published Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

SEC basketball teams close to predictions

  • photo
    Ole' Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
    Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/CHRIS DEAN

TRUE TO FORM

The current SEC men's basketball standings do not deviate much from how the teams were picked before the season:

PRESEASON / STANDINGS

Kentucky / Kentucky (9-0)

Vanderbilt / Florida (7-1)

Florida / Vanderbilt (5-3)

Alabama / Miss. State (5-3)

Miss. State / Alabama (4-4)

Arkansas / Arkansas (4-4)

Ole Miss / Ole Miss (4-4)

Georgia / Tennessee (3-5)

LSU / LSU (3-5)

Auburn / Auburn (3-6)

Tennessee / Georgia (1-7)

S. Carolina / S. Carolina (1-7)

So much for South Carolina's attempt at altering the predictability that has become Southeastern Conference basketball this season.

The Gamecocks were picked to finish at the bottom of the league and played the part Saturday, losing 86-52 to nationally No. 1-ranked Kentucky, which is living up to its preseason expectation of being the conference champion. The Wildcats are 9-0 in SEC contests entering tonight's game against visiting Florida, and the biggest surprise in league play is that there isn't a surprise team.

"I think that's a fair assessment just based on the numbers and where we are," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said Monday.

Vanderbilt and Florida were projected to be the teams best suited to challenge Kentucky and remain that way, though VU's Commodores at 16-7 overall and 5-3 in league play have been a mild disappointment. Arkansas and Ole Miss were picked in the middle of the 12-team pack and are each 4-4, and the five teams tabbed at the bottom -- Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina -- all have losing league records.

The Volunteers of first-year coach Cuonzo Martin are actually the biggest upgrade from the projections, getting picked 11th in the preseason and currently tied for eighth with LSU at 3-5. Tennessee pulled the most notable upset by stunning Florida on Jan. 7.

"When you watch a Georgia or Tennessee or teams that are in the same boat we are in the lower portion, I see some teams that are extremely athletic," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. "I think these teams are good, and I think Tennessee is a tremendous example of that. They have outstanding ability, and they've shown that if you look at some of the quality victories they've had.

"There's also the fact that they've been in every game."

Every SEC game, that is, except an 18-point loss at Vanderbilt and a 25-point loss at Kentucky. The Wildcats have been hammering everybody lately, winning by 24 at LSU before thumping the Vols and Gamecocks by a combined 59 points.

"There is an easy transition from a swagger to arrogance, and that's when you get beat," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We're not a great team, but we're a good team. What we would like to be by the end of the year is as good as our team was last year as a team.

"Last year's team, at the end of the year, was as good as there was in the country, and that's what we're trying to do with this team."

None of Kentucky's league victims has a winning league record, but that could change tonight with the arrival of Billy Donovan's Gators, who are 7-1 within the conference. The Wildcats visit Vanderbilt on Saturday, which will be accompanied by ESPN GameDay's first visit to Memorial Gym.

There were no head-to-head matchups involving Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt in January.

"It seems like we've always played some of those teams earlier in the season, but I'm fine with that," Vandy's Kevin Stallings said. "That can also disguise what's going on at the top of the standings, too. When you start playing Florida and Kentucky, there are going to be some losses inevitably involved with some of those games."

The team kicking itself for not providing more flare to the SEC standings is Ole Miss. The Rebels lost at home to Florida after squandering a 16-point lead in the first half, and they have endured double-overtime setbacks at Auburn and at Alabama.

"You think about a possession here and a possession there, and we could realistically be sitting here at 7-1," Kennedy said. "On the other hand, a possession here and a possession there in some of our earlier games, and we could have easily lost more. All we can do is try to learn, because we're sitting here with 22 games under our belt, and 11 of those have been decided by four points or less."

Said Donovan: "The margin for victory and loss is so fragile that those teams at the bottom of the standings are really a game or two away from their team having a different take or a different complexion. I still think anybody in this league can beat anybody else on a given night."

Davis honored

Kentucky freshman forward Anthony Davis was named Monday as SEC player of the week after averaging 20 points, eight rebounds and 7.5 blocks in blowout wins over Tennessee and South Carolina. The 6-foot-10, 222-pounder from Chicago has 116 blocks this season, breaking the SEC freshman record of 115 set by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1990.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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