Tennessee, LSU vying for SEC’s regular-season title
Here are a few things to watch in Southeastern Conference basketball this week:
Game of the weekend
No. 5 Tennessee at Auburn: The two teams that shared the SEC regular-season title last year face off Saturday with conference championship implications on the line again. Tennessee (27-3, 15-2) is tied for first place with No. 10 LSU (25-5, 15-2). LSU will earn the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament next week as long as it beats lowly Vanderbilt (9-21, 0-17) on Saturday by virtue of its head-to-head victory over Tennessee, but the Volunteers can still earn a share of the regular-season championship by beating Auburn. Auburn (21-9, 10-7) is tied for fourth with South Carolina (15-15, 10-7) and can earn a bye into the SEC quarterfinals if it beats Tennessee and South Carolina loses to Georgia (11-19, 2-15).
Bubble trouble for Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss?: All three of these teams are sliding. Florida (17-13, 9-8) and Alabama (17-13, 8-9) have lost two consecutive games and Ole Miss (19-11, 9-8) has dropped three straight. All three lost close games at home this week that could have improved their positioning. Alabama blew a 13-point, second-half lead and lost to Auburn, Florida fell 79-78 in overtime to LSU and Ole Miss lost 80-76 to No. 6 Kentucky . That leaves all three teams with reason to feel nervous about their NCAA Tournament hopes. Florida visits Kentucky, Ole Miss plays at Missouri and Alabama visits Arkansas on Saturday.
LSU won all its SEC road games this year, becoming just the third team to accomplish that feat since the league went to an 18-game schedule in 2013. The others were Florida in 2014 and Kentucky in 2015. Both teams reached the Final Four. … Vanderbilt ended up with an 8-10 home record, the first time it’s finished below .500 at home in the 67-season history of Memorial Gymnasium. A loss at LSU on Saturday would make Vanderbilt the first team to go winless in SEC competition since Georgia Tech went 0-14 in 1953-54. … Georgia’s 64-39 loss to Missouri on Wednesday marked the Bulldogs’ lowest point total in a home game since scoring 36 in a 36-30 victory over Georgia Tech during the 1945-46 season.
Although his team is in the bottom half of the SEC standings, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford has delivered one of the most productive seasons of any player in the conference. The 6-foot-11 sophomore leads the SEC in field-goal percentage (.661), ranks fourth in scoring (16.6) and third in rebounds (8.5) and blocks (2.1). He’s averaged 18.5 points and three blocks and has shot 75 percent during Arkansas’ two-game winning streak.
On the women’s side
Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan was named the SEC player of the year by the league’s coaches and media after leading the Bulldogs to a league title. Mississippi State’s Vic Schaefer is the AP SEC coach of the year, while the SEC coaches named Schaefer and Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell as co-coaches of the year. AP all-SEC first-team members included McCowan, Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham, Mississippi State’s Anriel Howard and Georgia’s Caliya Robinson. The second team included Tennessee’s Rennia Davis, Arkansas’ Chelsea Dungee, South Carolina’s Tyasha Harris and Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard and Macie Morris. The coaches’ all-SEC first-team selections were McCowan, Carter, Cunningham, Anriel Howard, Robinson, Rhyne Howard, Morris and LSU’s Anaya Mitchell.