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January 19, 2007

SEC Breakdown: Vols try to stop the bleeding

Weekly SEC Update
Eastern Division Conf. Overall
Kentucky 4-0 15-3
Florida 3-0 16-3
Georgia 3-1 11-5
Vanderbilt 2-2 12-6
Tennessee 1-2 13-5
South Carolina 0-3 10-6
Western Division Conf. Overall
LSU 2-1 13-4
Auburn 2-2 12-7
Alabama 1-2 14-3
Mississippi State 1-2 10-6
Ole Miss 1-3 12-6
Arkansas 1-3 12-6
Standings as of 1/18

Best matchup: LSU forward/center Glen "Big Baby" Davis vs. Arkansas center Steven Hill, forward Charles Thomas and forward Darian Townes. Davis may be the most dominant player in the SEC, but he shot just 5-for-19 in a 63-58 win at Arkansas last season. Davis redeemed himself at LSU by collecting 19 points and 16 rebounds in a 78-77 victory over the Razorbacks. Arkansas' size and shot-blocking ability can give any opposing player headaches. Nobody expects the defensive-minded Arkansas post players to outscore Davis, but the Razorbacks have a shot at winning the game if they can hold Davis below his averages.

Worst matchup: Tennessee guard Chris Lofton vs. South Carolina perimeter defense. Tennessee is desperate for a win after losing consecutive games to Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Auburn. Now this angry team unleashes one of the nation's most dangerous outside shooters against a South Carolina team that has allowed its last two opponents to shoot 19-of-34 from 3-point range. Look for Lofton to extend his SEC scoring lead while helping end the Volunteers' skid.

The pressure is on: Tennessee and South Carolina. Is it possible to have a must-win game this early in the SEC season? This is about as close as you can get to a must-win situation for both teams. Tennessee is ranked 22nd in the nation, but the Vols have lost three in a row by a combined total of six points and will find themselves on the bubble if they don't end their skid. South Carolina needs a win even worse after dropping its first three conference games by an average margin of 32 points. If the Gamecocks keep up that pace, they may start wondering why they handed coach Dave Odom a two-year extension last week.

Upset alert: Georgia at Alabama. Georgia is facing a desperate team on the road, which doesn't seem to bode well for its chances of pulling the upset. But there's no question that Georgia is playing better than Alabama right now. Georgia has won three consecutive games, including Wednesday at Arkansas. Alabama has lost two of its last three and is coming off a 21-point setback at Vanderbilt. Georgia is known for its guard play, but the Bulldogs also entered the week leading the league in offensive rebounds. If Georgia's surprising post players can hold their own against Alabama's Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix, the Bulldogs have a shot at earning their second consecutive road win.

Who's hot: Arkansas center Steven Hill – a defensive specialist who collected almost as many blocks (91) as points (97) last year – has shot 12-of-12 in his last three games. He scored a career-high 15 points Wednesday against Georgia. … Vanderbilt guard Derrick Byars has averaged 21 points per game while shooting 24-of-43 overall and 10-of-17 from 3-point range in his last three outings. … LSU guard Terry Martin has averaged 19 points per game while shooting 9-of-16 from 3-point range in his last two contests. … Kentucky guard Joe Crawford has averaged 20.3 points per game in his last four outings. … Florida guard Lee Humphrey has shot 20-of-29 overall and 14-of-20 from 3-point range in the Gators' three SEC games. He was 7-of-8 from beyond the arc Saturday in an 84-50 victory over South Carolina.

Who's not: Alabama guard Ronald Steele has scored in double figures just once in his last six games. He shot 1-of-11 Wednesday in a 94-73 loss to Vanderbilt. Steele has been struggling because of a high left ankle sprain and tendinitis in his right knee. … South Carolina guard Brandis Raley-Ross has shot 1-of-9 in two games since moving into the starting lineup. …Tennessee forward Duke Crews has scored a total of seven points in his last two games. … Ole Miss guard Bam Doyne has shot 12-of-47 in four SEC games. … Arkansas guard Gary Ervin has 12 turnovers and nine assists in his last two games.

Must-see TV: LSU at Arkansas (CBS, Saturday, 4 p.m.): We mentioned earlier that the pressure is on Tennessee and South Carolina, but Arkansas also needs a win badly after losing three consecutive conference games by a combined total of 12 points. A loss Saturday could cause serious damage to the Razorbacks' NCAA hopes, but a win over the only Western Division team with a winning conference record could put the Hogs right back in the mix. Having a desperate team playing at home against a ranked opponent should produce plenty of intrigue.

Freshman to watch: Kentucky guard Derrick Jasper. Kentucky has won 11 consecutive games since Jasper moved into the starting lineup. The true freshman averages only 5.3 points per game, but he uses his 6-foot-6 frame to contribute in a variety of other ways. Jasper has a team-high 58 assists, shares the team lead with 26 steals and also averages 3.9 rebounds per game.

Key stat: Auburn had lost 15 consecutive games against ranked foes before knocking off No. 22 Tennessee 83-80 on Wednesday.

Bench bonus: Georgia forward Steve Newman came off the bench and made a tiebreaking 30-footer at the buzzer Wednesday to give the Bulldogs a 67-64 victory at Arkansas. Newman made a trio of 3-pointers in the last 2½ minutes. … Ole Miss forward Kenny Williams has come off the bench to average 10 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Rebels' last two games.

They said it: "This season is not getting away from us. A loss like this could happen to any team." - Tennessee forward Wayne Chism after the Vols blew a 14-point lead in an 83-80 loss at Auburn

Injury update: Alabama guard Ronald Steele continues to play despite having a sprained left ankle and tendinitis in his right knee. … South Carolina guard Tre Kelley left Tuesday's game with Kentucky midway through the second half after aggravating his sprained left knee. … Tennessee guard Jordan Howell is expected to return soon from the broken right hand that has kept him out of action for a month.

Worth noting: Florida has been ranked first in the nation at some point in four of the last five seasons. … Alabama has lost nine consecutive games at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium. Alabama last won at Vanderbilt in 1990. … Arkansas now has lost two consecutive games in which it has shot 50 percent from the field. Before last weekend, the Razorbacks were 27-1 during the Stan Heath era when they made at least half of their shots. … Kentucky's 87-49 victory over South Carolina on Tuesday represented the Gamecocks' worst home loss since a 64-11 shellacking against Wake Forest in 1915. … Florida guard Lee Humphrey was the most recent SEC player of the week, while Mississippi State guard Barry Stewart was named the conference's freshman of the week. Humphrey averaged 19 points per game and shot 71.4 percent last week. Stewart averaged 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. … Georgia is ranked fourth in the league in rebounding margin after finishing last in that category a year ago.

What you may have missed: Kentucky's 11-game winning streak hasn't earned much national publicity, but the Wildcats' hot start in conference play should have caught the attention of rival coaches. This marks the fourth time in 10 years that Kentucky has won its first four conference games. The Wildcats won the SEC regular-season title the other three times.

RPI watch: Kentucky leads all SEC teams and is ranked fourth overall in the RPI index. All three of the Wildcats' losses have come to teams with RPI ratings in the top 10: No. 1 UCLA, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 9 Memphis. … Florida is ranked first in both major polls, but the Gators still are just 32nd in the RPI. The Gators are hurt by a schedule that included only one non-conference victory over a team rated in the top 59 (an 86-60 home win over No. 13 Ohio State). … Kentucky, No. 19 Alabama and No. 24 Tennessee are the only SEC teams with RPI ratings in the top 25.

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Big East | Pac 10



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