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This week in the SEC: Mississippi State stays dominant ... but stuck at No. 6

The Bulldogs won their SEC/Big 12 Challenge against then-No. 10 Texas Longhorns in an 18-point blowout. Plus, the two other undefeated teams moving up the rankings, South Carolina’s curious place in the top 25 and the SEC games of the week.

Louisville v Mississippi State
Jazzmun Holmes (10) and Mississippi State have started the 2018-19 season on a tear. Holmes scored a career-best 17 points in the Bulldogs’ win over the Texas Longhorns in the teams’ SEC/Big 12 Challenge meeting.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, the SEC/Big 12 Challenge produced a draw, with Auburn, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and Mississippi State coming out on top in the SEC. But the commanding fashion in which two of these teams won says a lot about where they are in terms of competing for the conference title, but with an eagle eye turned towards March 2019.

The No. 6 Mississippi State Bulldogs toppled then-No.10 Texas by scoring 67 points and limiting the Longhorns to 49. As has been the case all season, the Bulldogs relied on their bench depth and balanced scoring. Jazzmun Holmes scored a game- and career-high 17 points, while Teaira McCowan tallied her sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds, earning her Player of the Week honors for Week 4. Two other players scored in double figures as well: Chloe Bibby (14 points) and Jordan Danberry (12 points).

Mississippi State remains unbeaten with an 8-0 record, yet the Bulldogs remain stuck at No. 6 — where they started the season — most likely because Texas was the first ranked team they’d faced this season. Tonight, however, the Bulldogs get another change to edge out a ranked team (see below), which should give them a boost in the AP rankings.

To show just how fickle the the AP rankings can be, then-No. 11 Tennessee Lady Volunteers beat unranked Oklahoma State, 76-63, and moved up two spots in the standings to No. 9. Three Tennessee players came up big, with solid double-digit scoring, but no one better than sophomore Evina Westbrook, who went for a career-best and shared game-high 29 points (the Cowgirls’ Braxtin Miller also scored 29 points). Rennia Davis and Zaay Green were the other double-figures scorers (15 points apiece), and Green was named Freshman of the Week for Week 4. Meanwhile, Cheridene Green grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. Tennessee has a big game against a ranked team on Sunday (see below).

The No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats remain undefeated in the SEC with an 8-0 record. However, they managed to climb a few spots from No. 25 even though their sole win last week came against unranked Morehead State, which begs an important question about the ranking of another team in the conference.

The No. 22 South Carolina Gamecocks are still in the top 25 — but how? The Gamecocks secured a badly-needed win over Appalachian State last night, and they blew the Mountaineers out of the arena by 30 points. But that win came after the AP rankings were posted for games played through Dec. 3 — a period during which South Carolina lost its SEC/Big 12 Challenge game against No. 4 Baylor by 25 points. According to one author, “No. 22 South Carolina [is] seemingly being kept in the poll by something stronger than prayer.” To disprove this sentiment, the Gamecocks will have to tally wins for the remainder of the year (including against Duke on Sunday) and be ready to face in-conference behemoth Mississippi State in mid-January. With Bianca Cuevas-Moore back in the lineup after missing time with injury and playing well (12 points against Appalachian State), maybe the Gamecocks’ play will continue to improve and eventually catch up with their ranking. Otherwise, more eyes will start to focus on this, as prior to Wednesday’s win, South Carolina was the only .500 team in the top 25, while No. 23 Missouri has a 6-2 record, No. 24 Gonzaga is 8-1 for the season and No. 25 Miami is 7-2.

Biggest games of the week in the SEC

The action starts tonight, Thursday, Dec. 6, with some of the top teams in the conference in action against other ranked teams:

No. 6 Mississippi Bulldogs vs. No. 18 Marquette Golden Eagles

When: Thursday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, MS

How to watch: SEC Network Plus

Notes: Marquette, 6-1 on the season and sitting atop the Big East conference, is currently on a three-game win streak. The Bulldogs are undefeated.

No. 9 Tennessee at No. 12 Texas Longhorns

When: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, TX

How to watch: ESPN2

Notes: When senior guard Lashann Higgs, the top scorer for Texas, was ruled out for the season because of an ACL injury, she left a hole that, so far, her teammates have not been able to fill. A weakened roster for the Longhorns — plus the Lady Volunteers coming into their own as they learn to fight — gives Tennessee the edge in this one.

No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats at No. 5 Louisville Cardinals

When: Sunday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m. ET

Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: The Cardinals are 9-0 on the season, but only one of those wins came against a ranked team (then-No. 19 Arizona State). However, senior guard Asia Durr is averaging 21.4 points per game this season in an apparent quest to become the No. 1 pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft.

Click here for more on SEC women’s basketball.