You feel that fever coming on?
It’s SEC basketball, and as hard as it is to believe, it begins Saturday.
Conference plays get underway this weekend for most of the Southeastern Conference with your University of Kentucky Wildcats all set to host Missouri in the kickoff to league play in Lexington. Soon we’ll be traveling about the south and staying up late on Tuesday nights as the Cats chase the school’s 50th regular season title over the course of these next two-plus months.
But if you’re like most Kentucky fans, you’ve probably been a little too busy with football season and the roller coaster that was the non-conference basketball slate, to notice the happenings around our conference’s non-conference adventures. Well lucky for you, I have a brief need-to-know on each team around the SEC.
65.6 opp ppg
Bruce Pearl’s new-look Auburn team is undefeated heading into conference play and ranked fourth overall in the RPI. Combine this year’s impressive start with last year’s impressive finish and the Tigers have won 24 of 25 games; the one loss being in the Final Four to national champion Virginia in a wild finish.
With its top three scorers — Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke — gone from last year’s SEC championship team, the new bunch uses a more balanced attack with five players averaging in double figures, led by Samir Doughty’s 16.4 points per game. Senior big man Austin Wiley is second in the SEC in rebounding.
Can you imagine if Jared Harper had returned for his senior season?
(UK @ Auburn, Feb. 1; Auburn @ UK, Feb. 29)
59.8 opp ppg
Arkansas has two of the SEC’s best scorers in Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, who rank second and fourth in the league with 19.7 and 17.4 points per game. The two guards have combined for 77 made three-pointers in 12 games, with Joe being responsible for 45 of them.
How’s this for range?
?Hand in the face… don't matter? pic.twitter.com/Jg4hLD5o6a
— Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) December 30, 2019
I’m already dreading the day we see this backcourt.
(UK @ Ark, Jan. 18)
73.9 opp ppg
Anthony Edwards is must-see TV. The true freshman guard averages over eighteen points per game for Tom Crean’s Bulldogs. It’s easy to see why he’s in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick next summer.
The rest of Georgia is very Georgia. You get it.
(UK @ UGA, Jan. 7; UGA @ UK, Jan. 21)
Ole Miss (9-3)
65.2 opp ppg
Ole Miss will put conference play on hold for a trip to lovely Wichita to face Gregg Marshall and the 24th-ranked Shockers on Saturday. The Rebels are 0-2 in two previous meetings against a ranked team: at (16) Memphis, 86-87; vs. (24) Butler, 58-67. With only one top-100 win (Penn State) on its resume, Ole Miss needs to beat someone that matters.
(Ole Miss @ UK, Feb. 15)
Mississippi State (9-3)
63.8 opp ppg
Sophomore Reggie Perry is one of the best players in the SEC with a double-double average of 16 points and 11.6 boards per game. He had a casual 26 and 17 last time out. Not bad.
As a team, Mississippi State has nine very unimpressive wins and three losses: one you can live with, Villanova; and two you’d like to forget, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.
(Miss. State @ UK, Feb. 4)
62.6 opp ppg
Florida entered the year as the sixth-ranked team in the country with serious national title aspirations, but an early 12-point home loss to Florida State followed by another loss to UConn, both within the first two weeks of the season, tempered expectations around the Gators. The 12-point loss to Butler and last week’s loss to Utah State didn’t help either.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. has been good though with over fourteen points and eight rebounds per game. He should’ve transferred to Kentucky.
(UF @ UK, Feb. 22; UK @ UF, Mar. 7)
67.8 opp ppg
Will Wade has gotten some bang for his buck with this year’s team as the Tigers already have a couple of wins over top-50 teams. The four losses came in Wade’s return to VCU and against Utah State, East Tennessee State and USC.
Losses aside, LSU can still do some damage with five players averaging in double-figuring scoring. They still have Skylar Mays, Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days, plus Christian Watford’s little brother averaging 12.6 points as a true freshman.
(UK @ LSU, Feb. 18)
55.7 opp ppg
Mizzou almost stole one in overtime at 21st-ranked Xavier early in the year, only to later add an embarrassing loss to Charleston Southern at home. The Tigers have won four straight since that one with a game at Kentucky ahead this weekend. “Coach Martin’s got these guys playing. They’re defending and made 16 threes last game,” Coach Cal said today.
Butler and Oklahoma handed Mizzou its other two losses. Let’s hope they get a fifth one on Saturday.
(Mizzou @ UK, Jan. 4)
58.1 opp ppg
Tennessee lost its best player, point guard Lamonte Turner, to season-ending shoulder surgery a couple days before Christmas. In the one game since losing Turner and his seven assists per game, the Vols got murdered by Wisconsin at home, scoring only 48 points in a 20-point loss. It’s going to be a long rest of the year for Tennessee without its star.
(UK @ UT, Feb. 8; UT @ UK, Mar. 3)
71.0 opp ppg
Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 22.9 points per game. He is also shooting 50% from outside with an SEC-best 48 made three-pointers, the fourth-most by anyone in the country. The sophomore has played his way into the lottery pick conversation, while guiding Vanderbilt to an 8-4 record for first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse.
(Vandy @ UK, Jan. 29; UK @ Vandy, Feb. 11)
South Carolina (8-5)
64.8 opp ppg
South Carolina has split personality disorder.
(UK @ SC, Jan. 15)
77.7 opp ppg
Alabama is one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball at over eighty points per game. Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty are back and leading the Razorbacks with about sixteen apiece per game, but true freshman Jaden Shackelford has really filled up the scoring column with games of 28, 25, 17, 16 and 16 points.
And let’s not forget Kentucky’s own James “Beetle” Bolden is playing for the Crimson Tide as a grad transfer this year. He’s been battling two separate wrist injuries, but scored a season-high 23 on Southern Miss earlier in the year.
(Bama @ UK, Jan. 11)
Texas A&M (6-5)
60.8 opp ppg
A 30-point loss to Gonzaga in the third game of the year only softened the blow for Texas A&M’s four-game losing streak that would soon follow, a streak that included losses to Harvard, Temple, Fairfield and then Texas. But the Aggies have now won three straight, most recently in a thriller over Texas Southern, with Arkansas up next in Fayetteville.
All that to say, Texas A&M is not good.
(UK @ A&M, Feb. 25)