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February 9, 2007
SEC Breakdown: UT and Vandy to shoot it out
Best matchup: Vanderbilt 3-point shooters vs. Tennessee 3-point shooters: Tennessee and Vanderbilt ought to deliver an outside shooting clinic when they meet Saturday in Knoxville. Neither team provides much scoring punch in the paint, but both teams have plenty of guys who can heat up from the perimeter. Vanderbilt leads the SEC with 9.4 3-point baskets per game, while Tennessee ranks second with an average of 8.6 baskets from beyond the arc. If both teams are hitting their jumpers Saturday, they could provide a rematch as exciting as the Commodores' 82-81 squeaker over the Volunteers at Vanderbilt last month.
Worst matchup: Georgia vs. Kennesaw State: The slumping Bulldogs carry a three-game losing streak into South Carolina on Saturday, but an upcoming date Wednesday with Kennesaw State assures the skid should end soon. A game with an overmatched opponent should help the young Bulldogs regain their confidence, but it's not exactly the ideal matchup for a team needing quality wins to improve its postseason hopes.
The pressure is on: Tennessee: The Volunteers haven't lost at Thompson-Boling Arena all season, which has helped them make up for the fact they're only 4-8 away from home. And they're actually even worse than that on the road, as that 4-8 record includes wins over Fordham, North Carolina-Wilmington and Oklahoma State in the not-exactly-neutral site of Nashville. Tennessee's inability to win on the road means the Vols must continue to hold serve at home. The Vols have two of their toughest home games of the season thus far when they play host to Vanderbilt on Saturday and Kentucky on Tuesday. Tennessee's impressive RPI makes the Vols a likely NCAA Tournament team, but a loss in either of those games could put them in a much more precarious position.
Upset alert: Florida at Kentucky: Don't the Gators have to lose sooner or later? Florida's quest for a perfect SEC season faces one of its biggest roadblocks Saturday when the Gators travel to Kentucky. These Gators obviously know how to win at Kentucky, as they beat the Wildcats 79-64 in Lexington last season. That recent track record and Florida's matchup advantages in the paint make an upset seem unlikely, but the emotion of playing a top-ranked opponent at home could be just the boos the Wildcats need. Kentucky wants to prove it's back. This is the chance to do it.
Who's hot: Florida guard Lee Humphrey is shooting 68.8 percent (33 of 48) from 3-point range in his last nine games. Florida forward Al Horford has recorded three consecutive double-doubles and has averaged 17 points and 11.7 rebounds per game during that span. South Carolina guard Tre Kelley has averaged 20.9 points per game in his last nine outings. Alabama forward Richard Hendrix has averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game during the Crimson Tide's three-game winning streak. Alabama center Jermareo Davidson has averaged 19 points and 9.7 rebounds per game during that same three-game stretch. Vanderbilt guard/forward Derrick Byars has averaged 20.5 points per game in his last eight contests. Byars has shot at least 50 percent from the floor in seven of those games. Ole Miss guard Todd Abernethy has 33 assists and only eight turnovers in his last five games. He has turned the ball over just once in four of his last five games. Ole Miss guard/forward Bam Doyne has scored at least 20 points in each of his last three games. Kentucky guard Derrick Jasper has shot 76.7 percent (33 of 43) in his last 14 games.
Who's not: Georgia guard Sundiata Gaines has shot 4 of 12 overall and 0 of 6 from 3-point range in his last two games. Tennessee guard Dane Bradshaw has shot 5 of 35 overall in his last six games. Bradshaw is 1 of 10 from 3-point range in his last four games. Vanderbilt guard/forward Shan Foster has shot 7 of 19 in his last two games and failed to score in double figures in either one. Louisiana State forward/center Glen "Big Baby" Davis shot 2 of 10 and scored a season-low five points Tuesday in a 70-67 loss to Tennessee.
Must-see TV: Alabama at Ole Miss (Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports Net): The Florida-Kentucky game Saturday night is the easy choice here and obviously will draw more viewers, but this Western Division showdown might carry more meaning. Florida and Kentucky are virtual locks for the NCAA Tournament, while Alabama and Ole Miss are still trying to impress the selection committee. While the Florida-Kentucky game pits the top two teams in the Eastern Division, Florida would remain in first place even if it loses. Alabama is clinging to a half-game lead over Ole Miss and Arkansas in the Western Division, so an Ole Miss victory this weekend would force a change at the top.
Freshman to watch: Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley: The SEC's top freshman player has played some of his best basketball in the last couple of weeks. Beverley has averaged 19.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists in his last three games. He has shot 54 percent (18 of 33) overall and 57.1 percent (8 of 14) from 3-point range during that stretch. Beverley scored 25 points Saturday in an 82-74 loss to Kentucky.
Key stat: Florida has won its last four meetings with Kentucky. The Gators are seeking to become the first SEC team to beat the Wildcats five consecutive times since Tennessee did it from 1975-77.
Bench bonus: Ole Miss guard Clarence Sanders scored a game-high 21 points off the bench on Saturday in an 82-59 victory over Auburn. Sanders has scored 43 points in his last two games. Louisiana State guard Terry Martin scored 15 points in a reserve role Tuesday in a 70-67 loss to Tennessee. Alabama guard Mykal Riley hit a pair of huge 3-pointers down the stretch and finished with 14 points off the bench Wednesday in an 80-79 triumph over Mississippi State.
They said it: "It's my responsibility, not my players', but mine to win a close basketball game. This team has not found a way to win a close basketball game on the road, and that is my responsibility. Outside of that, I could not ask more out of them." Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury after an 80-79 loss at Alabama. The Bulldogs are 0-4 in SEC games decided by four points or less.
Injury update: Tennessee guard Chris Lofton returned to action Tuesday against Louisiana State after missing four games with a sprained right ankle. Lofton leads the SEC with 20.9 points per game, but he shot 1 of 5 and scored just eight points in the Vols' 70-67 victory. Arkansas forward Charles Thomas missed an 82-74 loss to Kentucky on Saturday with a strained right shoulder, but he returned Wednesday and collected 10 points and seven rebounds in a 65-57 triumph over Auburn.
Worth noting: Florida leads the nation in field-goal percentage (.540) and ranks second in 3-point percentage (.440). Northern Arizona leads the nation with a 3-point percentage of .444. The Gators have won 15 consecutive games and are two victories away from matching the longest winning streak in school history. Florida won its first 17 games last season. Alabama point guard Ronald Steele has struggled with injuries all season, but his performance Wednesday indicated the Rivals.com preseason All-American could be returning to form. Steele drove the length of a court for a game-winning lay-up with 6.7 seconds to play in an 80-79 victory over Mississippi State. He finished the game with 10 points, seven assists and no turnovers. Kentucky center Randolph Morris was benched in favor of Lukasz Obrzut for Wednesday's game with South Carolina. Morris responded by scoring 17 points in the Wildcats' 95-89 victory. Alabama center Jermareo Davidson was named the most recent SEC player of the week. Davidson averaged 20 points and nine rebounds in victories over Louisiana State and South Carolina last week. Tennessee guard Ramar Smith earned SEC freshman of the week honors. Smith scored 21 points in an 82-71 victory over Georgia last week.
What you may have missed: South Carolina's disappointing year has prevented point guard Tre Kelley from getting much attention for his exceptional season. Kelley scored 36 points and dished out six assists with no turnovers Wednesday as South Carolina nearly rallied all the way back from a 22-point deficit before falling 95-89 to Kentucky. "I can't say enough about Tre Kelley," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "He's one of my favorite players, I say it all the time. If his team were better, I think he would be the MVP (of the SEC) because of how hard he plays."
RPI watch: Florida has continued its gradual climb up the RPI and finally has cracked the top 10. The Gators were ninth in the RPI as of Thursday and can move up even higher Saturday by winning at Kentucky, which is sixth in the RPI because it faced a much tougher non-conference schedule. No. 15 Tennessee is the only other SEC team in the RPI's top 20.
Those three teams are followed by No. 28 Alabama, No. 33 Arkansas, No. 47 Vanderbilt, No. 52 Georgia, No. 69 Ole Miss, No. 81 South Carolina, No. 89 Louisiana State, No. 90 Mississippi State and No. 99 Auburn.