A couple of weeks ago the Auburn Tigers were cruising to an SEC title. However, like most seasons, conference play is full of surprises. With three games left, the race for the crown has tightened up with four teams still having a chance. The Kentucky Wildcats are a game behind the leaders, with the streaking Tennessee Volunteers and Arkansas Razorbacks just a game back of big blue nation. These four programs have separated themselves from the rest of the conference this season.
Big Weekend for SEC Title Race
The four teams in the standings face off with each other this Saturday. Arkansas hosts Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena, while Tennessee gets a visit from Auburn. All four of these teams will get quality seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Whomever wins this weekend will have the chance to solidify themselves as a top seed or move up a spot or two to a better position. The following weekend, Tennessee hosts the Razorbacks. There are only two games separating the top four teams vying for the SEC title, and with multiple games amongst themselves, things can change quickly.
Bruce Pearl’s team has been at the head of the SEC title race all season long. They have been in the top five in the nation for the last two months as well. After losing twice in the last five league games they have come back to the pack just a bit. This team still has everything needed to bring home the SEC title and make a long run in March. Jabari Smith had a few performances below his normal standard, but he is back to looking like one of the most talented players in the nation. The freshman has 20 or more points in three of the last five games. Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson put pressure on opponents on both ends of the court with their speed and aggression. This team also has Walker Kessler manning the paint to erase any defensive errors and get easy buckets on the inside. A win on Saturday will clinch at least a share of the SEC title.
This is easily one of the best-built teams John Calipari has had in a while in Lexington. The Wildcats have experience, depth, shooting, post presence, and the usual high-level young talent. This roster balance makes this team very dangerous. They have won their last two games against Alabama and LSU without starting guards Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington. Winning at Bud Walton arena while missing the top two guards may end up being too tall a task, but when fully healthy this team can be scary good. Oscar Tshiebwe is a major candidate for both SEC and National Player of the Year. He has been huge in the previously mentioned wins. The injuries at guard may keep this team from winning the SEC title, but both should return in time for March. When they do return, no one will want to face this Kentucky team come tournament time.
Rick Barnes’ team started slowly in conference play, losing three of their first five. They have just one SEC loss since then and have really been playing good basketball since February began. Zakai Zeigler has emerged as a big-time playmaker off the bench and has shown he can coexist on the court with either Santiago Vescovi or Kennedy Chandler. The three-guard approach has turned this team into one of the more efficient offensive teams in the league. The ball and player movement has been high level over the last month. They are still susceptible to a bad shooting night though, with their two most recent losses as evidence to that. The Volunteers scored a combined 99 points in losses to Texas and Arkansas and shot under 30% from the field in those two games. Josiah-Jordan James could be their x-factor. This team is 8-2 when he scores in double figures, but he needs to get more consistently involved.
The Hogs might be the nation’s hottest team, with 12 wins in their last 13 contests. They have proven they can get hot and score in bunches or grind out a victory with defense. This versatility will make them a nightmare to match up with in March. Razorbacks fans know what to expect from JD Notae and Jaylin Williams on a nightly basis. Senior transfers Stanley Umude and Au’Diese Toney have both played well on the wings this season. The key for them could be Davonte Davis. The sophomore guard can score for himself and set up his teammates, he just needs to play with a bit more consistency. Arkansas has the toughest remaining schedule of the four SEC title contenders. However, they have shown they can beat anyone with the way they are currently playing.
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