SEC report: League left with 2 unbeaten teams

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2022
Auburn guard K.D. Johnson (0) and forward Jabari Smith (10) celebrate after defeating LSU during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Auburn guard K.D. Johnson (0) and forward Jabari Smith (10) celebrate after defeating LSU during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

FAYETTEVILLE — Infighting in the SEC has left the league with only two unbeaten teams in conference play after three playing dates.

Auburn (14-1, 3-0) and Texas A&M (13-2, 2-0) will enter the second full week of conference play with unblemished league records.

Parity seems to be the watchword around the top college basketball leagues early in the season, as only the Pac-12, with super-hot Southern California (13-0, 3-0), Arizona (12-1, 2-0) and UCLA (10-1, 2-0), entered Monday with as many as three unbeaten teams in league play

Among other top leagues, the Atlantic Coast Conference (with 5-0 Miami), the American (3-0 Houston) and the Big 12 (3-0 Baylor) had just one team with an unblemished mark in conference play entering Monday, while the Big Ten had two (4-0 Illinois and Michigan State) and the Big East had none.

Eight SEC teams enter this week’s action with one loss. Nine SEC teams have double-digit wins, but two of them in Tennessee (10-4, 1-2) and Arkansas (10-5, 0-3) have losing SEC records.

The Razorbacks have the only 0-3 mark in conference play, and they are joined by Florida and Georgia (both 0-2) as the only winless teams in conference action.

Georgia was not seen as an SEC contender after suffering huge personnel losses — including intra-conference transfers like Auburn’s KD Johnson and Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler — but Arkansas and Florida entered league play with high hopes.

The Gators had their SEC opener against Ole Miss postponed and have since lost to Alabama and Auburn by an average of 12.5 points. Florida is 5-62 all time against top 10 opponents on the road after its 85-73 loss at No. 9 Auburn on Saturday. The Gators will look to rebound against a third consecutive ranked opponent as No. 11 LSU heads to the O’Connell Center for 6 p.m. game Wednesday.

The Razorbacks host Missouri at 8 p.m. Wednesday

Tiger two-fer

LSU wrapped up a huge week at home with a 79-67 win over No. 18 Tennessee on Saturday.

“Our offense looked as good as it’s looked in a long time,” LSU Coach Will Wade said. “To [score] 79 on the second-best defensive team in the country, we’re capable of that.”

Coupled with a 65-60 win at the Maravich Assembly Center over No. 16 Kentucky last Tuesday, the Tigers notched their first back-to-back home wins over ranked opponents since 2000.

The Tigers, whose only loss is a 70-55 setback at current No. 4 Auburn on Dec. 29, shot up nine spots to No. 12 in Monday’s Associated Press poll. LSU travels to face Florida on Wednesday before hosting Arkansas at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

LSU might be without transfer guard Xavier Pinson, who left the win over Tennessee with what Wade called a sprained knee.

Top players

Missouri forward Kobe Brown and Kentucky guard TyTy Washington were named SEC players of the week by the league office Monday.

Brown, a 6-8, 250-pound junior from Huntsville, Ala., scored a career-high 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting and had 13 rebounds, 4 assists and a blocked shot in the Tigers’ 92-86 win over No. 15 Alabama on Saturday to claim player of the week honors.

Washington had 17 points and a school-record 17 assists in Kentucky’s 92-75 win over Georgia and averaged 11 points, 10.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds in two games to win SEC freshman of the week honors for the third week in a row. He’s the first SEC player to capture league honors three weeks in a row since Kentucky’s Devin Booker did it was named the league’s top freshman four weeks in a row during 2014-15.

Murrell burns

Ole Miss guard Matthew Murrell, tied for fifth on the team with 7.8 points per game heading into last weekend, scored a career-high 31 points to help the Rebels down Mississippi State 82-72 in the SEC’s oldest basketball rivalry.

Murrell made his first 10 field goals and finished 10 for 11 to boost his season shooting from 36.6% to 43%. Murrell had been shooting just 34% from the field in home games before ripping it up against the Bulldogs.

The 6-4 guard was one of three SEC players with 30-plus points Saturday, joining Arkansas’ JD Notae (31 at Texas A&M) and Missouri’s Kobe Brown (30 vs. Alabama). Prior to Saturday, only four SEC players had hit the 30-point mark: Texas A&M’s Quenton Jackson (31 vs. Central Arkansas), Notae (30 vs. Mercer), Vanderbilt’s Scottie Pippen Jr. (30 vs. Texas State) and LSU’s Darius Days (30 vs. Louisiana-Monroe).

Mississippi State holds a 146-119 advantage in the all-time series against Ole Miss.

Hot dish

Kentucky guard TyTy Washington broke John Wall’s school single-game assist record with 17 in the Wildcats’ 92-75 win over Georgia on Saturday.

Washington, Kentucky’s secondary ball handler, got extra opportunities because point guard Sahvir Wheeler missed the game with a neck injury.

Wall had 16 assists against Hartford in the 2009-10 season. Travis Ford had 15 assists in a game in 1993-94 and five players had 14 in a game, including Wheeler against North Florida this season.

Wheeler is the active SEC leader with 434 assists, just ahead of Florida’s Tyree Appleby (430) of Jacksonville.

Washington, who added 17 points against Georgia, entered the final minute with 15 assists, and his teammates knew the record was within reach.

“Once I got close to it, I think I got 15, all my teammates on the court were telling me you just need two more and you could break the record,’” Washington said. “I was like, ‘Oh shoot.’ That’s what I kind of went out there and did just to get the last two.”

Turnaround 3

Texas A&M has gone from the SEC’s worst three-point shooting team to its best in one season.

The Aggies were last in the conference and 312th nationally while hitting 29.9% of their three-point shots in 2020-21.

With Andre Gordon (52.2%) and Quenton Jackson (40%) leading the way, A&M is up to 38.7%, on three-point shots this season, which ranks 22nd among 350 Division I teams.

Oscar goes to

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe is averaging a double-double, and the junior transfer from West Virginia is on pace to lead the country in rebounding.

Tshiebwe had 29 points and 17 rebounds in Kentucky’s 92-75 rout of Georgia on Saturday to improve his rebound average to 15.2, nearly six rebounds per game more than the SEC’s No. 2 rebounder, Florida’s Colin Castleton (9.21). He also averages 16.1 points per game to rank sixth in the SEC.

A native of the Republic of the Congo and a former McDonald’s All-American, Tshiebwe wears No. 34 in honor of NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.

Wooden midseason

Auburn forward Jabari Smith and Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe were the only SEC players among the John Wooden Award’s midseason watch list of 25 players.

The Big Ten had nine players on the list, followed by the Pac-12 (4), the Big 12 (3) and the ACC (2). The others were Oral Roberts guard Max Abmas, Villianova guard Collin Gillespie, the Gonzaga duo of Chet Holmgren and Drew Time, and Colorado State’s David Roddy.

Seeing double

LSU’s Tari Eason went off on Tennessee for a season-high 24 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday to notch his fourth double-double of the season.

Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe easily leads the league and ranks second in the country with 11 double-doubles on the season. Florida’s Colin Castleton has six double-doubles, while Missouri’s Kobe Brown and Auburn’s Walker Kessler have five each.

SEC power rankings

RANK • NET • TEAM (RECORDS); COMMENT

1 • 6 • Auburn (14-1, 3-0); All three SEC wins have been by 12-plus points

2 • 4 • LSU (14-1, 2-1); SEC’s top FG defense (34.9%) and steals (12.3)

3 • 22 • Alabama (11-4, 2-1); 30-game win streak w/80-plus points snapped

4 • 16 • Kentucky (12-3, 2-1); Owns Georgia with a 130-27 all-time record

5 • 60 • Texas A&M (13-2, 2-0); Quick reversal after horrid covid season

6 • 11 • Tennessee (10-4, 1-2); SEC’s top assist team at 17.6 per game

7 • 111 • Ole Miss (9-5, 1-1); 3-point defense (28.7%) is 2nd best in SEC

8 • 45 • Miss. State (10-4, 1-1); League’s top free throw shooters (74.1%)

9 • 99 • South Carolina (10-4, 1-1); Next 3 vs. Vols, Gators, Razorbacks

10 • 79 • Vanderbilt (9-5, 1-1); Opened 1-0 in SEC 1st time since ’16

11 • 51 • Florida (9-5, 0-2); First 0-2 start since the 2009-10 season

12 • 92 • Arkansas (10-5, 0-3); 1-5 since Dec. 11 after 9-0 start

13 • 199 • Missouri (7–7, 1-1); Shooting just 41.1% from the field

14 • 228 • Georgia (5-10, 0-2); 6-7 in nonconference, 4 straight Ls

The NCAA NET Rankings, an acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, 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

Auburn at Alabama, 8 p.m. Central today (ESPN)

The No. 4 Tigers put their 11-game winning streak on the line in the first of two hardcourt Iron Bowl meetings against arch-rival No. 24 Alabama.

Quotebook

“Clearly we’ll have to play our best game Tuesday night at Alabama, with their speed, quickness and athleticism. We’ll focus on this one coming up, and try not get too high, try not go get too low.”

— Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl

“We have a ways to go as a team, but I think we’ve made tremendous strides, especially in the week or so we’ve had a chance to practice and get better.”

— Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin after the Tigers beat Alabama 92-86

“We’ve got to give Missouri a lot of credit coming off a Covid pause and being down a couple of guys. They played a lot harder than we played. That may have been our worst performance of the year.”

— Alabama Coach Nate Oats

By the numbers

3 | Consecutive wins for Missouri over Alabama, all at Mizzou Arena

5 | Number of ranked SEC teams, with No. 4 Auburn leading the way, followed by No. 11 LSU, No. 18 Kentucky, No. 22 Tennessee and No. 24 Alabama

10 | Consecutive shots made by Ole Miss’ Matthew Murrell, who was 10 for 11 with 31 points against Mississippi State

12 | Consecutive wins by double figures for Kentucky, all of the Wildcats’ wins on the season

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