We’re three games in to this season’s SEC slate and already we are without an unbeaten. Four teams from both the East and West divisions sit atop the standings with 2-1 records, while Ole Miss and lowly Auburn are 0-3 in the West.
Because of how bad the West is this year (and was last year), the SEC is an easy target among critics. With 32 total non-conferences losses and just 53 wins, the West has really struggled. However, the East has done everything in its power to pick up the slack.
Even though the East lacks a top five power team (though UK could get there), the balance in the division is really quite amazing. With Devan Downey departing, South Carolina was supposed to be the team that brought up the rear this season, but a 2-1 start including a win over Vanderbilt shows that they will be competitive all year.
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While the East has its share of offensive firepower, the division gets it done with defense. Each of the six squads rank in the top 65 in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. These teams are going to beat each other up all year, so how many will make it to the NCAA Tournament after playing 10 games against strong opponents.
Kentucky and Vanderbilt are looking pretty good, while Georgia and Florida would be in if the season ended today. South Carolina and Tennessee have work ahead of them, but if the Vols can regain their early season form, they have a couple resume wins that could put them over the top.
Anyway, let’s get to the past week’s games:
Notable Scores from the Week That Was
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Florida 81 Tennessee 75 (Tuesday)
This was a very nice road win for Florida and another painful loss for the Vols that sent them to 0-2. It was close the whole way, with Florida leading by one at the half before it went to overtime. Five Gators scored in double figures, led by Alex Tyus’ 18. Florida’s shooting made the difference, as they hit over 50% from field and 8-16 from three point range.
Vanderbilt 73 Georgia 66
Vandy was looking to regroup after a tough road loss in Columbia and they did so by controlling the action pretty much all night against UGA. The held a 6-12 point lead most of the evening and were steadied by the performance of the SEC’s most improved player (along with Josh Harrellson), Festus Ezeli, who had 18 points 10 rebounds. UGA showed their inside strength against Vandy, outrebounding the ‘Dores 40-34 (Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both had 13). Unfortunately for the ‘Dogs, they couldn’t hit a shot against Vandy’s 2-3 zone. They hit on under 35% of their attempts from the field.
Tennessee 67 Vanderbilt 64
This was a bad loss for Vandy. I know it was on the road, but when you get a 17 point lead on a team playing without its head coach, you have to step on their throats. Vandy didn’t.
Last season, under the guidance of senior point guard Jermaine Beal, Vandy decidedly swept Tennessee in the team’s two games. Beal was tremendous in running his team, scoring when he needed to, and taking care of the ball. New point guard Brad Tinsley has been good at times this season, but he really struggles against ball pressure. He committed only two of his teams 21 turnovers Saturday, but if you watched the game, you know he had a role in the other 19.
Vandy simply does not have a go-to ball handler, and when you face a team that, in spite of its struggles, can really get after you in the half court, you’re going to struggle. Vandy is still among the top teams in the SEC, but they way they played on Saturday coupled with their consistent inability to finish close games worries me greatly. They have four losses, two coming in OT and two coming by three points, while they have only one close win this year.
Kentucky 78 Auburn 54 (Tuesday)
LSU 56 Arkansas 53 (Wednesday)
Alabama 57 South Carolina 47 (Wednesday)
Mississippi State 69 Ole Miss 64 (Thursday)
Arkansas 70 Alabama 65 (Saturday)
South Carolina 72 Florida 69 (Saturday)
Kentucky 82 LSU 44 (Saturday)
Georgia 98 Ole Miss 76 (Saturday)
Mississippi State 85 Auburn 66 (Sunday)
Games of the Week That Will Be
Tennessee @ Georgia – 7 PM Tuesday, ESPNU
Georgia and Tennessee both got nice wins over the weekend and will be jockeying for position in the tough East. Georgia does struggle at times to take of the ball, so you can be sure that the Vols will attack defensively, much like they did against Vandy. However, will Tony Jones be able to capably fill in for Bruce Pearl in front of Georgia crowd energized by the school’s best team in years? I look for this to be a highly competitive game.
#22 St. Mary’s (CA) @ Vanderbilt – 2 PM Saturday, CBS
How about this one for a random mid-January game? Even still, this is a great opportunity for both of these teams. Vandy could really use another strong non-conference W to strengthen its position come March, while St. Mary’s would be getting a much needed quality win. St. Mary’s lost the face of their team from last year, Omar Samhan, but they are 16-2 on the season and playing some superb basketball. This is the kind of game you usually see on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, so enjoy it a couple months early.
Tennessee @ #8 UConn – 2 PM Saturday, CBS
This is another later than usual non-conference affair, but this one has the added intrigue of Bruce Pearl getting to coach it in the middle of his eight game SEC suspension. Tennessee has shown the ability to pull off some big upsets with their backs against the wall, so this one will be very interesting. Pearl will be about as motivated as I can imagine Saturday and will surely have a plan for slowing down Kemba Walker.
Kentucky @ Alabama – 9 PM Tuesday, ESPN
Arkansas @ South Carolina – 8 PM Wednesday, SEC Network
Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt – 9 PM Wednesday, CSS
Florida @ Auburn – 7 PM Thursday, ESPN2
Ole Miss @ LSU – 1:30 PM Saturday, SEC Network
Mississippi State @ Georgia – 4 PM Saturday, SEC Network
Kentucky @ South Carolina – 6 PM Saturday, ESPN
Alabama @ Auburn – 6 PM Saturday, CSS
Arkansas @ Florida 8 PM Saturday, FSN
1. Kentucky 14-3 (2-1) – They’ve had road troubles and four of next five are away from home
2. Georgia 13-3 (2-1) – Road loss @ Vandy is to be expected
3. Florida 13-4 (2-1) – Bad home loss vs. USC cost them a higher spot
4. Vanderbilt 12-4 (1-2) – 9-0 in Memorial, 3-4 elsewhere. Two home games this week helps.
5. Tennessee 11-6 (1-2) – Are they back on track after beating Vandy?
6. South Carolina 11-5 (2-1) – Wins over Florida and Vandy already
7. Arkansas 12-4 (2-1) – Loss @ LSU is puzzling
8. Mississippi State 10-7 (2-1) – They have the talent to be the best in the West
9. Alabama 10-7 (2-1) – They’re terrible offensively, but on defense they’re elite (#10 nationally according to KenPom)
10. LSU 10-8 (2-1) – One of the worst offensive teams in the country
11. Ole Miss 12-6 (0-3) – Underperformance in SEC play thus far may put Andy Kennedy in jeopardy
12. Auburn 7-10 (0-3) – They’re mired in their third three game losing streak already this season