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. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
SEC MVP race sees 3 in front
Mason Jones, Arkansas guard, celebrates after making a shot in the first half vs Kentucky Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Go to nwaonline.com/photos to see more photos.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Three or four SEC players are likely to get the most attention for SEC player of the year honors in voting that will be released today from both The Associated Press and league coaches.
Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley, Arkansas guard Mason Jones and Mississippi State forward Reggie Perry are thought to be the leading candidates for MVP, with the majority of coaches expressing an opinion about it on Monday's SEC teleconference seeming to indicate Quickley might be the favorite.
Kentucky center Nick Richards, Georgia guard Anthony Edwards and Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree are also viable candidates for player of the year.
Jones leads the league by a wide margin in scoring at 22 points per game over Tyree's 19.7 average, and Jones bumped that up to 23.6 ppg in league play, also nipping Tyree (22.2) in that department. Edwards (20.3) rounded out the trio of SEC players who averaged 20 points in conference play.
Quickley is 10th in SEC scoring (16.1), and he leads the SEC and is No. 3 nationally with 92.3% free-throw shooting.
Perry leads the SEC in rebounding (10.1), ranks sixth in scoring (17.4), fourth in field goal percentage (.500) and has 17 double-doubles.
"I think Reggie Perry is very deserving of player of the year," Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said. "His 16 or 17 double-doubles is far and away the best in the league."
Richards is tied for 14th in league scoring (14.0), third in rebounding (7.8) and shot a league-high 64.4%.
Edwards, who is in the running for the top pick in the NBA Draft this summer, averaged 19.5 ppg.
Cases could be made for several men in the SEC coach of the year voting, starting with Kentucky's John Calipari, who led an underclassmen-heavy roster to the Wildcats' 49th SEC regular-season championship.
Other coaches who could get consideration are Texas A&M's Buzz Williams, Mississippi State's Ben Howland and South Carolina's Frank Martin.
SEC teams made a habit of rallying from double-figure deficits to win games this season, and the trend did not escape the notice of SEC coaches, who were asked about it at length on Monday's SEC teleconference.
"I can just tell you no lead is too secure," said Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes, whose Vols blew a 54-37 second-half lead in a 73-66 loss at Auburn on Feb. 22.
"A 15-point lead used to be a big deal," Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said. "It's not such a big deal anymore. The three-point shot makes it not insurmountable. It's made it exciting for the fans and TV."
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman's team at Nevada overcame a 22-point deficit with 11 minutes left to upset No. 2 seed Cincinnati 75-73 in the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2018. It was the second-largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history at the time.
The Wolf Pack held Cincinnati without a field goal for the final 5:45.
Musselman has discussed his clock-control techniques a few times this season, including last week.
"Where did that philosophy or thought process come from?" he asked. "It came from being down 22 against Cincinnati, and they played right into our hands. They didn't milk the clock, they didn't kill the clock.
"We're down 22 with 10 minutes to go to get a berth in the Sweet Sixteen, and we come back and win because they kept playing. They kept trying to do what they had been doing that got them success, which is running the ball. We got some stops, came back to win that game."
The average margin of victory in SEC play on Saturday was a robust 16.3 points, with only one game decided by less than eight points: Kentucky's 71-70 thriller over Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
LSU routed Georgia 94-64 for the day's most lopsided result, followed by Mississippi State's 69-44 clubbing of Ole Miss and Auburn's 85-63 rout at Tennessee.
Texas A&M's 77-69 win over Arkansas and Vanderbilt's 83-74 win over South Carolina were the only other games decided by fewer than 19 points, the difference in Missouri's 69-50 thumping of Alabama.
The opening-round games of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday feature teams that played just once in the regular season, and Thursday's preset matchups offer up just one third-time meeting, between Missouri and Texas A&M.
Arkansas surged past Vanderbilt 75-55 on Jan. 15 at Walton Arena, with Jimmy Whitt accounting for a season-high 30 points, Reggie Chaney adding 14 and Mason Jones held to a season-low 1. Ole Miss downed Georgia 70-60 on Jan. 25 in Athens, Ga., behind 20 points from Breein Tyree.
On Thursday, Alabama and Tennessee meet in the 8-9 game. The Vols notched a 69-68 decision in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the lone meeting this year Feb. 4.
Texas A&M swept a pair of games from Missouri, winning 66-64 in Columbia, Mo., on Jan. 21 and 68-51 in College Station, Texas, on Feb. 4.
Texas A&M's Wendell Mitchell and Vanderbilt's Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen Jr. were recipients of SEC player of the week honors Monday.
Mitchell, a 6-3 guard from Rockdale, Texas, was chosen co-SEC player of the week with Lee after averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in wins at Auburn and vs. Arkansas.
Lee, a 6-2 guard from Phoenix, averaged 28.5 points, 6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals in wins at Alabama and vs. South Carolina, highlighted by a career-high 38 points against the Crimson Tide.
Pippen, the son of Hamburg native Scottie Pippen, averaged 17 points, 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in the Commodores' two games to earn SEC freshman of the week honors.
LSU Coach Will Wade deflected a question regarding his absence from last year's SEC Tournament due to his involvement in both FBI and NCAA investigations into men's basketball.
"Yeah ... I think we're 0-3 -- I don't think we've won in Nashville since I've been back," said Wade, a native of Nashville. "I think we're 0-2 against Vanderbilt. Hopefully we'll get a chance to enjoy it."
The No. 1 seeded Tigers were bounced 76-73 by Florida in last year's SEC Tournament quarterfinals with Wade on suspension.
LSU is looking for its first SEC Tournament win since its No. 4 seeded team eliminated Tennessee 84-75 in the quarterfinals of the 2016 tourney. Since then, LSU lost 79-52 to Mississippi State in a play-in game in 2017, and 80-77 to Mississippi State in the second round in 2018.
"[Senior] Skylar [Mays] actually told me the other day, 'Coach, I've never won a game in the SEC Tournament,' " Wade said. "I said, 'Well, let's try to change that.' "
Two SEC teams compiled winning overall road records, with one of them being an obvious choice and the other not so clear cut.
Kentucky went 8-2 in road games, adding a 76-74 win at Texas Tech in the Big 12/SEC Challenge to its 7-2 mark in conference road play.
Texas A&M did not play a true road game outside of league play, but the Aggies capped a 5-4 road mark with a 78-75 win at Auburn on Wednesday for one of the biggest upsets of the season.
South Carolina finished with a 6-6 record in road games, while LSU (4-6) had the next-best record. Mississippi State and Florida were both 4-7 on the road, while Arkansas and Alabama were 4-8.
Clean at home
No SEC team managed to go 9-0 in league play at home this season, with Auburn the final team to drop a home game in conference. The Tigers were 8-0 before falling 78-75 to Texas A&M on senior day last week.
Kentucky and LSU also managed to go 8-1 at home. The Wildcats' lone SEC loss at Rupp Arena came on March 3, the day before the Aggies' upset of Auburn, in an 81-73 loss to Tennessee.
LSU's only league loss at Maravich Assembly Center came at the hands of Kentucky by a 79-76 count Feb. 18.
• Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said concerns over the coronavirus led to the Bulldogs' decision to cancel their planned international trip this summer to Spain.
• Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans is questionable after missing the Wildcats' 71-70 win at Florida on Saturday to attend to personal matters.
• Georgia guard Tyree Crump has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, Coach Tom Crean said on Monday, so he's doubtful heading into Wednesday's SEC Tournament opener against Ole Miss.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
RANK;LAST WK.;NET;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT
1;1;21;Kentucky (25-6, 15-3);Rallied from 18 down to beat Florida
2;3;29;LSU (21-10, 12-6);Gave up 81, 50, 99, 64 points in last 4
3;2;27;Auburn (25-6, 12-6);Tigers went 3-4 in their last seven games
4;4;50;Miss. State (20-11, 11-7);Strong SEC run after 0-3 start nets double bye
5;5;28;Florida (19-12, 11-7);Second-best 3-point FG% (.347) behind Bama
6;8;63;Tennessee (17-14, 9-9);SEC's top blocked-shot team at 5.6 per game
7;10;114;Texas A&M (16-14, 10-8);Impressive 5-4 SEC road record
8;7;67;South Carolina (18-13, 10-8);Alternated losses, wins in last 5 games
9;6;53;Alabama (16-15, 8-10);Went 2-4 in last six SEC home games
10;9;47;Arkansas (19-12, 7-11);Thin roster makes tourney run tough
11;11;84;Missouri (15-16, 7-11);FG shooting (.410) second worst behind A&M
12;12;95;Georgia (15-16, 5-13);G Tyree Crump (mono) likely out for postseason
13;13;93;Ole Miss (15-16, 6-12);Lost 5 of 7, including two by 25-plus points
14;14;138;Vanderbilt (11-20, 3-15);NET ranking up 32 spots after 2-0 week
The NCAA instituted last year a new rating system called the NET Rankings, which took the place of the Ratings Percentage Index. An acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, the NET rankings take into account 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
Alabama vs. Tennessee, noon, Thursday (SEC Network)
Game between 8 and 9 seeds and rematch of a game that epitomized the comeback theme to the conference season. Tennessee trailed by 15 points before rallying for a 69-68 win in Tuscaloosa in the Vols' first game with twin 20-point scorers (John Fulkerson 22, Jordan Bowden 20) since falling to Purdue in the 2019 NCAA Sweet 16.
"With the exception of Kentucky, which has shown they're superior, I think every other team has a good shot." -- Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl on the SEC Tournament
"I've been in this a long time and this may be as wide open a field as we've ever seen." -- Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis on the SEC Tournament
"I'm looking for one night where I can get some really good sleep. You ask me that question and now I'll have trouble sleeping tonight." -- Florida Coach Mike White when asked about the large amount of major comebacks in the SEC
By the numbers
SEC teams that went 2-0 (Texas A&M, Vanderbilt ) and 0-2 (Alabama, Georgia) last week
Wins by Texas A&M, against no losses, all time at Auburn Arena
Average margin of victory in a rout-filled final Saturday for SEC teams
Point differential in both Egg Bowl basketball games, with Ole Miss winning 83-58 on Feb. 11 and Mississippi State prevailing 69-44 on Saturday
Sports on 03/10/2020
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