Welcome to the first edition of the sophomore year of The Buzzer-Beater, my weekly Monday column about college basketball and what’s going on around the country. This past weekend, I was in Tuscaloosa spending some time with friends before I hit the road broadcasting Alabama softball until May. It was my last weekend without any plans until summer, so I watched as much basketball as possible (plus the Super Bowl, which we’ll get to later). A lot happened this week on the hardwood, so let’s dive right in to the first version of The Buzzer-Beater.

In California the Saturday before the CFP National Championship Game, I woke up early to watch Alabama host Kentucky in Coleman Coliseum. Alabama won 77-75, outscoring the Wildcats 39-35 in the second half and, at one point, leading by 11 points with three minutes and change remaining. That loss dropped Kentucky to 10-3 overall and led to legitimate questions about the ability of John Calipari’s team.

A month later, things have changed.

Kentucky has now won eight in a row, including victories over ranked opponents Auburn, Mississippi State, and Kansas. They’ve shown second half toughness that wasn’t evident a month ago, particularly this past Saturday against Florida in Gainesville. What changed?

For one, the youth is starting to gel. Keldon Johnson is 11/26 from deep during the winning streak, and Tyler Herro is averaging 14 points per game during the run. Reid Travis has begun imposing his will in the post in big games (18 points vs. Kansas, 17 points vs. Auburn), and PJ Washington has become dominant on the blocks (three straight double-doubles and six straight double-figure scoring games). The Wildcats are getting spectacular play all across the lineup, and that chemistry that has developed over the last month has led to some huge wins.

Even better for the Wildcats? This run is coming at the perfect time. The schedule is tough going forward (South Carolina, at Mississippi State, LSU and Tennessee are up next), and John Calipari will need to continue to get production from his young players to stay near the top of the rankings.

All-in-all, Kentucky is ahead of schedule. In the past, Calipari’s teams have needed much more time to “get it together;” typically, they become a potential NCAA Tournament force around mid-March. Now, they’re a legitimate challenger to Tennessee for the SEC crown and, maybe, a Final Four threat. This is John Calipari’s best coaching job yet, in my opinion, and it’ll be fascinating to see if the Wildcats can continue this upward trajectory.

Gray’s Top Ten

  1. Tennessee
  2. Duke
  3. Virginia
  4. Gonzaga
  5. Kentucky
  6. North Carolina
  7. Michigan
  8. Nevada
  9. Michigan State
  10. Marquette

Tennessee takes The Buzzer-Beater’s first top spot. I’m a huge fan of this squad, especially the veteran superstars Grant Williams (who is my early SEC Player of the Year pick) and Admiral Schofield (my Name of the Year pick). Don’t forget about point guard Jordan Bone, who has been a steady hand to lead this offense so far. Duke, the most talented team in America, comes in at two. Five straight wins have looked clinical for Coach K’s group, and Zion Williamson is the best player in America. Can they keep up the pace? Virginia is third. Tony Bennett doesn’t win pretty, and the offense lacks a dominant scorer, but the pack line defense is once again a game-changer. Gonzaga comes in at four, and I doubt they’ll lose again before the NCAA Tournament (the toughest game remaining in the regular season is, maybe, San Francisco at home or at a down St. Mary’s). Kentucky is fifth, and I expect them to continue the run we mentioned earlier in the article. North Carolina has won five in a row, and I expect that number to rise to seven by the time Virginia comes to town on February 11th. Michigan’s loss to Iowa is a bit disconcerting, but this is still a talented team. Nevada is eighth, and the Wolf Pack should head into March Madness with no more than two losses. Michigan State starts at ninth, and they’d be higher if not for the befuddling home loss in overtime this past weekend to Indiana. The Spartans still have a shot at a number one seed, but there aren’t many more ranked games ahead (at Wisconsin and two games against Michigan). Finally, I give the last spot to Marquette, just ahead of Houston and Kansas. I haven’t seen much of the Golden Eagles this season, but this group has a collection of solid wins and an explosive offense led by Markus Howard (25 points per game). This top ten will surely change going forward, but this is how I see it as of now.

Random Rankings

We’re back! Your friends at Random Rankings HQ are excited to give you the various lists we’ve prepared for the Buzzer-Beater. First up, we start with what kicked us off last season–Super Bowl commercials! The game was terrible, Maroon 5 was awful, and, to be blunt, the commercials were pretty weak overall. That being said, there were some gems, so here’s what we came up with (shout-out to guest rankers Jack Fenimore, Matt Pietragallo, Zach Erickson, Reagan Baker, Mark Piglia, Ben Barrow, Matt Wilhelm, and Connor Cassin). *Usual Disclaimer*: once Random Rankings are posted, they aren’t changing. Sorry.

Also, keep in mind that our Oscar movie reviews are coming soon! It’s the Random Ranking list for which we’ve been preparing all year, so get excited!

1. NFL: “The 100-Year Game”

Some may have missed this halftime commercial, but the NFL put out another winner. It had everything–hilarious cameos, witty banter, Peyton Manning, a shot at Baker Mayfield, huge hits, and more. It was far and away the best commercial of the Super Bowl and, honestly, provided more highlights than the game itself.

2. Amazon: “Not Everything Makes the Cut”

Diving into what Alexa isn’t in because of the “fails” was genius. The hot tub scene in particular was fantastic, and the celebrity cameos from Forest Witaker, Harrison Ford, and more were superb. While not as strong as last year, this commercial still got a big laugh at our Super Bowl party.

3. Game of Thrones/Bud Light: “Joust”

Cross-promotion at its finest, this ad started as a Bud Light commercial and quickly transformed into a Game of Thrones final season trailer. Everything about this idea was genius, and the GoT fans in attendance at our house were instantly hooked. Your friends at Random Rankings HQ don’t even watch the show, and we still think this was one of the best commercials. Bold and funny, Bud Light and Game of Thrones hit this one out of the park.

4. Stella Artois: “Change Up The Usual”

Perhaps getting a spot on this list simply because of how Jeff Bridges pronounced “Artois,” this ad had some excellent physical comedy. Featuring Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker, this beer commercial was the Sex and the City/Big Lebowski crossover we never knew we needed.

5. Verizon: “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here”

While not quite advertising the product itself, Verizon went for the heartstrings with this ad. Showing LA Chargers coach Anthony Lynn talking to first responders, Verizon revealing that paramedics on duty the night Lynn got in a horrible car accident are in attendance really opened up our tear ducts. Super Bowl commercials usually try to be funny, but it’s always nice when some go big on emotion. This ad did just that and crushed it.

SEC Bubble Watch

Safely In

Tennessee

Overall: 20-1

Conference: 8-0

NET: 4

SOS: 60

Non-Con SOS: 46

Record vs. Q1: 4-1

Record vs. Q2: 6-0

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0

Kentucky

Overall: 18-3

Conference: 7-1

NET: 8

SOS: 32

Non-Con SOS: 19

Record vs. Q1: 6-2

Record vs. Q2: 3-1

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0

LSU

Overall: 17-4

Conference: 7-1

NET: 16

SOS: 33

Non-Con SOS: 20

Record vs. Q1: 2-2

Record vs. Q2: 7-2

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0

Feeling Good

Mississippi State

Overall: 16-5

Conference: 4-4

NET: 27

SOS: 29

Non-Con SOS: 44

Record vs. Q1: 3-2

Record vs. Q2: 6-3

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0

Auburn

Overall: 15-6

Conference: 4-4

NET: 25

SOS: 29

Non-Con SOS: 44

Record vs. Q1: 1-5

Record vs. Q2: 5-1

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0

On the Right Side of the Bubble

Ole Miss

Overall: 14-7

Conference: 4-4

NET: 38

SOS: 49

Non-Con SOS: 147

Record vs. Q1: 3-7

Record vs. Q2: 2-0

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0

Alabama

Overall: 13-8

Conference: 4-4

NET: 44

SOS: 15

Non-Con SOS: 60

Record vs. Q1: 2-5

Record vs. Q2: 6-0

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 3

Work Left to Do

Arkansas

Overall: 13-8

Conference: 4-4

NET: 68

SOS: 37

Non-Con SOS: 94

Record vs. Q1: 1-5

Record vs. Q2: 2-1

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 2

Florida

Overall: 12-9

Conference: 4-4

NET: 39

SOS: 39

Non-Con SOS: 103

Record vs. Q1: 1-7

Record vs. Q2: 4-1

Losses to Q3 and Q4: 1

W2W4 This Week

Lots of good basketball on tap this week. Let’s dig in to the match-ups you don’t want to miss:

Monday

#16 Louisville at #11 Virginia Tech

#17 Iowa State at Oklahoma

Tuesday

South Carolina at #5 Kentucky

NC State at #8 North Carolina

St. John’s at #10 Marquette

#22 Florida State at Syracuse

#13 Kansas at Kansas State

Florida at Auburn

Wednesday

#24 Maryland at Nebraska

#21 LSU at Mississippi State

Georgia at Alabama (what can we say, we love the Tide here at The Buzzer-Beater)

Thursday

#12 Houston at UCF

#20 Iowa at Indiana

Saturday

#19 Wisconsin at #7 Michigan

#5 Kentucky at Mississippi State

TCU at #17 Iowa State

Auburn at #21 LSU

#14 Villanova at #10 Marquette

Florida at #1 Tennessee

#18 Texas Tech at Oklahoma

#2 Duke at #3 Virginia (5 pm CT on ESPN; don’t miss this one)

Alabama at Vanderbilt

Arkansas at South Carolina

Sunday

#25 Cincinnati at #12 Houston

That’s it for the first edition of The Buzzer-Beater! Alabama softball season starts this weekend, so I’ll be in Troy, Alabama, for the first tournament of the year!

Speaking of softball, if you’re a fan of the sport, you should check out my new podcast that I host with my broadcast partner Tom Canterbury called “Out of the Box.” In the first episode, we breakdown Alabama’s team, discuss the SEC, and interview Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy and softball expert Emily Pitek. Follow us on Twitter @OutoftheBox_Pod (https://twitter.com/OutoftheBox_Pod), and check out the premiere episode here: https://soundcloud.com/user-956923235/out-of-the-box-episode-1. Thank you for the support!

We’ll see you next Monday for a fresh week of The Buzzer-Beater!

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