SEC basketball notebook: 3 remain undefeated, freshman stars, and games to watch
Conference play is less than a month away, but SEC basketball is very much already up to speed. Three undefeated teams remain, Arkansas continues to evolve and impress, and the freshmen are rising up the SEC ladder. Here’s the latest on the league, including more way-too-early NCAA Tournament talk and games to watch in our weekly SEC hoops notebook.
The Unbeatables (so far)
The SEC’s unbeaten teams demonstrate that there are many paths to excellence. For instance, 9-0 Missouri continues to put up tons of 3-pointers and score tons of points. The Tigers are averaging 93 points per game, and have hit an SEC-high 91 3-point shots. Perhaps more impressive, Missouri is shooting 51.6% overall. That said, the Tigers haven’t exactly played a stellar schedule — Wichita State is probably the only real test they’ve faced yet. But that will change this week …
Meanwhile, Mississippi State is 8-0 and leads the SEC in scoring defense, allowing just 49.6 points per game. Opponents are shooting just 34.5%, and State has eeked out close wins over Utah and Marquette. The Bulldogs are 2nd in the SEC in rebounding and have the fewest turnovers in the conference.
Auburn is probably the least surprising unbeaten team. The Tigers continue to alternate excellent guard play with ugly guard play, and as long as the guards stay hot, the Tigers will fare well. That 43-42 win over Northwestern won’t be one for the Basketball Hall of Fame, but if the Tigers can get past Memphis this week, they will likely still be undefeated at the New Year.
Arkansas freshman emerges …
Arkansas figures to be one of the SEC’s heavyweights and one interesting point was that freshman standout Nick Smith has finally gotten to play. Three games in, it’s clear that Smith is pretty darn good. Smith played 5 minutes against Troy and on Saturday, he managed 16 points and 5 assists in 24 minutes. But Tuesday, Smith was key in Arkansas grinding out a 65-58 win over North Carolina Greensboro. He played 39 minutes and had 22 points. Smith shot 6-for-14, and the rest of the Razorbacks shot a combined 12-for-40. With Arkansas down 26-21 at the half, Smith had 15 of his points in the second-half rally. But Smith is just one great freshman …
… But the league has more young stars
Among the many SEC standout freshmen are Alabama’s Brandon Miller, currently leading the league in scoring. Miller has had at least 14 points in every game, and he’s 4th in the SEC in 3-point percentage. He’s also 3rd in the SEC in rebounding (8.9 per game) and is a significant part of Alabama’s excellent start (including their upset of North Carolina).
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s GG Jackson has been superb as well, averaging 17 points per game. Jackson’s 22 points and 8 rebounds helped Carolina win at Georgetown on Sunday. Jackson has scored in double figures in every game and has at least 6 rebounds in every game.
Slightly less flashy but maybe more important is Kentucky’s Cason Wallace. Wallace is averaging 11.0 points per game and is 3rd in the SEC with 4.6 assists per game. Wallace is also shooting 50% on 3-point shots and hit 4-for-4 to help Kentucky hold off Michigan in England. While Sahvir Wheeler will be on the floor, Wallace seems to be at the heart of Kentucky’s offense, even as a freshman.
The league’s disappointment
Texas A&M is 5-3 and coming off a 15-point loss to Boise State. The Aggies watched Boise shoot 52% overall and 44% from 3-point range. The Aggies are 12th in the SEC in scoring defense and field goal defense. They’re also dead last in 3-point defense as opponents are shooting 37.4% from long range. If A&M doesn’t show real improvement, they could end up on the NCAA bubble again soon enough. Speaking of which …
Way too early bracketology
Our favorite 24/7/365 bracketologist Joe Lunardi is still doing what he does. Joey Brackets has 7 SEC teams in the NCAA field, led by Tennessee as a No. 2 seed (in a bracket with Texas). The other SEC squads Lunardi has squarely in the NCAA field are Arkansas and Alabama (3 seeds), Kentucky and Auburn (5 seeds), and then Mississippi Stata (6) and Missouri (10). The Tigers are one of Lunardi’s last four byes. Ole Miss and Florida just miss the field, in Lunardi’s next four out.
Games to watch
Among the best games of the upcoming week are:
Florida vs. UConn (Wednesday): The Gators have a shot at a big-time non-conference win against No. 5 UConn and are just a 4-point home underdog.
Arkansas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday): The continued progression of Nick Smith alone would qualify this as a game to watch.
Alabama at Houston (Saturday): How about a second upset of a No. 1 team in a month? That’s the stakes for the Tide.
Auburn at Memphis (Saturday): Auburn gets its last meaningful pre-conference test, with an undefeated record on the line.
Missouri vs. Kansas (Saturday): A chance for Mizzou to make a statement in a big-time rivalry matchup … but it’ll be tough sledding.
Tennessee vs. Maryland (Sunday): A top-15 showdown looks like must-watch TV.