"SEC hoops should be strong in '12-13"
That's the article summary from my SEC basketball season preview on Nov. 2nd. At this point, I couldn't have been more wrong. Kentucky was supposed to have some growing pains, but it's hard to believe their season opening three point victory over Maryland is their marquee win of the season. What about Tennessee? The Vols were tabbed as the breakthrough team in the league (possibly the nation) this year, but without Jeronne Maymon they've struggled to take the big step. The good news for the league is that Missouri and Florida are as good as advertised. Mizzou took down Illinois and VCU, while the Gators shredded Marquette and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Alabama, who only lost by two at 14th-ranked Cincy, has struggled at home (loses to Dayton, Mercer, and Tulane). The truth of the matter is that the league is a total crapshoot after Mizzou, UF, and UK. Who's the 4th best team? Ole Miss? Arkansas? Can Bama get over their slump?
Here's a rundown of the league entering conference play:
Best Team: Florida: AP Poll #13, Coaches' Poll #9, KenPom.com #2, CBS Sports RPI: #9
Worst Team: Mississippi State. KenPom: #210*. RealTimeRPI: #283 (out of 347 teams). *KenPom.com actually rates South Carolina lower at 214 even though they have double the wins (10) than State (5).
Player of the First Two Months: Lawrence Bowers, Mizzou. 16.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 57% fgs
Conference RPI: 9th *Sandwiched between the Missouri Valley (8th) and the West Coast Conference (10th)
Best Wins: Mizzou over #10 Illinois/VCU, Florida over Wisconsin/Marquette, Tennessee over Wichita St.
Worst Loses: MState loss to Alabama A&M, Auburn loss to Winthrop, Vandy loss to Marist
GAMES OF NOTE
Tuesday 1/8 - Alabama @ Missouri: The Tide and Tigers open up SEC play on Tuesday night. I think Bama is better than their record indicates and should give Missouri all they can handle. However, Missouri's front court is one of the best in the country. Bowers and Orkiahi average 27 ppg and 15 rpg combined.
Saturday 1/12 - Florida @ LSU: The key will be which team gets their injured big man back. Things look better for LSU's Johnny O'Bryant as he battles a calf injury and was able to play a few minutes against Bethune Cookman on Saturday. Erik Murphy, the Gators' second-leading scorer, missed Florida's last game and is looking like he may miss a few more as he deals with a rib issue. LSU's only two loses are to good competition (@Boise and @Marquette) and Florida's hot start has cooled as of late. I'm putting Florida on upset alert.
*GAME OF THE WEEK* Saturday 1/12 - Missouri @ Ole Miss: If the Rebels can pick up a win in Knoxville on Wednesday night, the stage will be set for a big coming out party at home against Missouri on Saturday. Both teams are in the top 30 nationally in scoring (Ole Miss 5th, Mizzou 30th), so there should be plenty of buckets. Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner are good enough to battle with Bowers and Oriakhi, but who will contain Phil Pressey? This should be a fantastic SEC match-up.