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.
5 teams flit on bubble
Kentucky's head coach John Calipari yells to his bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, March 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE Florida and Missouri are safely in the NCAA Tournament field based on a consensus of college basketball bracket projectors.
After that, the question marks run rampant.
Kentucky, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama all have RPI numbers between 51 and 60, which is just good enough to be on or off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Arkansas is at No. 80 in the RPI, not a safe area, but the Razorbacks just thumped Kentucky and have an opportunity at 6 tonight at Missouri for what would be a huge road victory.
All of those next five teams could use some resume building heading into the final week of the regular season.
The Crimson Tide travels to Ole Miss for today’s 8 p.m. game with NCAA Tournament talk at the forefront.
“That stuff is out of our control,” Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said. “I think Ole Miss will be ready to go. Both of us are coming off tough losses this past weekend.”
Florida, with its 13-3 SEC mark, has clinched a share of the SEC regular season title and a double bye for next week’s conference tournament in Nashville.
Six teams - Alabama and Kentucky at 11-5, Missouri and Ole Miss at 10-6 and Arkansas and Tennessee at 9-7 - are battling for the other three double byes.
On the other end of the bracket, Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina, with 3-13 records, have all clinched first-round spots, while one team - either Georgia, LSU, Vanderbilt or Texas A&M will fall into that first-round position as the No. 11 seed.
Arkansas’ 34.8 percent shooting in its 73-60 victory over Kentucky made the Razorbacks the third team since 1999 to beat Kentucky despite shooting less than 35 percent.
South Carolina shot 34.4 percent in a 68-62 victory on Jan. 26, 2010, and Vanderbilt made 34.1 percent of its shots in a 57-52 victory over the Wildcats on Jan. 10, 2006. Arkansas had not beaten Kentucky by 10 or more points since the 2000 SEC Tournament.
Ole Miss’ 6-0 start and apparent run to an NCAA Tournament bid has gotten hazy, and possibly doubtful after losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State in the last two weeks.
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy, who has led the Rebels to their sixth 20-win season in his seven years, could not explain the Rebels’ poor showing in a 73-67 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday.
“I just thought it looked right from the jump that Mississippi State was the one playing for their NCAA Tournament lives,” Kennedy said. “I have no explanation for that. I’d like to be able to sit up here, as the leader of this program, and give you some poignant answer or explanation. I have none. It’s inexcusable. I don’t know how that happens, quite frankly.”
Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray’s team ended a 13-game losing streak.
“I just wanted to come in and actually be happy about winning a ballgame,” he said. “Maybe I can go out and have some dinner tonight and not be embarrassed.”
Saturday concludes the SEC’s 18-game regular season schedule, but two games - Ole Miss at LSU and Missouri at Tennessee - feature teams who are playing each other for the first and only time. Arkansas and Texas A&M, meanwhile, complete a bookend schedule of playing the conference opener and the finale.
Dried up Plains
Auburn missed 16 consecutive shots during a 48-minute period of real time spanning halftime in a 62-55 loss to Vanderbilt.
Alex can’t miss
Missouri’s Alex Oriakhi was named the SEC Player of the Week after making all of his shots against South Carolina for the second time this season. Oriahki, a 6-9, 255-pound transfer from Connecticut, was 6 of 6 from the field and the foul line, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Tigers’ 90-68 victory last Thursday. Oriakhi was 4 of 4 from the field and 12 of 12 from the foul line in Missouri’s earlier victory over South Carolina.
Florida guard Kenny Boynton scored 13 points versus Alabama on Saturday to pass Andrew Moten and take second place on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,940 points. The Gators’ all-time leader is Ronnie Williams (1981-84), who scored, 2,090 points.
Arkansas ranks No. 3 in the nation with a turnover margin of plus 6.0. … Florida Coach Billy Donovan improved to 5-0 in head-to head games vs. his former assistant Anthony Grant.
… South Carolina has gone with 12 different starting lineups this season. … Missouri has posted five consecutive 20-victory seasons. … Tennessee sophomore Jarnell Stokes has had at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in eight of the past 11 games and 12 times for the season. Stokes is the first Volunteer in 20 years to record 10-plus double doubles.
Game of the week
FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY 11 a.m. Central Saturday (CBS)
The Gators can claim sole possession of the SEC regular-season title by beating Vanderbilt on Wednesday, but either way, this game will be a barometer for Florida and a potential ticket-puncher to the NCAA Tournament for the Wildcats.
Sports, Pages 20 on 03/05/2013