SEC Basketball Power Rankings: Gators Are ‘Quiet Title Contender”
The NFL has one Sunday left of play until much of the nation turns their attention to college basketball. Each conference has begun conference play, and each school in the Southeastern Conference has at least four conference games under their belts. The Florida Gators are the highest ranked SEC team in the nation coming in at #6 in the latest Associated Press poll. John Calipari and the hyped Kentucky Wildcats are the only other SEC team ranked at this point in the season; They are #14 in the latest AP Poll. The Missouri Tigers are the only SEC team receiving votes in this week’s AP poll, garnering 6 votes from the group of voters. Four or five games are a small sample size but some teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack:
1. #6 Florida Gators 15-2 (4-0)
The Gators are one of the hottest teams in the country and some are starting to notice, including ESPN’s Jeff Goodman who wrote a piece this week calling Florida a “quiet title contender”. In this past week the Gators completely destroyed the Georgia Bulldogs and escaped Auburn with a 68-61 road win. The week before they beat a quality Arkansas team on the road in overtime. They boast the SEC’s top defense led by an athletic and versatile front line that’s only giving up 59. 7 points per game. The Gators two losses? A last second shot at UCONN earlier this season and a loss to #9 Wisconsin in Madison. Possibly the Gators most talented player hasn’t even touched the court yet this season. Rivals #6 overall player and #1 Center in this past year’s recruiting class, 6-foot-10 big man Chris Walker, is still awaiting word from the NCAA on his eligibility. Florida travels to Tuscaloosa on Thursday to play Alabama and then returns home on Saturday to face a quality Tennessee basketball team in Gainesville.
2. #14 Kentucky Wildcats 14-4 (4-1)
UK faced lofty (and calling them lofty is being kind) expectations entering this season and with four losses already this season, many have criticized John Calipari and his band of freshman. This past week Kentucky showed a strength of their team but also once again showed the country a weakness. This talented group of kids lost to a bi-polar Arkansas team on the road in Bud Walton, a game they should have won. Inexperienced players are impossible to predict in road games and in games that are tight late; Kentucky’s group was faced with both criteria last week versus the Razorbacks. Although the Wildcats lost, they bounced back with wins against Tennessee and Texas A&M, showing the talent this group encompasses. Kentucky has an opportunity to increase their good will following their Arkansas lost as they face another far less talented team at home this weekend in the Georgia Bulldogs.
3. Missouri Tigers 14-4 (2-3)
The Tigers started out hot, going 10-0 before falling to a quality Illinois team by one point. Missouri has won four of six since that Illinois loss but both of the losses in that six game stretch have come in conference play. Missouri lost their first SEC game of the season, a shocking home defeat at the hand of the Georgia Bulldogs. Missouri bounced back with a good road win at Auburn but then fell on their face again when they dropped a game to a sub-par Vanderbilt team last Thursday. Missouri’s most impressive win, against then #18 UCLA at home, seems less impactful now as the Bruins have dropped out of the latest AP poll. Their last win was a 21-point destruction of Alabama at home but last night the Tigers lost a tough one on the road in Baton Rouge. Their next game is this Saturday versus lowly South Carolina.
4. Ole Miss Rebels 12-5 (3-1)
The Rebels have had a very interesting season thus far, but what else would you expect with me-against-the-world shooting guard Marshall Henderson still on their roster? The Rebels started off 6-0 with wins against Penn State and Georgia Tech, members of power five conferences, but then they dropped two close ones to Kansas State and (then #13) Oregon, who are much more quality opponents than Penn State and GT. They then finished their non-c0nference slate with three wins but also two home losses to Mercer and Dayton. The Rebels then started conference play where they have won games by 3 points and 1 point, and have lost a game by 4, but somehow won a game that went into overtime by 14. This week’s slate will continue to keep us in the dark on who this Mississippi team really is as the Rebels face Vanderbilt and rival Mississippi State.
5. Tennessee Volunteers 11-6 (2-2)
This is a team I actually really like. I think they are sneaky and are far better than what their record says they are, although I’m sure Bill Parcells would disagree. In their opening game they lost to a good Xavier team on their home court. Then after winning three they lost to a well-coached UTEP team that hadn’t hit turmoil yet. The very next night they avenged their opening loss with a 15 point win versus Xavier on a neutral court. The Vols then proceeded to beat Wake Forest by 19 the very next evening. I’m sure some think their can’t be an impressive loss but if their ever was one it was Tennessee’s loss to #5 Wichita State, a game the Vols played poorly in offensively and still only lost by 9. Tennessee then had a shocking loss to NC State on their home court, a loss I cannot forgive after watching some NC State games this season. Their only losses since have been to a surprisingly decent Texas A&M team by one point and to Kentucky this past weekend in Rupp. We will really see whether I’m right or I’m wrong this week as Arkansas comes into Knoxville tomorrow night and then Tennessee will hit the road and play #6 Florida on Saturday.
6. Texas A&M Aggies 12-6 (3-2)
The Aggies have been the surprise of the short SEC slate for me thus far. After losing to a then-7-5 North Texas team at home by 20 points I felt confident Texas A&M would continue to not be heard from on the basketball court. But then, they surprised me, starting out 3-0 in SEC play with a road win at Tennessee and a win at home against Arkansas. Sitting at 3-0, the Aggies traveled to Mississippi State but fell to the Bulldogs in OT this past Saturday. Mississippi State just seemed to have more quality bodies than A&M and almost beat them by double-digits in that overtime session. Texas A&M has the 2nd best defense in the SEC, allowing just 61.5 PPG, but they struggle to score the ball as they average the least amount of points per game in the SEC (69.3). The Aggies have shown promise but they have now lost two in a row after getting clobbered last night by Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Texas A&M hopes to gain some confidence when they finally return home this weekend and play Vanderbilt on Saturday at 1:00pm ET.
7. Georgia Bulldogs 9-7 (3-1)
Really the only quality wins Georgia has this season have come so far in conference play and both have come in overtime, a 70-64 win at Missouri and a 66-61 win over Arkansas. All of the quality opponents Georgia played in their non-conference slate beat them by 8 or more, except one, a 2 point loss to Temple on a neutral court. That is an impressive loss in my book though. The ‘Dawgs started their SEC slate off with a bang when they took down then-#21 Missouri in Columbia and followed it up with a win over Alabama. Georgia, thinking they were ready for the big time, got a rude awakening last Tuesday when their terrible offense traveled to Gainesville and lost by 22 to Florida. In the good news department, Georgia bounced back with a nice win over Arkansas, although they might be bi-polar. The ‘Dawgs get another shot at the big boys (as in the only two teams that will get bids to NCAA Tournament this year: Florida and Kentucky) as they travel to play Kentucky this Saturday but their offense will have to improve if they want to pull the upset.
8. LSU Tigers 12-5 (3-2)
LSU started off their year with an impressive loss at UMASS, losing by only 2 points. The Tigers then went on to win 9 of their next 10, the only loss being another impressive loss to #23 Memphis. Before the ball dropped on SEC play, the Tigers suffered a tough loss to Rhode Island that may or may not have effected them in their first SEC game three days later, an 18-point loss at home to Tennessee. Since then LSU has beaten two inferior opponents, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, but lost by 14 at Ole Miss, somehow in overtime. LSU is 12th in the nation at rebounding, bringing down 41.6 a game, and they are led by Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey. O’Bryant and Mickey are both 1 and 2 on the team respectively in points per game and rebounds per game. The duo pulls down a combined 15 rebounds per game, 6 of them being offensive on average giving the Tigers more looks at 2nd chance points. The Tigers beat a good Missouri team last night and now they travel to Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
9. Arkansas Razorbacks 12-5 (1-3)
The Razorbacks gained 11 wins in their non-conference slate including two wins against a Clemson team that ain’t bad defensively and Rick Pitino’s son’s Minnesota team. Arkansas did drop two games in that stretch to two quality teams, Gonzaga and Cal. In conference play, Arkansas has already played the league’s two best teams, Florida and Kentucky, and they got both at Bud Walton Arena. After a disappointing loss to Florida in OT, the Razorbacks could have been deflated 3 days later when Kentucky came to town, but they weren’t. The team and the crowd came ready and after a 2-point loss to Florida in overtime, they upset Kentucky with a two-point win in overtime 3 days later. The other games making up Arkansas’ conference record are two disappointing losses, a close one on the road to Georgia in overtime and a clobbering at the hands of Texas A&M in College Station. Arkansas leads the SEC in points per game, scoring 83.3 on average. We’ll get a good look at Arkansas tonight as they play Tennessee in Knoxville. They’ll also get a likely win when they face Auburn at home on Saturday.
10. Mississippi State Bulldogs 12-5 (2-2)
The Bulldogs played an absolute joke of a schedule in the non-conference so it’s hard to get a feel on who this team really is. Unfortunately, Mississippi State had to open SEC play in Rupp Arena against Kentucky where they lost by 22. After that, State recovered nicely with a win at home against Marshall Henderson and rival Ole Miss. This team might be bi-polar like Arkansas because they followed that win up with a 19-point loss at Alabama, but then beat Texas A&M at home 3 days after that. They’ve been awesome at home, going 10-1 in Starkville but the Bulldogs have yet to win a road game this season (0-3). They have a chance to put a winning streak together tonight when Auburn comes to town but this Saturday the Bulldogs travel to Oxford to play Ole Miss for the 2nd time in two weeks.
11. Alabama Crimson Tide 8-9 (2-2)
Alabama’s non-conference slate was the opposite of Mississippi State’s as the Crimson Tide faced a handful of quality teams. Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State, Xavier and UCLA all played Anthony Grant’s squad but unfortunately Alabama lost all of those contests but only by a margin of 7 points per game. Like Mississippi State, Alabama has yet to win a road game, most likely because their already stagnant offense seems to disappear even more when they are away from Tuscaloosa. They have a nice win already in conference play, a 19-point win over that Mississippi State team but they have lost to Georgia and Missouri by a combined 31 points. Things will only get tougher for the Tide as #6 Florida comes to town tomorrow night and the LSU Tigers come to Tuscaloosa Saturday night.
12. Vanderbilt Commodores 9-7 (1-3)
Of the three teams left, Vanderbilt is the only team with an SEC win thus far so in my mind they had to go here. Vandy has played a lot of quality teams close so far this season. The ‘Dores lost to Butler, Providence, Texas, and Saint Louis, losing all of those games by 8 points or less, but they also beat Georgia Tech earlier this season. Two of their three SEC losses this year were by a combined 14 points, one of them being to Kentucky. Although they did beat Missouri by 3 last Thursday, they lost by 23 points to LSU 3 days after that. Like most teams in the SEC, Vanderbilt struggles on offense but they are part of the worst of the worst in the conference, averaging 69.4 points per game which is the 2nd lowest average in the league. Vandy welcomes Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss to Nashville tonight but has to travel to College Station this Saturday to face Texas A&M.
13. Auburn Tigers 8-7 (0-4)
I guess it speaks to how bad and how disappointing the ACC is this season but this Auburn team beat both Clemson and Boston College in December and although those two aren’t poster boys of the ACC, this Auburn team is bad and they beat them. They are currently on a four-game losing streak and haven’t won a game since they played Florida A&M at home on January 4th. The Tigers play the 2nd worst defense in the SEC, allowing just over 70 points per game and the only team that has been worse so far on the defensive end is Ole Miss but they can afford to be a little more leaky than Auburn on that end. I don’t see their losing streak ending anytime this week as the Tigers have both of their games this week on the road, tonight at Mississippi State and Saturday at Arkansas.
14. South Carolina Gamecocks 7-10 (0-4)
(They are young. They are terrible. And I’m bitter about it.)