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February 2, 2007

SEC Breakdown: Backcourt unrest at LSU

Weekly SEC Update
Eastern Division Conf. Overall
Florida 7-0 20-2
Kentucky 5-2 16-5
Georgia 5-3 13-7
Vanderbilt 5-3 15-7
Tennessee 3-4 15-7
South Carolina 2-5 12-8
Western Division Conf. Overall
Auburn 4-4 14-9
Arkansas 3-4 14-7
Alabama 3-4 16-5
Ole Miss 3-5 14-8
LSU 2-5 13-8
Mississippi State 2-5 11-9
Standings as of 2/1

Best matchup: Tennessee backcourt vs. Florida backcourt: This matchup should feature plenty of fireworks Saturday, even if a sprained ankle prevents SEC scoring leader Chris Lofton from suiting up for Tennessee. JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith have excelled in Lofton's absence. The two Smiths combined for 43 points Wednesday in an 82-71 victory over Georgia. The Smiths still will have their hands full against a Florida perimeter attack that features 3-point marksman Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green, who is playing better than any point guard in the league this year. The Volunteers must win the perimeter matchup to have a chance of pulling the upset in Gainesville because Florida has too much firepower for Tennessee in the paint.

Worst matchup: Alabama frontcourt vs. South Carolina frontcourt: Alabama's Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix are doing their best to help the Crimson Tide compensate for point guard Ronald Steele's injury woes. Hendrix collected 28 points and 11 rebounds Saturday in a 63-57 loss to Arkansas. Davidson tallied 31 points Wednesday in a 73-70 victory at Louisiana State. Hendrix and Davidson should continue to put up big numbers Saturday against a South Carolina team that ranks last in the conference in rebound margin. Auburn outrebounded South Carolina 38-19 Wednesday in an 80-75 victory over the Gamecocks.

The pressure is on: LSU guards Terry Martin and Garrett Temple: The LSU backcourt has battled inconsistency all season. The Tigers suffered another major loss Wednesday with the announcement that reserve guard Tack Minor was no longer enrolled at school. The loss of Minor puts more responsibility on Martin and Temple to remove some of the scoring load from forward/center Glen "Big Baby" Davis. If Davis doesn't get more help, the Tigers' fading NCAA Tournament hopes could disintegrate.

Upset alert: Georgia at Vanderbilt: These teams find themselves in a bit of a must-win situation after losing road games Wednesday. Vanderbilt probably has better NCAA credentials than the Bulldogs at the moment, but that could change in a hurry Saturday night if Georgia completes a season sweep of the Commodores. Although Vanderbilt has played extremely tough at home in conference play, Georgia already won at Arkansas and nearly won at Alabama. This game probably will come down to which team has better outside shooting.

Who's hot: Alabama forward Richard Hendrix has shot 18-of-26 from the floor while averaging 20.5 points per game in his last two contests. Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith has scored at least 21 points in each of his last four games. He has shot 55.4 percent from the floor during that stretch. Florida forward Al Horford has shot 11-of-13 his last two games. Florida guard Lee Humphrey is shooting 75 percent (21-of-28) from 3-point range in his last five games. He made three consecutive 3-pointers in the second half Wednesday as the Gators rallied from a 12-point deficit in a 74-64 victory over Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt forward Derrick Byars is averaging 20.6 points per game in his last seven outings. He has scored at least 15 points in each of those games. Kentucky guard Joe Crawford has made at least three shots from 3-point range in each of his last seven games. ... Ole Miss guard Bam Doyne has averaged 22.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in his last two contests. Ole Miss guard Todd Abernethy has 21 assists and only six turnovers in his last three games.

Who's not: Alabama guard Ronald Steele has scored a total of one point in his last two games while he continues to struggle with knee and ankle problems. Steele also has 12 turnovers and only seven assists in his last four games. LSU guard Garrett Temple has scored in double figures just once in his last seven games. Temple has shot 6-for-21 in his last three contests. Mississippi State guard/forward Reginald Delk has shot 6-for-20 and has scored a total of 15 points during the Bulldogs' three-game losing streak. Georgia guard Mike Mercer has shot 7-for-30 from the floor and 1-for-12 from 3-point range in his last three games.

Must-see TV: Kentucky at Arkansas (Lincoln Financial, Saturday, noon): The Wildcats and the Razorbacks had plenty of rest for this game because neither has played since last weekend. Kentucky needs a victory to stay within striking distance of Florida in the Eastern Division, but visiting teams usually struggle at Arkansas. The Razorbacks are 1-5 on road campuses, but they own a sparkling 10-1 record at home. This game could depend on how well Kentucky's Randolph Morris fares against Arkansas' fleet of big men. The Razorbacks have to hope talented but inconsistent point guard Gary Ervin is having one of his good days.

Freshman to watch: Tennessee guard Ramar Smith: The freshman guard scored a career-high 21 points Wednesday to help Tennessee overcome the absence of Chris Lofton in an 82-71 victory over Georgia. The Vols will need this former five-star prospect to deliver a similar performance Saturday at Florida.

Key stat: Tennessee has averaged 69.3 points per game without SEC scoring leader Chris Lofton, who has missed the Vols' last three games with a sprained right ankle. The Vols are averaging 83.2 points per game with Lofton in the lineup.

Bench bonus: Ole Miss guard Clarence Sanders came off the bench to score 22 points and pull down five rebounds Tuesday in an 85-73 victory over Mississippi State. Tennessee forward Duke Crews collected 10 points and 10 rebounds in a reserve role Wednesday to help Tennessee beat Georgia 82-71.

They said it: "Obviously Florida is at another level. I think Billy's got a very special group. I think with everyone else, you can finish second in this league or eighth in this league in the span of one weekend. I think there's good people on both sides, and things are very, very tight right now."-Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.

Injury update: Tennessee guard Chris Lofton dressed for Wednesday's game with Georgia, but he still missed his third consecutive contest with a sprained right ankle. Lofton is expected to return Saturday at Florida or Tuesday against LSU. Alabama guard Ronald Steele continues to play despite having a sprained left ankle and tendinitis in his right knee.

Worth noting: Florida's 7-0 SEC record matches its best start in conference play. The 2002-03 team also won its first seven SEC games on its way to finishing 12-4 in league competitions, good enough for second place in the SEC East. Ole Miss had lost 10 of its last 11 games with Mississippi State before beating the Bulldogs 85-73 on Tuesday. Mississippi State has lost 11 consecutive SEC road games. Auburn's 80-75 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday marked the fifth consecutive time the Tigers have beaten the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C. The visiting team has won the last five games in that series. South Carolina point guard Tre Kelley was the most recent SEC player of the week after averaging 22.5 points per game in victories over Arkansas and Mississippi State. Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks was the SEC freshman of the week. Meeks averaged 13 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in a loss to Georgia and a victory over Tennessee.

What you may have missed: Nobody would have predicted it before this season, but first place in the Western Division could be at stake Saturday when Auburn plays host to Ole Miss. Auburn has split its first eight conference games and is the only Western Division team without a losing record in league play. Ole Miss (3-5) could grab a share of the division lead Saturday. The Rebels would need to beat Auburn while Arkansas (3-4) loses to Kentucky and Alabama (3-4) falls to South Carolina.

RPI watch: Slowly but surely, Florida is moving up the RPI index. The top-ranked team in both major polls finally worked its way up to 16th as of Thursday. The Gators remain one spot behind a Tennessee team that is below .500 in conference games (Florida remains unbeaten in SEC competition).

Florida's poor non-conference schedule continues to work against the Gators in the RPI index. Florida has played seven teams with RPI ratings of 201 or worse. Tennessee has played just four of those games while also recording quality non-conference wins over Texas, Memphis and Oklahoma State.

Kentucky remains the highest-rated SEC team in the RPI index at No. 7. The Wildcats, Tennessee and Florida were followed by No. 25 Arkansas, No. 26 Alabama, No. 41 Georgia, No. 51 Vanderbilt, No. 77 South Carolina, No. 79 Ole Miss, No. 80 LSU, No. 82 Auburn and No. 88 Mississippi State

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

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