Word on the street is that it’s been a rough week for Tennessee fans. That’s okay I think I’ve found a distraction from the ongoing debacle that is the UT football coaching search. Here’s this weekend’s SEC Starting Five:
1. Impressive wins in the state of Alabama for both Auburn and Alabama. Bruce Pearl’s Tigers haven’t let the FBI investigation effect them, at least on the court, as they have jumped out to a 6-1 start without the services of former assistant Chuck Person and hold outs Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy–who still have no timetable on their return to the program. Nontheless, the Tigers snapped Dayton’s 16-game home win streak Wednesday night with a 73-60 victory. Sophomore guard Mustapha Heron led all scorers with 21, while the Tigers in whole had 5 players in double-figures.
Alabama found themselves in a back-and-forth affair Coleman Coliseum against Louisiana Tech. Freshman phenom Collin Sexton and sophomore guard Dazon Ingram each tallied 22 points to lead the 21st-rnaked Tide to a 77-74 win, improving to 6-1. Avery Johnson should be impressed with this win, not because of the perennial mid-major power status of the Bulldogs but due to his team being able to refocus after Saturday’s debacle against Minnesota and win. This is a good sign for a young team that should be a competitor for the SEC crown.
Sidenote: I’m pretty sure everyone on Alabama not named Riley Norris is rocking dreads. I don’t hate it.
2. Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland has a track record when it comes to Year 3 at a program. In his third year at Northern Arizona, Howland led the Lumberjacks to a 21-7 record and NIT appearance. At Pittsburgh, Howland went 29-6, while also appearing in his first Sweet 16. At UCLA, Howland had the Bruins playing on the final Monday night of the season, falling to Ohio State in the national title game. If the rule of thirds continues, then all signs point toward not just a 20+ win season for the Bulldogs, but possibly their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009. Sophomore guard and Starkville native Tyson Carter (team-high 15.0 PPG) will certainly be one of the reasons why State is able to find themselves playing in mid-March if he continues to have 35 point outings like he had Thursday night in the 83-59 blowout of North Dakota State. A December 12 visit to No. 11 Cincinnati should be a good litmus test for Howland and his his young team.
3. We don’t need to get into the specifics of what’s gone on on Rocky Top this week, but for those of you who are well-versed then you know full well that the 5-1 start for Tennessee basketball program, that includes a win against then-No.18 Purdue, is a welcome distraction. Rick Barnes’ team is currently rated 27th by college basketball analytics guru KenPom, while also coming in at 19th in his adjusted defensive efficiency metric.
A Sunday night trip to Atlanta to face-off against a Georgia Tech team coming off of a buzzer-beating win against Northwestern should provide more insight to how good this team can be. At this point, do Vols fans really need a reason not to fully support this team?
4. Vanderbilt has an early season “must-win” Sunday afternoon at Memorial Gym. The Commodores have already dropped non-conference contests at Belmont, home against Southern California, and in Brooklyn to Virginia and Seton Hall. There’s a lot of people out there that will tell you that college basketball doesn’t matter until March. If that were true, then the selection committee would still be evaluating the last 10 games of a teams season, instead of using metrics like non-conference RPI and strength of schedule.
The Wildcats, a 2017 NCAA participant, offer one of Vandy’s final chances to present a respectable non-conference resume to the committee. The strength of the SEC will allow Vanderbilt the opportunity for another at-large bid, but that’s hardly the mindset Byrce Drew’s team wants to have once the calendar flips to conference play. Until last year, 15 losses never cut it for the selection committee. I wouldn’t want to play those odds again.
5. Coming into the week, the SEC was rated second among all 32 conferences by KenPom, just ahead of the ACC at three. Following a 12-2 dismantling of the Big Ten in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the leagues have flip-flopped. If the narrative of the SEC being improved is going to be respected nationally, then the league will need to take care of business against the premier conference in college basketball. Tennessee has played it’s part with a win a week ago against NC State in the Bahamas and Florida came close in the PK80 Motion bracket final against No. 1 Duke, but LSU, Vanderbilt and Arkansas have all been thoroughly outclassed by their ACC foes. The onus is now on Ole Miss to protect home court against Virginia Tech and for Tennessee to collects its second win in as many weeks.
What 2 Watch 4
Virginia Tech (6-1) at Ole Miss (4-2) 1:00PM CT SEC Network+ – Where does the SEC stack up to the middle of the ACC?
Georgia (5-1) at (6-2) Marquette 1:00PM CT CBS Sports Network – Mark Fox’s team faces a solid road test against a Golden Eagles team that
Arkansas (5-1) at Houston (5-1) 6:30PM CT CBS Sports Network –
UCF (4-3) at Alabama (6-1) 1:00PM ESPNU
Kansas State (6-1) at Vanderbilt (3-4) 1:30PM SEC Network+
Tennessee (5-1) at Georgia Tech (4-1) 5:00PM ESPNU
Dayton (3-3) at Mississippi State (6-0) 7:00PM CT SEC Network
Check back Monday for another addition of The Starting Five.