Player of the Week
Jalen Jones (Texas A&M)
Jalen Jones, an SMU transfer, missed Texas A&M’s first four games due to suspension, but now looks to have hit full stride.
The 6’7" guard/forward hybrid has made an substantial impact for the Aggies since returning to play. Following two underwhelming performances to start his A&M career, Jones scored in double digits in four of his next five games (including 20+ in three).
Though Jones’ 13.7 PPG and 6.6 RPG averages may not leap off the page, he has been critical to the Aggies 9-2 start. In the past two games, both against former Big 12 foes, Jones has been at his best.
Both Kansas State and Baylor pride themselves on being tough, physical teams that let their interior play serve as their calling card. Neither team was a match for Jones. Against the Wildcats he had 25 points and nine boards, while against Baylor the senior exploded for 14 first half points.
Nobody would have been surprised if the Gators had a down year in 2015. Their coach of 19 years, Billy Donovan, who was as synonymous with the the school as "The Swamp", left for the NBA. He was replaced with a young coach, with potential, but the SEC is a step up from Conference USA. However, Florida has different ideas. So far they’re 7-3 and have given number one ranked Michigan Stare their toughest test of the season (a game that was in East Lansing). Their pesky, pressure defense has been key this year. For the season, they’re only allowing 60.5 PPG to opposing teams. Head coach Mike White has proven he can coach with the big boys. If the Gators keep playing this type of defense, they will be right in the thick of things in the race for the conference title.Stefan Moody
The SEC’s leading scorer with 23.8 PPG is still red hot. In the month of December he’s scored 30, 28, 29, and 21 points, all four were Ole Miss victories. On the year he’s only failed to score 20+ points twice, which is also the number of 30 point games he’s had this season. It’s with Moody at the controls that the Rebels have jumped out to a 9-2 record, including six straight wins. If Moody can keep up this level of play the remainder of the season, he is a viable candidate to take home SEC Player of the Year honors.
The Wildcats were supposed to be led again by the nation’s number one recruiting class, and so far they have been. However, it hasn’t been in the manner that they had hoped. In the words of John Calipari, his blue chip recruits are "playing like freshmen." Even though Kentucky only has two losses, they’ve both come at the hands of teams with inferior talent (UCLA and Ohio State). Aside from Jamal Murray, the ‘Cats have been inconsistent game after game. Come March Big Blue Nation could be looking at a different and more cohesive team, but UK can’t continue to experience growing pains much longer if they want to grab a decent seed in the NCAA tournament. Then again, a low seed didn’t seem to hurt them too much two years ago.
Malik Newman Mississippi St.
NBA scouts are starting to sour on Malik Newman, one scout reportedly said anonymously that the guard needs to stay another year at Mississippi State. Newman built a reputation for being an elite scorer in high school but so far he has struggled with the transition to the college level. The Mississippi State Bulldogs are sorely lacking for offense and Newman seems to be pressing, lacking efficiency. The experiment putting him on the ball seems to have hurt his confidence in a number of aspects of the game. In the team’s last three games, he has shot 13/35 from the field, good enough for 37 percent, which is an uptick. If the Bulldogs are going to make any kind of noise they are going to need Newman to improve upon his efficency.
Top 5 Remaining Non-Conference Games
5. Wake Forest Vs. LSU
Though Wake Forest isn’t among the cream of the crop of ACC teams, this could possibly be the last time Ben Simmons will face a team outside of the SEC. The Tigers still don’t look worthy of a postseason tournament berth so far.
4. Oregon vs. Alabama
Alabama has been the surprise team of the opening month of the season. Adding a win over Oregon to victories against Wichita State and Notre Dame would give them a solid early NCAA Tournament resume.
3. Florida State vs. Florida
This game is usually a big deal when the players are strapping on helmets and shoulder pads. However, FSU has looked impressive to begin the year and will serve as a solid barometer of just how good the Gators are.
2. Purdue vs Vanderbilt
The Boilermakers suffered their first loss at the hands of Xavier, but still are one of the top teams in the country. Meanwhile, Vandy has struggled against a rigorous opening schedule and could use a statement win to pull momentum back on their side before beginning SEC play.
1. Louisville vs Kentucky
As long as Rick Pitino and John Calipari remain on the sidelines for their respective teams, this will always be a must-see game. Louisville is led by two fifth-year seniors and Kentucky is led by Tyler Ulis and a trio of freshmen. It will be interesting to see which players are able to step up to the spotlight in the battle of the Bluegrass state.