This week in the SEC: January 14, 2014

Patric Young knows all about being good. He’s been good the last three years and so have the Florida Gators. He also realizes that the Gators have been a game away from being great all three years, seeing their season end at the Elite Eight game in the NCAA Tournament.

Getting the Gators over the Elite Eight hump is one of his goals this season – “In order to be considered a Gator great you have to do something great,” he explains – and that required some offseason soul searching before his senior season began. After some self-evaluation, he came up with a list of things he could do.

“Being more committed and being more professional on and off the court, taking care of my body, eating right and limiting what I put inside my body and working on my game more,” Young said. “It’s helped me all-around as a person and as a player. It’s definitely helped my knees being down to 240 instead of 250-255. I’m really glad that Preston (Greene, strength and conditioning coordinator) and Duke (Werner, trainer) were able to convince me to realize I needed to lose some weight even though it sounds counter-intuitive as strong as I am.”

The payoff has been consistency. Young is averaging 10.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He’s working on a string of four straight games in double figures and he has scored in double figures 10 of the Gators 15 games heading into tonight’s SEC encounter with Georgia (7 p.m., Stephen C. O’Connell Center, ESPNU). Since the UConn game, Young has rebounded the ball at a consistent clip also (7.0 over that stretch). Defensively, he’s remained rock solid. Florida coach Billy Donovan calls Young the best low post defender in the country.

Losing the weight without losing strength involved a change in diet.

“I pretty much went meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts and a lot of water so it was really hard the first week,” Young said. “I thought I was going to kill myself but other than that I’m good with it now.”

The killer part was giving up bread. That, he says, wasn’t easy.

“It surprises you, because you might not consider yourself as a bread eater but once you cut it out completely you’re just like, it’s like man I really want a piece of bread or some toast or something,” Young said.

The Gators will face a Georgia team that is off to a surprising 2-0 start in the SEC tonight. From a talent and experience perspective, Florida should win this game, particularly since it’s in the friendly confines of the O-Dome where the Gators have won their last 24 contests.

Georgia has shown an ability to come back this season so it’s a game that if the Gators get the lead they will have to stay focused and put the Bulldogs away.

“When we’re playing against a team we allow human nature to kick in and us have a mind set of relax a little bit instead of have a killer mindset of keep pushing and pursuing greatness,” Young said. “We have to get better at that for sure because in order to be great you have to keep pursuing it. You can’t relax. We have to keep pushing ourselves to get better.

“We need to compete for 40 minutes and stay focused and locked in on our goal of becoming great and being champions, not just winning a game.”


            FLORIDA (13-2, 2-0 SEC)

Coach: Billy Donovan (428-168 at Florida; 463-188 overall)

Through 15 games: The Gators are 6-2 in games decided by nine or fewer points. The Gators were 0-6 in games decided by nine or fewer last year.

Key stats: The Gators are 15th nationally, giving up only 60.3 points per game. Only two teams (Memphis and Arkansas) have scored more than 70 against Florida this season.

Scoring leaders: Casey Prather (17.0); Scottie Wilbekin 12.9)

Best rebounders: Dorian Finney-Smith (8.0); Patric Young (6.1)

Best freshman: Kasey Hill (7.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists)

RPI: 8

Strength of schedule: 15

Quality wins: Florida State (#28 RPI); Kansas (2); Memphis (19); Richmond (73); Arkansas (94)

Bad losses: None.

This week’s schedule: Georgia (Tuesday); at Auburn (Saturday)


ALABAMA (7-8, 1-1 SEC)

Coach: Anthony Grant (99-60 at Alabama; 169-85overall)

Through 15 games: Given a chance to start in Alabama’s two SEC games, freshman Shannon Hale responded with 29 points but Anthony Grant isn’t getting much in the way of inside help from either Nick Jacobs or Jimmie Taylor, whose numbers continue to head south.

Key stats: Trevor Releford has scored in double figures in all 14 games he has played in this season. He is sixth in the SEC in scoring (18.2), seventh in field goal percentage (50.6%), first in free throw percentage (92.9%), sixth in 3-point percentage (38.4%) and first in steals (2.6 per game).

Scoring leaders: Trevor Releford (18.2); Retin Obasohan (12.4)

Best rebounders: Rodney Cooper (4.5); Levi Randolph (4.4)

Best freshman: Shannon Hale (5.9 points, 3.1 rebounds)

RPI: 126

Strength of schedule: 19

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: South Florida (#177 RPI); Georgia (178)

This week’s schedule: Mississippi State (Wednesday); at Missouri (Saturday)

ARKANSAS (11-4, 0-2 SEC)

Coach: Mike Anderson (48-31 at Arkansas; 248-129 overall)

Through 15 games: After breezing through the non-conference schedule with some impressive wins, the Razorbacks have started the SEC portion of the schedule in an 0-2 hole. The road loss was expected given the way they play on the road since Mike Anderson took over. The home loss to a crippled Florida team was shocking.

Key stats: Twelve Razorbacks average at least 10 minutes per game. That’s the deepest bench in the league.

Scoring leaders: Michael Qualls (12.7); Bobby Portis (12.5)

Best rebounders: Bobby Portis (6.3); Coty Clarke (6.1)

Best freshman: Bobby Portis (12.5 points, 6.1 rebounds)

RPI: 94

Strength of schedule: 125

Quality wins: Louisiana-Lafayette (#97 RPI); SMU (43); Minnesota (40)

Bad losses: Texas A&M (#111 RPI)

This week’s game: Kentucky (Tuesday); at Georgia (Saturday)

AUBURN (8-5, 0-2 SEC)

Coach: Tony Barbee (43-64 at Auburn; 125-116 overall)

Through 13 games: Auburn lost its first two SEC games by turning the ball over with three seconds to go. The Tigers missed a chance to send the Ole Miss game into overtime and blew a chance to upset Missouri.

Key stats: K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson combined for 38.4 points per game, most of any tandem in the SEC.

Scoring leaders: K.T. Harrell (19.3); Chris Denson (19.1)

Rebounding leaders: Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (6.0); Adrian Payne (6.0)

Best freshman: Tahj Shamsid-Deen (8.2 points, 3.5 assists)

RPI: 173

Strength of schedule: 174

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Northwestern State (#267 RPI)

This week’s schedule: at Tennessee (Wednesday); Florida (Saturday)

GEORGIA (8-6, 2-0 SEC)

Coach: Mark Fox (73-69 at Georgia; 196-112 overall)

Through 14 games: Georgia survived two last-second shots against Missouri then beat the Tigers in overtime to end their 26-game home streak. Against Alabama, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines went off for 22 points each as the Bulldogs opened their SEC season at 2-0.

Key stat: The Bulldogs take fewer 3-pointers (12 per game) than any team in the SEC.

Scoring leaders: Charles Mann (14.1); Kenny Gaines (12.2)

Rebounding leaders: Donte Williams (5.2); Marcus Thornton (4.9)

Best freshman: Juwan Parker (4.6 points, 3.9 rebounds)

RPI: 178

Strength of schedule: 191

Quality wins: Missouri (#47 RPI)

Bad losses: Georgia Tech (#124 RPI); Davidson (161); Temple (174)

This week’s games: at Florida (Tuesday); Arkansas (Saturday)

KENTUCKY (12-3, 2-0 SEC)

Coach: John Calipari (135-29 at Kentucky; 538-167 overall)

Through 15 games: Kentucky is on the road at Arkansas tonight. The Wildcats lost to the Razorbacks by 13 last year at Bud Walton Arena.  The Wildcats have lost their last two in Fayettteville.

Key stats: Julius Randle has reached double figures in rebounding in 11 of Kentucky’s 15 games so far.

Scoring leaders: Julius Randle (16.7); James Young (14.1)

Rebounding leaders: Julius Randle (10.9); Willie Cauley-Stein (7.7)

Best freshman: Julius Randle (16.7 points, 10.9 rebounds)

RPI: 15

Strength of schedule: 9

Quality wins: Cleveland State (#85 RPI); Eastern Michigan (51); Providence (63); Boise State (68); Belmont (66); Louisville (32=7)

Bad losses: None

This week’s schedule: at Arkansas (Tuesday); Tennessee (Saturday)

LSU (10-4, 1-1 SEC)

Coach: Johnny Jones (29-16 at LSU; 234-178 overall)

Through 14 games: LSU was hammered in Baton Rouge by Tennessee but made its free throws down the stretch to hold off a South Carolina rally to win on the road in Columbia.

Key stats: Neither Andre Stringer (9 points, 4 assists) or Anthony Hickey (9 points,  3 assists) have been effective in SEC play where their size (Stringer is 5-9, Hickey 5-10 although both are listen an inch taller) has been an issue.  It’s hard to win in the SEC when you start two undersized guards.

Scoring leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (14.2); Jordan Mickey (14.0)

Rebounding leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (7.4); Jordan Mickey 7.2

Best freshman: Jordan Mickey (14.0 points, 7.1 rebounds)

RPI: 70

Strength of schedule: 97

Quality wins: St. Joseph’s (#59 RPI); Butler (88)

Bad losses: Rhode Island (#163 RPI)

This week’s schedule: at Ole Miss, (Wednesday); Vanderbilt (Saturday)


Coach: Rick Ray (21-26)

Through 15 games: When Mississippi State knocked off Ole Miss in Starkville last Saturday, it marked the 15th time in 16 years the Bulldogs have beaten the Rebels at home.

Key stat: Craig Sword’s defense was critical in the win over Ole Miss. He came up with a career-high seven steals in a 4-point win by the Bulldogs.

Scoring leaders: Craig Sword (14.7); Gavin Ware (10.4)

Rebounding leaders: Gavin Ware (9.0); Roquez Johnson (4.9)

Best freshman: I.J. Ready (6.4 points, 3.5 assists)

RPI: 147

Strength of schedule: 284

Quality wins: Ole Miss (#79 RPI)

Bad losses: TCU (#172 RPI); UNLV (162)

This week’s schedule: at Alabama (Wednesday); Texas A&M (Saturday)

MISSOURI (13-2, 1-1 SEC)

Coach: Frank Haith (66-18 at Missouri; 195-119 overall)

Through 15 games: Missouri was shocked by Georgia in Columbia, ending its 26-game home winning streak. The Tigers struggled on the road at Auburn, surviving with a 2-point win when Auburn couldn’t get the ball inbounds under its basket with three seconds to go.

Key stats: Missouri holds opponents to 38.9% from the field and only 28.6% from the 3-point line.

Scoring leaders: Jordan Clarkson (18.9); Jabari Brown (18.2)

Rebounding leaders: Johnathan Williams (7.1); Earnest Ross (6.3)

Best freshman: Johnathan Williams (6.8 points, 7.1 rebounds)

RPI: 47

Strength of schedule: 105

Quality wins: West Virginia (#80 RPI); UCLA (38); North Carolina State (82)

Bad losses: Georgia (#178)

This week’s schedule: at Vanderbilt (Thursday); Alabama (Saturday)

OLE MISS (10-5, 1-1 SEC)

Coach: Andy Kennedy (162-92 at Ole Miss; 182-105 overall)

Through 15 games:  Ole Miss had to play its first two SEC games without leading scorer Marshall Henderson. The Rebels eked out a win over Auburn then lost on the road to Mississippi State. If Henderson is playing and making shots, the Rebels can play with anyone. If he’s out of the lineup anyone can beat them.

Key stats: Ole Miss launches nearly 22 3-pointers a game, most in the SEC by a wide margin.

Scoring leaders: Marshall Henderson (18.8); Jarvis Summers (17.9)

Rebounding leaders: Aaron Jones (6.9); Sebastian Saiz (6.2)

Best freshman: Sebastian Saiz (4.4 points, 6.2 rebounds)

RPI: 79

Strength of schedule: 88

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Mississippi State (#147 RPI)

This week’s schedule: LSU (Wednesday); at South Carolina (Saturday)


Coach: Frank Martin (21-26 at South Carolina; 138-80 overall)

Through 15 games: In the Gamecocks loss to LSU, freshman Sindarius Thornwell went off for 25 points, the kind of effort Frank Martin is going to need from him the rest of the season. Thornwell is the only player on Martin’s roster capable of being a go-to scorer, something the Gamecocks desperately need if they are going to escape the SEC cellar.

Key stats: The Gamecocks have problems scoring, largely due to the fact they’re next to last in the SEC in shooting (43.3%) and have a negative (-0.1) turnover margin.

Leading scorers: Tyrone Johnson (11.9); Sindarius Thornwell (11.7)

Leading rebounders: Mindaugus Kacinas (5.5); Demetrius Henry (4.6)

Best freshman: Sindarius Thornwell (10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds)

RPI: 109

Strength of schedule: 29

Quality wins: St. Mary’s (#53 RPI)

Bad losses: Clemson (#112 RPI); South Carolina-Upstate (185)

This week’s games: at Texas A&M (Wednesday); Ole Miss (Saturday)

TENNESSEE (10-5, 1-1 SEC)

Coach: Cuonzo Martin (49-33 at Tennessee; 110-74 overall)

Through 15 games: The Vols were beaten on a buzzer-beater three by Texas A&M at home yet they went to Baton Rouge where they knocked off LSU. Tennessee is allowing only 53.5 points in its two league games.

Key stats: Tennessee averages 14.8 offensive rebounds per game.

Leading scorers: Jordan McRae (18.3); Jarnell Stokes (13.4)

Leading rebounders: Jarnell Stokes (9.3); Jeronne Maymon (8.4)

Best freshman: Robert Hubbs (5.0 points, 1.5 rebounds)

RPI: 56

Strength of schedule: 26

Quality wins: Xavier (#39 RPI); Wake Forest (67); Virginia (21); LSU (70)

Bad losses: UTEP (#156 RPI), Texas A&M (111)

This week’s  schedule: Auburn (Wednesday); at Kentucky (Saturday)

TEXAS A&M (11-4, 2-0 SEC)

Coach: Billy Kennedy (42-38 at Texas A&M; 253-217 overall)

Through 15 games: The Aggies are off to a surprising 2-0 start in league play. They’ve done it with terrific defense, holding both Arkansas and Tennessee to fewer than 57 points.

Key stats: The Aggies best player is Alex Caruso, who leads the SEC in assists at 5.1 per game. He had 11 in the win over Arkansas.

Leading scorers: Jamal Jones (10.9); Kourtney Roberson (10.4)

Leading rebounders: Kourtney Roberson (7.7); Antwan Space (4.9)

Best freshman: Shawn Smith (5.0 points, 3.2 rebounds)

RPI: 111

Strength of schedule: 161

Quality wins: Buffalo (#92 RPI), Arkansas (94), Tennessee (56)

Bad losses: North Texas (#167 RPI)

This week’s schedule: South Carolina (Wednesday); at Mississippi State (Saturday)


Coach: Kevin Stallings (285-182 at Vanderbilt; 408-245 overall)

Through 14 games: Vanderbilt was already playing short handed when leading scorer Eric McClellan (14.3) was suspended for the remainder of the season for academics. Last year’s leading scorer Kedren Johnson is sitting out this season, also for academic reasons.

Key stats: Vanderbilt allows opponents only 41% from the field and a league-best 27.8% from the 3-point line.

Leading scorers: Rod Odom (13.2); Damian Jones (11.2)

Leading rebounders: Rod Odom (5.6); Damian Jones (5.1)

Best freshman: Damian Jones (11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds)

RPI: 129

Strength of schedule: 102

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: Alabama (#126 RPI)

This week’s schedule: Missouri (Thursday); at LSU (Saturday)

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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.