published Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

SEC basketball in early-season flip mode

Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt were the top three seeds in last year's Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament.

Those three programs are a combined 1-5 in league play this year.

One week does not a season make, but the two-game sampling at each SEC school has provided a different look from a year ago. John Calipari's Wildcats are 1-1 after ripping through the league last season with a 16-0 mark, while Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are among the upstart teams at 2-0.

"I think there are a number of teams that could win the league, but I wouldn't put too much into two games," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Monday. "It's an 18-game schedule, and a lot of things will change and adjust themselves between now and the finish of it. Kentucky made it pretty boring last year going undefeated, and I doubt if you'll see that."

Florida visits Texas A&M on Thursday in a matchup of 2-0 league teams, with the Aggies having needed little time in the SEC to defeat Alabama's football team at Bryant-Denny Stadium and Kentucky's basketball team in Rupp Arena. A&M stunned the Wildcats 83-71 this past Saturday behind 40 points from senior guard Elston Turner.

At 10-5 overall, the Wildcats already have lost as many games as they did in Calipari's first (35-3 in 2009-10) and third (38-2 in 2011-12) seasons combined.

"The challenge I have with this team is to get us to that point where we all buy in with both feet in," Calipari said. "We need to trust each other to where we can finish off these games. We may need to get hit on the chin three or four more times before we realize it's not working this way.

"I've got great kids who want to please me and are looking for affirmation, but it's the point of totally buying into how you have to play."

Ole Miss and Auburn have the league's longest droughts in NCAA tournament invitations, with Ole Miss last being part of March Madness in 2002 and the Tigers last going in 2003. This is Auburn's first 2-0 SEC start since '03, when it advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing 79-78 to eventual NCAA champ Syracuse.

The Tigers are led by the senior tandem of guard Frankie Sullivan, who averages 17.2 points per game, and 6-foot-10 center Rob Chubb, who's averaging 9.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.

"It's a lot of different things that are starting to come together," Auburn third-year coach Tony Barbee said. "The chemistry between the older and younger guys has started to converge."

Auburn was picked 12th and Mississippi State 14th in the SEC preseason poll, but the biggest surprise so far may be Andy Kennedy's Rebels, who were picked seventh. Ole Miss had an opening gauntlet of at Tennessee and home against No. 10 Missouri but rolled to 92-74 and 64-49 wins.

Saturday's triumph over Missouri took place before a sold-out Tad Smith Coliseum.

"We scored 92 at Tennessee and we scored 64 in our own building, so it wasn't like we played an A-plus game," Kennedy said. "We did what we were supposed to do, and that's to protect our home floor."

Odds and ends

Turner was named SEC player of the week after averaging 27.5 points on 64.5-percent shooting in wins over Arkansas and Kentucky. ... Stallings on the Commodores, who scored 33 points in a loss to Marist in November and again in a loss to Arkansas this past Saturday: "At some point I think they'll start going in, because I think we're a better shooting team than we're demonstrating."

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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