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February 23, 2007

SEC Breakdown: A point guard showdown

Weekly SEC Update
Eastern Division Conf. Overall
Florida 12-1 25-3
Vanderbilt 8-5 18-9
Kentucky 8-5 19-8
Tennessee 7-6 19-9
Georgia 7-6 16-10
South Carolina 3-10 13-13
Western Division Conf. Overall
Mississippi State 7-6 16-10
Ole Miss 7-6 18-9
Alabama 6-7 19-8
Arkansas 5-8 16-11
Auburn 5-8 15-13
LSU 3-10 14-13
Standings as of 2/22

Best matchup: Ole Miss point guard Todd Abernethy vs. South Carolina point guard Tre Kelley: Injuries to Alabama preseason All-American Ronald Steele have allowed Abernethy, Kelley and Florida's Taurean Green to emerge as the SEC's top point guards this season. Saturday night's Ole Miss-South Carolina game will feature two exceptional point guards who have very different styles. Kelley doesn't have much talent around him and has carried the South Carolina offense so much that he now ranks second in the SEC in scoring. Abernethy is more of a pass-first player who has directed the offense well enough to help teammates Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders rank among the conference's top seven scorers. This game will probably come down to which point guard plays better.

Worst matchup: Florida vs. Louisiana State: Three months ago, this showdown between 2006 Final Four participants looked like the marquee matchup of the SEC regular-season schedule. Now it's the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Florida heads into LSU on Saturday gearing up for a second consecutive run at the national championship. LSU has lost nine of 10 and might not even qualify for an NIT bid. To make matters worse, LSU star forward/center Glen Davis has a sore right quadriceps muscle that prevented him from playing Tuesday in a 70-63 loss to Kentucky. If Davis is close to full strength Saturday, the television cameras and a friendly crowd could help LSU keep this competitive. But a look at the conference standings shows this is far from the classic matchup we envisioned before the season.

The pressure is on: Alabama coach Mark Gottfried: Alabama entered the season with Final Four dreams, but the Tide now might not even make the NCAA Tournament. Alabama dropped to 6-7 in the conference Wednesday with an overtime loss to Tennessee. That defeat was particularly galling to Tide fans because Alabama failed to foul anyone in the final seconds of overtime, allowing Tennessee to run out most of the clock. Alabama point guard Ronald Steele's injuries have hurt the Tide all season, but a team this talented shouldn't be on the bubble.

Upset alert: Mississippi State at Georgia: Mississippi State arguably is playing better than anyone in the conference right now. Jamont Gordon has continued his season-long steady play and Charles Rhodes has come on strong lately to help the Bulldogs win four consecutive games. Two of those victories have come on the road, so a trip to Georgia shouldn't bother Mississippi State. Look for the road team to win this Saturday afternoon matchup of bubble teams.

Who's hot: Mississippi State forward Charles Rhodes has averaged 20.5 points and 6.5 rebounds during the Bulldogs' four-game winning streak. Mississippi State guard Jamont Gordon recorded his first career triple-double Wednesday with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in an 83-70 victory over Vanderbilt. Florida forward Al Horford has four double-doubles in his last seven games. Ole Miss swingman Clarence Sanders has averaged 22.3 points over his last six games. Kentucky forward/center Randolph Morris has two double-doubles in his last three games.

Who's not: Florida guard Taurean Green shot 0-for-6 from the floor Wednesday in a 63-49 victory over South Carolina. Green has failed to score in double figures in his last two games and has seven turnovers with only four assists during that stretch. Tennessee guard Dane Bradshaw has shot 12 percent (6-for-50) in his last 10 games. Tennessee guard Chris Lofton has shot 28.1 percent (9-for-32) overall and 18.2 percent (4-for-22) from 3-point range in his last two games. Arkansas forward Sonny Weems has scored in double figures just once in his last five games and has shot 34.7 percent (17 of 49) over that time period. Alabama guard Alonzo Gee has shot 1-for-7 from the floor in his last two games.

Must-see TV: Mississippi State at Georgia (Saturday at 1 p.m., Lincoln Financial): Both teams probably need to win this game to maintain any realistic hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The must-win nature of this game should produce some compelling television.

Freshman to watch: Kentucky freshman Derrick Jasper: This guy is becoming the prime example of a pass-first point guard. Jasper has taken only one shot in 55 minutes of playing time during his last two games. But he also has 11 assists and only one turnover in his last three outings.

Bench bonus: Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks scored 18 points as a reserve Tuesday in a 70-63 victory over Louisiana State. Florida forward/center Chris Richard came off the bench, shot 6-for-7 and scored 14 points Wednesday in a 63-49 victory over South Carolina. Alabama forward Mykal Riley collected 14 points and seven rebounds in a reserve role Wednesday in a 69-66 overtime loss to Tennessee.

Key stat: Mississippi State point guard Jamont Gordon has 44 assists and only 16 turnovers in his last nine games. Gordon had 211 assists and 219 turnovers in the first 47 games of his college career.

They said it: "The bottom line is it's my responsibility to give our team what it needs to finish games. We were able to do it a year ago and won every close game. I haven't been able to do it with this team this year. That's just my responsibility. I've got to do a better job and haven't done the job that was needed to get this team what it needs to win games late." - Louisiana State coach John Brady, whose team is in last place in the SEC West one year after reaching the Final Four.

Injury update: Louisiana State forward/center Glen "Big Baby" Davis missed the Tigers' 70-63 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday because of a pulled right quadriceps muscle.

Worth noting: Florida clinched the SEC East and regular-season outright conference title Wednesday by beating South Carolina 63-49 on a night when second-place Vanderbilt lost 83-70 to Mississippi State. Florida also won at least a share of the regular-season division or conference title in 1989, 2000 and 2001. Mississippi State's victory over No. 17 Vanderbilt on Wednesday ended the Bulldogs' 13-game losing streak against ranked opponents. Jamont Gordon's triple-double in Mississippi State's triumph over Vanderbilt was the second in school history. Lawrence Roberts compiled 18 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in a 98-69 win over Nicholls State on Nov. 21, 2004. Tennessee owns a 15-0 record at Thompson-Boling Arena and has tied the single-season school record for home victories. The Volunteers went 15-1 at home during the 1999-2000 season. Picked to finish last in the SEC West before the season, Ole Miss is tied with Mississippi State for first place. The Rebels haven't led the division this late in the season since 2000-01, when they also were predicted to finish last. The most recent SEC player of the week was Vanderbilt swingman Derrick Byars, who scored 32 points in a 76-68 victory over South Carolina and tallied 24 points in an 83-70 upset of top-ranked Florida. The current SEC freshman of the week is Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley, who scored nine points in an 84-60 loss to Mississippi State and compiled 24 points in an 83-66 victory over Ole Miss.

What you may have missed: Tennessee guard Dane Bradshaw's poor shooting has made him a fixture in this column's "Who's Not" section, but there's a reason this 6-foot-4 senior remains in the Vols' starting lineup. Bradshaw's ability to do the dirty work and defend virtually anyone on the floor he has guarded power forwards at time this season despite his lack of size makes him a valuable player even when he doesn't score a single point. Seth Davis of SI.com wrote a column this week naming Bradshaw the captain of his "all-glue team" for players whose intangible contributions help their teams stick together.

RPI watch: The SEC boasted the highest overall RPI conference rating and was the only league to have three representatives in the top 14 of the RPI listings as of Thursday. The highest-rated SEC teams were No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Kentucky and No. 14 Tennessee.

Those three teams were followed by No. 26 Alabama, No. 35 Vanderbilt, No. 51 Arkansas, No. 55 Ole Miss, No. 59 Georgia, No. 60 Mississippi State, No. 86 South Carolina, No. 101 Louisiana State and No. 116 Auburn.

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | Big East

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