With nearly half of the SEC college hoops season already gone (seven games for most teams), SCS.com will take a look at what’s happened so far and what you can expect to take place until March when the SEC and NCAA Tournaments hit full stride. So far this season, it appears the strength of the conference is in the SEC East, and that division should come right down to the wire. Perhaps the biggest game of the season in the SEC so far takes place Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to Florida. Over in the SEC West, the teams aren’t as dominant, but the battle is just as fierce. Auburn jumped out in the standings early, but the rest of the pack has since been able to nearly catch up.
Florida, at 7-0 and 18-2 overall, and Kentucky, 6-0 and 16-3 overall, aren’t not only the leaders of the SEC East, but also the leaders of the SEC overall. That’s not to mention that both of these teams are ranked in the top ten nationally, and both are playing some of the best basketball in the country right now. The Gators have already proven they can win on the road this season with wins in Starkville and Baton Rouge but will have to test their ability to do so again this week when they travel to Kentucky. The Wildcats have been blazing along since conference play began. A win this week over Florida could only send the team’s confidence even higher. Not to be left out, the Georgia Bulldogs are just a couple games back of the division leaders. The Bulldogs are 5-2 in the league and 13-5 overall. UGA’s only two losses in the SEC came on the road at Florida and at Vanderbilt. As expected in the preseason polls and projections, these three teams will be sprinting to the finish trying to capture the division, and possibly league, title. Last year, the race ended in a three-way tie. Who would be surprised if that happened again?
The SEC West is packed at the top as well. Though not as strong as the East, the West members are expected to put on a show as they scurry to the finish of yet another SEC season. Auburn’s Tigers started league play 4-0 but have since dropped three straight games and sit at 15-5 overall. Probably the most disappointing was last weekend’s loss at home to Tennessee. The other two were much more understandable, road defeats at Kentucky and Georgia. After Auburn, there are three teams who are each just one game behind the Tigers. Mississippi State, picked by some in the preseason to win the West, is 3-4 in the league and 13-5 overall. After losing three to start conference play against Florida, LSU, and Alabama, the Bulldogs won three against South Carolina, LSU, and Mississippi. The win over the Rebels came in dramatic fashion as MSU scored to go up by one with less than 2 seconds remaining and hung on for the win. That victory was followed by a tough, four-point loss at Georgia last weekend.
The SEC West finishes up with Arkansas and LSU, two teams who have each won only one game each in the SEC so far. The Tigers were rolling in pre-conference play but have fallen off the map since. Barring a major run in the final half of SEC play, 12-7 LSU will fall short of their goal this year, an NCAA Tournament bid. Most people expect the Razorbacks to be down this year as new head coach Stan Heath changed the way the Hogs played hoops. So far, Arkansas has accumulated a 6-11 record, 1-5 in the conference. It’s extremely doubtful UA will make the postseason this year, but with a couple years under Stan Heath, expect Arkansas to return to the top half of the conference.
Rounding out the SEC East are Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. The Volunteers continue to win big games. Just when you think they will fade away, they somehow steal another one. After a tough week two weeks ago, UT stormed back this week to go 2-0 with a home win over South Carolina and a huge road win at Auburn. The Vols are 4-3 in the SEC and 11-6 overall. It will take some work, but an NCAA bid for UT is definitely a possibility. Much like Tennessee, the Vanderbilt Commodores continue to win big games. This past week, the ‘Dores captured two huge home victories, one over Georgia and the other over Mississippi. Now at 10-8, the Commodores have a shot at making the NCAA Tourney. Like Tennessee, it will take some work, but they have a shot. Tennessee and Vanderbilt, to make the NCAA, will likely need to win at least 9 games in the conference and close out the season with a win or probably two in the SEC Tournament to have a chance. Coupled with a good RPI, one or both of these teams could be part of the field of 64. South Carolina rounds out the SEC East. The Gamecocks have struggled since SEC play began last month. USC sits at 1-6 and 7-10 overall. Although the NCAA Tournament is likely out, if the Gamecocks can finish the SEC with about 7 wins and get one win in the SEC Tournament, it’s likely they would be extended an NIT invitation.
In next week’s edition of This Week in SEC Hoops, SCS.com will make predictions for final league records and who will go where when March Madness rolls around. Don’t miss it!...
SEC Team of the Week....
For the first time this season, the Vanderbilt Commodores have been crowned the SEC team of the week. Vandy had an outstanding week as they captured a home win over Georgia on Wednesday night to get things started. Then on Saturday evening, the ‘Dores were led by SEC superstar Matt Freije as they knocked off Mississippi in Nashville. This week, Vanderbilt travels to Mississippi State and hosts South Carolina.
Top SEC Games This Week....
The “Super Tuesday” matchups on ESPN just keep getting “superer.” This weeks contest is not only the best matchup on ESPN’s Tuesday night showcase this year, but it is one of the biggest games of the season in the SEC. That’s when the Kentucky Wildcats host the Florida Gators. With both teams in the top ten in both polls and each without a loss in the conference, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. Billy Donovan’s Gators have been one of the hottest teams in the country lately. They’ve gotten by scares against Mississippi State and Georgia to keep their streak alive. Tubby Smith’s Wildcats have also avoided some huge tasks, such as last week’s trip to Alabama. Undoubtedly, Rupp Arena will be rocking all night long in what should give us a terrific matchup of the SEC’s top two teams.
Following Tuesday’s action, the rest of the SEC tips off on Wednesday night. There are a couple of potentially-interesting contests on the schedule for this February 5th, including Mississippi’s trip to Auburn. Both of these teams are hurting, the Rebels losing 2 in a row and Auburn 3. Whoever wins this game moves themself to or very near the top of the SEC race; the loser takes another step back and makes the potential climb to the top that much harder. The Tigers need to re-establish their home court after letting Tennessee steal one on the Plains this past weekend. Also in the SEC on Wednesday, red-hot Vanderbilt travels to Starkville to take on Mississippi State. The Commodores had a huge week while winning home games over Georgia and Mississippi. The Bulldogs have won three of their last four and are starting a huge three-game home stretch that will be crucial in their quest for an SEC West title. MSU wants to get the home games off on a good note, while Vandy is looking to continue to roll on in SEC play.
Wednesday night’s action continues with South Carolina’s trip to LSU. Both of these teams have been down ever since SEC play began. Each has only one conference win under their belt. The Tigers need to begin to win their home games or they won’t have a shot at breaking .500 in the conference. Alabama will travel to Arkansas during the mid-week to battle the Hogs. The Tide began to get their season back on track with a home win over LSU this past Saturday, while the Hogs still boast only one win in the league, a home victory over LSU. The final matchup of Wednesday night is a non-conference battle. Massachusetts out of the Atlantic 10 will meet the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. UT should be able to pick up a win here and move even further above the .500 mark. This should give the Vols even more momentum before they host Georgia on Saturday.
Saturday has a full day’s worth of great SEC hoops action. To kick it off, Alabama will travel to Florida in a very important West at East matchup. The Gators will be coming off an extremely tough mid-week game at Kentucky and could be primed for an upset if Alabama is able to take advantage. This will be the Tide’s second road game of the week. Keeping with the East vs West theme, the Kentucky Wildcats will continue with their very difficult week in the league with a road game in Oxford against the Rebels. The Rebels will be returning from two road games in a row at Vanderbilt and Auburn and will be looking to avoid losing yet another home game. Kentucky, to win the SEC East, will need to take advantage of their easier opportunities on the road in the conference.
In the SEC West, LSU travels to Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers’ second home game of the week should be a win for the Tigers and needs to be if AU is to remain in position to make a run at the SEC West title. LSU must somehow pull themselves out of the slide they’ve been on for the past month since SEC play began. Also in the SEC West, Arkansas visits Starkville and Mississippi State on Saturday. These are two teams heading in opposite directions. The Bulldogs have won three of their last four and appear to be a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament while Arkansas has won only one game in the SEC and is hoping, by some miracle, to make the NIT.
The final two Saturday matchups are East vs East games in the SEC. Georgia will visit the red-hot Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday as they try to avoid their second loss in the state of Tennessee in as many weeks. These tough but winnable home games will likely be the factor that determines whether UT goes to the NIT or NCAA in March. Finally to end the weekend, South Carolina will travel to Memorial Coliseum at Vanderbilt. This should be a good game for the ‘Dores to return home to after a tough contest at Mississippi State and should keep the Commodores on pace to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
Around the nation....
Action in the Atlantic Coast Conference tips off this week on Wednesday with North Carolina’s in-state trek to Duke. UNC has come on slightly hard times lately but can rebound nicely with a win over the in-state rival Blue Devils. Duke continues to roll in the ACC. On Thursday, NC State will travel to Wake Forest in an extremely big conference contest. The Wolfpack came up short against Maryland last week before coming back with a win over Clemson to end the week. Wake Forest takes on the Wolfpack on Thursday before a tough non-conference battle on Sunday. Also on Thursday, Virginia will venture to Maryland and one of the toughest places to win in America. The Terps captured that big win over NC State last week and are looking to keep rolling on. Virginia, who lost to Georgia Tech last Saturday, is hoping to slow the Terps down long enough to capture the victory. On Sunday, Maryland will travel to Georgia Tech where the Yellow Jackets knocked off the good Cavaliers team last week. GT will be coming off a home game with Clemson on Wednesday. Wake Forest travels to Marquette in an OOC battle mixed in here in February. This is a huge contest of ACC vs CUSA and should be a super game. Finally on Sunday, NC State will travel to Virginia before the Duke Blue Devils will host Clemson. NC State will battle their second opponent on the road of the week and is hoping to steal at least one win over the course of the week.
Georgetown and Syracuse tip off a big week of Big East action on Monday night in a game to be televised by ESPN. Last weekend, the Hoyas were involved in a double-overtime thriller at Notre Dame, where they came up just one point short on the road. Syracuse battled an extremely tough Pittsburgh team at home last Saturday and continues that trend of home games against tough opponents this week. On Wednesday, St. John’s will travel to Boston College. The Eagles went on the road last Saturday to Connecticut and destroyed the Huskies in Storrs. It was likely the most impressive performance Troy Bell’s group has given so far this year. On Saturday, Villanova will venture to Miami where Darius Rice and his team will look to knock off ‘Nova. The Hurricanes came up just three points short at St. John’s last weekend. Finally on Sunday, Pittsburgh travels to Notre Dame in what has to be the best game in the conference this week. The Irish survived that double-OT thriller with Georgetown last week but must now take their show on the road to Pitt in a tremendous Big East showdown.
The Big Ten rolls on this week with action really heating up again on Wednesday when Minnesota travels to Ohio State. The Gophers have had their ups and downs this season and could really use a big road victory. OSU must guard their home court in Big Ten play throughout the rest of the regular season. Then on Saturday, Michigan will host Iowa in Big Ten action. The Wolverines have been one of the most surprising teams in the nation so far this year and have a good chance to capture another conference win over a quality Big Ten opponent. Also on Saturday, Minnesota will host Purdue. The Boilers are likely the hottest team in the Big Ten and on a roll like few other teams in the nation can match. The road is tough, but just last week, Purdue captured a win over Iowa in Iowa City. Finally on Saturday, the Big Ten action concludes with what is likely the best game of the week. The Indiana Hoosiers host the red-hot Michigan State Spartans. Tom Izzo’s club has been rolling of late, capturing two huge home wins last week over Indiana and Illinois. The Hoosiers must now try to return the favor this week. Finally on Sunday, the week’s action concludes with Ohio State’s trip to Illinois. The Illini will try to muscle themselves to the top of the conference but must win these winnable home contests to do so.
Big XII action rolls on this week, and it starts on Monday night with Missouri’s trip to Kansas. All of a sudden, the Jayhawks seem to be cruising right along. The test will be tough for the Tigers, but most teams have had trouble stopping the tandem of Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson of Missouri. ON Saturday, Texas A&M will host Texas in a major in-state battle. The Aggies have played well at times this season, and a win over their in-state rival would provide the boost A&M needs heading into the final weeks of the season. There are two good matchups to conclude the week on Sunday. Texas Tech travels to Missouri as the Tigers wrap up their very difficult week of conference games. Then in a non-conference battle, Oklahoma State travels to Cincinnati. This game would be a huge momentum-builder for the winner.
The hoops out West moves along this week with PAC 10 action. There are only a couple of intriguing battles on the Pacific Coast, beginning with Oregon hosting the Stanford Cardinal. Last week, Stanford stole a game on the road at top-ranked Arizona. And then on Saturday, the Ducks host California. The Bears had a tough week on the road in the state of Arizona last week and will look to rebound in Oregon this week.
In CUSA this week, Cincinnati travels to Louisville on Wednesday evening. After dropping a home game to Marquette last weekend, the Bearcats need to steal one on the road soon. Louisville won’t be the ideal place to do so, especially with the momentum the Cardinals captured after knocking off Indiana last weekend. On Sunday, there are a couple of non-conference matchups in CUSA that were previously discussed, Wake Forest’s trip to Marquette and Oklahoma State’s visit to Cincinnati.