With all of the league having completed eight conference games now, we take a look at what's been a very competitive SEC this season, now at the midway point. With half the league still in the NCAA Tournament conversation, while the overall talent level may be down as expected, there are still plenty of teams who can make a run towards March. And there have been plenty of surprises along the way...
IN THE HUNT
- LSU (19-4, 7-1)
- Florida (19-4, 6-2)
- Mississippi State (16-7, 6-2)
- South Carolina (17-5, 6-3)
- Kentucky (16-7, 5-3)
- Tennessee (14-8, 5-3)
- Vanderbilt (15-8, 4-5)
- Ole Miss (13-10, 4-5)
- Auburn (14-9, 3-5)
- Alabama (13-9, 3-5)
- Georgia (9-14, 0-8)
THE FALSE START
- Arkansas (13-8, 1-7)
More after the jump...
It's no surprise to find the East trifecta of UF, UK and UT in the first group. The Vols and Cats really struggled with a difficult non-conference slate, while Florida suffers from having not played one. Still, you have to think that if each of these teams can get to at least 9 wins in conference, they'll be fine.
It's a strange year because at the halfway point, there are no teams you could call locks for the NCAA Tournament, and there may not be any teams that go any higher than a six seed when it all shakes out. Likewise, it's almost impossible for me to see how all six of those teams get in...so if there's an odd man (or men) out, who's it going to be? And with all of them flawed and still vulnerable to the kind of collapse that cost Florida at this time last year, how can we really be sure about any of this?
It might be easier to point to the three more surprising teams on this list and say that they're most likely to fall...but South Carolina has already beaten Florida and Kentucky, and for the teams in the West, the schedule offers a better opportunity to put up a big number the way LSU has thus far. I wrote Mississippi State off after a rocky non-conference slate, but they've kept themselves in it thus far, especially after winning at Rupp Arena.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have done a nice job of bouncing back: the Dores played an insanely difficult schedule to open SEC play, but have now won three straight. And Ole Miss has overcome a host of bad situations to pickup key wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State to get their season going in the right direction. Auburn was a team I completely wrote off, and like the rest of Vol Nation today, I'm sorry for it.
If you had to guess today...I'd say the West champion and then three of the four teams in the East should be good bets to get in. I'm just not sure all four of the East contenders can put up good enough records by the time it's all said and done to each make it to March, though right now the two with the worst non-conference resumes in Florida and Carolina are ahead of the Cats and Vols; it'll be very interesting to see what happens on Selection Sunday if South Carolina finishes 9-7/20-9 and Tennessee finishes 8-8/18-13.
And at this pace, you could see several teams who go to the SEC Tournament feeling the need to pickup at least one win, which should continue to make for an exciting regular season and an especially fascinating weekend in Tampa.
PLAYERS OF THE FIRST HALF
- G Devan Downey, South Carolina: averaging 20 points per game on the nose with a great touch for the three; lit the Gators for 33 in a 97-93 loss that evened the season series.
- G Marcus Thornton, LSU: only a tick behind at 19.9 points and 5 rebounds per game; has scored 30+ five times this year and hitting 41% of his threes.
- G Nick Calathes, Florida: proven to be one of the conference's most versatile at 18.1 points, 5.3 rebs and 6.4 assists per game
- C Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State: this dude is averaging almost five blocks per game. Insane.
- G Jodie Meeks & C Patrick Patterson, Kentucky: they go together because almost everything about the way Kentucky struggles is apart from them. Meeks hung 54 on the Vols to boost his scoring average to a league-best 25.4 per game, while PatPat goes for 18 and 9 each night.
- F Tyler Smith & C Wayne Chism, Tennessee: the Vols' two most experienced players, each having been a double-double threat on any given night and being often times forced to put the young team on their shoulders. 30 points and 15 rebounds a night between them.
- G David Huertas, Ole Miss: in the absence of Chris Warren, Huertas has nearly matched his scoring average and has scored 15+ in six straight games.