This week in SEC basketball

Before the injuries and suspensions and the subsequent dismissal of Damontre Harris, this was supposed to be a Florida basketball team capable of contending for the national championship. Injuries to Dillon Graham and Eli Carter reduced the roster by two and ankle sprains cost Kasey Hill and DeVon Walker three games each. Suspensions cost Scottie Wilbekin five games and Dorian Finney-Smith two. Damontre Harris never got off suspension and was finally dismissed from the team last week. Under most circumstances the result of that kind of turmoil would be a season in the tank. For Billy Donovan and the Gators, nothing has really changed.

The 13th-ranked Gators are off to a 9-2 start with their only losses by a combined seven points to #4 Wisconsin and #15 UConn. The closest they’ve come to playing with a full roster was this past Saturday when they stuck it to Fresno State, 66-49, a game in which Billy Donovan had eight scholarship players and three walk-ons available.

It could be safely argued that this is Donovan’s best coaching job in the 17-plus seasons he’s been Florida’s basketball coach. The Gators should make it through the non-conference portion of the schedule with an 11-2 record and once the SEC schedule kicks in, the roster should expand by one to include 6-10 Chris Walker, who will provide added size and shot blocking ability. If Walker is able to give the Gators 8-10 minutes per game off the bench in January and perhaps double that by February, Florida could very well turn out to be the national contender that was predicted in the preseason.

MURPHY STATUS: Duke transfer Alex Murphy won’t be able to play for the Gators until sometime next season due to NCAA rules. Those same rules prevent him from practicing with the team until classes begin for the spring semester on January 6.

The addition of Murphy to Florida’s daily practices will allow Donovan to better prepare for teams that play big lineups. With Murphy (6-9) and Chris Walker, the Gators can simulate an opponent’s center and power forward, something that will be a serious help in the game plan.

TALKING RPI: The emphasis on playing stronger pre-conference schedules has obviously gotten through to the majority of coaches in the SEC. On the 14 teams in the league, four (#14 Florida, #17 LSU, #22 Kentucky and #32 Missouri) are top 50 RPI teams while five others (#58 Vanderbilt, #61 Arkansas, #80 Tennessee, #84 Ole Miss and #92 South Carolina) are top 100.

The SEC has the #6 conference RPI and the #5 strength of schedule. The Atlantic Coast Conference, which some experts say is the best conference from top to bottom, is the #5 RPI conference with the #4 conference strength of schedule.

The SEC is on track for a minimum of four NCAA Tournament teams with a real possibility of landing six.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: With 12 points against Savannah State on Sunday, Patric Young will become the latest member of Florida’s 1,000-point club. Young is the current SEC career leader in rebounds with 674 and blocked shots with 130.

Casey Prather ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring at 18.5 points per game. His 203 points in 11 games are more than he scored all of last season (181).

Scottie Wilbekin and Alabama’s Trevor Releford are the current career leaders in assists in the SEC with 325.


Coach: Billy Donovan (424-168 at Florida; 459-188 overall)

Through 11 games: The Gators have evolved from the high volume 3-point shooting team of the last three seasons into one that picks and chooses its spots wisely. The Gators have taken only 159 3-pointers (14.4 per game), but they’re hitting 37.1%.

Key stats: The Gators are #1 in the SEC and #18 in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 61.1 points per game. Florida is outscoring opponents by 10.6 points per game.

Scoring leaders: Casey Prather (18.5); Scottie Wilbekin (12.3)

Best rebounders: Dorian Finney-Smith (7.2); Patric Young (5.9)

Best freshman: Kasey Hill (8.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists)

RPI: 13

Strength of schedule: 22

Quality wins: Florida State (#29 RPI); Kansas (3); Memphis (24); Fresno State (96)

Bad losses: None.

Non-conference games remaining: Savannah State (#351 RPI); Richmond (90)




Coach: Anthony Grant (97-58 at Alabama; 167-83 overall)

Through 11 games: Alabama has lost two games by two points (one in triple overtime), one by three points and another by five. The Crimson Tide is 0-2 in its last two starts by a combined eight points.

Key stats: Point guard Trevor Releford is having an All-SEC type season, averaging 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He’s hitting 49.2% of his shots overall and 38.6% from the 3-point line.

Scoring leaders: Trevor Releford (17.0); Retin Obasohan (13.9)

Best rebounders: Rodney Cooper (5.2); Nick Jacobs (4.6)

Best freshman: Jimmie Taylor (2.8 points, 3.9 rebounds)

RPI: 134

Strength of schedule: 15

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: South Florida (#185 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Robert Morris (#232) RPI



Coach: Mike Anderson (46-29 at Arkansas; 246-127 overall)
Through 11 games: The Razorbacks have won five in a row and are off to their best start since 2010-11.
Key stats: Arkansas leads the SEC and is ranked #14 nationally in scoring at 85.5 points per game. The Razorbacks are winning games by a 17.5 per game margin, which ranks 11th in the SEC.

Scoring leaders: Michael Qualls (14.1); Bobby Portis (12.0)

Best rebounders: Bobby Portis (5.6); Coty Clarke (5.6)

Best freshman: Bobby Portis (12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds)

RPI: 61

Strength of schedule: 126

Quality wins: Louisiana-Lafayette (#69 RPI); SMU (64); Minnesota (30)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: High Point (#257 RPI); Texas-San Antonio (350)


AUBURN (6-3)

Coach: Tony Barbee (41-62 at Auburn; 123-114 overall)

Through nine games: The Tigers are on a two-game winning streak. They are 6-1 at home, 0-1 away and 0-1 on neutral sites.

Key stats: Virginia transfer K.T. Harrell has scored in double figures in all nine of Auburn’s games this season. He’s averaging 19.1 points while hitting 47.4% from the field and 88% from the foul line.

Scoring leaders: Chris Denson (19.2); K.T. Harrell (19.1)

Rebounding leaders: Ashaun Dixon-Tatum (6.2); Chris Denson (5.9)

Best freshman: Tajh Shamsid-Dean (9.2 points, 2.9 assists)

RPI: 182

Strength of schedule: 232

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Northwestern State (#168 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (247); Florida A&M (301)



Coach: Mark Fox (71-67 at Georgia; 194-110 overall)

Through 10 games: Georgia is on a five-game winning streak but lacks a win against a top-100 RPI team. The next three games are all on the road against top-100 teams.

Key stat: Georgia ranks dead last in the SEC with 11.4 assists per game.

Scoring leaders: Charles Mann (13.4); Kenny Gaines (11.8)

Rebounding leaders: Donte Williams (5.7); Marcus Thornton (4.7)

Best freshman: Juwan Parker (5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds)

RPI: 293

Strength of schedule: 333

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Georgia Tech (#152 RPI); Davidson (139); Temple (119)

Non-conference games remaining: at Colorado (9); at George Washington (38)



Coach: John Calipari (132-29 at Kentucky; 535-167 overall)

Through 12 games: The Wildcats have lost all three games to teams with a top 21 or better RPI. Saturday they face 2013 national champ and arch-rival Louisville.

Key stats: Kentucky is outscoring opponents by 15.2 points and outrebounding them by 12.7 per game.

Scoring leaders: Julius Randle (18.2); Aaron Harrison (15.1)

Rebounding leaders: Julius Randle (11.3); Willie Cauley-Stein (8.0)

Best freshman: Julius Randle (18.2 points, 11.3 rebounds)

RPI: 22

Strength of schedule: 16

Quality wins: Eastern Michigan (#65 RPI); Providence (87); Boise State (25); Belmont (60)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Louisville (33)


LSU (8-2)

Coach: Johnny Jones (27-14 at LSU; 232-176 overall)

Through 10 games: The Tigers have four wins against top 100 RPI teams and have cracked the top 20 in both RPI and strength of schedule. The only losses are to UMass and Memphis, both top 25 teams.

Key stats: Andre Stringer is 12-23 from the 3-point line in the last three games.

Scoring leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (14.8); Jordan Mickey (13.7)

Rebounding leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (8.2); Jordan Mickey (8.2)

Best freshman: Jordan Mickey (13.7 points, 8.2 rebounds)

RPI: 17

Strength of schedule: 20

Quality wins: Butler (#31 RPI); New Orleans (73); St. Joseph’s (77); UAB (97)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: McNeese State (#237 RPI); Rhode Island (271)



Coach: Rick Ray (19-25)

Through 12 games: Mississippi State is 9-3, but there isn’t a win against a top 100 RPI team and the only two they’ve played (Utah State and UNLV) blew their doors off.

Key stat: The Bulldogs are winning in spite of themselves. They are hitting just 29.4$ from the 3-point line and 42.8% from the field this season.

Scoring leaders: Craig Sword (15.3); Gavin Ware (10.4)

Rebounding leaders: Gavin Ware (8.3); Roquez Johnson (4.5)

Best freshman: I.J. Ready (6.6 points, 3.3 assists)

RPI: 164

Strength of schedule: 286

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: TCU (#148 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Maryland-Eastern Shore (#306 RPI)



Coach: Frank Haith (63-17 at Missouri; 192-118 overall)

Through 11 games: Missouri has the nation’s largest home court winning streak at 25 games.

Key stats: In Missouri’s loss to Illinois, Tulsa transfer and leading scorer Jordan Clarkson’s stat line read 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Scoring leaders: Jordan Clarkson (19.9); Jabari Brown (18.2)

Rebounding leaders: Johnathan Williams (8.1); Earnest Ross (5.8)

Best freshman: Johnathan Williams (6.5 points, 8.1 rebounds)

RPI: 32

Strength of schedule: 103

Quality wins: UCLA (#78 RPI)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: at North Carolina State (#104 RPI); Long Beach State (220)


OLE MISS (8-3)

Coach: Andy Kennedy (160-90 at Ole Miss; 180-103 overall)

Through 11 games: The Rebels have lost twice by three points and the third loss was in overtime against Oregon despite 39 points from Marshall Henderson.

Key stats: The Rebels are the SEC’s highest-volume 3-point shooting team. They’ve launched 253 and knocked down 94

Scoring leaders: Marshall Henderson (18.7); Jarvis Summers (16.2)

Rebounding leaders: Aaron Jones (6.7); Demarco Cox (6.6)

Best freshman: Sebastian Saiz (4.1 points, 6.0 rebounds)

RPI: 84

Strength of schedule: 120

Quality wins: Penn State (#98 RPI)

Bad losses: Kansas State (#145 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: at Western Kentucky (#101 RPI); Dayton (55).



Coach: Frank Martin (17-24 at South Carolina; 134-78 overall)

Through nine games: The Gamecocks picked up two wins over RPI top 100 teams (St. Mary’s and Akron) in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.

Key stats: Freshman point guard Duane Notice has scored 11, 13 and 15 points and the Gamecocks have gone 2-1 since his insertion into the lineup.

Leading scorers: Sindarius Thornwell (12.1); Tyrone Johnson (11.7)

Leading rebounders: Mindaugus Kacinas (6.7); Demetrius Henry (5.3)

Best freshman: Sindarius Thornwell (12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds)

RPI: 92

Strength of schedule: 8

Quality wins: St. Mary’s (#45 RPI); Akron (85)

Bad losses: Clemson (#137 RPI); South Carolina-Upstate (172)

Non-conference games remaining: Marshall (#249 RPI); South Carolina State (338)



Coach: Cuonzo Martin (46-32 at Tennessee; 107-73 overall)

Through 11 games: The Vols are 1-4 in games decided by nine or fewer points. In the four losses, point guard Antonio Barton is averaging 4.0 points and 2.0 assists, hitting 6-21 from the field.

Key stats: The Vols rank fourth nationally in fewest turnovers per game at 9.2.

Leading scorers: Jordan McRae (18.7); Jarnell Stokes (13.6)

Leading rebounders: Jarnell Stokes (9.6); Jeronne Maymon (8.5)

Best freshman: Robert Hubbs (5.2 points, 1.6 rebounds)

RPI: 80

Strength of schedule: 59

Quality wins: Xavier (#68 RPI); Wake Forest (81)

Bad losses: UTEP (#156 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Morehead State (#174 RPI); Virginia (51); Tusculum (Division II)

TEXAS A&M (8-3)

Coach: Billy Kennedy (40-36 at Texas A&M; 251-215 overall)

Through 11 games: The Aggies 8-3 but they are 0-3 against teams with a top 100 RPI.

Key stats: In their most recent loss to Oklahoma, the Aggies shot a miserable 2-23 (.087%) from the 3-point line and were 18-67 overall (26.9%). Alex Caruso keeps launching (and missing) 3-pointers. He’s 19-74 in his career (25.6%).

Leading scorers: Kourtney Roberson (12.8); Jamal Jones (10.0)

Leading rebounders: Kourtney Roberson (8.0); Antwan Space (6.0)

Best freshman: Shawn Smith (5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds)

RPI: 167

Strength of schedule: 230

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: North Texas (#213 RPI); Texas-Pan American (330)


Coach: Kevin Stallings (284-179 at Vanderbilt; 407-242 overall)

Through 10 games: The Commodores are 5-3 in games decided by nine or fewer points, 2-0 in games decided by two or fewer. The Commodores would be 10-0 if they could simply hit free throws. They’re dead last in the SEC at 62.2% (168-270).

Key stats: Leading scorer Eric McClellan (14.8 per game) is hitting only 13.8% from the 3-point line.

Leading scorers: Eric McClellan (14.8); Rod Odom (13.3)

Leading rebounders: Rod Odom (5.5); Eric McClellan (5.0)

Best freshman: Damian Jones (9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds)

RPI: 58

Strength of schedule: 80

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: St. Louis (#51); Northeastern (199)

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.


    • Mercer has the #49 RPI in the country, so no, I wouldn’t consider it a bad loss. Mercer is capable of beating a lot of mid-to-high major teams.