The top-two teams in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) face ranked opponents today in matchups that put at stake the top spot in the conference, momentum leading up to the conference season (which begins Jan. 3) and, most importantly, AP rankings, which matter more and more with each passing day that edges towards spring.
No. 4 Mississippi State has been on a tear all season, obliterating opponents to land atop the SEC with a 10-0 record. But there’s more to Mississippi State’s dominance in the conference than a perfect record; the Bulldogs also lead the conference in five key box score metrics:
- points per game — 93
- field goal percentage — 51.9%
- rebounds per game — 43
- assists per game — 20
- blocks per game — 8
The only other team to lead in box score metrics within the conference is No. 18 Kentucky (third in the SEC), with the Wildcats leading in three-point field goal percentage (40%) and steals per game (13). (Interestingly, No. 9 Tennessee — second in the SEC — does not lead in any performance metric in the conference.)
But the Bulldogs have not exactly been challenged much this season. Their only non-blowout victory came against then-No.18 Marquette on Dec. 6. The Golden Eagles kept it close all game, but the Bulldogs managed to eke out the five-point win despite experiencing some miscues. If the Bulldogs haven’t been challenged much so far, though, they will be put to the test tonight when Mississippi State takes on the No. 7 Oregon Ducks on the road. (See “SEC games of the week” below.)
No. 9 Tennessee also has a monster matchup tonight against a top-10 team. The Lady Volunteers, who do not lead in performance metrics in the SEC despite being second in the conference, will have their hands full against the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal. Tennessee is 8-0 on the season but, unlike their undefeated conference rival Bulldogs, Tennessee’s wins didn’t come so easily. The Lady Vols only beat three teams by 15 points or more this season, with some of their other wins coming down to the wire, including:
- 4-point win over UAB at the Junkanoo Jam on Nov. 24
- 13-point win over Clemson in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Dec. 2
- 6-point win over then-No. 12 Texas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Dec. 9
So, the Lady Vols have been tested much of the season and, therefore, have learned how to fight and win under a variety of conditions. Tonight’s contest against Stanford at home gives them another test they’ll try to pass in an effort to put the basketball world on notice. (See “SEC games of the week” below.)
SEC games of the week
Here’s the game information for tonight’s big matchups between the top teams in the SEC and highly-ranked contenders:
No. 4 Mississippi Bulldogs at No. 7 Oregon Ducks
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 10:00 p.m. ET
Where: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.
How to watch: ESPN2
Notes: Ranked sixth in the Pac-12 with an 8-1 record, the Ducks should not be overlooked. Oregon has blistered its opponents, too (except in its six-point loss to Michigan State on Dec. 9). Additionally, the Ducks have a dangerous weapon in junior guard Sabrina Ionescu, who was named ESPNW’s Preseason Player of the Year and added to every watch list known to humankind. She is averaging 20 points and 8 rebounds per game.
No. 9 Tennessee vs. No. 8 Stanford Cardinal
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 6:00 p.m. ET
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
How to watch: SEC Network
Notes: Stanford’s only loss of the season was a four-point defeat handed down by Gonzaga on Dec. 2.
Elsewhere in the SEC
- The Week 6 Player of the Week is Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, who “earned Maui Jim Maui Classic Tournament MVP honors, averaging 26.5 points and leading the Aggies to two wins, over UC Riverside and No. 8 Oregon State.” (In Week 5, that accolade went to Tennessee’s Evina Westbrook, who averaged 21.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists for that week.)
- One of the Week 6 Co-Freshman of the Week is Alabama’s De’Sha Benjamin, who “impressed in the Crimson Tide’s win over Northwestern State after she totaled a career-high 16 points to go along with six rebounds in just 18 minutes off the bench,” and she also banked three three-pointers for a career-best in shots from beyond the arc.
- The second Week 6 Co-Freshman of the Week is Mimi Reid of Ole Miss, whose 14 points and 11 assists against Louisiana-Lafayette gave Reid her first-career double-double. She is also “the only player in the SEC this season with separate games of 11 rebounds (vs. Western Michigan) and 11 assists (vs. UL-Lafayette).” (In Week 5, Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard won the award thanks to scoring a team-high 25 points in the Wildcats’ narrow loss to Louisville).
- Texas A&M’s 76-70 victory over then-No. 8 Oregon State at the Maui Jim Maui Classic was enough to pull the Aggies into the AP top 25 and land them at No. 23 to start the week. The Aggies host USC tomorrow (SEC Network Plus).
- On Sunday, the No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks were able to hold their spot in the AP thanks to an 82-73 double-overtime win against Purdue, on the road. (Next up, the Gamecocks play Temple on Friday, Dec. 21 (SEC Network).
Click here for more on SEC women’s basketball.