SEC basketball notebook: Tide upset No. 1 UNC, UT takes down Kansas, holiday tournament action
It was quite a week for SEC basketball. After a shaky couple weeks, the SEC rose to prominance on Thanksgiving week, and there was plenty of good news to sort out for the league. Suffice it to say that many SEC hoops fans suddenly had plenty for which to be thankful. Here’s a rundown of the SEC week that was.
Down goes Carolina, up goes Bama
The biggest story of the week had to be Alabama — ranked 18th in the nation– taking down No. 1 North Carolina in a 4-OT slugfest 103-101 on Sunday. What’s even weirder is that Alabama beat the top team in the nation … and didn’t play especially well.
Standout freshman Brandon Miller shot 4-for-21. Veteran guard Jahvon Quinnerly, playing the most minutes since his season-ending injury last March, did have 21 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds, but he shot 8-for-26. Fortunately, transfer Mark Sears hit 7 3-pointers, and Alabama as a team shot 16-for-38 from long range.
Consider this the blessing of Nate Oats’s system of shooters — even when two of your key players shoot 12-for-47, when everybody can shoot, you’re never out of a game, even against the top-ranked team in the nation. Alabama had beaten Michigan State on Thursday and lost to UConn on Friday, when 21 turnovers doomed them. Still, Bama came out of the Phil Knight Invitational as one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball.
Tennessee delivered, too
Meanwhile, Tennessee pulled its own significant upset on Friday, taking down No. 3 Kansas, 64-50. The story for the Vols was defense, as UT held Kansas to just 32% shooting and outrebounded the Jayhawks 45-27. That overcame 24 turnovers for the Vols, who also shot 12-for-27 from long range. Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Ziegler combined for 34 points, including 8 treys, and were generally the coolest customers on the floor. UT also beat Butler and Southern Cal in the Bahamas, and the USC game was notable for a big effort from freshman Julian Phillips, who had 25 points and 8 rebounds. Given UT’s steady guard play (Vescovi, Ziegler, Tyreke Key), consistent production from Phillips will be crucial for the Vols, who had a nice Thanksgiving trip.
Three SEC schools remain unbeaten, with Auburn joining surprise entrants Mississippi State and Missouri.
Auburn won’t get many style points, as its week included beating Northwestern 43-42 and St. Louis 65-60. The Tigers will be guard heavy and those guys haven’t been very consistent yet. Meanwhile, Mississippi State gutted out its own pair of ugly wins, besting Marquette 58-55 and Utah 52-49. Guard Dashawn Davis had 30 points over the 2 games, and senior forward Tolu Smith is rebounding like a man with something to prove, grabbing 16 boards in each game.
Smith is almost 2 boards a game ahead of the competition for the SEC rebounding title. Missouri needed overtime to edge Wichita State on Tuesday and stay unbeaten, but they pulled it off. The Tigers have yet to score under 82 points in a game and have the most made 3-pointerts in the SEC. How well Dennis Gates’ team acclimates to conference play is an open question, but the early returns are good.
Everything wasn’t rosy for the SEC. Florida took a 29-point beating at the hands of West Virginia when Colin Castleton got in early foul trouble. There’s probably not another team in the league that depends more on a single player. Vandy lost to St. Mary’s by 10 and seems to have real issues on offense, and is shooting 59% from the foul line. LSU had its first loss, scoring just 18 second-half points to lose 61-59 to Kansas State.
Joe Lunardi is the kind of guy to release potential brackets a day after the previous NCAA Tournament ends. But hey, just because it’s November doesn’t mean we’re not starting to think about March, at least a little. Joey Brackets currently has 8 SEC teams in, 3rd-most behind the Big Ten and Big 12.
Tennessee, as a 3 seed, is his top SEC squad, with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State (moving on up) solidly within the field. LSU and Ole Miss are in Lunardi’s last 4 teams in, and Texas A&M (first four out) and Florida (next four out) are missing the cut.
Games to watch
Here are the top SEC matchups for the coming week.
South Carolina vs. George Washington (Wednesday in Washington): This one is fun because it’s an interesting contrast. GG Jackson is Carolina’s leading scorer and has tons of talent but almost no experience. Meanwhile, GW’s James Bishop IV is a wily senior who can drop 44 on a team, like he did 4 games ago against Hofstra.
Vandy vs. VCU (Wednesday in Richmond): The Commodores have offensive issues, so their best shot at a decent nonconference win could be a fellow offensively challenged team. VCU is averaging 63.8 points per game and hasn’t topped 73 points all year.
Ole Miss vs. Memphis (Saturday in Memphis): Kermit Davis is probably hanging onto his coaching job by a narrow margin, but a win over Penny Hardaway and Memphis certainly wouldn’t hurt his cause. Meanwhile, the Tigers are a good find for the Rebels, because they’re still in their typical early-season assembly mode.
Michigan vs. Kentucky (Sunday, in London, England): Pip-pip and cheerio. The Wildcats will try to make up for a subpar start to the season in the Mother Country.
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (Tuesday in Atlanta): This game can’t help but be more competitive than the football version of the rivalry. Mike White gets a chance to show that the Bulldogs are ahead of schedule in his rebuild.