SEC Basketball Notebook
By Randy Rosetta
WagerWeb.com Contributing Writer
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is a media favorite most of the time, a walking quote sheet in a nice suit who never shies away from a microphone or camera.
So when he bristled at a television reporter earlier this fall, you knew something was up.
The source of Pearl’s angst was a question that implied the Memphis basketball program was the state’s best. Pearl deftly avoided an answer, but he won’t have to tonight when the 16th-ranked Tigers invade Thompson-Boling Arena.
Memphis topped the Vols last season, 88-79, in the first game of a 17-game series after a four-year hiatus. By season’s end, both teams were among the nation’s best with the Tigers gaining a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed and Tennessee a No. 2.
Both teams look much different this year, though. This is a perfect chance for the revamped Vols to make a statement with three straight non-conference games looming in the next few weeks: Western Kentucky in Knoxville, vs. Oklahoma State in Nashville and then back home against Texas.
Junior guard Chris Lofton is Tennessee’s leader with 18.6 points a game (second in the SEC) and 3.8 3-pointers made per contest. Lofton is lapping the field in 3-pointers made (30) and attempted (62), and has teamed with senior Dane Bradshaw (7.4 points, 4.6 assists per game) to give the Volunteers a steady backcourt presence.
The tempo should be revved up tonight, as UT is forcing 23.8 turnovers a game (most in the SEC) and has pestered seven opponents into 20 giveaways or more. Memphis foes have coughed the ball up just over 20 times a game, and the Tigers aren’t shy about launching from 3-point range, with nearly 40 percent of their field-goal attempts coming from outside the arc.
Memphis is a 1-point favorite on WagerWeb.com, and that seems about right since 13 of the previous 17 games between the Tigers and Vols have been decided by 10 points or less.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: It turns out the younger half of the Hansbrough brother basketball tandem isn’t bad, either. Bulldog freshman Ben Hansbrough, the younger brother of North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, was named the SEC Freshman of the Week after hanging up 23 points, 8 assists and 3 steals in his first start against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Hansbrough torched the Islanders by hitting 6-of-7 field goals, 5-of-6 from 3-point land and 6-for-6 at the foul stripe. He also had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists against Charlotte as Mississippi State bounced back from consecutive losses to Winthrop and at Clemson. Hansbrough and sophomore Jamont Gordon (16.7 ppg, 4.8 apg) have helped stabilize the Bulldogs’ ball handling, as MSU has 44 assists and 40 turnovers in the last three games after struggling with 36 assists and 60 TOs in the first three games of the year.
LSU: The Tigers got a big week off to a good start by downing No. 6 Texas A&M 64-62 Tuesday in ninth-ranked LSU’s first victory in a top-10 matchup since a 66-65 win over Tennessee in 1981. The Tigers also ended the SEC’s 10-game drought against ranked foes this season as junior center Glen Davis notched his 43rd career double-double with 24 points and 10 caroms. Davis leads the SEC in scoring with 19.7 points a game and ranks second in rebounding with 9.8.
OLE MISS: At 7-1, the Rebels are off to their best start since 2000-01 under first-year coach Andy Kennedy. Ole Miss junior guard Jermey Parnell was a sparkplug in an 85-77 come-from-behind triumph against New Orleans last week with a career-high 16 points on a red-hot shooting night (5-for-5 FG, 6-for-7 FT). The Rebs have forced 119 turnovers and rank third in the SEC in turnover margin (+4.8). The Rebels own the league’s best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.35. Ole Miss ends a 10-day break for finals when it travels to face Memphis on Saturday.
AUBURN: The Tigers put up a good fight against No. 2 Pittsburgh Sunday but fell just short (74-66) despite Josh Dollard’s first career double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds). AU wraps up a stretch of nine games in 20 days when it tangles with instate foe South Alabama tonight. The coaching matchup pits two pretty decent college point guards – Auburn coach Jeff Lebo from North Carolina and USA’s John Pelphrey, one of “The Unforgettables” of Kentucky basketball lore. The series with the Jaguars is tied, but the teams haven’t met since 2001. The Tigers are 6.5-point favorites on WagerWeb.com.