SEC update: League has been top-heavy so far
There were a lot of high hopes surrounding SEC basketball going into the season.
Indeed, there were more than a few folks who thought the league’s basketball prowess would be equal to the conference’s football prowess.
In a way, that has happened – but not necessarily for the good: The league is strong at the top, iffy in the middle and poor at the bottom.
3. Mississippi State*
6. Ole Miss
11. South Carolina
It’s a given that Kentucky should contend for the national title. This season’s freshmen have adapted quickly and there is a ton of talent in Lexington, the loss to Indiana notwithstanding.
So far, Mississippi State has been the other team in the league’s top three. UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie is making a big impact up front, and senior G Dee Bost continues to grow as a player.
On the other hand, neither Alabama nor Vanderbilt has lived up to preseason billing, and while there are some other league teams with nice records, those teams have beaten no one.
South Carolina and Tennessee, meanwhile, bring up the rear. If either wins more than five league games, it will be a surprise.
Here’s a look at where the SEC stands as we approach Christmas.
You’re better than we thought you’d be: Mississippi State. Going into the season, we thought the Bulldogs likely were an NCAA tournament team. Even though they suffered an early loss to Akron, we now think the Bulldogs definitely are an NCAA tourney team. Renardo Sidney still isn’t living up to the hype (shame on us for ever believing in this guy), but senior G Dee Bost and F Arnett Moultrie are more than making up for it. Mississippi State looks like the team to beat in the SEC West, though the paucity of true road games (the Bulldogs have played just one) makes us wonder how the Bulldogs will react when they visit Baylor, Vanderbilt and Florida.
You’re in more trouble than we thought you’d be: Vanderbilt. Every key player returned, and there also are a few talented freshmen. So how come Vandy is 7-4? Injuries and suspensions have played a role, but, still, a team this talented shouldn’t lose at home to Cleveland State and Indiana State. The Commodores remain a talented team, but whispers that they are soft are not going to go away. A game at Marquette on Dec. 29 bears watching.
We’re still not convinced: Ole Miss. The Rebels are 9-2 heading into Wednesday’s game with Middle Tennessee State. There are wins over major-conference foes – but foes expected to finish near the bottom of their conferences (DePaul and Penn State). And there is a win over a Reggie Johnson-less Miami. But there’s also a 30-point loss to Marquette and a narrow setback to Southern Miss. The early league schedule isn’t that daunting, either, and it wouldn’t be that big a surprise if the Rebels exit January with a 5-2 league mark. Still, this looks more like an NIT team than an NCAA team.
Top freshman so far: Florida G Bradley Beal. Beal arrived with a ton of hype, and he has delivered. Beal entered this week as the No. 2 scorer on a team with four double-figure scorers, and he’s also the No. 3 rebounder (an impressive 6.3 per game for a guy who is 6 feet 3). Beal leads the Gators in minutes played, and he has had two 20-point games and three 10-rebound outings. He’s playing better-than-expected defense, too.
Where did he come from? Mississippi State G Brian Bryant. Bryant was a role player off the bench last season after transferring in from junior college, but he has become an important starter for the Bulldogs this season. He does a little bit of everything: score (9.3 points per game), rebound (5.7 per game, second on the team), pass (2.1 assists per game) and defend. Bryant played well on the Bulldogs’ summer trip to Europe, and coach Rick Stansbury seems comfortable with Bryant playing both guard roles this season.
Where did he go? Kentucky F Terrence Jones. It’s not that Jones is playing poorly; he just isn’t close to living up to expectations. A big man who was on a lot of preseason All-America teams shouldn’t be averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and shooting just 48.4 percent from the floor. Touted freshman Anthony Davis’ arrival seemingly has put Jones off his game a bit. Unlike last season, when Jones was the primary frontcourt scorer, UK also can count on Davis and F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to provide points in the paint this season.
Best nonconference win: Kentucky beat North Carolina 73-72. Also: Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65, Mississippi State beat Arizona 67-57, Florida beat Arizona 78-72, Mississippi State beat West Virginia 75-62.
Worst nonconference loss by an NCAA tournament contender: Vanderbilt lost 71-58 to Cleveland State.
Conference play begins: Jan. 7 Every team in the league opens that day.
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