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February 29, 2008

Kentucky still very much in SEC East race

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

Alabama at Ole Miss
Vanderbilt at Arkansas
Mississippi State at Florida
South Carolina at Auburn
Kentucky at Tennessee
Georgia at LSU
Arkansas at Ole Miss
Kentucky at South Carolina
Georgia at Auburn
Alabama at LSU
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt
Tennessee at Florida

Best matchup: Kentucky at Tennessee. Believe it or not, the Wildcats have come all the way back from a 6-7 non-conference mark to contend for the SEC East regular-season title. If they can upset the top-ranked Vols in Knoxville on Sunday to complete the season sweep, they'll take over first place. UT coach Bruce Pearl said Thursday on the SEC teleconference that UK already had begun to play better when it knocked off the Vols 72-66 on Jan. 22. "They've found a formula for success, and that's ball control and patience and making sure the ball is in the hands of the three guys who can score it," Pearl said. Those three guys Joe Crawford, Patrick Patterson and Ramel Bradley had better be ready to score a bunch. Tennessee will have had five days to stew over its loss to Vanderbilt on Tuesday, and it will have revenge on its mind against Kentucky.

The pressure is on: Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. A week ago the Hogs were sitting pretty with an RPI of No. 34 and a conference mark of 7-4. But after losses last week at Kentucky and Alabama, Arkansas has allowed itself to slide back onto the NCAA bubble. It welcomes a hot Vanderbilt team on Saturday. The Commodores have won seven in a row, including Tuesday night's signature victory over top-ranked Tennessee. But Kevin Stallings' team has been a little suspect on the road in the conference, where all four of its losses have occurred. The Hogs have lost four of five and are fighting for their NCAA Tournament life. The Commodores are fighting for a higher NCAA seed. Which team will want it more?

Upset alert: Kentucky at South Carolina. It's a classic trap game for the Wildcats, a mid-week game in Columbia sandwiched between a road game at Tennessee and a home matchup with Florida. The Gamecocks gave the Wildcats fits in their first meeting Jan. 26, leading by as many as seven points in the second half before UK pulled together for a 78-70 victory. Nevertheless, South Carolina made 12 3-pointers and Devan Downey riddled the 'Cats for 24 points. It's a dangerous matchup.

RPI watch: Tennessee remains No. 1 in the RPI, and Vanderbilt has risen to No. 7 with its triumph over the Vols. The rest of the SEC, though, continues to lag well back. No other SEC team is in the top 40 in the RPI. Arkansas has dropped 11 spots in the past week to 45th. The third-best RPI in the league now belongs to Mississippi State, which checks in at No. 41. Ole Miss is 48th, Florida is 51st and Kentucky has climbed 11 spots to 62nd. Everyone else is outside the top 100.

Key stat: Vanderbilt has not allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent this season.

Freshman to watch: At 6 feet 7, Mike Holmes really is the only post presence for South Carolina. However, his minutes had dwindled significantly during a recent stretch in conference play. Having worked his way out of coach Dave Odom's doghouse, Holmes has averaged 26 minutes over the past four games. He's averaging 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds during the stretch, well above his season averages of 7.0 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Who's hot: The hottest player in the league is Auburn senior Quan Prowell. Over the past four games, he is averaging 24.8 points and shooting 58.5 percent (38 of 65). Vanderbilt guard Jermaine Beal has not committed a turnover in three of his past four games despite averaging 29.3 minutes. He has had only two games this season in which he had more turnovers than assists. Florida freshman guard Nick Calathes is shooting 53.3 percent (24 of 45) over the past four games, 10.5 percent better than his season average. Mississippi State forward Charles Rhodes is averaging 27 points and nine rebounds and shooting 71 percent (22 of 31) over the past two games.

Who's not: Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley is shooting 30 percent (18 of 60) over the past seven games. South Carolina's Downey is shooting just 33 percent (15 of 45) during his team's current three-game losing streak. And teammate Zam Fredrick is shooting just 21.2 percent (7-for-33) from 3-point range over the past five games.

Worth noting: Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks remains sidelined by a strained hip flexor. He has missed the past three games and isn't expected to play Sunday at Tennessee. He has appeared in only 11 games this season and never more than three in a row. Kentucky's Patterson has played at least 40 minutes in a game eight times this season. Florida has won 10 in a row in the series with Georgia. Georgia sophomore center Albert Jackson made his first-ever start against the Gators and responded with 12 points and seven rebounds. After its win over top-ranked Tennessee on Tuesday, Vanderbilt ran its home record to 18-0. It has only one home game remaining, against SEC West leader Mississippi State. Commodores senior forward Shan Foster is 19 points away from surpassing Matt Freije as the school's leading career scorer.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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