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 basketball report:
Plenty up in air as SEC slate hits midway point
Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) reacts to his dunk during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
FAYETTEVILLE — SEC teams will head over the halfway hump this weekend when they play their 10th conference game of the 18-game league schedule on Saturday.
The race for the four double-byes for the SEC Tournament didn’t change much over the weekend, but the complexion of some of the league’s top teams did.
Alabama, which won its first seven SEC games by an average of 21 points, was scorched by 24 points on Saturday at Oklahoma, which shot 56.7% overall and 69.2% from three-point range while holding the Tide to 37.9% shooting (27.3% from three-point range) in a 93-69 decision in Norman, Okla. That snapped the Tide’s nine-game winning streak, which dated to a 100-90 loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 17.
Alabama survived in a 66-63 home win over Mississippi State last Wednesday in a game the Bulldogs led for 29:38. The Crimson Tide won the first meeting between the teams 78-67 on Dec. 28 in Starkville, Miss.
Alabama (8-0 SEC) might still be the team to beat, but Tennessee and Texas A&M are just a game back and playing hotter ball.
The Volunteers now own the league’s longest winning streak at four games, dating to a 63-56 home loss to Kentucky on Jan. 14. Texas A&M, which did not participate in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, has won 9 of its last 10 games heading into a road showdown at Arkansas tonight at 6.
Tennessee travels to Florida on Wednesday at 6 p.m. before hosting Auburn on Saturday, and the Crimson Tide host Vanderbilt in a rematch tonight at 7:30 before traveling to LSU for the return game after a 106-66 pounding in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
In and out
Arkansas and Kentucky fell to “last four in” status for CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm in his latest NCAA Tournament projection on Monday. The Razorbacks and Wildcats are 11 seeds as two of the six SEC teams in his analysis, joining 1 seed Alabama, 2 seed Tennessee, 5 seed Missouri and 9 seed Auburn.
ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi also had six SEC teams in his latest projection from Friday, with 1 seeds Alabama and Tennessee, 7 seed Auburn, 8 seed Arkansas, 9 seed Missouri and 11 seed Kentucky. Lunardi listed Texas A&M among his first four out prior to the Aggies’ SEC win over
Lunardi has nine Big Ten teams and seven teams each from the ACC and the Big 12 in his latest projection.
The Big 12 torched the SEC 7-3 on Saturday to win the final edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Big 12 snapped a two-season losing streak in the series and wound up with a 5-3-2 advantage in the 10 years of the challenge.
The final record is 55-44 in favor of the Big 12, with one game in 2021 not played due to covid-19 issues.
One of the Big 12’s highlights from Saturday came from Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson. The former Florida player had 13 points and 11 rebounds in a 64-50 win over his old team in Manhattan, Kan.
No. 4 Tennessee notched an 82-71 win over No. 10 Texas in a rare top 10 showdown at Thompson-Boling Arena, as Coach Rick Barnes beat his former team.
Baylor wound up with an 8-2 mark, the best in the challenge, following Saturday’s 67-64 win over Arkansas. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all went 7-3 in the challenge, while Kansas (6-4) also had a winning record. West Virginia improved the worst Big 12 record in the event to 3-7 with an 80-77 home win against Auburn on Saturday.
For the SEC, Florida and Tennessee wound up with 6-3 records, while Kentucky (5-4) was also above .500. Ole Miss (1-7), Mississippi State (1-3) and South Carolina (1-3) struggled to represent the conference in the challenge.
The best win on Saturday had to be Oklahoma’s 93-69 dusting of No. 2 Alabama.
The SEC notched a pair of upsets. Missouri took down No. 12 Iowa State 78-61 at Mizzou Arena, and Mississippi State handled No. 11 TCU 81-74 in overtime in Starkville, Miss.
Snapped at 28
Auburn’s reign as the Division I team with the longest active home-court winning streak didn’t last long. The Tigers were up to 28 consecutive home wins at Neville Arena before Texas A&M thumped them 79-63 last Wednesday.
Auburn inherited the home streak mantle after Loyola Marymount upset Gonzaga 68-67 on Jan. 19. Prior to the setback against the Aggies, Auburn had won all its home games, starting with a 77-72 victory over No. 25 Tennessee, since a 74-57 loss to Florida on Feb. 23, 2021.
The Tigers’ loss bumped UCLA into the lead with a 19-game home court winning streak.
The Tigers’ school-record stint in the AP Top 25 extended to 32 consecutive weeks on Monday after they dropped to No. 25 following back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and at West Virginia. Auburn, which has been in the AP Top 25 since last year’s preseason poll, broke its program record last week with 31 consecutive appearances in the rankings.
Giving up 30
West Virginia guard Erik Stevenson poured in a career-high 31 points in Saturday’s 80-77 win over Auburn, continuing a trend for backcourt players who have lit up the Tigers.
In last Wednesday’s 79-63 loss to Texas A&M, Aggies guard Tyrece Radford blew up for 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting, which included a 3 three-pointers and an 11-of-12 performance at the free throw line.
Those big scoring days followed other guards who lit up Auburn in victories in Memphis Kendric Davis (27 points), USC’s Boogie Ellis (28) and Georgia’s Terry Roberts (26).
Auburn guard Zep Jasper remarked on Radford’s big showing and cast some foreshadowing on Stevenson’s massive game last week.
“[Radford] was pretty hot last night,” Jasper told reporters. “I’ll give hats off to him. Honestly, we didn’t think he would come in here and score 30.
“We see a lot of guards going at us, trying to come at us. And this is a game that they always get up for, you know, playing against a great Auburn team, a ranked Auburn team. They would love to be on ESPN. They would love to have 30. They’ll always remember this for a lifetime.”
Six SEC teams are among the top 20 in the defensive efficiency metrics calculated by KenPom.com.
Tennessee holds the No. 1 spot in his rankings, followed by Alabama in sixth, Florida in eighth, Mississippi State in 11th, Arkansas in 12th and Auburn in 19th.
The Volunteers have Division I’s top scoring defense, holding opponents to 54.5 points per game. Tennessee is also No. 1 in field goal percentage defense (34.5%) and three-point percentage defense (22.0%). On top of that, the Vols are No. 5 in the nation with a plus 8.1 rebounding margin per game.
Just one win
Four SEC teams are mired at 1-7 in league play, one of which was a ranked team at the start of conference action.
Mississippi State was No. 21 in The Associated Press Top 25 with an 11-1 record prior to its 78-67 home loss to Alabama to open SEC play. The Bulldogs’ lone league win for first-year Coach Chris Jans came Jan. 7, in a 64-54 victory over rival Ole Miss.
The Rebels join LSU and South Carolina in the 1-7 gang. A common thread for three of the teams is first-year coaches — as LSU’s Matt McMahon and South Carolina’s Lamont Paris are also in first seasons at their schools — but Ole Miss’ Kermit Davis is in his fifth season.
Davis has one NCAA Tournament appearance with the Rebels, a first-round exit with his initial team in 2019, after leading Middle Tennessee State to great heights during a 16-year stint.
Ole Miss got its lone SEC win this season at South Carolina, which is 0-4 in SEC home games heading into tonight’s 5:30 tip against Mississippi State.
South Carolina’s lone SEC win was a doozy, a 71-68 victory at Kentucky on Jan. 10. LSU opened SEC play with a 60-57 home win against Arkansas.
Arkansas forward Jalen Graham accounted for all six of his team’s bench points in the Hogs’ 60-40 win over LSU last Saturday. All of Graham’s points came on dunks, his first assisted by Anthony Black and his last two courtesy of Ricky Council.
The Tigers outscored their hosts 8-6 in points off the bench.
Graham had a plus-20 rating in his 16:59, meaning the Razorbacks outscored LSU by 20 points when he was on the floor.
Tennessee’s Zakai Zeigler and Kentucky’s Cason Wallace earned player of the week honors from the SEC office on Monday.
Zeigler, a 5-9 sophomore from Long Island, N.Y., was the SEC Player of the Week after averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 assists, 3 steals and 2.5 rebounds in wins over Georgia and Texas. He had his third career double-double with 22 points and 10 assists in the home win over Texas.
Wallace, a 6-4 guard from Dallas, was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 12 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals in games against Vanderbilt and Kansas.
• Missouri wore throwback “Block M” jerseys resembling their uniforms from 1973-96, for Saturday’s win over Iowa State. The Tigers won 8 conference titles, earned 15 NCAA Tournament bids, had 8 All-America selections and 24 players taken in the NBA Draft during that time frame.
• LSU guard Justice Hill, son of former Arkansas football assistant Fitz Hill, returned for Saturday’s 76-68 loss against Texas Tech and had 3 points, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 8 minutes after missing three games for personal reasons.
• No. 4 Tennessee’s 82-71 win over No. 10 Texas on Saturday was just the second top-10 matchup in the 36-year history of Thompson-Boling Arena.
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