Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Tad Pad hopping in Oxford
Mississippi's Murphy Holloway (31) dunks the ball in a game against Arkansas at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)
FAYETTEVILLE Ole Miss basketball has become relevant for the first time in essentially a decade, and the Rebels’ fans are responding. The school will host its fourth consecutive sellout tonight when Ole Miss takes on Kentucky at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The Rebels join Florida as the only 6-0 teams in SEC play, and the teams will square off Saturday at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
“We’re always going to keep the hunter mentality,” Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. “We haven’t done anything. … For us, it’s just about trying to take advantage of opportunities.
It’s the reason we’ve been on the outside looking in for more times than I’d want to remember.”
SEC coaches like Ole Miss’ inside power with Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner balanced with a strong back court, featuring Jarvis Summers and hotshot junior college transfer Marshall Henderson.
“They’re a veteran team and they don’t get rattled,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. “Even if the other team comes at them and gets leads, they don’t get rattled.”
Missouri Coach Frank Haith’s team has lost to Florida and Ole Miss on the road by a combined 64 points.
“I’m anxious to see what shakes out,” Haith said. “I think they’re two of the best teams in our league, and I think Florida may be one of the best teams in the country. … It should be a fun game.”Good Gators
Florida is the only SEC team to play four conference road games, but it hasn’t slowed the Gators. Florida has won eight consecutive games, five in a row on the road, and has beaten its six SEC opponents by an average of 26.5 points per game.
The latest performance - an 82-47 rout at Mississippi State - might have been the Gators’ best.
Florida out rebounded the Bulldogs 44-20 and held them to 32.7 percent shooting. The Gators’ 41-19 halftime lead marked the seventh time they held an opponent to 20 or fewer first-half points.
“I think Florida is by far the best team in the SEC, and I’d venture to say they’re probably playing better than anyone in the nation at this point in time,” Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray said.
Florida will play at home this week against South Carolina and Ole Miss.
“It’s easier to defend a team that has one real good player who keeps the ball,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. “It’s hard to defend teams like Florida that just have so many guys and the ball never sticks. The ball’s in constant motion, so it’s hard to stay disciplined in your assignments.”
Mississippi State and Missouri have the hardest conference schedules based on the records of the league opponents they face twice in the new unbalanced format, while Alabama has the easiest road.
The records of the five teams Mississippi State and Missouri play twice is 67-25 (.728) and they are the only league teams who face both Florida and Ole Miss twice.
The five opponents Alabama faces twice have a combined record of 43-48 (.473).
The combined record of the opponents for the rest of the SEC teams: Georgia 62-31 (.667), Auburn 62-32 (.659), Texas A&M 60-33 (.645), Arkansas 59-34 (.634), LSU 58-36 (.617), Tennessee 58-36 (.617), Florida 55-39 (.585), Vanderbilt 55-39 (.585), Kentucky 54-38 (.587), Ole Miss 52-41 (.559) and South Carolina 48-43 (.527).
The SEC/Big East Challenge has come to an end after six seasons. Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said the series wouldn’t resume in a speech Monday in Connecticut and the SEC confirmed it to the Birmingham (Ala.) News.
The contract on the series ended this season, and with the ongoing changes with the Big East, which is losing its seven nonfootball-playing schools, as well as Syracuse and Pittsburgh, it made no sense to keep the event going.
The Big East was 9-3 against the SEC in the challenge in 2012 and 25-15 overall since it started in 2007.
Mississippi State has lost its past four games by an average margin of 27 points per game after starting 2-0 in the SEC. The Bulldogs’ two home losses in that span - to Alabama and Florida - were particularly lopsided, as they came by 32 and 35 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs are playing with seven scholarship players as first-year Coach Rick Ray deals with injuries and inexperience.
Ole Miss senior Murphy Holloway will enter today’s 8 p.m. Central game against Kentucky with 941 career rebounds, four short of the Rebels’ career record of 945 held by Walter Actwood.
Texas A&M has failed in four consecutive attempts to win the program’s 1,300th games. The past two losses, against LSU and Georgia, have come against teams at the bottom of the SEC standings.
The Aggies’ 59-52 loss to Georgia at home Saturday was the first meeting between the programs.
Texas A&M’s road game at Mississippi State on Wednesday will match teams that opened 2-0 in SEC play but have lost four in a row since.
Ole Miss made 4 of 17 free throws (23.5 percent) at Auburn on Saturday to surpass Arkansas’ 4-of-15 performance at Texas A&M for the worst free throw shooting in an SEC game this year. The Rebels managed to trip up Auburn 63-61 on Marshall Henderson’s two free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Murphy Holloway was 1 of 6 from the line, followed by Jarvis Summers’ 0-of-4 shooting.
Missouri forward Laurence Bowers, the team’s leading scorer (16.8 points per game) who has missed the past five games with a knee injury, is questionable for Wednesday’s game at LSU.
… South Carolina’s 75-54 victory over Arkansas on Saturday gave Gamecocks Coach Frank Martin a 5-4 edge over Mike Anderson in head-to-head games. The two had gone 4-4, with all the victories coming in home games, while coaching at Kansas State and Missouri, respectively. … Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel is averaging 6.2 blocked shots in conference play, which is 3.5 blocks per game better than the second-best shot blocker - Alabama’s Moussa Gueye - in SEC games. … Four Florida starters - Erik Murphy, Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin - made a combined 24 of 34 shots (.706) in the Gators’ 82-47 victory at Mississippi State on Saturday. The fifth starter, guard Mike Rosario, went 1 for 8 to drop the starters’ shooting percentage to .595. … Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan has set the school record for most three pointers attempted with 636.
Game of the week
OLE MISS AT FLORIDA, SATURDAY, 6 P.M. (ESPNU)
The heavyweight match up the league has been awaiting will be a battle of SEC unbeatens if Ole Miss can take out Kentucky at home tonight and the Gators can handle South Carolina at home Wednesday.
“I know it’s difficult for people who see him in brief periods to completely get him. I think his passion is coming from a great place. … As a coach, I’m probably more concerned about his shot selection than I am about him popping his shirt here and there.” Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy on flamboyant transfer guard Marshall Henderson
“I’d say we were hitting shots early, which is somewhat of a fool’s gold. We stopped hitting shots, and that’s when we got down and started panicking.” Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell on the Hogs’ 15-3 start and subsequent loss at South Carolina
By the numbers
3 Teams shooting less than 40 percent in SEC play: LSU (.374), Vanderbilt (.386), Mississippi State (.387)
4 Teams without an SEC road victory: Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee
47 Points scored by each of Florida’s past three road opponents
Sports, Pages 18 on 01/29/2013