Ensemble casts are winning big in college basketball this season.
Teams such as Syracuse, Baylor, Duke and Georgetown have risen into the top 15 without a true superstar. A couple of other teams -- Missouri and North Carolina come to mind -- have potential Wooden Award winners, but those teams can survive an off night from their lead dog because of the depth of the surrounding cast.
Elite teams in the SEC haven’t followed suit.
What separates the SEC’s NCAA tournament contenders from the also-rans are the names at the top of the marquee.
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Eight of the league’s top 10 scorers come from the top five teams in the SEC standings, the only five SEC teams that have a winning record in conference. Three of the league’s top four teams -- Vanderbilt, Florida and Mississippi State -- have produced the SEC’s top six scorers.
And any of those guys can carry a team on an off night. Vanderbilt has John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, Florida builds its offense around Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal and Mississippi State’s inside-outside combo of Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost can light it up in a hurry.
Even Alabama, another SEC team that’s positioned well to reach the NCAA tournament, relies on JaMychal Green to carry the offense at times, especially with the uber-talented Tony Mitchell suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
Only the looming blue-and-white monster to the north has followed a different script, but that’s not because Kentucky has a lack of big-name talent.
The Wildcats are the nation’s top-ranked team because coach John Calipari has assembled a roster with five or six bona fide stars. Kentucky has too much talent to limit the offensive attack to one or two stars.
But even Kentucky has a go-to guy. Freshman center/human wall Anthony Davis’s otherworldly brand of athleticism, rebounding and shot-blocking has placed him square in the race for national player of the year honors.
On the other end of the spectrum, most of the SEC’s also-rans still are searching for somebody to step into the spotlight.
Teams such as Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and LSU have good players, two or three guys who can go off for more than 20 points in a game if the conditions are right. Two of Georgia’s, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Greenville High) and Gerald Robinson, are in the top 10 in the SEC in scoring, but the Bulldogs are last in total scoring.
The problem is simple.
None of those teams has a shooter like Jenkins or a post player like Moultrie who can be counted on to carry a team, and the SEC’s also-rans haven’t mastered the key to winning games without the benefit of a big-time scorer.
Ensemble casts have to win with a distinctive style of play.
Syracuse beats teams with its 2-3 zone; Georgetown runs the Princeton offense to perfection; and Baylor and Duke combine a barrage of 3-pointers with athletic inside play.
Of the SEC’s lesser teams, only Arkansas is trying to win with a unique system.
First-year coach Mike Anderson is in the midst of installing the 40 Minutes of Hell that carried the Razorbacks to a national championship, but putting in that style takes time to recruit depth, and Anderson hasn’t been in Fayetteville long enough to fill the roster with his type of players.
Until that happens -- or somebody else finds the right system -- the formula for winning in the SEC will stay the same.
Let the stars carry the show.
Joel A. Erickson, firstname.lastname@example.org