1. Florida (13-2, 2-0)
2. Kentucky (12-3, 2-0)
3. Texas A&M (11-4, 2-0)
4. Georgia (8-6, 2-0)
5. Missouri (13-2, 1-1)
6. Mississippi State (11-4, 1-1)
7. LSU (10-4, 1-1)
8. Ole Miss (10-5, 1-1)
9. Tennessee (10-5, 1-1)
10. Alabama (7-8, 1-1)
11. Arkansas (11-4, 0-2)
12. Auburn (8-5, 0-2)
13. Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2)
14. South Carolina (7-8, 0-2)
The opening week of league play in the Southeastern Conference brought several upsets and surprises, a pair of wins for the two unquestioned lead dogs and one very emotional night in Columbia, MO, for Georgia head coach Mark Fox.
Starting with the surprises, both Georgia and Texas A&M escaped week one unscathed. The Bulldogs shocked the college basketball world on Wednesday night with a 70-64 overtime win on the road against No. 21 Missouri. What made more news than the upset, improbable in its own right given Georgia was 6-6 coming in, was Fox having a private moment made public toward the end of the extra period.
Fox, who only 24 hours prior had attended the memorial service for his father, a former longtime basketball coach, could only hold his head in his hands and weep. The Bulldog players, namely sophomore Charles Mann, made sure Fox was a winner that night … and three days later in Athens versus Alabama. For the week Mann averaged 20 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while getting to the line 27 times in two games.
The Aggies’ path to 2-0 in SEC action didn’t carry quite the same level of emotion, but it was a welcome sight nonetheless for Billy Kennedy’s bunch, which before conference play dropped games to the likes of Missouri State, SMU and North Texas (by 20 in College Station). Texas A&M began the week by holding serve at home versus Arkansas, which is now 2-16 in SEC road games under Mike Anderson (with both wins at Auburn).
Billy Kennedy has A&M off to a 2-0 start in the SEC
The bigger accomplishment, however, came Saturday, on the road in Knoxville, where A&M eked past the same Tennessee team (57-56) that had just plastered LSU in Baton Rouge by 18 points. Kennedy’s crew, now 11-4 overall, was paced versus the Vols by junior transfer guard Jamal Jones, whose 23 points, on 5-of-10 shooting from deep, were way above his 10.9 points-per-game average. The Aggies have a legitimate shot at ending the coming week 4-0, with a home date against South Carolina and a trip to Starkville on the docket.
Florida and Kentucky, the SEC’s two teams ranked in the top 15 nationwide, remain at the top of the table heading into the second week of conference play. The short-handed Gators survived a wild overtime affair in Fayetteville this weekend, snapping a lengthy home winning streak for the Hogs. Big Blue, on the other hand, coasted by comparison.
Kentucky, the nation’s fifth-leading team on the glass, made quick work of Mississippi State in Lexington and then cruised at depleted Vanderbilt. The story of the week on Calipari’s outfit is the dip in play by sensational freshman Julius Randle. He was still a rebounding machine, averaging 12.5 boards in UK’s two contests, but Randle averaged only 7.5 points, far below his lofty season average of 16.7 points. The Cats got a huge boost in the State game from freshman guard James Young, who went for 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Against the ‘Dores, big man Willie Cauley-Stein poured in 15 while frosh Aaron Harrison had 14, helping to backfill for Randle’s usual production.
Six SEC teams stand at one up, one down after this week while another four are winless after two conference tilts. Perhaps the biggest loser of the week was Arkansas, which showed a lot of promise in non-conference action by starting 11-2 and scoring wins over Clemson and Minnesota. The Razorbacks fell flat in a road loss at Texas A&M and couldn’t capitalize against undermanned Florida over the weekend. A home game versus ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night looms large for the Hogs, who will almost certainly start the SEC season 0-4 if they can’t tame the Wildcats.
BIGGEST WIN OF THE WEEK
No. 10 Florida over Arkansas, 84-82, in OT // The Gators, playing without leading scorer Casey Prather (bone bruise, right knee) and with several other players in and out of practice all week, did the nearly impossible: win at Bud Walton Arena. Florida overcame the injuries and a late deficit – courtesy of a game-tying jumper with two seconds left in regulation by Scottie Wilbekin, who also scored nine of the Gators’ 18 points in the extra period – to win and bring an end to Arkansas’ 23-game home winning streak. The stat line of the game belonged to sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith, who scored 22 points and dragged down 15 rebounds, nine offensive, starting in place of Prather. As very-early conference games go, this was a big one for a short-handed Florida team that figures to carry the flag for the SEC all season.
HEAD-SCRATCHER OF THE WEEK
Georgia over No. 21 Missouri, 70-64, in OT // Like the game above, this one went into extra time, and, like the game above, an absurdly long home winning streak came crashing down. The Tigers’ 26-game run in the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena came to an end as Georgia snuck into overtime and then put the pedal to the metal, scoring an emotional win for grieving Dawgs’ coach Mark Fox. Charles Mann led the way for UGA in the improbable upset, netting a team-high 18 points.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT WEEK
The return of Marshall Henderson, of course. Oxford’s “Native Flash” had to sit out the first two games of conference play for Ole Miss, serving a school-imposed suspension handed down in the offseason. Henderson, averaging 18.8 points per game this season after putting up 20.1 points a game a season ago, has the greenest of all lights in the league. Amazingly he’s hoisting 11.5 threes per game in 2013-14, making a respectable 4.4 threes (38.4%). But it all comes into perspective when you consider he’s only attempting 14.6 shots overall. And, given he’s making only 36.0% of his field goals, Henderson is shooting better from three than from two. Only that guy. He’ll have a nice spotlight game to return in Wednesday night, at home versus LSU, with both teams looking to get to 2-1 in SEC play.
Alabama: vs. Mississippi State (Wed), at Missouri (Sat)
Arkansas: vs. Kentucky (Tues), at Georgia (Sat)
Auburn: at Tennessee (Wed), vs. Florida (Sat)
Florida: vs. Georgia (Tues), at Auburn (Sat)
Georgia: at Florida (Tues), vs. Arkansas (Sat)
Kentucky: at Arkansas (Tues), vs. Tennessee (Sat)
LSU: at Ole Miss (Wed), vs. Vanderbilt (Sat)
Mississippi State: at Alabama (Wed), vs. Texas A&M (Sat)
Missouri: at Vanderbilt (Thurs), vs. Alabama (Sat)
Ole Miss: vs. LSU (Wed), at South Carolina (Sat)
South Carolina: at Texas A&M (Wed), vs. Ole Miss (Sat)
Tennessee: vs. Auburn (Wed), at Kentucky (Sat)
Texas A&M: vs. South Carolina (Wed), at Mississippi State (Sat)
Vanderbilt: vs. Missouri (Thurs), at LSU (Sat)
Ben Love is the publisher of Scout.com’s LSU site, TigerSportsDigest.com. CLICK HERE to try a free seven-day trial at TSD, and CLICK HERE to visit the site’s premium message board.