The College Basketball season is another week old, and the SEC consistently provides the sport with several talented players and teams. Here are the major storylines so far from the first month of play.
1. Tennessee’s Dynamic Duo
No team in the SEC has looked as good as the Volunteers have so far. In the most up-to-date rankings Tennessee is ranked as the No. 3 team in the country. This comes in large part because of their huge win over previously No. 1 Gonzaga.
Their only loss on the year came in a crazy environment at Kansas by just six points (in a game that was terribly officiated). So how did the Volunteers turn into a college basketball powerhouse?
They have Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. That’s how.
— The Ringer (@ringer) December 13, 2018
Tennessee's Admiral Schofield big time balling against Gonzaga with 27 points pic.twitter.com/iiE7q4Qt7O
— Chris Montano (@gswchris) December 9, 2018
This duo is quite frankly the best in college basketball outside of Duke’s Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Both are skilled behemoths standing near 6’7 and weighing around 240 pounds. What makes them so dangerous is that they are completely different players.
Schofield is an excellent outside shooter and Williams chews opposing defenses up with an imposing inside game. They have gradually improved over the past few year and now they reached the peak of their abilities as they combine to average 37.8 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.
This duo will wreak havoc on the SEC once conference play starts. The only way to defeat Tennessee this season will be figuring out to guard these two excellent players. That is easier said than done.
2. Kentucky Tries to Regain its Swagger.
The Wildcats have had quite the disappointing start to the season after one month of play. Kentucky was picked by many to win it all, but now John Calipari’s team finds their selves at No. 19 in the latest AP ranking (at of time of publication).
Not only did an unranked Seton Hall team best the Wildcats in overtime, but they also suffered what has been the most embarrassing defeat of the year when Duke demolished UK in the Champions Classic.
Now with the announcement of Quade Green’s transfer many are saying that Kentucky has momentarily lost its famous swagger. The great news is that it is only December and there is plenty of time to regroup.
Thankfully for BBN, the Wildcats came out last night and actually hit numerous jump shots in their blowout win against Utah. Their woes from beyond the arc were very well-documented last season, and Kentucky hasn’t been much better this season.
That changed on Saturday night. Keldon Johnson caught fire and hit six three-pointers, Tyler Herro at times looked like his old Bahamas self, and most importantly THERE WAS A JEMARL BAKER SIGHTING!!!
Jemarl Baker with his first basket in a Kentucky uniform. pic.twitter.com/IaU8iY85yt
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 15, 2018
That jumper was so incredibly fluid and smooth. Who knows what exactly UK will get from Baker. But if he can be a reliable three-point shooter (think Doron Lamb) it would be HUGE for the Wildcats floor spacing. Plus, it would ease some pressure off of Herro. This might (emphasis on might) be something, folks.
3. Auburn’s Dominant Backcourt
Like Tennessee, Auburn has jumped out to a very strong start this season thanks in large part to a duo of their own. Different from the Volunteers, the Tigers’ duo is in the backcourt.
Guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper have been stellar this season. Brown is a true go-to scorer and big-time shot maker while Harper is an electric point guard who is a talented passer (6.8 assists per game).
The two give Auburn what has been bar-none the best backcourt so far in the conference. This was on full display when the Tigers went up against Duke in the Maui Tournament and gave the Blue Devils all they could handle.
Auburn started with some fireworks! Gotta come hard at Duke
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) November 21, 2018
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Take whatever PG you want, I'll take Jared Harper seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Best PG in the SEC.
Auburn over UAB.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 16, 2018
Despite eventually falling to Duke, Auburn gave the Blue Devils a much better game than Kentucky did, and I do think that is meaningful. Come tournament time you need elite play from your guards if you need to go far, and luckily for Bruce Pearl’s squad they have that at the moment.
4. Gafford Powers the Razorbacks
In the running for best player in the SEC along with Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Bryce Brown is Arkansas big man Daniel Gafford. In case you did not know, Gafford is a borderline lottery pick who can at times look like a future all-star.
Of course, he is not as good as the comparison made in the title of that video, but don’t underestimate just how good Gafford is. He has the range and athleticism to change a game at the rim on offense and defense.
Thanks to Gafford’s strong start (18.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg) the Razorbacks are off to a 7-2 start which includes a big win over Indiana. Their defeats have been to two very capable teams in Texas and Western Kentucky so it’s safe to say at the moment that Arkansas is going to be a tough out for any team.
Also, freshman guard Isaiah Joe has had a fantastic start to the season as he is averaging a head-turning 16.5 ppg on 46% shooting from beyond the arc. If Gafford and Joe continue to improve throughout the year, then the Razorbacks could cause some havoc in the SEC.
5. A Very Strong Start for the Conference
Overall, the conference as a whole is off to a great start this season. Tennessee and Auburn look like legitimate final four contenders, Kentucky still has a ton of talent despite a less-than-desirable start, and Mississippi State 9-1 and ranked nationally.
Couple those four legitimately solid teams with really athletic squads like Arkansas, LSU, Alabama, and even Vanderbilt and you have a very good basketball conference.
At one time the SEC was the butt of a lot of jokes from the national media. It used to be just the conference that Kentucky dominated every year. While UK is still really talented, other programs have finally closed the gap.
There's a new No. 1 in the Power 36! ?
1. Michigan ??2??
2. Tennessee ??5??
3. Gonzaga ??2??
4. Virginia ??2??
7. Kansas ??3??
9. Michigan State
10. Texas Tech ??3??
11-36. ? https://t.co/w2h33elFIa pic.twitter.com/dOvJi811dt
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 10, 2018
What does this mean for Kentucky? Well it means that there is a real chance the Wildcats could struggle in January and into the start of February. Conference play will be tough at first, but the good news is that time and talent are both still on UK’s side. Just be prepared for some bumps along the road.