The Southeastern Conference had a wild second week of December. Luckily for all, everything is done and dusted, so we can all catch our breaths and take a look back at the week that was, and get you prepared for what lies ahead.
Mizzou Continues to Roll
There is a team that is cruising their way to an undefeated record through its first ten games of the season. It might not be who you expect it to be, though. Neither the Kentucky Wildcats nor the Florida Gators can hold claim to an unblemished record. Instead, it is the Missouri Tigers. Mizzou moved to 10-0 on Sunday with a victory over the Western Michigan Broncos. Led by senior Earnest Ross’ 12 points and seven rebounds, the Tigers defeated the Broncos 66-60. Ross on the season is averaging 14.4 points per game, and is one of here Tigers that are averaging double figures on the season. The others are Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, who are scoring 19.4 and 20.2 points per game respectively. Clarkson has NBA-level talent, and Brown and Ross can each hurt you in a number of ways. Mizzou is flying under the radar a bit this year so far, but this week against a solid Illinois team should introduce the world to a group they’re affectionately calling the Transfermers.
So if Missouri is 10-0, why are they not being discussed as much, and why are they barely ranked nationally?
Well, for starters, you could look at the Tigers strength of schedule. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings website, the Tigers rank 299th in the nation in Strength of Schedule Pythagorean Win Expectancy (.3982 Win %). This statistic measures the expected win-loss record of teams, by looking at underlying factors such as points scored and points against. So, the Tigers are beating teams that for the most part have barely scratched the surface of being .500. They have one victory over a ranked team, and that was No. 18 ranked UCLA on Dec. 7. The Tigers have a couple of tough tests ahead though, so we will know what they have in them. This Saturday, the Tigers play the Illinois Fighting Illini in the annual Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis, and then on Dec. 28, the Tigers travel to Raleigh to take on the North Carolina St. Wolfpack.
Yes, this weekend is another installment of the Braggin’ Rights game between the Tigers and the Illini. If you’re a fan of SEC basketball and haven’t tuned into this game before, I recommend it; it really is one of the best non-con rivalries in the sport. They play the game each year in St. Louis, which is right on the border of the 2 states, and about equidistant from each campus, and every year the Scotttrade Center is divided by navy and orange and black and gold. It’s awesome.
Mizzou has won the last 4 matchups against the Illini, but this game looks like a tossup to me. Illinois and Missouri are both on a similar course, in that they’re young or inexperienced as a team. This one is likely to be hotly contested, and with it being a neutral site game, it’ll likely come down to coaching and mental toughness.
It might just be only two tests, but we will certainly know a lot about the Missouri Tigers by the time the month of January rolls around.
Kentucky's Struggles Continue
Make no mistake, Kentucky is super talented, and this is certainly not the team that we’ll see come March. But so far, in each of the marquis matchups against quality BCS conference opponents, (Nov. 12 vs. No. 2 Michigan State in the Champions Classic, Dec. 6 vs. No. 20 Baylor in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and Dec. 14 vs. No. 18 North Carolina) Kentucky is 0-3.
Certainly, the Kentucky Wildcats have had their fair share of struggles to start the season. It is not nearly a crisis situation like it was last year, but not everything is coming together so far for John Calipari’s bunch in the 2013-14 season. Saturday evening, Kentucky walked into the Dean Dome to take on the enigmatic North Carolina Tar Heels. What followed was an extraordinary effort by Marcus Paige and while the Wildcats cut into the large lead that they had to overcome, North Carolina came out on top, earning an 82-77 victory.
The loss sent Kentucky down to 8-3 on the season, and they now stand at No. 19 in the AP Poll. Just what has gone wrong so far this season? Well, there have been a number of factors. For one, they have not been able to keep good care of the basketball. Their Turnover% is a staggering 19.6 percent, which ranks them 233rd in the country. To put that in perspective, that’s over an entire turnover more than the Division 1 average of 18.5 percent. The Wildcats are not doing their part on defense with forcing turnovers either, as they rank 308th in the country with a Defensive Turnover% of just 15.7.
All in all, I wouldn’t say it's necessarily a red flag for Kentucky that they picked up this loss against the North Caorlina Tar Heels when they get their chance at the fearsome Belmont Bruins, though. North Carolina was a bit schizophrenic earlier in the year, after all. We’re talking about a Tar Heels team that lost at home to Belmont, then took care of #3 Louisville. This is the same Tar Heels team that lost to UAB, then went on the road and beat #1 Michigan State. Given that kind of up and down performance, you can sort of disregard the lazy narrative that since Belmont beat North Carolina and North Carolina beat Kentucky that Kentucky is automatically going to lose to Belmont. But if you didn’t already know that, you probably should give up watching basketball. I’d be shocked if Kentucky laid an egg against Belmont at home.
Florida Stands Out After Spectacular Performance
Missouri might be undefeated on the season, but how impressive are the Florida Gators? After falling to Connecticut via a buzzer beater from the incomparable Shabazz Napier, the Gators bounced back in a humongous way last Tuesday night. They welcomed superstar freshman Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, and Florida was superb. They went on to weather a late rally by the Jayhawks and picked up a 67-61 victory. While the Gators shot just 37 percent from the field, they shot an impressive 50 percent from beyond the arc and held the Jayhawks to 43.2 percent from the field. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin led the charge for the Gators, scoring 18, dishing out six assists, and racked up four steals.
Florida looked good in beating Andrew Wiggins and Kansas at home. The Gators were active on defense, forcing 16 turnovers in the first half against the Jayhawks, and 24 for the game.
They’ll need a similar defensive effort this week as they take on a No. 15 Memphis team that averages over 84 points a game. Memphis is a dangerous team, not just because the talent they have, but also because of their balance. Four Tigers are averaging scoring in double digits this season, and another (Sr. Guard Chris Crawford) is averaging 9.6. So how do you counter that? With more balance, perhaps? Florida has 5 players averaging in double figures, and Kasey Hill is putting up 9.4 ppg.
Memphis already boasts a win over an up-and-coming SEC team, beating LSU on Nov. 29.
Non-Ranked Team to Watch: Alabama
Alabama gets a shot to seriously improve its resume as it hosts #11 Wichita State and a solid Xavier team this week. Win those, and Bama’s 2014 outlook looks a little bit brighter.
The Week Ahead
Here’s your SEC Hoops Schedule for the week…
7 p.m. ET Manhattan @ South Carolina
8 p.m. ET Florida A&M @ Mississippi State
9 p.m. ET Florida vs. Memphis (Jimmy V Classic)
9 p.m. ET Austin Peay vs. Vanderbilt
9 p.m. ET Wichita State @ Alabama
7 p.m. ET Louisiana Monroe @ Ole Miss
7 p.m. ET NC State @ Tennessee
9 p.m. ET LSU @ Texas Tech
11:30 a.m. ET Gardner Webb @ Georgia
4 p.m. ET USC Upstate @ South Carolina
8 p.m. ET UT-Martin @ Arkansas
8 p.m. ET Clemson @ Auburn
9 p.m. ET Florida Gulf Coast @ Mississippi State
12 p.m. ET Belmont @ Kentucky
2 p.m. ET Western Carolina @ Georgia
4 p.m. ET Georgia Tech @ Vanderbilt
4:30 p.m. ET Fresno State @ Florida
5 p.m. ET UAB @ LSU
7 p.m. ET Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M (Toyota Center in Houston)
7 p.m. ET Xavier @ Alabama
8 p.m. ET South Alabama @ Arkansas
11 a.m. ET Saint Mary’s vs. South Carolina (Neutral Site)
2 p.m. ET Boston College @ Auburn
4 p.m. ET Mercer @ Ole Miss
8 p.m. ET USF vs. Mississippi State
Full Disclosure: This post was co-written by myself, and Jason Scott