College Hoops: Best of the SEC

Jim at Desk 2014by Jim Feist

The SEC has a bunch of teams loaded with talent, depth and athleticism.  Kentucky won national championships in 1998 and 2012 and the title game in 2014, Florida knocked on the door in 2000 getting to the title game against Michigan State, then won it all with back-to-back titles. Here’s a look at some of college basketball’s best teams in the SEC.

Kentucky: The Wildcats have another powerhouse young team for coach John Calipari, who likes to groom them for one year before they head off to the NBA. The backcourt leads the way for Kentucky with freshmen guards De’Aaron Fox (16 ppg) and Malik Monk (21 ppg) and sophomore Isaiah Briscoe (14 ppg), while 6-10 freshman Edrice Adebayo crashes the glass.
This uptempo athletic group is a handful, tops in the SEC in scoring. The kids haven’t always been at their best shen stepping up against strong teams, however, with losses to UCAL, Louisville, Kansas and Florida. Will that athleticism roll over opponents in March? Or will youth get exposed at crunch time?

Florida: The Gators have been impressive with great balance, a powerhouse defense and the No. 4 scoring offense in the SEC and three-point shooting.  The backcourt leads the way behind sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen (13 ppg) and seniors Kasey Hill and 6-6 senior Canyon Barry.
The frontcourt is imposing behind juniors 6-8 Devin Robinson and 6-11 John Egbunu. They took apart Kentucky a few weeks ago, an 88-66 pasting, though they also fell short to Duke and Gonzaga in non-conference tilts. Kentucky gets a chance at revenge this weekend against the Gators.

South Carolina:  The Gamecocks are not a great shooting team, but attack opponents with a brilliant defense.  They have a three-guard attack behind 6-5 senior guard Sindarius Thornwell (19 ppg, 6 rpg), 6-6 soph PJ Dozier (14ppg) and senior Duane Notice (10.5ppg), while 6-9 sophomore Chris Silva works the boards.
The offense is just #10 in the SEC in scoring and  #12 in shooting (42.6%). The Gamecocks defense forced at least 15 turnovers in its first 13 conference games. They have impressive wins already over Michigan, Syracuse and Florida.

Alabama: The Tide isn’t getting it done with offense, second to last in the SEC in scoring. Instead, they prefer a slower pace to keep games close. They lost 65-56 to uptempo Oregon and 67-58 to Kentucky
Freshmen 6-8 Braxton Key and guard Dazon Ingram lead this young team in scoring and rebounding, the only two double digit scorers. They handled the pressure in that quadruple-overtime road upset of No. 19 South Carolina.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks are getting it done by running, second in the SEC in scoring, tops in three-point shooting. Senior guard Dusty Hannahs (14.6 ppg), junior Daryl Macon (13 ppg) and junior Jaylen Barford lead this three-guard offense, while 6-10 senior Moses Kingsley is a handful under the glass, four double-digit scorers in all. They pay four of their final seven games on the road, including a date at Florida in a revenge game (Florida won the first meeting, 81-72).

Tennessee:  The Vols had an up and down start for Rick Barnes, but started to click late in January ripping off four wins in a row, including taking down Kentucky, 82-80. They lost to Oregon earlier in the year in overtime.
The backcourt is the strength of the team behind senior guard Robert Hubbs (14.5 ppg), 6-5 freshmen Grant Williams and Lamonte Turner. They have a showdown at South Carolina this weekend, a team they lost to at home, 70-60, as the Gamecocks controlled the pace.   Florida hoops

Auburn: The Tigers have no problem running, third in the SEC in scoring. They do have trouble from the all-important free throw line, however, #10 shooting 67%. They have a dynamic freshmen 1-2 punch in 6-5 Mustapha Heron (15 ppg) and Jared Harper. Throw in third-leading scorer freshman Danjel Puriofy and these kids are all right.  But can they slow down good teams? Auburn has been flattened twice by Kentucky and lost 96-71 to big Purdue. They even lost at home to Tennessee by double-digits.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have shown some fight behind 6-4 sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon (18 ppg) and 6-0 freshman  Lamar Peters (12 ppg), while 6-10 soph Aric Holman (9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) plays the low post. They are #8 in the SEC in scoring and beat Tennessee at home (64-59). But they have been in a late season slump and time is running short. Note that they are 9-3 over the total against winning teams.

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