For those of you jumping on the college hoops train with this break for bowl season, there’s a lot to talk about. SEC? Pretty good. Tennessee has been better than expected, and they were a top-five team heading into the preseason. Crazy to think a co-champion of the SEC returning all it’s players from a year ago made them…better. But seriously, Auburn is as good as advertised. Mississippi State is 11-1 and ranked in the AP poll. My pick to win the SEC, Kentucky? Eh. A demoralizing loss to Duke and a half-court heave to go to OT against Seton Hall just for it to result in heartbreak for the Cats is where they’re at. But, like Calipari always says, they’re young. The league was supposed to be as deep as it’s ever been, but number McDonald’s All-American Darius Garland is out for the year for Vandy and Florida playing the way are doesn’t help. That’s bad by the way. All in all, the SEC has contenders that can make a Final Four appearance, and yet it’s still very early. The league has talent and better coaching, they’ll make noise in March.
Player of the Week
Keldon Johnson (Kentucky)
After that half-court heave to send it to OT against Seton Hall, Keldon Johnson has been lighting it up from deep. He followed that hail mary up with a 24-point performance in a 88-61 win for Kentucky against Utah. He lit it up from deep as he shot 6 of 7. He also shined in Kentucky’s win over North Carolina with 21 points and again hitting a good clip from three, knocking down 4-7 and is now shooting 46% from behind the arc. Kentucky news media was putting pressure on Johnson saying he has to step up and be the guy for this team if Kentucky wants to live up to the preseason hype they had heading into the season. Johnson is welcoming the responsibility – “I’m comfortable with the offense running through me.” Now the offense still needs to be emphasized on the block with this Kentucky team, don’t forget about PJ Washington and Reid Travis, but Johnson is the most important player on the team for the Cats. They need solid guard play desperately, and it doesn’t help that Quade Green is on the way out, announcing a transfer to Washington. But after impressive back to back wins, Kentucky appears to be back on track.
Admiral Schofield (Tennessee)
Penny Hardaway may have told Rick Barnes to, “get the f*** outta here,” but Tennessee isn’t going anywhere if Schofield keeps playing the way he is. He averaged 29.5 PPG over the team’s two bigbest recent matchups against then the No. 1 team Gonzaga, and in state rival Memphis. He followed that up with two solid games against Samford and Wake Forest with 18 and 12. Schofield is shooting 42% for the year from three. What’s crazy is how efficient he’s been despite more attempts. He’s up from a 39% clip on 4.5 attempts per game. This year? Up to 6 attempts. The kid can get in the lane any time he wants, can post up, and is now shooting the lights out from deep. And I can’t forget to mention he’s not even the leading scorer on his team. That title belongs to Grant Williams who I believe will be SEC Player of the Year. If I could, I would retract my prediction of picking Kentucky to win the SEC, but I’m going to stick it out. Tennessee looks special. They forced Kansas who is now ranked as the No. 1 team in the country to OT, and knocked off Gonzaga. He’s a man amongst boys, he’s just bodying them all game. Ask Penny, he’ll say his kids weren’t flopping. And they definitely weren’t, Admiral Schofield is a freight train.
Bryce Brown (Auburn)
I guess we’ll stick with the teams who had high expectations coming into the year, because they are players/teams who have it rough in the bottom of the league right now. But, Auburn scraping out a 4-point W in OT against UAB needs to be talked about. And it starts with Bryce Brown. Brown is the leading scorer for the Tigers averaging just under 17 PPG, but he did not show up against UAB and it resulted in a huge scare for Auburn. Brown went 0-6 from deep while only scoring 5 points, 3 of which came from the charity stripe. Luckily teammate Jared Harper saved the day with 31. The following game Brown’s woes continued with just 3 points on 1-6 shooting vs North Carolina State. Auburn can’t afford for Bryce Brown to have off nights, especially when conference play rolls around. The SEC is too tough this year and they can’t afford him showing up to the arena uninterested and mail it in. He offers too much to Bruce Pearl’s squad, especially from downtown. If his 3-point shot is not falling he’s in trouble because he refuses to get into the lane right now. He’s relying too much on his range and when it’s falling it spreads Auburn’s offense out, but when it’s not, it limits the Tigers. And you saw that against UAB and NC State. Bryce Brown will live by three and die by the three, but he’s not Steph. He needs to keep attacking and effect the game when his jump shot isn’t there.
Top Upcoming Games to Watch Before Conference Play
Kentucky vs. Louisville
Cal vs. Mack won’t be Cal vs. Pitino, but the rivalry is still going to be the same. Pure hatred for one another. Kentucky heads to the Yum! Center in heading into the year looked like a game Kentucky would win handedly. But, the way Louisville is playing (good) and the way Kentucky is playing (mediocre) this one will be another vintage matchup.
Butler vs. Florida
Just because revenge. Butler beat Florida 61-54 in the Battle 4 Atlantis where the Gators fell to .500 (3-3). They’re now 6-4 and have won 3 of their last 4. The Gators are trying to figure this out and this could be a win that propels them there.