Kentucky men’s basketball got off to its worst start this season in nearly a century. But after some in-house drama, a big injury and one outstanding performance from a redshirt freshman, the Wildcats are undefeated in conference play.
While Kentucky has turned over a new leaf, who else has stayed afloat during league play? The Missourian examines who’s up and who’s down in this week’s winners and losers across the SEC.
Stock up: KentuckyJohn Calipari has retained a culture out in Lexington. A consistent nucleus of young, raw and talented athletes who despite having their eyes set on the future, clock in and make the program run smoothly. That culture has been distorted by egos and some of last year’s top prep talent not translating as quickly as Kentucky has seen in past years.
Following the theatrics of former Vashon forward Cam’Ron Fletcher, Kentucky has seemingly cleaned up the behind-the-scenes commotion. Kentucky has had a different storyline in each of its Southeastern Conference games, but one prevails: The ‘Cats haven’t lost a conference game.
Redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen’s 23-point outing versus Mississippi State was no fluke. He posted another 14 points with two 3-pointers against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats’ win wasn’t necessarily impressive, but they were able to close a game, even with Olivier Sarr fouling out late down the stretch.
Keion Brooks returned against Florida and showed why Kentucky missed him. The sophomore posted 12 points, six rebounds and four assists with a steal and a block in an impressive 76-58 win over the Gators.
Brooks was a +23 in his 24 minutes and was the primary reason his group ran away with a big win. The Wildcats turned on a switch unlike fans have seen throughout the year. A healthy Kentucky team may do damage in the SEC tournament.
The Wildcats also snagged a commitment from West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe. It’s good news for the program, adding to the stellar week it had. Tshiebwe won’t be eligible to suit up for Kentucky until next season, though, according to Jeff Goodman.
Stock up: AlabamaThe Tide have been on a tear. Nate Oats has turned his group into hounds, and they’ve suffocated teams over the past couple of weeks. Alabama’s 4-0 record is the best in the SEC, and it’s one of two teams in the league that remain undefeated through a minimum of three conference games.
The Crimson Tide’s win versus Tennessee earlier in the month may have appeared as a fluke, or “just college basketball.” But Alabama has further proved itself with impressive wins over Florida and Auburn, both without star point guard Jahvon Quinerly.
John Petty and Jaden Shackelford have been consistent, and Alabama’s surrounding core has made it known that it is no joke. The Crimson Tide have one of the most balanced attacks in college basketball. Herbert Jones has been huge as a glue guy for Alabama and came up big versus Auburn.
Alabama’s most impressive feat last week was exposing an incomplete Florida team. It’s no secret that the Gators are missing star forward Keyontae Johnson, but they’ve managed to cover it up fairly well. That was until they ran into Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s pesky defense gave Florida fits.
Though it managed a slim win versus Auburn, Alabama managed to will the game its way during the final stretch and put a lid on star freshman Sharife Cooper’s otherwise fantastic debut during the final minutes. It’s hard to stop a team with unlimited depth.
Stock up: Sharife CooperAuburn was supposed to retain its stature as one of the better programs in the SEC this year. After losing a handful of seniors, freshmen Sharife Cooper and JT Thor were brought in to keep the flame lit, at least for another year.
Cooper, a five-star freshman and Auburn’s highest-ranked recruit ever, was ruled ineligible up until this past week. The shifty point guard is flashy and the initiator that Auburn needs. He didn’t disappoint in his debut with 26 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals. Not too shabby for his first game.
Cooper eventually displayed that it was his first college game ever with poor 3-point shooting, some turnovers and a couple novice mistakes during the final minutes that cost his group the game, but there is more than enough room for improvement. Cooper’s shooting will improve with reps. He came in as a volume shooter anyway.
What’s most important is that the Tigers have their go-to guy now. The player they can (hopefully) depend on in close games and one who will definitely lead the offense to new heights. The potential of the Cooper and Thor pick-and-roll is exciting.
Stock down: GeorgiaAfter going undefeated in nonconference play, the Bulldogs haven’t won a game in league play. They didn’t play the best competition prior to conference play and have completely crumbled against SEC opponents. Georgia reached its lowest point over the weekend in a 30-point loss to Arkansas.
Georgia allowed five Arkansas players to score in double figures, with four of them scoring at least 15 points. Things have been downhill for the Bulldogs all around. There’s a lack of talent in Athens, though the team has played more cohesively than it did a year ago.
Georgia received good news this week, though. Four-star freshman K.D. Johnson was ruled eligible and his debut will come against Auburn. It’ll make for a good matchup with Cooper. Johnson will be able to prove what kind of two-way presence he provides and perhaps show that he can lead an offense. Expect rust and rookie mistakes from both, though.
Stock down: FloridaThe Gators suffered two losses this past week to fall to 2-2 in league play. Following the first two games of SEC play, Florida looked like a frontrunner in the conference before Alabama completely burst that bubble.
Keyontae Johnson’s absence has taken a toll on the team during the past couple of games. Despite the emergence of Michigan transfer Colin Castleton, Florida hasn’t played well enough to muscle out wins the way it did against LSU.
Not only did the Gators prove how good Alabama is, but they also managed to display where they truly stand in the SEC without Johnson. The Crimson Tide beat the Gators to every spot, took the pace to them and brought on unfamiliar physicality. Given the way it’s played lately, credit is due to Alabama as opposed to purely bashing Florida.
But Florida looked like a shell of itself during the second half of its game versus Kentucky. As they had against the Crimson Tide, the Gators looked nervous, forcing bad shots, not getting to their spots as well and shooting poorly.
Kentucky’s defense looked good, which can’t be said about Florida’s defense. The Gators allowed six Wildcats to score at least nine points. Mike White’s group must take on a similar form to its first couple of SEC games if it plans on remaining one of the top teams in the league.