5-at-10: SEC basketball takeaways, LeBron’s greatness, happy birthday to Kevin Costner

Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) is defended by Vanderbilt forward Myles Stute (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Alabama won 78-66. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) is defended by Vanderbilt forward Myles Stute (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Alabama won 78-66. (AP Photo/John Amis)


SEC basketball

Wow, that was a full Tuesday of SEC hoops with several notable story lines.

First, Alabama is as physically talented as any team in America. Tuesday night in one of the league's toughest road venues, Alabama showed it is also as mentally tough as anyone, too.

Dealing with the fallout of a teammate being arrested for his involvement in a murder over the weekend, the Tide went to Nashville and beat Vandy handily.

Coach Nate Oats has handled a coaching scenario for which no one could ever expect with grace and humility.

As for basketball, well, Nate has the blessing of handing the ball to Brandon Miller, who is the best freshman this league has seen since Anthony Davis. (And yes, that includes personal fav Jabari Smith from a year ago.)

Georgia hoops was not as fortunate in the aftermath of tragedy. The Bulldogs continued to flash their improvement with a feisty effort in Rupp a couple of days after the car crash killed a football player and recruiting assistant.

In fact, Georgia had an eight-point halftime lead over UK. Then Oscar Tshiebwe went nuts.

The reigning player of the year went for 23 points and 15 boards.

In. The. Second. Half.

Seriously.

Oscar finished with 37 points and 24 rebounds, which makes him just the fourth SEC player in the 2000s with a 30-20 performance. (The others were Sindarius Thornwell, Jeronne Maymon and Jaime Lloreda.)

Next, Tennessee played without two of its best back court players and survived a 23-23 tie after a first-half rock fight.

UT pulled away in the second half, and got a double-digit road win, which is always a good thing.

But the truth remains that UT's schizophrenic offense can't offer a 20-minute stinker like last night's first half against good teams. And no, despite running roughshod over a woeful nonconference schedule to start 11-0 and move into the AP rankings, Mississippi State is not good.

Want good? Did anyone see any of the Kansas-Kansas State rock show?

Those are good teams.

As of now, the SEC has one elite team, one elite defensive team, one supremely talented team looking for the right combination and a bunch of bubbles.

(And yes, Doug, I still believe, even with the home loss to South Carolina, that Kentucky will be in the NCAA tournament.)

Props are due

So I have long been a LeBron James fan boy. His game was so complete at such a young age it was impossible not to be impressed.

I have switched to Team Luka over the last couple of years for a variety of reasons, be it James' hypocritical social stances, his West Coast games being difficult to watch, his Lakers' struggles as well as Luka's overall awesomeness.

But as we entered the final stretch of Kareem Abdul Jabbar's reign as the NBA career scoring King, I think it's proper to put LeBron James' career into context.

By the end of this season -- provided he stays close to his averages and does not get injured -- James will hold these career places in these stats:

He'll be No. 1 in scoring.

He'll be 34th in career rebounds (if he plays tonight, he will pas David Robinson for 36th).

He'll be fourth in career assists, passing Mark Jackson and Steve Nash later this season.

He'll move to No. 9 in steals.

Wow. That's a résumé that rivals any -- MJ included.

Rookie rankings

So ESPN polled some NFL execs and ranked the top 10 first-year players this season.

It's hard to dispute No. 1, the Jets CB Sauce Gardner, who is the first rookie DB to make first team All-Pro since some dude named Ronnie Lott.

The rest of the list is here, and for the most part, it's fine.

I will admit I was surprised Pats rookie and former UTC star Cole Strange did not crack at least a spot on the honorable mentions.

By almost every metric, Strange was a dude in 2022.

This and that

-- Slap in the face time. In today's TFP, we get a sobering reminder that only 38% of our third graders in Hamilton County are proficient in English. Hey elected leaders, let's quit squabbling over Rheubin Taylor's employment status and whether downtown benches increase homelessness and truly do something. For a city -- yes, the city must realize all of its goals are tied to acceptable public education in some way or another -- and a county that takes every chance to thump its chest about this "great" title or that "best place" label, those numbers are striking. And hopefully eye-opening.

-- Also, does anyone think those numbers will get better if Hamilton County public school parents are given private school vouchers? Yeah, no.

-- Another story worth your time in today's fish wrapper is Paschall's look at the economic impact the state football championships at Finley have allowed us the last two years.

-- So, I don't want this to seem too self-serving, but it's hard to be hotter on the sports wagering end of things than I currently am. We had Gary Trent over 17.5 points and Tennessee minus-5.5 last night. Check, check, cash the checks. We are 19-4-3 since Jan. 8 in our documented afternoon Plays of the Day email. You can sign up here. As always past performance does not mean future success, but even Vader has to be impressed with 19-4.

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which postseason tournament will Kentucky play in -- NCAA, NIT, none of the above?

Which would you rather have for 2023 -- Tom Brady's swan song or an indifferent Aaron Rodgers?

Which is the best SEC freshman basketball player of the last quarter century?

As for today, Jan. 18, let's review.

Happy birthday to Kevin Costner, who is 68.

Have we done his Rushmore? I think so, but I can't remember, because after the first two, it gets rather debatable, no?

Also, Costner's move to TV makes me wonder who would be on the A-list movie stars-to-TV transitions Rushmore?

So there you go. Rushmore options.

See most of you around 5 p.m. today in your email.