WOW! What a week! The SEC could not have planned this any better. We are down to the final weekend of the regular season and both the men's and women's titles are up for grabs and the teams involved are playing each other. For the men it's Mississippi State at Texas A&M Friday night in what amounts to a winner-take-all match as it would be a complete shock if either team lost to LSU or Auburn Sunday after winning this match. On the women's side you have Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt in a three-way tie and we get Vanderbilt at South Carolina and Vanderbilt at Florida. Assuming that Florida and South Carolina take care of Kentucky in their other match (they both play Kentucky) the conference title comes down to who doesn't lose in the three-way battle. Vanderbilt gets the tougher path as they have to win two big matches as Florida and South Carolina just have the one (in addition to Kentucky).
This week's focus is all about the SEC regular season titles as well as positioning for the SEC and NCAA Tournament's so the preview will be similarly focused.
The Mississippi State and Texas A&M Men made it through the second to last weekend of SEC regular season play unbeaten to bring us to what will undoubtedly be a winner take all showdown Friday in College Station. The two teams finish the regular season Sunday against the two teams in the cellar that you have to expect them to win. While the Bulldogs and Aggies were taking care of their end of the business one team that was not was Georgia. The reeling Bulldogs went into Tuscaloosa without Emil Reinberg or Walker Duncan, but did manage to have Robert Loeb back in the lineup. Unfortunately it wasn't enough and while it's hard to say it was a stunning loss it was yet another blow to a Georgia squad that now finds themselves in a pickle just trying to qualify for the NCAAs. It was also a good weekend for the last place team in the conference, Auburn, as they picked up their first conference win Sunday over Arkansas and went down to the wire losing 4-3 Friday to Ole Miss.
The big match for the Women this week was Florida at South Carolina in a battle between conference leaders. South Carolina entered unbeaten in the SEC while Florida only had one loss and a chance to pull even with the Gamecocks. The weather wreaked havoc with the match before it ever got started moving the match time up to 8 a.m. Saturday and playing singles first trying to beat the rain. Even with the modified schedule the rain intervened and forced a long delay with the match tied 2-2. When play resumed Florida took 7 of the 8 games played and closed out the two remaining matches to upset the Gamecocks and post a 4-2 win and pull into a tie for the conference lead.
As we enter the final two weekends of the season we are finally going to get to see the conference leaders battle each other on both the men's and women's sides. The marquee match this week for the men will be #9 Florida (7-2 SEC) at #5 Texas A&M (8-0 SEC) on Friday. Florida is all but out of the running for the regular season title after last weekend's loss at South Carolina, but stranger things have happened. Meanwhile Texas A&M will be looking to stay perfect in the SEC and keep pace with Mississippi State who has two matches that on paper they ought to win this weekend. However one of those matches for the Bulldogs is on the road at Ole Miss which is always a competitive rivalry match no matter what shape either of the teams is in, but I am hearing that Gustav Hansson might be back in the lineup for Ole Miss.
For the women the marquee match will be #12 Florida (9-1 SEC) at #5 South Carolina (10-0 SEC) on Saturday. The Gators have an opportunity to pull even with South Carolina if they can pull off the upset on the road. If not, South Carolina doesn't have things sewn up just yet as they still have a match with #2 Vanderbilt ahead of them.
There were some very tight matchups for all the top SEC Men's teams this week. While Mississippi State and Texas A&M managed to escape unscathed the Gators were not so lucky and fell on Sunday in a shocker to South Carolina just two days after beating #1 Wake Forest at Wake. Two huge road wins for Misissippi State pushed their winning streak to 10 while A&M has now won four in row since dropping a non-conference match to TCU.
Things went pretty much according to plan on the women's side with one notable exception where Tennessee picked up their first SEC win on Thursday with an upset of #15 Auburn at home. South Carolina continues to set the pace at the front with Florida and Vanderbilt both sitting one loss behind them waiting for their head to head battles.
Texas A&M and Mississippi State remain atop the men's conference standings with 6-0 records after each posted a pair of wins last weekend. Both teams will get serious tests this weekend as they both face a couple of top 25 teams on the road. A&M will visit Vanderbilt and Kentucky while Mississippi State will visit Georgia and Tennessee. While those are the marquee conference matchups there is one huge non-conference matchup this week when Florida visits #1 Wake Forest. The Deacs lost their first match of the year Sunday to Florida State but rebounded Wednesday to take down #5 North Carolina and will be ready for the Gators. Full match previews with depth charts can be found below.
I have to apologize to the ladies for the delay in getting the weekend roundup out for them. When I started this I had no idea the amount of time it was going to consume (praise Bobby for all he does and has done in the past) on top of the time I am putting into the CollegeTennisRanks.com site. I also didn’t want to short change the coverage so it took a little extra time to get it together. I’ll have to keep up as the weekend progresses moving forward to keep up. Anyhow, on to the deets…
South Carolina continued its dominance in the SEC winning at Auburn and Alabama and moving to 8-0 in conference play with 6 of those victories on the road. With the Gamecocks final five SEC matches all at home they completed the first perfect SEC road season in program history. It also happened to be Head Coach Kevin Epley’s 100th win as South Carolina.
While South Carolina remained unbeaten in conference play, Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee remained winless, each at 0-7. What are the odds of that? They have to play each other sometime right? That just goes to show how strong the SEC is as Tennessee entered the week ranked 37 and has yet to come away with an SEC win.
It would appear that it’s down to a three team race between South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt for the regular season crown and none of those teams have played each other in conference play yet.
I’m going to change the format up a little this week and give a few highlights from the weekend along with any quotes I may have been able to get from coaches. I'll then follow it up with a recap for each team so you can either read it all or scroll straight to your team.
The two teams with the toughest schedule this past weekend were Tennessee and Mississippi State with each facing a pair of top 25 teams with Tennessee getting the harder draw of #6 Texas A&M at home and #14 Georgia on the road. Tennessee earned a split of those two matches coming up with a huge 4-3 road win on Sunday at Georgia. Meanwhile Mississippi State faced #19 Vanderbilt and #21 Kentucky at home and swept the weekend to remain unbeaten in the SEC.
I spoke with Tennessee Assistant Coach James McKie Sunday night about the weekend and he had this to say: “To win in Athens is always special, it’s only the 4th time since 1990 the Vol’s have won here. This group is really starting to come together. They are starting to look like a real team on and off the court which is great. As a coach there’s nothing better than seeing your players thrive in such a tough environment. We had a great meeting Saturday night about embracing the atmosphere and accepting no one is on our side.” I also asked about a few of the big individual performances they had this weekend and he had this to say about Adam Walton, Scott Jones and Luca Wiedenmann: “Walts is on fire, he’s playing some really good tennis and I think he’s starting to believe he can beat anyone out there. Jonesy once again so clutch down the stretch. Luca goes in for his first match of the year and clinches is just huge, he has been preparing all year and today he got the call and produced. Very proud of him.”
Mississippi State Head Coach Matt Roberts had this to say about his team this weekend: “One of my favorite things about this weekend is how we came out and played in doubles and how the team rallied and played for each other even when seeing some of the consistent spots in tough matches.” Roberts was very pleased with how the team rallied around each other on Friday when the Bulldogs lost their two points against Vandy at 1 and 6 where they had been previously unbeaten in SEC play. “We’ve only lost one doubles point in the SEC this year which has been a goal and we’re playing a new level of dubs this year” Roberts said.
Texas A&M and Mississippi State remain atop the conference standings with 4-0 records but both will get tested this weekend. Texas A&M visits #25 Tennessee on Friday and then must travel home to host #42 Alabama on Sunday. Alabama should not pose much of a threat to the #6 Aggies, but Tennessee could put up a fight if they are on their game. I would expect that the Aggies will have Patrick Kypson back after he played in the qualifying of the Miami Open this week, an ATP 1000 event, where he upset American Tim Smyczek in the first round but lost his final qualifying match to Cameron Norrie. The match with Norrie who played for TCU last year was ironic as Kypson’s Texas A&M teammates played TCU the later that night falling to the same fate Kypson did.
The 13th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs will get two top 25 matchups at home this week as they face #19 Vanderbilt Friday and #21 Kentucky Sunday. MSU’s top dog Nuno Borges has only lost one collegiate match this year and that was at All-American’s in the fall. He will put his undefeated dual match record on the line in potential matches with Vandy’s Cameron Klinger and Kentucky’s Ryotaro Matsumura. Matsumura has gone 11-1 in the dual match season so far with his last loss prior to that coming at the hands of Borges in the Fall National Championships 6-1, 6-3.
I'd like to introduce our newest College Tennis Today contributor, Chris Halioris, who will be breaking down everything in the SEC. Chris has a nephew that is currently playing in the SEC and he is a big college tennis fan in general. Chris just debuted a new site, College Tennis Ranks, which projects the ITA team rankings for the next week plus it has a ton of great features which help you understand how the rankings are tabulated. I highly recommend bookmarking his site plus I'll be adding it in under my rankings tab to make it easy to find. Now it's time for Chris's recap of the past week:
Two big matches and one big surprise this week for the men. Florida was involved in both of the big matches as they took on TCU at home and Vanderbilt on the road. The Gators came up on the short end against TCU taking a tough 4-3 loss at the Ring but rebounded for an easy 4-0 sweep at home against Kentucky on Friday and then played the marquee matchup Sunday at Vandy which I happened to travel to. Florida looked to be rolling early as they took the doubles point and 4 first sets and looked as though they were about to close the match out after Perez and Perez-Blanco made it 3-1 and Vale was in control. Then all of a sudden Vale double faults on a deuce match point at 5-4 in the second and the momentum began to swing. Billy Rowe took the set, Baker Newman took the second set from Oliver Crawford and Johannes Ingildsen lost his match to make it 3-2 Gators. The next thing you know Vandy is up a break on both remaining courts and Florida looks to be in deep trouble. Billy Rowe capped off a very energetic win over Vale on court 4 and now all eyes were on court 3 where Oliver Crawford managed to break back to get on serve just as Vale lost. From 4-4 Crawford held and then Baker Newman dug out of a 15-40 hole at 4-5 to get to deuce but lost a very tough break point to give the Gators the match 4-3.