Lovell’s SEC Basketball Notebook: Florida’s struggles, Chris Silva, and more

In Features by Blake Lovell

It’s been an interesting week in the world of SEC basketball, and Wednesday’s results produced several noteworthy items worth discussing.

Let’s talk about that and more in today’s notebook, which features thoughts on the struggles of Florida and Vanderbilt, Alabama grinding out wins, and more.

What’s wrong with Florida?

I don’t think it’s all that hard to figure out.

The Gators hit 40 3-pointers in the three games at the PK80, but in the two recent losses to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago, they’ve went a combined 8 of 44 from beyond the arc.

Great teams counteract bad shooting by playing good defense, but Mike White’s squad has done the opposite in lacking intensity on that side of the court.

That’ll have to change going forward if Florida wants to be a elite team, as it can’t just rely on good shooting and nothing else if it wants to be a Final Four contender.

While getting John Egbunu back into the fold will help come January, this can’t just be about one player saving the day. This entire team has to reconsider its approach on defense, because there are too many playmakers in the SEC these days to be able to win games consistently without defending.

It’s too early for the Gators to hit the panic button, but Saturday’s game against Cincinnati will show us if they’re ready to buy in on defense.

If they aren’t, a fourth straight loss could be on the horizon.

Building a résumé

Alabama’s wins haven’t all been pretty, but ugly wins are still wins.

The biggest positive in the Tide’s 7-2 start is how they’ve been able to grind out victories against potential NCAA Tournament teams in UT Arlington, Louisiana Tech, and Rhode Island.

Despite having issues with turnovers and free throw shooting, Alabama is making the necessary plays down the stretch to win. Avery Johnson will need his team to carry the same mentality into Saturday’s showdown at Arizona.

My guess is that the Crimson Tide start to find their groove once the versatile Braxton Key returns to action, which could be as soon as next week.

Auburn’s chance to shine

Auburn’s depth has been on display in recent weeks, and it’s resulted in a nice 7-1 start for Bruce Pearl and company.

However, we’re about to find out what this team is made of in these next four games: vs. UAB, vs. MTSU (Birmingham), at Murray State, and vs. UConn.

The Tigers’ defense has improved, and we’ll know just how improved it is after this two-week stretch against quality competition.

Five players are averaging between 10.1 and 15.9 points per game, and freshmen Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell are adding significant contributions as well.

I was never of the opinion that Auburn couldn’t win without Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, and this team still has enough firepower to be an NCAA Tournament team.

Bryce Drew searching for answers

It’s safe to say that Vanderbilt’s home loss to MTSU raised even more eyebrows around Nashville, with the Commodores now sitting at 3-6 on the season.

But aside from the loss to Virginia, it’s not like this team has been truly awful or anything. Yes, there are obvious problems on offense, and it’s strange to see a Vandy team sitting at 296th nationally in 3-point shooting (30.8 percent) and 320th nationally in field-goal percentage (40.2 percent).

The schedule has been brutal, and a trip to take on red-hot Arizona State on December 17 won’t make things easier.

The Commodores don’t lack talent, but it’s clear that all the pieces aren’t in sync right now, and there’s no guarantees that it’ll all fall into place before a rough start to SEC play.

Silva the key in Columbia

South Carolina scored a 80-64 win over a solid Wyoming team on Wednesday, and once again, it was the play of Chris Silva that fueled the Gamecocks.

Silva went for 19 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, with the latter being the third-highest minute total of the season for the 6-9 junior.

When he’s on the floor, good things happen. However, when he’s in foul trouble, the Gamecocks can look like a different team.

Keeping him on the floor is essential to success this season, and the development of freshmen Felipe Haase and Justin Minaya is helping to add nice depth to the roster.

Still undefeated

Mississippi State is one of only nine undefeated teams remaining in college basketball, which is a good place to be this time of year.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule ranks 346th out of 351 teams on KenPom, so it would be more surprising if they weren’t undefeated.

That’s not a knock on Mississippi State, as Ben Howland clearly put this schedule in place so that his young team could figure out how to win close games. They’ve done just that in winning three games by five points or less.

But after Saturday’s matchup against North Georgia (a Division II school that is now 2-5 overall), the competition picks up dramatically when the Bulldogs head to Cincinnati next Tuesday.

Interview with LSU head coach Will Wade

For those that missed the debut edition of my new college basketball radio show, Forever March, here’s the interview we did with Will Wade.

He talked about the Tigers’ trip to Maui, the fast start for Tremont Waters, the SEC’s impressive depth, and much more.

You can listen to the show every Sunday from 11AM-noon CST on WNSR in Nashville or watch and send in your questions via Periscope.

Looking ahead

Saturday’s SEC slate is loaded with intriguing games, which we’ll talk more about in the coming days.

Tennessee hosts a very good Lipscomb squad that’s already beaten Belmont twice this season, and the Bisons can shoot it well enough to make this a game in Knoxville.

There’s also Auburn vs. UAB, Ole Miss traveling to take on an MTSU squad that is 4-0 against SEC teams in the past three seasons (including a win in Oxford last year), and Kentucky playing Monmouth on a neutral court.

But the matchups that get the most attention will be these three: Florida vs. Cincinnati, Minnesota at Arkansas, and Alabama at Arizona.

We will know a lot more about many of these SEC teams after these games.

Want more SEC basketball discussion? Follow Blake on Twitter for daily analysis and on Periscope for regular live shows!

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.