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SEC softball power rankings: Missouri, Kentucky put everyone on notice with early upsets

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SEC softball power rankings: Missouri, Kentucky put everyone on notice with early upsets


The SEC showed its dominance in softball to start the season, only logging five losses as a conference in the first week of games.

Only three teams played ranked competition, though, and those three teams are sitting at the top the rankings this week. Some SEC teams challenge themselves early in the season, like the four heading to Clearwater, Florida, this week for a gauntlet of an invitational. Others prefer to get their battle testing in conference play. To each their own.

Here’s how SEC softball teams stack up in our power rankings after the first week of action:

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1. Tennessee

Destiny Rodriguez only got one at bat Friday, but it was all she needed to become the hero in Tennessee’s 3-2 win over No. 22 Baylor. Rodriguez pinch hit with two outs and sent a two-run homer over the centerfield wall – talk about guts. The Lady Vols have her to thank for their undefeated start.

Last week: 1

Record: 3-0

RECORD CHASING: Kiki Milloy ties Tennessee softball career home run record with No. 57

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2. Missouri

This is my mea culpa to the Tigers – I wasn’t familiar with your game. Missouri put the country on notice in its season-opening win over No. 13 Utah, and it closed out the week in Clearwater with an upset over No. 5 Clemson. The Tigers do not care about your preseason rankings.

Last week: 12

Record: 5-0

3. Kentucky

Kentucky would have been No. 2 if not for a narrow loss to No. 24 San Diego State. The Wildcats handed No. 3 Stanford two losses to lead the SEC’s efforts to end Pac-12 softball a few months early. Rutgers transfer Jaden Vickers is the real deal in the circle and Stephanie Schoonover looks ready for a comeback season after an injury derailed her junior campaign.

Last week: 9

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Record: 4-1

4. Georgia

The Bulldogs are off to an undefeated start, but they also beat up on unranked teams at home. Hopefully the cupcake opening weekend prepared Georgia for the real competition in Clearwater coming up next.

Last week: 2

Record: 5-0

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5. LSU

LSU’s pitching staff didn’t give up a single run in its opening week. It’s an impressive feat, but I’m not going to pretend to be impressed by the competition. Luckily, the Tigers are also going to Clearwater to face some real competition so we can see what these pitchers are made of.

Last week: 3

Record: 5-0

6. Alabama

Kayla Beaver stole the show in her debut for the Crimson Tide, throwing a no-hitter against Villanova. The transfer pitcher from Central Arkansas threw 21 strikeouts over 14 innings the opening week, but we’ll see how she holds up against tougher competition. Luckily for Alabama, that won’t happen until SEC play starts with the abysmal nonconference slate it has before then.

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Last week: 4

Record: 5-0

7. South Carolina

The Gamecocks have the pitching, but boy do they need to figure out their hitting. Of the seven batters who saw 10 or more at bats last week, only two hit above .275. South Carolina needs its lineup to get deeper if it wants to compete in the SEC.

Last week: 8

Record: 5-0

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8. Florida

The Gators’ freshmen pitchers impressed in their first week with three one-hitters and Olivia Miller tossing the first perfect game by a freshman in program history. Florida dropped one, but it just might have the pitching to terrorize the SEC.

Last week: 5

Record: 4-1

9. Arkansas

Arkansas barely escaped with one win against its two Power Five opponents. The Razorbacks went 1-1 against unranked Big Ten teams, so they’re not exactly inspiring confidence right now.

Last week: 7

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Record: 4-1

10. Texas A&M

Four of the Aggies’ opening week wins were run-rule wins, but you can probably guess why. We’ll see what Texas A&M is really made of when it leaves home and plays some real west coast competition this week.

Last week: 10

Record: 4-0

11. Auburn

Auburn’s opening week was a strange one. It was ended two games early by weather conditions, but not before the Tigers’ second game against Virginia Tech ended in a 5-5 tie as the Hokies’ offense started heating up. Auburn is probably just grateful it didn’t add a second early loss to the record.

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Last week: 6

Record: 1-1-1

12. Mississippi State

With the tough nonconference schedule ahead of them, this might be the only time the Bulldogs rise in the power rankings. Enjoy this one, Starkville.

Last week: 13

Record: 4-0

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13. Ole Miss

The Rebels were welcomed to paradise by BYU, which took advantage of their errors to log a five-run first inning en route to a 7-4 win. Ole Miss recovered with four wins in Hawaii, but it started off the season on the wrong foot.

Last week: 11

Record: 4-1



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Suspect arrested in murder of student on Kentucky college campus

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Suspect arrested in murder of student on Kentucky college campus


A suspect was taken into custody Saturday on murder charges in connection with the killing of a student on the campus of Campbellsville University in Kentucky.

The Campbellsville Police Department said that officers were first called to the school at 12:43 a.m. local time on a report of an unresponsive male in his dorm room. The victim, 18-year-old Josiah Malachi Kilman, was rushed to a local hospital, where he died. His cause of death is under investigation. 

The suspect was identified by police as 21-year-old Charles E. Escalera. Campbellsville University disclosed that Escalera was also a fellow student.

Following a manhunt, the Green County Sheriff’s Office and Kentucky State Police received a call at about 5:15 p.m. local time regarding a suspicious male in a barn on the border of Green County and Taylor County, which includes the city of Campbellsville. Responding state police located Escalera and took him into custody without incident, Campbellsville police said. He is being held on murder charges. 

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Campbellsville University, a small private Christian college, was placed on lockdown during the search for Escalera.

“Campbellsville University is grieving the loss of one of our family,” Dr. Joseph Hopkins, Campbellsville University president, said in a statement. “We have lost a student and our hearts are broken.”

Police did not provide any details regarding a motive, or the circumstances which led up to the killing. It was also unclear if the suspect and victim knew each other prior to the incident.

Campbellsville is located about 80 miles south of Louisville.

This comes just two days after a 22-year-old nursing student was killed while on a jog on the Athens campus of the University of Georgia. A 26-year-old man was arrested Friday on murder charges. 

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Eastern Kentucky 95-82 Central Arkansas (Feb 24, 2024) Game Recap – ESPN

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Eastern Kentucky 95-82 Central Arkansas (Feb 24, 2024) Game Recap – ESPN


RICHMOND, Ky. — — Isaiah Cozart had 22 points in Eastern Kentucky’s 95-82 win over Central Arkansas on Saturday.

Cozart added 17 rebounds and three blocks for the Colonels (17-11, 12-2 Atlantic Sun Conference). Tayshawn Comer scored 22 points while shooting 8 for 11 (3 for 5 from 3-point range) and 3 of 6 from the free throw line, and added five assists. Devontae Blanton was 6 of 12 shooting, including 1 for 3 from 3-point range, and went 3 for 3 from the line to finish with 16 points.

The Bears (9-22, 5-10) were led in scoring by Carl Daughtery Jr., who finished with 20 points and two steals. Elias Cato added 19 points for Central Arkansas. Tucker Anderson also had 18 points.

Eastern Kentucky’s next game is Wednesday against Austin Peay on the road, and Central Arkansas hosts North Alabama on Friday.

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——

The Associated Press created this story using technology provided by Data Skrive and data from Sportradar.



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Bama Basketball Breakdown: #17 Kentucky

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Bama Basketball Breakdown: #17 Kentucky


What a win this past Wednesday in Tuscaloosa – I would be remiss if I didn’t lead things off with acknowledging how epic of a game that was with Florida the other night. The Tide trailed by as many as nine points, on multiple occasions, with less than ten minutes to go, but the fellas just never wavered. They made all of the clutch plays necessary to come from behind and win a game that we all might just look back on and agree was the difference in whether or not Alabama ended up cutting down the nets for a third regular season title in four years.

But in order for that to be a topic of discussion, the 13th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (19-7, 11-2 SEC; NET: 5; Kenpom: 6) will have to finish off this season the right way, which will be a tall task with the remaining schedule. In the next four games, Alabama will take on a quartet of NCAA Tournament teams – three of which are ranked – before closing out the season with disappointing (but recently ascending) Arkansas. And three of those four will be away from home. So, Nate Oats’ bunch should be ready for more down-to-the-wire finishes as we make the final turn on the 2024 regular season.

The next game up for the Tide should be another shootout as Alabama heads to historic Rupp Arena to take on the 17th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (18-8, 8-5 SEC; NET: 24; Kenpom: 23). It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for the ‘Cats, who have the most talented roster in the conference but just can’t seem to consistently make the plays necessary to string together wins. This past week is a perfect example – Kentucky went on the road and beat Auburn in a game that they controlled from start to finish, and then turned around and loss at the buzzer to middling LSU a few nights later. Their defense (and injuries, to an extent) has been the main source of problems for them, as they clock in at 78th in the country in Defensive Efficiency.

The offense, however, is elite (9th in Offensive Efficiency). Much like Alabama’s track-meet with Florida a few nights ago, expect this one to be another fun, high-flying affair between two of the best offenses in basketball:

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It’s almost always a good one whenever the two winningest programs in SEC history meet, and this one has the potential to be an all-timer.

The Roster

Starting Five

D.J. Wagner: G, 6-3, 10.5 PPG, 3.4 APG, 1.8 RPG

Antonio Reeves: G, 6-4, 19.7 PPG, 1.5 APG, 4.3 RPG

Justin Edwards: F, 6-8, 8.1 PPG, 0.8 APG, 3.4 RPG

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Adou Thiero: F, 6-6, 7.7 PPG, 1.1 APG, 5.6 RPG

Ugonna Onyenso: F, 6-11, 4.1 PPG, 0.2 APG, 5.2 RPG

Off of the Bench

Rob Dillingham: G, 6-2, 15.0 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.9 RPG

Reed Sheppard: G, 6-3, 11.9 PPG, 4.1 APG, 4.3 RPG

Tre Mitchell: C, 6-9, 12.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 7.5 RPG

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Aaron Bradshaw: F, 7-0, 5.3 PPG, 0.3 APG, 3.8 RPG

Zvonimir Ivisic: F, 7-2, 4.4 PPG, 0.5 APG, 2.6 RPG

As I alluded to earlier, it’s been a weird year for John Calipari and his Wildcats. On one hand, this team plays almost nothing like Cal’s ‘Cats from the rest of his tenure. He decided this year to play a more up-tempo, free-flowing style – you know, kind of like Nate Oats – after years of diminishing returns from his more 90’s-2000’s era style that he won big with for about a decade in Lexington. And it has unlocked the offense for sure – this is one of the best shooting teams in Kentucky history (2nd in the country at 40.5% from 3P%). But it’s taken some time for him and the team to finally adjust to how to play defense in the modern game.

On the other hand, Cal has simultaneously gotten back to his roots on the recruiting trail. The Kentucky teams of the previous five years or so simply didn’t have the same talent level as many of the groups that he ran out during the 2010s. Oscar Tshiebwe was one of the best players in college ball the past two years, but that was in part because he was an older player who hung around because he doesn’t fit the modern-day NBA. It’s not like he was some one-and-done superstar talent. The 2023 recruiting class was the unanimous #1 class in the country, and some were even calling it the best recruiting class of all time – a quartet of five-star McDonald’s All-Americans (Wagner, Edwards, Bradshaw, and Dillingham), a highly-rated four-star legacy player (Sheppard), and a Croatian sensation in a seven-footer who can shoot (Ivisic).

So, it was supposed to be a return to the old ways in roster building while Calipari reinvented himself with his philosophy and scheme. But the results have been mixed. Reed Sheppard – the four-star legacy – has been arguably Kentucky’s best player, certainly among the freshmen. He’s been absolutely lights out as a shooter (52.2%/50.9%/81.1%) and is second on the team with a 22.5% AST%. And the lowest rated of the five stars, Rob Dillingham, has been the guy recently who has helped elevate the ‘Cats after some midseason struggles (48.6%/44.5%/74.3%; team-leading 29.8% AST%). The big three of DJ Wagner, Justin Edwards, and Aaron Bradshaw, who were all top-five players in last year’s class, have each been varying levels of disappointing.

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Wagner remains the starting point guard, but his scoring hasn’t been anything special (41.0%/27.3%/73.6%) and he’s only third on the team in AST% (20.1%) despite being one of the highest-usage players on the squad. Justin Edwards was supposed to be an elite two-way wing. Well, the defense hasn’t been there at all, his scoring numbers are merely ok (45.9%/31.1%/75.7%), and he’s not very effective in rebounding (8.4% REB%) or as a distributor (6.1% AST%). And Aaron Bradshaw has been a flat-out bust. Any of these three guys could get it together or have a light turn on today, but for the season as a whole, they certainly haven’t been who Kentucky fans thought they would be.

Now, Antonio Reeves has been a stud and will almost certainly be first-team All-SEC. He’s a walking bucket (49.5%/44.4%/87.4%). And Kentucky’s seen some real progress defensively since they’ve gone to sophomores Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso in the frontcourt. Tre Mitchell was the starter for most of the season at the five, but he’s been plagued with back and shoulder injuries recently. If Kentucky can get him back to 100% soon, he’s a really good offensive player (49.7%/33.3%/73.1%), so they could be really dangerous with the development of the other two.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. The Three-Point Line. Alabama (38.0% 3P% – 13th in the country) and Kentucky (40.5% – 2nd) are two of the most electrifying shooting teams in college basketball. Whoever does a better job of chasing shooters off of the three-point line will likely end up winning this game. The Tide certainly can’t afford to go 2/18 in the first half again like the guys did the other night against Florida.
  2. Offensive Rebounding. Alabama hit a bit of a lull in OREB% rates at the start of conference play in January, but Nate Oats has really gotten the guys back to scrapping it out on the glass. The Tide is back up to 21st in the country in OREB% after the most recent masterclass against Florida, where the smaller Tide corralled an incredible 21 offensive boards against a really big Gator squad. And they needed every last one of them to win the game. Kentucky is 241st in opponent OREB% allowed this season, and just gave up a dozen of them to LSU the other night. If Alabama can keep hustling and fighting for those offensive boards, the Tide will be nearly impossible to stop on the offensive side of the ball. Because, as they showed the other night, the threes are going to fall eventually if you keep giving the guys looks.
  3. Let’em Run. If Calipari wants to stick with his new philosophy and turn this game into a track-meet, Nate Oats will be more than happy to oblige him. Teams that try to match Alabama’s pace historically don’t do very well since Oats rolled into town. Trying to slow the Tide down has been a much more successful strategy. The guys are just so comfortable running the floor and getting high quality shots off early in the shot clock.

This should be another barnburner in Lexington today. The big thing Tide fans should be looking for pregame is the status of Latrell Wrightsell. He suffered a concussion on Monday in practice and was held out of the Florida game (which did allow Sam Walters the opportunity to step up – and boy did he). Oats likes to play injuries close to the chest, so your guess is as good as mine on whether or not Trelly goes today.

Can Alabama earn its biggest road win of the season and with a rare victory in Rupp? The game will tip-off at 3:00 PM CST and will be televised by CBS. Kentucky is favored by 2.5.





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