1. Florida (19-2, 8-0)
2. Kentucky (16-5, 6-2)
3. Ole Miss (15-6, 6-2)
4. LSU (14-6, 5-3)
5. Tennessee (14-7, 5-3)
6. Missouri (16-5, 4-4)
7. Vanderbilt (12-8, 4-4)
8. Georgia (10-10, 4-4)
9. Mississippi State (13-8, 3-5)
10. Texas A&M (12-9, 3-5)
11. Alabama (9-12, 3-5)
12. Arkansas (13-8, 2-6)
13. Auburn (10-9, 2-6)
14. South Carolina (8-13, 1-7)
The usual suspect sits atop the conference standings after four weeks of league play, but the list of suitable challengers to unblemished Florida continues to grow, particularly after two middle-rung teams reeled off a pair of wins this past week to climb several spots up the ladder.
That duo, LSU and Tennessee, also finds itself smack-dab in the middle of NCAA Tournament talk as a result of strong recent showings.
Johnny Jones’ Tigers scored the biggest win of the week in the SEC by dispatching of No. 11 Kentucky 87-82 Tuesday night in Baton Rouge. The game, almost postponed due to rare icy conditions in south Louisiana, was all-LSU from the start. Forward Johnny O’Bryant poured in 29 points and nine rebounds, and the Bayou Bengals never trailed. LSU finished its week with an 88-74 victory Saturday over struggling Arkansas.
Cuonzo Martin’s Volunteers held off SEC three-seed Ole Miss in Knoxville Wednesday night, prevailing 86-70 on the strength of 26 points from senior Jordan McRae. UT wrapped up a two-for-two week with a 76-59 win over Alabama in hostile Coleman Coliseum, where the Tide had only previously lost to Florida in conference play.
Outside of these emerging threats, the biggest storyline in the SEC is streaking teams.
On the positive side of the ledger, Auburn and Vanderbilt joined Florida, LSU and Tennessee as the only teams to win both of their games. The War Eagles, which started 0-6 in league play, rattled off consecutive home wins over Alabama and Georgia. Kevin Stallings’ Commodores triumphed in Athens and then again at home versus Mississippi State. Vandy, winners of three in a row, made the jump from 12th to seventh in league standings in one week.
Heading in the wrong direction are four squads that went 0-fer last week: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Texas A&M. Billy Kennedy’s Aggies are in the midst of a dangerous freefall, having lost five straight after a 3-0 start to the SEC season. What’s worse – A&M scored a combined 88 points in its last two games, including only 36 at No. 3 Florida on Saturday. Georgia has now lost three consecutive contests dating back to last week while Alabama’s two defeats dropped the Tide from fifth to 11th in the league standings. Arkansas, losers of four of its last five games, is now out of any serious postseason discussions.
Not to be forgotten, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks ridded the conference of any winless teams when it steamrolled Texas A&M 80-52 in Columbia Wednesday night.
(ALMOST) MIDWAY AWARDS
Eight games into the conference slate, the SEC is almost at the midway point of its grueling 18-game schedule. It’s time to take the pulse of the league, doling out honors on the hardwood to the All-SEC Team (picking the top eight players, regardless of position), Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and listing Tourney-Bound Teams as things stand at the beginning of February.
With 10 more games until the conference tournament in Atlanta Mar. 12-16, it’s all subject to change. But for now, here’s one man’s selections for the current best of the best. It should also be noted that any statistics are season-long averages, not just numbers in SEC play.
Jabari Brown (Missouri) – 20.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 47.7% 3s
Jordan Clarkson (Missouri) – 18.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.4 apg
Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss) – 19.2 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.7 spg
Jordan McRae (Tennessee) – 19.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg
Johnny O’Bryant III (LSU) – 15.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 53.2% FGs
Julius Randle (Kentucky) – 16.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 52.9% FGs
Trevor Releford (Alabama) – 18.3 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.1 spg
Jarvis Summers (Ole Miss) – 17.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, 54.7% 3s
Player of the Year: Jordan Clarkson (Missouri)
Also Receiving Votes: Jordan Mickey (LSU), Rob Odom (Vanderbilt), Casey Prather (Florida), Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee), James Young (Kentucky)
- I know, I know. How can Florida be the unquestioned alpha dog of the SEC and not have an all-conference player? It seems like a travesty, but it also speaks to the way the Gators play collectively. Those thinking back to last season will remember Florida barely got a guy on the season-ending All-SEC team, with only Erik Murphy denting the coaches’ eight-man team. It’s the same drill this year. Prather is close to worthy, but it’s hard for me to justify his selection over any of the eight who did make my team.
Summers has been a big key to Ole Miss' early success
It should come as no surprise that six of the eight players tabbed play on the perimeter. That’s the way the league is skewed this season. Two guards/wings apiece from Missouri and Ole Miss reflect just how much those teams ask Brown and Clarkson as well as Henderson and Summers, respectively, to do. All four have been very well-rounded contributors to date. So too has Releford, who has excelled despite playing on a sub-.500 Alabama team. Releford, along with McRae and O’Bryant, are no strangers to lists like this one, as all three were First-Team All-SEC players a season ago. Randle, far and away the league’s best freshman, rounds out the top eight.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt)
Also Receiving Votes: Billy Donovan (Florida), Andy Kennedy (Ole Miss)
- It was Kennedy before this past week, but Vanderbilt won two more games, making what Stallings is doing in Nashville impossible to ignore. The ‘Dores have a couple of nice pieces, including veteran Rob Odom and freshman post player Damian Jones, but they have no business competing on a night-in, night-out basis with the present make-up of their roster. After Stallings lost forward Josh Henderson to a knee injury in early December and kicked leading scorer Eric McClellan off the team in early January (violation of academic policy), Vanderbilt has been down to seven scholarship players. Hasn’t mattered. Vandy is now 4-4 in the league and has won its last three contests, two of which have come on the road. Stallings continues to squeeze more from what he’s got than any other sideline boss in the SEC.
In Right Now: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU
Still in the Mix: Missouri, Ole Miss
- The league’s top two teams are in without question, and both Florida and Kentucky are probably five-seeds or better with UF in-line for a one-seed if the season ended today. The picture gets a little murkier after that. Tennessee’s recent two-game run has the Vols more likely in than out while LSU is the definition of a bubble team. Riding the wave of a win over Big Blue, I’ll say LSU is in. Barely.
Surprisingly it’s Missouri that falls next in line, despite the fact Ole Miss is three spots higher in the standings and two games better in SEC action. The tournament committee will appreciate Mizzou’s non-conference schedule, and wins, more than that of the Rebels. By regular season’s end, I expect the SEC will have three “lock” teams into the Big Dance with two teams fighting for a possible fourth spot. Whether or not the league ends up getting four will depend a lot on what happens in the mid-major conferences.
WHAT'S COMING NEXT WEEK
The long-awaited debut of five-star Florida freshman Chris Walker, that’s what. Walker, 6-foot-10, was finally granted his pardon by the NCAA last week. He will make his debut at home versus Missouri on Tuesday night after missing the first 21 games of the 2013-14 season while his amateur status was dissected every which way. It will be interesting to monitor how quickly Donovan brings him along and ultimately just how much of a difference-maker Walker can be in year one.
Alabama: at Arkansas (Wed), at Florida (Sat)
Arkansas: vs. Alabama (Wed), at Vanderbilt (Sat)
Auburn: at South Carolina (Wed), at LSU (Sat)
Florida: vs. Missouri (Tues), vs. Alabama (Sat)
Georgia: vs. LSU (Thurs), vs. Texas A&M
Kentucky: vs. Ole Miss (Tues), at Mississippi State (Sat)
LSU: at Georgia (Thurs), vs. Auburn (Sat)
Mississippi State: at Texas A&M (Wed), vs. Kentucky (Sat)
Missouri: at Florida (Tues), at Ole Miss (Sat)
Ole Miss: at Kentucky (Tues), vs. Missouri (Sat)
South Carolina: vs. Auburn (Wed), at Tennessee (Sat)
Tennessee: at Vanderbilt (Wed), vs. South Carolina (Sat)
Texas A&M: vs. Mississippi State (Wed), at Georgia (Sat)
Vanderbilt: vs. Tennessee (Wed), vs. Arkansas (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.