TEAM OF THE WEEK: Vanderbilt
How's that for a turnaround for the Commodores? Kevin Stallings's crew had a rough start to conference play, with seven straight losses coming after their initial win over Auburn. A few were excruciatingly close, like their three-point losses to Georgia and Mississippi State and their overtime loss to LSU. Vandy finally got on track in a pair of home games this week, upsetting Florida 67-61 on Tuesday and comfortably beating South Carolina 65-50 on Saturday. It's a young team this year, with only two of the team's nine regular contributors being upperclassmen. Now that they've broken through, we'll see if they can build momentum towards the conference tournament.
NOT TEAM OF THE WEEK: Tennessee
I'm sticking with the Volunteer State for the team superlatives this week. Tennessee was shaping up to be a classic bubble team with one good win (Butler), one bad loss (Marquette), and little outstanding either way beyond that. It lost that status with their loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday, a game in which Volunteers not named Josh Richardson shot 34% from the floor, 21% from three, and 45% from the free throw line. The Vols had a chance to undo the damage a bit on Saturday, but anemic offense wasted a 20-turnover performance from the defense in a 56-53 loss to Georgia. With the team on a slide of having lost four of five, Donnie Tyndall needs to get things turned around quickly to make a Big Dance appearance in his first year in Knoxville.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Riley LaChance and James Siakam, Vanderbilt
It was a tough task to pick out a single player this week, as there were four good options. I'm splitting the award this time between the standout players for the team of the week. LaChance led his team in scoring in both wins with 15 points against Florida and 19 against South Carolina. Siakam had a pair of double-doubles with 12 and 11 against the Gators and 16 and 10 versus the Gamecocks. He also was an impressive 16-of-18 from the free throw line in the contests combined, which is great even for the 73.5% foul shooter he was going into the week.
Arkansas's Bobby Portis was in the running for his second player of the week designation, but the Hogs playing two weaker teams in South Carolina and Mississippi State held me back from choosing him. He had 18 and 13 against the Gamecocks on Tuesday, and then he put up 19 and 11 against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Karl-Anthony Towns was the other candidate after having 15 and 13 against Georgia and 19 and eight against Florida.
TOURNAMENT BID QUEST: Stabilizing
From a March Madness perspective, the SEC finally quit shooting itself in the foot on Saturday. After Tennessee lost to Mississippi State and LSU fell to Auburn during the week, none of the serious contenders took a bad loss this weekend. The Vols did lose, but it was to Georgia. Kentucky beat Florida, LSU had a drama-free 71-60 win over Alabama, Texas A&M blew out Missouri 83-61, Ole Miss surged past Auburn 86-79, and Arkansas breezed past Mississippi State 61-41. That's the kind of day the conference needs to maximize its potential tournament presence.
KENTUCKY UNDEFEATED WATCH: Strengthening
The Wildcats made it through their toughest week of conference play by taking down Georgia at home 69-58 and Florida on the road 68-61. It was their toughest week schedule-wise that they'll see in all of SEC play until the last week when the script is reversed with a road visit to UGA and a home match with UF. They weren't the most solid wins UK could have had. The Cats blew the better part of a 42-27 halftime lead against the Bulldogs, and they never could put the Gators all the way away despite Florida losing its leading scorer Michael Frazier II for the second half with an ankle injury. In any event, the team's record is still clean through 23 games. It's hard to ask for more than that.
The theme of the week is "road warriors", as five of the six teams in the best shape for NCAA Tournament contention have big games away from home.
On Tuesday Kentucky travels to LSU, which has basically played to the level of its opponents this conference season. If the pattern holds, it means the Tigers will be giving the Wildcats a good game. On Wednesday, we've got a "prove it" game with Georgia traveling to Texas A&M as the two of them battle for position in the standings. Thursday sees Ole Miss go to Gainesville, where Billy Donovan says his team finally played like a team for the first time all season on Saturday. Saturday then sends Arkansas on the road to Ole Miss for a rematch of the Rebels' 96-82 win in January, while LSU hits the road to play what could be and probably should be a desperate Tennessee team.
Winning on the road in college hoops is a hard thing, but only Texas A&M gets to avoid the task among the top teams. The Aggies' tradeoff is having to face Georgia and Florida. Nothing is simple or easy for the good teams. This week will bring the kind of consequential February basketball that we've been looking forward to.
|Kentucky||23-0 (10-0)||at LSU, Tues.||South Carolina|
|Arkansas||18-5 (7-3)||at Auburn, Tues.||at Ole Miss|
|Texas A&M||16-6 (7-3)||Georgia, Weds.||Florida|
|Ole Miss||16-7 (7-3)||at Florida, Thurs.||Arkansas|
|LSU||17-6 (6-4)||Kentucky, Tues.||at Tennessee|
|Georgia||15-7 (6-4)||at Texas A&M, Weds.||Auburn|
|Tennessee||13-9 (5-5)||at Vanderbilt, Weds.||LSU|
|Florida||12-11 (5-5)||Ole Miss, Thurs.||at Texas A&M|
|Alabama||14-9 (4-6)||at Mississippi State, Tues.||Vanderbilt|
|Mississippi State||11-12 (4-6)||Alabama, Tues.||at Missouri|
|Vanderbilt||13-10 (3-7)||Tennessee, Weds.||at Alabama|
|Auburn||11-12 (3-7)||Arkansas, Tues.||at Georgia|
|South Carolina||11-11 (2-8)||Missouri, Tues.||at Kentucky|
|Missouri||7-16 (1-9)||at South Carolina, Tues.||Mississippi State|