SEC Fast Break With Chris Dortch (December 20)
A quick look around the SEC, by the numbers:
Mississippi State (11-1):
An unsung hero in the Bulldogs’ best start since 2003-04 has been 6-8, 253-pound sophomore Wendell Lewis
, who has been forced into key minutes while subbing for Arnett Moultrie
when the latter is resting his sore knees, and for Renardo Sidney
, who still isn’t in great game shape. Lewis is averaging 23.2 minutes, 6.0 points and 4.9 rebounds and is shooting .744 from the field (32-of-43).
Every week the Fast Break searches SEC box scores to find our favorite stat line. And here it is: Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis
racked up 14 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots against Chattanooga. That performance was not a fluke. Earlier, Davis hit St. John’s with a 15-point, 15-rebound, eight-block game. He’s on pace to wipe out Kentucky’s single-season blocked shot record of 83 (held by Melvin Turpin and Andre Riddick
). He’s averaging 4.4 rejections, which projects out to 145 for the season.
The competition hasn’t been the greatest and coach Tony Barbee
hasn’t always been pleased even in victory, but Auburn is off to its best start since the 2003-04 season, Cliff Ellis’
last as coach. Over the next few games, Barbee will begin to find out how good his team really is, given that the schedule gets tougher and he’ll have a full roster of players at his disposal. Four players, two of them newcomers, joined the Tigers at the semester break: sophomore Josh Langford
and senior Tony Neysmith
, who had been suspended for six games, freshman Cedrick McAfee
and Clemson transfer Noel Johnson
In two recent victories, including an impressive roughing up of Texas A&M, Florida worked on shoring up a potential weakness. After shooting .591 from the free-throw line in their first eight games, the Gators shot .796 (23-of-30) against future SEC opponent Texas A&M and .833 (20-of-24) against Mississippi Valley State.
Ole Miss (9-2):
The Rebels were dealt a disappointing road loss at Southern Miss last week, but an encouraging sign was the play of junior forward Reginald Buckner
, who despite his impressive physical gifts has been plagued throughout his career by inconsistency. Buckner contributed 10 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots in the loss, and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy
was pleased with his competitive fire. Another good sign: Terrance Henry
, the 6-9 senior, scored a career-high 26 points against the Golden Eagles. Kennedy has been waiting three years for Buckner and Henry to consistently produce those kinds of results in the same game.
It’s now safe to say LSU is back on track after consecutive 20-loss seasons. The Tigers have won seven of their last eight games, including a 67-59 home-court victory over No. 10 Marquette on Dec. 19. The Golden Eagles, who came into the game averaging 84 points, were held to 59, and their .362 field-goal percentage was their lowest of the season. LSU hadn’t beaten a ranked team since the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
: Alabama has lost three of its last four games after a 7-0 start, and the reason isn’t hard to spot: In those three losses, the Crimson Tide shot 9-of-46 (.195) from 3-point range. Until Alabama can start consistently knocking down 3s, opponents are going to be able to use zone defenses to keep JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell
out of the paint.
: Razorback freshman B.J. Young
is the nation’s leading scorer among players who either haven’t started or have started just one game this season. But he won’t have that distinction much longer. After earning a start in Arkansas’ last game, a 62-55 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, Young was penciled in the lineup again for a Dec. 20 home game against Eastern Kentucky. Young is leading the Hogs in scoring (15.3 ppg) and field-goal percentage (.515).
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Magic has been disrupted this season by three losses handed out by a tough array of teams from non-power conferences: Cleveland State, Xavier and Indiana State. An old problem continues to plague the Commodores—3-point field-goal defense. The Sycamores, for example, shot .476 from behind the arc in a 61-55 victory on Dec. 17. That’s troubling to coach Kevin Stallings
, but what’s probably even more worrisome is the fact his team shot a combined .387 from the field and .278 from 3 in those three games. Xavier coach Chris Mack
and Indiana State coach Greg Lansing
said they’d learned a lot about defending the Commodores from watching the Cleveland State game tape.
How’s this for irony? The Bulldogs, who had been shooting just .378 from the field (319th in Division I) and .290 from 3-point range (254th) heading into a game at USC, shot .512 from the field and .692 from 3 against the Trojans, coached by the dark lord of defense, Kevin O’Neill
. Considering O’Neill uses sub-40 percent field-goal shooting as a barometer for his team’s success, he must have had a crummy night’s sleep after the Bulldogs—led by senior Dustin Ware
and freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
, who combined for 8-of-9 shooting from behind the arc—toasted the Trojans.
South Carolina (4-6):
The Gamecocks had reason to feel good about themselves last week after a respectable home-court loss to Ohio State, even if Buckeye All-American Jared Sullinger
played only six minutes after injuring his foot. A not-so-neutral observer thinks South Carolina, after a slow start, is beginning to solve its issues. “They’re on the verge of turning the corner,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta
New Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin’s
task as the season progresses is to make sure the Vols maintain their effort and focus deep into the second half. Last week, for the second straight game, the Vols’ defense collapsed late in a game against a mid-major team. The College of Charleston shot .652 in the second half after Austin Peay shot .732 the game before.
Games I’m watching this week:
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama in Birmingham:
The Tide needs to get a win to get back on track, and the Cowboys have lost two straight, albeit to quality opponents Pittsburgh and New Mexico.
Ole Miss vs. Middle Tennessee in Southaven, Miss.:
The Rebels have another chance to bag a good win over a solid mid-major after losing at Southern Miss last week.
Auburn at Hawaii:
This game in the Diamond Head Classic will be played on the Rainbows’ home court and test an improving Auburn team that’s about to see its schedule amped up considerably.
Florida State at Florida:
This match-up is always intense, and this season will be no different as the Seminoles’ defense tries to tamp down the Gators’ high-scoring backcourt.
Auburn vs. Long Beach State or Xavier in Honolulu:
See above about the Tigers’ schedule being amped up. But the Musketeers will still be short-handed because of suspensions related to their recent fracas with Cincinnati, so Auburn’s opponent could be the 49ers, who are 5-5 but have played a brutal schedule, including a win at Pittsburgh.
East Tennessee at Tennessee:
It’s not unprecedented for ETSU, traditionally a solid mid-major program, to come to Thompson-Boling and deal a struggling Tennessee team a loss. The Buccaneers have done it twice.