The calendar in our phones says we are just two weeks away from the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in St. Louis. Yes, St. Louis. Strange site, indeed.
Want a bigger mystery, however, than the geographical location for this year’s conference hoops confab? With four games remaining, just try to predict the order of seeds for the conference tourney.
Nine of the league’s 14 teams are within two games of each other.
Better still, 11 teams are within three games of each other.
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“Every team is within three to five points of each other,” argued Kentucky Coach John Calipari last week, and Saturday’s results practically proved his point.
South Carolina, which had lost six straight games and boasted just four conference victories, knocked off league-leading Auburn 84-75 in Columbia.
Missouri, riding high on a five-game win streak, got taken down in Baton Rouge, losing 64-63 to an LSU team that was just 5-8 in league play.
Vanderbilt, 4-9 heading into Saturday, outlasted Florida 71-68 in Nashville. Those are the same Gators that started 6-1 in league action. Now Mike White’s team sits 8-6.
And Georgia, yet another 5-8 team, handled second-place Tennessee 73-62 in Athens.
We’re seeing plenty of ups and downs throughout the conference. It’s not just Kentucky and it’s not just youth.
Instead, this unpredictability has more to do with vastly improved programs — remember the SEC won the Big 12/SEC Challenge — capable of beating any other league program.
For example; after Ole Miss announced it was officially parting ways with Andy Kennedy, Georgia’s Mark Fox was considered the next SEC coach on the hot seat. The Bulldogs have won back-to-back games over Florida and Tennessee.
A week ago, Florida was 8-4 in the SEC. Then the Gators dropped back-to-back games, first at home in overtime to Georgia, then on the road at Vanderbilt.
Since its 61-59 win at Kentucky on Feb. 6, Tennessee has lost two of its last three. The Vols’ two defeats both came by double digits on the road — a 78-50 shellacking at Alabama and the 11-point loss at Georgia.
Texas A&M ran its win streak to four by defeating Kentucky 85-74 on Feb. 10. The Aggies are 0-2 since, losing 62-58 at Missouri and then 94-75 at Arkansas on Saturday.
After starting 2-8 in conference play, Vanderbilt has won three of its last four, including a 15-point win over Georgia, a one-point squeaker over Mississippi State and Saturday’s win over Florida.
League-leader Auburn still sits atop the standings by two games over Tennessee, though the Tigers lost a key piece to their puzzle on Saturday.
Anfernee McLemore, the Tigers’ 6-7 sophomore forward who led the SEC in blocked shots at 2.7 per game, suffered a gruesome leg injury Saturday, fracturing his left tibia and dislocating his left ankle. He was to undergo surgery and miss the rest of the season.
“Now, we’re down to eight guys,” said Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, who has not had Austin Wiley or Danjel Purifoy all season because of FBI investigation allegations.
So where does all this leave Kentucky, now tied for seventh with Mississippi State at 7-7 in league play after Saturday’s 81-71 win over visiting Alabama? Since UK beat MSU 78-65 last month in Rupp Arena, the Cats would be the No. 7 seed in St. Louis if the conference tournament were to be held this week.
It’s not, of course, and improving on that No. 7 seed won’t be easy. Tuesday, UK travels to Arkansas, which happens to be the hottest team in the league right now. Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks, 8-6, have won four straight games, defeating South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
“Going to be a hard game for us,” said Calipari on Saturday.
In this league, every game is a hard game.
Kentucky at Arkansas
9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)
SEC men’s basketball standings
SEC basketball games this week
Tuesday, Feb. 20
7:00 - Miss State at Texas A&M (SEC)
9:00 - Ole Miss at Missouri (ESPN2)
9:00 - Kentucky at Arkansas (ESPN)
9:00 - Vanderbilt at LSU (SEC)
Wednesday, Feb. 21
6:30 - Georgia at South Carolina (SEC)
8:30 - Alabama at Auburn (SEC)
9:00 - Florida at Tennessee (ESPN2)
Saturday, Feb. 24
1:00 - Tennessee at Ole Miss (SEC)
2:00 - LSU at Georgia (ESPNU)
3:30 - South Carolina at Miss State (SEC)
4:00 - Texas A&M at Vanderbilt (ESPN)
6:00 - Arkansas at Alabama (SEC)
8:15 - Missouri at Kentucky (ESPN)
8:30 - Auburn at Florida (SEC)