Gators, ‘Cats remain atop SEC Power Rankings

Gators forward Dorian Finney-Smith's double-double helped Florida to an overtime win over Arkansas.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After the first week of league play, Florida and Kentucky remain the top teams in the SEC Power Rankings released each Monday.

But it didn’t come without some work. Florida had to go to overtime to win at Arkansas on Saturday, while Kentucky trailed visiting Mississippi State at halftime of its league opener Wednesday before pulling away in the second half.

Georgia was the surprise SEC team out of the gate, picking up a huge road win over previously nationally-ranked Missouri. In doing so, the upstart Bulldogs, who also beat visiting Alabama, snapped Missouri’s nation-best home winning streak of 26 games.

Heading into Week 2 of league play, here are the SEC Power Rankings …  

1. Florida (13-2, 2-0)

The Gators opened league play with two wins last week and climbed to No. 7 in the country, but not before claiming a wild 82-80 overtime win Saturday at Arkansas. Then again, leading scorer Casey Prather (bruised knee) didn’t play, while point guard Scottie Wilbekin (sprained ankle) and center Patric Young (knee tendinitis) were slowed.

In his second start of the season, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith had season highs of 22 points and 15 rebounds in the win. Earlier in the week, Florida won its 24th home game in a row with a 74-58 win over South Carolina. 

Gators coach Billy Donovan was named co-recipient of the 2013 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year. He led Team USA to a 9-0 record and a gold medal at last summer’s 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships.

2. Kentucky (12-3, 2-0)

With nine freshmen, the 13th-ranked Wildcats have the youngest team in the country. After a gritty 71-62 win Saturday at Vanderbilt, coach John Calipari declared his team has the biggest upside of any team in the country. Grabbing all 11 rebounds in the first half, freshman forward Julius Randle has reached double figures in rebounding 11 times.

After not playing since Dec. 28, the Wildcats trailed visiting Mississippi State at halftime of its league opener. Freshman swingman James Young matched career highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds as the Wildcats pulled away for an 85-63 win. 

3. Missouri (13-2, 1-1)

Ranked No. 21 in the country and riding that nation-best home winning streak, the Tigers must have figured their SEC opener Wednesday against lowly Georgia had to be a breeze. But the Bulldogs had other ideas, upsetting Missouri 70-64 in overtime.

In the loss, junior guard Jabari Brown scored a game-high 19 points to score in double digits every game this season. The Tigers then barely survived with a 70-68 win Saturday at Auburn, yet another team picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC. 

4. Texas A&M (11-4, 2-0)

The Aggies joined Georgia with a surprising opening week of SEC play. They rallied from 14 points down in the second half for a 57-56 win Saturday at Tennessee. After having made only two 3-pointers all season, sophomore forward Antwan Space made his third count the most by hitting the game winner with 4.4 seconds remaining.

The Aggies went the final 9:34 of the first half without a field goal and trailed the Vols 32-18 at halftime. Texas A&M went into its league opener against visiting Arkansas making only 29.9 percent of 3-pointers, but hit 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) in a convincing 69-53 win.

5. Tennessee (10-5, 1-1)

The Volunteers had seemingly righted the ship with a modest four-game winning streak, but they blew the 14-point halftime lead to Texas A&M. The team’s leading scorers, senior guard Jordan McRae (nine points) and sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes (six), were not factors.

The Vols have held opponents to 58 points or less the last four games and are averaging 10.7 forced turnovers, 4.8 blocks and 5.5 steals per game this season. In a 68-50 win Wednesday at LSU, Stokes notched 15 points and 15 rebounds on his 20th birthday. He has seven double-doubles this season and 25 overall.

6. Georgia (8-6, 2-0)

Don’t look now, but the Bulldogs are 2-0 and tied for the league lead. How long that stands is another deal, but the 70-64 overtime win at Missouri was impressive. After all, they had lost previous road games at George Washington and Colorado by 18 and 14 points, respectively, and were a double-digit underdog to the Tigers.

After scoring a team-best 18 points at Missouri, sophomore guard Charles Mann led the team again with 22 points in Saturday’s 66-58 win over visiting Alabama, while also playing a team-high 36 minutes. For his efforts, Mann was named SEC Player of the Week. 

7. Arkansas (11-4, 0-2)

Leading by seven points with just under 5 minutes to play, it appeared the host Razorbacks would upset Florida. But the Gators closed on a 9-2 run to force overtime and eventually snap the Razorbacks’ 23-game home winning streak that included nine straight against league foes.

Junior guard Rashad Madden had a career-high 23 points for the Hogs, who led for all but 2:59 of regulation. Highly-touted freshman center Bobby Portis has scored in double figures 11 times. The Razorbacks host Kentucky Tuesday night.

8. LSU (10-4, 1-1)

There are a lot of expectations being placed on freshman Jarell Martin. The 6-foot-9, 241-pound forward, the reigning Louisiana prep player of the year, showed why in Saturday’s 71-68 win at South Carolina. He came off the bench to notch career highs of 18 points and five steals to go with six rebounds.

The Tigers were sluggish in their opener against the Vols, falling behind 38-24 by halftime and never challenging in the 18-point defeat. The 24 points were the fewest scored in the first half by the Tigers this season.

9. Mississippi State (11-4, 1-1)

If the Bulldogs are going to have success at home at Humphrey Coliseum — affectionately called “The Hump” by fans — then it might as well come against rival Ole Miss. With Saturday’s 76-72 win, the Bulldogs have now beaten the Rebels five straight and 15 of the last 16 at home.

In the win, Mississippi State had to overcome 37.9 percent shooting from the field, including hitting only 4-of-21 on 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Craig Sword missed all seven floor shots, but made 15-of-18 free throws. He came off the bench to score 19 in the loss at Kentucky.

10. Ole Miss (10-5, 1-1)

For violation of team rules during the off-season, senior guard Marshall Henderson — last season’s SEC leading scorer — was suspended for the first game of the regular season and the first two league games. His first league action comes Wednesday against visiting LSU.

The Rebels had a seven-minute stretch of scoring only two points in the second half, but still rallied to beat visiting Auburn 65-62 in the SEC opener. In the loss at Mississippi State, the teams shot the same (13 -of-32 for 40.6 percent) from the field, but the Rebels were on the short end of a 21-5 free-throw disparity.

11. Alabama (7-8, 1-1) 

With the 68-63 win Wednesday over Vanderbilt, the Crimson Tide have won 13 straight SEC home games. Senior guard Trevor Releford was all over the court, leading Alabama with 16 points, six assists and three steals. 

Highly-touted freshman Shannon Hale, a 6-8 forward, had a career-high 15 points against Vanderbilt, following that with 14 points in the loss at Georgia. Releford scored 17 points in the setback, 15 coming in the second half.

12. Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2) 

Going against the inside Kentucky strength of 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-9 Julius Randle, Commodores center Damian Jones, a 6-10 freshman, more than held his own with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Even so, Vanderbilt was outrebounded 41-28.

With the dismissal from the team of sophomore guard and leading scorer Eric McClellan for academic and team violations, senior forward Rod Odom has to take up the scoring slack. But against Kentucky, he was plagued by foul trouble and scored a season-low five points. 

13. Auburn (8-5, 0-2)

The Tigers nearly became another surprise during the first week of league play. But a 65-62 loss at Ole Miss followed by the 70-68 loss to visiting Missouri left Auburn with nothing to show for two good efforts.

The Tigers couldn’t overcome 18 turnovers at Ole Miss, but senior guard Chris Denson sure tried with a game-high 28 points. SEC leading scorer KT Harrell was held to 11 points because of foul trouble against the Rebels, but the junior guard bounced back with 27 points against Missouri.

14. South Carolina (7-8, 0-2)

Gamecocks freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in losses at Florida and to visiting LSU. He had a career-high 25 points at LSU.

Thornwell played last season at national prep power Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., after being named the top high school player in South Carolina as a junior. The Gamecocks allowed Florida to shoot 57.8 percent from the field in the road loss.