SEC limping into league play

January 8, 2013 

The Southeastern Conference figured to take a step backward this season after being home of the national champions and having the most NBA Draft picks of any league last year.

Still, few expected the SEC to get knocked around like it has during its nonconference schedule.

"I do think there are some teams going through some transitions just like we are," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. "That's probably made for a little lesser performance in nonconference play."

That has translated into mounting losses.

SEC teams have gone 3-6 against the Atlantic Coast Conference, 2-5 against the Big 12, 2-4 against the Big Ten, 4-13 against the Big East and 4-5 against the Pac-12. SEC teams also are just 3-11 against the Top 25. Missouri's 82-73 victory over No. 10 Illinois on Dec. 22 is the SEC's lone win over a top-10 team in eight attempts.

The SEC's nonconference performance could mean that going slightly above .500 in conference play might not be enough to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama visits No. 10 Missouri on Tuesday in the season's first conference game.

Only two SEC teams are ranked in the top 25: Missouri and No. 11 Florida. Every school in the conference already has at least two losses. Vanderbilt (6-6), Auburn (6-7), Georgia (5-7) and Mississippi State (5-7) are all at .500 or below.

"If we're going to start judging teams on who we are in November or December ... let's have the tournament Jan. 1," South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. "But if the tournament's going to be in March and April, let the season play out and let coaches do their job."

Gators' Murphy sidelined

Florida's conference schedule is starting out like its nonconference slate did: with the team short-handed. The 11th-ranked Gators likely will be without forward Erik Murphy for Wednesday's game against Georgia, maybe longer.

Murphy, the team's second-leading scorer, has a fractured rib that kept him out of Sunday's win at Yale and prevented him from practicing Monday.

"Any time he raises his arms up or reaches his arms up, there's a significant amount of pain," Coach Billy Donovan said.

Donovan called Murphy doubtful to play when the Gators (10-2) open Southeastern Conference play against the Bulldogs (6-7). The 6-foot-10 senior is averaging 12.1 points and 4.7 rebounds this season. He's shooting 57.3 percent from the field and a team-best 45.2 percent (19 of 42) from three-point range.

Murphy got hit in the side during practice Friday, causing more damage to an injury he first suffered against Air Force on Dec. 29. X-rays on Monday revealed the extent of the injury, but the results meant little to Murphy's playing status. Donovan said Murphy's pain tolerance is the key to him getting back on the court.

"He's cleared to play right now. He can play," Donovan said. "It's about how much pain he can tolerate. ... His breathing is a problem. His sleeping is a problem right now. If they're broken, I think we obviously know it's going to be a lot longer process for him to get back. If they're not broken, we probably have a better understanding of how long it's going to take. But in terms of treating him, this injury is always going to be break or bruise. It's always up to him and how he feels.

"Erik's a tough kid. ... I had broken two in college, and it was probably a good four to six weeks before I was actually pain free. So bruised, it can be a week to 10 days. So that's all we're trying to find out with him right now. Him playing Wednesday has nothing to do with the diagnosis that they're broken or if they're bruised. It has nothing to do with being able to play. It's all on him."

Men's highlights

No. 17 Notre Dame 66, No. 21 Cincinnati 60: Jerian Grant scored 19 points, and Notre Dame used its patient offense to get open shots for a victory that extended No. 21 Cincinnati's home-court misery.

Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 Big East) has won 12 in a row for the first time since 2006-07. It's the best start during coach Mike Brey's 13 seasons.

Cincinnati (13-3, 1-2) opened the season 12-0, but has lost three of its last four, falling at home to New Mexico, St. John's and Notre Dame. It's their longest home losing streak since 2006-07.

No. 5 Indiana 74, Penn St. 51: Christian Watford scored 16 points, Jordan Hulls added 14 and Indiana used a big first-half run to race past host Penn State. Indiana (14-1), which had the top scoring offense in the nation (87.9 points) entering the game, built a 19-point lead in the first half.

Former Eastern High School star Remy Abell had seven points and two assists for the Hoosiers.

East Tennessee State 49, Northern Kentucky 44: Jarvis Jones posted 12 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists to help East Tennessee State hold off the Norse at Highland Heights. Eshaunte Jones scored 18 points for Northern Kentucky.

Women's highlights

Eastern Kentucky 63, Eastern Illinois 62: Jade Barber (Ballard) scored a season-high 22 points to go with nine rebounds and three blocks for the Colonels at Richmond.

Morehead State 75, SIU Edwardsville 72: Sophomore Almesha Jones had 30 points and five assists in the Lady Eagles' win at Morehead.

Southeast Missouri State 70, Murray State 58: Mariah Robinson (Ohio County) had a team-high 21 points for the visiting Lady Racers.

Northern Kentucky 68, East Tennessee State 55: Kayla Thacker (Bullitt East) had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists for the host Norse.

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