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March 2, 2007

SEC Breakdown: Tubby feeling the heat

Weekly SEC Update
Eastern Division Conf. Overall
Florida 12-3 25-5
Vanderbilt 10-5 20-9
Tennessee 9-6 21-9
Kentucky 9-6 20-9
Georgia 8-7 17-11
South Carolina 4-11 14-14
Western Division Conf. Overall
Mississippi State 7-8 16-12
Ole Miss 7-8 18-11
Auburn 7-8 17-13
Alabama 7-8 20-9
Arkansas 6-9 17-12
LSU 4-11 15-14
Standings as of 3/1

Best matchup: Florida perimeter shooters vs. Kentucky defense. The Gators entered the week leading the nation in field-goal percentage. When he's on, Lee Humphrey can kill opponents with his 3-point accuracy. Humphrey and Co. may struggle to get open looks Sunday because Kentucky boasts the SEC's top field-goal percentage defense. Opposing teams are shooting just 39.9 percent against the Wildcats. Florida won 64-61 at Kentucky last month despite shooting just 5-of-17 from 3-point range.

Worst matchup: South Carolina point guard Tre Kelley vs. LSU point guard Garrett Temple. In fairness to Temple, Kelley is a terrible matchup for any point guard in the SEC right now. The South Carolina senior is averaging 26 points and 5.6 assists over his last seven games. It's tough to imagine anyone stopping him right now. The good news for LSU is it might not matter how well Kelley plays Saturday. South Carolina has won just twice during Kelley's torrid seven-game stretch.

The pressure is on: Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. The Wildcats' late-season slide has erased all the goodwill they earned for their surprising start. After the Wildcats fell to Vanderbilt last weekend for their fourth loss in their last five games a skid that ended Wednesday with an 82-70 victory over Georgia Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart issued a statement that asked fans not to make any evaluations until the end of the season. While Smith said he interpreted the statement as a sign of support, it also could turn the heat up on the coach if Kentucky doesn't make it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Upset alert: Arkansas at Vanderbilt. Although the Commodores haven't lost an SEC home game all season, they may be ripe for the picking. Vanderbilt already has locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament, while Arkansas must win Saturday to have any hope of earning an at-large invitation. Perhaps the team that's more desperate will come out more inspired.

Who's hot: Vanderbilt swingman Shan Foster has averaged 27 points and 6.5 rebounds over his last two games. The 6-foot-6 senior scored a career-high 33 points Wednesday in a 99-90 overtime victory over South Carolina. South Carolina guard Tre Kelley has scored at least 21 points in six of his last seven games. He has averaged 26 points per game during that stretch. South Carolina forward Dominique Archie has shot 92.9 percent (13-of-14) in his last two games. Auburn forward Korvortney Barber is averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds over his last three games. Kentucky forward Bobby Perry has shot 68.2 percent (15of 22) overall and 50 percent (5 of 10) from 3-point range while averaging 20 points per game in his last two appearances.

Who's not: Mississippi State swingman Dietric Slater missed all eight of his shots and was held scoreless Wednesday in a 67-58 loss to Arkansas. Florida guard Taurean Green is shooting 18.8 percent (6 of 32) in his last four games. Green has 13 turnovers and only eight assists during that stretch. Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley has shot 30.6 percent (11 of 36) in his last three games. Ole Miss guard Todd Abernethy has shot 25 percent (7 of 28) in his last three games. Abernethy has scored a total of 17 points during that stretch. Ole Miss guard Bam Doyne has shot 29 percent (18 of 62) overall and 14.3 percent (3 of 21) from 3-point range in his last six games. Alabama guard Alonzo Gee is shooting 27.3 percent (9 of 33) in his last four games.

Must-see TV: Alabama at Mississippi State (Sunday, 2 p.m., Lincoln Financial). The Florida-Kentucky game that starts earlier in the day on CBS features more star power, but the Alabama-Mississippi State game has more meaning. Alabama desperately needs a victory to maintain any realistic hope of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson Tide will need Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix to control the paint and hold Mississippi State's Charles Rhodes in check. These teams have a penchant for creating drama. When they last met, Ronald Steele drove the length of the court and made a layup with seven seconds remaining to give the Tide an 80-79 victory.

Freshman to watch: Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley. He leads all SEC freshmen in scoring, steals and minutes played. Although Beverley shot just 2 of 11 Wednesday in a 67-58 victory over Mississippi State, his two baskets were critical 3-pointers in the second half. Beverley will play the biggest game of his young college career Saturday when the Razorbacks travel to Vanderbilt in a game they must win to have any shot of earning an NCAA at-large bid.

Bench bonus: Florida reserve forward/center Chris Richard has shot 80 percent (16 of 20) while averaging 12.7 points over his last three games. Arkansas freshman guard Stefan Welsh shot 6 of 7 and scored 16 points off the bench Wednesday in a 67-58 victory over Mississippi State. Welsh had gone scoreless in each of the three games leading up to the Mississippi State contest.

Key stat: Here's all the evidence you need to see how Florida's offense has struggled recently. In the Gators' three losses since Feb. 17, they have allowed opponents to shoot 55.6 percent overall and 42 percent from 3-point range.

They said it: "If he's not player of the year in this conference, shame on the people who vote. I don't care who hears me." South Carolina coach Dave Odom boosting the Player of the Year candidacy of Gamecocks point guard Tre Kelley on Wednesday after his team's 99-90 overtime loss to Vanderbilt. Kelley has averaged 26 points per game in his last seven appearances, but South Carolina is in last place in the SEC Eastern Division.

Injury update: Louisiana State forward/center Glen Davis has missed the Tigers' last three games with a strained quadriceps muscle. Alabama point guard Ronald Steele missed the Crimson Tide's 69-58 victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday because of tendonitis in his left knee. The injury has forced Steele to play hurt much of the season.

Worth noting: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn and Alabama are tied for first place in the Western Division with identical 7-8 conference records as the regular season heads into its final weekend. Mississippi State can clinch the West's No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament by beating Alabama on Saturday because the Bulldogs own tiebreaker advantages over Ole Miss and Auburn. Ole Miss would earn the West's No. 1 seed if the Rebels beat Auburn this weekend and Alabama beats Mississippi State. Auburn would get the West's No. 1 seed if the Tigers beat Ole Miss and Alabama beats Mississippi State. Auburn defeated Louisiana State 80-68 on Wednesday despite not having the services of head coach Jeff Lebo, who missed the game with an illness. Associate head coach John Cooper filled in for Lebo. Georgia guard Levi Stukes didn't play in the Bulldogs' 82-70 loss to Kentucky on Wednesday because he was serving a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Auburn forward Korvotney Barber was named SEC player of the week after recording consecutive double-doubles in victories over Arkansas and Alabama. Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks was selected as the SEC freshman of the week. Meeks scored 18 points off the bench in a 70-63 victory over Louisiana State. Five days later, Meeks made his first career start and tallied 15 points in a 67-65 loss to Vanderbilt.

What you may have missed: Tennessee guard Dane Bradshaw picked the perfect time to break out of his prolonged shooting slump. In the final home game of his career, the 6-foot-4 senior shot 3 of 3 and scored 10 points Tuesday to help spark the Volunteers to an 86-76 victory over Florida. Bradshaw had shot 11.4 percent (5 of 44) in the 11 games leading up to the meeting with Florida.

RPI watch: A look at the RPI listings Thursday indicated why the SEC had so many teams on the bubble.

The SEC was the only conference with three top 10 teams: No. 8 Tennessee, No. 9 Kentucky and No. 10 Florida. Vanderbilt sits at No. 29.

The rest of the league is bunched anywhere from 38th to 101st. That leaves everyone hopeful for some type of postseason berth, but only the four teams in the top 30 are locks to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Following Vanderbilt in the RPI listings were No. 38 Alabama, No. 54 Georgia, No. 57 Arkansas, No. 63 Ole Miss, No. 70 Mississippi State, No. 92 South Carolina, No. 98 Louisiana State and No. 101 Auburn.

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | Big East

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