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Tennessee rises to top of competitive SEC

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield (5) against Florida during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. Tennessee defeated Florida 78-67. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)
Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield (5) against Florida during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. Tennessee defeated Florida 78-67. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)

No basketball team in the SEC has a losing overall record, although only five have a winning conference record right now.

The surprise is not that Tennessee is good enough to be undefeated in SEC play and 14-1 overall -- and the Vols are ranked No. 1 in CBS' Gary Parrish's Top 25 plus one -- because it was good last season.

The Vols were 26-9 overall, 13-5 in SEC play, tied with Auburn for the SEC regular-season championship, made the SEC Tournament final and looked poised to make a run in the NCAA Tournament but was one of four unsuspecting victims of Loyola of Chicago's run to the Final Four.

Last season was Rick Barnes' third at UT, and his first winning season since he was fired at Texas after winning almost 70 percent of his games and making the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 17 seasons in Austin, including a Final Four run in 2003.

The University of Arkansas will be all out in Knoxville tonight to give the Vols their first SEC loss and snap a two-game losing streak. On the other hand, it is doubtful Tennessee has forgotten its loss to the Razorbacks in Bud Walton last season, 95-93.

This is a challenging week for the Hogs as they also travel to Ole Miss, which is 3-0 in SEC play and 13-2 overall. While four of the Razorbacks' five losses have been uncharacteristically at home, they are 2-0 in road games with wins at Colorado State and Texas A&M, and 0-1 on neutral courts with a narrow loss to Texas.

One of the early surprises is Ole Miss, which was 12-20 last season and 5-13 in SEC play. New Coach Kermit Davis is a veteran who gets the most out of his teams, but the Rebels have only two quality wins, and those were over SEC opponents Auburn and Mississippi State last week.

It seems odd to see Kentucky in fifth place, but the Wildcats finished in a tie for fourth last season with Arkansas at 10-8, but last year's freshmen got better with the season and won nine of their last 10 games before falling in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 to Kansas State.

South Carolina is a mild surprise at 3-0 in SEC play. The Gamecocks entered league play with a 5-7 record, but head Coach Frank Martin likes to play challenging nonconference games.

It paid dividends two years ago when the Gamecocks made the Final Four. They fell off last season, but they appear ready for SEC play.

LSU, which escaped the Hogs on Saturday, is 2-0 in the SEC and 12-3 overall. The Tigers have one of the best point guards in the country in sophomore Tremont Waters, who is averaging 13.2 points per game but already has 90 assists. He had 11 against the Hogs on Saturday. He also scored 17 points, but he did turn the ball over seven times.

A year ago the Tigers tied for ninth in the SEC with an 8-10 record, but second-year Coach Will Wade brought in McDonald's All-American Naz Reid, and the freshman is averaging a little over 13 points and five rebounds a game. He scored 27 on the Hogs, and as a defensive player, he alters a lot of shots in the paint.

Throw Auburn in the mix and Mississippi State if it can get back on a winning track -- the Bulldogs are 0-2 since starting SEC play -- and that's a really early forecast for SEC teams who have a shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Of course, there's 15 SEC games left for most teams, and a nonconference game, so there is plenty of time to get on a run and get some quality wins for teams such as Arkansas, Alabama and Florida. For the Razorbacks, it begins tonight in Knoxville.

Sports on 01/15/2019

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