February 4, 2023

FAYETTEVILLE — Alabama and Tennessee were two of the beneficiaries of top-ranked Houston’s fall from No. 1 after the Cougars lost at home to Temple.

The Crimson Tide (17-2, 7-0 SEK) moved up to No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday, while Tennessee (16-3, 6-1), who had two road wins last week, rose five spots at No. 4. Alabama and Tennessee have held the top two spots in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette power rankings for each of the three weeks the rankings were released this season.

Alabama has blasted the doors of SEC competition with all of its wins by 11 points or more, including losses by 22 points (Ole Miss), 26 points (Kentucky), 40 points (LSU), 22 points (at Vandy), and 21 points (in Missouri).

Alabama achieved its highest ranking in the AP poll in 20 years since being No. 1 for two weeks in late December 2002 under coach Mark Gottfried.

Current Alabama coach Nate Oats was pleased with his team’s ball security against one of the country’s most troublesome defenses in Missouri.

“We made a big point of Missouri being #1 for turning the ball and getting turnover rate on defense, so we had 11 turnovers in the game,” Oats said. “If you look, Mark Sears and Brandon Miller played together for 33 minutes and almost 70 minutes respectively and only had one change between the two.”

Miller is a true freshman and Sears is a junior transfer from Ohio.

The Crimson Tide plays a return leg against Mississippi State on Wednesday before heading to Oklahoma for the final SEC-Big 12 Challenge matchup at 1 p.m. ESPN on Saturday.

Tennessee beat Mississippi State (70-59) and LSU (77-56) on the road last week to win the first of the without starters Santiago Vescovi (injured) and Tyreke Key (ill). Zakai Zeigler, making his first start since November, had a career-high 24 points, including 4-of-4 shots from three-point range, in a 40-minute game against the Bulldogs.

Vescovi and Key returned for the LSU loss in which the Vols outscored LSU 33-7 points on turnovers and hit 12 three-point shots, tying their season-high against a league opponent.

Tennessee returns home this week to play Georgia and No. 10 Texas on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Texas A&M’s loss in Kentucky on Saturday left Alabama as the SEC’s only undefeated team in conference play.

Fans ready to see a matchup between The Tide and Vols will have to wait a while. The lone game between the conference powers is scheduled for February 15 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

In and out

NCAA.com and Turner Sports’ Andy Katz has six SEC teams in his latest bracket prediction Sunday: 1-seeded Alabama and Tennessee, 5-seeded Auburn, 7-seeded Arkansas, 9-seeded Missouri and 10-seeded Kentucky.

CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm’s updated bracket includes 1 seed from Alabama, 2 seeds from Tennessee, 6 seeds from Auburn, 9 seeds from Missouri, 10 seeds from Kentucky and 11 seeds from Arkansas.

ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi last updated his predictions last Friday, when he fielded Kentucky as his first team from the tournament, Texas A&M as his fourth team, and five SEC clubs: 1-seeded Alabama, 2-seeded Tennessee, 6 seed Auburn, 7 seed Arkansas and 8 seed Missouri.

challenge time

The SEC has tightened the record with “wins” against the Big 12 in consecutive years, but the conference would need to go 9-1 on Saturday to finally move forward as this will be the final year of the challenge. The Big 12 hold a 48-41 record in the event’s nine previous years, with one game – Texas at Kentucky – being wiped out due to Covid-19 problems in 2021.

The Big 12 can win the 10-year challenge by going 2-8 on Saturday.

The SEC will take on a new challenge next season against the Atlantic Coast Conference.

This year’s challenge consists of just one ranked team duel: No. 10 Texas vs. No. 4 Tennessee at 5 p.m. (ESPN).

Another marquee game is No. 9 Kansas, which has lost two games in a row, in Kentucky, which has won three games in a row, at 7 p.m. (ESPN) from the Rupp Arena.

Arkansas is headed against the team with the best record in the challenge, Baylor, who is 7-2. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are all 6-3 while Kansas and TCU are 5-4. The worst record in the Big 12 belongs to West Virginia (2-7), who host Auburn at 1 p.m

Florida (6-3), the only SEC team to compete in all nine events, is also the only team with six wins in the series. Kentucky and Tennessee are both 5-3, Alabama is 4-2, and Arkansas (4-4) and Georgia (2-2) are the only other SEC schools not to have lost records.

The SEC’s worst record belongs to Ole Miss (1-6), with Mississippi State and South Carolina both at 1-3. Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina have missed five challenges, the most in the SEC.

Other games

The four teams not involved in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge will compete in games televised by the SEC Network on Saturday.

Georgia hosts South Carolina at 5 p.m. Central, followed by Vanderbilt at Texas A&M. All of these teams have six conference games a week and will catch up with the other 10 teams with eight league games after Saturday.

Big Leads

Alabama freshman Brandon Miller has a handy 19.79-17.79 lead in the SEC’s two-points-a-game rating race over LSU’s KJ Williams. Arkansas guard Ricky Council had been second in the conference before two points in Saturday’s win over Ole Miss dropped his average to 17.16.

Only four other players have averaged more than 15 points: Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (16.65), South Carolina freshman GG Jackson (15.9), Georgia freshman Terry Roberts (15.9), and Missouri’s Kobe Brown ( 15:67).

Tshiebwe, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year, has 14 rebounds per game, almost a point better than Purdue’s Zach Edey (13.2).

Golden moment

Florida coach Todd Golden called a crucial timeout as his team struggled in the final seconds to overcome the full pressure on the court in Mississippi State’s second-half comeback on Saturday.

The Gators were caught immediately after arriving from the corner at the Mississippi State baseline with 44 seconds left in the game and a 61-59 lead. Guard Myreon Jones had to throw the ball off a Bulldog just before going out of bounds with 39.2 seconds left.

After a time out to check possession, Florida came in to guard Will Richard, who hesitated a few seconds before throwing back at Jones. Jones just hoisted a long pass past halfway, called Golden, and was granted a time-out. Jones’ passport airmailed Richard and went out.

“Good time out there because they had a second before there would be a 10-second count,” said ESPN analyst and former Arkansas Razorback Joe Kleine.

Florida missed a three-point shot on his possession but held the Bulldogs back when DJ Jeffries missed a short bank shot and Cameron Matthews missed a tip-in attempt near the final buzzer.

FT update

Auburn’s Wendell Green has taken the SEC lead in free throw percentage at 83.6%, which is easily on track to become the lowest clip for the SEC leader in the past decade.

The lowest free throw percentage for an SEC leader over the past 10 years was 87% by Arkansas guard Dusty Hannahs in 2015-16. Hannahs would speed the SEC at 90.8% the following season, then guard Daryl Macon made a three-peat for the Hogs the next year with an 87.5% clip.

Four leading SEC free throw percentages have surpassed 90% over the past decade, including Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley in 2019-20 (92.3%), Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody in 2014-15 (90.3%) and Brenton Williams of South Carolina in 2013-14 (93.0%) at Hannahs.

Green is ranked 97th in Division I, well behind NCAA leader Walter Clayton of Iona, who has 47 of 48 (97.9%).

2 and 3

The SEC has five teams with at least two away wins in league play and four teams with at least three home losses in the conference.

Alabama and Tennessee lead with four SEC road wins each. The Crimson Tide won in Mississippi State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Missouri by an average margin of 11.8 points.

The volunteers have won street affairs in Ole Miss, South Carolina, in the state of Mississippi and at LSU.

Auburn has three straight wins at Ole Miss, LSU and South Carolina, averaging 14 points per game. Florida and Texas A&M each have two away wins.

The only four SEC teams without a road win are Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, and Missouri.

South Carolina has lost all four of its SEC home games, incredible by an average of 27.8 points, including 40-plus point losses to Tennessee and Texas A&M.

LSU has lost three home games to Florida, Auburn and Tennessee, averaging 16.7 points per game. Ole Miss and Mississippi State also dropped three at home.

Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M are the only SEC teams not to suffer a home conference setback.

Oddly enough, there are no SEC teams that are unbeaten at home and winless away.

top player

Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Tennessee’s Julian Phillips were named Monday’s SEC Player of the Week by the league office.

Tshiebwe, a 6-9 senior from Congo, was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 22 points and 20.5 rebounds and hitting 60% field goals in wins against Georgia and Texas A&M, including a career-high of 37 points and 24 rebounds the Bulldogs. He now owns five of the seven games with 20+ points and 18+ rebounds by an SEC player in the past 10 years.

Phillips, a 6-8 forward from Blythewood, SC, was named SEC freshman of the week after averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds at Mississippi State and LSU last week. With two starters at Mississippi State, Phillips had 18 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double.

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