College Basketball Nation: Elston Turner

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
9:30
AM ET
Another attempt, my final attempt to rank the SEC. … It’s been real.


  1. Florida. The Gators are still the kings of the SEC. Yes, they’ve fallen a few times this season. But they’ve been the most dominant team in the conference. They’ve suffered three SEC losses, all on the road, against Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. But they’ve also achieved the league’s top scoring margin (plus-18.8 points per game). The Gators already have won the SEC crown, but a win at Kentucky on Saturday would truly stamp their supremacy within the league.
  2. Missouri. I can’t tell you whether Mizzou will make a run in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers are just too inconsistent. But they’re 4-1 in their past five games. And Tuesday’s 93-63 win against Arkansas -- in Columbia, of course -- allowed the Tigers to display their potential. Phil Pressey has become a more efficient distributor. He has finished with eight or more assists in Mizzou’s past four games. He also has recorded 14 turnovers combined in the same stretch. Saturday’s road game at Tennessee is a serious test for a Missouri squad that has been shaky off campus. But its ceiling is high, especially if Pressey continues to play maestro and limits his mishaps.
  3. Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s team faces Missouri on Saturday in a critical game. A loss to the Tigers won’t destroy its NCAA tourney hopes. But a win might seal an at-large bid. The Vols lost to Georgia this past weekend, but that didn’t nullify the momentum they have amassed in the past month. They have won seven of their past eight entering the weekend. Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae and Trae Golden anchor a team that has outplayed most of America’s bubble teams in recent weeks.
  4. LSU. The SEC tournament is wide open. Any team could reach the final, it seems. And in a league with so many bubble squads vying for an at-large bid, the tournament's action should reflect the stakes. Johnny Jones’ program is not one of the SEC’s bubble teams. But it’s certainly a sleeper to make a run and spoil the postseason plans of its conference colleagues. The Tigers have won three of their past four and are 8-3 since Jan. 30. With Johnny O'Bryant III (13.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG) inside and its ability to defend the perimeter (SEC squads are shooting just 28.9 percent from the perimeter against LSU, second in the conference), LSU could shock the field in Nashville next week.
  5. Kentucky. Still talented. Still a mess. Still on the bubble. Somehow. After Thursday night’s 72-62 loss at Georgia, John Calipari blamed himself for the loss. "I've done a crap job with this team," he said. Well, it’s not completely Cal’s fault, but it’s refreshing to hear a coach accept blame. The Wildcats are young. The Wildcats lack veteran leadership. The Wildcats lost their best player during the most important stretch of the year. But they’ve had so many chances to play their way off the bubble and they’ve stumbled. Taking that L at Georgia hurt their NCAA tournament hopes and might have guaranteed an NIT berth. But a win against Florida on Saturday could lead Kentucky to the Big Dance.
  6. Alabama. Let me say this. Trevor Releford (15.5 PPG, 2.1 SPG) could carry Bama to the SEC championship. At this point, I’m convinced any team could win that thing. But Anthony Grant’s program also could lose its first game and go home with nothing more than an NIT berth. There’s just nothing about the Crimson Tide that makes me a believer. They have lost three of their past four matchups (all road games). This lukewarm stretch sums up Alabama’s entire season. So-so. Defense has helped Bama stay alive all year (59.8 PPG allowed in SEC play, No. 2 in the conference). But the team is so inconsistent everywhere else that it has reached the end of the season with minimal mojo.
  7. Georgia. So … Mark Fox’s team is 8-4 since Jan. 26. The Bulldogs have knocked off Kentucky and Tennessee in their past two games. Fox’s young squad has matured in recent weeks. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (18.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.1 SPG) is a star. But without an offensively astute crew around him, the Bulldogs have focused on defense (56th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). Georgia hasn’t even cracked the RPI’s top 100. This is not a bubble team. But it’s certainly a dream killer right now.
  8. Ole Miss. Last week, a few Ole Miss fans told me they didn’t like my placement of the Rebels in the most recent rankings. They were justified in their frustration. Ole Miss should have been lower. This is an average team (at best). We were all blinded by the Marshall Henderson Show earlier this season. For once, Ole Miss was fascinating. Then Andy Kennedy’s program caught an allergy to defense (71.2 PPG allowed in SEC play, 12th in the league). Sure, the Rebels are a bubble team. But they’re not playing like a tournament team (see Saturday’s inexplicable 73-67 road loss to rival Mississippi State).
  9. Arkansas. The Razorbacks aren’t that different from the rest of the conference. They’re a dazzling spectacle at home. Just bad whenever they’re on the road. That’s the story of the entire conference -- the nation, really. But Saturday’s 30-point loss at Missouri was enough to send any bandwagon into a ditch. Arkansas has lost three of its past four. Not exactly the kind of convincing conclusion to the regular season that the selection committee would like to see from a bubble squad. But … this is Arkansas. A lot of teams have lost on the road this season. Few, however, have matched the extremes of Arkansas’ Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde routine.
  10. Texas A&M. I wanted to trust the Aggies. Really, I did. That January road win against Kentucky and an early February victory against Missouri convinced me that Elston Turner (17.7 PPG) & Co. would end the season on a high note. Didn’t happen. Things fell apart for this program.
  11. Vanderbilt. The bad news is that Kevin Stallings’ program sits at the bottom of the SEC. The good news is that his top five scorers should return next season. And incoming four-star recruit Damian Jones should help in his first season with the squad.
  12. South Carolina. Can Frank Martin build something special with the Gamecocks? We’ll see. His first year was a rough one.
  13. Auburn. Bottom line is that Auburn’s administration will soon decide whether it’s going to give Tony Barbee more time to rebuild after another tough season.
  14. Mississippi State. Last night, Rick Ray sent me a text message that simply said, “Can’t make this up. Jalen Steele tore his ACL last night. That’s FOUR season ending knee injuries.” I know you think your favorite team has endured tough times in 2012-13. But I don’t think any team in the country has matched Mississippi State’s situation. Still, MSU’s fan base will feast on last weekend’s win against Ole Miss for months.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
9:30
AM ET
One man’s attempt to decipher the ongoing chaos that defines the SEC in 2012-13:

1. Florida. The Gators were questioned following a surprising road loss to Arkansas last week. But they revealed their prowess in recent lopsided wins against Mississippi State and Kentucky. Florida’s greatest quandary is its competition. When it looks good (second in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy), many suggest that it's not facing premier opposition. When it loses? Panic and “I told you so.” But the Gators are still one of America’s best teams. There shouldn’t be any debate about that.

2. Missouri. I don’t know if the Missouri squad that stomped Ole Miss in Columbia on Saturday (98-79) is the real Missouri. The Tigers, however, proved what they’re capable of when they smashed the Rebels last weekend. Three players topped 20 points. They shot 52 percent from the 3-point line. They followed that with a 42-point road win against Mississippi State on Wednesday night. But I’m still evaluating those road losses to Texas A&M and LSU. You should do the same. I have no doubt that Frank Haith possesses a roster that has the potential to contend with any team in the league. Even Florida. But only at home. If Haith’s squad can get its act together once it leaves campus, then Missouri could finally become the team we thought it would be entering the 2012-13 season.

3. Alabama. After Florida, the SEC becomes a confusing assortment of squads that are difficult to assess because of their collective inconsistency. So you have to reward a team -- for the purposes of these rankings -- when it hits its stride. Bama’s offense is what it is (58.1 ppg, 12th in the league). It’s been that way all year. The Crimson Tide scored 37 in a 12-point road loss to Auburn on Feb. 6. I’m still digesting that. But, Anthony Grant’s program has won four of five to secure a third-place slot in the SEC. It won three of those games by four points or less. You can look at that multiple ways. Either Bama is just an average SEC team that is squeezed by other mediocre teams, or Trevor Releford (14.6 ppg) leads a gritty squad that is winning with an aggressive defense (55.5 ppg allowed) that has masked its offensive challenges.

4. Arkansas. I think Florida is really good. So I’m still impressed by the Razorbacks’ win against the Gators last week. Yes, they followed it up with a loss at Vanderbilt. But they’ve won three out of four. And Mike Anderson commands an offensive unit that is as potent as it is inconsistent. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell? That is serious talent. The Razorbacks have struggled on the road. So has the rest of the league, the rest of America. But they’ve demonstrated their ceiling in this four-game stretch. Arkansas could finish the season strong.

5. Texas A&M. Oh, Texas A&M. Your ability to baffle is quite baffling. The Aggies beat Ole Miss on Wednesday night because Elston Turner scored 37 and went 7-for-10 from the 3-point line. The Aggies are not a good 3-point shooting team (32.3 percent, ninth in the league). Yet they shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in their past two wins (against Ole Miss, Missouri). With so many single-digit losses and wins (every game in February), Texas A&M’s free throw shooting (71.8 percent, second in the SEC) and rebounding (39th nationally in offensive rebounding rate) position the Aggies to win those tight games. But there is danger every night for the Aggies. They seem to embrace it.

6. Ole Miss. The Marshall Henderson (19.5 ppg) buzz has decreased in recent weeks. And the Rebels have revealed their flaws. They are an offensive gem (74.8 ppg, No. 1 in the SEC). Four of their past five opponents, however, have shot 46 percent or better from the field. That’s why they have lost four of their past five. Andy Kennedy’s offensive tools are fluid and potent. Yet his defense (71.8 ppg, 13th in the SEC) has been absent in recent weeks. Really, all year (2013). The good news for the Rebels is that they will not play Missouri or Florida in their last seven SEC games. The bad news is that their defense is so uncertain, they could still finish the season in the bottom of the standings.

7. Kentucky. I hate what happened to Nerlens Noel. As Dana O’Neil pointed out this week, it’s a devastating injury for him and his experience as a young man. Surgeons will repair the ACL. And Noel will probably enter the NBA draft and make millions in the coming months. But the program is obviously hurt by the loss. The Wildcats had not orchestrated a convincing argument for an at-large bid even when they had Noel. What now? John Calipari’s youngsters must dig deep. The selection committee will likely consider Noel’s injury. But I think the next seven games (and whatever happens in the SEC tournament) will dictate Kentucky’s fate on Selection Sunday, since it has not really justified at-large status to date. It’s unfortunate that the Wildcats won’t have Noel down the stretch, because they were improving with him, especially on defense.

8. Georgia. Billy Donovan will probably win it. But perhaps Mark Fox will ultimately be the SEC’s coach of the year. The Bulldogs endured one stretch that included losing seven of eight in November and December. However, the Bulldogs have won five of six. Fox has one double-figure scorer (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 17.7 ppg). The Bulldogs have the worst scoring offense in the league (57.2 ppg), but they have enhanced their defense, which is fourth in the conference (60.6 ppg allowed). And they are second only to Florida in 3-point shooting (37.3 percent). Overall, it’s a major improvement for the program. The Bulldogs are still fighting after losing four of their first five SEC games.

9. Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s crew scored a win against rival Vanderbilt on Wednesday night in Nashville. Yes, the Commodores have struggled all season. But an Arkansas team that defeated Florida couldn’t win there last weekend. The Vols are just 5-6 in league play. Jarnell Stokes, however, can lead Martin’s squad up the SEC standings. He’s a bully right now. And I’m not surprised. Stokes has finally accepted his leadership role with the team. The Vols will go as far as he takes them. That’s a lot of pressure for a sophomore, but it’s the reality. After that 58-46 win against Vandy, (Stokes finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and a steal), Martin said, “Jarnell has really stepped us as our guy. Now our offense flows through Jarnell.” Stokes has recorded double-doubles in seven of eight games. In Stokes the Vols should trust.

10. LSU. Johnny Jones’ team has won four of five. Sophomore Johnny O'Bryant III has rivaled Stokes in recent games. He finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and a block in a 64-46 win at South Carolina on Thursday, and he has double-doubles in seven of the past eight games. The Tigers defend the 3-point line better than any team in the league (opponents are shooting just 26 percent). This is a good example of the challenges I face each week with these rankings. On Jan. 30, the Tigers defeated Missouri. They are 10th right now, but they could be fourth in these power rankings. That is the scenario each week when you have so many teams with similar records, resumes and struggles.

11-12. Vanderbilt/Auburn. Last weekend, the Commodores beat Arkansas by 18. It was just the second time Vandy scored 67 or more in regulation in SEC play. The Commodores, however, are in the top half of the league in scoring defense. Tony Barbee’s program won its first two SEC games. But the Tigers have lost eight of their past nine.

13-14. South Carolina/Mississippi State. These schools have won four games combined in the SEC. South Carolina and Mississippi State are 13th and 14th, respectively, in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense in the SEC.

Numbers to Know: Wednesday recap

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
11:54
AM ET
Player of the Night -- James Ennis, Long Beach State
Ennis had 26 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in Long Beach State’s win over Cal State Fullerton. Ennis is the first Division I player this season with at least 26 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in a game. He’s the first Big West player to do so since Fullerton’s Pape Sow, who had 26 points, 18 rebounds and four steals against Cal Poly in February 2004.

Scorer of the Night -- Elston Turner, Texas A&M
Turner scored 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting, including 7-for-10 on 3-point attempts, in Texas A&M’s win over Ole Miss. Turner didn’t fill the stat sheet in many ways other than scoring, as he had just two rebounds, one assist, one steal, no blocks, no fouls and no turnovers. Only one player has scored more points in a game this season without any fouls or turnovers. That player is also Turner, when he scored 40 against Kentucky on January 12. His 40-point performance was the most by a Division I player without a foul or turnover in more than six years.

Shooter of the Night -- Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
Brown, who is usually known for dunks like this, showed off his outside shooting skills in Oklahoma State’s win at Texas Tech. Brown scored 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 7-for-8 on 3-point attempts. He also made both of his free-throw attempts. No player in Big 12 history has made more 3-pointers while only missing only one attempt than Brown. Five other Big 12 players have also shot 7-for-8 from beyond the arc: Oklahoma’s Nate Erdmann (1997), Kansas’s Kirk Hinrich (2003), Texas A&M’s Antoine Wright (2005), Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn (2008) and Iowa State’s Jamie Vanderbeken (2011).

Stat Sheet Stuffer -- Joe Jackson, Memphis
Jackson had 21 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals in Memphis’s win over UCF. Jackson is only the second Division I player to reach those plateaus in a game this season. The other was Western Carolina’s Trey Sumler, who had 25 points, 12 assists, four rebounds and four steals against Chattanooga on January 19. Jackson is the first Memphis player with a stat line like that since Antonio Burks, who had 27 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and four steals against UAB in February 2003.

Debut of the Night -- Myck Kabongo, Texas
Kabongo might have been the only player with his season debut last night, but he still deserves the award. Kabongo had 13 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the Longhorns’ double-overtime win over Iowa State. Perhaps Texas is a different team now that Kabongo has returned from his 23-game suspension. According to BPI, Iowa State is the best opponent Texas has defeated this season.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
9:30
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Here we go again. This week’s SEC power rankings:

1. Florida. In the 1980s, Mike Tyson was a brutal force who tore through boxing’s contenders with an ease that few, if any, pugilists had ever achieved. But Tyson had a problem. He didn’t beat guys who would have been considered contenders in more vibrant eras in the heavyweight division. So it’s tough to assess his legacy. Yes, he was dominant. But whom did he fight? That’s Florida’s challenge right now. The Gators are destroying the SEC. They’re one of three teams in the past 25 years that have defeated their first seven conference foes by 15 points or more, according to Elias. But they’re in a league that’s clearly one of the worst conferences in America. Still, they held a high-major program (South Carolina) to 10 points in the first half of a 39-point victory this week. That’s impressive regardless of whom they were playing.

2. Ole Miss. So Destiny’s Child just dropped a new track called “Nuclear.” The song created a buzz because folks were convinced that Beyonce & Co. would get back together. But that hasn’t happened. The bottom line is that the track is like every other “group” effort by the pop trio: a lot of Beyonce and a little bit of the other two women/members whom most folks can’t name (Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland). Marshall Henderson turned into Beyonce when Kentucky visited Ole Miss on Tuesday night. He made the night about Marshall Henderson instead of his team. He took bad shots. He played to the crowd. He got into a verbal spat with coach Andy Kennedy. And he threw a piece of ice toward fans. Great theater. But he didn’t lead the Rebels to a win. There was just too much of him and not enough of everyone else in that crucial game.

3. Kentucky. About a decade ago, Dr. Dre promised hip-hop fans that he would deliver one of the greatest rap albums of all time: “Detox.” He has teased with a variety of leaked tracks. But he hasn’t delivered the full project, only glimpses of what it might be. That’s how I feel about this Kentucky team right now. I think the Tuesday victory at Ole Miss was a great showcase for a Wildcats squad that could emerge as Florida’s greatest threat in the coming weeks. It was a dominant performance, especially for Nerlens Noel (12 blocks). But we shouldn’t forget the loss to Alabama. Or Texas A&M (at home). Or Baylor (also at home). The Wildcats have potential, and they proved it again when they beat the Rebels. But I’m weeks away from believing that it was anything more than one impressive effort by a team I can’t trust yet.

4. Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat Kentucky last week, lost to Tennessee over the weekend and squeezed past Arkansas for a 59-56 victory that was decided in the final seconds Thursday night. Where would you rank them? I could leave Bama here. I could also move Anthony Grant’s squad down two or three spots. I’m not sure that this is the fourth-best team in the SEC. But I don’t have any evidence that it’s not the fourth-best team in the league, either. And that’s the problem with this conference. By now, Bama over Arkansas should mean something. It should have offered proof that one team was moving forward and the other was moving in the opposite direction. It didn’t really do that. Neither team played well. Arkansas went 3-for-19 from beyond the arc. Bama committed 19 turnovers. I’m not sure one team is really better than the other. And that’s the story of the SEC -- after Florida of course -- right now.

5. Missouri. Here’s the essence of the conversations I’ve had with Mizzou fans for the past two weeks via the Twittersphere. Me: “Missouri is not as good as its ranking suggests. The Tigers have bigger issues than Laurence Bowers’ injury and absence.” Mizzou fans: “You’re wrong. We’ll get Bowers back. We’ll be fine.” Me: “But their ballhandling is inconsistent, they’re not defending the 3-point line and … ” Mizzou fans: “Dude, Bowers will be back. And we’ll be fine.” Well, Bowers returned … and the Tigers lost at LSU 73-70 on Wednesday night. LSU is 12th in the league with a 39.3 percent overall mark from the field. But LSU -- which has lost to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina -- shot 55 percent against Mizzou. This is the same Tigers squad that averaged 0.9 points per possession through the first six games of SEC play, 12th in the league according to John Gasaway. Confused yet?

6. Tennessee. The Vols might the most intriguing team in the conference after Kentucky. They lost their first three SEC games but they’ve won three of their past four, a stretch that includes a win over Alabama. Jarnell Stokes finished with double-doubles in those three victories. When he plays to his full potential, the Vols are clearly a different team -- one that’s capable of competing with most of the squads in this league.

7. LSU. Yep, the Tigers beat a nearly complete Missouri squad (Keion Bell did not play) Wednesday night. But they’ve also lost to Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia. … And they’ve beaten a Missouri team that entered the conference slate as Florida’s toughest competitor. So I guess they’re seventh. Why? Because the SEC just doesn’t make much sense, especially after LSU pulled off one of the biggest wins by a team in the bottom tier of the league.

8. Arkansas. The Razorbacks are a solid offensive group that struggles in games that aren’t track meets. They’re averaging 66.4 points per game in SEC play, fifth in the league. Yet they’re last in 3-point shooting (23.9 percent). And they’re really limited to whatever Marshawn Powell and BJ Young can give them each night. The duo accounts for 41 percent of Arkansas’ offensive production. So every night is a toss-up, especially for a program that’s ranked 104th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.

9. Georgia. Mark Fox has only one scorer averaging double figures (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at 17.5 points per game). But he’s making up for those offensive gaps with the 3-ball. The Bulldogs, who’ve won three of their past four, have hit 36.2 percent of their 3-pointers, third in the SEC.

10. Texas A&M. Between now and Feb. 13, the Aggies will play Kentucky (again), Missouri and Ole Miss. This is an important stretch for a program that has disappointed since a Jan. 12 victory at Kentucky. The Aggies are holding SEC opponents to 58.0 PPG (tied for second in the conference) but they’re only scoring 58.4 PPG (12th). Elston Turner's recent turn of inconsistency hasn’t helped.

11. Vanderbilt. Four of the Commodores' past six games have been played on the road. So the young program’s fortunes could change in the coming weeks, because four of its next five games are at home, a stretch that does not include matchups against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Florida or Missouri. The Commodores have lost two SEC games by two points or fewer. They lost to Ole Miss in overtime. Their 61.5 percent mark from the charity stripe (last in the SEC) won’t help the Commodores secure future wins in similar scenarios.

12. Mississippi State. The Bulldogs kicked off the SEC with promise by winning their first two games. But they’ve lost their past five. Their greatest challenge? Turnovers. They’ve averaged 18.3 per game in SEC play. That and a defense that’s giving up an SEC-worst 70.7 PPG.

13. Auburn. Tony Barbee's program isn’t much better. Auburn’s SEC opponents have averaged 70.0 PPG in league play. The Tigers are also on a five-game losing streak.

14. South Carolina. The Gamecocks scored 10 points in the first half of a loss to the Gators this week. I know, I know. They played Florida. But even Southeastern Louisiana managed 26 in the first half of its 82-43 loss to the Gators this season.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
9:30
AM ET
We’re here. You know what we do. We rank the SEC. And it’s a collective effort. We’ll get through this week’s SEC rankings together.

1. Florida. The Gators aren’t just the best team in the SEC, they might be the best team in the country right now. Check out the numbers: first in adjusted defensive efficiency and second in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. Check the results. Florida’s 83-52 win over Missouri was one of the worst beatdowns of the season. The Gators displayed their versatility and overall ability to execute in ways that few teams in America can. They have few weaknesses. They’re in their own league.

2. Ole Miss. So the Rebels averaged 80.2 ppg through their first four conference matchups. Then they score 18 in the first half of Thursday night’s win over the Vols. Such is life in the SEC, I guess. The bottom line is that Andy Kennedy’s crew might be the only team that can turn the league into anything more than a one-team race (Google Florida and Beast Mode). But that first half against Tennessee was a rare display of imbalance for the program. Marshall Henderson, however, made it right in the second half. He’s a stud.

3. Alabama. I know. I don’t know how this happened either. But this Bama squad has overcome injuries and limited depth to surge up these power rankings in the last week. After Anthony Grant lost Carl Engstrom (out for the year with a torn ACL) and Andrew Steele (sports hernia) to injuries last month, the Crimson Tide hit a wall. From Dec. 1 through Jan. 8, Bama lost six of eight games. Then the program began to play defense. Only one SEC team (Florida) has held its conference opponents to a lower average (59.2 ppg allowed).

4. Missouri. The Tigers have issues that are bigger than life without Laurence Bowers. Yes, the team has missed the talented forward. But the weekend’s Florida loss exposed Missouri as a team with serious ballhandling issues (21 turnovers in that game). The Tigers are also lost whenever Phil Pressey struggles. How “deep” are they? We’ve heard so much about this team’s depth and potential. But Missouri looks like a disorganized team that’s not as tough as it should be. I know the Tigers beat Alabama a few weeks ago. I’d pick Bama right now, though.

5. Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been better defensively than I figured they’d be in SEC play (39.4 field goal percentage defense, second in the league). I thought they’d just shoot for 80 and hope that would be enough to squeeze by most of the teams in this league. They had a chance to prove they’re more than just one of the best among the mediocre squads when they faced Ole Miss. What did they do? They went 6-for-20 on 3-pointers and committed 16 turnovers. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell were the only players who cracked double figures. Those two talented players need consistent help.

6. Kentucky. The second half of Kentucky’s loss at Alabama exhibited every struggle this team has had this year. The Wildcats weren’t resilient when they had to be. Their guards struggled. A program that features multiple first-round prospects for the NBA draft went 8-for-27 after halftime. I don’t think John Calipari has one problem; I think his program has a bunch of problems. The Wildcats are inconsistent. They’re inexperienced and it shows whenever they find themselves in tough late-game situations. And they appear to be losing confidence. Yet other than Florida and perhaps Ole Miss ... Kentucky, like the rest of the SEC, can contend with any team in the conference. Weird.

7. Texas A&M. The Aggies have really struggled since their Jan. 12 road win over Kentucky. That might be the highlight of their season. They’ve lost three consecutive games since that victory. Their challenges? Top scorer Elston Turner has scored just 22 total points during this three-game losing streak. Remember him? He’s the guy who scored 40 in that win in Rupp Arena. He was the hero. But the Aggies are limited on offense (60.4 ppg in the SEC, 11th in the league). They’re not good enough to overcome their best player’s struggles.

8. Tennessee. The Vols were good enough to hang with Ole Miss on Thursday night. But they couldn’t do more than that. They had a great opportunity to beat one of the SEC’s best. They couldn’t finish. Tennessee was outscored 44-31 in the second half of that 62-56 loss. Now they’ve lost five of their last six games. And I just don’t see how Cuonzo Martin’s program rights this ship when he has one of the worst defensive units (117th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) in the SEC.

9. Vanderbilt. Kevin Stallings is rebuilding with this young group. The Commodores have encountered a multitude of obstacles. But they’re riding a two-game winning streak after beating South Carolina and Auburn by a combined 19 points. And three of their next five games are winnable (Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee). Vandy is limited in a variety of areas. But the Commodores lock up the perimeter (25.5 3-point field goal percentage defense) better than any team in the SEC. That’s going to be key going forward.

10. Auburn. Tony Barbee’s crew is trying to fight its way out of the bottom tier of the SEC. But that’s a tough task with a porous defense (74.0 points per game allowed is the worst mark in the SEC; 158th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.) The Tigers have excelled at times during the past month. But their last three games, all losses, are another example of the program's extremes. And it starts with its defense.

11. Mississippi State. If you've followed these rankings, then you know Rick Ray's story. He's currently leading a program that can barely practice because it's so short-handed. Ray is limited in what he can fix right now. But the Bulldogs have won two SEC games, even though they're near the bottom of every meaningful statistical category in the league. They're even on top of the conference with 18.8 turnovers per game. Doesn't make much sense. But the SEC doesn't make sense.

12. LSU. Remember the team that looked vibrant and hopeful entering SEC play? Well the Tigers played such a poor nonconference slate that it really wasn't fair to judge the program at that point. Now seems like a more appropriate time to measure this LSU squad, which just won its first SEC game on Wednesday when it defeated Texas A&M. With so much parity in the bottom of the league, every bucket helps. So LSU's 58.3 free throw percentage, last in the league, definitely hurts.

13. Georgia. Mark Fox's squad landed its first SEC win when it defeated LSU over the weekend. The coach has one of the tougher tasks in the league. He has one high-level player in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But he doesn't have a strong supporting cast around him. So the Bulldogs currently possess the worst scoring offense in the SEC. And that's going to be an issue all year. Fox could use a midseason trade right now. But Saturday's win could be something they eventually build on.

14. South Carolina. Pitbull can't save his biggest fan right now. Frank Martin, however, could use the help. The team he left, Kansas State, is off to a strong start. The team he joined, South Carolina, is at the bottom of one of the worst leagues in the country. Only two teams are shooting worse than the Gamecocks (37.9 percent) in SEC play. Perhaps Martin will turn South Carolina into a contender. The program is light years away right now.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- To celebrate Florida coach Billy Donovan’s 400th victory at the school, Gators center Patric Young lured Donovan into a separate part of the locker room and doused him with a watercooler full of ice water.

Donovan was stunned.

"Basketball coaches don’t have that happen to them very often," he said several moments later. "And I tell you what: That was really, really, really cold. I mean, really cold."

[+] EnlargeBilly Donovan
AP Photo/Phil SandlinBilly Donovan's Florida Gators have yet to allow an SEC opponent to score more than 52 points.
But not as cold as what 10th-ranked Florida did to 17th-ranked Missouri on Saturday afternoon to give Donovan that milestone victory. The Gators dominated the Tigers in an 83-52 victory in front of 12,597 at the O’Connell Center in what was supposed to be a matchup of the top two teams in the SEC.

Florida held Missouri to a season-low 32.7 percent from the floor, forced 21 turnovers and took point guard Phil Pressey -- who was named the league’s preseason player of the year by the media -- completely out of the game. It was yet another stellar defensive performance from the Gators (14-2, 4-0 SEC), which have yet to allow an SEC opponent to score more than 52 points.

"A 30-point victory against one of the best teams in the SEC -- it was just a great game for us," said Young, who had nine points and eight rebounds. "I know nobody expected that. I’m sure a lot of teams thought they were going to come in here and they were going to upset us. I know they thought they were going to upset us, but we were prepared so well for this game and we really wanted it."

That was evident from the opening tip. Young tapped the ball toward point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who took a couple of dribbles and scored on a layup just four seconds into the game.

It got worse for Missouri (13-4, 2-2) from there. The Gators raced out to an 11-0 lead in the first 3:14, and the Tigers pulled to within single digits only once after that. Missouri committed two turnovers and went 0-for-5 from the field during that opening stretch.

UF led by as many as 22 in the first half, and Missouri never got closer than 16 in the second. The Gators scored 34 points off turnovers and outrebounded the Tigers, which entered the game as the nation’s top rebounding team (43.8 per game), 35-25.

Missouri was without leading scorer Laurence Bowers (16.8 ppg), who sat out his third game in a row with a sprained MCL in his right knee, but that doesn’t completely account for how poorly the Tigers played.

Pressey, who had been averaging 13.8 points and 9.8 assists in his previous six games, scored two points on 1 of 7 shooting. He had six assists and 10 turnovers and was never able to shake Wilbekin, who similarly shut down Texas A&M’s Elston Turner on Thursday in the Gators’ 68-47 win in College Station, Texas.

"He’s a great player," said Wilbekin, who had 13 points and tied his career high with 10 assists. "He’s got a lot of accolades and everything. Our whole team was focused on stopping him because he’s their primary facilitator on offense. I think we did a good job of focusing on him and also doing a good job of getting to the other players as well."

If no Bowers and an ineffective Pressey wasn’t bad enough for Missouri coach Frank Haith, he lost one of the only offensive threats he had when guard Keion Bell left the game with a sprained ankle with 13:18 to play. He had 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting. The result was the program’s worst loss since a 100-63 defeat at Kansas State on Feb. 16, 2008.

"Florida played tougher than us this game," Haith said. "They made all of the key hustle plays and outrebounded us on both sides of the court. We can’t win on the road if we don’t play tough.

"We got beat in all facets of the game today. Florida made all of the proper adjustments, decisions and plays throughout the course of the game."

The Gators are tied with unranked Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0) atop the league’s standings, but it’s clear they are the class of the SEC. Not that the players will make that claim.

"We’ve got 18 diamonds to pick up," Young said. "We’ve gotten four. We’re just moving on to the next one. We’re not making a statement. We’re just going to prepare for the next game. We’re going to get ready. Whoever it is, we’re going to match up and we’re going to do our job."

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A quick look at No. 10 Florida’s 83-52 victory against No. 17 Missouri on Saturday afternoon at the O’Connell Center:

Overview: This was supposed to be a battle between the SEC's two best teams.

That lasted less than five minutes.

Florida rolled out to a quick start and completely dominated the Tigers. In doing so, the Gators (14-2, 4-0 SEC) have pretty much established themselves as the class of the league. Missouri (13-3, 2-2 SEC) was overwhelmed offensively and defensively, and ended up shooting a season-low 32.7 percent from the field.

Florida had four players score in double figures. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin had 13 points and 10 assists, forward Erik Murphy scored 15 points, and guard Kenny Boynton scored 14.

Turning point: How about the game’s first 3:14. Florida raced out to an 11-0 lead during that span, and Missouri only pulled within single digits once after that. Missouri committed two turnovers and went 0-for-5 from the field while Florida went 4-for-5. The Gators scored two baskets in the game’s first minute, including a big dunk by Patric Young, and that got the crowd in the sold-out O’Connell Center into the game pretty quickly.

Key player: Wilbekin had another dominant defensive performance. Two days after shutting down Texas A&M’s Elston Turner, Wilbekin blanketed Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, holding him to two points on 1 of 7 shooting. Pressey, who had been averaging 13.8 points 9.8 assists in his previous six games, had 6 assists and 10 turnovers.

Key stat: Florida and Missouri finished with a similar amount of turnovers, but the Gators did a much better job of capitalizing on the Tigers’ mistakes. Florida scored 34 points off Missouri’s 21 turnovers. The Gators had 22 points off 11 Tigers turnovers in the first half. Missouri scored 12 points off Florida's 16 turnovers.

Miscellaneous: Coach Billy Donovan picked up his 400th victory at Florida. Only two other coaches, Adolph Rupp (876) and Dale Brown (448), have won 400 or more games at an SEC school. Donovan is 400-160 in his 17 seasons at Florida. He is 435-180 in his 19 seasons as a head coach. … Missouri was without leading scorer Laurence Bowers (16.8 ppg), who is still recovering from a sprained MCL in his right knee. He hasn’t played since the Tigers’ 84-68 victory against Alabama on Jan. 8. … Florida hasn’t allowed more than 52 points in its four SEC games. … The Tigers were the nation’s top rebounding team (43.8 per game), but the Gators out-rebounded them 35-25.

Next game: Florida plays at Georgia on Wednesday; Missouri plays host to South Carolina on Tuesday.

Numbers to Know: Weekend Recap

January, 14, 2013
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Player of the Weekend - Elston Turner, Texas A&M
Scoring a career-high 40 points, Turner carried the Aggies to an 83-71 win at Kentucky. That’s the most points by a Texas A&M player since Don Marbury’s 41 points against Baylor more than 28 years ago. It’s also the fifth most by an Aggie in a road game. But the venue makes this performance particularly unique. According to Kentucky, Turner is the first opposing player to score 40 points in Rupp Arena since LSU's Chris Jackson in 1990.

Stat Sheet Stuffer - Richard Howell, NC State
Howell had 16 points and 18 rebounds, as NC State knocked off No. 1 Duke, 84-76. Over the last 15 seasons, he’s the fourth player with those numbers in a win over the AP No. 1, joining UNLV’s Mike Moser, Pitt’s DeJuan Blair and UNC’s Antawn Jamison. In the second half, Howell alone outrebounded the Blue Devils 14-13.

Freshman of the Weekend - Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Bennett scored 22 points and added a career-high 16 rebounds as UNLV held off Air Force, 76-71, in overtime. He’s just the fourth freshman to reach those totals in a game this season, joining Lipscomb’s Stephen Hurt, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and High Point’s John Brown. The Rebels improved to 19-1 all-time at home against Air Force.

Bench Player of the Weekend – Kenyon McNeail, Louisiana Tech
McNeail scored a career-high 34 points off the bench in Louisiana Tech’s 73-71 win at UTSA. That’s tied for the second-most points off the bench this season. No WAC player since at least 1996-97 has scored that many as a reserve. McNeail tied Johnny Miller’s 16-year-old school record with nine 3-pointers made.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend – Vanderbilt Commodores
Lowlighted by just 11 points in the first half, Vanderbilt scored just 33 points in a 23-point loss to Arkansas. It’s the second time this season that Vanderbilt has scored just 33, having also done so against Marist in November. Prior to that, Vanderbilt’s offense hadn’t produced 33 or fewer points in a game since 1982. The Commodores’ 26 turnovers were their most in almost 11 years.

Video: A&M's Turner drops 40 on UK

January, 12, 2013
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Elston Turner scored 40 points as Texas A&M handed Kentucky its first SEC home loss under John Calipari, 83-71.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

January, 11, 2013
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Just when we thought we understood the enigma known as the SEC -- just when I’d felt comfortable with my weekly rankings -- SEC play began. And the madness continued. We’ll get through this together.

1. Florida -- The Gators have the most complete team in the SEC right now. They opened up SEC play with a 33-point win against Georgia on Wednesday night. They’re balanced, experienced and talented. Few teams in this league can say that. Their losses (Arizona, Kansas State) weren’t bad losses. And I still think that this team is growing. Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Patric Young anchor Florida’s core, but they’re also assisted by talented reserves such as Will Yeguete.

2. Missouri -- The Tigers were more efficient in their Tuesday victory against Alabama than they were in a nail-biter against Bucknell over the weekend. But they lost Laurence Bowers to a knee injury in that game. That’s clearly a concern as they prepare for an Ole Miss team that is more than capable of pulling off the upset, especially at home. I still think that the Tigers rely on Phil Pressey too much, and that’s going to cost them at times this season, possibly as soon as Saturday when they face the Rebels without Bowers.

3. Ole Miss -- The Rebels had such a poor nonconference strength of schedule (No. 241 per ESPN.com’s RPI rankings) that their impressive stats (top 40 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings) have been difficult to trust. But Ole Miss opened up SEC play with a dominant win at Tennessee. No, the Vols aren’t the crème de la crème of the conference. But they’re definitely better than Mississippi Valley State and East Tennessee State, two teams the Rebels faced during their nonconference slate.

4. Kentucky -- As I watched the Wildcats on Thursday night, I realized that I’d given the hype more credit than it deserved. Yes, I still believe Kentucky could be the best team in the conference by the end of the season. But what evidence do I really have to assume that the Wildcats will come anywhere close to their potential? They blew a 47-31 lead at Vanderbilt, a team that lost to Marist by 17 points. So I’m still waiting for Kentucky to prove that it’s more than a bunch of NBA prospects that can’t play together.

5. Tennessee -- Tennessee’s offense has been a concern all season. But in its past two games, its defense has been the issue. The Vols gave up 85 points to Memphis and 92 points to Ole Miss in back-to-back losses. I still think Tennessee is one of those squads that could give any team in the conference trouble. But the Vols haven’t put together a run that has showcased their potential. This pattern will lead to an average finish in the SEC if Cuonzo Martin can’t find a way to reverse it.

6. Auburn –- So, I’m surprised, too. But I think Auburn deserves a slot in the top half of the league. Why not? Tony Barbee’s program knocked off LSU in its SEC opener Wednesday night, even though leading scorer Frankie Sullivan (17.2 ppg) fouled out after scoring 10 points. Junior Allen Payne has played well during a stretch that’s featured five wins in seven games (the Tigers suffered a two-point loss at Illinois on Dec. 29).

7. Texas A&MElston Turner (15.5 ppg) and Co. have won three in a row since a 53-51 home loss to … Southern on Dec. 22. The Aggies crushed Arkansas 69-51 in their SEC opener Wednesday night. So perhaps that loss to Southern won’t define their season. The Aggies have held their opponents to 58.6 ppg, second in the conference. But like so many teams in this league, they amassed that sexy stat against a lukewarm nonconference slate. Their dominance Wednesday night, however, suggests that they might be one of the best average teams in the conference. A road win against Kentucky on Saturday would send a message to the league.

8. Alabama -- I was searching for signs of progress on Tuesday night. I mean, Bama has to do something. Fast. And the Crimson Tide had their chance in Columbia. The team was down 40-36 at halftime. And then, Bama arrived. Anthony Grant’s squad was outscored 44-32 in the second half. Alabama finished with 16 turnovers and shot 5-for-17 from the 3-point line. This isn’t an issue with injuries. This is just a team that apparently can’t complete games. They’re talented enough to play with any team in the conference in stretches. Winning, however, is still a problem.

9. LSU -- Johnny Jones’ squad didn’t commence SEC play with a bang. Instead, the Tigers lost on the road to Auburn. They didn’t accrue any meaningful wins during a weak nonconference slate. So I never believed the 9-2 record that they took into that game. I figured if they couldn’t handle the ball against McNeese State (19 turnovers) and Houston Baptist (15 turnovers), then they’d probably have trouble in the SEC. Their 12 turnovers in the Auburn loss were costly. They missed 6 of 10 free throws. LSU’s inflated nonconference record might have been debunked in the SEC opener.

10. Arkansas -- The Razorbacks average 80.6 ppg, ranked 11th nationally. That offense is their only ticket to any respectable finish in the SEC. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell average 31.4 ppg for Mike Anderson. So how did Arkansas end up with 51 points at Texas A&M? Well, Powell’s foul trouble and zero points certainly didn’t help. This squad had won five in a row against a lackluster assembly of nonconference opponents entering the game. Meaningless. They barely cracked 50 points against a midlevel SEC squad. It’s not the end of the world for the Razorbacks. But Anderson has to figure out what’s up with Powell (17 points combined in past three games) going forward.

11. Mississippi State -- Speaking of effort, how about the Bulldogs winning their SEC opener against South Carolina 56-54? After the win, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray tweeted, “Thank you to the Bulldog fan base for all of the congratulatory tweets. I appreciate it. Prepping for Georgia now. Grindin' for my State!” He should be pumped for his program, which has struggled all season. The Bulldogs have won three of four.

12. Vanderbilt -- Kudos to Kevin Stallings’ squad for nearly knocking off Kentucky at home Thursday night. The Commodores overcame a 16-point deficit and put themselves in a position to pull off the upset. But they fell short. Now, it should be noted that the finish was corrupted by an obvious shot-clock violation on a Nerlens Noel bucket with 17.3 seconds to go. But the true moral of the story is that you should always avoid a 16-point deficit when possible. Vandy’s effort in the second half was commendable. But the SEC standings don’t have an “effort” column.

13. South Carolina -- Frank Martin, this is your team. The Gamecocks, like most of the league, grabbed 10 nonconference wins against a poor schedule. So they entered SEC play as a mystery. They hadn’t proven anything. What did they do in their first conference test? They committed 24 turnovers. The Gamecocks have been fumbling all season against lesser programs. And that weakness affected the outcome in their conference opener. Check the box scores. Turnovers have plagued this program all season. And it will be its biggest issue in SEC play.

14. Georgia -- Mark Fox has a really, really good player named Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.0 ppg). He’s a star. But he doesn’t have much to put around him. So the Bulldogs are averaging just 59.4 ppg, No. 321 in Division I. In their 33-point loss to Florida on Wednesday night, Caldwell-Pope (11 points) was the only player who cracked double figures. Now, the loss did stop a four-game winning streak. But it’s just difficult to see how Fox’s program will avoid the league’s basement if it expects one player to carry the load every night.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 14, 2012
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Finally, some movement in the SEC power rankings. Tennessee secured a nice win over a mid-major power Thursday. Ole Miss, however, lost to a non-power-six standout over the weekend. Feels good to finally make a few changes.

1. Florida: If the No. 5 Gators score a convincing win at No. 8 Arizona on Saturday, they could enter next week as a top-three team. They’ve been as dominant as any squad in the country. But the Wildcats will be the toughest team that they’ve faced to date. Arizona is deep enough inside to limit Patric Young’s production, a rare trait for the teams the Gators have played thus far.

2. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad has one blemish, an 84-61 loss against Louisville on Nov. 23. But the Tigers have yet to play another nationally ranked squad (224th nonconference strength of schedule per ESPN.com’s InsideRPI). That will change Dec. 22 when they face undefeated Illinois.

3. Kentucky: Its most recent wins over Samford and Portland may have helped it recover from the back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor that cost the team its spot in the Associated Press' Top 25. But they’re just appetizers for the Dec. 29 matchup against rival Louisville, the nation’s most efficient defense. Kentucky’s point-guard problems will be scrutinized in the buildup to that game.

4. Texas A&M: This is where the league’s makeup gets murkier. Yes, Elston Turner (16.3 points per game) has led the Aggies to four consecutive wins. But a one-point neutral-site triumph over Washington State is their best victory. Three of the Aggies’ first four SEC games will include roads trips to Kentucky and Alabama, plus a home matchup against Florida. So this streak could end soon.

5. Tennessee: Cuonzo Martin needed Thursday’s night’s 69-60 win over previously undefeated No. 23 Wichita State, and forced 17 turnovers to hand the Shockers their first loss of the season. The Vols have been one of the top defensive teams in the country all season. But they’ve averaged just 39.7 points in their three losses. So putting up 69 and avoiding a third consecutive loss must have been a refreshing moment for Vols fans.

6. Alabama: I think the Crimson Tide (30th in defensive efficiency) will climb these ratings soon. But Alabama has to prove that it belongs in the SEC’s top tier. And a loss at the buzzer against Cincinnati and a follow-up loss to Dayton at home -- 11-for-36 from the 3-point line in the two games -- didn’t help Anthony Grant’s cause. And now that center Carl Engstrom is out for the season, Alabama has one legit center on its roster, Moussa Gueye. But the program can get back on track with a win at Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday.

7. LSU: Friday is a significant day for Johnny Jones’ squad. The undefeated Tigers have registered a 6-0 mark against a weak slate so far. Seton Hall (No. 80) is the only opponent they’ve faced that’s ranked higher than 190th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. And they haven’t left Baton Rouge. So Friday’s matchup at Boise State will be a better barometer for LSU’s progress, especially for a Tigers squad that has somehow gotten away with an average of 18 turnovers per game.

8. Ole Miss: The Rebels were off to a furious start until they ran into Middle Tennessee State last weekend. They had recorded 90 or more points in four of their first six games, all wins against mediocre opposition. But they scored just 62 points (5-of-21 from beyond the arc, 17 turnovers) against the Blue Raiders. Beware of inflated statistics in November and December.

9. Arkansas: If the Razorbacks' porous defense (205th in efficiency) matched their offense (80.3 ppg, 19th in the nation), they’d be a contender for the SEC title. But the two aren’t equal. So they continue to prove that they score (82 points in loss to Syracuse, 81 in a victory over Oklahoma) but they really can’t stop anyone.

10. Vanderbilt: A year after contending for the SEC title with the help of a veteran rotation, Kevin Stallings must rely on a multitude of underclassmen this season. And it shows. The Commodores are near the bottom of every meaningful statistical category in the conference. But last week’s 66-64 win at Xavier might mean that the young squad is growing up fast.

11. South Carolina: Frank Martin’s team is 6-3. And with matchups against Appalachian State, Manhattan, Presbyterian and South Carolina State preceding its SEC opener Jan. 9 at Mississippi State, it will probably be 10-3 soon. But the Gamecocks (228th SOS according to ESPN.com’s BPI) could come down to earth once league play begins, especially if they continue to average 19 turnovers per game.

12. Auburn: So, the Tigers have lost five of their past seven games. Not all bad losses. A double-overtime loss against 2-7 Rhode Island and a 49-point effort in a loss to Boston College, however, were. It might be a really tough year for Frankie Sullivan (18.5 ppg) & Co.

13. Mississippi State: Rick Ray is essentially relying on six guys with Jalen Steele sidelined by a wrist injury. So the Bulldogs’ struggles have continued. This is how most rebuilding jobs start. It’s probably going to be a rough season. But Ray has been a successful coach at other stops. He can certainly pull the Bulldogs out of this basement in the coming seasons. The program’s supporters need foresight so that he’s given the proper time and resources to do it.

14. Georgia: When I talked to Mark Fox at the Final Four, he was excited about this team. But it’s hard to have an optimistic outlook on the Bulldogs’ 2012-13 campaign based on how they’ve started. They’ve lost six of their past seven (a streak that includes defeats to Youngstown State, South Florida and Southern Miss) and their only two victories have come against East Tennessee State and Jacksonville.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

November, 30, 2012
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By now, many assumed that Kentucky would own the No. 1 post in the SEC. As I compile the first edition of ESPN.com’s power rankings for the conference, however, I’m not even sure they’re No. 2. The Wildcats have faced some tough teams but they’ve been inconsistent. It’s early, so these rankings will change. But the Gators are on top. It might be tough for the rest of the league to knock them off their perch, too.

1. Florida. The Gators destroyed Wisconsin and crushed Marquette in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Kenny Boynton is one of four players averaging double figures for the 6-0 squad. Plus, Florida has been one of the nation’s most efficient offensive and defensive units in November.

2. Missouri. Michael Dixon Jr. leaving the program is certainly a blow for the Tigers, but they’re still one of the league’s best teams. Phil Pressey (15.0 points, 6.2 assists per game) and Laurence Bowers (14.2 ppg, 6.3 rebounds per game) have led Frank Haith’s squad to victories over Stanford and Virginia Commonwealth in recent weeks.

3. Kentucky. John Calipari’s young squad has been battered by some of the nation’s top teams, suffering losses to Duke and Notre Dame (on the road). The 14-point loss against the Fighting Irish on Thursday was a blow to its ego but the Wildcats could shake it off Saturday if they get a win over Baylor.

4. Alabama. I’m not sure whether I believe Alabama’s 6-0 start but I believe in Trevor Releford (18.6 ppg) and the leadership he’s provided for Anthony Grant’s squad. The Crimson Tide have been tough on defense. And they can prove that this start hasn’t been a fluke when they visit No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday in the SEC/Big East Challenge.

5. Tennessee. The Vols were overmatched against Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico but they bounced back with a victory over UMass and then crushed Oakland, a Summit League contender, by 27 points. A win at No. 20 Georgetown on Friday would certainly elevate Tennessee nationally.

6. Ole Miss. The Rebels haven’t played a high-major opponent this season, but they’ve crushed the non-BCS opponents on their schedule by an average of 29.2 ppg. Andy Kennedy’s 5-0 squad has looked good thus far, but this start won’t mean much until it starts SEC play in January.

7. Arkansas. The Razorbacks lost to Wisconsin and Arizona State during the Las Vegas Invitational. But I still think this Arkansas team, led by BJ Young (20.5 ppg) and Marshawn Powell (12.2 ppg), is better than most of the teams in the SEC. Friday’s home matchup against No. 6 Syracuse will be an opportunity to show it.

8. Texas A&M. Elston Turner (15.7 ppg) is one of three players averaging double figures, and freshman J'Mychal Reese (7.3 ppg) has been a young standout for a 5-1 Aggies squad that’s beaten teams it’s supposed to defeat. The Aggies did give up 70 points (and only recorded 49) against a Saint Louis squad that’s rarely recognized for its offense.

9. LSU. Johnny Jones’ tenure has started off with five wins and zero losses, including Thursday’s 72-67 victory over Seton Hall. And with a small sample size, the Tigers are top-100 in defensive efficiency. Could be worse for a program that’s struggled in recent years.

10. Georgia. The Bulldogs need to stop the bleeding after losing four of their past five games, although two of those losses came against Indiana and UCLA. They’ll play at South Florida on Friday in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Few SEC squads need a win as badly as Mark Fox’s.

11. South Carolina. Frank Martin’s team is in a bad spot. The Gamecocks lost to Elon last week and suffered a 24-point defeat to St. John’s on Thursday. Bruce Ellington’s return, until the football team begins prep for its bowl game, is a plus for the squad.

12. Auburn. The Tigers have lost close games to Boston College (50-49) and Rhode Island (double overtime). Frankie Sullivan (18.3 ppg) shoulders the bulk of the offensive burden and that’s one of the 2-4 team’s problems: It lacks balance.

13. Vanderbilt. The Commodores, who lost every significant player from last season's rotation, get a pass for losses at Oregon and to Davidson (at a neutral site). Scoring 33 points against Marist? Ugh.

14. Mississippi State. Rick Ray walked into a messy situation when he accepted the head-coaching job last spring. These Bulldogs have struggled on both ends of the floor. It’s worth noting, however, that Marquette, Texas and North Carolina were responsible for three of their four losses.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas 73, Saint Louis 59

November, 20, 2012
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A quick look at Kansas' 73-59 victory over Saint Louis in the championship game of the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.

Overview: Five games into the season, it's still tough to get a read on the Kansas basketball team. It's certainly not the Jayhawks' fault. They played admirably in a 67-64 loss to Michigan State, but other than that, Bill Self's squad hasn't exactly faced top-notch competition.

That was certainly the case Tuesday at the Sprint Center. One night after beating Pac-12 bottom-feeder Washington State by 37 points, 12th-ranked Kansas cruised to an easy victory against an overmatched Saint Louis squad that's trying to adapt to life without its coach (Rick Majerus) and top player (injured guard Kwamain Mitchell).

Turning point: Kansas used a 21-6 scoring run early in the first half to blow the game open. Travis Releford scored 17 points during the march, which gave the Jayhawks a 28-10 lead and momentum they would never relinquish.

Key player: Releford earned tournament MVP honors. The Kansas City native finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Twenty-one of Releford's points came in the decisive first half. Releford also performed well against Washington State on Monday, when he led KU with 17 points.

Key stat: Kansas center Jeff Withey is picking up where he left off last season in terms of blocked shots. Withey is averaging 6.0 blocks in his past three games. He swatted seven shots Tuesday. Withey likely would've been named tournament MVP if the ballots weren't picked up with 10 minutes remaining, as Withey closed the game in dominating fashion.

Miscellaneous: Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson continues to struggle. Johnson had only eight points against Washington State and finished with just five on Tuesday. There is obviously a tremendous amount of pressure on Johnson, who moved from shooting guard to point guard to replace graduated senior Tyshawn Taylor. … Cody Ellis had 19 points for Saint Louis but missed 14 of his 20 field-goal attempts. … Along with Most Outstanding Performer Releford, these players were named to the CBE Classic all-tournament team: Withey, KU's Ben McLemore, Saint Louis' Dwayne Evans and Texas A&M's Elston Turner, who hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds remaining to give the Aggies a 55-54 victory over Washington State in the third-place game.

Up next: Saint Louis hosts Southern Illinois on Saturday. Kansas hosts San Jose State on Monday.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 20, 2012
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Saturday’s game between Kansas and Missouri will go a long way toward deciding this year's Big 12 regular-season champion. Both teams have identical 12-2 conference records, but Missouri gets the nod in this week’s Conference Power Rankings because of its victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 4 in Columbia.

1. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad eked out another hard-fought road victory Saturday when it defeated Texas A&M 71-62 in College Station. The win was the seventh straight for the Tigers, who will try to avenge a Jan. 7 loss to Kansas State on Tuesday.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks had an easy time with last-place Texas Tech in Saturday’s 33-point win. Forward Thomas Robinson continues to make a case for national player of the year honors. The junior is averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.

3. Kansas State: Angel Rodriguez scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats to their best win of the season against Baylor on Saturday. The 57-56 victory upped Kansas State’s Big 12 record to 7-7 and will greatly enhance its resume on Selection Sunday. Two more tough tests await this week. The Wildcats visit Missouri on Tuesday and host Iowa State on Sunday.

4. Baylor: The Bears are in a downward spiral with losses in three of their past four games. Scott Drew’s team failed to score in the final two minutes of Saturday’s home defeat against Kansas State and looked completely disorganized and lost on its final two possessions. Getting healthy at Texas on Monday won’t be easy.

5. Iowa State: Scott Christopherson scored 25 points and Chris Allen added 16 in Saturday’s 80-69 victory over Oklahoma. At 9-5, the Cyclones are now tied with Baylor for third place in the Big 12 standings. Standout Royce White has had three single-digit scoring outputs in his past five games.

6. Texas: Saturday’s 90-78 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater snapped the Longhorns’ four-game winning streak. Texas was outscored from the free throw line 43-14. At 7-7 in league play, Rick Barnes’ team desperately needs a home win against Baylor on Monday to enhance its NCAA tournament hopes. Texas lost to the Bears 76-71 on Jan. 28 in Waco.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are the Big 12’s most improved team; especially when they play at home. Oklahoma State has now defeated Missouri, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in Stillwater. They still have home games remaining against Texas A&M and Kansas. Keiton Page had 40 points in Saturday’s win over Texas, when he was 20-for-20 from the foul stripe.

8. Texas A&M: The Aggies have lost five of their past six games, and with Kansas coming to town Wednesday, things may get worse before they get better. Point guard Dash Harris hasn’t played since Jan. 23 because of a foot injury. Elston Turner averages a team-high 14 points.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders didn’t do much to capitalize on their Feb. 11 victory over Oklahoma. They turned in a dismal offensive performance in a 47-38 setback against Texas A&M on Tuesday before getting stomped by 33 points at Kansas on Saturday.

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners have lost six games in a row and eight of past last nine. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State looks like a possible victory, as the Cowboys have been terrible on the road. Still, it’s been quite a collapse for a team that opened the season with wins in nine of its first 10 games.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It’s been a frustrating season for the Texas A&M basketball squad.

First-year coach Billy Kennedy was away from the team for nearly a month during the fall after being diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The situation certainly didn’t help things on the court, where the Aggies are off to a 1-4 start in a Big 12 conference they were picked to win.

“None of us have ever faced this kind of adversity,” guard Elston Turner said. “Around here, we’re used to winning.”

A Washington transfer, Turner has been one of the few bright spots for Texas A&M. He’s averaging a team-high 13.2 points in his first season with the Aggies and is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range.

Turner -- whose father (Elston Sr.) is an assistant with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns -- answered some questions about the Aggies’ past few months before Thursday’s practice at Reed Arena.

[+] EnlargeElston Turner
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireWashington transfer Elston Turner leads the Aggies in points and minutes played this season.
How would you describe the last few months?

Elston Turner: This 1-4 start ... it’s been tough. Especially because all of us are used to winning. Maybe it can be a blessing in disguise. I think that’s the way that everyone is looking at it. We’re taking small steps. Once we break through we’ll be glad we went through some of the things we did. It’s a learning process. For the most part, we’re starting to get back to how we were playing before conference started.

How did you fight through it?

ET: We’ve had numerous meetings, just with the team, without the coaches. We’re telling each other that we have to pick it up, that we have to play better, that the little mistakes are what causes things to happen, especially when you’re playing a top-five team on the road. You can’t make mistakes and you have to expect to win the game.

How did you find out that your coach, Billy Kennedy, had Parkinson’s?

ET: We really had no idea what was going on. He was gone for a couple of days without us knowing why. They didn’t tell us what was wrong with him. They just said he’d seen some doctors and that he had to be away for a while. Once they told us what was really happening, we came together as a team. He’s a great coach. We care about him. At the end of the day, his health is what matters most.

What do you like the most about Coach Kennedy?

ET: He’s a very spiritual person. He’s very Christian. He’ not going to cuss us out. He’s laid back, but he demands respect, he demands perfection. That’s what we all like about him.

Switching gears a bit, when you look back at your career thus far, who are the toughest players you’ve ever had to guard.

ET: James Harden from Arizona State, Chase Budinger from Arizona and Landry Fields from Stanford are probably the toughest guys. Them and Jrue Holiday from UCLA.

How does the Pac-12 compare to the Big 12?

ET: The Pac-12 was a lot stronger a few years ago than it is now. So it’s hard to compare. But as far as style, the Big 12 has a better basketball environment. The Pac-12 has a lot of small gyms. They’re loud, but they seem smaller. The Big 12 is crazy. Every gym is huge. It’s always going to be sold out. On the road, you can’t hear anything.

Why did you decide to leave Washington and transfer to Texas A&M?

ET: My family being down here (in Texas) was a plus, but it wasn’t the sole reason I wanted to come to Texas A&M. I just thought I’d be a good fit here. It was a chance to showcase everything I can do besides just shooting the ball.

I hear you’re a black belt in karate.

ET: Taekwando. My parents made me do it when I was in the sixth grade. I lived in Sacramento when my dad was coaching the Kings. For some reason, me and my sister ... they made us do taekwando from my sixth grade year until my sophomore year of high school.

What was it like having a dad who was an NBA head coach? Did you get close with some of his players?

ET: When I lived in Sacramento, I was pretty good friends with Bobby Jackson and Chris Webber. I still keep in touch with those guys with texts and stuff. A lot of times I’d shoot with them and work out with them. This was when I was in middle school and early high school.

You’d actually play in pick-up games with some of those guys?

ET: Yeah, and I held my own. In high school I played in Pro-Ams. I was the starting point guard on a team with Ron Artest and Kevin Martin. It was a great experience. I had a few 20-point games and actually ended up making the Pro-Am All-Star team. I definitely got a lot better playing with those guys.

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