The College Basketball season is another week old, and the SEC consistently provides the sport with several talented players and teams. Here are the major storylines from the previous week of conference play. (AP Rankings accurate up until February 17, 2019.)
1. Wildcats Showcase Their Championship Talent
Kentucky faced off with Tennessee on Saturday night in what was the most anticipated conference matchup of the season. The result was the best possible outcome for the Wildcats as they blew out the No. 1 team in the nation in front of a packed Rupp Arena crowd.
This win could not have come at a better time considering that Kentucky just suffered a demoralizing and controversial defeat to LSU on Tuesday night. What started out as a disastrous week has now turned into one of the best of the season for the Wildcats.
Like how that embarrassing loss to Duke at the start of the season changed the morale of the program, this huge win over Tennessee might once again change the morale of Kentucky. However, this change might just give Coach John Calipari’s team a huge momentum boost heading into March.
Once again, P.J. Washington came up huge for UK as the sophomore and future pro outplayed Tennessee’s Grant Williams by scoring a game-high 23 points. Williams was formerly the leader for SEC player of the year, however, Washington has now thoroughly entered that conversation.
If Washington can finish out conference play by playing like he has in the Wildcats’ last eight contests, then he will take home the conference’s highest award at season’s end.
2. Just How Good is Tennessee?
On the flip side, we saw a new side of Tennessee which we previously have not seen this season. Before Saturday night, Tennessee was thought of as one of the most physical teams in the nation. However, their physicality was put to test against Kentucky, and the Volunteers massively failed.
While Jordan Bone, Williams, and Admiral Schofield all notched double figures, no one else on Tennessee’s team scored more than four points. Three good performances may be good enough against other teams, but that will not get the job done against teams like Kentucky.
I think its very fair to now wonder just how good these Volunteers really are. Tennessee played 16 straight games against teams that were all unranked. While it is impressive that they won them all, it’s obvious that playing so many average squads did not adequately prepare Tennessee for the Wildcats.
Do not let last night fool you. The Volunteers are still in the upper-echelon of college basketball this season. Remember, they still have marquee victories over No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 16 Louisville.
But where do they fit in the big picture? They are still almost guaranteed a top-2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they will still be in the Top 10 in the next rankings.
Personally, I see the Volunteers as a team that will struggle to make it out of the second weekend of the Big Dance unless they get a favorable bracket. A fourth player needs to step up outside of Tennessee’s big three in order for the Volunteers to make the Final Four.
3. LSU Starts Run for a No. 2 Seed
In what is undoubtedly the most underrated storyline of the week, LSU defeated both Kentucky and Georgia to move to 21-4 overall and 11-1 in SEC Play. The Tigers will surely shoot up the rankings and be on the cusp of the Top 10.
That means there is an outside chance that LSU might be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They still have to play Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida twice before the SEC Tournament which means they have plenty of chances to prove themselves worthy of such a seeding.
Because the top eight teams seemingly have such a tight hold on No. 1 and 2 seeds, the margin of error for the Tigers is very small. They will have to defeat Tennessee in the regular season, then beat either the Volunteers or Wildcats in the SEC Tournament.
While it seems unlikely, LSU still has a fighter’s chance due to their overall talent level which includes the likes of Naz Reid. Reid is one of the most unique players in the country, and one of the biggest reasons why the Tigers defeated Kentucky.
4. Arkansas Will Not Be Going Dancing
Folks, it’s officially time to jump ship on the Razorbacks. After losing three straight contests to teams they could have have easily beaten, Arkansas is now 14-11 on the season and 5-7 in SEC Play.
Unless the Razorbacks win out (which they won’t), then Head Coach Mike Anderson’s squad will certainly not be dancing in March. This is a huge disappointment due to Arkansas having one of the best players in the SEC in Daniel Gafford.
Now, this is where things get very interesting for the program. In Anderson’s eight years at the school the Razorbacks have only made the tournament three times, and they have never made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With morale at an all-time low, fans are starting to turn away from the program.
Anderson’s time at Arkansas may be finished if this season gets much worse. A respectable run in the NIT may be enough to keep his job, but nothing is certain at this point. No matter what happens with Anderson’s future, the Razorbacks have been a massive disappointment.
5. ‘Bama and Florida Squarely on the Bubble
With just three weeks left in conference play, we have a pretty clear picture of which teams from the SEC will make the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee, Kentucky, and LSU are all locks while Ole Miss, Miss. State, and Auburn are all in the tournament for now. Unless any of those last three teams implode down the stretch, the SEC is virtually guaranteed to have six teams in the Tournament.
Missouri, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Vanderbilt have been out of NCAA Tournament contention for over a month, and after this week Arkansas has joined them. South Carolina is one game above .500 so they aren’t on the bubble as of now.
All that leaves are just two programs who will be the SEC’s bubble teams this season: Alabama and Florida. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Crimson Tide were in the Big Dance as a 10 seed, but that was before they were annihilated 71-53 by Florida on Saturday. Just three days ago the Gators were the first team out of the tournament in Lunardi’s projection.
There is a chance that Alabama is now on the outside looking in due to Florida taking their spot. The Crimson Tide are 15-10 overall and 6-6 in SEC play while the Gators are 14-11 and 6-6. Essentially, which ever team has the best wins on the season will make the tournament.
As it stands, Alabama has better wins even with Florida beating them yesterday. However, the Gators still have to play LSU twice and Kentucky one more time. It will be a race to a finish to see which of these two squads will be dancing in March.