This game is huge for both teams obviously, but it’s probably a little more important for Kentucky. Coming off a two game losing streak, the Wildcats are in desperate need of fixing their foul troubles. The Gators have won 5 of 6 and are looking to jump ahead of Kentucky in the conference standings.
Key Players for this match up:
Florida Gators – Dorian Finney-Smith, KeVaughn Allen
Kentucky Wildcats – Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray
South Carolina Gamecocks (19-3, 6-3) @ Texas A&M Aggies (18-4, 7-2) – 4:00pm ET
I bet you are lying if you said you said by the first week in February the Gamecocks and the Aggies would be battling for first place in the SEC. Well this is the reality we live in. Of course both squads are coming off double digit road losses earlier in the week. South Carolina vs Georiga and A&M vs. Vandy. The Aggies are unbeaten at home this year and made me look terrible after I anointed them as the class of the SEC on the most recent SmackCast.
Key Players for this match up:
South Carolina – Michael Carrera, Sindarius Thornwell
On the latest edition of the Hoops Smackcast, and in addition to being joined by new site contributor Ari Russell, we also get the pleasure of hearing from National Hoops play by play man and resident SEC expert, Tim Brando of Fox Sports.
Even though “Timmy B” is working primarily Big East and Pac12 for Fox and FS1 Cable, he weighs in on lots SEC subjects last weekend’s BigXII vs SEC challenge, Kentucky’s “hangover” loss to the Vols on Tuesday night in Knoxville, how many league teams will make he Big Dance and why Tim & I can’t stand the “Green Room Guys” stuff ESPN is doing to hype young players during the season for the NBA Draft.
The Tennessee Volunteer Men’s hoops program a little over a year ago was in major disarray after the firing of head coach Donnie Tyndall for his transgressions at his previous destination of Southern Miss. In comes former Texas coach Rick Barnes to clean up the mess in Knoxville. The hire was somewhat of a gamble as Barnes had seen the Longhorn hoops program flat line after several years of success.
Now Tennessee isn’t lighting the world on fire and won’t make the big dance, unless they win the SEC Tournament, but there finally may be hope in Knoxville after all. Barnes over the last several weeks has beaten, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky. The Wednesday night victory over the Wildcats, was an impressive win. The Vols were at one point down by 21, but stormed back to win 84-77. These are the types of wins that help turn a struggling program around.
To put this into perspective, it took Tyndall’s predecessor, Cuonzo Martin, five tries to finally knock off Kentucky. Rick Barnes beat them on his first try. Sure the Vols are 11-11 overall and 4-5 in the conference. But three of those conference wins are against the top teams in the league. It’s time for Tennessee fans to finally be hopeful. It looks like Rick Barnes could get the squad back on the right track.
We know the conversation regarding SEC hoops coming into the season was about true freshmen sensation Ben Simmons choosing to play hoops for LSU. Oh yeah and also Kentucky, because they once again had the annual Coach Cal recruiting class shuffling in. There was little mention on the impact Texas A&M was going to make on the conference. Anyone who claims to have called this, would be residing in revisionist history.
With it being the first week in February and a time where most Texas A&M fans are probably more focused on what will go down Wednesday, when the football recruits put their ink to paper officially, maybe we ought to start talking about Aggie hoops.
Last week, A&M lost their first league game to Arkansas on the road. A loss where many average teams would allow to fester. The Aggies did nothing of the sort, coming back on Saturday beating a very good Iowa State team in a tough battle. Sure the loss to Arkansas earlier in the week dropped them from 5th to 8th in national polls, but they are a squad we ought to start paying more attention to come March.
If you aren’t familiar with Jalen Jones yet, you should be. Probably the most underrated player in the country, on the most underrated team. But A&M isn’t only about Jones. Danuel House and Tyler Davis are formidable front court players and Alex Caruso has a deceptive first step that opens up a lot of the Aggies when he penetrates the lane.
Texas A&M is one of those teams that plays very physical on both ends of the court. They make for a tough match up for any team, because they aren’t afraid of contact. For the next six weeks, if you take any advice, pay attention to A&M. Not only are they the best team in the SEC this season, they have the make up to go deep into the NCAA Tournament. And they do it with grit, which if you are a fan of college hoops like I am, makes them easy to root for.
The college hoops slate on Saturday is stacked with tremendous showdowns. The one match up NBA scouts are going to be focusing the most attention to will be at 5:30pm ET, when the #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers. The Tigers sport a modest 13-7 record, however it’s true freshman sensation and likely #1 overall pick Ben Simmons that makes LSU a major factor on the national stage. The 6’10 versatile forward is averaging 19.8 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game. We know he’s a stud, and pretty much impossible to guard. However on the other side of the court on Saturday will be another player who’s making quite a name for himself, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. The 6’4 senior guard maybe longer in the tooth than Simmons, but he’s lighting it up on the court averaging 25.9 points per game, shooting a ridiculous 52.3% from beyond the arc.
If you have ever watched Ben Simmons play, you can see right away why he’s the prospect he is. He’s a 6’10, he can handle, has range, vision, plays physical on both ends and is unselfish. He also has a great attitude. With all that said, the most unstoppable force on the court Saturday evening may indeed be Hield. A lot of folks are comparing him to Steph Curry. Obviously that’s a heck of a comparison. But it isn’t too far off. If you have ever watched Hield play he’s impossible to guard. He’s quick off the dribble, is able to create his own shot with or without his feet set and he’s able to blow past defenders and drive. Think about the work this young man put in during the off season. He’s averaging over 8.5 points more per game this year and shooting 18% better from beyond the arc. That’s a staggering improvement. And oh by the way, the Sooners are #1 for the second week in a row. It’s like the Wayman Tisdale (RIP) era reborn!
We expect Ben Simmons to be a stud in the next level. As for Hield, there are always questions with guards. Saturday’s showdown will be fun to watch. Even if we can’t see into the future with regards to NBA success. At least we know we have two special college players facing off this weekend. And it’s going to be a heck of a game to watch.
A HUGE weekend for the SEC in hoops and our first Baskeball SmackCast is up! Join Mark Wise of ESPN and the Gators Radio Network with me as we look back at the league’s mid week action and look ahead to the SEC/BIGXII challenge. How will Florida, Texas A & M, LSU and Kentucky fare against the best the other conference has to offer? Find out by clicking this link below!
What did we learn from Wednesday’s SEC hoops action?
Texas A&M has come back to earth: The Aggies came into the match up vs. Arkansas 7-0 in SEC play and ranked #5 in the country. Certainly the biggest surprise in the SEC, but also perhaps in the country. A&M walked into Fayette-Nam with a ten game win streak, last losing on Dec 5, 2015 to Arizona State. This was one of those trap games, playing a Razaorback squad who has lost three straight by a combined nine points. Arkansas came out on the right side this time around with the 74-71 win. The Aggies have a showdown against 14th ranked Iowa State on Saturday. If A&M could pull that win off, we know this team could be putting together something special.
Kentucky pounds Missouri: Did Missouri even get off the bus? This game isn’t worth an entire paragraph. Kentucky just rolled over Mizzou 88-54. Now they got that one out of the way, next up is a trip to Phog Allen to take on 4th ranked Kansas. Something tells me that this contest is going to be a little more competitive , than the one on Wednesday night…just a little
Auburn is struggling: The Tigers came into Oxford on Wednesday looking to take down an Ole Miss team, that had lost four straight. The Rebels were ripe for the picking right? Wrong! Not this time. Ole Miss snapped their losing streak and handed Auburn their 5th loss in conference play. But it isn’t the five losses that’s bad, it’s the fact that all five losses have been by double digits. If Auburn doesn’t right the ship, this is going to be a long year for Bruce Pearl in his second season.
No games are scheduled for Thursday. Saturday’s slate however is gigantic.