Monday, January 23, 2012

Midseason Report: SEC

Expected to make a name as a basketball conference this year, the SEC is loaded with top teams. Always known as a football conference, there has been a lot of competitive play. Florida and Kentucky are almost always good. But who else is crashing the part this season? Let’s take a look.

Kentucky Wildcats: With only one blemish on their record, a buzzer beater loss on the road to Indiana, the young Wildcats are having a fantastic year. Wins over Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, and, most recently, Alabama have put together a very nice resume and they are on their way to possibly the top overall. The Wildcats have a lot of balance, as no one stands out too much from the rest. Doron Lamb leads the team in scoring with 14 points per game. Anthony Davis averages 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and an unheard of 4.7 blocks. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has really stepped up, being a clutch player who can take over games, and Terrence Jones is being his usual solid self although his production has dipped. Also, Maquis Teague is the floor general and averages 10.5 points and 4.3 assists. Come tournament time, one of these players are going to have to step up and make plays, and my guess is that it will be Kidd-Glichrist. As a young team last year, Kentucky made it to a final four, and with an even younger team this year, it will be interesting to see how far they go.

Vanderbilt Commodores: After some early season miscues, Vanderbilt seems to have gotten back on track. A win against Mississippi St. would have been great, but a one-point loss in overtime is not a backbreaker. With road wins against Marquette and Alabama, the Commodores have been given more national attention. John Jenkins, arguably the best shooter in the country, is averaging 19.8 points and shooting .453 from behind the arc. Jeffery Taylor, the athletic big man, has garnered 17.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Lance Goulbourne has really stepped up on the glass, grabbed 7.4 boards, and although he has started slow, Festus Ezeli is beginning to put it together. This team has the look of one that could make a deep tournament run. The only problem is, they’ve been ousted in the first round time after time. Vanderbilt will need to prove doubters wrong that they can win a game in March Madness, and this may be the squad to do so.

Florida Gators: The Gators have had a great season so far thanks to their especially talented backcourt. Although Erving Walker has been a bit quiet, he still averages 4.9 assists and Kenny Boynton has made up for that by scoring at 18.3 a clip. The real x-factor, however, is freshman Bradley Beal, who is averaging 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, eye-opening numbers for a 6’ 3” guard. Transfer Mike Rosario has also been solid and Patric Young and Erik Murphy form a nice frontcourt. Florida is incredibly deep and has only had a couple of slip ups-this season. They haven’t had a quality win yet, but they certainly have the firepower to compete with the best, and that includes Kentucky. It will be a treat both times the two play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they split the games. Although they lost some key players from last year’s Elite Eight run, they have the kind of team who can duplicate it, and maybe get even farther.

Mississippi St. Bulldogs: A lot of people thought Mississippi St. would be having this kind of success last season, but it doesn’t matter now that they are playing so well. While they did lose a couple of games they should have won (Akron, Arkansas, Ole Miss), they have proven their worth by taking out some quality teams (Arizona, Alabama, Vanderbilt). Renardo Sidney hasn’t been as dominant as many expected, but he’s still doing a good enough job to contribute positively to the Bulldogs’ team, a complete turnaround from last year’s disaster. Transfer Arnett Moultrie has been a nice surprise as a transfer from UTEP, and he and Dee Bost lead the team in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Moultrie is also gobbling up boards, grabbing 11.2 per game. The Bulldogs are very balanced, which is always a key to having a successful team. Mississippi St. will be tested when they travel to Gainesville to face Florida, and then when they play them again later on in the season, but there’s no reason to think that they can’t be one of the better teams in the SEC.

Ole Miss Rebels: Mississippi was playing some pretty good basketball, starting off the season 9-1, but since then have dropped five of nine. Their recent win over Mississippi St. is nice, but losses to Auburn and LSU are brutal hits to their resume. The Rebels have gotten help from several places, as Dundrecous Nelson, Terrance Henry, Jarvis Summers, and Murphy Holloway are all scoring in double figures. However, their real strength is rebounding; they’re 15th in the nation in that category and are led by Holloway (9.6 per game) and Reginald Buckner (8.8) per game. Their ability to control the glass gives them a shot in nearly every game, but their recent slump tells us that something is missing on this team.

Arkansas Razorbacks: Arkansas has had a surprisingly good season, with two of their four losses coming to Connecticut and Kentucky. They also hold wins over Michigan and Mississippi St. The player who should have been the main reason for their success, junior Marshawn Powell, tore a ligament in his knee earlier on in the year and has played in only two games. He averaged 19.5 points and 6 rebounds a game. The College Court picked Powell as the player to watch on Arkansas, but the team has carried on without him. B. J. Young has stepped up his scoring, and the team has many players who contribute. With the way the Razorbacks have played without Powell, they show no signs of slowing down and are aiming for a tournament berth.

Alabama Crimson Tide: The Tide have hit a rough patch as they have lost three straight, although to three good teams (Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, Kentucky). JaMychal Green may not be having the type of season that everyone has expected him to have, but 14.2 points and 7 rebounds per game is still solid. Tony Mitchell has also dropped off a bit, but still averages 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds. You would think with those two guys, Alabama would be a nightmare on the boards, but it turns out that they’re 124th in the nation in rebounding. That is because they don’t get much help on the glass elsewhere. Although it may be underachieving, Alabama has a very talented team and an up and coming coach in Anthony Grant who can get them where they hope to be. The schedule is pretty favorable for the rest of the season, but the Crimson Tide must prove that they belong in the postseason.

LSU Tigers: Transfer Justin Hamilton has been a nice surprise, averaging 14.1 points and 7.5 rebounds and leading the Tigers in both categories. Andre Stringer has performed well too, but Ralston Turner, a player who was expected to have a big impact on this team, has disappointed. The Tigers have done a nice job at rebounding, as they have been good for 39th in the country. Their most notable win was over Marquette, and they really only have one bad loss, so there is still some hope for the season. However, they have yet to prove that they are ready to compete in the SEC, so it looks like it will be at least another year before the LSU Tigers return to relevance.

Auburn Tigers: It’s been a bit of a rough road for the Tigers, but they have certainly improved from last season. Kenny Gabriel has done a stellar job for Auburn, averaging 11.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. He’s received help from a decent starting squad that has Frankie Sullivan, Chris Denson, Rob Chubb, and Varez Ward. Auburn has begun its climb out of the SEC basement, and is hoping for good things to come in the near future. A strong finish to the season will go a long way to how this squad develops next year.

Tennessee Volunteers: The Vols are an interesting team. Despite the fact that they are under .500, they have wins over Florida and Connecticut, and have played Mississippi St. and Kentucky extremely close. The best thing to take from this is that although they may not be going too far this season, Tennessee is on the right track and is an extremely dangerous team. Trae Golden leads the team with 13.6 points and 5.2 assists, while Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon have built an outstanding frontcourt, averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds and 11.4 points and 7.7 rebounds respectively. The Volunteers will be competitive this season, which is a breath of fresh air after last year’s debacle. They may not have a great overall record, but expect a strong finish and maybe another upset or two.

Georgia Bulldogs: The losses of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie have clearly hurt the team, but freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been a star. Picked by the College Court as Georgia’s player to watch, Caldwell-Pope is averaging 14.7 points and 5.1 rebounds as a rookie. However, as a team, the Bulldogs have not been good. Notre Dame and Tennessee have been their most impressive wins, and they appear to be a bit too young to be that successful. When facing the cream of the SEC crop, they’ve gotten their doors blown off. Caldwell-Pope gives the team a lot of hope for the future, but their time is not now.

South Carolina Gamecocks: The season has been one to forget for the Gamecocks. With losses to Elon, Tennessee St., and Auburn, they have not produced an impressive resume. Also, they have yet to pick up a quality win. Malik Cooke has done a decent job as the lead man, averaging 12.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game, but there’s not much to like otherwise. With games against Florida and Kentucky coming up, things will only get worse for South Carolina. A finish at the bottom of the conference is imminent.

Here is the College Court’s prediction for the final SEC standings:

  1. Kentucky Wildcats
  2. Florida Gators
  3. Vanderbilt Commodores
  4. Mississippi St. Bulldogs
  5. Alabama Crimson Tide
  6. Arkansas Razorbacks
  7. Ole Miss Rebels
  8. Tennessee Volunteers
  9. LSU Tigers
  10. Georgia Bulldogs
  11. Auburn Tigers
  12. South Carolina Gamecocks

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