Player of the Week
Johnathan Williams III – Missouri
Missouri is off to their worst start in years. They are under .500 this late in the season for the first time in almost a decade with seemingly very little hope of turning it around this season. With the suspensions of Deuce Bello (see below), Wes Clark and JaKeenan Gant among others, this has been a dismal season for Tiger fans. But one bright spot has been the play of sophomore Johnathan Williams. Williams has really elevated his game this season and has become the leader for this young Mizzou team. He’s improved his footwork and still causes problems for opposing defenses with this ability to slash and get into the lane. But what he’s really improved upon this season is his range. He is getting more and more confident in his jump shot, as funky looking as it is. Against Oklahoma State, he scored from every spot on the floor and in seemingly ever way possible. He’s a matchup nightmare for most forwards and will be a special player for the Tigers over the next two seasons.
The Gamecocks have now won 7 straight and have tallied wins against Oklahoma State, Clemson and Iowa State in the last month. For all of the struggles of star player Sindarius Thornwell, Frank Martin’s team has looked really good in recent weeks. Duane Notice should receive a lot of the credit as he’s averaged just a tick under 18 points per game during that stretch, more than double his career average. But the real reason for this turnaround has been their play on defense. The Gamecocks haven’t allowed an opponent to top 60 points the entire month of December and held a normally potent Iowa State offense to 60 points on only 35% shooting, their worst output of the season. The Gamecocks also lead the conference in rebounding currently, yes that includes Kentucky. This team wasn’t picked to finish very high in the conference coming into the season but they’ve really played well of late. They have a big test in their conference opener against Florida on Wednesday that should really tell whether this team is a contender or pretender.
Deuce Bello – Missouri
3.3, 2.4 and 2.9. Those are Bello’s scoring averages during his first three years in college. For a player coming out of high school with so much promise and hype, those numbers are more than disappointing. After barely seeing the court for two years at Baylor, Bello transferred to Mizzou hoping for more playing time. Now, after averaging barely over 10 minutes per game this season, Bellow has been suspended indefinitely for academic reasons. He was actually playing well in his limited role this season but with the suspension, there’s no telling when he’ll get back on the court. He still has one year of eligibility left and if he can get his act together in the classroom then there’s still the possibility he can get his act together on the court.
Jacob Kurtz – Florida
You have to feel bad for this kid. He became the butt of a cruel joke that will be shown on TV for the foreseeable future as he tipped in the game winning basket, for the wrong team on what would have been an air ball. It is the equivalent of an own goal in soccer, only with the degree of difficulty being far greater. It was a tough loss for a Florida team that seems to be piling up a ton of them lately. Kurtz, a former walk-on has actually played fairly well all things considered for the Gators this season and he’s one of the few guys that actually hustle and give it their all each and every night but on that night, he became an instant internet sensation, and not for good reasons.
Top 5 Teams Heading into Conference Play
1. Kentucky – This is a no-brainer. The Wildcats are still undefeated and are the class of not only the SEC but the entire NCAA. They’ll get tested in conference play, as they were Monday night in their OT win against South Carolina, but they are all but a lock for the Final Four and a perfect season is within their reach if they can learn to not beat themselves.
2. Arkansas – The Razorbacks are one of the only teams in the SEC that have a chance at taking down Kentucky. They have length up front to hang with Kentucky, at least as far as the starting unit is concerned and they have solid guard play. Their game against the Wildcats on February 28th will be the biggest game of the season for this team.
3. LSU – The Tigers are the only other team aside from Arkansas that has a shot at taking down Kentucky in terms of a conference Championship is concerned. They have the athletes and the shooters to do so. ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said that a team will have to make 10+ threes to take down Kentucky and with guys like Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray on the roster, they have a chance to do just that. They don’t shoot the three well as a team but if those two guys get hot then this team can be dangerous.
4. Florida – This clearly isn’t the same Gator team we are used to seeing but in a weak SEC, they will still finish in the top five of the conference and could finish #2 behind Kentucky if they can find some consistency. They lack a true post scorer and have very little depth on the interior. Kasey Hill has played better of late and freshmen Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson have been pleasant surprises but Chris Walker has been a disappointment to this point and they just can’t seem to put together a solid 40 minutes.
5. Georgia – The Bulldogs are one of the more underrated teams in the conference and as I mentioned before the season started, they have one of the best big men in the SEC that no one has ever heard about in Nemanja Djurisic. Combine that with the stellar play of senior forward Marcus Thornton and the back court duo of Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines and this team could surprise some people and make it back to the NCAAT.
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