The SEC race is beginning to take shape with the third week of SEC basketball action. In the East, Florida, Kentucky, and Georgia are clearly the best three teams, maybe even the best three teams in the entire conference. Tennessee, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt will have their good and bad days but should be able to win some games in the conference at home. Over in the West, there is no clear top team or teams. Auburn continues to lead in the standings, but now that the Tigers’ schedule has gotten tougher, AU has fallen back into the pack. Mississippi is on a roll after dropping their first two games. The Rebels are now 3-2. Alabama and Mississippi State, the preseason favorites, are both 2-3 in the league though they’ve both played extremely tough schedules so far. MSU has lost to Florida, Alabama, and LSU, while Alabama has dropped contests to Mississippi, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. LSU and Arkansas have won only one game each in the SEC so far. The Razorbacks look as if they’re in for a tough season, while LSU will need to begin to make some noise very soon if they’re to stay in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot.
SEC action this past week began on Tuesday night when Alabama traveled to Mississippi on ESPN’s “Super Tuesday” showcase. The Rebels came out red-hot behind Aaron Harper and sprinted out a quick lead. UA battled back to make the game close, but the Rebels pulled away in the final 10 minutes for a convincing double-digit win over the Tide. Wednesday’s action included LSU’s trip to Arkansas. Both teams were needing wins: LSU had lost a home game to Mississippi earlier in the season, and Arkansas had yet to win a league game. It was a one-point contest at halftime, but in the second half, it was all Arkansas. The Razorbacks got some much-needed scoring and pulled out their first SEC win of the season. Vanderbilt traveled to Florida on Wednesday night as well. The Gators dismissed the Commodores fairly easily in Gainesville and remained undefeated in the SEC. Also on Wednesday, Mississippi State hosted South Carolina. The Bulldogs were looking for their first SEC win of the year and pulled ahead by as many as 20 in the second half. USC battled back, but it wasn’t enough as the Dawgs cruised to a double-digit win.
In something not seen very often, every game in the SEC on Saturday was on television: anywhere from ESPN to ESPN2 to Jefferson-Pilot to FoxSportsNet. The action began with Auburn’s second consecutive road game of the week, a trip to Georgia who was hosting their second game of the week. As expected, this contest was physical and hard-fought, not to mention very close on the scoreboard. It was the Georgia Bulldogs, though, who again prevailed for a win in the SEC as they tried to gain ground on Florida and Kentucky. The SEC’s second contest of the day was a division game in the SEC West, LSU at Mississippi State. Coming off their first SEC win, MSU was looking to get within one game of .500 in the league standings, while LSU was looking to halt a two-game losing streak. Though it didn’t look like it would be for a while, this game had one of the best finishes of the week. Down by 10 with less than a minute to go, LSU proceeded to hit three three-point shots in a row (while MSU turned the ball over and missed free throws) to pull within one point. As LSU fouled again, MSU’s Derrick Zimmerman stepped to the line and hit two free throws that gave MSU their winning margin of three.
In Saturday’s only non-conference matchup involving an SEC team, Louisville traveled to Knoxville to take on the Vols. Tennessee, who was coming off a loss at Florida, controlled the game almost the entire way. The Vols were dominant until the last portion of the second half when the Cardinals took the lead. Rick Pitino’s team hung on for a three-point win, a confidence-crusher for Tennessee. Mississippi hosted Arkansas on Saturday, and after a tough battle for the first 35-40 minutes, the Rebels pulled away and in doing so, improved to 3-2 in the SEC. Kentucky’s trip to Alabama was showcased on ESPN Saturday night, and Wildcats did put on a show. UK’s defense was stifiling, not allowing Alabama to find an open shot at anytime all night long. Alabama’s point total reached only into the 40’s as the Wildcats cruised to a monstrous road win over the team many people picked to win the SEC West, and even the SEC.
SEC Team of the Week....
For the second week in a row, the Kentucky Wildcats have earned this honor. Last week, UK shared the award with the Auburn Tigers, but Kentucky’s second consecutive impressive week earns them SEC Team of the Week again. On Wednesday, the ‘Cats remained undefeated in the league by knocking off previously-unbeaten Auburn. Then on Saturday night, Tubby Smith’s Wildcats just destroyed Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Kentucky still remains tied with Florida for the lead not only in the SEC East but also for the SEC overall.
Top SEC Games This Week....
As has become normal over the past few weeks in the SEC, the full week’s action tips off on Tuesday night on ESPN’s “Super Tuesday.” This week, the Florida Gators travel to LSU for an SEC showdown. The Gators are still undefeated in the SEC and have already proven they can win on the road by knocking off Mississippi State and South Carolina in their home gyms. LSU, meanwhile, has been just the opposite. The Tigers’ only win in the SEC came at home against Mississippi State, but the Tigers have dropped four other contests, at Arkansas, Georgia, and MSU, as well as a home game with Mississippi. LSU can’t afford to lose another home game, especially this early in the season, considering their lack of success on the road. Another win here would give Florida a huge advantage over the rest of the SEC East as road wins are so valuable in the SEC.
Wednesday night has only three SEC games this week around the league. South Carolina will travel to Tennessee. Both of these teams are coming off extremely tough weeks last week as USC lost to Mississippi State on the road and the Vols dropped a road game to Florida and a home contest with Louisville. Also on Wednesday evening, the Georgia Bulldogs venture to Memorial Coliseum in Nashville to battle the Commodores of Vanderbilt. VU already knocked off Alabama there this year and will be looking to give UGA the same struggles it did the Tide. The Bulldogs won two hard-fought games last week which may play into Vandy’s hands. The ‘Dores must win their home games if they still hold out hope of making the NCAA Tourney. The final contest of Wednesday night features an in-division, in-state war as Mississippi State ventures to Oxford to take on Mississippi. Both teams are on a roll as of late. The Dawgs won both games last week over South Carolina and LSU. The Rebels have won three in a row: at LSU, vs Alabama, and vs Arkansas. If this game goes like MSU/UM battles usually do, it will be a fairly low-scoring but very physical matchup. This game should go right down to the wire.
After a light dose of SEC hoops on Wednesday, action is in full force on Saturday with all twelve teams in the conference playing basketball. Four of these games are televised, either on Jefferson-Pilot or FoxSportsNet. Arkansas travels to Florida in a game that one would think the Gators would win easily. The Hogs have struggled so far this season, both in and out of conference. Meanwhile, UF has been dominant this year and should be able to capture yet another SEC win. Tennessee travels to Auburn later in the day for a big matchup for both teams. Both of these squads need to get back to winning soon. The Tigers are still tops in the SEC West but can’t afford to lose home games at this point. Tennessee took a hard blow losing to Louisville after the Vols dominated the Cardinals for most of the game. Nothing would get the Vols back on track like a big road win over a good team.
Also on Saturday, Mississippi travels to Vanderbilt. The Rebels in past seasons have struggled on the road but got a road win over LSU earlier in conference play. Vanderbilt owns one of the toughest home courts in the conference, as shown earlier in the year when they knocked off then top-ten ranked Alabama. Staying with the SEC West at SEC East theme, Mississippi State travels to Georgia on Saturday. This Bulldogs vs Bulldogs matchup should be a good one. MSU will be coming off a road game at Mississippi earlier in the week but should be focused for this battle of top ten squads. A win here for MSU would be a huge momentum-builder, but protecting the home court is crucial for UGA in their quest for an SEC East title.
The final two matchups of Saturday should be very entertaining. In the SEC West, LSU travels to Alabama. In their second extremely difficult game of the week, the Tigers must visit an Alabama team desperate to get back on the winning track. The Tide lost their only two contests last week before getting the mid-week off this week. Also this weekend, Kentucky will visit South Carolina. The Gamecocks are a team that should make the NIT at the very least and are very tough to beat at their brand new home gym. Kentucky is still undefeated in the league and may have a chance, depending on the outcome of Florida’s contests this week, to move up into the top spot in the East standings.
Around the nation....
Super hoops in the ACC tips off Tuesday when Wake Forest travels to Clemson. The Demon Deacons are searching for a key road win in the ACC as they fight towards the top of the conference standings. Then on Wednesday, ESPN will televise North Carolina’s trip to Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels are coming off a loss at NC State this past weekend and are looking to regain some of the momentum they possessed earlier in the season. Georgia Tech is still fighting for a postseason spot and must grab winnable games at home to do so. Thursday in the ACC brings a huge out-of-conference matchup for Duke. ESPN2 will show Butler’s contest in Durham. The Bulldogs are one of the the most highly thought of “mid-majors” in college hoops. Duke will have to be at its best to knock off a pesky and fired up Butler team. Also on Thursday, NC State will travel to Maryland in possibly the biggest conference game of the week. The Wolfpack is coming off a huge week in conference play in which they won two home games over in-state competition, Duke and North Carolina. The Terps went on the road this past weekend and knocked off Clemson. On Saturday, ACC weekend action begins with Virginia’s trip to Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers have been a tough squad to handle this year, and GT’s super freshman Chris Bosh will have to be a leader for his team if the Jackets are to come away with a win. Finally on Sunday, Clemson will visit NC State as the Wolfpack returns home. The action on Sunday also includes FoxSportsNet’s showdown between Wake Forest and North Carolina. The Tar Heels have struggled at times lately, but their home court has been tough to win on. The Deacons were unsuccessful at Duke earlier this year and must now try their luck on another North Carolina team’s home hardwood.
Play in the Big East heats up again on Monday evening as Connecticut travels to St. John’s for the first half of ESPN’s Big Monday presentation. The Huskies had a rough week last week. After dropping a tough game to North Carolina the Saturday before, UConn fell in the final seconds to Miami on the road. The Huskies, however, finally returned home and pulled out a win over Villanova to end the week. St. John’s is led by super scorer Marcus Hatten. Then on Saturday, Georgetown will venture to Notre Dame for a Big East showdown. The Hoyas came up one point short against Pittsburgh on the road last weekend and will have to take on yet another powerful conference member on the road this week. The Irish are coming off an overtime loss to Boston College this past weekend. Connecticut will host Boston College on Saturday. This will cap off a tough week for both of these teams at both will have played road games earlier in the week. Pittsburgh travels to Syracuse to wrap up Saturday’s action. The Orangemen rallied late to knock off the Miami Hurricanes this past weekend. Finally on Sunday, St. John’s will host their second tough game of the week as the Hurricanes venture to New York for a Big East matchup.
Big Ten play gets underway again on Tuesday when Indiana travels to Michigan State. Both teams are coming off difficult losses on the road last weekend and will be looking to regain some momentum. The Hoosiers fell hard at Purdue while MSU was edged by their in-state rival Michigan. Then on Wednesday, Ohio State will travel to red-hot Purdue. The Boilers are coming off the aforementioned monstrous win over Indiana while Ohio State is also coming off a big victory, a road win at Iowa. In a huge non-conference matchup this weekend, Indiana will travel to Louisville. Rick Pitino’s Cards had wins on the road over DePaul and Tennessee last week. Then on Saturday night, Purdue will travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes. Iowa let one slip away last week and will be looking to prevent that from happening again. Action in the Big Ten wraps up next week on Sunday with a conference matchup between Illinois and Michigan State. This CBS-televised contest should be a great matchup as the Illini are on a roll while Michigan State is looking to get back on the winning track.
There are only a couple of really good Big XII contests this week. The first occurs as part of ESPN’s Big Monday showcase and is a Texas at Kansas matchup. The 8:00 tipoff matches up a Kansas team in desperate need of a confidence-building win after blowing a huge lead to top-ranked Arizona last weekend. The Longhorns are coming off a surprisingly large victory over Missouri on Saturday. On Saturday, Oklahoma State travels down to Austin to take on the ‘Horns. OSU has knocked off some big-time opponents in Stillwater and will be looking to do the same on the road in the Big XII.
In the PAC 10 this week, Thursday has a couple of interesting matchups. The Arizona Wildcats will host Stanford Thursday evening in a huge PAC 10 battle. UA is coming off a tremendous out-of-conference road win at Kansas last weekend while Stanford pulled out a win over Southern Cal on Saturday. Also on Thursday, the Oregon Ducks travel to struggling UCLA. The Ducks have slipped some off of their high ranking earlier in the season, but this game should be close. Then on Saturday, California, one of the hottest teams in the country, will travel to Arizona. This matchup caps off a week of two very tough, but home, games for Arizona. Finally on Sunday, the Ducks will visit Southern Cal to wrap up the week in the PAC 10.
There are a couple of potentially-interesting battles in Conference USA this week. On Wednesday, East Carolina will travel to meet Marquette. The Pirates started off the season in spectacular fashion but have fallen off their pace since CUSA play began. Marquette is a major challenger for the CUSA title this season. And then on Saturday, Marquette will travel to Cincinnati in a huge CUSA matchup. Both of these teams have realistic shots to win the conference which should provide for a super matchup in Cincinnati.