All about the SEC: Mild ‘Cats?
More than halfway into the 2010-11 season, and Kentucky’s star freshmen are still being compared to their predecessors. Lately, though, the talk is less about Doron Lamb, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones’ talent.
And more about their toughness.
Mental toughness, that is. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe had it. This crop of youngsters doesn’t. Or at least it hasn’t shown it yet.
“That will to win we had a year ago, we don’t have [it] now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “All that is is toughness. A year ago we didn’t win every game, but when it came down to it, we made the plays we were supposed to make and came up with the balls we were supposed to come up with.
“We’re not doing that now.”
That was especially the case in Tuesday’s 68-66 loss at Alabama, where a boisterous, raucous crowd clearly rattled the nerves of Kentucky’s young players. The No. 12 Wildcats trailed by as many as 20 points five minutes into the second half before an impressive rally cut the Crimson Tide’s advantage to one in the waning minutes.
Kentucky, though, never could take the lead and eventually ran out of time. In some ways players said the loss mirrored a setback at Georgia a few weeks earlier. Kentucky was ahead in the second half but wilted in the final 10 minutes of a loss that dropped them to 14-4 overall and 2-2 in the SEC.
“We didn’t come out with the intensity we needed and they came out fighting,” Knight said of the Crimson Tide. “They wanted it more than we did. You can see the pattern. They were coming up with the big plays, the loose balls and the and-ones. That’s all intensity.”
And the Wildcats didn’t have it.
Things got so bad near the end of the contest that television cameras caught Calipari lighting into Jones, his most productive freshman, near the sideline. Calipari later apologized for the profanity-laced outburst, but you can bet it wasn’t the first time he cursed out a player.
And if the Wildcats don’t ratchet up their intensity, it won’t be the last.
(Last week’s rank in parenthesis.)
1. Kentucky (14-4, 2-2) – Despite their recent struggles, the Wildcats are still the SEC’s top team. (1)
2. Florida (14-4, 3-1) – Chandler Parsons is averaging 15 points over his last four games. His season average is 10.2 (2)
3. Tennessee (12-6, 2-2) – The Vols’ lack of consistency is maddening. (5)
4. Vanderbilt (13-4, 2-2) – Festus Ezeli averages 2.4 blocks. (3)
5. Georgia (13-4, 2-2) – The Bulldogs have lost two of their last three games. (4)
6. Alabama (11-7, 3-1) – JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell combined for 33 points in Wednesday’s upset of Kentucky. (7)
7. South Carolina (12-5, 3-1) – Two of the Gamecocks’ three SEC wins came in overtime. (9)
8. Mississippi State (10-7, 2-1) – Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney and Ravern Johnson form quite a trio. (6)
9. Arkansas (12-5, 2-2) – The Razorbacks’ two conference losses have come by a combined 10 points. (11)
10. LSU (10-8, 2-1) – The Tigers have had a week to recover from a 38-point loss at Kentucky. (10)
11. Ole Miss (12-7, 0-4) – The Rebels can’t afford a loss at LSU on Saturday. (8)
12. Auburn (7-11, 0-4) – The Tigers are improving – even if it isn’t showing up in the win column. (12)
Dee Bost, Mississippi State – The junior guard is averaging 16 points and seven assists since returning from suspension three games ago. His presence has revitalized a Bulldogs squad whose non-conference season was marred by controversy.
South Carolina – At 3-1, the Gamecocks are the surprise team in the SEC thus far. Darrin Horn’s squad defeated Vanderbilt and Arkansas in overtime and also pulled off a shocking win at Florida. All of a sudden a team that was the unanimous pick to finish at the bottom of the SEC East sits atop the division standings.
Tennessee’s defense – The Vols looked uninspired during their first two games without Bruce Pearl on the bench, so it was no surprise that they found themselves in a 0-2 hole in the league standings. Lately, though, Tennessee has ratcheted things up on defense, and the result has been consecutive wins against Vanderbilt and Georgia. The Vols have new hope.
Andy Kennedy – Is the Ole Miss coach on the hot seat? He probably should be after his Rebels opened SEC play with four straight losses. Barring a miraculous late season run or a victory in the conference tournament, it appears as if Ole Miss will miss the NCAA tournament for the ninth straight year.
Florida – Sure, the Gators are 3-1 in the SEC standings, but they struggled to beat last-place Auburn on Thursday. That’s not a good sign – nor is the fact that Florida scored only 40 points in the victory, which came five days after a shocking home loss to South Carolina.
Ravern Johnson, Mississippi State – The Bulldogs senior guard is averaging a team-high 18.5 points on the season. But before making eight of his 15 shot attempts in Sunday’s win over Auburn, Johnson was shooting just 27.2 percent (24-of-88) from the field in his previous six games.
THREE TO WATCH
St. Mary’s at Vanderbilt, Saturday – Beating the No. 22 Gaels would be a huge resume win for Kevin Stallings’ squad.
Arkansas at Florida, Saturday – John Pelphrey will be facing his former boss and one of his best friends when Arkansas takes on Billy Donovan’s Gators in Gainesville.
Mississippi State at Georgia, Saturday – Renardo Sidney will have his hands full with Trey Thompkins.