Tennessee men’s basketball hasn’t faced much adversity this season. The Vols have been a mainstay in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and are the projected favorites in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee has relied on its defense, but the Vols’ offense let them down last week in two consecutive games.
Where do the Vols stand in the SEC now, and what does this mean for the rest of the conference? The Missourian examines who’s up and who’s down and this week’s winners and losers across the SEC.
Stock up: Missouri
Along with No. 2 Baylor and No. 13 Ohio State, No. 12 Missouri has three ranked wins and four true road wins this season, something no other teams can claim.
That’s in part due to the Tigers’ impressive win over Tennessee in Knoxville. Missouri defeated the Vols 73-64 behind an electric performance from guard Xavier Pinson.
Pinson scored a season-high 27 points against the Vols. He shot 10-of-14 from the field, hitting all three of his shots from beyond the arc and all four of his free throws.
Pinson wasn’t alone. Dru Smith, the SEC Player of the Week, hit three 3-pointers and scored 18 points, his most since Dec. 6 at Wichita State. He also tacked on four boards, two dimes and a steal.
This, along with Missouri’s 81-70 home win over South Carolina, helped the Tigers jump to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 rankings. Missouri never trailed in either game, and the Tigers showed why they are on pace to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2017-2018 season.
This week, Missouri has a favorable schedule. First, it travels to face an up-and-down Auburn team. After losing four straight games, Bruce Pearl’s squad has won three of its last four, thanks largely to the addition of freshman sensation Sharife Cooper. After being ineligible for the first 11 games, Cooper has sparked the blue-and-orange Tigers, averaging 21.2 points, nine assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Following that matchup, Missouri moves on to the Big 12/SEC Challenge where it takes on a TCU team that hasn’t played since Jan. 12 and has lost its last three games.
Stock up: Florida
After forward Keyontae Johnson, the projected SEC Player of the Year by the media, collapsed during a game earlier this season, many analysts overlooked the Gators.
Despite not having Johnson, Florida has rebounded and is playing better of late. The Gators arguably had their best week of the season, winning two straight games for the first time in three weeks.
You can’t focus on one player on Mike White’s squad. Florida is one of the deepest teams in the SEC, with six players — including Johnson — averaging double digits.
In the Gators’ 75-49 rout of Tennessee last Tuesday, Florida had four players score in double digits while holding the Vols captive on offense, forcing 18 turnovers. Florida’s defense wasn’t as strong against Georgia on Saturday, giving up 84 points. However, the Gators’ offense picked them up by scoring a season-high 92 points in the road win. Florida’s Tre Mann put together one of his best outings of the year. Mann scored a season-high 24 points, chipping in with six rebounds and four assists. From Mann to forward Colin Castleton to guard Scottie Lewis, the Gators have multiple scoring threats. Florida’s 47.6% field goal percentage leads the SEC.
The Gators just missed out on entering the AP Top 25 for the first time this season, receiving 37 votes. Florida will have a chance to make its case for being ranked and possibly bolster its tournament résumé as the Gators travel to face No. 11 West Virginia on Saturday.
Stock down: Tennessee
The Vols were the preseason favorite to finish first in the conference by the media and their 7-0 start looked like validation. However, at this moment, Tennessee doesn’t look like it’ll be fighting for the conference title.
It seems odd to think after the Vols were the No. 6 team in the AP Top 25 last week. However, last week might have shown that Tennessee isn’t one of the elite teams in the nation.
While the Vols rely mostly on their defense, the scoring was especially bad in their last two games. Tennessee scored a season-low 49 points on the road against Florida in a 26-point loss. The Vols shot a season-low 29.3% from the field while making only 3 of 18 3-point attempts. Center John Fulkerson was the only player in double digits for Tennessee with 15 points.
The Vols returned home to host Missouri last Saturday, and while they did play better, they ultimately were dealt the same fate. Missouri defeated Tennessee 73-64 in Knoxville, the first time the Tigers have won there since 1972.
Xavier Pinson lit up the Vols with 27 points, the most any player has scored against Tennessee this season. The Vols turned it over 18 times but shot 43.8% from the field, almost identical to Missouri’s 43.9% performance.
“I’m not as concerned with our defense as I am with our offense because those two are married together,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We run good offense we’ll be better on the defensive end.”
A common theme for Tennessee was the absence of freshman guard Jaden Springer, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Springer averages 10 points on 53.3% shooting. Guard Santiago Vescovi played both games hurt after injuring his hip against Florida.
Regardless of who was on the court, the Vols didn’t do enough to solidify their No. 6 spot, falling to No. 18 in the latest AP rankings. Currently, Tennessee sits in fifth place in the SEC. While they had a tough week, the Vols have a chance to rebound this week with two home games against Mississippi State and Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against No. 15 Kansas.
Stock down: LSU
Last week, Louisiana State was going to either propel itself into the AP Top 25 or cast doubt on whether it can beat tournament-caliber teams. The Tigers did the latter, losing both of their games.
No. 9 Alabama destroyed LSU in Baton Rouge last Tuesday, winning 105-75. While the Tide shot 55.9% from the field, the Tigers shot 37.8%, their worst field-goal percentage this season. LSU, which was in second place in the conference entering the game, had a chance to show it could compete with the cream of the crop in the SEC but ultimately failed.
How did LSU follow that crushing loss? With another offensive struggle. The Tigers shot 38.5% against Kentucky on Saturday, their second-worst field-goal percentage this season. The Wildcats won 82-69, snapping their three-game losing streak.
LSU has yet to defeat a ranked opponent, something that shouldn’t be the case for a team as talented as the Tigers. If LSU had taken care of business last week, the Tigers likely would be in the AP Top 25. Instead, they will have to make up ground in a loaded SEC.
LSU has the makings to be a top team in the conference and a Top 25 program. However, without a signature win, the Tigers will have a hard time making the NCAA Tournament.