SEC Power Rankings: Florida, Kentucky on collision course

Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson (29 points vs. Missouri) and Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein (18 points, 11 boards, six blocks vs. Mississippi) played starring roles for their respective teams last week.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Third-ranked Florida has been running roughshod through the SEC. Consequently, the Gators are positioning themselves for a possible No. 1 seed come NCAA tournament.

But this week, the Gators will find a tougher row to hoe when they travel to Tennessee (Tuesday) and No. 13 Kentucky (Saturday). Run that table, and Florida jumps into the No. 1-overall-seed conversation — along with top-ranked Syracuse, No. 2 Arizona, No. 4 Wichita State, No. 5 San Diego State and No. 6 Villanova.

The Gators drilled visiting Tennessee by 26 points last month, but the Volunteers had previously won three in a row against Florida. It’s the first meeting between Florida and Kentucky (season-finale on March 8).

After Florida and Kentucky, though, NCAA tourney hopefuls like Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and Missouri can’t win consistently, leaving much work left to get into the NCAA tourney’s at-large pool.

Casey Prather, the team’s top scorer (15.6 points) and league’s top shooter (62 percent), had been slowed by an ankle injury the last two games, but the senior forward returned to form in Saturday’s win over visiting Alabama, netting 15 points and a team-high six rebounds. The Gators dished out a season-high 33 assists against the Tide.

Freshman center Chris Walker, the former McDonald’s All-American, returned in Wednesday’s win over Missouri after being suspended 12 games for receiving impermissible benefits. Walker scored only four points, but they came on two thunderous dunks off alley-oops. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin had a career-high 19 points.

Struggling early Saturday at Mississippi State, Kentucky coach John Calipari went to seldom-used veterans Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson to help ignite a 19-6 run in the first half. A senior guard, Hood made just his second three-pointer of the season during the rally. Both players collected season highs with minutes played.

The Rebels might have the league’s worst scoring defense (72.3) and worst rebounding margin (minus-3), but they make more three-pointers (8.2) than any other team. Senior guard Marshall Henderson scored 29 points, including eight triples, and tallied five assists in Saturday’s 91-88 win over Missouri.

Ole Miss trailed by only one point at halftime before Kentucky pulled away in the second half. The Rebels had no answer for the inside presence of Stein, Johnson and 6-9 freshman forward Julius Randle, who scored 11 of 12 points after halftime. Henderson scored 16 points against the Wildcats.

The Volunteers have developed the regular habit of taking two steps forward, one step back. Thus, the lethargic 64-60 loss Wednesday at Vanderbilt, snapping a three-game win streak against the in-state rival. Tennessee didn’t score the final 4:43 of the first half and trailed by a dozen points early in the second, before rallying to tie the game late.

Seething from that loss, Tennessee took its frustrations out on visiting South Carolina, routing the Gamecocks by 19. The Vols are 7-1 immediately after losses. Junior forward Jarnell Stokes leads the SEC in rebounding (10 per game), while Stokes (4.2 boards) and senior forward Jeronne Maymon (3.7) are 1-2 in offensive rebounding.

The Bulldogs opened SEC play by winning four of five, swooned to a three-game skid, but then snapped that last week with home wins over LSU and Texas A&M. Junior forward Marcus Thornton had his second career double-double with a career-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. Georgia shot a season-best 60 percent from the field. With Saturday’’s win over the Aggies, fifth-year coach Mark Fox notched career win No. 200.

He previously coached five seasons at Nevada. The 50 points allowed were the fewest of the season for the Bulldogs, who held the Aggies to just 5 percent shooting on three-pointers (1 of 19). Sophomore guard Kenny Gaines had a career-high seven rebounds.

After trailing at halftime, the Tigers scored 55 points, including hitting 26 free throws, to rally past Auburn. O’Bryant had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double. Junior guard Anthony Hickey leads the SEC in assists-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.5), while freshman forward Jordan Hickey is tops in blocked shots (3.6).

The shorthanded Commodores capped their season-best winning streak at four with the home win Wednesday over Tennessee. Senior forward Rod Odom made his first six shots and finished with a career-high 26 points. Senior guard Kyle Fuller fought through illness with 12 points and 10 assists, his second double-double. Odom continued his hot shooting with 20 points in Saturday’s close loss to visiting Arkansas.

Fuller was named SEC Player of the Week for the first time. In the two games, he made 61.5 percent of his shots, including 50 percent 3-pointers. But his potential game-winning triple at the buzzer against Arkansas was errant.

The Tigers continue to dig themselves a hole with weekly losses to Florida and Ole Miss. Counting a defeat to Kentucky, Mizzou has lost three straight since beating Arkansas on Jan. 28. The Tigers trailed Ole Miss by nine points with 19 seconds remaining, but rallied to have a 28-foot shot by senior guard Earnest Ross (team-high 24 points) nearly force overtime.

A second-half scoring drought of four-plus minutes kept the Tigers from potentially upsetting Florida. Junior guard Jabari Brown has made at least three 3-pointers in eight straight games. He leads the league in three-point shooting (.462) and minutes played (36.8) and is second in scoring (20.1). Missouri also tops the SEC in free show shooting (.722).

Bobby Portis, a 6-10 forward, has been awarded a third SEC Freshman of the Week honor. In the Hogs’ win at Alabama, Portis scored a career-high 35 points to break the freshman single-game record of former Razorbacks great Scotty Thurman (1994). Portis accounted for 29 of Arkansas’ first 35 points.

Portis is the only Razorback to start all 23 games and leads the team in scoring (13.1) and rebounding (6.6). After leading by nine with nine minutes to play, the Hogs got a game-winning triple from sophomore guard Michael Qualls, who came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points.

The Aggies snapped a five-game skid that started with a road loss at Mississippi State, returning the favor with Wednesday’s win over the visiting Bulldogs. Texas A&M matched its season high of 22 assists and season low of six turnovers. The Aggies held a 22-1 advantage in points off turnovers.

Junior guard Jamal Jones had 20 points, his fifth time scoring 20 or more this season. Sophomore guard Alex Caruso had 10 assists. In a return to his home state, freshman forward Davonte Fitzgerald had a career-high six rebounds in the loss at Georgia.

After starting league play at 0-6, the Tigers won three in a row before losing Saturday at LSU. That third straight victory was a 79-74 win Wednesday at South Carolina. The league’s most prolific backcourt of senior Chris Denson and junior KT Harrell scored 25 points apiece.

Denson tops the SEC in scoring (20.2), while Harrell is fourth (19.4). Denson became the 34th player in program history to score 1,000 career points. Auburn led at halftime at LSU without shooting a free throw. Six fouls where whistled on both teams in the first and 38 in the second.

With freshman point I.J. Ready out with illness, State still managed to have four players score in double figures in its stingy loss to Kentucky (seveb straight wins over MSU). After starting SEC play a promising 3-2, the Bulldogs have dropped five in a row.

Playing for the first time at Texas A&M, the Bulldogs were doomed by a scoring drought of 10-plus minutes that resulted in a 20-2 run by the Aggies to blow the game open. MSU is ranked last in the SEC in scoring margin (minus-0.7) and blocked shots (2.8).

The Crimson Tide are losers of four in a row and six of seven after road defeats to Arkansas and Florida. Senior guard Trevor Releford continues his scoring ways, notching a game-high 25 points against the Gators. With 24 straight games scoring in double figures, Releford became the school’s No. 10 all-time leading scorer (1,702 points).

In the loss at Arkansas, junior guard Rodney Cooper had a season-high 22 points and game-high 10 rebounds (second double-double). Releford is tied for the league lead in steals (2.1). Three of Alabama’s next five games are on the road.

The Gamecocks were never in Saturday’s loss at Tennessee, falling behind 14-2 at the outset and trailing by 23 points at halftime. Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell (15 points) was the only Gamecock in double figures.

South Carolina also dug a 16-point hole in the loss to Auburn. Senior guard Brenton Williams had a game-high 29 points, including six 3-pointers. He has made at least four treys in five straight games. Williams leads the SEC in free throw percentage (.962), having made 75 of 78.