A quick look around the SEC, by the numbers:
Kentucky (15-1, 1-0)
If Terrence Jones really did get his mojo back after making his first eight shots and scoring 20 points against South Carolina, that could spell trouble for the rest of the league. Counting a four-point effort in 28 minutes in the Wildcats’ only loss, at Indiana on Dec. 10., Jones had averaged 5.0 points in a five-game span. In fairness, he also suffered a dislocated finger in a game against Chattanooga. But Jones hadn’t been playing up to his preseason All-America expectations, in part, coach John Calipari has said, because he hasn’t been aggressively seeking to score. That changed against the Gamecocks, and Cal wants it to become the norm rather than the exception.
Arkansas (12-3, 1-0)
Freshman guard B.J. Young scored a career-high 24 points in 23 minutes against Mississippi State last Saturday. Young needed just 13 shots to get those points; he made 10 shots, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range. Young is making a serious bid for the SEC’s sixth man of the year award; he’s started just twice in 15 games and is shooting .521 from the field and .431 from 3 in averaging 14.8 points. Those are excellent percentages for anyone, let alone a freshman. Young’s shot selection is clearly advanced beyond his years.
Alabama (12-3, 1-0)
Speaking of stat lines by a freshman guard, Trevor Lacey’s 19-point effort in a win over Georgia had to make coach Anthony Grant feel good. Why? Because Lacey made 3 of 4 3-pointers. That’s a good sign for a team that has struggled behind the arc (.279) most of the season. Those 19 points bested Lacey’s previous season high of 12 and brought his 3-point percentage to .306, not far from being acceptable.
Vanderbilt (11-4, 1-0)
Commodore coach Kevin Stallings has to like two recent trends. The first: as mentioned in this space last week, wings John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor are clicking at the same time. In the last five games, Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer (20.6 ppg), and Taylor (third, 18.2 ppg) are a combined 71 of 125 from the field (.568) and 33 of 63 from 3-point range (.524).
The second trend: After some generous defensive performances against non-conference teams, Vanderbilt is starting to defend. In their SEC opener, the Commodores limited Auburn to .273 shooting and 35 points. The latter number was the lowest point total by a Vandy SEC opponent since 1982.
LSU (11-4, 1-0)
The Tigers’ convincing SEC-opening win over Ole Miss (81-55) was all the more impressive considering they were without half their post rotation. Freshman Johnny O’Bryant missed the game and is out indefinitely after suffering a broken hand in practice. And Malcolm White missed the game to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Justin Hamilton, who was featured on this site last week
, stepped up with career highs in points (23) and rebounds (16) and Storm Warren contributed a 15-point, 11-board double-double.
Tennessee (8-7, 1-0)
Two things worth noting for the Vols this week: Like Vanderbilt, Tennessee is starting to come around on the defensive end. That much was evident after the Vols shut down the league’s highest scoring team, Florida, last Saturday, limiting the Gators to their lowest point total (54) and field-goal percentage (.357) of the season.
Tennessee gains the services this week of 6-8, 270-pound power forward Jarnell Stokes, a Memphis native and consensus five-star recruit. Stokes, who just turned 18, can and will help the Vols this season, but coach Cuonzo Martin plans on bringing him along slowly.
Mississippi State (13-3, 0-1)
Fast Break’s favorite stat line of last week came from the Bulldogs’ DeVille Smith, who scored a career-high 25 points in just 18 minutes in a loss at Arkansas. You can’t miss many shots to score that many points that quickly, and Smith didn’t: 6 of 8 from the field, 3 of 3 from 3-point range and 11 of 11 from the free-throw line. State shot .519 from the field, .450 from 3 and .806 from the free-throw line and still lost by 10 points (98-88). The difference was turnovers: the Bulldogs committed 18 of them, which resulted in 23 Arkansas points.
Florida (12-4, 0-1)
The Gators have started 0-4 on the road, but coach Billy Donovan isn’t too worried. The schedule has contributed to that start just a bit.
“Two of the teams we've played on the road were ranked No. 1 [Syracuse] and No. 3 [Ohio State] in the country, and obviously [Knoxville] is a tough place to play [Florida is 1-6 there the last seven years] and Rutgers is a tough place to play,” Donovan said. "Anytime you play on the road, it's always a difficult challenge. We've got to learn what we have to do to put ourselves in a position to win."
Auburn (10-5, 0-1)
Tiger coach Tony Barbee is concerned about his team’s toughness, or lack thereof, perhaps more as it relates to offense than anything else. In suffering lopsided losses in its last two games against Florida State (85-56) and Vanderbilt (65-35), Auburn shot a combined 36 of 120 from the field (30 percent). That included 27 percent against the Commodores.
“We had guys with great looks and [they missed shots],” Barbee said after the Vanderbilt game. “You don't win shooting 27 percent from the floor. I don't know what offense to draw up. We got good looks. We aren't playing tough on the floor."
Ole Miss (10-5, 0-1)
Rebel coach Andy Kennedy is still trying to find the right combination of players to end a slide that has seen his team lose four of its last five games. Making matters more difficult has been the loss of leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson, who was kicked off the team last week, and an injury to forward Murphy Holloway, who has missed three games dealing with a slow-healing high ankle sprain. Ole Miss is looking forward to returning to its Tad Smith Coliseum for its second SEC game of the season, against Arkansas. The Rebels are 6-0 at home.
Georgia (9-6, 0-1)
Yet another SEC freshman guard put together an impressive stat line in the first league game he ever played. The Bulldogs’ Kentavious Caldwell Pope’s day’s work against Alabama was efficient: 6 of 9 from the floor, 3 of 5 from 3 and 7 of 7 from the free-throw line for 22 points. He also contributed four steals. It’s been a while (Jumaine Jones, 14.7 ppg in 1998) since a Georgia freshman averaged more points than Pope’s 14.6.
South Carolina (8-7, 0-1)
Freshman guard Damien Leonard is stepping forward at the right time. Last week against Kentucky he led the Gamecocks in scoring for the first time (15 points). In the last five games, during which South Carolina is 4-1, Leonard has shot .556 from the field and .522 from 3-point range. Leonard, who has prototypical shooting guard size (6-4, 200), was a four-star prospect out of Greenville’s J.L. Mann High School. He’s averaging 7.4 points and i