Florida hosts No. 1 Kentucky in SEC this week
Things to watch in Southeastern Conference basketball this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Kentucky at Florida: Saturday's Kentucky-Florida matchup might not be quite as sexy as previous games between these two teams due to the Gators' struggles, but any meeting between the SEC's two heavyweight programs is worth watching. Florida swept three games with Kentucky last season, including a 61-60 victory in the SEC tournament championship game. The top-ranked Wildcats (22-0, 9-0 SEC) will put their undefeated record on the line, while Florida (12-10, 5-4) will try to bounce back from Tuesday's 67-61 loss at Vanderbilt.
LOOKING AHEAD: The middle of the SEC standings is a crowded place these days. Only two conference wins separate nine programs - Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State - and almost all of them harbor varying degrees of postseason hopes. A trio of games this weekend could help provide a little separation: Tennessee travels to Georgia, Mississippi State goes to Arkansas and Alabama visits LSU on Saturday. The hottest team in the bunch is Ole Miss (15-7, 6-3), which has won four straight after knocking off Texas A&M 69-59 on Wednesday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mississippi State (11-11, 4-5) looked like it might be stuck in the basement of the SEC all season, but that was before the re-emergence of guard Craig Sword. The 6-foot-3 junior had preseason back surgery, which contributed to a slow start, but he's come alive in conference play and is leading the Bulldogs with more than 12 points per game in nine SEC games. He dumped 26 points on Tennessee in a win on Tuesday.
NUMBERS GAME: Kentucky is three wins shy of its best start in school history. The Wildcats posted a perfect 25-0 record in 1953-54. A victory Saturday over Florida would allow Kentucky to match its second-best start in school history. The Wildcats opened 23-0 in 1965-66 and finished that year as the NCAA runner-up. ... Mississippi State's 71-66 victory at Tennessee on Tuesday ended a string of 16 straight February losses for the Bulldogs and was their first February win since a 69-67 overtime triumph over South Carolina on Feb. 29, 2012.
ON THE WOMEN'S SIDE: Arguably the most highly anticipated women's game of the season will take place Monday when top-ranked South Carolina (21-0, 9-0) visits No. 2 Connecticut. ... Tennessee (19-3, 9-0) remains unbeaten in conference play and had two of its players - Isabelle Harrison and Bashaara Graves - scoring their 1,000th career points in back-to-back games. The Lady Vols could make it three games in a row with one of their players reaching the 1,000-point mark, as Ariel Massengale currently has 991 career points.
Compiled by AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi.