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This week in the SEC: Teams in the middle forever blowing bubble chances

By Chris DePew staff
Feb. 23, 2016

A week ago, bubble banter was sprouting up across the SEC. The league seemed to be solidly on pace to at least match last year’s five NCAA tournament bids, and talk was building that the SEC could get six teams into March Madness for the first time since 2008. Nine different teams were at least on the fringes of bubble talk.

But momentum seldom lasts in this year’s SEC, and the teams in the muddled middle of the league spent last week shooting off their toes with frightening efficiency. Vanderbilt continued its string of awful road losses by blowing a 17-point lead at Mississippi State and drawing unhappy murmurs from Kevin Stallings’ boss that his performance would be reviewed after the season. State did its best to pop another bubble Saturday, even without star freshman Malik Newman, by manhandling a lethargic Alabama team that had become a bubble darling by capping a five-game win streak at LSU.

Speaking of the Tigers, they may have torched their at-large chances by following up that loss with a no-show blowout at Tennessee. Georgia had two chances to seize momentum and try to spark a late surge, but instead the Bulldogs lost by a little at home to Florida and by a lot at Vandy. Ole Miss had a final chance at a big win to get notice but instead got blown out at Texas A&M.

At this point, Kentucky and A&M seem like safe choices to make the big dance, with South Carolina just a step behind (although the Gamecocks probably knocked themselves down a seed line or two with an inexplicable loss at Missouri). Florida could have locked up a bid with an upset at USC but fell in overtime, meaning the Gators need to win at least two of their last four games at a bare minimum to feel good about their chances.

Beyond that, chances of bid number five look hazy at best. Vandy’s tough closing stretch actually could work in its favor, as the Commodores desperately need quality wins. The Crimson Tide can’t afford any more home slip-ups and probably needs either a season-ending win at Georgia or a run to the SEC tournament semifinals to feel good about its chances. LSU’s last chance at an at-large bid probably comes down to the regular season finale at Kentucky, but that assumes the Tigers don’t implode before then.

Game of the week: Alabama (16-10, 7-7 SEC) at No. 16 Kentucky (20-7, 10-4), 6 p.m. Central today, ESPN. The Wildcats seem to be in a macabre race to the finish line, trying to secure an SEC title before running out of warm bodies. Alex Poythress returned to practice Monday after missing two weeks with a sore knee but it is uncertain whether he will see action tonight. UK could really use their senior forward because junior big man Derek Willis suffered what appeared to be a severely sprained ankle in Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M and is out indefinitely. Between the two, the Cats have to replace almost 18 points and better than 10 rebounds per game. Kentucky leads the league by a game, but currently is losing the tiebreaker against two of the three teams right behind them. And the closing stretch (trips to Vandy and Florida before finishing against LSU) offers no relief.

Also this week:
LSU at Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPNU
Vanderbilt at Florida, 6 p.m., SEC Network
Missouri at Ole Miss, 8 p.m., SEC Network

Georgia at Auburn, 6 p.m., SEC Network
Mississippi State at No. 21 Texas A&M, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Tennessee at South Carolina, 8 p.m., SEC Network

Ole Miss at Georgia, 11 a.m., SEC Network
South Carolina at Mississippi State, 1:30 p.m., SEC Network
No. 16 Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m., CBS
No. 21 Texas A&M at Missouri, 3 p.m., ESPNU
Auburn at Alabama, 4 p.m., SEC Network
Arkansas at Tennessee, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network
Florida at LSU, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Power poll:

  1. Kentucky – Live by the technical, die by the technical. Isaac Humphries became the latest poster child for SEC officials in love with their whistles when he got T-ed up for slamming the ball to the ground after what looked like a possible game-clinching rebound with less than 10 seconds left in overtime at Texas A&M. Instead the Aggies tied the game on the exchange of free throws (Humphries had been fouled on the play) then won 79-77 on a Tyler Davis putback at the horn.
  2. Texas A&M – The Aggies broke their losing streak against Ole Miss despite going a paltry 4-for-19 from 3-point range. A&M finally got its groove back against the Wildcats, connecting on nine of their 24 shots from long distance.
  3. South Carolina – How special would an NCAA bid be in Columbia? The Gamecocks have only made the tournament eight times in school history, which is tied for last in the SEC with Auburn and Ole Miss and a long, long way from UK’s league-best 54 bids. The current 10-year drought for the Gamecocks is the second-longest in the league, behind only Auburn’s 11 years.
  4. Florida – Currently no SEC team has a streak (winning or losing) of more than two games, and the Gators personify the trend better than anyone. In six February games they have alternated wins and losses and have yet to win more than three games in a row all season. On the bright side, Florida has only lost back-to-back games once, in mid-December at Miami (Fla.) and at Michigan State.
  5. Alabama – How much does Bama depend on Retin Obasohan to create his own shot? Consider the Tide’s abysmal assist numbers. At 10.8 assists per game, Alabama is not only solidly last in the SEC (a full assist per game worse than Auburn and Mizzou) but 327th nationally out of 351 teams.
  6. LSU – The Tigers are desperate for effort and leadership, and the best bet to provide it may be done for the season. Senior Keith Hornsby left the Tennessee game in the first half after reaggravating a sports hernia and now the guard could be lost for the rest of the year. Hornsby is shooting just over 41 percent from 3-point range and averaging 13.1 points per game.
  7. Ole Miss – Stefan Moody finished with 17 points, but his cold shooting doomed the Rebels chances of upsetting A&M. Moody, who remains just ahead of UT’s Kevin Punter for the league scoring title, went 5-for-19 from the field, including 0-for-4 from inside the arc. As most do, he got better at Auburn’s expense Saturday, scoring 23 points to break a three-game mini-slump and move Ole Miss back to .500 in the league.
  8. Tennessee – If the Vols could convince the league office to shift the SEC tournament east to Thompson-Boling Arena they might have a legitimate chance to steal a bid. UT is 4-2 on Rocky Top against the six teams with winning conference records, bumping off Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and now LSU. But other than an 80-75 win at MSU, the Volunteers are winless in hostile gyms, including embarrassing losses to Auburn and Mizzou.
  9. Vanderbilt – The disappearance of Matthew Fisher-Davis in Starkville could haunt the Dores on selection Sunday. The freshman guard had 20 points against the Bulldogs, but 17 of those came in the first half. He only attempted two shots in the final 20 minutes as Vandy watched a 17-point lead melt away in a must-win game.
  10. Georgia – The Bulldogs starters have to keep hunkering down because UGA is getting virtually nothing from its bench. Georgia reserves scored five points in a loss to Florida and six in a blowout defeat at Vanderbilt, despite Mark Fox playing 10 players in both games. No Georgia bench player has scored more than five points in a game all month.
  11. Mississippi State – Quinndary Weatherspoon was named the SEC’s freshman of the week, if only because “Destroyer of Bubble Dreams” is not a formal title. He capped off a 24-point performance against Vanderbilt by drilling the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer and added 15 more points Saturday to hand Alabama its first loss of the month.
  12. Arkansas – If the Hogs were defending Auburn’s shots, no one could tell in an astonishing 90-86 Tigers upset. Auburn shot 61.1 percent from the field and sank 15 of its 23 3-point attempts. Arkansas bounced back to tame Mizzou but still allowed 72 points, the fourth game in a row where the Razorbacks have been unable to keep an opponent under 70 points.
  13. Missouri – Middle school chess club sponsor Ryan Rosburg’s improbable hot streak continued last week, as the (very) senior forward has now scored in double figures for five straight games. He had 18 points and five rebounds as the Tigers stunned South Carolina 72-67 for the best win of the Kim Anderson era.
  14. Auburn – Bryce Brown made more 3-pointers (nine) at Arkansas than the Tigers have remaining scholarship players (eight). But Auburn still fell behind MSU in the standings and could “clinch” a berth in the SEC tournament play-in game as soon as this weekend.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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