Donovan's Gators have a tricky two-game stretch
Past the midway point in league play, things are starting to heat up in the Southeastern Conference. So too is the schedule for No. 3 Florida, which will make trips to Knoxville and Lexington this week. Scout.com's Ben Love has all the latest on SEC basketball, including projections of who's in the NCAA Tournament, inside.
1. Florida (21-2, 10-0)
2. Kentucky (18-5, 8-2)
3. Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3)
4. Georgia (12-10, 6-4)
5. LSU (15-7, 6-4)
6. Tennessee (15-8, 6-4)
7. Vanderbilt (13-9, 5-5)
8. Arkansas (15-8, 4-6)
9. Missouri (16-7, 4-6)
10. Texas A&M (13-10, 4-6)
11. Alabama (9-14, 3-7)
12. Auburn (11-10, 3-7)
13. Mississippi State (13-10, 3-7)
14. South Carolina (8-15, 1-9)
Four SEC teams won both of their games in week five of conference play – Florida, Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas. While that may come as no shock for the two lead dogs, it was a bit of a surprise for the Dawgs and Hogs to run the table.
Georgia had the good fortune of two straight games in Stegeman Coliseum, and the Bulldogs took advantage of the home cooking, getting past LSU and Texas A&M. Arkansas pulled off a rare feat in the Mike Anderson era to submit its perfect week – winning on the road. The Razorbacks survived Vanderbilt in Nashville Saturday, 77-75, scoring the program’s first road victory against a conference opponent other than Auburn in two-and-a-half seasons.
On the other end of the spectrum were a quartet of SEC teams that lost both of their weekly games – Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina. The name that doesn’t belong with the others there is Mizzou.
Frank Haith’s Tigers are headed in the wrong direction, now losers of three in a row after falling in a pair of road contests last week, at Florida and at Ole Miss. The good news for Missouri’s fading NCAA Tournament hopes is the schedule does get a touch easier, or at least more familiar, with the team’s next three games all scheduled at home in Columbia.
In the middle is a trio of squads that split this week – Tennessee, LSU and Vanderbilt, currently locked into the league’s fifth through seventh spots, respectively. The Vols hold a tie-breaker over the Tigers while LSU and Vanderbilt play each other in Nashville on March 6. It will be interesting to see if the next few weeks provide any separation between these teams before more head-to-head matchups come down the pipe.
BIGGEST WIN OF THE WEEK
Ole Miss over Missouri, 91-88 // Both the Rebels and Tigers had tough schedules a week ago, with Ole Miss losing at Kentucky and Mizzou at Florida in the midweek before their weekend showdown in Oxford. With postseason positioning on the line, the teams played up to the high stakes, turning out a high-scoring, highly competitive ballgame. The Rebs survived late, getting to the finish line behind 29 points and eight made threes from Marshall Henderson. Following the game Henderson and coach Andy Kennedy made no secret of the fact it was a game Ole Miss “absolutely had to have.” As a result of the victory, third-place Ole Miss bolstered its tourney resume while Missouri is left with more questions than answers on that front.
In Right Now: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes and Tennessee are a handful inside
Still in the Mix: Ole Miss, LSU, Missouri
- A week ago I had LSU “in,” but the Tigers in my estimation are on the outside looking in at this juncture, having lost handily at low-RPI Georgia in the midweek. Johnny Jones’ troops will have the opportunity to bounce back this week, but they’ll have to do so on the road – first at Texas A&M and then at Arkansas, which will have Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris available (unlike the first time the two teams met in Baton Rouge).
Tennessee should be firmly in at this point, but the Vols can really make waves and virtually ensure a bid in March with a win over Florida in Knoxville Tuesday night. After the three teams in, I believe Ole Miss and LSU are next in line while Mizzou’s chances are almost on life support with the three consecutive losses. One final team that’s borderline worth watching here: Arkansas. At 2-6 in SEC play at the beginning of last week, the Razorbacks appeared dead and buried. But, following two straight wins, the Hogs are now 4-6. If they can get by Missouri and LSU this week to reach 6-6, more attention will be due to the surging ‘Backs.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT WEEK
It’s a big week for No. 3 Florida, which means it’s a huge week for the conference in general. The Gators will face their stiffest two-game stretch of the conference calendar with trips to Tennessee (on Tuesday) and No. 14 Kentucky (on Saturday). UF annihilated the Volunteers in Gainesville, 67-41, on Jan. 25, but UT is a much stronger home team, sporting an 11-2 record this season in Thompson-Boling Arena. And those ‘Cats, they’re only 14-0 in Rupp Arena this campaign. So, add it all up, and Billy Donovan’s group will have earned it if the Gators are still undefeated come Sunday morning.
The ripple effect of Florida’s week throughout the league will be intriguing as well. Should the Gators fall twice, the conference’s credibility on a nationwide scale will take a hit. As contrary as it may sound, any non-UK/UF team in the SEC needs those two to be as dominant as possible. The fact that Florida is on track for a No. 1 seed come March bodes well for the league’s chances of getting in a third, and possibly fourth, team to the Big Dance. All of that changes should Florida suddenly seem mortal. With two wins, however, or probably even a split, the rowdy reptiles continue to reign supreme and the SEC benefits because of it.
Alabama: vs. Ole Miss (Tues), at South Carolina (Sat)
Arkansas: at Missouri (Thurs), vs. LSU (Sat)
Auburn: vs. Kentucky (Wed), vs. Mississippi State (Sat)
Florida: at Tennessee (Tues), at Kentucky (Sat)
Georgia: at Mississippi State (Wed), vs. Ole Miss (Sat)
Kentucky: at Auburn (Wed), vs. Florida (Sat)
LSU: at Texas A&M (Wed), at Arkansas (Sat)
Mississippi State: vs. Georgia (Wed), at Auburn (Sat)
Missouri: vs. Arkansas (Thurs), vs. Tennessee (Sat)
Ole Miss: at Alabama (Tues), at Georgia (Sat)
South Carolina: vs. Vanderbilt (Wed), vs. Alabama (Sat)
Tennessee: vs. Florida (Tues), at Missouri (Sat)
Texas A&M: vs. LSU (Wed), at Vanderbilt (Sat)
Vanderbilt: at South Carolina (Wed), vs. Texas A&M (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.