SEC Basketball Power Rankings: Auburn dominates, Florida collapses and LSU thrives in the clutch
Now that football is officially over, us college basketball diehards can welcome in a number of additional fans with open arms.
It is now that time of year when “bracketology” and “bubble” enter our day-to-day vocabulary and we march (pun intended) toward the NCAA Tournament.
How many SEC teams will make it to March Madness? That’s still unclear, but the hierarchy within the conference is starting to take shape.
That said, here’s a look at this week’s SEC power rankings:
14. Vanderbilt (8-7 overall, 0-2 SEC, Last Week: 13)
I only have 2 words to describe this season for Vandy now — Poor Vanderbilt. It’s tough to dislike a team that has been through so much. I really like Saben Lee, first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse, Aaron Nesmith and others.
But, when it comes to Nesmith, he’ll now be out for perhaps the rest of the season. He has a stress fracture in his foot and now the SEC’s leading scorer might miss the rest of the SEC season.
After losing Darius Garland after only a handful of games last season, this seems cruel. Vandy can recruit with the best SEC teams, but it has been snakebitten the past couple of years in SEC play. Without Nesmith, it will struggle to avoid another 0-18 SEC season.
After losing to fellow cellar-dweller Texas A&M 69-50 Saturday, the Commodores will have a lot of work to do to earn an SEC win this season.
13. South Carolina (8-7, 0-2, LW: 11)
The Gamecocks lost to Florida and Tennessee in SEC play. That’s not exactly the worst thing, especially since both teams are in the top half of my SEC rankings.
However, the Gamecocks continue to be completely inexplicable. I have no idea where this team stands. That win over Virginia stands out, but so do losses to Boston University and Stetson. Until this team builds some consistency, I’m going to err on the side of caution and rank the Gamecocks toward the bottom.
12. Texas A&M (8-6, 2-1, LW: 14)
You read that right — Texas A&M is 2-1 in SEC play. Yes, the team that lost to Harvard and Fairfield beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss last week.
Tuesday night’s game against Ole Miss was especially crazy, as the Aggies trailed 29-19 at halftime. They then outscored the Rebels 38-18 in the 2nd half to earn a 57-47 win.
The Aggies host LSU (Tuesday) and South Carolina (Saturday) this week. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Aggies could be 4-1 or 3-2 in SEC play by this time next week. That’s something no one would have thought entering conference play.
11. Mississippi State (9-6, 0-3, LW: 10)
Mississippi State has faced a tough SEC schedule, losing at Auburn and then, last week, at home to Alabama and LSU. This week is a do-or-die week.
The Bulldogs host Mizzou (Tuesday) and Georgia (Saturday). Anything other than a 2-0 mark will make it very difficult for Ben Howland’s crew to make it to March Madness. No pressure.
10. Alabama (8-7, 1-2, LW: 12)
Alabama absolutely trounced Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday and played well at Kentucky on Saturday but lost. Still, overall, this was a positive week for Nate Oats’ team.
The Tide continue to push the pace offensively. In KenPom.com’s rankings, the Tide are No. 3 in terms of adjusted tempo (number of possessions per 40 minutes adjusted for opponent). That puts them behind only Mississippi Valley State and Houston Baptist at the Division I level.
When Alabama’s shots are falling, it can beat anyone. When those shots aren’t falling, well … that’s a different story.
9. Ole Miss (9-6, 0-2, LW: 7)
The Rebels led Arkansas 49-38 with 14 minutes left Saturday. With 8 minutes left, they held a 60-51 advantage. However, they still couldn’t hold on, letting the Razorbacks come all the way back to win 76-72.
Combined with a loss at Texas A&M on Tuesday, that was a rough week for Kermit Davis’ crew. You can’t lose to the Aggies if you want to be ranked in the top half of these power rankings.
Now, much like their in-state rivals, Ole Miss faces a do-or-die week. The Rebels travel to Gainesville to take on a reeling Florida squad Tuesday and then host a tough LSU team Saturday. If they start SEC play with an 0-4 record, it’ll be a disaster.
8. Mizzou (9-6, 1-2, LW: 8)
Mizzou lost 69-59 to a Tennessee team that was having huge offensive struggles Tuesday night, but then bounced back to crush Florida 91-75 Saturday. I have no idea what to do with that information.
Cuonzo Martin’s squad plays down to competition but also plays up against teams better than it. Honestly, Mizzou just had a really good shooting night against Florida, shooting 61.5% from the floor and 63.2% from 3-point range.
Dru Smith scored a team-high 22 points, dished out 6 assists and snagged 5 steals in the win. Here are a couple of highlights from his effort:
Dru Smith was Mizzou's best player tonight with a game-high 22 points as the Tigers earned their first SEC win of the season.
— Tyler Murry (@TylerMurryABC17) January 12, 2020
After losing to Tennessee and beating Florida, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mizzou do something like lose to Vanderbilt and then beat Auburn later this season. The Tigers are completely unpredictable.
7. Tennessee (10-5, 2-1, LW: 9)
This week showed what a great coach Rick Barnes is. After losing Lamonte Turner and despite having Jordan Bowden continue to go through a horrendous slump, the Vols just keep winning.
How bad is Bowden’s slump? Well, in a 56-55 home win over South Carolina on Saturday, Bowden went 1-for-17 (not a typo) from the field, including 1-for-12 (again, not a typo) from 3-point range. He finished with 6 points. For those of you just tuning into basketball after a long football season, that’s what we in the business call “not good.”
Saturday, it was John Fulkerson’s turn to step up and lead, as he finished with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. The Vols hit the road this week, first to Georgia on Wednesday and then to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Can Barnes continue to push the right buttons?
6. Georgia (10-5, 0-2, LW: 5)
Yes, it is a bit weird to have a Georgia team that is 0-2 in SEC play ranked this highly, but the Bulldogs had the toughest first 2 games possible, losing to Kentucky on Tuesday and then getting blown out at Auburn on Saturday.
However, now’s the time for Tom Crean’ crew to put up or shut up. Tennessee comes to town Wednesday night and then the Dawgs head to Mississippi State on Saturday. Those are games Georgia should win.
One thing the Bulldogs need in order to be successful? Better defensive efforts from star freshman Anthony Edwards. They can’t have him doing this on the perimeter:
Another poor defensive effort on the perimeter from Anthony Edwards. Tyree Maxey takes advantage and finishes at the rim. pic.twitter.com/Lmq9dx4tkN
— Gabe (@AllDaySportTalk) January 12, 2020
Edwards is still developing, so there’s time to improve his defensive effort. That needs to start this week, though.
5. Florida (10-5, 2-1, LW: 4)
Just when I thought the Gators were slowly starting to figure things out, they go and get absolutely demolished by Mizzou 91-75 on Saturday. Mind you, this was a Mizzou team that had just scored 59 points in a loss to Tennessee earlier in the week.
I continue to be confused by Mike White’s team. Why do the Gators refuse to make any lasting progress? When you let a team shoot 61.5% from the floor (like Mizzou did), it is a horrible sign for your defensive consistency.
Now, the Gators host Ole Miss and Auburn this week in a set of games that really could go either way. Florida could finish this week 0-2, 1-1 or 2-0 and I wouldn’t be surprised by any of those results.
4. LSU (11-4, 3-0, LW: 6)
It was a week of heroes for LSU. On Wednesday against a tough Arkansas team, freshman forward Trendon Watford wouldn’t let the Tigers lose. Late in the 2nd half, Watford had 2 huge buckets to give LSU a 79-77 win:
Trendon Watford was not losing that game. pic.twitter.com/reOV2Q4DI1
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 9, 2020
Watford finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds — perhaps his best game as a Tiger. Then, on Saturday against Mississippi State, it was Skylar Mays’ turn to play hero.
With only a few seconds left, Mays took the ball down the court and hit a game-winning jumper at the buzzer:
LSU WINS AT THE BUZZER!!! pic.twitter.com/c2mtGQyNV7
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 12, 2020
With games at Texas A&M and Ole Miss this week, perhaps the Tigers can avoid the nail-biting drama last week’s contests provided.
3. Arkansas (13-2, 2-1, LW: 2)
As detailed above in the Ole Miss section, Arkansas faced a huge deficit in the second half and managed to come back to win 76-72. Isaiah Joe had a big day, tying his career-high with 34 points. Here are some of the highlights from his game against the Rebels:
Avec 34 points, Isaiah Joe a permis à Arkansas de l'emporter hier face à Ole Miss (26 en seconde période). Quelques images, de ce qui va (défense, tir) et va moins bien (création espace, handle). pic.twitter.com/O7Bx86W6ym
— Manu (@_manelo) January 12, 2020
No one can stop this backcourt duo of Joe and Mason Jones. Yes, the Hogs lost to LSU on Wednesday, but going down by 2 points in Baton Rouge is far from a bad loss. I’m still confident in Arkansas moving forward, and the Hogs will have a chance to reclaim the No. 2 spot in these rankings if they beat Kentucky on Saturday. A game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday is all that stands between them and that big showdown with the Wildcats.
2. Kentucky (12-3, 3-0, LW: 3)
I’ve talked about Nick Richards in this space a few times, but I want to continue to mention him, especially after Saturday’s win over Alabama. When Richards is able to make mid-range jumpers like this, the Wildcats will be really tough to beat:
And look at this post move Richards has developed. If he can hit that consistently, he’ll finish the year as one of the SEC’s best big men:
13 pts (5-11 FG)
5 BLOCKS pic.twitter.com/bw1XYLD3AL
— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 11, 2020
Those are some nice numbers for Richards. The Kentucky squad as a whole was very businesslike this week, winning 78-69 at Georgia and 76-67 against Alabama.
They’ll face games at South Carolina (Wednesday) and at Arkansas (Saturday) this week.
1. Auburn (15-0, 3-0, LW: 1)
The Tigers struggled a bit with Vanderbilt on Wednesday but won. Freshman Isaac Okoro led the way with 23 points and also threw down one of the best dunks of the year:
Isaac Okoro just had the dunk of the year: pic.twitter.com/RIbQY57G6K
— Auburn Hoops Fan Account (@aubawn) January 9, 2020
On Saturday, in a game moved up to 11 a.m. local time due to an approaching storm, the Tigers made a statement, beating Georgia 82-60. They’re now 15-0 and showing no signs of slowing down.
Road trips to Alabama and Florida this week will test the strength of Bruce Pearl’s squad.