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 13th.)
1. The Rebels Run Wild
Ole Miss has been in this column for the past two weeks now as their quick start previously caught my eye. The Rebels were easily one of the worst teams in the conference last year, but they won 11 of their first 13 games to start this season which almost surpassed their overall win total from 2018.
In my last article I mentioned that despite their great start, we would really see just how good Ole Miss is this week with matchups against two ranked teams in No. 11 Auburn and No. 14 Mississippi State. It’s safe to say that the entire SEC has now been put on notice as the Rebels defeated both squads to move to 13-2 on the season and 3-0 in conference play.
So how did this huge turnaround happen? How did Ole Miss go from literally worst to first in the SEC in less than a calendar year? While there are several answers to this question, the conversation begins with the firing of former head coach Andy Kennedy and the acquisition of new Head Coach Kermit Davis from Middle Tennessee State.
I was wrong.
Figured it would take several years to build it back up at Ole Miss, given how that team looked last season. Instead Kermit Davis got every returnee to turn into the best version of themselves. He’s doing a great job. Much respect.
— Hugh Kellenberger (@KellenbergerCBB) January 12, 2019
Middle Tennessee goes from dominating CUSA and winning NCAA tournament games to 3-13 — Ole Miss is now 13-2 and in 1st place in the SEC. There are other factors, but Kermit Davis the biggest factor
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) January 12, 2019
Davis has been one of the best hires of the offseason due to the unprecedented success the Rebels are experiencing now. Ole Miss is guaranteed to be ranked heading into the new week which is something that has not happened in quite a while.
Another huge reason for their success has been the shooting efficiency of their lead guards. Not only are Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, and Devontae Shuler the Rebels three leading scorers, but all three players are shooting at least 40% from the beyond the arc and 47% from the field overall.
The conference has officially been put on notice, and Ole Miss will not be sneaking up on anyone anymore. The Rebels are officially a force to be reckon with in the SEC.
2. Kentucky’s Slow Starts
After a bad loss to Alabama which ended last week, the Wildcats needed to dominate this week to get overall team morale back up. With Texas A&M and Vanderbilt being two of least talented teams in the SEC this was a perfect opportunity for Kentucky to flex its muscles and showoff to the rest of the SEC.
Kentucky did win both contests, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters. However, neither victory came in dominating fashion. In fact, the Wildcats started off both games terribly. The Aggies held two different 10-point leads in the first half, and the Commodores got off to a 10-0 run at the start of the game.
Unbelievable how poorly this team has started the last 3 games
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 13, 2019
Thankfully for Kentucky, Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans played some of their best basketball of the season against the Aggies, and Keldon Johnson stepped up in a big way against Vanderbilt. Johnson’s 15 points were very needed in what was easily one of most boring SEC games in recent memory.
At 56 possessions, Vanderbilt-Kentucky was the slowest-paced SEC game since the introduction of the 30-second shot clock before the 2015-16 season.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) January 13, 2019
Those three players were the best for the Wildcats this week which is a very positive sign. College Basketball is so incredibly guard-driven, and Kentucky’s guards are playing well. However, what’s happened to UK’s big guys?
Reid Travis, P.J. Washington, and Nick Richards all failed to reach double digits in scoring in both games this week. To convincingly be one of the best teams in the SEC this season the Wildcats have got to get better production from this trio. Washington for example was tabbed as a favorite to win SEC Player of the Year, but his scoring average has dipped below 12 ppg.
This was still a mostly positive week for Kentucky as they did what they needed to do, but there is still a lot of room for improvement as the incredibly hard stretch of Auburn, Mississippi State, and Kansas is on the horizon.
3. Mississippi State’s Terrible Start to Conference Play
The Bulldogs came into this week ranked No. 14 in the country and 12-1 overall on the season. However, it’s now very safe to say that Miss. State will no longer be in the AP Top 25 after dropping their first two SEC contests against unranked opponents.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 12, 2019
Not only did they lose to previously mentioned Ole Miss, but they also lost to a weird South Carolina team that is now 3-0 in conference play despite their 7-7 record on the season. Now the Bulldogs find their selves second-to-last place in the SEC with only Vanderbilt having a worse record (0-3).
It’s easy to predict that Mississippi State will bounce back and still find a way to 20 wins, but that doesn’t excuse this pathetic week for the Bulldogs. What’s even more frustrating is that both loses came by a combined nine total points.
Mississippi State was right there to easily take both games, but they couldn’t finish and are now at the bottom of the conference. This week will be huge for the program as they take on Florida and Vanderbilt which are two matchups they should win. If they don’t do so then it might be panic time for Ben Howland’s club.
4. Tennessee and LSU Keep Rolling
I’m combining both of these squads here because they were easily the most impressive this week outside of Ole Miss. The Volunteers took care of Missouri and Florida relatively easily while the Tigers handily defeated Alabama, and then won a thrilling overtime contest against Arkansas.
Despite a rough start to the game, Tennessee dominated the second half against the Gators despite being on the road which speaks to the overall toughness of the Volunteers. Star Grant Williams played well as he scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and successfully trolled the Florida student section which is a huge win in my book.
? Baby shark doo doo doo doo doo doo, baby shark doo doo doo doo doo doo ? pic.twitter.com/eJ5IDVUHY8
— Barstool Rocky Top (@BarstoolTenn) January 13, 2019
LSU also had a big guy play extremely well for them on Saturday in the form of freshman forward Naz Reid’s 27-point performance. Reid is one of the most interesting players in the SEC as he has the body to battle down low and the outside shot to knock down 30-footers with ease.
Despite playing much of the game in foul trouble, @NazReid had himself a game!
27 points, 7 rebounds and 4-for-4 from downtown, including this big time pick and pop overtime triple! pic.twitter.com/IAT97YrMkI
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 13, 2019
Everyone knows just how great Tennessee has looked this season, but I feel like the Tigers are very underappreciated. They have great overall team athleticism and talent with Reid and Tremont Waters leading the way. I think they will have a great shot at beating Ole Miss on Tuesday night in what should be one of the conference’s best games so far this year.
5. A Miracle Answered for the Aggies
Sometimes in college basketball you just get plain lucky, and that is exactly what happened to Texas A&M in their matchup with Alabama on Saturday.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 12, 2019
TJ Starks’ shot was incredibly contested and off-balanced, but yet it still managed to bank off the glass just right to give the Aggies their first SEC win of the season. Even more important is that the shot also got Texas A&M back to .500 on the season as they now sit at 7-7 overall.
Despite this being a rebuilding season for the Aggies they still play with a ton of heart. They managed to give Kentucky all they could handle in the first half and defeating a decent Alabama team on the road is no small task.
I still don’t see Texas A&M being all that successful in what is a rebuilding year for them, but if they keep playing with the heart that Starks (14.4 ppg) is playing with then the Aggies might just pull off a few more upsets.