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 December 23.)
1. Kentucky’s Huge Win
On Saturday night the Wildcats got a mammoth win in the CBS Sports Classic over the 9th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. The victory is without a doubt the best of the season so far for Kentucky whose best win was previously over a 6-5 Utah team.
The Tar Heels are a massively talented basketball club as they previously defeated one of the top teams in the nation in Gonzaga just a few days before last night’s defeat.
What exactly made things so different for both ball clubs in Chicago on Saturday? It has everything to do with point guard play. Simply put, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans played the best game of his career and UNC’s Coby White played his worst.
Despite Hagan’s only notching seven points in the affair, he managed to record eight steals as he completely changed the game with his defense.
This right here is the difference between Kentucky now and three weeks ago. https://t.co/FG3ccbsAsC
— John Wilmhoff (@JohnWilmhoff) December 23, 2018
Ashton Hagans steal and alley oop to PJ Washington for the slam. pic.twitter.com/qiqyw6lpGY
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 22, 2018
Through 11 games this season it appears that the Wildcats have finally found their rotation. Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson are the leaders on offense while P.J. Washington does everything on both sides of the floor. Herro is the team’s designated sharpshooter (once he improves his efficiency), and Hagans is the defense stalwart who also paces Kentucky.
Quickly, Richards, Montgomery and Baker will be asked to contribute crucial minutes throughout the season as all four are very talented in their own right. This is who the Wildcats are this season. If Herro can consistently hit three pointers (29% so far) and if Hagans can make a leap similar to what Gilgeous-Alexander made last year, then UK will be one of the best teams in the nation in 2019.
Great team win ?? https://t.co/O4Xq3jD1RH
— Reid Travis (@2ReidTravis2) December 23, 2018
2. Bone Powers Tennessee
Elsewhere in the SEC, the Volunteers manage to win both their games this week as they continue to look like the toast of the conference. They beat a poor Samford team by 13 and a decent Wake Forest squad by 19 points.
Of course, the duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are two of the best players in the nation. The duo will be taking the spotlight as possibly the best duo in the entire country. However, it’s the emergence of a third Volunteer this week that I have my eye on.
Junior point guard Jordan Bone is Tennessee’s third leading scorer on the season at 14.1 points per game. He has caught fire in his last three games as he has notched 17, 24, and 18 points, respectively.
However, it’s not just his scoring that’s caught my attention. Bone is currently third in the SEC in assists per game with 6.2, and he only averages two turnovers a game which makes for one of the best assist/turnover ratios in the conference.
#Vols’ Jordan Bone: If anybody on our team isn’t in a groove, that’s my fault, too. I’m the point guard. That’s my job, to get everybody in a groove.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) December 22, 2018
Final: #3 Tennessee wins 83-70 over Samford in the first of three games to wrap up December.
Jordan Bone scores a career high 24 points with 11 assists for the double-double to lead the #Vols.
— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) December 20, 2018
Williams and Schofield will consistently be great for Tennessee. But if Bone can emerge as that third star at point guard for the Volunteers, it will greatly improve the Volunteers’ chances to make a huge run in March.
3. Mississippi State Sits Atop the SEC
Many people don’t realize this but the team with the best record in the SEC is the No. 17 Mississippi State Bulldogs. Ben Howland’s team currently sits at 11-1 overall on the season with their one loss coming against a very talented Arizona State team.
While they haven’t beaten a ranked team just yet, they do have solid victories over Clemson and Cincinnati. Their success is dependent on all-around team play considering that their starting five all averages double figures in scoring per game.
Despite the Bulldogs being solid all-around, they are led by star Quinndary Weatherspoon who leads the team in scoring at 16.4 points per game (5th in the SEC).
Howland’s team will close out non-conference play against BYU before traveling to South Carolina to open SEC play. Their first game against a ranked opponent will be when they travel to Lexington to take on Kentucky on Jan. 22. The Bulldogs performance in that game will showcase to the country just how for real Mississippi State is.
4. Auburn Falls Back Down to Earth
Not everything was all good in the SEC this week. In one of the biggest upsets in college basketball this season NC State defeated Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad 78-71 on Wednesday night. Star guard Bryce Brown only had three points in the contest which is the biggest reason why the Tigers lost.
At the time they were ranked No. 7 in the country but now after the defeat expect the Tigers to be ranked just a few spots ahead of Kentucky when the latest polls emerge.
The Wolfpack were not the only team to give Auburn fits this week as Murray State gave the Tigers all they could handle on Saturday. The Racers only lost to Auburn by a final score of 93-88. Head my words carefully folks: Murray State will be a dangerous team come March.
Why exactly are the Racers so good? Well, its because they quite possibly have the best basketball player in the entire state in star guard Ja Morant (ducks for cover). The electrifying guard is slated as a Top-10 pick in the next NBA Draft as he averages 23 points per game, 9.3 assists per game, and 7 rebounds per game.
This was such a sweet find by Ja Morant pic.twitter.com/vUHBsXVpwj
— Chris Montano (@gswchris) December 22, 2018
Oh yeah, back to Auburn. Anyways, I think the Tigers will be just fine. However, their loss to NC State showcased that they are very dependent on Brown to be a dominant scorer. If he can be neutralized then the Tigers are open to be beaten by any decent team in the conference.
5. Kermit Davis Beats His Old Team
One of the best stories from the SEC so far this season has been the start to the season by Ole Miss. After winning just 12 games last season, the Rebels are off to a 9-2 start already in 2018.
Sure, Ole Miss hasn’t earned a marquee win yet but that’s a drastic improvement from last season’s disaster. The big difference between seasons has been the departure of former head coach Andy Kennedy and the arrival of coach Kermit Davis.
Davis has been a breath of fresh air for the Rebels as he just recently defeated his old ball club in Middle Tennessee 74-56 this week. Sophomore guard Breein Tyree powers the Rebels as his 17.6 points per game is third in the SEC.
Tyree has been on fire recently as he has scored at least twenty points in four of his last five games (all wins for Ole Miss). You might remember Tyree from this memorable moment from last season:
The jury is still out on if the Rebels will be a consistently solid SEC team in conference play, but if Tyree keeps playing like he is now then things should be just fine in Oxford.