Typically, the farther you progress through a season, the more you know about each team. Well, in the SEC I feel like I learn less and less each week. Just when you think a team is sinking or another is going to make a potential run to the big dance, they let you down. I started to like Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers and think they could be a potential cinderella story this year and sneak into the tourney, then they get blown out by a 6-loss Vanderbilt team. Not to say they still can’t do it, but you get the point. And then when you think South Carolina is going to struggle without their veteran leading scorer, he gets reinstated. Sindarius Thornwell even sat out for multiple games, probably the wrong move by Frank Martin since apparently you can learn your lesson after just missing one game. Right Coach K? Anyway, the SEC standings tell the story. A 6-loss Vanderbilt squad and a 5-loss Alabama team are tied for first place. The only thing that has been consistent this year has been Kentucky’s love for long range contested 2’s, and Yante Maten putting up some pretty ridiculous numbers.
Player of the Week
Matthew Fisher Davis (Vanderbilt)
Vanderbilt has struggled all year and probably don’t have any shot at the tournament unless they go on an improbable winning streak, but they have found a bright spot. Matthew Fisher-Davis was the spot up shooter on the team last year that relied on Wade Baldwin IV to kick it out to him. This year, Fisher-Davis is creating his own shot and as of late it’s been working. Throughout the beginning of the season he seemed as if he was going to struggle because he was relying on his jump shot and did not have any interest to bring it to the hole. Defenders just glued to him since his offensive game was virtually one-dimensional and made him take tough jumpers. But, over the past three games he has improved his shot taking and has shown he can put it on the floor. He has scored 23+ over the past three games and it they have all not been on spectacular shooting nights. In a game against LSU Fisher-Davis shot 39% from the floor, but got to the free throw line and took 12 attempts. He found a solution for when his jumper isn’t cash. But, the other night against Auburn, his jumper was hitting nothing but nylon. He was 50% from deep and hit 7 treys on a career night where he scored 33 in a 19-point victory over what was a 2 loss Auburn squad. He even contributed on the glass where he grabbed 7 boards which he did only for the second time this year. MFD is progressing, and progressing fast. He realized it is his team and he is going to have to take over for them to win games with the lack of talent and production around him. Who knows, maybe with him leading the way that winning streak doesn’t sound impossible.
Dazon Ingram (Alabama)
The entire Alabama roster does not have a scorer who averages more than 10 points per game. No one has emerged as the star and they seem to be content with sharing the ball and letting everyone eat each time out on the floor. But, freshman guard Dazon Ingram may be starting to figure out the college game, and Avery Johnson may be putting him in the right spots to succeed. Over the past two games he has averaged 14.5 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. Those are way up from his season averages and very impressive for a 6’5 guard. Ingram is putting up Moses Kingsley numbers despite being 6 inches shorter and playing a completely different position. Also, in those two games where he had one double-double and neared another one, they resulted in victories. Alabama has won three straight games. It is clear that Ingram is a sparkplug for this team and they benefit from his success. Alabama’s losses have come to good teams this year and are probably a year away from contending to make a run at a tourney bid, but the emergence of Ingram can make it an entertaining season for Crimson Tide fans. While Bo Scarborough was running over Washington linebackers, Dazon Ingram was fighting to become the star of an Alabama team that desperately needs one.
Tyler Davis (Texas A&M)
For a team that had some pretty high praise in the offseason to be one of the few teams to contend with Kentucky for the SEC title, they have not looked relatively close to that. Actually, they’re tied for last in the SEC and even last to a team in Tennessee that most projected to finish amongst the worst in the conference. Despite their struggles, I never wanted to throw the blame on Tyler Davis because he is still putting up solid numbers and seemed like one of the few bright spots on the roster other than Robert Williams. But, they have lost 3 of their last 4 and Davis has not shown up in 2 of those losses. Against Tennessee, Davis only managed 6 points and 4 turnovers in a 10-point loss. And against Kentucky, A&M got ran off the floor, literally. Davis dropped 13 but only grabbed 2 rebounds against a frontcourt of Kentucky that has still not put it all together yet. But, the biggest problem was in the turnover area where he had 7 turnovers. A&M has lost close to good teams all year and I have given them the benefit of the doubt every team thinking that they’re going to struggle early because they lost their true point-guard to suspension. But it is too late in the season now to lose by 42 and still make excuses for a team that has consistently underperformed. Tyler Davis seemed as if he was going to be able to carry the team earlier on in the year when it comes down to it and they need to reel off wins to make the tournament. But, looking at his performance in conference play, I am worried. Not only about the very talented big man, but the team that most projected to finish in the top-3 of the SEC.
Top 5 Games this Week
1. Arkansas @ Kentucky (January 7th)
This game is just filled with great matchups. How does Bam Adebayo fair against shot-blocker Moses Kingsley? Then two guards who can light up the scoreboard in Malik Monk and Dusty Hannahs. Speaking of Monk, he’ll be playing against the team he spurned to go to the Bluegrass State. People from his hometown gave him a tough time about that. He might have a bigger chip on his shoulder.
2. Texas A&M @ South Carolina (January 7th)
A&M may look awful right now, but I think they’re too talented to sustain this level of play all year. South Carolina just got their leading scorer back in Sindarious Thornwell. Im intrigued how PJ Dozier and Thornwell fair against the paint presence of Tyler Davis.
3. Vanderbilt @ Alabama (January 7th)
I know, both teams have mediocre records and have slight chances of making any noise in March. But, they’re both undefeated in conference play and I want to see who cracks first. Both have momentum and if either of them are going to reel off key wins to keep them in contention, this has to be one of them.
4. Florida @ Alabama (January 10th)
Florida just jumped back into the AP poll and I am curious of whether they or going to climb or fall. I’m pretty confident they’ll pull off a victory in front of the rowdy reptiles against Tennessee. But against an Alabama team that could potentially still be undefeated in conference, I am not so sure. Alabama may be coming off a national championship then on Tuesday they’ll be welcoming in a ranked opponent, their stadium could be a hostile environment.
5. Kentucky @ Vanderbilt
Whenever you welcome a top-10 ranked team into your arena, the atmosphere is going to be crazy. To go along with that, it is known that the Memorial has some magic. I wouldn’t call it magic, I just think the placement of the benches play a big factor against opposing teams. Nonetheless, Kentucky has struggled in Memorial gym over the years, so don’t be surprised if you see an upset. Or Malik Monk hitting fade away 3’s. Either way, watch the game.