Mulder, Hoops and the SEC; Has Anybody Noticed?

Lyn Scarbrough

November 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm.

Nov 9, 2018; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington Huskies guard David Crisp (1) defends against Auburn Tigers guard Bryce Brown (2) at Auburn Arena. Photo Credit: Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 9, 2018; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington Huskies guard David Crisp (1) defends against Auburn Tigers guard Bryce Brown (2) at Auburn Arena. Photo Credit: Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports

The X-Files, a television series created in 1993, revolved around the investigations and adventures of FBI special agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, who looked into everything from ghosts to time travel, vampires to legendary creatures, and especially extraterrestrial exploits on Earth.

After nine seasons, the original series ended in 2002, but there have since been two single season renewals, as well as a full-length feature film in 2008. You can still watch the original episodes (there were 117) on several television networks, usually late at night.

Scully (attractive, redhead, skeptic, doctor) was played by Gillian Anderson. Mulder (true believer in aliens and paranormal) was played by David Duchovny. Sometimes in reality, sometimes in make-believe, I usually related to Mulder more than to Scully.

Recently, I found another way that I related to Mulder, in a quote attributed to him on a couple of internet sites. He reportedly said:

“I always dreamt of being a basketball player, a dream that only I believed in.”

I feel your pain, Fox! Right there with you.

Basketball was my favorite sport from the time my father put a makeshift basketball goal in our side yard in Rock Creek when I was in grammar school. I wanted to play. But believing that I could be a basketball player was like trusting in vampires or extraterrestrials.

My basketball career lasted two days at Pittman Junior High School in the seventh grade. It would have lasted just one day if not for the fact that we only shot and threw passes on the first day. When we started doing other things, it was like a midget on the hardcourt. Other than being short, thin and slow, I might have made the team.

The career was gone, but not the passion. Covering basketball always was more exciting, more fun-filled, than football. The first day of the college basketball season was always something to mark on the calendar.

That’s why it was so disappointing when that first day of the college regular basketball season came last week and it seemed like nobody noticed. Several dozen college games were played on Tuesday, Nov. 6, including some Top 25 teams, along with the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, Ind. (Kansas vs. Michigan State, Duke vs. Kentucky).

When was the last time that college round-ball got underway with so little fanfare?

There were some reasons. First, it was Election Day nationally, so about the time games were tipping off, polls were closing. Then, the second College Football Playoff rankings were released that same afternoon. And, the season started sooner than ever before, so some fans may have still been thinking about trick-or-treating from a week earlier.

Still, it was the start of college basketball!

For Southeastern Conference fans, some who haven’t noticed yet, this could be a landmark season, one that could set a high bar if teams meet expectations.

In Lindy’s preseason hoops edition, five SEC teams were ranked in the Top 25 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU). Eight conference teams were predicted to play in the NCAA Tournament, matching the all-time record for the conference set last season.

In the second Associated Press poll, released this week, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 9 Auburn, No. 10 Kentucky, No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 22 LSU represent the SEC, while Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt also received votes.

Kentucky, ranked No. 2 by Lindy’s, was one of the most talked about teams in the season’s first week, but not in a good way. Duke, ranked No. 4 and led by one of the nation’s most heralded freshman classes, never trailed in the game and embarrassed the Wildcats, 118-84.

But, don’t think this is a bad Kentucky team. Should be far from it.

The Wildcats are led by Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game earning All-Pac-12 honors for the Cardinal last season. Forward PJ Washington is back after averaging 10.8 points last season. And, the ‘Cats have their own outstanding first-year class with forward EJ Montgomery, guard Ashton Hagans and forward Keldon Johnson, the team’s leading scorer (19.0 ppg) after two games.

Tennessee and Auburn, co-regular season champions last season, are legitimate threats to repeat for the SEC title and make noise in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve both been mentioned in Final Four discussion.

The Volunteers, with two early 20-point-plus wins before a Tuesday night game against Georgia Tech, returns all five starters, including guard Lamonte Turner and forwards Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, the SEC Most Valuable Player a year ago, who averaged 22 points in the first two victories this season.

Where do you start with Auburn? The backcourt is the SEC’s best with Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and transfer Samir Doughty. The frontcourt is strong and deep with Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer, along with Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, who weren’t eligible a year ago.

Through the first weekend, Auburn has the SEC’s most impressive win, a 22-point demolition of nationally ranked Washington in a game that the Tigers led by 30 before emptying the bench.

Mississippi State has an outstanding backcourt, led by the Weatherspoons, Nick and Quinndary, who averaged 21.5 points in the Bulldogs’ first two wins. Lamar Peters led the SEC last season in steal percentage and freshman Reggie Perry was a McDonald’s All-American.

LSU is led by sophomore guard Tremont Waters, who averaged 15 points, six assists and a league-leading 5.5 steals in the Tigers’ first two games, and freshman Naz Reid, who leads the SEC in scoring with 23 points per game after the first weekend.

As this column is being written, scoring margins among four ranked SEC teams (not counting Kentucky) – Tennessee (+33.5), Auburn (+32.5), Mississippi State (+23,0), LSU (+18.5).

The top three SEC defensive teams – Tennessee (53.0), Auburn (62.0), Mississippi State (63.0). Those three are also among the top in assists – Tennessee (25.0), Auburn (20.0), Mississippi State (16.5).

Those stats are just for the SEC teams currently ranked in the Top 25. Don’t forget about the rest of the league.

Alabama could be one of the most underrated teams in the conference. Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram are a solid nucleus, joined by freshman guard Kira Lewis, sophomore guard Herbert Jones and Texas Longhorns’ transfer Tevin Mack.

You’ll find outstanding players throughout the conference … Simisola Shittu and Darius Garland (Vanderbilt), KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson (Florida), Kevin Puryear and Mark Smith (Missouri), Daniel Gafford and Isaiah Joe (Arkansas), Chris Silva (South Carolina) and others.

Only two seasons ago, just three SEC teams (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M) were selected for the NCAA Tournament, largely due to the weak non-conference Strength of Schedule. For most teams, those days are gone.

Before the league season starts in early January, teams will have plenty of chances to justify the hype. Among late November and December games – Alabama hosts Arizona, Arkansas hosts Indiana, South Carolina hosts No. 4 Virginia, Florida hosts No. 11 Michigan State, and Missouri hosts Xavier. Vandy travels to No. 12 Kansas State and Kentucky faces its usual gauntlet, including No. 7 North Carolina.

Tennessee plays Louisville in the NIT Season Tip-Off and could face No. 2 Kansas if it defeats the Cardinals. The Volunteers play No. 3 Gonzaga in the Jerry Colangelo Classic, and if they beat the Zags, would likely play No. 6 Nevada. Auburn opens the Maui Classic against Xavier and with a win would likely play No. 1 Duke. Win that one and Gonzaga could be next.

SEC teams may fail those tests, but Las Vegas doesn’t necessarily think so. Early odds have three conference teams (Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn) among the 15 teams with the best chance to make the Final Four, with Florida and Mississippi State not far behind. They join teams like Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Villanova, Syracuse, Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan on that list.

That’s high company to keep, especially for folks like Tennessee and Auburn, teams never in the Final Four and not often anywhere near it.

The Volunteers or the Tigers in the Final Four.

If that were to happen, even Fox Mulder would have trouble believing it.

Hopefully, folks will be paying attention.