SEC Tournament notebook: An ugly elbow, Tide roll, and Arkansas and LSU survive
Friday’s games were a tale of 2 sessions. The afternoon session featured 2 games that were dominated by the winning teams. The night session featured tight games, with Arkansas and LSU each winning by single-digits.
But, as we head into Saturday’s semifinals, the top 4 seeds in the tournament are the ones that are still alive. Will we see the chalk hold through Saturday’s action? That’s what we’ll find out today!
For now, let’s take a look back at the 4 games we saw on Friday:
Alabama over Mississippi State
Alabama hasn’t played well in early tipoff games this year. That all changed Friday, as the Tide came out on fire and never slowed down, torching the Bulldogs 85-48. The Tide spread the ball around a lot offensively, with 9 players scoring at least 5 points. The leading scorer was Jahvon Quinerly, but he only had 14 points. As good as the Tide’s offense was, though, the defense was even better.
The Tide held the Bulldogs to an abysmal 1-for-19 from 3-point range. They also only sent Mississippi State to the free-throw line 8 times. Oh, and star guard DJ Stewart Jr. was held to only 4 points on 2-for-14 shooting.
All of that served to make Alabama look like the Alabama of January, and that’s a scary thought for opponents moving forward. Now, we just have to wait to see what the word is about freshman Josh Primo, who suffered a painful knee injury:
Alabama's Josh Primo injured a leg. Oats said he was hopeful that Primo can play in Saturday's semifianls. That depends on an upcoming MRI exam, the Alabama coach said.
— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) March 12, 2021
He’s a big part of what the Tide do. He doesn’t get the major accolades, but he plays well on both ends of the floor. We’ll see if he can play on Saturday at all or if his SEC Tournament is over.
Tennessee over Florida
The Vols controlled this game from the start, winning 78-66. Florida never led, despite the best efforts of Tre Mann, who had 30 points to lead all scorers. Santiago Vescovi led the Vols, but he only had 14 points. This was a total team effort from Tennessee. Five Vols scored in double figures:
- Santiago Vescovi — 14 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal
- Keon Johnson — 13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal
- Josiah-Jordan James — 12 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block
- Yves Pons — 11 points, 9 blocks, 8 rebounds, 1 assist
- Jaden Springer — 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
That’s quite a box score. And, John Fulkerson probably would have been the sixth Vol with 10+ points if not for this ugly elbow from Omar Payne:
Ugly, ugly play by Omar Payne.
Hope John Fulkerson is OK. https://t.co/rumnvmo4Gm
— SDSBasketball (@SDSBasketball) March 12, 2021
Payne was ejected. Yes, he and Fulkerson were going at each other all game, and no, the refs weren’t doing anything about it, but that’s 100% on Payne. You don’t go after a guy’s head. He was rightfully ejected, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was suspended for the Gators’ first-round NCAA Tournament game, too.
Arkansas over Mizzou
I predicted this game would go to overtime. Not quite. But the Tigers did give the Razorbacks all they could handle. It was a third great game between these schools this season. When the buzzer sounded, the Hogs won 70-64.
But, my goodness, what an ugly game. The officials called 17 (that’s not a typo) offensive fouls. Seventeen. Seven. Teen. Neither offense could get in a rhythm in the second half. Yes, taking charges is good defense, but the refs were making some questionable calls both ways. It’s an ugly brand of basketball that the SEC needs to do something about this offseason. Other major conferences don’t call as many fouls as the SEC.
For now, though, the Hogs remain hot. They’ve now won 9 games in a row and look like they could snag a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Watch out, LSU.
LSU over Ole Miss
LSU only had 69 points with a minute left in this game. Ole Miss controlled the pace from the start, and I thought that would mean the Rebels would win. They had a shot, which is all you can ask for at the end of a game, but they didn’t get the job done. LSU held on for a 76-73 victory.
LSU’s bigs proved too much for Ole Miss to handle, though. Trendon Watford scored 24 points to go with 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a block. Darius Days had 20 points, 12 rebounds and a steal. This LSU offense is so dangerous. The LSU defense isn’t good, but the offense has, so far, more than made up for that deficiency.
We’ve reached the semifinal round of the tournament. Those games are:
- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Tennessee (1 p.m. ET on ESPN)
- No. 2 Arkansas vs. No. 3 LSU (3 p.m. ET on SEC Network)
I’ll give my picks in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at a big key for each of the matchups:
Alabama vs. Tennessee
Key: Keon Ellis
If Josh Primo can’t play, and it looks like he might not be ready, Ellis needs to step up for the Crimson Tide. Fortunately for Nate Oats, Ellis has shown flashes of brilliance lately. He completed a 4-point play against Mississippi State:
Keon Ellis completes the 4 point play!! pic.twitter.com/vjnJ4UwaCs
— Crimson Crossover (@CrimsonXover) March 12, 2021
He finished with 6 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes. He’ll likely get more minutes against Tennessee. If he can play well again, he has the potential to be the X-factor for the Tide.
Arkansas vs. LSU
Key: Free throws
I believe the team that shoots the most free throws in this game will win. Arkansas went 15-for-22 from the line against Mizzou. Mizzou went 14-for-21. LSU managed to win despite shooting 16 free throws (and making 11) to Ole Miss’s 15-for-20 from the line. We’ve seen how much SEC officials love to blow the whistle. Get in the lane, force the refs to make calls, and win the game.
Here’s who I’m riding with to win today’s games:
Alabama 79, Tennessee 71
The Alabama team I saw on Friday is the team I saw buzzsaw its way through the early part of the SEC schedule. The Tide were making 3s (even though they only made 13-of-36 long-range shots), playing great defense and moving the ball around. That blowout of Mississippi State was a lot of fun to watch. I don’t think they’ll blow out the Vols, but the Tide should win comfortably to advance to the title game.
Arkansas 89, LSU 85
The Tigers concern me defensively, to say the least. No lead is ever safe for them (much like the Missouri Tigers). They have plenty of talent, but their decision-making leaves a lot to be desired. Meanwhile, Arkansas continues to rack up wins. Even without a great game by Moses Moody on Friday against Mizzou, the Razorbacks picked up the win. They can hurt you in so many ways, whether it’s a ridiculous hot streak by JD Notae, Justin Smith taking over in the paint, Moody being a superstar or Devo Davis making plays. I think the Hogs eke out a close win in another highly entertaining game.
Some of y’all got on me for going “chalk” in my predictions, but now we’re in the semifinals and the top 4 seeds are the ones that are still around. Maybe those teams became top seeds because they’re the best teams in the conference? Really makes you think.
Anyway, I went 4-0 on Friday, making me 7-2 for the tournament after an 0-2 start. Let’s see how Saturday’s games go. If Alabama and Arkansas advance like I predict, I might start taking a victory lap. We’ll see!