Player of the Week
Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Kentucky trailed 41-28 at halftime in Starkville, and Davis appeared phased by the environment/competition for the first time in his young career. He had just 4 points and 3 rebounds after 20 minutes. To the surprise of no one, however, he raised his energy level in the second stanza (including a technical foul) en route to 13 points, 11 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals, as UK prevailed by a comfortable margin. Davis found no such struggles back in the friendly confines of Rupp against Vanderbilt, as he finished with 28 points on 10/11 field goals, 11 boards (4 offensive), 6 blocks and 2 steals. He even tossed in a few short-mid range jumpers, including a smooth turnaround J. A 13/15 stretch from the free throw line in the two games highlights both his developing stroke and enhanced aggression. The battle between AD and Thomas Robinson for National POY will be decided down the home stretch.
Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Following a ferocious mid-season slump (4 PPG in January), McRae has re-emerged as a prominent factor in Cuonzo Martin’s rotation. In wins versus Mississippi and at South Carolina he averaged 31 minutes, 16 points (50% FG), 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Early in the year his shot attempts were predominantly long-range bombs, but this week he attempted only 30% three’s and found his way to the charity stripe 15 times (11 makes). He’s added weight to his brittle frame, and at 6’7 he has a serious height advantage over opposing off-guards. Add his explosive athleticism into the mix and there’s no reason he should be camped out behind the arc. Versatility is his ticket to collegiate stardom, and beyond.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Head coach Anthony Grant has righted the ship at an optimal time. The Tide have won three straight games, and a four-pack of freshmen have taken turns sharing the spotlight. Trevor Lacey scored 18 points and swiped 4 steals versus Tennessee, Rodney Cooper and Nick Jacobs scored 17 and 14 respectively at Arkansas, and Levi Randolph exploded for 18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in a second half annihilation of Mississippi State. With the exception of Tony Mitchell who will not be returning this season, all suspended players are back with the team. JaMychal Green came off the bench Saturday to score 9 points in 25 minutes. Alabama has athletes, they GUARD with passion and their youthful talent is maturing as we enter March. How about a UK/U of A rematch in New Orleans at the SEC Tournament?
Mississippi State Bulldogs
MSU’s losing streak has reached five-games, and it’s officially danger time. Outside of Arnett Moultrie no Bulldogs are scoring in the paint or hitting the boards. They combined for 48 team rebounds (-14 margin) in two L’s this week, 19 of which were grabbed by Moultrie. Rodney Hood suffered a deep bone bruise in his left knee vs. Kentucky, and was held out of Saturday’s game at Alabama. They cannot afford to lose Hood’s offense for an extended period. Even with him in the lineup easy buckets were difficult to come by. Remaining games at South Carolina and home to Arkansas are MUST wins.
Top 5: Final Week Matchups
1. Florida at Vanderbilt, February 28th- The Gators (10-4) and Commodores (9-5) battle for the #2 seed in New Orleans. Florida won the first tilt in Gainesville 73-65. Salivating matchups abound: Kenny Boynton vs. John Jenkins, Brad Beal vs. [Player: Jeffery Taylor and Patric Young vs. Festus Ezeli.
2. Kentucky at Florida, March 4th- Currently undefeated UK has the #1 seed locked up, so this traditional final Sunday meeting takes on far greater importance for the Gators. Florida is still in a scuffle for conference and big dance seeding, and will be seeking revenge for a 20-point drubbing in Lexington.
3. Alabama at Mississippi, March 3rd- The tide currently sit in the 4th spot as a result of tie-breakers, but they share an 8-6 conference mark with Tennessee. If they seek to ensure an invaluable 1st round bye, this is a road contest they need to win. Ole Miss is also in a seeding battle, tied with Mississippi State and Arkansas at 6-8 in the league.
4. Tennessee at LSU, February 29th- Both the Volunteers (8-6) and Tigers (7-7) have flown entirely under the radar, yet they are both statistically alive for a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. With a logjam of teams between two games over and two games below .500, this game could have major ramifications on final standings and seeding.
5. Mississippi State at South Carolina and versus Arkansas, February 29th and March 3rd- Simply put, the Bulldogs can’t afford any more losses should they hope to dance. Especially to teams with RPI’s of 179 and 95.
The curious case of Bradley Beal continues. With nearly a full season in the bank, it’s a safe wager that not many would have prognosticated his backwards stat line of 32% three-point shooting and 6.5 rebounds per game. Despite his struggles shooting from range, Beal assuredly boosted his draft stock with his display of versatility and toughness at the guard spot. Everyone knows his stroke is pure.