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Yes, Virginia, another No. 1 seed is yours for the taking. Thanks to the unbeaten Cavaliers’ dominant win over Florida State and Kansas’ loss at Iowa State, UVA climbs to the top line in this week’s bracket update. With its No. 1 NET rating (as of early this morning), Virginia also edges out Tennessee for No. 3 on the seed list, effectively bumping the Volunteers to the West Region.
A quick housekeeping note … now that conference play is underway, current league leaders receive the automatic bid for the bracket. Tie breakers in the loss column are settled by NET rating at the time of publication. As an example, Fresno State receives the Mountain West’s auto bid today after Nevada’s loss at New Mexico.
We still have a variety of hit-or-miss resumes on the board. Conference play will help separate teams over the next month. Enjoy your college hoops!
BRACKET UPDATE: January 10, 2019
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Arizona vs. Temple
Purdue vs. Alabama
NC A&T vs. Sacred Heart
Purdue-FW vs. Sam Houston
EAST – Washington, DC
SOUTH – Louisville
16) NC A&T / SACRED HEART
16) P-FT. WAYNE / SAM HOUSTON
9) Arizona State
12) MURRAY STATE
13) GEORGIA STATE
6) Ohio State
11) Arizona / Temple
3) North Carolina
Salt Lake City
7) Seton Hall
7) Iowa State
10) Ole Miss
2) TEXAS TECH
15) GREEN BAY
WEST – Anaheim
MIDWEST – Kansas City
16) NORTHERN COLORADO
Salt Lake City
12) FRESNO STATE
4) Florida State
13) NORTH TEXAS
6) NC State
11) Purdue / Alabama
3) Virginia Tech
14) GRAND CANYON
7) St. John’s
2) Michigan State
15) TEXAS SOUTHERN
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Michigan, Virginia, and Tennessee.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told Kyle Alexander to stop thinking about scoring and concentrate only on defense and rebounding.
Since the talk last week, the points and rebounds have come in bunches for the 6-foot-11 senior forward.
Alexander scored 14 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds as third-ranked Tennessee routed Missouri 87-63 Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. It was Alexander’s second straight double-double in Southeastern Conference play.
“He’s telling you everything you don’t want to hear, but you need to hear,” Alexander said of his talk with Barnes. “Those are kind of like the father-son meetings, the talks with your dad. They’re beneficial, but you don’t always want to hear what he has to say.”
The Volunteers (13-1, 2-0 SEC) displayed their depth against the Tigers (9-4, 0-1 SEC). Grant Williams entered as the conference’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, but he scored just four before fouling out.
No matter. Jordan Bowden came off the bench and scored 20 points for the second straight game, Jordan Bone added 17 points and Admiral Schofield finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Freshman guard Xavier Pinson scored 14 points and Jordan Geist had 12 first-half points for Missouri. The Tigers were playing for just the second time since Dec. 22, and they began with a flurry. Led by the scoring and passing of Geist, they took a 27-18 lead when Geist made a nifty feed to Kevin Puryear for a dunk with 7:04 left in the first half.
But Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith — two of Missouri’s top three scorers — sat most of the first half with foul trouble, and the Tigers couldn’t sustain their early surge.
“We had good momentum, good energy, but you have guys out there playing extended minutes that aren’t used to playing that many minutes in those situations,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.
The Volunteers finished the half on a 24-4 spurt to take a 42-31 lead. The advantage grew quickly in the second half as Alexander helped Tennessee hold a 38-29 rebounding edge.
Alexander, who has packed on 30 pounds since arriving at Tennessee as a wispy 195-pound freshman, controlled the paint.
“I used to struggle to get a point up on the board my first two years,” Alexander said. “The fact I scored 14 and I didn’t really even make a post move, that’s crazy.”
Alexander’s defense — he blocked three shots — and rebounding pleased Barnes most.
“He’s making the extra effort to use his length and tip the ball to himself and go get it,” Barnes said. “That’s what he’s doing, and you’ve got to give him all the credit.”
Missouri: The Tigers like to run their offense through Jeremiah Tilmon in the post, but his inability to stay on the floor because of foul trouble makes that a dicey proposition. The 6-foot-10 sophomore forward committed an offensive foul trying to bull through a double team with 17:45 left in the first half and compounded the mistake with an angry reaction that drew a technical foul. He sat the rest of the first half. He committed his third foul 46 seconds into the second half and finished with three points in nine minutes before fouling out.
Tennessee: Junior guard Lamonte Turner missed nine of Tennessee’s first 12 games with a shoulder injury. In his second game back, he scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range against Missouri. He played 29 minutes before fouling out.
“With the addition of Lamonte, that changed the game for them,” Martin said. “He’s just as fast as Bone, and he can shoot the ball and is an aggressive shooter from 3. They were already good, but he takes them to another level.”
Missouri: Visit South Carolina on Saturday.
Tennessee: Tries to stay perfect in the SEC on Saturday at Florida.
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the SEC.
MIDSEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The reigning SEC Player of the Year now finds himself firmly in the National Player of the Year discussion after a stellar start. Williams is averaging 20.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game on the season as he’s improved nearly every facet of his game.
While the 6-foot-7 junior was mostly an interior force last season, he’s improved his range to become a decent perimeter shooter (41 percent from three on a small sample size). Passing has also been a revelation for Williams, as he’s made the Vols’ offense a lot better with his ability to create for teammates.
Zion Williamson still finds himself as the current NPOY favorite, but Williams is doing everything he can to close the gap.
THE ALL SEC FIRST TEAM
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: Schofield has been nearly just as good as Williams in a dominant Tennessee frontcourt. Putting up 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, Schofield is a matchup nightmare who can make plays all over the floor.
Daniel Gafford, Arkansas: The sophomore big man has become a force on the interior. The NBA Draft prospect is averaging 17.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 66 percent shooting.
Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: On a loaded Kentucky team, Johnson has emerged as the team’s best player as he’s now considered as a potential lottery pick. The freshman guard is averaging 16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 43 percent three-point range.
Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State: The senior leader of a dangerous Mississippi State team, Weatherspoon has helped the Bulldogs to a strong start. Weatherspoon is averaging 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
NIT: Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Alabama, Missouri
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: South Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. The SEC race is wide open
Not that this should come as any sort of surprise, but the SEC race is wide open at this point in the season. Defending co-regular season champions Auburn and Tennessee have returned to top-15 form from last season. Kentucky is starting to figure things out while looking like the potential juggernaut many believed they could be.
Mississippi State, LSU and Florida also have the look of very dangerous teams who could be sleepers in the SEC race. And the second tier of the SEC (Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama, and Missouri) are all off to decent starts.
Besides for Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina, seemingly every team is a threat in the league this year.
2. Auburn and Tennessee both have teams capable of repeating as SEC champions
Defending co-SEC champions Auburn and Tennessee have lived up to lofty preseason expectations so far as both teams find themselves ranked in the top 15 in the country.
The Vols and Tigers both sport top 35 offenses and defenses on KenPom and both have passed the all-important eye-test by playing well against elite teams. Tennessee has knocked off Gonzaga while hanging tough with Kansas while Auburn fought hard against Duke and knocked off teams they were supposed to beat like Washington, Xavier and Arizona.
Both veteran teams look like they’re well-positioned to be near the top of the SEC standings once again this season thanks to veteran teams that have won plenty of games.
3. Kentucky is starting to figure things out
After the opening night dominance of Duke over Kentucky in the Champions Classic, there were some serious questions about the Wildcats. More questions returned once Kentucky suffered a surprising loss to Seton Hall.
Over the last several weeks, the Wildcats have answered many of those concerns with notable results.
Kentucky is starting to figure out its rotation while also clamping down more on defense. The transfer of point guard Quade Green helped alleviate some perimeter logjams that have enabled sparkplugs like Ashton Hagans to come in and earn more minutes. That’s provided more stability for Kentucky overall while enhancing their perimeter defense quite a bit. Kentucky also has the luxury of having multiple guys who can take over a game as we’ve seen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro have big recent outings against quality competition. The frontcourt play of Reid Travis and P.J. Washington remains solid as well.
Kentucky still has to get by Auburn and Tennessee to be the SEC’s premier team, but they’re in as good of a position as they could have hoped for given how embarrassing the season started.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. Can Auburn and Tennessee reintroduce key pieces into the rotation?
For as good as Auburn and Tennessee have been this season, both programs are still trying to reintroduce double-figure scorers back into their rotations.
Auburn finally gets forward Danjel Purifoy back into the lineup after his suspension for his alleged involvement in the FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal. The Tigers don’t need Purifoy to be great, but if he’s able to provide another lift in the frontcourt, then it adds another scary element to Auburn’s rotation.
Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner has also been sidelined most of this season as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. The SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year might be the Vols’ most important perimeter scorer as he would help the backcourt of Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden immensely by adding another playmaker.
It’s not a guarantee that either of these guys make a huge impact. Purifoy hasn’t played for a season and a half and Turner is clearly having issues with a surgically-repaired shoulder that has given him trouble before. But if either of these guys can regain previous form then it makes these two teams even more of a threat for the rest of the season.
2. Do any middle tier teams separate themselves from the pack and make the NCAA tournament?
At the start of 2019 the SEC had five teams ranked in the top 20 on KenPom with a sixth team, LSU, coming in at No. 40. Barring an extremely bad conference season, those teams should all be aiming to make the NCAA tournament.
It’s the second tier of SEC teams that will be intriguing to follow.
Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri are all in the top 75 on KenPom after positive starts to the season. None of those teams are currently guaranteed NCAA tournament entry based on current standing. But all of them are going to have ample opportunities to earn huge wins since so many SEC teams are ranked and sitting in Quadrant 1 territory.
Last season saw the SEC create a basketball resurgence with eight NCAA tournament bids. Some work still needs to be done, but with the Pac-12 as down as it is, there is ample opportunity for the SEC to make another major push for the same number of NCAA tournament bids.
3. Can Mississippi State push the SEC’s elite?
Among the SEC’s four ranked teams, Mississippi State is by far the most unproven of the bunch.
Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee are all coming off of NCAA tournament appearances with deep and talented rosters. And although the Bulldogs have earned some notable non-conference wins over teams like Cincinnati and Clemson, they haven’t competed against elite national competition like the other top SEC teams.
Since the Bulldogs haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2009, they’ll need to earn the trust of everybody by proving themselves against top-flight teams. After years of building, it finally looks like Ben Howland has a veteran team who can take him back to the NCAA tournament. Quinndary Weatherspoon leads a team with five double-figure scorers. The Bulldogs have depth at multiple spots. Aric Holman has been tremendous in spurts. Mississippi State has a top-45 offense and defense. If this program is ever going to make a run for the top of the SEC, this is the time to do it.
1. The SEC gets seven teams in the NCAA tournament (and has a more successful March)
Last year was a banner year for the SEC when they had eight of its membership make the Big Dance. Although the SEC top-to-bottom doesn’t appear to be as strong as last season, it’s looking like the SEC should still have plenty of numbers in March. And more teams should also be poised for a deeper run.
The key will be if the middle-tier teams can pick off the ranked teams during conference play as happened last season. If the top SEC contenders run away with the league, and only lose to each other, then it significantly hurts the SEC’s chances for overall quality wins. But if the league is a bloodbath like last year, with no team clearly separating from the pack, then we should see plenty of SEC teams back in the field.
Either way, the SEC should fare better than only one Sweet 16 team from last season. Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee are all in potential position to earn great seeds and make runs and there are plenty of dangerous second-tier teams who could get hot at the right time.
2. Tennessee captures the SEC title
The SEC race is going to be a close one given how talented the league is at the top. But Tennessee has the difference of having arguably the two best players in the conference in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
The key for Tennessee could come down to guard play. Jordan Bone has been better than last season but he’s still struggling to shoot from the perimeter. Jordan Bowden has actually been slightly worse than last year — particularly shooting the ball from deep. And the SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lamonte Turner, has only played in three games this season as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.
As long as Williams and Schofield keep playing at this level, and Tennessee’s perimeter attack can make some timely plays and shots, then the Vols should be in position to claim another SEC regular season title.
3. Florida makes a big push after a strange start
One of this season’s most perplexing teams has been the Florida Gators. Sitting at 8-4 with tremendous computer numbers thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule, it’s tough to get a read on Florida at this point in the season.
We know that Florida is one of best defensive teams in the country. The Gators turn you over and throw waves of bodies at you thanks to their depth and athleticism. It’s offense that’s the issue. Florida doesn’t have a go-to scorer and nobody on the roster seems like a natural takeover guy.
There are currently an astounding eight players averaging between 10.3 points and 6.6 points per game on this roster right now. If a veteran guard like KeVaughn Allen or Jalen Hudson starts to figure things out as a scorer, then Florida should elevate to another level.
Both Allen and Hudson have averaged at least 14.0 points per game over a full college season before, so it’s certainly possible. I believe that Florida gets one of those guys rolling and becomes a dangerous team heading into March.
NBC Sports Top 25: Duke back to No. 1, Tennessee hops Gonzaga
Here’s the conundrum that is going to face voters in the top 25 this week: What do you do with Kansas?
When it comes to resume, Kansas probably has the strongest one of any team in the top seven. They’ve beaten Michigan State on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Tennessee on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Marquette on a neutral court. Every win they have in Phog Allen Fieldhouse this year comes against teams ranked in the top 135 on KenPom.
And then there is this: Kansas has beaten Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Gonzaga. Gonzaga has beaten Duke. Duke, according to some, can beat the Cavs, which officially means that Kansas is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
Or something like that.
The point is that it makes total sense to rank Kansas No. 1 based on what they’ve accomplished this season, but I think that even the most irrational Kansas fans will cop to the fact that these Jayhawks haven’t come close to hitting their stride yet this season, and that’s before you factor in the loss of Udoka Azuibuike to an ankle injury.
The difference between the top seven teams this season is marginal, particularly if you are not as high on Duke as I am, and while that means there really isn’t all that much difference between Nevada at No. 7 and whoever it is that you are going to rank No. 1, it does mean that a team like Kansas — who is in a bad run of form — drops to sixth in this ranking.
And to be frank, as long as your top seven is, in some order, the same as my top seven, your ranking is probably going to be just fine. I’d quibble with ranking Nevada in the top four, and I think it’s probably silly to have Duke, Tennessee or Gonzaga outside the top four, but there are arguments to justify it all. I’m sure Kansas fans will call me a Duke homer and say that Bill Self must ignore my calls, but the truth of it is that there are a lot of really good teams at the top this year. Parsing through a jumbled mess like that is never easy.
I dropped Kentucky all the way out of the top 25, as I did Kansas State, but I’ll go more in depth on that in the Monday Overreactions column.