SEC Basketball: The Changing Of The Seasons

In no college conference is the change from the first Monday of January to the first Tuesday more stark. The SEC usually has its football champion playing for a national title on Monday, and last night’s Auburn-Florida State game was no different. Then on Tuesday it’s the beginning of conference play on basketball, one of the later starts on the college hoops calendar. Here’s our look at SEC basketball, what each of the league’s 14 teams have accomplished thus far, and who they’re doing it with.

We’ll start with the four teams that are either ranked in the Top 25 or at least receiving votes…

Florida (#10): Casey Prather, a 6’6” swingman is leading the way with 17 ppg. Michael Frazier kicks in perimeter help with his three-point shooting and Patric Young is the option in the low post. Billy Donovan’s got some role players inside who can help on the boards, but this isn’t an exceptionally big team, and outside of Frazier, they don’t shoot well from downtown. It’s hard to see this Gator team as elite right now.

Kentucky (#14): This year’s freshman class looks to be splitting the difference between the group that won the 2012 national title and the other that missed the 2013 NCAA Tournament entirely. Julian Randle is as good as advertised, with 18 points/11 rebounds per game, with three other freshmen playing contributing roles. But Kentucky has lost to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina early on, though perhaps a win over Louisville just prior to the New Year signifies the ‘Cats kicking into high gear.

Missouri (#21): The combination of Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown give the Tigers a duo that can pour in points (they combine for 37 ppg), distribute the ball and hit the three. Across the front line, from the small forward spots to the post, Missouri goes to the boards very well. The non-conference resume is tough to read—they lost by one to Illinois, and the only notable wins are UCLA and N.C. State, but the pieces are here for this team to win the SEC.

Arkansas (Receiving votes): Arkansas is definitely a few steps behind the other three teams, but the combination of Michael Qualls scoring and hitting the tree, combined with Bobby Portis in the post, can keep the Hogs competitive through the league schedule. They’ll need someone else to step up and help with the scoring load.

Now we move on to a group of teams that can at least aspire to making a run at an NCAA bid…

Ole Miss (9-4): Marshall Henderson led this team to the NCAAs a year ago, and he’s continuing to gun away from the outside, hitting 38 percent from behind the arc on very high volume. Jarvis Summers helps take the heat off in the backcourt, but the Rebels have not found anyone to adequately replace Murphy Holloway’s scoring down low from last season. Hence, they’ve not beaten good teams and have a loss to Mercer.

LSU (9-3): Losses to UMass and Memphis are no big deal, although dumping one to Rhode Island raises some alarm bells, particularly when none of the wins are notable. The Tigers have a couple of good forwards in 6’9” Johnny O’Bryant III and Jordan Mickey, who each run 6’8”, score and rebound. Andre Stringer is adequate in the backcourt, but the perimeter needs to be shored up.

Mississippi State (10-3): They’ve got some decent size on the frontcourt, with 6’9” sophomore Gavin Ware averaging 11 points/9 rebounds, but Ware is the only one translating that into consistent rebounding. The lack of three-point shooting is also a big red flag, as are the losses to Utah State and TCU.

Texas A&M (9-4): The Aggies have a win over Houston, but have lost games to Missouri State and North Texas. Kourtney Roberson is a good player underneath, averaging 11/8, but he’s not star-material and that’s a problem when you’re the team’s best player and the three-point shooting is terrible.

Vanderbilt (8-4): Vandy goes to the boards very well. There’s no one individual star, but the team as a whole does the job in rebounding the ball. Rod Odom averages a 13/6, and the 6’9”senior hits 44 percent from three-point range. The four losses aren’t bad—Butler, Providence, Texas and St. Louis, and there’s a win over Georgia Tech mixed in. Look for Vandy to be in the NCAA bubble talk.

Tennessee (9-4): Another team whose best days appear to be ahead of them, with wins over Wake Forest and Virginia and a split of two games with Xavier. The Vols’ Jordan McRae is a top scorer on the wing, with Jarnell Stokes and Jerome Mayman scoring down low and anchoring what’s a good rebounding lineup.

Auburn (8-3): K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson average 19 ppg, but this is a really top-heavy lineup and they don’t get any help. A loss to Northwestern State might have been early in the year, but there’s nothing to suggest it isn’t a harbinger of a long conference season ahead.

And we conclude with three teams that haven’t shown any sign of being a threat to anyone…

Alabama (6-7): Trevor Releford scores 19 ppg and his lights-out ability from the three-point range at least makes an upset a possibility night-to-night, but the Tide otherwise look overmatched.

Georgia (6-6): The Bulldogs don’t rebound well, and they don’t shoot the three-ball. Four players who can work inside the arc are a decent foundation, but you need more than that to get wins.

South Carolina (7-6): Tyrone Johnson and Brenton Williams make a competent backcourt, and Williams can hit the three-ball, but there is nothing inside.