Asked Sunday why Kentucky didn’t join other college basketball powers in last week’s Nike PK80 Tournament, John Calipari said he thought it would be too much too soon for his young Wildcats.
That’s understandable. But while Kentucky’s green team learns the ropes against lesser competition — save for the 65-61 loss to Kansas, of course — others are taking tough early exams and producing impressive test scores. Many of those clubs are in the SEC.
For example, the now sixth-ranked Florida Gators turned plenty of heads in the Portland tournament honoring Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday. Mike White club’s drubbed Stanford 108-87 and held off defending national runner-up Gonzaga 111-105 in double overtime to reach the finals of its eight-team bracket in the 16-team affair.
There, Florida led No. 1-ranked Duke most of the way before succumbing to freshman Marvin “He’s Really Good” Bagley and the Blue Devils 87-84 in overtime. Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson led the Gators with 24 points after scoring 35 in the epic semifinal win over the Zags.
Then there’s Texas A&M. Despite having star forward Robert Williams for just four games and point guard JJ Caldwell for three, the Aggies are off to a 6-0 start with a 23-point win over West Virginia, a 17-point win over Oklahoma State and a 16-point win at Southern Cal. No wonder A&M has climbed the AP poll from 25th to ninth.
And how about Roll Tide? No, not the football Crimson Tide. Bama basketball is off to a 5-1 start behind freshman point guard Collin Sexton, who’s averaging 25.2 points per game.
The Tide’s lone loss was to No. 12 Minnesota in the finals of the Barclays Classic on Saturday when ejections and disqualifications caused Avery Johnson ‘s team to play with just three players, against five Golden Gophers, for the game’s final 10 minutes. During that stretch, Alabama actually outscored Minnesota 30-22 though the Tide lost the game 89-84. Don’t blame Sexton. He scored 40 points.
At 5-1, Arkansas’ lone loss was to North Carolina 87-68 in the PK80. Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks beat Oklahoma 92-83 in Portland before falling to the Tar Heels.
At 5-1, Georgia’s lone loss was to San Diego State in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Fullerton, Calif. Mark Fox’s Dawgs rebounded to knock off No. 21-ranked Saint Mary’s 83-81 in overtime in the consolation bracket.
At 4-1, Tennessee’s lone loss was 85-76 to fourth-ranked Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. That came after the Vols upset No. 18 Purdue 78-75 in overtime and before Rick Barnes’ team beat North Carolina State 67-58 after State had taken down Arizona.
Even without the nation’s No. 1 freshman, Michael Porter Jr., Missouri is 5-2. Its two losses were at Utah and to West Virginia on a neutral floor.
In fact, for the most part the SEC has avoided the embarrassing pre-conference losses that plagued the league in previous years. Yes, South Carolina lost 69-65 to Illinois State but Frank Martin lost plenty from last year’s Final Four team. Vanderbilt is 3-4 but the four teams (Belmont, Southern Cal, Virginia and Seton Hall) are all legit.
Ole Miss lost at home to South Dakota State 99-97 in overtime on Tuesday night, but the winners are now 7-2 while the losers were picked to finish 10th in the 14-team league.
It’s early, but Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings currently place the SEC as the fourth-toughest hoops conference in the nation, behind the Big 12, ACC and Big East. Maybe the basketball times are changing.
Meanwhile, once UK’s current run of cupcakes is complete, the Cats will see a lot more meat in their diet. After games against Harvard (2-4) and Monmouth (3-4), UK faces Virginia Tech (6-1), UCLA (5-1) and Louisville (4-1) before the SEC opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.
And where in the past we asked if the the SEC is ready for Kentucky, this year the question might be is Kentucky ready for the SEC?
Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings for SEC teams
- 5. Texas A&M
- 9. Kentucky
- 10. Florida
- 27. Alabama
- 29. Arkansas
- 33. Tennessee
- 40. South Carolina
- 47. Auburn
- 54. Missouri
- 61. Ole Miss
- 62. Vanderbilt
- 66. Mississippi State
- 68. Georgia
- 96. LSU
SEC strength of schedule rankings
- 7. Texas A&M
- 26. Missouri
- 36. Arkansas
- 37. Tennessee
- 49. Vanderbilt
- 57. LSU
- 118. Alabama
- 154. Florida
- 187. Kentucky
- 213. Ole Miss
- 225. South Carolina
- 256. Auburn
- 264. Georgia
- 347. Mississippi State
SEC basketball standings
Harvard at Kentucky
3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)