The SEC only has one legitimate contender for winning an NCAA title in the heavily favored Kentucky Wildcats, but the bottom and middle of the league have shown improvement in the first month of the season. The SEC finished 8th in RPI in 2012-13 and 7th in 2011-12, but is currently ranked 5th and likely to hold to that spot going forward. It is not time to break out the champagne for basketball dominance, but the league has grown from a collection of NIT resumes to right-side-of-the-bubble squads. Here are five things noticed sincethe Thanksgiving edition:
5… South Carolina beat previously unbeaten Oklahoma State 75-49 for their biggest win in 3 seasons. Sophomore Duane Notice scored 20 points against Oklahoma State which followed a 27-point outing against Marshall. Notice and freshman Marcus Stroman (has recorded 3+ assists in every game) have allowed Sindarius Thornwell to be freed up to focus on more than having to run the team offense and that should help South Carolina emerge from the SEC basement this year.
FORE!… Some people ranked Auburn as high as 7th in the conference due to the arrival of Bruce Pearl, but the Tigers followed up a respectable 46-44 loss to Texas Tech with a 58-54 loss at home to Coastal Carolina. Auburn was physically manhandled in the loss to former Auburn coach Cliff Ellis and Pearl is at least a year away from being able to fix a wearily thin frontcourt. Auburn got 40 of their 98 points this week from senior KT Harrell, but they will not have him around next season when an influx of talent is likely to arrive.
3D...Keep an eye on Texas A&M guard Danuel House. The Houston transfer is the most underrated dunker in the nation.
2… LSU has a dynamic duo in NBA forward prospects Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, but their success is dependent upon less heralded players emerging in the backcourt. Junior Josh Gray has stepped forward in running the team and helped lead LSU to a huge victory at previously unbeaten #16 West Virginia. Martin looks more like the top-10 prospect he was coming out of high school then he did at any point last season, but his gifts can only be realized if Gray and other LSU guards rapidly improve.
And 1… Tennessee senior guard Josh Richardson is a way-under-the-radar NBA prospect who is running the point for a team desperate for ball-handlers. Richardson will be a 3-and-D guy at the next level who has played well without the ball throughout his career and will benefit from a season with the ball in is hands. He is unlikely to be drafted by most projections, but Richardson does not turn 22 until after the 2015 NBA Draft and has shown strong leadership in Knoxville this season.