This week in the SEC: Almost halftime, so let’s check the highlights

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By Chris DePew
TideFans.com staff
Feb. 2, 2016

The second half of the SEC season begins with a full slate of games, but before beginning the stretch run, let’s take a half-hearted look at the half-season awards.

  • Player of the half-year: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky – The 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard is the glue keeping the mercurial Wildcats together. His statistics (16.1 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) don’t capture the whole story of the energy he brings to the lineup, the superior decisions he makes and the grit he shows racking up more minutes than would like.
  • Freshman of the half-year: Ben Simmons, LSU – It’s become trendy to bash the big man as passive and uninterested, but his talent is undeniable. A 6-10 post man who can legitimately play all five positions, Simmons is on pace to become the first player ever to finish in the SEC’s top five for scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounds (12.5) and assists (4.9) in the same season. And for good measure, he’s fifth in field goal percentage (56.2%) and steals (1.8).
  • Coach of the half-year: Frank Martin, South Carolina – It has been a slow rebuild for the Gamecocks, with Martin winning four, five and six conference games his first three seasons. Now in his fourth year at USC, Martin has already matched those six conference wins and has the Gamecocks poised for their first bid since 2004. And he’s done it the old-fashioned way, by players who are looking to stick around for all four years and develop gradually as they gain experience. With recruiting on the upswing, it feels like has staying power.
  • Game of the half-year: Texas A&M 71, Florida 68 – The Aggies had climbed to No. 15 in the polls and started 3-0 in league play, but no one was quite sure whether to believe A&M was truly the team to beat heading into this Tuesday night tilt in College Station. The Aggies outlasted Florida by scoring 21 points off and getting to the foul line 30 times (making 20), and very few have doubted Billy Kennedy’s crew since.
  • Upset of the half-year: Auburn 75, Kentucky 70 – Nothing better demonstrates the futility of road teams this year than the head-scratcher on the Plains. The banged-up Tigers had lost five of their last six games and were down to a shaky seven-man rotation. But Kareem Canty caught fire, knocking down five treys to finish with 26 points, and Kentucky’s frontcourt imploded, dooming the then No. 14 Cats.

Game of the week: No. 25 South Carolina (18-2, 6-2 SEC) at No. 8 Texas A&M (18-3, 7-1), 3 p.m. Central Saturday, ESPNU. The Gamecocks have a gaudy .900 winning percentage, but no one outside the Palmetto State is fully convinced this is truly a powerhouse. has played by far the weakest schedule of any SEC team, both inside and outside the conference. In its first eight league games, USC has played seven times against the six teams with losing SEC records (and the other game was a home win against slumping Vanderbilt). Nationally, the Gamecocks’ strength of schedule is 226th through Sunday’s games, by far the worst among league teams. Only Mississippi State (106th) and Ole Miss (144th) join USC outside the top 100. (Alabama, by way of comparison, has the nation’s 10th-toughest schedule to date).

No one will be doubting the Gamecocks if they come up with a win at Reed Arena. Texas A&M has been unstoppable on its home floor, most recently shutting down No. 13 Iowa State 72-62. The Aggies are the stingiest team in the league, allowing 64.1 points per game (26th nationally). No opponent has scored more than 70 points in College Station this year, and A&M is allowing an average of 57.3 points in its last three home games.

Also this week:
Tuesday
No. 20 Kentucky at Tennessee, 6 p.m., ESPN
LSU at Auburn, 6 p.m., SEC Network
No. 25 at Georgia, 6 p.m., ESPNU
at Mississippi State, 8 p.m., SEC Network

Wednesday
Arkansas at Florida, 6 p.m., SEC Network
Ole Miss at Missouri, 8 p.m., SEC Network

Thursday
No. 8 Texas A&M at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday
Missouri at , 2 p.m., SEC Network
Florida at No. 20 Kentucky, 3 p.m.,
Auburn at Georgia, 4:30 p.m., SEC Network
Mississippi State at LSU, 5 p.m., ESPN2
Tennessee at Arkansas, 7 p.m., SEC Network
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, 7 p.m., ESPNU

Power poll:

  1. Texas A&M – A&M has shown vulnerability on road even before last week’s loss at Arkansas. It lost at Arizona State in it’s only true non-conference road game and won at Mississippi State and Tennessee by a combined five points. The Aggies play three of their next four games away from College Station and need at least two wins to keep control of the SEC race.
  2. Kentucky – Dominique Hawkins played for the first time in eight games, recording four points (and four fouls) in 15 minutes against Kansas. The junior point guard, coming off a high ankle sprain, has had a star-crossed career in Lexington, but could provide valuable rest to Ulis in the stretch run.
  3. Florida – Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen nearly brought the Gators back single-handedly at Vanderbilt, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the final 32 seconds as Vandy held on for a one-point win. The hot streak continued Saturday against No. 14 West Virginia, when he racked up 19 points and four assists.
  4. – Michael Carrera capped off a torrid three-game shooting stretch last Tuesday against Mississippi State by going 10-for-16 from the field as part of a 34-point night. Previously he had shot 8-for-14 at Tennessee and 6-for-8 at Ole Miss. Against Alabama, the senior from Venezuela only went 3-for-12 from the floor, but still finished with 20 points thanks to a 12-for-14 showing at the free throw line.
  5. LSU – If Twitter could kill, Johnny Jones would already be in a south crypt. The Tigers coach got roasted by every talking head imaginable for neglecting Simmons down the stretch of a 72-70 loss to top-ranked Oklahoma. The freshman of the year-in-waiting didn’t score in the last 10 minutes, only took one shot in that stretch and didn’t get the ball in the front court over the last three minutes as the Sooners completed a 14-point comeback.
  6. Vanderbilt – The underachieving Commodores went from holding red-hot Florida to 19 points in the first half of a 60-59 home victory to scoring just 16 points themselves in the first half of a 72-58 loss at Texas. Vandy and LSU could combine for three NBA picks and zero tournament bids this year.
  7. Arkansas – Jabril Durham had an uncharacteristically sloppy game against Texas Tech, turning it over four times and recording just four assists. It was the first time this year the senior point guard had a 1-to-1 ratio or worse in assists to turnovers. He still leads the SEC with seven assists per game, and his and team’s care with the is why the Hogs score a league-best 81.6 points per game.
  8. Georgia – The Bulldogs have some serious hunkering down to do if they hope to make a late push to return to the tournament. UGA has given up 71 or more points six times in eight SEC games, including 89 to LSU last week, and also let score 83 points Saturday. The only times Georgia has held an opponent under 70 points is during the sweep of official league pinata Missouri.
  9. Ole Miss – The Rebels are in ride or die mode with SEC scoring leader Stefan Moody. He came back from a one-game absence to score 24 against Auburn and Ole Miss cruised to an 80-63 victory. He finished with 10 points after going scoreless in the second half at State and the Rebels fell 69-64. Ole Miss has to hope Moody is at full speed in winnable games against Mizzou and Vandy and that junior Sebastian Saiz can then return from eye surgery in time for the Rebels to salvage a postseason bid.
  10. – A modest uptick in scoring came to a crashing halt last week, with the scoring below its league-worst average (66.7 points per game) against both Tennessee and South Carolina. Bama is also last in the league in field goal attempts because it can’t rebound consistently and turns the ball over 14 times per game, but it also costs itself by shooting just 65 percent at the foul line.
  11. Tennessee – Two games, two blown 14-point leads and little end in sight to the misery on Rocky Top. The have led at halftime in eight of their last nine games but are just 3-6 over that same stretch. Lack of is wearing UT down and lack of size prevents it from slowing the game down and focusing on scoring inside and getting to the line.
  12. Mississippi State – Expansion has been kind to the Bulldogs. snapped an eight-game road losing streak by throttling Missouri 76-62 on Saturday. It was State’s first road win since Valentine’s Day at, you guessed it, Mizzou Arena.
  13. Auburn – Cinmeon Bowers got benched for most of the second half at Ole Miss and was suspended for the Oklahoma State game due to “effort, focus and attitude” issues. The senior forward, who is 4th in the SEC with 9.1 rebounds per game, returns Tuesday just in time to face Simmons and LSU.
  14. Missouri – It was hard to see how the Tigers could embarrass themselves more than giving up a 20-0 run at Rupp Arena that led to a 34-point loss to Kentucky. But a 2-for-25 showing from 3-point range against Mississippi State in a battle of last-place teams topped it.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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