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 surrounding conference teams from the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play. (AP Rankings accurate up until March 25, 2019.)
1. Kentucky Survives First Weekend Without PJ
Sometimes its better to be lucky than good (just ask Duke). Lucky is exactly what Kentucky was on Saturday as they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by defeating Wofford 62-56.
The Terriers had the all-time leading three-point shooting in NCAA History shoot an abysmal 0-12 from beyond the arc. Did Kentucky play outstanding defense on Fletcher Magee? Of course, the Wildcats did play outstanding defense as Tyler Herro smothered Magee for the majority of the game. However, going 0-12 is just outstandingly bad.
The Terriers road ends in Jacksonville.
Kentucky and #BBN contain Wofford and Fletcher Magee, who goes 0-12 FROM DEEP!
The Wildcats are on to the Sweet 16!pic.twitter.com/PC8UnhM8bk
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) March 23, 2019
If Magee hits at least 30% of those threes, then the outcome probably is not so great for UK Fans. Good fortune like that in the NCAA Tournament is required no matter how much talent any team may have Besides, Kentucky was due some good luck with the recent injury to PJ Washington.
Now, the Wildcats move forward into the Sweet Sixteen for the eighth time in John Calipari’s Tenure at the school. Out of just ten seasons, that is an incredible stat. Besides a poor shooting performance to Indiana and a terrible Nerlens Noel injury, Calipari has always had the Wildcats make a run in March.
Houston will be next for Kentucky as the college basketball world awaits to see the status of Washington. However, I have better hopes for Houston than I had coming into the Wofford matchup. I think the Cougars are very good, but the Wildcats matchup very well with them. They are a small team that plays with great speed and confidence.
Kentucky should have no problem playing at that kind of a pace. I’m fully expecting an Elite Eight bout with North Carolina. Let’s just hope Washington is back by then.
Houston starters go 6-foot-1, 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 and 6-8 (260 pounds). Kentucky would have a few inches on the Cougars at every position but the five, where it's basically a push for Reid Travis.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) March 25, 2019
2. The State of Mississippi Disappoints
Without a doubt, the greatest disappointment of the Tournament for the SEC has been the play of teams from the state of Mississippi. Both Miss. State and Ole Miss lost to mediocre teams (Liberty and Oklahoma) who did not even make the Sweet Sixteen.
Both losses were indeed very different. The Bulldogs lost a very close matchup against Liberty 80-76. Simply put, the Flames just hit more threes than Miss. State did as they had a 12-8 advantage in that area. Stars Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters combined to score 48 points, but it just wasn’t enough to avoid the ole’ 12-5 upset.
On the other hand, Ole Miss was completely embarrassed by Oklahoma. The Sooners blew out the Rebels 95-72 in one of the more embarrassing first round results. However, this one wasn’t entirely Ole Miss’s fault.
The Sooners shot the ball incredibly well despite the fact that the Rebels actually made 11 three-point shots. This happens to good teams sometimes in the tournament. Sometimes a lesser squad will come out on fire and put you away early. Ole Miss has nothing to hang their heads about, however. Making the tournament when you were originally picked to finish last in the SEC is quite the accomplishment.
Final: Oklahoma 95 – #OleMiss 72
Worth reminding people: Ole Miss wasn’t supposed to be good. They weren’t supposed to be in this tournament. Rebels were picked dead last in the SEC and finished T-6th. All things considered, this season was a massive success for Ole Miss hoops
— Nathanael Gabler (@ngabler4) March 22, 2019
3. Tennessee Finds Ways to Win
One cannot say that reaching the Sweet Sixteen is a disappointment for any team, but wow did Tennessee have a suspiciously bad weekend in the first and second rounds.
First, they were given a great game by #15 seed Colgate University. This had no business being a close game, but the Volunteers had a terrible time guarding the three-point line. Colgate hit an outstanding 15 three-point shots to get the game within three points with just two minutes remaining.
But, Admiral Schofield hit a couple of clutch threes and the Volunteers easily pulled away down the stretch. Things did not get much better in the next round as Tennessee gave up a 25-point lead to Iowa. The Hawkeyes somehow managed to force overtime despite shooting a very poor 39% from the field.
Overall, the Volunteers had an “even” assist-turnover ratio in the first weekend which a huge cause for worry. I find it extremely startling that against Iowa and Colgate, Tennessee did not have more assists than turnovers.
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are legitimate superstars in the sport, but there are too many isolation plays being drawn up for them. The Volunteers have not found a natural flow yet against two below average teams. What’s going to happen if they can’t find that flow over a red-hot Purdue team or a stifling Virginia club? If something does not change soon for Tennessee, then they will not be making it to the Final Four.
Admiral Schofield on Purdue, who Tennessee will face in Louisville on Thursday: “Carsen Edwards is a prolific scorer.. they play similar ball to Iowa.”
Schofield also said he didn’t watch any of Purdue’s big win over Villanova.
“I don’t watch anybody else. I don’t care to.” pic.twitter.com/NUiFa2rV2e
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) March 24, 2019
4. LSU Finds March Magic Without Head Coach
I’ve been hyping up this LSU team all season long as a team that should advance deep into the tournament. Of course, recent events have made me question my initial thoughts. With their Head Coach Will Wade still suspended, I was not sure what to make of the Tigers’ tournament chances.
Its clear to the nation now that LSU’s talent overcame its off-the-court problems. They annihilated Yale in the first round, and then Tremont Waters hit the shot of the tournament so far to push the Tigers into the Sweet Sixteen.
Now, the only question is if LSU can actually knockoff Michigan State and Tom Izzo without their head coach. To be completely honest, I expect them to do so. The Tigers matchup relatively well with the Spartans. They shoot the three ball very well, and they have the big guys to compete with MSU’s size.
But it does not really matter if they beat Michigan State or not. The fact that LSU actually reached the Sweet Sixteen despite all of the drama speaks to the character of those student-athletes. They are playing like they have nothing to lose, because…well….these wins are probably going to be vacated anyways. They are the Bad News Bears of College Basketball.
LSU, the bad boys of college basketball, who are basically coaching themselves at this point, are on to the Sweet 16. Admit it: You're entertained by this team, aren't you?!??!
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) March 23, 2019
The end of that LSU/Maryland game>>>? pic.twitter.com/nqqP1xiXe1
— BettorIQ (@BettorIQ) March 23, 2019
5. The SEC Proves Its Strength
Overall, the SEC proved a lot of people wrong this weekend. The conference went a very successful 9-3 in the first weekend of the tournament. Only the ACC had a better record at 10-2.
Sweet 16 teams by conference:
Big Ten 3
Big 12 1
West Coast 1
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) March 25, 2019
The SEC has 4 teams advance to the Sweet 16 for the third time in conference history. pic.twitter.com/7QQ46za4Qr
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 24, 2019
This is only the third time history that the SEC has four teams (UK, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee) all in the Sweet Sixteen. In those other two tournaments (1986 and 1996) a team from the state of Kentucky ended up winning the National Championship.
This was a conference that many considered overrated throughout the season. Well, its safe to say that we can put those criticisms to rest now. Unless the SEC completely falls apart in the Sweet Sixteen, I think we should at least see two of those teams make the Elite Eight.
There is no question that this conference is, at the very worst, the second-best in college basketball. The ACC still has the right to be called the best for now until the SEC can successfully win a National Title for the first time since 2012. And who knows, with a little bit of that Duke-type of luck, I really like the SEC’s chances at doing so.