Our weekly look at SEC basketball:
* You don’t have to like Bruce Pearl. You don’t have to respect his ethics or lack of them. But you have to admit that the man can coach. We keep waiting for Auburn to fall back and all the Tigers do is keep winning. It pains a lot of people to admit it, but Pearl is probably the middle-of-the-season coach of the year and Auburn is the shining star on a new and improved SEC. The way Aubie went into Missouri and thrashed the Tigers with another second-half blitzkrieg was ridiculous. At 18-2 and 6-1 in the conference, Auburn is sitting out the SEC/Big 12 Challenge (because of last year’s finish) but will face LSU on Saturday and has three of its next four games at home. The schedule is back-ended, but the Tigers are not going away.
* The SEC hopes to have a nice Saturday with the Challenge that will help its efforts to land the most possible teams in the NCAA Tournament, but two teams who could use a ratings boost don’t get to play teams from the other conference — LSU and Missouri. Three teams which could really use a last-gasp non-conference win:
# South Carolina, which still has a lot of work to do to be considered but would get a bump with a win over No. 20 RPI Texas Tech at home.
# Georgia, which sometimes acts like it doesn’t want to play in late March and could really use a win at Kansas State.
# Texas A&M, only 2-6 in the SEC but still a player because of its non-con schedule with the game at Kansas (No. 7 in RPI) on the horizon.
* Maybe it’s Rupp Arena. Maybe it’s Kentucky’s length defensively. Maybe it’s a sign of the basketball apocalypse. Whatever it is, the last two games in the storied venue have been difficult to watch for the fans of the 3-point shot. In the two games in four days in Lexington, KY., the three teams — Florida, Mississippi State and Kentucky — combined to make 20-of-90 shots from beyond the arc. That’s 22 percent, sports fans. And so you ask, why keep shooting them? I think I said that to my TV twice — on Saturday night and Tuesday night.
* So we are a game shy of the middle of the season. Is it too early to decide who the worst team is in the SEC? I vote for Vandy, which is a pretty easy choice at 7-13. Perhaps Luke Kornet should have been the SEC Most Valuable Player last year because his departure seems to have turned the Commodores into mush. Vandy has also lost Mathew Fisher-Davis to a season-ending shoulder injury, although he and the staff were hardly on the same page anyway. This was an NCAA Tournament team last year and the Commodores have a big-time recruiting class coming in next year so this may be a bad blip of a season. Kornet, by the way, is on the end of the bench for the Knicks.