This year, when it comes to the SEC, it seems like it’s Kentucky … and then everyone else. After a lights-out performance on Saturday night against Auburn, the Wildcats are looking to roll into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Arkansas and Texas A&M, however, are hoping to have something to say about that come conference tournament time in a couple of weeks.
Every year when college basketball season rolls around, Kentucky fans pull out their big blue hoodies that have been collecting dust in the back of some closet throughout the majority of yet another 5-7 football season, and get ready for another record breaking, John Calipari-coached team of five underclassmen that’ll enter the NBA draft at the end of the season, to take the floor. This year is no different. The Wildcats have managed to steamroll to a 27-0 record, and show no signs of slowing down heading into the final games of the regular season.
The only thing different about this year’s Kentucky team is the way they’ve won their games — suffocating defense. Opponents are shooting a mere 37.4 percent inside the arc against Kentucky, a percentage on pace to break Kansas’s record of 38.4 percent in 2006. They are second in the nation in opponent’s PPG at 52.6 and are blocking just under 13 percent of opponent’s shots this season. Defense wins championships is the mentality in Lexington, and unless tragedy strikes, Kentucky will be sitting happy at a No. 1 seed come March.
- Key Wins: Kansas, Texas, Louisville, North Carolina
- Key Losses: None
- Player to Watch: Willie Cauley-Stein, 9.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .605 FG percentage.
- Remaining Schedule: at Mississippi St. (Feb. 25), Arkansas (Feb. 28), at Georgia (Mar. 3), Florida (Mar. 7)
The Razorbacks haven’t made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2008, but if they play their cards right in the upcoming final weeks then that should change. Arkansas’ conference leading, high-powered offense led by sophomore forward Bobby Portis has racked up 80 ppg. They play fast and they score often which has brought them to a 22-5 record at this point in the season. Much like the other five SEC teams sitting behind Kentucky fighting for those one or two tournament bids, Arkansas controls its own destiny. They have several key games remaining that could make or break their season against Texas A&M, Kentucky, and LSU. If they can manage to go 2-1 in these along with taking care of South Carolina, then they’ll be sitting pretty with a 25-6 record heading into tournament time.
- Key Wins: SMU, Georgia, Tennessee
- Key Losses: Iowa State, Clemson (OT), Ole Miss
- Player to Watch: Bobby Portis, 17.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, .559 FG percentage
- Remaining Schedule: Texas A&M (Feb. 24), at Kentucky (Feb. 28), at South Carolina (Mar. 5), LSU (Mar. 7)
Bill Kennedy’s Aggies didn’t enter this season on many experts’ radars, but they’ve worked their way onto a lot of people’s especially since the new year. A&M are 11-4 in their last 15 games with one of those losses coming to #1 Kentucky in double overtime. When you watch the Aggies play, you quickly realize that a lot of their success comes from unselfish play and a dedication to the fundamentals, much like the nearby San Antonio Spurs. That unselfish style is epitomized in junior guard, Alex Caruso who leads the SEC in assists per game at 5.8. The Aggies, sitting at 19-7, control their own destiny and could find their way into the Top 25 by tournament time considering three of their remaining four games are against teams in the bottom half of the SEC and the other one isn’t Kentucky.
- Key Wins: LSU, Tennessee
- Key Losses: #1 Kentucky (2OT), Alabama, Baylor
- Player to Watch: Alex Caruso, 9.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, .475 FG percentage
- Remaining Schedule: at Arkansas (Feb. 24), Auburn (Feb. 28), at Florida (Mar. 3), Alabama (Mar. 7)
Teams on the Bubble:
- Ole Miss (19-8, 10-4 SEC): Key win vs. then-No. 19 Arkansas, lost to No. 1 Kentucky in overtime
- LSU (19-8, 8-6 SEC): Gave No. 1 Kentucky a scare, but lost four of its last eight games