We're now at the beginning of February. It is the month before March, and March brings March Madness. As the basketball season heats up for the home stretch, here's a quick look at where everyone stands today. The projected tournament seeds mentioned below are from SB Nation's Bracketology.
|Team||Conf. W-L||Overall W-L|
The East is, as everyone expected, largely Kentucky's domain. The Wildcats have but one blemish, a surprising loss to South Carolina in their first game after being ranked No. 1 for the first time this year. A loss under those circumstances is not all that surprising for a team whose best players are young (the remarkable John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins), especially when you throw in the heroics of the Gamecocks' Devan Downey on that night. UK is projected as a 1 seed.
Right up there with the 'Cats in the standings is Vanderbilt. The Commodores shook off some losses in the non-conference season (including an inexplicable one to Western Kentucky) to roll up a 5-0 start to conference play. The winning streak ended at Rupp Arena, but the likelihood of anyone but the home team winning there this year is slim. As long as Vandy keeps doing what it's been doing in the SEC so far, the team will cruise into the tournament easily. VU is projected as a 5 seed.
Tennessee has certainly had the most, um, interesting season so far. The Vols have had to weather the dismissal of four players in early January including star Tyler Smith, but the team showed its mettle by delivering Kansas its only loss in the first game after the incident. UT has encountered some struggles of late though. It gave Georgia its only conference win, fell to Vanderbilt, and needed a last-second shot to knock off Florida in the last three games. Still, Big Orange is projected as a 4 seed for the tourney.
Florida is a team with some pretty glaring weaknesses, but it has overcome them to a large degree. It's hard to say just how good this team is, but it sure has made for some exciting finishes. Chandler Parsons hit game-winning threes to beat NC State and South Carolina, and he hit a go-ahead trey against Tennessee before UT's Scotty Hopson put that one away. Parsons' heroics, combined with nice non-conference wins over Michigan State and Florida State, have UF a projected 12 seed and one of the last four teams in.
Likely on the outside looking in is South Carolina, despite the Gamecocks' signature win over Kentucky. Some of Carolina's losses are in the understandable category for having come to projected tournament teams (Clemson, Baylor, Vandy, Ole Miss, Florida), and they're soldiering on without senior F Dominique Archie who went down to injury in November. The Gamecocks haven't defeated anyone in the projected field except the 'Cats though, and they've got several losses to non-tournament teams (Miami, BC, Wofford) as well. An NIT bid shouldn't take anything away from the stellar play of Downey though, the nation's fourth leading scorer.
It's been a rough year for Georgia in new head coach Mark Fox's first year. I doubt anyone would have expected otherwise given the state of Bulldog basketball in recent years. There are some bright spots though. Trey Thompkins is currently tied for third on the conference's scoring chart. UGA also has a couple of wins over projected tournament teams in Tennessee and Georgia Tech, and it came within two shots of beating Ole Miss and Mississippi State. They may not be very good, but these Bulldogs do have some fight in them.
|Team||Conf. W-L||Overall W-L|
Mississippi State currently leads the West by tiebreaker in what has not been a vintage year for the division. The Bulldogs were expected to be one of the conference's standard bearers, but an opening game loss to Rider was a portent of things to come. Every single one of their losses has come to teams currently outside the bracket (Richmond, Western Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas in addition to Rider). A win over rival Ole Miss is the only tournament-quality win on their resume, which has them at the 10 seed line.
Meanwhile, only one of Ole Miss' losses is to a team currently outside the bracket (Arkansas), and the Rebels sport a win over projected 3 seed Kansas State to boot. They also have five guys who average in double figures scoring-wise, no easy feat. It's a guard-heavy squad as four of those players are at that position, but Ole Miss is still the conference's third best rebounding team. It's also the second highest scoring bunch, averaging about a free throw less than leader Kentucky per game. The Rebels are projected as a 7 seed.
Up until the middle of last month, there really wasn't a whole lot to say about Alabama basketball. It was a team that beat who it was supposed to beat, and lost to who it probably should have lost to. Since the ides of January, however, it's gotten a bit more interesting. The Tide slipped up against Arkansas, two games later would beat Mississippi State, but then two games later would lose by a point to Auburn. Winning percentage-wise, the team is on pace to beat last year's record, but absent a long and unexpected winning streak, it has no realistic chance at making the NCAAs.
Arkansas has the look of a potential spoiler the rest of the way. To be sure, it's not a great team by any stretch. It has lost to Morgan State, ETSU, and South Alabama, and it got pasted by 30+ points by Louisville and Kentucky. It's been a feisty team though since Cortney Fortson returned from suspension. It gave Texas a scare, lost to Mississippi State by two in the teams' first matchup, nearly beat Florida, and beat both Mississippi schools in its last two games. With its final three regular season games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Ole Miss, the Hogs could make some headlines in March even without a tournament bid.
Back in Alabama, it's not been the season hoped for at Auburn. It's a team that can generally score, as it sports four guys who average at least 12 a game, and it's the fifth highest scoring team in the league. G DeWayne Reed is a top ten scorer in the SEC with just over 16 points a game. It has, however, already allowed 80+ points in a game nine times this season, and twice in the last month it couldn't manage to get out of the 50s (though one of those instances was a win over Bama).
This has really been a season to forget in Baton Rouge for LSU. It is the only winless team in conference play so far in the 2009-10 season. In fact, the Tigers have only one win that did not come over a Sun Belt or Southland conference team, and that was over a middle of the road MVC team in Indiana State. The Bayou Bengals have a nice trio in Tasmin Mitchell, Bo Spencer, and Storm Warren, all of who average 12 or more points a game. Mitchell and Warren also average 9.6 and 8.0 rebounds a game, respectively. Those guys have no help though, as no one else on the squad averages even five points or more than three rebounds a game, and the team was held to an embarrassing 38 points against Alabama two games ago.