1. Florida avoided a nightmare week with a gutsy, 66-60, win over No.17 Cincinnati in Newark. The Gators were handed embarrassing losses by rival Florida State and Loyola-Chicago out of the Missouri Valley. The latter was able to beat the Gators despite the team missing it’s starting point guard to a broken hand. Egor Koulechov led the way for Mike White’s squad with 21 points and 7 rebounds, while Chris Chiozza added 15 points of his own, along with a team-high six assists. KeVaughn Allen, who was expected to be one of the most prolific scorers in the SEC this season, only tallied 2 points on the evening. Allen has scored a combined 10 points in the past two games and is averaging 11.8 PPG so far this season, after averaging 14 PPG a year ago. The addition of Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson (team-high 19.1 PPG) has helped alleviate the pressure that was on Allen coming into the season, but the Arkansas native will need to pick up the scoring slack if the Gators are going to reach their potential.
Speaking of potential, this was an extremely telling week for the Gators. In their two losses, UF shot 36.5 percent from the field, including 17.5 percent from three-point range. In their win on Saturday, Florida shot only 42.6 percent from the field, but 40 percent from behind the arc. For a team that lacks a true rim protector and consistent interior scoring, at least until John Egbunu returns from an ACL injury he suffered back in January, it is imperative that the Gators shoot well from the perimeter. If they’re unable to, they’re as vulnerable as any top 25 team in America.
2. I thought Alabama acquitted themselves quite well in the desert on Saturday night, despite falling, 88-82, to Arizona. Avery Johnson’s team held a, 40-39, advantage going into the locker room at half and held as much as a five point lead midway through the second half, before DeAndre Ayton and the Wildcats pulled away late. Tide point guard Collin Sexton continues to show how coveted he’ll be when the NBA Draft rolls around in June. Sexton scored a game-high 30 points, 15 of which came from the free throw line. Ayton matched Sexton with career-highs of 29 points and 18 rebounds.
The Crimson Tide had an opportunity down, 79-77, with 2:10 to play. Arizona fed the ball to Ayton consecutive possessions to take a, 83-77, advantage, while Bama seemed to forget that their lottery pick was on the floor. Johnson has a young team, but they need to recognize that they’ll go as far as Sexton takes them and that the ball should be in his hands late. Obviously, Johnson should be encouraged by how his team played at the always difficult McHale Center. Although, Arizona is unranked, after dropping three straight games ahead of this past week, this is still a team that is capable compete for a PAC-12 title and Final Four berth.
Also, it should be noted that Alabama is still without redshirt sophomore wing Braxton Key, out indefinitely with a meniscus tear. If they can go toe-to-toe at Arizona without Key, then the ceiling for this team should be relatively high once Key returns.
3. I was able to get my first in-depth look at Tennessee this season. The Volunteers were slated by the media to finish 13th in the league, but had jumped out to a 6-1 start and No.24 ranking heading into Saturday afternoons contest against Lipscomb. Sophomore forward Grant Williams was the best player of the floor for the Vols, scoring 19 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Admiral Schoefield had 13 points and 6 rebounds of his own. Williams and Schoefield are both undersized interior players, but they provide a lot a girth to the position that most teams won’t be able to contend with. As for the guard play, Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Nashville native Jordan Bone only combined for 20 points, struggling overall against the Bisons guards.
Overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with UT in their, 81-71, win over the Bisons. Lipscomb is a quality low-major team and should contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but Tennessee was overwhelming the far superior tea athletically and talent-wise. Texas and Alabama had no trouble when the Bisons visited them and nor should the Vols have. UT were clearly undervalued coming into the season. They have a solid pair of big men, albeit undersized, and plenty of options around the perimeter. They’ll need to show more next Sunday when defending champion North Carolina comes to Knoxville.
4. Arkansas has played a tough schedule in the early season. The Razorbacks faced Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Connecticut out in Portland during the PK80, and visited a quality Houston team last week. Saturday’s, 95-79, route of 14th-ranked Minnesota should come as some surprise as to how they were able to outclass that type of opponent. What shouldn’t come as a surprise is that Mike Anderson had is team prepared for that kind of game given what they had faced going into Saturday night’s contest at Bud Walton Arena.
Senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon scored 22 and 12, respectively, while freshman forward Daniel Gafford scored 17 of his own and posted 7 rebounds and 6 blocks. The Razorbacks will get a bit of a reprieve before starting SEC play versus Tennessee on the 3oth, as Troy, Oral Roberts and Cal State Bakersfield visit to close out non-conference play.
5. Mississippi State remains the conference’s lone unbeaten team after a, 95-62, win over Division II North Georgia. We’ll learn more about Ben Howland’s Bulldogs on Tuesday when they traveling to Cincinnati to face the 25th-ranked Bearcats.
What 2 Watch 4
Mississippi State (8-0) at #25 Cincinnati (7-2) 6:00PM CT ESPN2
Houston (8-1) at LSU (5-2) 8:00PM CT SEC Network