The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is on fire. Teams at the top continue to prove their worth, with the number of undefeated teams dwindling to two schools. Another contender picked up its first loss of the season, while a struggling team got a lucky break.
A tale of two undefeated teams
The Mississippi State Bulldogs ascended to No. 1 in the SEC — and up a spot to No. 5 in the AP rankings — thanks to a narrow escape against AP No. 18 Marquette on Thursday. Anriel Howard came up big in this one, notching a 29-point, 12-rebound double-double. If that wasn’t good enough, Howard also had three steals, one block and zero turnovers. But the Bulldogs didn’t roll over the Golden Eagles as they’d done against lesser teams all season. At one point in the second quarter, Marquette held an eight-point lead, and then kept it close in the second half. The five-point Mississippi State win came down to assists by by Jazzmun Holmes, who had 13 for the game. In the fourth quarter, it was assists to Teaira McCowan (who had a double-double of her own, with 24 points and 18 rebounds) and Chloe Bibby — plus a few free throws Holmes made herself — that allowed them to pull away for the win. The Bulldogs have what it takes to win the conference and go deep into the NCAA Tournament, if they they play a full 40 minutes per games, especially against ranked teams.
In their resurgent year, the SEC No. 2 Tennessee Lady Volunteers — who are still stuck at No. 9 in the AP rankings — put on a show in their upset thriller over then-AP No. 12 Texas (a ranking that is likely to fall) on Sunday. The Lady Vols had proclaimed earlier in the season that they were learning how to fight — how to finish games for win. In this 88-82 thriller, they did just that, with senior guard Meme Jackson leading the way with a game-high 33 points. But Jackson also had a little help from her friends: Sophomore Evina Westbrook scored 23 points and Cheridene Green scored 10 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. But Tennessee got the win due to going 10-of-18 from the three-point line (while the Longhorns were limited to 7-of-17). Stuck at No. 9 in the AP standings all season, the Lady Volunteers should see their rankings fortune rise.
Diego saves South Carolina
Although most people consider extreme winter weather to wreak havoc rather than offer relief, for the SEC No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks — now No. 25 in the AP rankings (which is still miraculous considering their 5-4 record and no other team in the top 25 having more than two losses) — it’s a little different. Winter Storm Diego, which blanketed the southeastern United States over the weekend, forced the Gamecocks to cancel their Sunday game against Duke (which will be rescheduled for a future date). The cancellation should come as a relief to South Carolina, offering the team time to rest, regroup and prepare for their next game Sunday, Dec. 16, at Purdue (3 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The winter-weather respite plus news of an insane recruiting class should have South Carolina rested and ready to go against the Boilermakers come Sunday. With No. 3 prospect Aliyah Boston also heading to South Carolina as a part of said insane recruiting class (we hear she was lured with cake), the Gamecocks should be able to find enough energy to power through the rest of their games this year.
Elsewhere in the SEC
- The AP No. 18 Kentucky Wildcats were handed their first loss of the season against the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals. Team-high scorer Rhyne Howard’s 25 points and 10 rebounds (and two other players in double figures) came up just short of Asia Durr’s 32 points, with four other players in double figures, in the 80-75 loss to the Cards.
- AP No. 22 Mizzou picked up a 74-62 win over the Saint Louis Billikens on Sunday. Mizzou out-assisted Saint Louis 20-9 and grabbed five more rebounds than the Billikens in the win.
- The Auburn Tigers, meanwhile (No. 4 in the SEC), have quietly cobbled together a 7-1 record. Recent wins include an SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Oklahoma and a Dec. 6 win over Saint Joseph’s.
- The following teams fell out of the AP top 25: SEC No. 6 Texas A&M (No. 24 in the AP last week) and SEC No. 8 Georgia (No. 11 in the AP last week).
SEC in action this week
Teams of the SEC are not facing ranked teams this week, but please stay tuned because next week, things get real. With one game on ESPN2 (South Carolina at Purdue) and a slew of others on SEC Network Plus, it’d be worth it to check out the schedule.
Click here for more on SEC women’s basketball.
This story was updated to include AP rankings for the week ended Dec. 10.