This week in SEC hoops

As gifted as Chris Walker is, he won’t be required to score and rebound in double figures to give Billy Donovan the complete roster that he needs to compete for the Southeastern Conference championship and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in March. Walker is certainly talented enough to put up big numbers on any given night, but the best thing he does for Donovan and the Florida Gators is add another versatile, multi-position player to the roster.

At 6-10, 220, Walker is a gazelle running the floor. He has great speed for a big guy and tremendous leaping ability. He is comfortable at either the high or low post and can run the baseline or even step out on the wing and take an occasional 3-pointer.

The immediate impact will be to give the Gators size in the post to back up Patric Young (6-9, 240) but once Walker is fully acclimated to both the offensive sets and the multiple defenses that Donovan likes to run, his versatility will give Donovan options that he hasn’t had up to this point in the season.

Here are a few examples of how Walker will be able to contribute:

FULL COURT PRESSURE: Injuries have made Donovan hesitant to run a lot of full court pressure but that’s about to change. If Donovan wants to run the press with both Scottie Wilbekin (6-2) and Kasey Hill (6-1) in the game, he can go with Casey Prather (6-6) on the ball, Wilbekin and Hill on the wings with Dorian Finney-Smith (6-8) at midcourt and Walker as his eraser on the back end. If Donovan wants to go small and add an outside shooter for transition in the press, he can move Finney-Smith back to the safety and insert Michael Frazier (6-4) in for Walker. Prior to Walker joining the team, Donovan had to be careful running Finney-Smith at the safety for fear of foul trouble since Finney-Smith had to give Young relief minutes at center and Yeguete relief at the high post.

A BIG 1-3-1 ZONE: Walker is quick enough to run the baseline in a 1-3-1 zone trap, which is the defense that gave Kansas so much trouble. Against Kansas, Donovan ran Wilbekin on the baseline and went big with Finney-Smith and Will Yeguete on the wings with Young in the middle. Putting Prather out front made for a tall, difficult obstacle for Kansas to throw the ball over. Walker is quick enough to play a wing if Donovan wanted to rest Prather and put Finney-Smith on the ball.

GOING BIG: Walker is a natural at the high post so he and Young will have no problems working together. That would free Finney-Smith to go to the wing where he’s coming on strong as a 3-point shooter (39.1%). Donovan could balance the floor with Frazier (52.2%) as the shooter on the other wide with Wilbekin (46.2%) giving UF a third 3-point option at the point.

GOING ATHLETIC: Florida’s most athletic lineup would have Wilbekin and Hill in the game at the same time with Walker at center, either Finney-Smith or Prather at the high post, and either Frazier or Finney-Smith on the wing.

Here is a team-by-team roundup of the 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference.


Key stats: SEC best 60.9 points allowed per game; +4.78 turnover margin

Leading scorers: Casey Prather (18.3); Scottie Wilbekin (13.0)

Leading rebounders: Dorian Finney-Smith (7.7); Casey Prather (6.6)

Best freshman: Kasey Hill (9.4 points, 4.0 assists)

RPI: 28

Strength of schedule: 50

Quality wins: Florida State (#94 RPI); Kansas (#4 RPI)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Memphis (#26 RPI); Fresno State (93); Savannah State (351); Richmond (68)



Through nine games: Alabama plays great defense, but can’t shoot from the outside and lacks an inside game. Freshman Jimmie Taylor and 7-1 Carl Engstrom aren’t getting the job done inside.

Key stats: 31.9% on 3-pointers; allows only 27.1% on 3-pointers

Scoring leaders: Trevor Releford (16.4); Retin Obasohan (15.2)

Best rebounders: Rodney Cooper (5.3); Nick Jacobs (5.0)

Best freshman: Jimmie Taylor (3.2 points, 4.1 rebounds)

RPI: 143

Strength of schedule: 42

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: South Florida (#157 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Wichita State (#12 RPI); Xavier (101); at UCLA (34); Robert Morris (257)



Through nine games: Houston transfer Alandise Morris and freshman Bobby Portis have been the difference makers.The lights have finally come on for sixth-man Rashad Madden, who is averaging 10.1 per game off the bench.

Key stats: 7.4 3-pointers per game; forcing 18 turnovers per game

Scoring leaders: Michael Qualls (14.8); Alandise Morris (12.4)

Best rebounders: Michael Qualls (5.9); Bobby Portis (5.2)

Best freshman: Bobby Portis (11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds)

RPI: 47

Strength of schedule: 57

Quality wins: Louisiana-Lafayette (#59 RPI); SMU (#78 RPI); Minnesota (#67 RPI)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Tennessee-Martin (#309 RPI); South Alabama (177); High Point (217); Texas-San Antonio (347)


AUBURN (4-3)

Through seven games: This is the gang that can’t shoot straight. The Tigers are hitting 26% on 3-pointers and only 43.5% overall from the field. They also have serious problems stopping anyone.

Key stats: 26% on 3-pointers; dead last in scoring defense (77 per game) in the SEC

Scoring leaders: Chris Denson (19.9); K.T. Harrell (18.4)

Rebounding leaders: Ashaun Dixon-Tatum (6.6); Chris Denson (5.9)

Best freshman: Tajh Shamsid-Dean (9.1 points, 3.3 assists)

RPI: 244

Strength of schedule: 269

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Northwestern State (#147 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Clemson (#121 RPI); Boston College (130); Arkansas-Pine Bluff (262); Florida A&M (328)



Through eight games: Georgia can’t hit from the outside, can’t score on the inside. This looks like it’s going to be a very long year in Athens.

Key stat: 31.9% on 3-pointers; 49% overall from the field

Scoring leaders: Charles Mann (14.3); Kenny Gaines (12.4)

Rebounding leaders: Donte Williams (6.5); Nemanja Djurisic (4.3)

Best freshman: Juwan Parker (4.5 points, 4.0 rebounds)

RPI: 332

Strength of schedule: 335

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Georgia Tech (#145 RPI); Davidson (#142 RPI); Nebraska (#116 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Gardner-Webb (#239 RPI); Western Carolina (228); at Colorado (6); at George Washington (35)



Through 11 games: Kentucky may lead the nation in talent but its lack of team chemistry shows against decent teams. The Wildcats are 0-3 against ranked teams. Unless something changes in a hurry, the Wildcats are going to struggle to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Key stats: 34.5 free throw attempts per game; more made free throws (254) than opponents have attempted (223)

Scoring leaders: Julius Randle (17.2); Aaron Harrison (14.4)

Rebounding leaders: Julius Randle (11.4); Willie Cauley-Stein (8.1)

Best freshman: Julius Randle (17.2 points, 11.4 rebounds)

RPI: 42

Strength of schedule: 80

Quality wins: Eastern Michigan (#92 RPI); Providence (#89 RPI); Boise State (#38 RPI)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Belmont (#21 RPI); Louisville (80)


LSU (6-2)

Through eight games: Until someone decides to start hitting open shots, the Tigers will see nothing but zone defenses. If they start hitting shots from the outside, this could be the SEC’s surprise team.

Key stats: Leads SEC with 44.4 rebounds per game; shooting 30.9% on 3-pointers

Scoring leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (14.9); Jordan Mickey (14.8)

Rebounding leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (9.5); Jordan Mickey (8.8)

Best freshman: Jordan Mickey (14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds)

RPI: 41

Strength of schedule: 43

Quality wins: Butler (#57 RPI)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Texas Tech (#127 RPI); UAB (61); McNeese State (311); Rhode Island (253)



Through eight games: The record is deceiving. The Bulldogs have a winning record because they’ve played bad teams. This team will struggle to win four or five SEC games.

Key stat: 30% on 3-pointers; last in the SEC with 61.1% from the foul line

Scoring leaders: Craig Sword (15.3); Gavin Ware (11.0)

Rebounding leaders: Gavin Ware (8.8); Roquez Johnson (4.9)

Best freshman: I.J. Ready (6.3 points, 3.0 assists)

RPI: 218

Strength of schedule: 328

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: TCU (#135 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Florida A&M (#328 RPI); Florida Gulf Coast (204); South Florida (157); Maryland-Eastern Shore (315)



Through 10 games: Missouri’s fast pace and full court pressure turns most games into a track meet. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has more than made up for the loss of Phil Pressey. As long as the Tigers can keep the game up and down the floor they can get away with their lack of steady inside presence.

Key stats: Opponents shoot 27.9% from the 3-point line; +11.1 rebounding margin

Scoring leaders: Jordan Clarkson (20.2); Jabari Brown (19.4)

Rebounding leaders: Johnathan Williams (8.6); Jabari Brown (5.8)

Best freshman: Johnathan Williams

RPI: 23

Strength of schedule: 131

Quality wins: West Virginia (#98 RPI); UCLA (#34 RPI)

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Illinois (#48 RPI); at North Carolina State (153); Long Beach State (231)


OLE MISS (7-2)

Through nine games: The Rebels don’t score much on the inside, but they rebound well and they play good interior defense. There are few worries about perimeter offense as long as Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers remember to take decent shots.

Key stats: Leads SEC with 8.6 3-pointers per game; second in the league in blocked shots (7.7 per game)

Scoring leaders: Marshall Henderson (17.9); Jarvis Summers (16.6)

Rebounding leaders: Aaron Jones (7.3); Demarco Cox (7.2)

Best freshman: Sebastian Saiz (4.2 points, 5.7 rebounds)

RPI: 52

Strength of schedule: 85

Quality wins: Penn State (#64 RPI)

Bad losses: Kansas State (#182 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Louisiana-Monroe (#117 RPI); Mercer (60); at Western Kentucky (187); Dayton (37).



Through five games: Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson is good enough that the Gamecocks won’t miss Bruce Ellington if he decides to concentrate on prepping for the NFL Draft. Freshmen Sindarius Thornwell and Demetrius Henry have performed at or above expectations.

Key stats: Worst shooting team in the SEC (41.7%); fewest 3-point attempts (68) in the SEC

Leading scorers: Tyrone Johnson (12.2); Sindarius Thornwell (11.8)

Leading rebounders: Mindaugus Kacinas (8.4); Michael Carrera (6.6)

Best freshman: Sindarius Thornwell (12.2 points, 4.4 assists)

RPI: 84

Strength of schedule: 15

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Clemson (#121 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: Manhattan (#82 RPI); South Carolina-Upstate (106); at St. Mary’s (9); Akron (43); Marshall (224); South Carolina State (344)



Through nine games: The lack of a decent point guard is going to cost the Vols in a big way. Memphis transfer Antonio Barton and freshman Darius Thompson just aren’t getting the job done.

Key stats: Vols average 15.4 offensive rebounds per game;

Leading scorers: Jordan McRae (19.6); Jarnell Stokes (14.1)

Leading rebounders: Jarnell Stokes (9.3); Jeronne Maymon (7.8)

Best freshman: Robert Hubbs (5.3 points per game)

RPI: 86

Strength of schedule: 178

Quality wins: Wake Forest (#100 RPI)

Bad losses: Xavier (#101 RPI); UTEP (#128 RPI)

Non-conference games remaining: North Carolina State (#153 RPI); Morehead State (113); Virginia (46)


TEXAS A&M (8-2)

Through 10 games: The Aggies play excellent defense and get a lot of points in transition, which disguises their offensive deficiencies. Alex Caruso (26.1% from the 3-point line) desperately needs to break his shooting slump.

Key stats: Aggies allow only 61.7 points per game; 37% shooting by opponents

Leading scorers: Kourtney Roberson (13.4);

Leading rebounders: Kourtney Roberson (7.5); Antwan Space (6.2)

Best freshman: Shawn Smith (6.1 points, 3.3 rebounds)

RPI: 114

Strength of schedule: 199

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Oklahoma (#36 RPI); North Texas (193); Texas-Pan American (340)



Through eight games: Vanderbilt has found the scorer to replace Kedren Johnson (suspended for the season) in Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan. If the Commodores aren’t hitting from the outside, they aren’t winning. No inside game to speak of.

Key stats: Worst turnover margin (-3.75 per game) in the SEC;  

Leading scorers: Eric McClellan (16.5 points); Rod Odom (13.0)

Leading rebounders: Rod Odom (5.1); Eric McClellan (4.6)

Best freshman: Damian Jones (9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds)

RPI: 91

Strength of schedule: 118

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Non-conference games remaining: Austin Peay (#287 RPI); Georgia Tech (145), St. Louis (45); Northeastern (148)

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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.