEC could possibly have six teams in the top 25 when the polls come out Monday afternoon. Florida will likely move well into the top ten, possibly inching towards the top 5, while Alabama should slip several spots to at or just above the #10 slot. Kentucky should move into the top 15 this week while LSU will likely earn a spot in the top 25. Mississippi State, though the Bulldogs lost to two very good teams, will drop heavily and may possibly fall as far as the 20’s. Georgia’s fate in the top 25 is also uncertain as the Bulldogs were just barely a member last week.
SEC Team of the Week....
The Florida Gators have to be the SEC team of the week. Not only did Billy Donovan’s gang win two games, but they beat two teams ranked in the top 25. Mississippi State was ranked as high as 7th in the country when the Gators went into Starkville and, fueled by a second half explosion, knocked off MSU. On Saturday, UF returned to Gainesville for their first home SEC game of the year and battled Georgia right down to the wire. Freshman Anthony Roberson’s three-point shot at the buzzer was the difference as the Gators moved to 2-0 in the SEC and will undoubtedly move into the top ten this week.
Top SEC Games This Week....
Kentucky travels to Vanderbilt where the Commodores are coming off a huge win over the 4th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. The Wildcats have already stolen a road game in the state of Tennessee this year. After that road win over Tennessee, the ‘Cats then returned to Rupp Arena to defeat the USC Gamecocks. Kentucky will solidify their position as a heavyweight in the SEC with another road win, while Vandy can prove they are ready and capable of making a run at the NCAA Tournament this year.
The Bulldogs of Mississippi State travel across the state line to battle Alabama on Wednesday night. This rivalry has become ferocious over the past few years and not just because these two schools are the closest distance-wise in the SEC. The Bulldogs stole one of the state of Alabama’s prized recruits, Mario Austin, a few years back and turned the big man into an all-American. The Tide fought back, however, and swiped one of Mississippi’s most prized recruits, PG Mo Williams. The Bulldogs are coming off two tough losses and desperately need something good to happen. After their disappointing loss to Vanderbilt, the Tide needs to capture this home win and keep pace for the top spot in the SEC West.
Also on Wednesday, the Tennessee Volunteers travel south to Florida. The Gators are coming off a great week in the SEC while UT isn’t too disappointed in their work last week. The Gators’ wins over Mississippi State and Georgia were impressive. Meanwhile, the Vols were losing a heart-breaker to Kentucky on Wednesday night before traveling to Oxford and knocking off Mississippi in the closing seconds of that game. The Gators will be looking to extend their lead in the SEC East while continuing to protect their home court. The Volunteers probably won’t win this game, but they have already shown they can step up to the challenge that the SEC has to offer this season.
One of the most heated in-state rivalries anywhere heats up again Saturday when the Crimson Tide travels to the Plains to take on Auburn. The Tigers have been surprisingly good this year. After a solid non-conference record, the Tigers have taken on and defeated their first two SEC opponents of the year. The Vanderbilt Commodores went into Auburn and had a lead in the second half before the Tigers heated up to come from behind and capture the ‘W.’ Then AU traveled to Arkansas and the hostile playing conditions in Fayetteville. After falling behind in the first half, Auburn smacked the Hogs around the gym in the second half and cruised to an easy win. Alabama will be coming off two consecutive tough games, but both teams will undoubtedly be ready to play this one.
After taking on Tennessee on Wednesday, the Florida Gators will again have to hit the road, this time to South Carolina. The Gamecocks were unable to get the job done at Kentucky after sliding past Mississippi in the first game of the SEC season. The Gators are the hottest team in the conference right now but will have to be on their game when traveling to Columbia. The Gamecocks have the reputation of making the opposition play sloppy, and the Gators will have to avoid this occurrence.
Kentucky has a non-conference game mixed in this week, and it’s a doozy. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish head down to Rupp Arena looking to steal one from the SEC.
Around the nation....
Week two of the conference slates kicks off this weekend across the country. The ACC has a week full of great games and gets it kicked off with Clemson at North Carolina on Tuesday. The Tar Heels are coming off a loss at Virginia while Clemson’s last game was out of conference. On Wednesday, the red-hot Virginia Cavaliers travel to Duke to take on the #1 team in the land. The ESPN showdown will test Duke’s young squad against a Virginia team that has already played a tough schedule this year. Also on Wednesday, the Maryland Terps take on Wake Forest in North Carolina. The highlight of the weekend is Duke’s trip to Maryland. Both teams will be coming off very tough mid-week games and should provide the entire country with a great game on ABC. Also on Saturday, Virginia travels to Clemson, and then on Sunday, Georgia Tech will venture to Wake Forest.
The week in the Big XII kicks off on Monday with action on ESPN’s Big Monday showcase. At 6PM, Missouri takes on Big East member Syracuse. The Orangmen are led by freshman sensation Carmello Anthony and will look to capture a big non-conference win. Then at 8PM, two in-state rivals hook up in Stillwater as the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys knock heads. Wednesday brings another non-conference matchup as Wyoming travels to Kansas. On Saturday, conference play heats up again when Missouri returns west and will travel to Oklahoma State. This is a big week for OSU with two home but very tough games. Like in any conference, home games are crucial to a team’s success. Iowa State hosts Oklahoma in a Big XII North vs South game, also on Saturday.
The Big East will host that showdown of Missouri and Syracuse on Monday, but the conference will then travel to the ACC on Thursday for another OOC matchup. The Boston College Eagles travel to NC State for a showdown with the Wolfpack on ESPN2. Another Big East at ACC matchup takes place in North Carolina Saturday, but this time it’s the UConn Huskies traveling to take on the Tar Heels. UNC’s freshmen leaders will try to stop Emeka Okafor and the Huskies. Also on Saturday, Syracuse will head to Pittsburgh to try to knock off Brandin Knight and the Panthers.
The Big Ten has several top in-conference games this week, beginning with Illinois’ trip to Iowa on Wednesday. Both teams are coming off big wins this past weekend, the Illini capturing a victory at home against Wisconsin while Iowa also won at home, over Michigan State. Saturday brings two great Big Ten contests, the first being Michigan State’s trip to Minnesota. The Spartans failed in their attempt for a road win last weekend but will try to take one in Minneapolis, where the Gophers have already lost to Texas Tech earlier in the year. Illinois concludes a very tough week on the road with a trip to Indiana on Saturday. Ohio State was able to knock off the Hoosiers in Columbus, but the task will be tougher for Illinois in Bloomington.
PAC 10 play continues this week on Thursday when the Wildcats of Arizona travel to Southern Cal. The Trojans are coming off a disappointing loss to Pennsylvania while the ‘Cats have won their past two games handily. Then on Saturday, Arizona travels across town to tangle with UCLA. The Bruins also lost a non-conference game this past weekend to St. John’s. In CUSA, Louisville travels to red-hot East Carolina on Thursday night for a huge battle in that league. On Saturday, Memphis will host South Florida. The Bulls are coming off back-to-back losses to LA-Lafayette and Marquette. The Tigers also lost their last outing at Southern Miss.