Four on the Floor
1. Florida Gators - After their meeting with Kentucky over the weekend, one thing is certain: it's time we start taking the Florida Gators very seriously. With Casey Prather playing extremely well, and everything starting to come together down in Gainesville, Billy Donovan's bunch is perhaps setting themselves up for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This senior class has been to three consecutive Elite 8s, and it is growing more difficult to imagine them not getting there once again. Perhaps even further this time around.
2. Kentucky Wildcats - For the first time in several years, Kentucky was bested by Florida inside the confines of Rupp Arena. Standing pat at 19-6 with six games to play, including a showdown with the Gators in the finale of SEC play, Big Blue Nation should not worry about whether this team makes the tournament. But the question is: just how far will they go? Julius Randle can only take them so far, and he was held to a minimal effort in the second half by the clamps of the Gator defense. While this year certainly is not as disappointing as last, you have to wonder what needs to go right for the Wildcats to play up to potential.
3. Missouri Tigers - So, ol' Mizzou might not be dead after all. After some were quick to dismiss their tournament chances, the Tigers responded with two home victories against Arkansas and Tennessee in three days time. And, in all actuality, the road from here on out is paved very well for Missouri. Their remaining six contests are all winnable, with the final game that they play against Tennessee in Knoxville. With bubble implications ramping up between these two teams, that game could have serious implications when March 8 rolls around.
4. Tennessee Volunteers - It is true that Tennessee boasts a very efficient offense. It is true that Jordan McRae is a dynamic player. But, what is also true is that the Volunteers are currently 15-10 with only one quality victory on the season. That win came at the hands of the Virginia Cavaliers in late December, and Virginia, of course, has gone on to ascend up the polls and make that victory look strong for Tennessee. Other than that, the barrel is still barren for Cuonzo Martin and Co. The Vols desperately need to make a push, and much like Mizzou, have the opportunity in front of them to do so.
Chomping at the Bit
As we have alluded to already, the Florida Gators have thrust themselves into the discussion of elite teams in the country. But just how are they doing this?
Simply put, this team is playing just like how we have become accustomed to Billy Donovan-coached teams doing it: playing hard-nosed defense, dominating inside and rebounding efficiently. The Gators have the fifth best defense in America, based on Points Per 100 Possessions allowed, as they are only yielding 90.5 points per 100 possessions this season. Inside the paint, the Gators are succeeding on both sides of the ball. They are converting on 51.8 percent of opportunities offensively, and allowing just 42.1 percent of opportunities to be converted defensively.
Those numbers are 47th and 9th respectively among their peers.
Rebounding wise, the Gators are tough to beat on the glass. Especially on the offensive side. The Gators own an Off. Rebounding% of 37.2 percent, 27th best in the country. This includes efforts from forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Patric Young, who maintain an OR% of 14.6 and 13.6 percent respectively.
Simply put, the Gators are doing so many things right, and could lead to bigger and better things come March.
Player of the Year Race Heating Up
It is a sign of the times that we are here, in mid-February, talking about who the eventual SEC Player of the Year will be.
I have already made the case for Missouri's Jabari Brown. Since that was posted, the Oakland native has not shown any signs of slowing down. Brown is coming off of a week in which he scored a combined 49 points, including 25 against the Arkansas Razorbacks. His efficiency has not wavered, ranking 17th in TS% and 43rd in eFG%.
But another contender is making his case as well.
Florida's Casey Prather has played stupendously this season, perhaps flying under the radar among his teammates. The senior forward is scoring 15.7 points per game. His eFG% of 62.8 and TS% of 64.6 rank 22nd and 30th nationally at the moment, and could gain momentum perhaps from his team succeeding.
Either choice would be deserving in my opinion, and that is with the full disclosure that I am a student at The University of Missouri. With that said, this race should only intensify as the weeks roll on. And it should be plenty of fun, too.
Wilbekin, Thornwell Honored
Florida's Scottie Wilbekin and South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell were both named Southeastern Conference Players of the Week for their performances last week.
Against rivals Tennessee and Kentucky, the senior guard rattled off two top-notch performances. Wilbekin started with a 21-point performance in Knoxville and added six assists well. Then, against Kentucky, the Gainesville native scored 23 and went 11-12 from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, without the spotlight shining on him, Thornwell exploded for two potent performances during the 15th week of the season. Against Vanderbilt and Alabama, the freshman scored 19 and 22 points respectively and shot a combined 83.3 percent from the free throw line on 18 attempts.
The Week Ahead
Game of the Week: LSU vs. Kentucky
In a rematch of an encounter that turned ugly in a hurry for Kentucky, the Wildcats mach up with the LSU Tigers this Saturday back home in Lexington. Revenge will certainly be on the mind for John Calipari and Co. as they look to rattle off what would be a very solid victory among their SEC brethren. If I had to guess, I would suspect that Kentucky's FTRate may wind up being the benefactor in this one. Just a hunch.
Tuesday, February 18
7 p.m. ET - No. 18 Kentucky vs. Ole Miss (ESPN)
9 p.m. ET - Georgia vs. Tennessee (ESPNU)
Wednesday, February 19
7 p.m. ET - Auburn vs. No. 2 Florida (FSN or ESPN3)
8 p.m. ET - Mississippi St. vs. LSU (ESPN3)
8 p.m. ET - Vanderbilt vs. Missouri (ESPN3)
9 p.m. ET - South Carolina vs. Arkansas (CSS or ESPN3)
Thursday, February 20
7 p.m. ET - Alabama vs. Texas A&M (ESPN2)
Saturday, February 22
12 p.m. ET - No. 2 Florida vs. Ole Miss (CBS)
1:30 p.m. ET - Georgia vs. South Carolina (ESPN3)
3 p.m. ET - Tennessee vs. Texas A&M (ESPNU)
4 p.m. ET - LSU vs. No. 18 Kentucky (ESPN)
4 p.m. ET - Arkansas vs. Mississippi St. (ESPN3)
6 p.m. ET - Vanderbilt vs. Auburn (ESPN3)
8 p.m. ET - Missouri vs. Alabama (ESPN2)