Texas A&M, Tennessee meet in matchup of early SEC surprises
A few things to watch this week in the Southeastern Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Texas A&M at Tennessee: After being picked by the SEC media to finish 13th in the conference, Tennessee (12-5, 4-1 SEC) instead is in sole possession of second place after winning eight of its last nine games. Texas A&M (12-5, 3-2) enters Saturday’s game having won three straight. This new conference rivalry already has produced plenty of memorable matchups. The last three meetings between these teams includes one four-overtime game, one single-overtime contest and a matchup that was decided by one point in regulation.
LOOKING AHEAD: Florida (10-8, 3-2) has long been one of the SEC’s most consistent and successful teams under veteran coach Billy Donovan, but the Gators are in serious danger of not making the NCAA tournament this season if things don’t improve in a hurry. Florida won its first three conference games before back-to-back losses, including a 79-61 setback to LSU on Tuesday. It was the Gators’ worst home loss since 2010. Said Florida forward Alex Murphy: ”If we don’t come together as a team, we’ll continue to get embarrassed.”
PLAYER TO WATCH: LSU’s Jarell Martin is piling up big numbers for the Tigers (14-4, 3-2), averaging 17.3 points over his past three games. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound sophomore forward has been particularly good on the road, with 18 points and 14 rebounds against Ole Miss and 22 points against Florida. Martin is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game this season while shooting nearly 49 percent from the field.
KEY STATS: Mississippi State (9-9, 2-3) ended several embarrassing SEC streaks with two victories over the past week against Vanderbilt and Auburn. Before the outburst, the Bulldogs were on a 16-game regular-season SEC losing streak and had lost 22 consecutive road games. … Florida’s loss to Georgia on Saturday snapped the Gators’ 24-game SEC winning streak. The Gators’ loss to LSU on Tuesday broke a 20-game SEC winning streak at home.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: Top-ranked South Carolina (18-0, 6-0) is entering a particularly demanding portion of its schedule. The Gamecocks put their unbeaten record on the line Monday when they host No. 10 Texas A&M. They follow that up by hosting Alabama on Thursday before going on a three-game road swing that includes trips to Mississippi, No. 22 Georgia and No. 2 Connecticut.
Compiled by AP Sports Writers David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee.