The Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball race this season is going to be a war zone. As of the beginning of December, there are six top 25 ranked programs and that isn’t including an undefeated Arkansas team that has yet to be ranked this season. There will be a top 25 matchup almost every week of the conference season. The addition of Gary Blair’s Texas A&M squad fresh off a 2011 NCAA title has helped make the league even stronger along with the surge of Kentucky that has become a national power in the last five years under the guidance of coach Matthew Mitchell. Tennessee has continued the success that the legendary Pat Summitt started with new coach Holly Warwick. Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt have all had successful womens basketball programs and Dawn Staley has South Carolina playing at a top level. SEC women’s basketball as become the SEC football of their sport as far as having as many highly ranked powers within one sport in a conference.
The only thing really lacking lately is NCAA titles. Tennessee has eight NCAA title, but hasn’t won since 2008. Texas A&M is the most recent school to win an NCAA title doing so in 2011, but was not a SEC member at the time. Kentucky has reached the elite eight the past two seasons and three of the last four seasons, but have yet to advance to the Final Four. Georgia made the elite eight as well last season, but fell to California. The SEC’s problem seems to be that now, with so many highly ranked teams, they beat each other up so much during the season that it affects their tournament seeding. No, SEC school as been a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since Tennessee in 2011. Three SEC schools made the elite eight last year, but all three, (Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia) fell short of the Final Four. In fact, no SEC has made the Final Four since 2008 when LSU and Tennessee both made it and the Lady Vols won the title.
The winner of a league as strong as the SEC this season deserves an number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but will they have the record to earn one after all the tough conference battles during the season and will they be able to make a strong run in the NCAA after the wars of the SEC this season. That will be the question all the teams within the SEC will be trying to answer this season. How to survive the SEC wars with enough left to grind through the NCAA Tournament. One thing that none of them will have to worry about is being tested. The conference will more than put them to the test and many have strong out of conference schedules as well. Kentucky has already beaten 4th ranked Louisville and Tennessee has won at 12th ranked North Carolina. I have a feeling one of these SEC programs is going to make the Final Four and have a shot at the bringing home the SEC’s first NCAA women’s title since 2008. Which school that will be depends on which one can navigate the SEC war zone the best this season.
Who would have ever thought at the beginning of the season that we would be getting ready to watch the Tigers of Auburn and Missouri face off for the SEC title in Atlanta on this weekend? Not me and, more than likely, you probably didn’t have it envisioned either. I’m sure fans of both schools were rooting their teams on and hoping they could get there, but even the deepest of loyal fans probably had a little doubt and who could blame them. Auburn had a new coach and failed to win an SEC game last season with most of the same players. It helped tons that they hired a coach that recruited a lot of the current players and knew the fan base and league. Still, it had to be hard to figure they would be able to improve that much especially after an early season slip up against LSU. Gus Malzahn’s team had two weeks after the loss to prepare for 24th ranked Ole Miss and that is when this team seemed to take off. That LSU loss awoke something in the staff and team and they responded with an 30-22 victory against Ole Miss and the miracle of a season on the plains was off and going. Heading into that Ole Miss game it was hard to figure the Tigers out. LSU beat them by two touchdowns in Baton Rouge and Auburn squeaked by Mississippi State late the week before. Nobody was picking them to win the SEC West at that point, but Coach Malzahn rallied the troops and week by week they have grown and pulled off some of the most exciting victories of the season. This team comes into Atlanta riding a tidal wave of momentum and emotion and will need to do it just one more time to become SEC Champions.
On the other hand we have the Missouri Tigers. They do not have a new coach this season. They stepped into the SEC and struggled for a number of reasons last year. They suffered from injuries and the staff had to adjust to teams they had never faced before each and every week last season. Still they won two games and a lot of media and so called experts had them pegged to struggle and win just two again. These Tigers got off with a strong start from the beginning and were rolling before they entered SEC play. They breezed through the non-conference scoring at least 38 points all four games and not allowing any of their opponents 28 points. Mizzou Coach Gary Pinkel still knew how to coach even after some thought it may have lost some of his edge after the teams struggles last season. He built this team with a strong defensive presence and the Tigers controlled tempo and put pressure on teams defensively. They found themselves on October 26th at home against South Carolina and with a two game lead in the SEC Eastern division. A victory over the Gamecocks almost assured them the SEC East title and they had control with their defense through three quarters and were up 17-0 going into the fourth quarter of that game, but the Gamecocks roared back and forced overtime with 17 fourth quarter points of their own. After both teams had touchdowns in the first overtime, it was a missed field goal off the goal post that cost the Tigers the win. The resilient Tigers bounced back and got right back on track and didn’t allow any of their four remaining opponents to score over 21 points and won each game with the Gamecocks just a game back and holding the head to head tiebreaker over them. The pressure never got to them throughout that four game stretch.
What we have in Atlanta this week are two party crashers hoping to celebrate the ultimate party crash in the BCS Championship game in January. The winner will need some help in the form of either Florida State or Ohio State losing in their respective league title games, but they have given themselves a shot by getting to Atlanta. Mizzou is going to put their strong defense that hasn’t allowed over 28 points scored against them in a game all season against Auburn’s equally strong offense that has not lost a game where they have scored 24 points or more. I’ll be watching with the rest of America Saturday to see if Missouri can continue to control the game with their defense and if Auburn can keep the offensive onslaught rolling. One thing is sure, no matter who wins, the SEC will have another serious BCS worthy champion leaving Atlanta.
Alabama’s Basketball team came to New York with their thoughts on winning this season’s NIT season tip-off tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday. All those thoughts crashed and burned as the Tide struggled early in and found themselves trailing by double digits at the half in both their contests in the tournament.
In their opener against 6th ranked Duke, it was heralded freshman Jabari Parker that put the hurt on the Tide. Parker matched his season-high with 27 points, setting the school record for consecutive 20-point games to start a career as the Blue Devils beat Alabama 74-64 on Thursday night. Nick Jacobs led Alabama with 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the loss while Trevor Releford and Algie Key added 11 points each.
Friday’s affair with Drexel was a marathon as the teams played into triple overtime before the Dragons were able to secure the win, 85-83. Drexel’s Tavon Allen, making his first start of the season in place of injured guard Damion Lee, scored 16 points. Three Drexel starters fouled out, including Frantz Massenat, who had 17 points. The Tide were once again led by Nick Jacobs, finishing with 23 points and eight boards before fouling out in the first overtime, while Trevor Releford went for 21 points, eight boards, four assists and four steals. Releford had only two points at halftime. Alabama used a strong 16-1 run at the end of regulation to erase a double digit second half Dragon lead and force the first overtime. The Tide struggled with foul trouble issues themselves and saw three players foul out of a game that saw both teams combined shoot 68 free throws.
The (3-3) Crimson Tide now return home on Wednesday, December 4th to face the North Florida Ospreys.
Vanderbilt’s mens basketball team traveled to the US Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam holiday basketball tournament and finished up 2-1 with wins against Morgan State and Loyola Marymount after a tough opening round loss to the Providence Friars. The Maryland Terrapins would go on to beat Providence for this year’s Paradise Jam title.
Vanderbilt had several chances to get in to the winners bracket, but coughed up a 16 point lead and fell to the Friars, 67-60, in the Paradise Jam’s opening round. Coach Kevin Stalling’s Commodores led 31-26 at the half and extended that lead to 56-40 with 10:38 left to play. The Friars rallied using steals and key shots down the stretch, particularly from Bryce Cotton, who had 11 of his 14 points in the second half. The Friars cut the lead to 56-52 with 5:28 remaining, and back-to-back shots by Cotton gave Providence a 57-56 lead with 3:10 left. Vanderbilt was unable to recover from the Friars comeback and fell.
The Commodores almost followed the same script and give up another huge lead after leading Morgan State by as many as 17 points early in the second half, but Bears cut their deficit to as few as five points, 71-66, on a dunk by senior center Ian Chiles with 1:23 remaining. While Vanderbilt missed 17 of its 32 free throws, the Commodores were able to convert down the stretch to hold the Bears at bay and capture the win, 75-66. Morgan State made a much higher percentage, 13 of 22 overall, but a few misses down the stretch proved costly for the Bears.
In their third game of the Paradise Jam, Vanderbilt senior Kyle Fuller scored 20 points as the Commodores defeated the Loyola Marymount Lions, 77-68, to claim a fifth-place finish. Eric McClellan added 16 points and Josh Henderson chipped in 11 for Vanderbilt. After halftime the Commodores knocked down 17-of-21 attempts from the free-throw line, to secure the victory as the Commodores almost let another lead slip again in the second half.
The Vanderbilt Commodores (4-2) return to play at Texas on Monday, December 2nd.
Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace was running for what looked to be the game tying touchdown in overtime of this seasons Egg Bowl, in Starkville against Mississippi State, when he had the ball stripped and fumbled it into the end zone where the Bulldogs recovered to win the game and seize back the Egg Bowl Trophy.
After a rough first quarter for the Rebels, QB Bo Wallace had 3 interceptions, they fought back and blocked a Bulldog punt in the end zone and recovered it for a touchdown to knot the game up at 7-7 going into halftime. A third quarter 22 yard field goal by Andrew Ritter put Ole Miss on top 10-7 and they held the lead and momentum going into the 4th quarter before the Bulldogs made a switch at quarterback in a move to keep their Bowl hopes alive. Mississippi State turned to Dak Prescott, who sat out the first three quarters of the game due to a non-throwing shoulder injury, but entered the game with 11 minutes left. Prescott completed 11 of 20 passes for 115 yards and rushed 9 times for 29 yards and the eventual game-winning touchdown in overtime.
A fourth quarter 36 yard field goal by Bulldog kicker Evan Sobiesk tied the game at 10. After a defensive stop, the Bulldogs moved back into field goal range, but this time Sobiesk missed wide right and the game moved into overtime where Prescott’s late game heroics set up Wallace’s 4th turnover of the game and moved the Bulldogs to 6-6 on the season and into coach Dan Mullen’s 4th consecutive bowl game. Ole Miss had a successful season regardless of last night’s loss, with road wins over Texas & Vanderbilt and a huge home win against 6th ranked LSU, as they finished their year 7-5. Both schools finished 3-5 in SEC play this season.
Welcome one and all to another holiday bowl season. This year SEC Writer is joining in on all the fun at ESPN’s College Bowl Mania website. Feel free to join us in choosing the winners of every bowl game this year. To enter, fill out the free game registration. After registering, you are ready to play College Bowl Mania. A valid ESPN member name and password will be used as an identifier to sign in to game play, and to keep track of your entry’s score and standing. If you are already a registered ESPN account holder, you do not need to go through the registration process. If you’ve had an ESPN account in the past but forgot your password, visit Member Services and have your account information set to you. College Bowl Mania (the “Promotion”) is open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia (EXCLUDING PUERTO RICO, OTHER UNITED STATES TERRITORIES, AND FOREIGN TERRITORIES), who are thirteen (13) years of age or older as of the date of entry, and are registered members of ESPN.com.
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After a tough, injury prone and eye opening first SEC season last year. The Missouri Tigers have had a rebirth this season and have roared back and exacted revenge on the SEC East and find themselves sitting atop the division with just two games left. To say these two games are huge would sell them very short. The Tigers next two games will pretty much decide their entire season. First and foremost, the outcome of these games will decide if the Tigers win the SEC Eastern division and a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to face the SEC Western division champion. How they are looked at by their conference peers will ride on these games as well. Possibly a BCS Bowl berth could be riding on the results of these games.
Taking a look at the two games the Tigers must win, you quickly see that both contests will be very challenging for different reasons. The first game, this weekend, is a road game against a ranked opponent. All road victories in the SEC are tough, but the ones against ranked foes are even trickier. Like Missouri, Ole Miss is another SEC team on the rise. They have beaten LSU at home already this season and sit at 3-3 on the year in conference play with all three losses being to current top 12 teams. A three point loss to Texas A&M is the only defeat they have suffered at home and coach Hugh Freeze has been blazing the recruiting trails hauling in big time prospects the past two years. Slowing down the Ole Miss offense will be a major hurdle for the Tigers as the Rebels have scored at least 27 points in every home game they have played this season. If the Tigers get out of Oxford with the victory, they will return home for the season finale.
The home finale will be just as challenging, if not more than the Ole Miss game. The Texas A&M Aggies will bring their Heisman trophy QB Johnny Manziel with them to Columbia. The Aggies offense is one of the strongest in the SEC and has hung big points on the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss this season. In fact, the Aggies have scored at least 41 points in every game they have played this year and are 5th in the nation in points scored at 49.2 a game. Going into this weekend’s contest in Baton Rouge against LSU, Texas A&M has yet to lose a road game so far this season. Yet, these are the two games the Tigers must win to take the SEC East title this year.
If Missouri is able to pull off the feat and win both games, they will have clearly earned it. If not for a football clanging off an upright a few weeks ago they may have won it already, but that is in the past now. A lot of eyes will be on the Tigers these upcoming weekends. The SEC East has been strange this season to say the least. Both Florida and Georgia have dealt with injuries all season and have struggled. Tennessee and Kentucky have first year head coaches that are in their first stages of rebuilding. Vanderbilt is still learning to deal with its success on the football field. This has been a perfect season for the Tigers to rise up and take control of the SEC East division. South Carolina was their main competition this season and they had them at home. Missouri had control of the game with the Gamecocks early and saw it all slip away in the fourth quarter and overtime in a 27-24 loss. That win moved the Gamecocks within a game of the Tigers lead in the East and gave them the mighty tiebreaker advantage over them. None of that matters now though to Missouri fans, the only thing they care about are the Tigers final two games. The Two games that will make or break the Tigers SEC East title hopes this season.