SEC basketball notebook: Terrible Tuesday underlines some of the SEC's issues heading toward conference play
By and large, the SEC enters the Christmas holiday doing fairly well. Alabama has beaten two No. 1 teams, Tennessee and Arkansas have flashed Final Four potential, and even Mississippi State had a nice start to the season. But a 1-4 Tuesday night also showed some of the league’s potential issues. With SEC hoops hoping for nice gifts and not lumps of coal, here’s our weekly basketball notebook.
Mississippi State ended its undefeated run, becoming the last SEC team to take a loss, in a 58-52 defeat to Drake. State was probably living dangerously anyway, coming off a 68-66 win over Nicholls State. Leading by 2 late in that game, State threw away an in-bounds pass and gave Nicholls a clear three-point look for the win, but the shot rimmed out. Tuesday, State’s Achilles’ heel finally showed up for a full game. After leading 31-23 at the half, State scored just 21 second-half points, shot 39% for the game and had 17 turnovers. Coming into Tuesday, State was 12th in the SEC in scoring and 11th in shooting percentage. Their defense will keep them in virtually any game… but can the offense win those games?
Meanwhile, Kentucky fell to 7-3 with its own offensive clunker, losing to UCLA 63-53. Wildcat guards Antonio Reeves and Cason Wallace each shot 2-for-13, as UK shot under 33% overall and had 18 turnovers. UK has to find some scoring punch from the power forward slot, and veteran Jacob Toppin has been too inconsistent to help much. Freshman Chris Livingston may be the long term answer, and his season-high 14 points against UCLA was a good sign. Still, Kentucky’s offense is punchless and frustrating and John Calipari isn’t doing much to endear himself to a sick-of-this WildcatS fan base.
Good news, bad news for Hogs
The bad news first for the Hogs — transfer forward Trevon Brazile tore his ACL and is out for the season. Brazile, a Missouri import, was averaging 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for Arkansas. The Hogs will distribute his minutes — twin transfers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell will both help pick up the slack. But overall, this just means that Arkansas will be a bit more guard-heavy … not that it’s necessarily a problem. The Hogs improved to 10-1 in nonconference play with a 76-57 win over Bradley on Sunday. Nick Smith is fitting right in and Arkansas is in fine shape … although the loss of Brazile could matter against a post-heavy opponent later in the season.
Ups and downs for league
Among the league’s other surprising losses, Texas A&M lost a pair of close games to Memphis (83-79) and Wofford (67-62). Auburn took a loss to Southern Cal, and Tennessee lost a tough game at Arizona. Tennessee shot a better percentage overall and from 3-point range than Arizona, but the hometown Wildcats shot 27 free throws to 10 for the Vols. Alabama dropped a shootout to Gonzaga, 100-90; Brandon Miller put up 36 points for the Tide, but they committed 21 turnovers to just 9 for the Zags.
On the other hand, Missouri won a buzzer-beater over UCF, and Georgia bested Notre Dame. But neither was part of the 1-4 Tuesday performance, where the league’s only winner was Alabama (84-64 over Jackson State).
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has dropped back to just 6 teams in his NCAA field. Joey Brackets has both Missouri and LSU in his “next four out,” but otherwise, the SEC is currently avoiding the bubble. Teams in the NCAA field from the league include Tennessee, a 2 seed and Alabama, the projected league champion and also a 2 seed, as well as 4-seed Arkansas, 5-seed Kentucky, 6-seed Mississippi State, and 8-seed Auburn.
Games to watch
The Christmas holiday keeps us from having a ton of must-see SEC hoops. But here’s the best games to watch in the week ahead.
Auburn at Washington (Wednesday): Bruce Pearl’s Tigers haven’t been too impressive lately, but they could gain some positive moment by besting a 9-3 Washington team led by Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks.
No. 16 Illinois vs Mizzou at St. Louis (Thursday): The Tigers’ first ranked test didn’t go well, as Kansas beat them by 28, but the Illini could be a better matchup, and a chance to pick up a statement win in pre-conference play.
Western Kentucky at South Carolina (Thursday): Yes, your humble columnist is a Hilltoppers alum. But this game also presents a chance to see two unique talents — Carolina’s GG Jackson, currently 4th in the SEC in scoring at 17.0 points per game and 7-5 WKU center Jamarion Sharp. Yes, you read that correctly.
(Conference play starts next Wednesday!)