SEC report:

Auburn regains its stride

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2) shoots over Mississippi State guard Lamar Peters (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Mississippi State won 92-84.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2) shoots over Mississippi State guard Lamar Peters (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Mississippi State won 92-84.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

RANK;LAST WEEK;NET;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT

1;1;4;Tennessee (20-1, 8-0);Riding school-record 16-game winning streak

2;3;6;Kentucky (18-3, 7-1);Another young team finding its footing for Cal

3;2;20;LSU (17-4, 7-1);Took a tumble vs. Hogs

4;8;21;Auburn (15-6, 4-4);Looking more like Tigers of last season

5;4;26; Miss. State (16-5, 4-4);Big week for Dogs with LSU, UK at the Hump

6;5;103;South Carolina (11-10, 6-2);Poor nonconference showing a drag

7;7;46;Alabama (13-8, 4-4);Alternated Ls and Ws for last seven games

8;6;39;Ole Miss (14-7, 4-4);Lost 5 of 6 heading into home game vs. A&M

9;10;57;Arkansas (13-8, 4-4);Improved NET ranking by 12 spots in a week

10;9;40;Florida (12-9, 4-4);Longest win streak of season is 3 games

11;11;84;Missouri (11-9, 2-6);At Vols tonight after snapping 3-game skid

12;12;96;Georgia (10-11, 1-7);Riding a 6-game SEC losing streak

13;13;106; Texas A&M (8-12, 1-7);On a 5-game SEC losing streak

14;14;114;Vanderbilt (9-12, 0-8);Six SEC losses have been by 10-plus points

The NCAA has instituted a new rating system, the NET Rankings, which has taken the place of the Ratings Percentage Index. An acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, the NET rankings factor in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses.

Game of the week

Kentucky at Mississippi State, noon, Saturday (CBS)

The Wildcats clearly have rounded into midseason form with an eight-game winning streak, including road victories at Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Florida. Mississippi State, sporting one of the most veteran rosters in the league, hosts LSU and Kentucky this week.

QUOTEBOOK

"Contrary to what everybody thinks, they are getting better. They played Tennessee, which is the No. 1 team in the country, had them beat." -- Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson on Vanderbilt

"We are still a work in progress. We're halfway up the hill." -- UK Coach John Calipari after winning 65-54 at Florida

"You know, scientifically it's proven when you win, you feel better." -- Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew

"I don't see a defensive weakness. They're just really guarding." -- Florida Coach Mike White on Kentucky's defensive work

By the numbers

5

Consecutive wins for South Carolina over Georgia

6

Number of SEC teams with 4-4 league records

11

Margin of victory for Kentucky men's and women's basketball and football teams -- all against Florida -- in their most recent games

FAYETTEVILLE -- After splitting the SEC regular-season championship with Tennessee last year, Auburn got off to a slow start in league play this time around.

That looks like it's changing after the Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak by winning their past two games by a combined 55 points over Missouri and Alabama.

In a game featuring one of the most stark contrasts in styles, Auburn will host Florida tonight at 8 in a battle between teams with 4-4 SEC records.

The Gators have dominated the series in recent years with an 11-game winning streak.

"We haven't beaten Florida at Auburn since 1999," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. "It's not much of a rivalry when one team dominates the series. I can take credit for four of the games."

Auburn leads the overall series 87-79, but Florida has never lost at Auburn Arena.

The Tigers enter with the SEC's No. 2 scoring team, behind Tennessee, at 84.2 points per game. Auburn also has taken 627 three-pointers, 134 more than the SEC team with the second-most in Mississippi State (493).

Florida has played a bunch of low-scoring games and leads the SEC in scoring defense at 62.8 points per game, more than three points better than their closest pursuer, Kentucky (65.9).

The Gators lead the conference by a fraction over Arkansas in three-point defense (31.5 percent) and are fourth in overall field goal defense (41.1 percent).

"It's a tough week ahead for us," Florida Coach Mike White said. "Huge challenges for us obviously. We'll see how competitive we can be on the road."

Auburn center Austin Wiley, a projected first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, has missed four consecutive games with a foot injury and is questionable tonight.

'All Fly'

No. 1 Tennessee is flying high with a 16-game winning streak, the longest in school history. With a 93-76 victory at Texas A&M on Saturday, the Volunteers snapped a tie with their teams between 1915 and 1917, which had won 15 consecutive games.

The Volunteers host Missouri and Florida this week.

Tennessee's pre-game dunking ritual, called "One Fly, We All Fly," has taken off around the country.

The Volunteers began the ritual, in which the entire team jumps up and lands simultaneously as a teammate dunks during warmups, earlier this season.

It has spread to dozens of teams across the land and has received Instagram "likes" by LeBron James, other top players and celebrities.

One video of the the act, with Admiral Schofield providing a windmill dunk, has been viewed more than 1.75 million times on Twitter.

"I haven't seen it," Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said. "It's probably when I'm not on the floor. I think it's great to let their personalities come out. I want them to look back on something they enjoyed doing."

In and out

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports projected seven SEC teams into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field Monday, grouping Arkansas among his first four teams out of the tourney along with Florida, Arizona and Nebraska.

Palm projected Tennessee as a 1 seed, Kentucky as a 2 seed, LSU as a 5 seed, Mississippi State as a 7 seed, Auburn and Ole Miss as 9 seeds, and Alabama as an 11 seed among his last four in, facing Seton Hall in a play-in game.

Bleacher Report listed Arkansas as one of its first four teams out and Florida as one of its last four in Monday. Its eight SEC projections are Tennessee as a 1 seed, Kentucky as a 2 seed, LSU and Mississippi State as 6 seeds, Auburn as a 7 seed, Ole Miss as an 8 seed, Alabama as an 11 seed, and Florida as a 12 seed.

Back to Knoxville

Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin is playing down the personal relevance of his team's game tonight at Tennessee, where he spent three years and compiled a 63-41 record as head coach of the Volunteers from 2011-12 to 2013-14.

It is his first visit to Knoxville as the visiting coach since he left the Vols after guiding them to a Sweet 16 appearance.

"I mean, I learned a lot as a coach in three years," Martin said. "It was a tremendous experience. Obviously, I'm the head coach at Mizzou now. For me, it's just the task at hand. It's preparing to win a basketball game. I don't see it any other way than that really."

Martin praised the No. 1 Vols.

"Tennessee is playing very well, scoring the ball and is a really fun team to watch," he said.

Logjam

Six SEC teams enter the midweek games with 4-4 league records. Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have all gotten there in different ways and are now looking to break from that pack to challenge the foursome of Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina at the top of the standings.

"They're like, 'Who's going to break through?' " Kentucky Coach John Calipari said Monday while talking about the strengthening of the SEC. "Maybe two or three of them break through, and all of a sudden they're right there. It's been amazing to watch this the last six or seven years."

First league loss

Arkansas dealt LSU its first SEC loss Saturday in a 90-89 nail biter to become the fifth conference team to deal at least two teams its first league loss of the year. The Razorbacks also won at Texas A&M 73-71 in the conference opener for both.

LSU has delivered a league-high three first losses: Alabama, Ole Miss and South Carolina. The other teams to chalk up two are Ole Miss (Auburn and Vanderbilt), South Carolina (Florida and Mississippi State) and Tennessee (Georgia and Missouri).

Nobody has beaten No. 1 Tennessee in league play. Alabama downed Kentucky in a conference opener to give the Wildcats their only SEC loss, while Florida went on the road to give the Razorbacks' their first league setback.

Three in poll

The SEC lost a team from The Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday with Mississippi State falling out from No. 22, but the league also reached a poll achievement it hadn't done in more than 12 years.

For the first time since the 2006-07 preseason poll -- when defending national champion Florida was No. 1 and LSU was No. 5 -- the SEC has two teams ranked in the top five.

Tennessee hung on to the No. 1 ranking for the third consecutive week, its longest stint atop the poll. Kentucky, winner of eight consecutive games, moved up two spots to No. 5. LSU fell two spots to No. 21 after its 90-89 home loss to Arkansas.

Standouts

Tennessee guard Josh Bone and Kentucky forward PJ Washington were named SEC co-players of the week by the league office Monday.

Bone, a 6-3 junior, averaged 18.5 points and shot 70 percent from the floor, including 7 of 9 from three-point range, in victories against South Carolina and Texas A&M.

Washington, a 6-8 sophomore, averaged 20.5 points, 12 rebounds and 2 assists in victories over Vanderbilt and Florida. Washington is working on three consecutive double-doubles after becoming the first Wildcat to post back-to-back 20-point, 10-rebound games since Julius Randle in November 2013.

Mississippi State forward Reggie Perry pulled down SEC Freshman of the Week honors for 19.5 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in games against Alabama and Ole Miss. The 6-10, 245-pounder poured in 21 points and had 11 rebounds in a victory at Ole Miss to post his second double-double in three games.

Tough stretch

Missouri went through a rough patch after blowing a 14-point lead against LSU in the last 2:14 on Jan. 26.

Heading into Saturday's 77-67 home victory against Vanderbilt, the Tigers were outscored 122-68 by LSU and Auburn since holding a 70-56 lead on LSU at Mizzou Arena.

Tide talk

Alabama came back to earth Saturday with an 84-63 loss at Auburn, but the Crimson Tide have a nice home streak that remains intact.

Alabama's 83-79 victory over No. 22 Mississippi State last Tuesday was the Crimson Tide's seventh in a row at home over a ranked team.

The Crimson Tide have alternated losses with wins for seven consecutive games since an 81-80 upset loss at home against Texas A&M on Jan. 12.

Hot shots

South Carolina shot 56.9 percent in its 86-80 victory at Georgia on Saturday. The hottest hands -- Chris Silva, A.J. Lawson, Hassani Gravett, Keyshawn Bryant and Felipe Haase -- combined to go 27 of 41 (65.9 percent), led by Haase's 3 of 4 performance and 5-of-7 shooting by Bryant and Gravett.

Fall under .500

Georgia joined Texas A&M and Vanderbilt as SEC teams under .500 with its sixth consecutive conference loss on Saturday, an 86-80 setback against South Carolina. The Bulldogs fell to 10-11, while Vanderbilt is 9-12 and Texas A&M is 8-12.

Had the Bulldogs won the game, the Gamecocks would have dipped back under .500, where they have spent much of the season before breaking out to a 6-2 start in league play.

Sports on 02/05/2019

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