Conference Countdown: No. 5 SEC

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Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Trey Thompkins, Georgia

There
are three reasons I think Thompkins wins this award. First and
foremost, the kid can flat out play, and may very well turn into one of
the best big men in the country this year. He has range on his jumper,
he can score in the post, he rebounds the ball well. There is not much
he cannot do on a basketball court. The second reason is that the SEC
is not overloaded with talented big guys. Enes Kanter and Patric Young
are freshmen. Who knows what Renardo Sidney is going to be this year,
especially on the defensive end. Can Storm Warren guard Thompkins?
Brian Williams? JaMychal Green? The third reason is that Georgia does
not have much else on their team. Travis Leslie can score, but he gets
hustle points more than buckets off of plays that are run for him.
Combine Thompkins ability with the fact that he will get a lot of
touches against inferior competition, and the chance is there for Trey
to become a nationally recognized name by season’s end.

And a close second goes to: Chris Warren, Ole Miss

Warren
has always been a fantastic scorer for the Rebels. In each of his three
seasons with Ole Miss, he has averaged at least 15 ppg, and finished up
his junior campaign as a 17 ppg scorer despite coming off of a serious
knee injury the year before. Last year, Andy Kennedy had guys like
Terrico White and Murphy Holloway, but this year Warren is going to be
options A, B, and C. Don’t be surprised if he ends up averaging 20 ppg.
And while this Ole Miss team loses four of the five starters from last
year’s club and adds five freshmen, there is potential here. In other
words, the Rebels aren’t going to finish at the bottom the league.

Breakout Star: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt

Last
season, Jenkins proved to be one of the best shooters not just in the
conference, but in the country, hitting 48.3% of his long balls. As a
freshman on a good Vanderbilt team last year, he also had to defer to
Jermaine Beal and AJ Ogilvy. With those two off their pursuing
professional careers, Jenkins is going to be the Commodore’s No. 1
offensive option. Jeff Taylor, as good as he is, is not a player that
you can build an offense around at this point in his career. If Jenkins
can develop more of an all-around offensive game beyond his
catch-and-shoot ability — and I think he can, he was a top 15 national
recruit and showed a decent offensive repertoire off of close-out
situations (pump-fakes, pull-ups, etc.) — I wouldn’t be surprised if
he became a potential first-team all-conference performer.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Trey Thompkins, Georgia, Jr.
  • G – Chris Warren, Ole Miss, Sr.
  • G – Brandon Knight, Kentucky, Fr.
  • G – Scotty Hopson, Tennessee, Jr.
  • F – Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt, Jr.
  • F – JaMychal Green, Alabama, Jr./Enes Kanter, Kentucky, Fr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Travis Leslie, Georgia, Jr.
  • G – John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, So.
  • F – Chandler Parsons, Florida, Sr.
  • F – Marshon Powell, Arkansas, So.
  • F – Tobias Harris, Tennessee, Fr.

Freshman of the Year: Brandon Knight, Kentucky

As
much as I want to put Enes Kanter here (and, to tell you the truth, I
think — should he get eligible — he competes for SEC player of the
year), there are just too many question marks regarding his eligibility
to assume he will play the whole season, or even enough of the season
to warrant such an award. And, let’s be honest, it is not like Knight
can’t play. He is a truly gifted scorer, someone that can go for 30
points when his team needs it. He is more of a combo-scoring guard than
a true point, the kind of player that will take a high volume of jump
shots. And, given the make up of this Kentucky roster — youth, lacking
interior size and depth — that may not necessarily be a bad thing to
begin the year. If he can develop a bit more of a creator’s mentality,
there is no reason Knight can’t be the next in line of the great
Calipari point guards.

All-Freshman Team:

  • G – Trever Releford, Alabama
  • G – Doron Lamb, Kentucky
  • F – Tobias Harris, Tennessee
  • F – Terrence Jones, Kentucky
  • C – Enes Kanter, Kentucky/Patric Young, Florida

What Happened?:

  • Controversy Deluxe:
    Is it just me, or did it seem like everything that happened this
    off-season involved a team from Lexington? It started with Terrence
    Jones, the second recruit that John Calipari was able to pry away from
    Lorenzo Romar, and his soap opera.
    If you remember, Jones committed to Washington, then spoke to Calipari
    on the phone just hours after his commitment. He then waited until the
    signing deadline to back out on his pledge to Washington and instead head to Kentucky.

    The
    other player that backed out on Washington was Enes Kanter, a 6’11”
    monster from Turkey that put 34 points and 14 boards on a USA team that
    included Terrence Jones. Well, Kanter — who some believe will be the
    best big man in the country this season — may never see a minute in Kentucky blue as he is dealing with amateurism issues from his time in Turkey. Kentucky fans, is it too soon to bring up Pete Thamel’s articles?

    That was far from the end of the scandal the Kentucky program faced this year. How about the accusations of academic impropriety
    against Eric Bledsoe back in May? Or what about the Chicago Sun-Times’
    assertions that Anthony Davis, a top five player in the class of 2011, had his commitment for sale, and that Kentucky was the highest bidder? And who can forget the back lash that Coach Cal received for his comments on draft night? Never a dull moment…

  • Bruce Pearl, Tennessee, and the invention of lying: First, Bruce Pearl cheated. Then he lied. Then news broke he did it before. Then we found out Tennessee lied too. Yeesh.
  • But wait, there’s more:
    Kentucky wasn’t the only team that dealt with their share of
    controversy this summer. Justin Knox, who graduated from Alabama in
    just three years, was not allowed to transfer to UAB. It worked out for Knox in the end, as he is headed to North Carolina instead.

    Knox
    isn’t the only player that had to deal with the ridiculous transfer
    policies in college basketball. Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway decided he
    wanted to transfer out of Ole Miss in order to be closer to his
    children, but the Rebels would not grant him a release to attend South Carolina or Clemson. He ended up at South Carolina, but will have to sit out a season and pay his own tuition.

  • More Ole Miss problems: Remember the issues that Andy Kennedy had back in Cincinnati last year? Well, he solved them, settling out of court when the cab driver he allegedly punched apologized to him.

    Then there was Eniel Polynice.
    Polynice graduated from Ole Miss (he redshirted a year when he blew out
    his knee), declaring for the NBA Draft. When he found out that he
    wasn’t picked, and learned that Andy Kennedy wasn’t too disappointed
    that he declared, Polynice opted to transfer, ending up at Seton Hall.

  • Mississippi State’s trials and tribulations:
    Dee Bost initially declared for the NBA Draft, and then didn’t remove
    his name before the May 8th deadline. It was until June that he decided he wanted to return to school,
    which, obviously, was too late. The NCAA is reviewing his decision,
    although its unlikely Bost will be cleared to return. Then there was
    Kodi Augustus, who made an appearance on the Real World.
  • I’m glad I’m not Tony Barbee:
    The first year coach at Auburn lost four of his five starters. The only
    returner, Frankie Sullivan, is out with a possible season-ending knee
    injury. So is Ty Armstrong, a potential starter. And his two best
    recruits — Luke Cothron, who was top 50, and Shawn Kemp, Jr. — failed to qualify academically. Yeah, Auburn is screwed. And Tony Barbee may be as well. He’s not under contract yet.
  • Or Trent Johnson: LSU lost their best player, Bo Spencer, who was kicked off the team last spring for academic issues. He has since transferred to Nebraska.

    Bo
    Spencer wasn’t only player with academic issues. South Carolina’s
    Austin Steed was asked to leave the program, and Georgia Cady Lalanne
    did not qualify.

What’s Next?:

  • Mississippi State’s newest big man:
    Last season’s biggest controversy centered aroud Renardo Sidney, a
    talented big man that most believed had been the recipient of illegal
    benefits while in high school. Sidney received his punishment, which
    essentially ended up being a three semester suspension. Sidney will be
    allowed to play in the tenth game of the season, and if he can live up
    to his hype, he could be the piece that Mississippi State needs to make
    the NCAA Tournament.
  • The SEC West …:
    is absolutely awful. There is a legitimate argument to be made that not
    one western division team is better than the worst eastern division
    team. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment, but I don’t think
    that there will be any SEC West teams in the tournament this year.
  • A New SEC Tournament?: Well, its not happening this season, but with the SEC West’s struggles, the idea has been floated to seed to SEC Tournament 1-12. Currently, the format equates the first place finisher in the eastern and western divisions, the second place finisher, etc.
  • Scottie Wilbekin starting a trend?: Wilbekin skipped his last year of high school to enroll at Florida early. Trendsetter? Vandy’s James Siakam did the same thing.

Power Rankings

  1. Florida:
    The Gators have a chance to be very, very good this year. They
    basically bring back the same club from last season. Erving Walker and
    Kenny Boynton are both talented back court players, although they can
    use a healthy dose of shot selection. The 5’8″ Walker is more of a
    playmaker, and while Boynton is more the natural scorer, he needs to
    find more consistency with that jumper; 29% from three won’t cut it
    this year. There isn’t a ton of depth in the back court here —
    freshman Scottie Wilbekin enrolled early, but he wasn’t a terribly
    highly regarded recruit, Casey Prather is more of a small forward than
    a guard — as Ray Shipman and Nimrod Tishman are both gone. Up front,
    Chandler Parsons — who may very well have grown another inch
    — is back. Parsons is as underrated as anyone in this league. At
    6’10”, he can shoot, he can create off the dribble, he rebounds the
    ball, and he has a knack for hitting game-winners.
    Vernon Macklin and Erik Murphy both return, and although Dan Werner and
    Alex Tyus are both gone, the Gators bring in plenty along the front
    line. Will Yeguete and Cody Larson both should be able to contribute,
    but the x-factor could very well be Patric Young. Young is a big,
    strong, athletic post player that can rebound and block shots, exactly
    what Florida was missing last year. There is talent here, and depending
    on how guys like Parsons and Boynton develop and how good Young ends up
    being, Florida could very well end up winning the SEC.
  2. Kentucky:
    John Calipari simply reloaded with this team. Once again heavy on
    freshmen, this club will be hard-pressed to have as much success as
    last year’s team, however. For starters, they may not even have Enes
    Kanter, the 6’10” Turkish center that went for 34 and 14 against the
    best high schoolers in the country, for part or all of the season due
    to amateurism issues. Whenever Kanter gets eligible, he will be joining
    Terrence Jones up front. Jones is a versatile 6’10” forward in the mold
    of a Lamar Odom. The biggest problem for them is that the only other
    big man on the roster is Josh Harrellson. The back court will be less
    of an issue. Brandon Knight is this year’s star point guard, and while
    he’s a different kind of player than John Wall, he should be a
    more-than-adequate replacement. Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole — two more
    talented freshmen back court players — and Jon Hood will see time
    alongside Knight. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller will split time at
    small forward. Both are going to be counted on for big years, but
    Liggins in particular has received quite a bit of praise for his
    improvement this summer. This freshman class isn’t as good as last
    year’s, and there isn’t a Patrick Patterson holdover on this team, but
    there is enough to contend for the SEC title, and possibly make a run
    at the Final Four in they do, in fact, get Kanter back.
  3. Tennessee:
    The Vols lost quite a bit of talent to graduation. Tyler Smith, Wayne
    Chism, Bobby Maze, and JP Prince have all moved on. But there are
    plenty of reasons to believe that Tennessee can compete for an SEC
    title. The first is Scotty Hopson, an athletic, 6’7″ wing that was a
    top ten recruit in 2008. Hopson has loads of potential, and with the
    amount of talent leaving Knoxville, Hopson will be counted on to step
    up. Another reason is Tobias Harris, a skilled combo-forward that
    should fit in very well with Bruce Pearl’s system. Harris has the skill
    to play either forward spot at either end of the floor at a high level,
    and Pearl loves versatile players like that. Beyond those two, there is
    still a high level of talent on this roster. Cam Tatum, Renaldo
    Wooldridge, and Skylar McBee will be joined on the perimeter by top 50
    swing man Jordan McRae. John Fields, Kenny Hall, and Brian Williams
    will help Harris man the paint. The biggest question mark is at the
    point, where the inconsistent Melvin Goins will be joined by Trae
    Golden. As we have become accustomed to with Pearl, his roster is deep
    and athletic. Depending on how good Hopson and Harris end up being,
    Tennessee could very well win the conference, although I think a
    second- or third-place finish in the East is much more likely.
  4. Vanderbilt:
    Losing Jermaine Beal and AJ Ogilvy, its difficult to imagine that the
    Commodores can make a push to the top of a very good SEC East. That
    said, there are still some very good basketball players on this roster.
    I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that John Jenkins could turn into
    one of the best scorers in the SEC by the time his career is over.
    Forward Jeffery Taylor is an athletic specimen and a potential first
    round draft pick. Brad Tinsley, Andre Walker, and Lance Goulbourne are
    all capable, versatile role players. Fetsus Ezeli, Steve Tchiengang,
    and a couple of freshmen will provide the muscle inside. For my money,
    there will be two x-factors on this club. The first is at the point,
    where Beal was the man for the last few years. Who replaces him? His
    importance for Vandy shouldn’t be understated. Then there is Rod Odom,
    a talented 6’8″ forward. How good is Odom? If he becomes a capable
    offensive option to put alongside Taylor and Jenkins, the Commodores
    may very well end up being a tournament team.
  5. Georgia:
    Its too bad the Bulldogs play in the loaded SEC East, because this
    squad legitimately could make a run at the SEC West crown. Big man Trey
    Thompkins will be, at worst, one of the best front court players in the
    SEC, and very likely a first round pick come June. A big man with post
    moves and range is going to be tough to defend at any level. Travis
    Leslie is as athletic as they come, and its reasonable to expect an
    improvement on the 15 points and 7 boards he averaged last season. If
    he develops a jump shot, he too could be a first-rounder. Dustin Ware
    is a capable point guard, and Jeremy Price, along with freshmen Marcus
    Thornton and Donte Williams, will be solid players in the front court.
    Somewhere, a jump shooter is going to have to develop to keep the floor
    spread and replace Ricky McPhee if Mark Fox wants to take this team to
    the NCAA Tournament.
  6. Mississippi State: The
    Bulldogs have a real chance at being a tournament team this year, as
    the 2010-2011 roster listed on their is talented. The problem? There
    are major question marks regarding three valuable pieces. Point guard
    Dee Bost will not be eligible until the start of SEC play
    (although its an easy argument that Rick Stansbury caught a huge break
    with Bost even being allowed to play this season). Renardo Sidney has
    already sat out an entire season, and still has nine games to sit out
    this season, which is not a good thing for someone that has struggled
    with weight problems in the past. John Riek was, at one time,
    considered the best recruit in the country, but after numerous knee
    surgeries he is a shell of his former self. Having said all that, Bost
    is one of the most talented point guards in the SEC, and if he can
    improve decision-making he is an all-conference caliber player. Word
    out of Starkville is that Sidney has, in fact, dedicated himself to
    getting in shape, and if so he will be a serious weapon for the
    Bulldogs. There some help as well. Ravern Johnson is a lanky, 6’7″ wing
    with a deadly jump shot. Kodi Augustus is a live-bodied power forward
    that can be a weapon when his head is in the game. Rick Stansbury is
    going to have to develop a bench, which is easier said than done, but
    playing nine games without Sidney and the entirety of the
    non-conference schedule without Bost will force some of Stansbury’s
    inexperienced guys to play a larger role. And when you consider the
    massive road trip this team takes in December — Virginia Tech in the
    Bahamas on the 18th, the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu the
    22nd-25th, and St. Mary’s in Vegas the 29th — this team should be
    tested come SEC play. The NCAA Tournament is a very real possibility.
  7. Alabama:
    Anthony Grant took over the Alabama program before the 2009-2010
    season, and this fall he will be bringing in his first recruiting
    class. Its a solid one, headlined by four-star recruits Trever
    Releford, a point guard, and 6’8″ forward Justin Carter. While the
    Crimson Tide will lose the very talented Mikhail Torrance, they do
    bring back some players. Junior power forward JaMychal Green was a
    big-time recruit two years ago. He’s had ups-and-downs throughout his
    first two years, but averaging 14 and 7 in the SEC is pretty
    impressive. The rest of the Tide’s front line will be inexperienced, as
    Carter, Carl Engstrom (a 7’1″ Swedish freshman), and senior Carl Hines
    round out the rotation. In the back court, the point guard position is
    going to be young, but there is experience on the wings. Releford could
    very well end up being the starter, with sophomore Ben Eblen and JuCo
    transfer Kendall Durant competing for minutes. On the perimeter, the
    Tide has some talent. For starters, there is Senario Hillman, a
    super-athletic but enigmatic senior that has driven Tide fans crazy as
    he has never quite lived up to his hype. Tony Mitchell had a solid
    freshman campaign, and if he can iron out some of the inconsistencies,
    he has a shot to be an all-SEC talent one day. Andrew Steele is a
    big-bodied defender, and Charvez Davis and Charles Hankerson, Jr., will
    also see some minutes. This isn’t necessarily an NCAA Tournament team,
    even in the weak SEC West, but Grant’s club will win some games.
  8. Ole Miss:
    The Rebels only return seven players from last year’s team. They lose
    two-thirds of their starting back court, as Terrico White left for the
    NBA and Eniel Polynice left due to issues with the coaching staff.
    Murphy Holloway, the Rebels best front court player, transferred to
    South Carolina to be closer to his family and DeAundre Cranston
    graduated, meaning that only one starter is back for Andy Kennedy. The
    good news is that the one returner just so happens to be Chris Warren.
    Warren is small, but he is one of the best pound-for-pound scorers in
    the country and has been for two and a half seasons (he blew out his
    knee as a sophomore). Beyond that, however, Ole Miss is full of
    question marks. Zach Graham and Trevor Gaskins are both solid
    performers on the perimeter that could very well see a bump in
    production with the availability of back court minutes this season. The
    same could be said for Terrence Henry and Reginald Buckner in the front
    court. With the addition of a fairly solid five man recruiting class,
    it seems that positional battles for playing time will be fairly
    intense for Ole Miss this season. The scary part here? Despite all this
    uncertainty, Ole Miss is one of the two favorites to win the SEC West.
  9. South Carolina:
    The Gamecocks are going to be in some trouble this year. They lost four
    of their top five from last season, including the diminutive Devan
    Downey, and play in the wrong division of the SEC. Despite that
    turnover, I still like what the Gamecocks bring back. Sophomore guards
    Ramon Galloway, who is out for another couple of weeks with a foot
    injury, and Lakeem Jackson both showed flashes of promise as freshman,
    and with the increased number of minutes and shots they will get this
    season, both should be primed for big seasons. Sam Muldrow is a solid
    rebounder and very good shot blocker. Steve Spinella and Johndre
    Jefferson will both need to develop into capable role players, and with
    a six man recruiting class, Darrin Horn is going to devote a lot
    minutes to freshman, but there are some pieces here. A trip to the NCAA
    Tournament may be a bit of a stretch, but I think this team will, at
    the least, throw a couple of scares into the big boys in the SEC East.
  10. Arkansas:
    The Razorbacks lose quite a bit of talent from last year’s crew.
    Courtney Fortson, Michael Washington, and Stefan Walsh are all gone.
    But with them goes their troubles — Fortson and Walsh always seemed to
    be suspended. There are two reasons for Arkansas fans to have hope this
    season — Rotnei Clarke and Marshon Powell. Clarke may just be the best
    shooter in the country. He’s a kid that has to be face-guarded at all
    times, as he has range out to about 28 feet and needs just a
    split-second to get his shot off. Then there is sophomore Marshon
    Powell, a 6’7″ forward that put up some impressive games as a freshman.
    He was a bit inconsistent, but that is expected of a freshman counted
    on as heavily as Powell was. Beyond that, there are a lot of question
    marks. Pelphrey brings in three freshmen, headlined by top 100 recruit
    Rickey Scott, but no one is really a program changer. There are five
    more rotational guys returning as well, but not a ton of size and
    certainly not much offensive punch. Enjoy watching Powell play.
    Appreciate Clarke’s picture perfect jumper. But don’t expect too many
    wins.
  11. Auburn: Tony
    Barbee takes over an Auburn program that doesn’t have much going for
    it. Five of the Tigers top six graduate from a team that went 15-17
    last season. The only guy that returns is Frankie Sullivan, a
    double-digit scorer that dropped 27 on Florida in the SEC Tournament
    that also underwent off-season knee surgery. His timetable for return
    is unknown. Ty Armstrong, another returnee and possible starter, also
    has a season-ending knee injury. Andre Malone and Earnest Ross, two
    sophomore guards that combined to average 5.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg, are the
    only players that were in the rotation last season that will be ready
    to go this year. Barbee did have some talent coming in — Luke Cothron
    is a top 50 recruit, and Shawn Kemp, Jr. (yes, that Shawn Kemp), is
    borderline top 100 — but neither of them were able to qualify
    academically. Adrian Forbes, Josh Langford, and Allen Payne are
    freshmen that will actually join the fray. The Tigers are going to have
    a rough go of it this season.
  12. LSU:
    Trent Johnson is going to have another long season in Baton Rouge.
    Tasmin Mitchell graduates, and Bo Spencer is kicked off the team. The
    Tigers do return Storm Warren, a junior power forward that has the
    potential to put up big numbers. But what else returns? Garrett Green?
    Dennis Harris? Aaron Dotson? Eddie Ludwig? They bring in four
    three-star recruits and one four-star (Matt Derenbecker) but no program
    changers. That 2006 Final Four run seems like a long time ago.


Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit. 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.

Richards, Quickley lead No. 15 Kentucky to OT win at No. 18 Texas Tech

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Nick Richards hit two free throws with 10 seconds left on the clock and Ashton Hagans managed to strip Davide Moretti on the ensuing possession as No. 15 Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off No. 18 Texas Tech, 76-74, in a thrilling overtime battle.

Richards finished the night with 25 pints, 14 boards and four blocks while shooting 7-for-10 from the floor and 11-for-14 from three. Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points for the Wildcats, who shot 7-for-15 from three and won despite 15 combined turnovers from their three starting guards.

Kyler Edwards led the way for Texas Tech with 18 points and seven boards, but the Red Raiders shot just 3-for-19 from beyond the arc and never could figure out an answer to Richards’ in the paint.

Here are the three things that we can take away from this game:

1. KENTUCKY WON WITHOUT TYRESE MAXEY AND ASHTON HAGANS

Maxey and Hagans did, technically, play on Saturday night, but neither of them were any good. Maxey finished 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and four fouls. Hagans finished with seven assists and three steals, but he shot just 2-for-6 from the floor and had four turnovers of his own. Combined, they scored 13 points, which is 14 points below their season average.

The reason this is relevant is that Kentucky has been, for much of the season, a four-man show. We’ve spent the majority of the season trying to figure out who they can plug into a lineup with those four to get an optimal performance out of the Wildcats. When half of that group is struggling, it’s not exactly a recipe for success.

But that didn’t matter on Saturday.

Kentucky still found a way to get a win against a top 20 team on the road.

And the reason for it was the play of Richards. This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

And Kentucky got themselves a win as a result.

2. KENTUCKY ISN’T LONG FOR MARCH IF THEY CANNOT GET THEIR LATE-GAME EXECUTION FIGURED OUT

As impressive as this win was for the Wildcats, we cannot talk about it without mentioning that Kentucky did get a little bit lucky. Davide Moretti is a 92 percent free throw shooter and missed one with 18 seconds left that gave Kentucky one more possession with the game tied.

Truthfully, it never should have gotten to that point. For the third time in four games, Kentucky blew a double-digit second half lead. They were up 14 in the second half at South Carolina in a game that they lost, 81-78. They were up by 11 in the second half at Arkansas and, after allowing the Razorbacks to get up by three, rallied after John Calipari was ejected from the game. And on Saturday, they were leading the Red Raiders by as many as 10 points. Texas Tech never once held the lead in the second half.

To put this into context, Kentucky scored six points in the final 9:30 of regulation. They made one field goal, and that came with 6:31 left on the clock. They went to the foul line four times and shot 1-for-2 on every trip. Now, part of that is due to Tech’s defense — spoiler alert, they’re really good — but this is becoming something of a trend for the Wildcats.

3. KYLER EDWARDS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER ON TEXAS TECH

Jahmi’us Ramsey is Texas Tech’s leading scorer, their most talented player and probably the best NBA prospect on the roster. Chris Clarke is the x-factor that Chris Beard likes to use to take advantage of mismatches. T.J. Holyfield is the guy that the Red Raiders need to play out of his mind because of their lacking interior depth.

But for my money, the most important player on Texas Tech is Kyler Edwards.

More than anyone else on this roster, including Ramsey, Edwards is the guy that can fill the role that was played by Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver the last two seasons. He’s the big combo-guard that can be more than just a shooter. He’s the guy that can create for himself while also being capable of finding assists or creating shots for his teammates.

And this season, he’s averaging just 11.8 points and shooting 30 percent from three.

Now, he’s been better of late. He averaged 23 points in wins over Iowa State and Kansas State last week. And, yes, he had 18 points against Kentucky on Saturday.

The reason he’s so important is simple: Texas Tech is really limited offensively, particularly when it comes to guys that can create on their own. It’s why Moretti’s efficiency is down this year. It’s why they are so reliant on Chris Clarke trying to take advantage of mismatches. It’s why Ramsey turning into something of a three-point shooter is a bad sign longterm.

Tech needs Edwards to be awesome if they can to be able to make a run in March.

Dotson, Azubuike lead No. 3 Kansas past Tennessee 74-68

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Devon Dotson scored 22 points, Udoka Azubuike added 18 and No. 3 Kansas beat Tennessee 74-68 Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Azubuike was the lone big man for the Jayhawks (16-3) after Silvio De Sousa was suspended 12 games and David McCormack banned five for their roles in a brawl Tuesday against Kansas State.

After Azubuike went to the bench with two fouls early, Yves Pons hit consecutive 3-pointers to put the Volunteers (12-7) on a 14-2 run for a 20-13 lead. Kansas answered when Azubuike checked back in, stringing together a 12-0 run en route to a 37-30 lead at halftime.

Azubuike finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks.

Pons led the Volunteers with 24 points, and Jordan Bowden came alive early in the second half, knocking down three 3-pointers and finishing with 19 points after a scoreless first half.

Tennessee pulled within three late in the second half, but Azubuike had a block and hit four free throws late to keep the Volunteers in check.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The pressure will stay on Azubuike, whose early foul trouble stalled Kansas’ offense and allowed for a substantial Volunteer run.

Tennessee: Only three Volunteers – Pons, Santiago Vescovi and John Fulkerson – scored in the first half, and Tennessee turned the ball over 15 times. Despite the offensive struggles, the Volunteers were able to stay within arms’ length.

UP NEXT

Kansas: The Jayhawks head to Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Monday to take on Oklahoma State.

Tennessee: The Vols host Texas A&M on Tuesday.

Bubble Banter: It’s that time of year again!

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It’s getting to be that time of year.

Bubble Banter is back, baby!

Over the course of the next three days, we are going to be diving headlong into bubble chatter right here, breaking down every single team that is on or near the bubble for the NCAA tournament Field of 68. This, of course, is according to our Dave Ommen, who sent me a list of all the bubble teams. Our cut-off, at least for this conversation, is teams that currently sit as a No. 9 seed or better in the most recent bracket that we released.

Why?

Because — with the notable exception of Ohio State — it is difficult to see how any of those teams can end up out of the NCAA tournament before our next bracket projection gets published on Monday.

So, you know, they’re not currently on the bubble.

Anyway, come back throughout the weekend to see who the winners and the losers are and what it means for their standing in regards to the cut line.

WINNERS

PURDUE (NET: 37, NBC: Off the bubble): Purdue’s schizophrenic January continued on Friday with a blowout win over Wisconsin (30) at home. The Boilermakers have lost four of their last six, and the two wins were utterly dominant wins over the Badgers and Michigan State (10). Their 11-9 (4-5) record isn’t pretty, but three Quad 1 wins and just one Quad 3 loss — at Nebraska (165) — is enough to keep them in the mix.

NORTH CAROLINA (NET: 113, NBC: Off the bubble): The Tar Heels are still in the mix for the NCAA tournament for one, simple fact: All of their worst losses have come without Cole Anthony, and it appears that Anthony will be returning to the team at some point. After beating Miami, UNC is now 3-7 without him and 6-3 with him on the floor. They’ve beaten Alabama (38) on a neutral court, they’ve beaten Oregon (17) on a neutral court and all three of their losses with Anthony are Quad 1 losses. Remember, they still play four top ten teams during the regular season. They’ll have chances, and if they can get hot with Anthony back, they’ve got a shot.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Next four out): The Sun Devils landed just an enormous win on Saturday night, coming back from 22 points down to beat Arizona (9) at home in their last chance to take on the Wildcats during the regular season. Believe it or not, that is the first Quad 1 win for the Sun Devils, and given that they only have one Quad 2 loss — Virginia (64) on a neutral court — I think it’s pretty clear that this group is not all that far away from getting a bid. They just needed a couple big wins. Knocking off Arizona certainly qualifies.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): The Sooners have put themselves in a pretty good spot after knocking off Mississippi State (52) on Saturday. They’re 13-6 overall and all six of their losses are of the Quad 1 variety. Throw in a pair of Quad 1 wins — Minnesota (39) on a neutral and Texas (67) on the road — and five Quad 2 wins, and this is a good start. With six games left against Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia and Texas Tech, there are plenty of resume-boosting wins available.

SYRACUSE (NET: 66, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange are starting to play like a top five team in the ACC this season. On Saturday, they knocked off Pitt in the Carrier Dome, pushing them to 6-3 in the league and 13-7 overall. They do have a questionable home loss to Notre Dame (79, Quad 3) but they’ve won four true road games in league play, two of which are Quad 1 wins. A 5-6 record in Quad 1 and 2 games is enough to keep them in and around the bubble for now.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 81, NBC: Off the bubble): Since beating Arizona in California on Dec. 21st, St. John’s has now lost six of their last eight games. The only team that they have beaten in that stretch is DePaul, who they swept on Saturday with a road win. That’s the third Quad 1 win for this group, but with eight losses on the season — including a loss at home against Vermont (101) — the Red Storm have work to do.

ALABAMA (NET: 38, NBC: Next four out): The biggest problem that Alabama has right now is their losses. They dropped a home game to Penn (181) on the opening night of the season. They lost a game to North Carolina (113) in the Bahamas. They also lost to Iowa State (70) in the Bahamas. Those do not look good right now. The Tide have turned their season around — beating Kansas State (89) on Saturday was their fourth straight win and their seventh win in the last nine games — but they have just one win over a top 50 team. They get LSU (24) on the road on Wednesday and, in February, play at Auburn (18) and LSU again. I think winning two of those three games will be critical.

SAINT MARY’S (NET: 40, NBC: Last four byes): The Gaels hung on against Loyola Marymount on the road on Saturday, meaning that they avoided one of the landmines left on their schedule. They Gaels own wins over BYU (27) and Wisconsin (30) and while they have lost to Santa Clara (103) and Winthrop (137) at home, the Gaels are 6-2 against the top two Quads and still get BYU on the road and two shots at Gonzaga (4).

VCU (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): The Rams avoided one of the landmines on their schedule as they went into Philly and knocked off La Salle. VCU is now 15-5 overall with a Quad 1 (LSU, 24) and Quad 2 (at Charleston, 124) win. The Rams have a ton of work left to do, but the fact that their worst loss is against Tennessee (59) on a neutral court and that there are a number of potential Quad 1 wins left on their league schedule will help quite a bit.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): The Rams avoided one of the landmines left on their schedule, winning at St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but they are not in a great spot at the moment. URI is on the wrong side of the bubble right now, and while every team in the power conferences are playing one or two Quad 1 games a week, URI has just two left on their schedule — their two games against Dayton (5).

UTAH (NET: 77, NBC: Off the bubble): The Utes are in the mix because they have a pair of Quad 1 wins on their resume — Kentucky (23) and BYU (27) on neutral courts. And if you ignore their trip to Myrtle Beach, where they lost to Coastal Carolina (185) and Tulane (126). On Saturday, they avoided another such loss by knocking off Washington State (102).

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 49, NBC: 12): The Buccaneers are in a pretty good spot right now thanks to a win at LSU (24) in December. They’re 17-3 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins, but they do have one bad loss — at North Dakota State (159) — which means that they cannot take step on another landmine during league play. Winning out in the regular season is the only option here.

YALE (NET: 60, NBC: 12): The Elis are in this conversation because they don’t really have a bad loss to speak of. Their “worst” loss was a road game at San Francisco (!00), and if North Carolina gets Cole Anthony back, then that loss is not going to look nearly as bad by Selection Sunday. Their problem is a lack of quality wins. They won at Clemson (75), which is barely a Quad 1 win. That’s their only win that didn’t come against Quad 3 or 4 opponents. That’s not going to change in the Ivy. I think they need to win out and lose to Harvard in the Ivy title game to have a real at-large chance.

LOSERS

MEMPHIS (NET: 42, NBC: 10): Oh, Memphis. Two days after losing by 40 at Tulsa (65), the Tigers turn around and blow an 11-point lead in the final five minutes at home against SMU (68). They aren’t in real trouble yet, but it is worth noting that they have not beaten a single team in the top 45 in the NET and that their three best wins — N.C. State (45), Tennessee (59) and Cincinnati (56) — are teams that may not make the NCAA tournament.

TEXAS TECH (NET: 32, NBC: Play-in game): I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

PITT (NET: 74, NBC: Off the bubble): On the one hand, the Panthers have a couple of really nice home wins — Florida State (12) and Rutgers (19). On the other hand, they have a couple of really ugly losses — Wake Forest (104) and Nicholls (180), both at home. If Cole Anthony returns and North Carolina wakes up it could end up being a game-changer for the Panthers, who have swept the Tar Heels.

TEXAS (NET: 67, NBC: Off the bubble): Texas rallied, and ultimately lost, at home against LSU (24) on Saturday, which is a tough blow for the Longhorns. LSU is a Quad 1 opponent, and the Longhorns have some ground they need to make up. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their last seven games, and a November win at Purdue (37) does not look quite as good now as it did at the time.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 44, NBC: Last four byes): The Hokies may go down as the biggest loser of the weekend. Playing at Boston College (164), Virginia Tech suffered their first Quad 3 loss of the season despite the fact that the Eagles shot just 11-for-27 from the free throw line. That’s just brutal. Bubble teams need to avoid these landmines, and Mike Young’s team couldn’t. The good news? They have three Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and they all came away from home. It’s not all bad.

LIBERTY (NET: 50, NBC: 12): The Flames just killed their hope of getting an at-large. The Flames are 0-1 in Quad 1 games, 1-0 in Quad 2 games (Akron on a neutral) and 2-1 in Quad 3 games. They have 14 wins over Quad 4 opponents and just lost to Stetson (309). They’re frauds.

TENNESSEE (NET: 59, NBC: Next four out): Tennessee missed on a great chance to add a marquee win to their resume when they lost at Kansas (3) on Saturday. The Vols had won four of their last five prior to that game, and it looks like they’ve gotten their season turned around. They are 12-7 overall but just 3-7 against the top two quadrants and they have yet to beat a top 40 team. They still play seven Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Arkansas or Florida at home. The Vols are in a good spot if they can get hot.

BYU (NET: 27, NBC: 10): The Cougars have really good computer numbers, and they do have some quality wins to their name — at Houston (36), Virginia Tech (44) and Utah State (73) on neutrals — but after losing at San Francisco on Saturday, BYU now has three Quad 2 losses and a 4-7 record against the top two Quads. With games remaining against Saint Mary’s (40) and Gonzaga (4) at home, BYU should be OK if they can get one of those and avoid the landmines.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): There’s not a lot to like about Mississippi State’s resume right now. They have one win over a top 75 team this season — Arkansas (34) at home — and their only road win came at Coastal Carolina. They’s lost to Louisiana Tech (91) at home and New Mexico State (109) on a neutral floor. What am I supposed to be impressed with?

N.C. STATE (NET: 45, NBC: Last four byes): The Wolfpack have a 14-6 record to go along with solid computer numbers and three Quad 1 wins, two of which came on the road. The issue with their resume, outside of a lack of elite wins, is a pair of losses to Georgia Tech (93). Today’s came on the road. N.C. State has four games left against top ten teams, including three at home. They’ll have their chances to add to this profile.

WASHINGTON (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): Washington lost at Colorado (20) on Saturday, meaning they have now lost three in a row, five of their last six and seven of their last nine games. They’re 12-9 overall with a pair of Quad 3 losses, a 1-5 mark against Quad 1 and a 2-7 record against the top two Quads. But here’s the thing: They beat Baylor (2) on a neutral, and that will go down as arguably the best win in college basketball this season. With two more games against Arizona (9) and another shot against Stanford (16) at home, the Huskies are far from dead.

DEPAUL (NET: 57, NBC: Last four byes): Saturday’s home loss to St. John’s (81) is not going to do any favorites for DePaul, who now has as many Quad 3 losses (three) as they have Quad 1 wins. It doesn’t help matters that four of their next five are on the road, starting with a visit to Seton Hall (13) on Wednesday. The Blue Demons have lost six of their last seven games. The next two weeks will determine where they play in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): The Spiders lost to Dayton (5) on Saturday at home, a critical loss because it’s really the only game-changing opponent that they had left on their schedule. They do play VCU (41) twice, and picking them off in Richmond will be a Quad 1 win, but that’s not going to be enough to get them to leapfrog any high-major teams that play a dozen Quad 1 games in league play. Richmond is in a bad spot.

LEFT TO PLAY

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
No. 11 Michigan State at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.
Fordham at SAINT LOUIS, 3:00 p.m.
XAVIER at Creighton, 4:00 p.m.
Loyola-Chicago at NORTHERN IOWA, 4:00 p.m.
OHIO STATE at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.