SEC report:

3 proving to be best in league

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) attempts to steal the ball from Missouri guard Xavier Pinson (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne)
Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) attempts to steal the ball from Missouri guard Xavier Pinson (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

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

1;1;4;Tennessee (22-1, 10-0);18-game win streak longest in UT history

2;2;5;Kentucky (20-3, 9-1);Huge home week with visits by LSU and Tenn.

3;3;17;LSU (19-4, 9-1);Wins over Miss. State, Auburn after home loss to Hogs

4;6;99;South Carolina (12-10, 7-3);Out-scored Hogs 40-15 last 15:07 on Saturday

5;4;20;Auburn (16-7, 5-5);Momentum blunted in narrow loss at LSU

6;7;43;Alabama (15-8, 6-4);Taking on Mississippi State and Florida this week

7;8;36;Ole Miss (16-7, 6-4);Riding two-game win streak heading into Auburn

8;5;29; Miss. State (16-7, 4-6);0-2 on 3-game home stand with Bama next

9;9;62;Arkansas (14-9, 5-5);Previously solid 3-point D torched by SC

10;10;41;Florida (12-11, 4-6);Lack of depth starting to impact Gators

11;13;87; Texas A&M (9-13, 2-8);Showing pluck in recent road games

12;11;91;Missouri (11-11, 2-8);1-4 in SEC home games with Hogs coming

13;12;114;Georgia (10-13, 1-9);Eight league losses by 10-plus points

14;14;124;Vanderbilt (9-14, 0-10);Commodores haven't won a game in 2019

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

Tennessee at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

This one, the first of two meetings between the current No. 1 and No. 5 teams, should have a postseason feel to it. The No. 5 Wildcats have won 10 in a row and will have ESPN's College GameDay on campus for the second time this year. The Volunteers have won 18 in a row and remained No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 for the fourth week in a row.

QUOTEBOOK

"If you start trying to bask in what you've done up to this point, you lose sight of what you need to keep doing to do better to move forward," -- Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes

"Kentucky is obviously a different animal than we've been playing. Their size, their strength, their athleticism. How big they are down low." LSU Coach Will Wade

"[LSU] is a top 15 they say, but they're better than that. This is a top 10 team." -- Kentucky Coach John Calipari on No. 19 LSU

By the numbers

1

Career three-pointers made by Alabama center Donta Hall, who hit the one Saturday at Vanderbilt

13

Consecutive wins for Kentucky against Mississippi State under John Calipari, with no losses

17

Age of Alabama guard Kira Lewis Jr., the second-youngest player in Division I, who will turn 18 on April 6

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU have put their resumes head and shoulders above the rest of the SEC and should be locks for the NCAA Tournament with a month left in the regular season.

This week those three teams -- No. 1 Tennessee, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 19 LSU -- engage in a trio of games that will go a long way toward determining the SEC champion.

Kentucky hosts LSU tonight (ESPN) at Rupp Arena in a battle of the league's only one-loss teams in conference play. On Saturday, ESPN's College GameDay will be in Lexington for the second time this season as Kentucky hosts Tennessee, which has won a school-record 18 consecutive games and remained No. 1 for a fourth consecutive week on Monday.

"I want these guys to enjoy what they're doing and I'm probably not the easiest guy to let that happen because I'm always thinking of ways we can get better, and I want to do it right now," said Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes, who has also won a personal-best 18 consecutive games. "I appreciate how hard they've competed and the fact that they want to get better."

The Wildcats have won 10 games in a row, the last a 71-67 escape at Mississippi State on Saturday. Kentucky's last loss came in its SEC opener, a 77-75 setback at Alabama.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari said on Monday, one day after celebrating his 60th birthday, that this week's slate is tougher than a previous back-to-back run against No. 18 North Carolina and No. 15 Louisville and a three-game set against Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 10 Kansas in an eight-day span.

"This is a good team," Calipari said of LSU. "This stretch for us -- and we've had a couple of weeks where there were tough games -- is by far the toughest stretch. Starting with this team, which is top 15 they say, but they're better than that. This is a top 10 team.

"In the last five games they've been down 10 points four times, and they came back to win three of those."

The Wildcats have been involved in only three games decided by fewer than nine points since falling at Alabama: an 82-80 victory at No. 14 Auburn, a 71-63 win at Rupp over No. 9 Kansas and Saturday's triumph at Humphrey Coliseum.

LSU has won 12 of its last 13 games since an 82-76 loss at No. 24 Houston on Dec. 12. The only loss in that span was a 90-89 setback at the Maravich Assembly Center against Arkansas.

On Wednesday, the Volunteers host fourth-place South Carolina, which rallied from a 13-point second half deficit to subdue Arkansas 77-65 on Saturday. The 5:30 p.m. game at Thompson-Boling Arena will be a rematch, as Tennessee blasted the Gamecocks 92-70 on Jan. 29.

"What we've done is behind us," Barnes said. "We have a lot to say we are proud of right now, where we are. But that is over and done with. I know I sound like a broken record. But it's about the next game and it's about today's practice.

"If you start trying to bask in what you've done up to this point, you lose sight of what you need to keep doing to do better to move forward. That's all we have focused on is can we find a way to get better today."

The weekend matchup presents a preview of potential top NCAA Tournament seeds as the Wildcats host Tennessee at 7 p.m. (ESPN). That game will be the first of two between the SEC powers, with Kentucky traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., for a game on March 2.

Projections

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports introduced Arkansas to his NCAA Tournament projections on Monday, slotting the Razorbacks into a 12 seed and a first four game against fellow 12 seed Arizona State.

The Razorbacks are one of eight SEC teams in Palm's predictions, joining 1 seed Tennessee, 2 seed Kentucky, 5 seed LSU, 7 seed Mississippi State, 8 seed Auburn, 9 seed Ole Miss and 10 seed Alabama.

The NCAA selection committee made its first release of the top 16 projected seeds on Saturday, slotting Tennessee with Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia as a 1 seed., and Kentucky as a 2 seed with Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina. The 3 seeds were Kansas, Houston, Marquette and Purdue and the 4 seeds are Iowa State, Louisville, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Selection committee chairman Bernard Muir, the Stanford athletic director, said LSU was one of seven teams under consideration for the 4 seeds.

Top players

LSU's Tremont Waters and Naz Reid swept Monday's weekly awards as announced by the league office.

Waters, a sophomore guard from New Haven, Conn., averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5 steals and 3.5 rebounds in wins at Mississippi State and against Auburn and was named SEC player of the week.

Reid picked up SEC freshman of the week honors after averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds in two games. The 6-10, 250-pounder from Asbury Park, N.J., tied his career high with 29 points against the Bulldogs, then posted his second double-double in league play with 13 points and 11 rebounds against Auburn.

SEC 'War'

Kentucky Coach John Calipari made some light-hearted remarks regarding the SEC Tournament, making it no secret he sees the postseason event as a potential hazard.

"Maybe we won't show up," Calipari said jokingly following Saturday's 71-67 victory at Mississippi State. "Why even go and just get beat up? It doesn't matter who you play. Everybody is going to be good."

Later Calipari said the conference tournament "is going to be a war, war, war" and that he'd prefer not to see Mississippi State there. "I'm glad we're done with them," he said. "And I hope we don't have to see them in the tournament."

The play turned chippy between the teams Saturday, as Kentucky's PJ Washington and Mississippi State's Reggie Perry exchanged elbows late in the first half.

Drought recovery

LSU recovered from a field goal drought of 5:15 in the first half against Auburn to overtake the Tigers in an 83-78 victory on Saturday.

Auburn led 26-10 when LSU's dry spell ended on a Darius Days layup. Auburn had gone on a 23-1 scoring binge prior to that, sparked by six three-point shots in a span of 4:27, including three from Jared Harper.

Embarrassed

Georgia Coach Tom Crean apologized to Bulldogs fans for his team's performance on Letterman's Day in an 80-64 home loss to Ole Miss.

"I'm embarrassed right now to be honest," Crean said. "It means a lot, a lot, an awful lot, that they were here and we hit that hard with the team yesterday. The hardest losses you take is when you have coaches and lettermen in the stands. That's the worst."

After leading 18-8 in the early going, Georgia was outscored 37-15 the rest of the half to fall behind 45-33 at intermission.

Vandy down

Not only is Vanderbilt 0-10 in SEC play following Saturday's 77-67 loss to Alabama, but the school is still mourning the loss last Friday of former athletic director David Williams.

A retirement celebration for Williams, the first black athletic director hired in the SEC, had been scheduled for Friday night. Williams, 71, who spent 16 years as Vanderbilt's AD, collapsed at the Pancake Pantry restaurant near the campus around 10:30 a.m. Friday, The Tennessean reported.

Williams, 71, had announced his retirement Sept. 11, and his tenure ended one week prior to his death with Malcolm Turner taking the position.

Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said Williams sought him out after his hiring three years ago.

"I think it was very strategic, because of his past," Johnson told the SEC Network after the game. "He obviously knew I was walking into a head coaching job at Alabama and there was a lot of history both with Vanderbilt and Alabama. ... It's just a rough night."

Ole Miss milestone

Guard Breein Tyree surpassed the 1,000-point mark with a career-high tying 31 points in Saturday's 80-64 victory at Georgia. Tyree became the 40th player in school history to reach the 1,000-point milestone.

The Rebels won in Athens, Ga., for the first time in seven years, helped by a 21-5 advantage in second-chance scoring.

Tip ins

• Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl picked up a technical foul at LSU for being outside the coaching box as whistled by Doug Shows. Pearl had been previously warned.

• Tennessee forward Yves Pons missed Saturday's 73-61 victory over Florida with a facial fracture.

• Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon (wisdom teeth removal on Friday) and guard Mark Smith (ankle) are questionable for tonight's game against Arkansas.

Sports on 02/12/2019

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