Auburn-Florida game gives Gators chance to boost NCAA hopes
A look at the upcoming week around the Southeastern Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 12 Auburn at Florida: After being ranked in the top five early this season, the Gators (17-11, 8-7) now find their NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy. Florida has lost three straight and needs a high-profile win to boost its credentials. Florida can earn that type of victory Saturday when it hosts SEC-leading Auburn (24-4, 12-3), which has a two-game edge in the league standings as it moves closer to its first SEC regular-season title since 1999,
LOOKING AHEAD: Whose bubbles will burst? Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said this week he believes the SEC is worthy of nine NCAA Tournament bids. The league has never sent more than six teams to the NCAAs in any season. How might the SEC get to nine? Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky have pretty much locked up spots. Alabama and Arkansas are in pretty solid position as well. Missouri seemed in good shape until a stunning home loss to Mississippi on Tuesday made the Tigers’ road to the NCAA Tournament a little trickier. Then there are plenty of teams that remain in the mix but still have work to do. Mississippi State won at Texas A&M on Tuesday to help its cause and damage the Aggies’ chances. Florida’s recent skid has the Gators in a precarious situation.
IMPACT PERFORMER: Auburn guard Jared Harper has 5.8 assists per game to rank third in the league , but he also has stepped up his scoring lately by showing knack for getting to the foul line and hitting his free throws. Harper made just four baskets Wednesday in a 90-71 victory over Alabama , but he still scored 21 points by shooting 10 of 11 on free throws. Over his last four games, Harper has 19 points per game, well above his season average of 13.8. He has gone 27 of 30 on free throws over his last three games.
NUMBERS GAME: Mississippi State’s Ben Howland earned his 450th career head coaching victory Saturday when the Bulldogs beat Mississippi 79-62 . Mississippi State followed that up with a victory at Texas A&M that improved Howland’s record to 451-247. ... Arkansas scored the first 11 points in its game Tuesday with Kentucky and still ended up losing 87-72. ... LSU’s Tremont Waters has 160 assists this season, the highest total ever for an LSU freshman. He broke the record set two years ago by Ben Simmons, who had 158. ... Tennessee (20-7, 9-5) has clinched its first winning season since its NCAA regional semifinal appearance in 2014. The Volunteers went 16-16 in 2014-15, 15-19 in 2015-16 and 16-16 last year.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: The NCAA Women’s Division I Committee released a snapshot look Monday at what 16 teams would earn top-four seeds in their respective regions and would host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament if the selections were taking place that day. That preliminary list included five SEC teams. No. 2 Mississippi State was the No. 2 overall seed, No. 7 South Carolina was the No. 7 seed, No. 11 Missouri was the No. 11 seed, No. 15 Tennessee was the No. 12 seed and No. 19 Georgia was the No. 15 seed.
Compiled by AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25 .