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 from the previous week of conference play. (AP Rankings accurate up until January 20, 2019.)
1. The Wildcats Prove Their Toughness
Out of the 14 teams in the conference, I believe it’s easy to surmise that Kentucky won the week. Not only did the Wildcats take care of business in a thrashing of Georgia on the road, but they also went to Auburn and defeated a top-ranked SEC opponent on the road which is a rarity.
Bryce Brown was on fire, but it didn't matter. Kentucky Beat a Top 15 SEC team on the road for the first time in the Calipari era. https://t.co/73c9NRewxE
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) January 19, 2019
I know that Tennessee and LSU also won both of their games this week and that LSU also won on the road against a ranked team, but Auburn was the second-highest ranked team in the SEC so to me Kentucky wins the week.
It’s still early, but I saw something from the Wildcats that will prove to be paramount come Tournament time. Kentucky proved that it’s one of the most mentally and physically toughest teams in the SEC in both of their victories.
In the Georgia game Ashton Hagans was booed and mocked consistently by the crowd due to his decommitment from the Bulldogs in high school. Instead of letting it affect him negatively, Hagans dominated the entire contest as he notched a career high in points.
Against Auburn the Wildcats nearly blew a 15-point lead in the final nine minutes, yet they still managed to emerge victorious. They even got off to a rocky start, but Hagans again did his part in waking up the team.
Ashton Hagans would like Keldon Johnson to wake up pic.twitter.com/3VT7IIuXYv
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 19, 2019
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not sure just how good this year’s team is just yet. However, that toughness is something many teams do not have yet. The fact that they are already showing it proves to me that this team is more than likely going to make a run once March comes around.
2. LSU Figures Things Out
In last week’s article I said that the Tigers were severely underrated, they deserve more attention, and that they should beat Ole Miss on the road. LSU proved me right as they demolished both the Rebels and the Gamecocks in convincing victories this week.
Folks, the Tigers are officially a problem. This is an incredibly athletic team that can also knock down the long ball. Those are the types of teams that cause huge complications in March for opposing squads.
Make it seven straight wins for the Tigers!
LSU will be back home on Wednesday against Georgia ?
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 20, 2019
After their victories this week, LSU now sits at second in the SEC (behind UT) with a 4-0 record and 14-3 overall on the season. Personally, I expect AP voters to put the Tigers in the next Top 25 poll as they now have the record to match their impressive talent.
— Todd Politz (@tpolitz) January 20, 2019
Expect even more hype behind this team as their next four games come against four of the worst teams in the conference: Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. It is very conceivable that the Tigers will be 18-3, 8-0 in the SEC, and on a 11-game win streak when they travel to Starkville on Feb. 6 to play Miss. State in what will probably be a ranked matchup.
It’s admittedly very startling, but this LSU team is for real.
3. Just How Good Is Auburn?
Let me be clear: I’m not downplaying Kentucky’s win on Saturday at all. I believe that Auburn is a good basketball team and that they will be at the very least a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
However, I think a real conversation needs to be on just how good the Tigers are right now. They currently have no wins over any team currently ranked in the Top 25. Instead, the most impressive aspect of their schedule is that they played Duke and Kentucky close. Let’s also not forget that they still have losses to N.C. State and Ole Miss.
So, what is with all the hype around this team? All that Auburn has showed so far is that they have the talent to play with some of the best teams in the country, but they cannot beat any of these teams.
I am not rushing to say that Auburn is overrated or even bad. However, they now have a lot to prove in my book after their disappointing 2-2 start in conference play.
What is certain, however, is that guard Bryce Brown may just be the best player in this conference after his nuclear explosion against Kentucky.
Bryce Brown has 23 points in the 2nd half, Charles Barkley approves. pic.twitter.com/js6O28rLUT
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 19, 2019
4. The Curious Case of the Gamecocks
I’ll be frank here, I have absolutely no feel on how good South Carolina is. The Gamecocks sit at a tie for fourth place in the SEC despite their very poor 9-8 record on the season.
This is the type of team that has losses to Stony Brook, Wofford, and Wyoming but yet has wins over Mississippi State, Florida, and Missouri. I think we can all agree that previous sentence makes zero sense.
The only conclusion that I can draw from this team is that Head Coach Frank Martin is getting the most out of a team that has below average talent at best. The fact they are out to a 4-1 start in conference play despite losing three games to teams from non-power 5 conferences speaks for itself.
I think the next three games will truly show the country what this team is really made of. They play Auburn at home on Tuesday, at Oklahoma State on Saturday, and Tennessee (gulp) at home next Tuesday. They should beat the Cowboys, but if they can manage to squeeze out a victory in one of those other games then I think the Gamecocks might have a good squad this year.
5. It’s Not Even February Yet, But…..
I know that it’s not even February yet, however, we already have a pretty good idea of how the SEC will most likely shape out through the rest of conference play.
SEC FLOYD STANDINGS thru Saturday January 19 2019 pic.twitter.com/WzThTNpZto
— Floyd Standings (@FloydStandings) January 20, 2019
It appears as if Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Georgia are going to be the three bottom teams this year. They might all end up with losing records and will not place in any significant postseason tournament.
On the other hand, we can deduce that Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn should end up being the top five teams in the SEC as they should all make the NCAA Tournament. I think one could possibly add Mississippi State into this group as well.
That leaves us with five teams that will be fighting for to make the NCAA Tournament: South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, and Arkansas. I know that the Razorbacks are 1-4 in SEC Play, but I’m not counting out any team that has Daniel Gafford on it.
Of course, a team may drop out of that group of six and not make the Tournament (Miss. State possibly), and someone from the middle of the pack could make a huge late run (I’m looking at you, Alabama). Nevertheless, separation has already occurred in the SEC, and it’s very reasonable to predict that this may be a seven-bid league.