SEC Thorn in the Side

In the beginning of the season SEC basketball seemed as if it was going to overachieve and more than three teams would punch their tickets into the tournament. When looking at the resumes of every team in the SEC, three seems about right. Kentucky, South Carolina, and Florida look like the only three locks to play in meaningful games past the conference tournament. No, the NIT or CBI do not count when talking about a power five conference and being successful. Various teams have given us false hope in thinking that the SEC is a conference on the rise and we were in the midst of a turn around this season. Bruce Pearl had his team with a core of talented freshman surprising the country when they rolled into conference play with a 10-2 record. That changed relatively quickly with their 1-3 record in conference play. Billy Kennedy’s Aggies came into conference play with a few losses in close games to teams ranked in the AP top 25 and just when you thought they were on the verge of figuring it out, they plummeted. Coming into the season Vanderbilt had expectations to finish in the top 5 of the conference and maybe sneak into the tournament as a bubble team. They’re 8-8. There is talent on these teams and their struggles are solidifying the fact that the SEC is by far the worst conference in the power 5. Against the RPI top 100, the SEC has a winning percentage of .388. The ACC has a winning percentage of .649, so the SEC is a very long way from being respectable, yet alone being amongst the top of the college basketball landscape. I guess for now Kentucky, South Carolina, and Florida are going to have to pull all the weight. Talk about being a top-heavy conference.

Player of the Week

Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina)

Sindarius ThornwellSindarius ThornwellAs an SEC basketball fan you probably want to personally thank Frank Martin and South Carolina for lifting Sindarious Thornwell’s indefinite suspension. Despite having a favorite team to root for, you always root for the rest of the conference to be respectable so if you beat another team it would pad your resume. Well, it was a two team race at the top between Kentucky and Florida. But, Sindarius Thornwell who I would argue should be a front runner for SEC player of the year despite his suspension just added some competition to the top. My reasoning for him having a shot at the honor would be this stat alone: South Carolina is undefeated with him on the floor. All three losses came during Thornwell’s suspension. And ever since he came back it looks as if he’s imitating Tom Brady’s revenge tour. His numbers have risen since he stepped back on the floor while averaging 19 points and 7.6 rebounds per game at the guard position. Sindarious Thornwell is the most important player on Frank Martin’s team since he effects the game in so many ways and is a veteran leader on a younger squad, but his suspension may have been a blessing in disguise. Earlier in the year I wrote about PJ Dozier and his play so far being categorized as underwhelming. During the time period of Thornwell’s suspension, I could have named him my player of the week every week due to the ridiculous numbers he was putting up. With Thornwell’s suspension it gave Dozier confidence and made him realize that he needed to be the leader of the team with their veteran leader facing suspension. Now with these two on the floor together, they boast one of the best backcourts in the country and lead a team that has not lost with both of them on the floor. South Carolina has flew under the radar due to their three losses that came during Thornwell’s suspension, but watch their seeding projection sky rocket with their electric backcourt leading the way. Next week South Carolina gets two chances at proving they are amongst the best in the country in games against No. 23 ranked Florida and No. 6 ranked Kentucky in Rupp.

Who’s Hot

Yante Maten (Georgia)

Through the first four games of conference play no has been more impressive than Yante Maten. He has having one of the best seasons of any college basketball player this year, but the lack of team success has made his production fly under the radar. But, his Bulldogs have won 3 of the past 4 with their only loss coming from Sindarious Thornwell and the Gamecocks. Maten is averaging 20.3 points per game to go along with 9.5 boards through the first four against SEC opponents. He has expanded his game to farther along the perimeter and has confidence in his long-range stroke. He took 15 threes all season last year, he has taken 30 already this year and is making them at a 43% clip. Maten is doing it all this season, and it is because he has to. It is a two-man show Mark Fox is running with both Maten and JJ Frazier being the only two players who average double digits in the scoring category. The most important aspect of Maten’s season is his efficiency shooting the ball. Even though he gained the confidence to step behind the arc more, his shooting percentage is up by five percentage points this year. It is a shame that Maten’s performances this season have flown under the radar, but if he can keep his team at the top tier of the SEC and give them a chance to make a run-in March, Mark Fox’s squad is going to be one team that no one wants to see in the dance with one of the best inside-out duos in the country with Maten and Frazier.

Who’s Not

Auburn Basketball

I touched on it earlier, but Auburn has fell off the map. Their expectations were set really low coming into the season with most people believing it would be a rebuilding year for Bruce Pearl’s young team. But, Mustapha Heron was impressive alongside fellow freshman Danjel Purifoy and those two alone looked like they could carry the Tigers in a weak SEC conference. At this point, I am sure Bruce Pearl would gladly like to restart conference with their putrid 1-3 start. To put it kindly, they have looked awful and nothing like the team we saw coming into conference play. They lost three straight and in their last game they picked up a victory, but it was not encouraging that they have any chance of turning this around. Auburn eked out an ugly 5-point victory against a Missouri team that is currently on a 7-game losing streak and by far the worst team in the SEC. But, we expected that from Missouri. Auburn pleasantly surprised us with a 10-2 start, and when you come into the year with no expectations that would be considered overachieving. But, when we see how you can perform at your best, you earn expectations and Bruce Pearl’s team has faltered ever since basketball junkies started talking about the Tigers in a positive light. Bruce Pearl better figure his team out because we were starting to think of him as the coach that was going to resurrect Auburn basketball from the dead, not the one who got fired for illegally recruiting in Knoxville.

Top 5 Players That Could Change Their Team's Season

The SEC is struggling mightily, but that does not mean there is a lack of talent and we are going to dig every teams grave other than Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina. Here are the five players that need to step up if their team wants to make a late season push into the tournament.

1. TJ Dunans (Auburn)

I know I just ripped a part Auburn and their collapse so far in conference play, but that doesn’t mean they have no shot to make any noise in March. This team is being led by a couple of freshman, but it seems as if what we thought would be the senior leader handed them the torch without any fight. Dunans averaged 5 points in their three losses in conference play, when the senior needs to be the one to get a tough bucket in a hostile environment on the road.

2. Juwan Parker (Georgia)

I could have picked any player on Georgia just to help Frazier and Maten who constantly put the team on their back. While Juwan Parker is the 3rd leading scorer on their team, his shooting percentages are just plain bad. He is 4 of 24 from 3 and 36% from the field. If he can improve on his efficiency it could open up the paint for Maten and driving lanes for Frazier.

3. Jaylen Barford (Arkansas)

Arkansas for the most part is a well-rounded team who distributes their scoring pretty evenly. But, the emergence of a Jaylen Barford could stop their slump that they are currently in during conference play. Like Auburn they have lost 3 of their last 4, but Barford has shown he has the ability to score. He was getting to the basket at will against Kentucky, but ran into foul trouble and that is when Kentucky opened up their lead. He can be a special player, or he can be virtually non-existent when he scored 2 points in a loss against Florida. If Arkansas turns this around, expect it to be with increased production from Jaylen Barford.

4. Robert Williams (Texas A&M)

Robert Williams has exceeded expectations and has shown he has the potential of a lottery pick. But, through conference play he has only showed that potential in one game. I don’t want to peg the Aggies lack of success on him because there is plenty of blame to go at Tyler Davis, but Williams can bring this team some W’s with his shot blocking abilities.

5. IJ Ready (Mississippi State)

This Mississippi State team has flown under the radar all season and currently have a record of 11-4 and are fighting for big wins to boost their resume. Well, you know what you’re going to get from Quindary Weatherspoon, but the second leading scorer on the team is IJ Ready. In 3 of the past 4 games he has scored in single digits. They have escaped with victories in all but one of those games, but Ready can be the senior leader that puts the Bulldogs over the top and can earn them a victory against a team amongst the top of the SEC to force the selection committee to respect them.

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