SEC Basketball Power Rankings: Conference play starts with a bang and Georgia picks up signature win
Conference play started Saturday, with 5 games. We’ll get another full slate of action this week, with 4 games Tuesday night and 3 more Wednesday.
Now, we’ll finally be able to see how these teams stack up against one another after some intriguing nonconference results. For now, though, we’re only getting started with SEC action.
As a couple of teams finished off non-SEC play and others got started over the course of what was an exciting weekend, the rankings shifted around a little bit. Here’s how I rank all 14 SEC squads this week:
14. Texas A&M (6-6 overall, 0-1 in SEC play, Last week: 14)
The Aggies showed some fight in the SEC opener at Arkansas, with 3 players scoring at least 10 points. Senior F Josh Nebo led the way with a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double. However, a loss is still a loss.
The Aggies aren’t giving up at all, but this team needs to focus up ahead of a week with a pair of winnable games — Tuesday vs. Ole Miss and Saturday at Vanderbilt. That Vanderbilt game will be a big test in early SEC action.
13. Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-0, LW: 13)
The Commodores finished nonconference play with another close, but no cigar overtime loss at home against SMU. Vanderbilt played well but still lost 92-81, getting thoroughly trounced in overtime.
Aaron Nesmith played like a star again, scoring 29 points and making 8 3-pointers. However, I’m more impressed with Scotty Pippen Jr., who scored 15 points and had 6 assists. He’s coming into his own and playing good basketball:
— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) January 5, 2020
Heading to Auburn on Wednesday will be a tough game for this team, but the Commodores have a chance to win their 1st SEC game since the 2017-18 season Saturday when they host Texas A&M.
12. Alabama (7-6, 0-1, LW: 12)
The Crimson Tide gave it all they had at Florida on Saturday, taking the Gators into double-overtime before falling 104-98. This just confirms what I’ve been saying about the Tide all year — their offense is lethal. The defense, not so much.
Six Alabama players — John Petty (19 points), Kira Lewis Jr. (17), Herb Jones (15), James Bolden (15), Alex Reese (14) and Jaden Shackelford (11) — scored in double figures Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to pick up the win. Can the Tide improve their defense enough to beat Mississippi State on Wednesday in Starkville? Or do well enough to pull off an upset at Kentucky on Saturday? We’ll find out. The Tide aren’t an easy out.
11. South Carolina (8-5, 0-0, LW: 11)
I don’t have much to say about the Gamecocks this week, as they didn’t play following last Monday’s home loss against Stetson. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see this team beat visiting Florida on Tuesday or win Saturday at Tennessee. Literally anything is possible with this year’s South Carolina team.
10. Mississippi State (9-4, 0-1, LW: 10)
Reggie Perry again proved to be the most dominant player on the court against Auburn, putting up a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double against Auburn. However, the Tigers still rolled to a comfortable 80-68 win in Starkville.
When your big man can hit 3s and also put the ball on the court and drive to the basket, you’re going to win a few SEC games, and Perry can do both:
Reggie Perry movement-adjacent 3PA. Interesting. pic.twitter.com/EOqbABsViP
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 4, 2020
Really impressive take by Reggie Perry. Quick exploding out of the cross, off-hand finish through contact. Nice coordination pic.twitter.com/PF36IEBGbP
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 4, 2020
The Bulldogs head to Alabama on Wednesday and LSU on Saturday, and those will be true tests of how good Ben Howland’s squad is in 2020.
9. Tennessee (8-5, 0-1, LW: 9)
Giving freshman Santiago Vescovi a start against LSU proved to be a good idea, as he scored 18 points to go with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Yves Pons also had 18 points and Josiah-Jordan James added 15, but the Vols still lost 78-64.
Jordan Bowden played all 40 minutes but only scored 3 points. He needs to get back on his game if the Vols are going to be competitive this week (at Mizzou on Tuesday and vs. South Carolina on Saturday).
8. Mizzou (8-5, 0-1, LW: 7)
Yes, Mizzou lost its SEC opener, but going into Kentucky is no easy task, so I’m not going to punish the Tigers too much. This week, with home games against Tennessee on Tuesday and Florida on Saturday, will show a lot more about where the Tigers stand in the SEC.
Beating the Vols is something Cuonzo Martin’s squad must do. Mizzou has had a solid defense this year, but if Martin can’t beat his former team, which is still struggling after losing Lamonte Turner, it could turn into a long year for the Tigers.
7. Ole Miss (9-4, 0-0, LW: 4)
Ole Miss will stumble into SEC play this year after losing its final nonconference contest Saturday at Wichita State. The Shockers are strong, so it wasn’t a surprise the Rebels lost on the road.
However, losing by 20 points (74-54) is a different story. The Rebels went 16-for-52 from the floor and star Breein Tyree only had 9 points. Starting SEC play at Texas A&M on Tuesday night is a must-win game for the Rebels. They can’t afford to let the loss to Wichita State carry over.
6. LSU (9-4, 1-0, LW: 6)
The last time LSU lost an SEC road game was Feb. 28, 2018. After starting out SEC play this year with a win at Tennessee, that streak continues. What has happened in LSU’s world during that time? Well, to put it lightly … a lot:
The last time @LSUBasketball lost a road game in the SEC:
– Joe Burrow was an Ohio State Buckeye
– Joe Brady was a New Orleans Saint
– DeMarcus Cousins was a New Orleans Pelican
– Javonte Smart was a Scotlandville Hornet
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) January 4, 2020
This week, the Tigers will be in Baton Rouge for a pair of games, hosting Arkansas on Wednesday and Mississippi State on Saturday. The Tigers are talented enough to win both games, but if they come out flat, they could also lose either or both.
5. Georgia (10-3, 0-0, LW: 8)
I’ve been a huge fan of Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards (and for good reason), but the reason the visiting Bulldogs upset No. 9 Memphis 65-62 was big man Rayshaun Hammonds.
Hammonds hit a 3 to put the Dawgs ahead 62-61 late in the 2nd half and finished with a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double. He also had 3 steals, 2 assists and a block.
But he deserves just as much credit for his defense. Just look at how he was a 1-man brick wall to force a shot-clock violation on this critical 2nd-half possession:
This is incredible defense from Rayshaun Hammonds to force a shot clock violation in Memphis. pic.twitter.com/3z5L7CuvZ8
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) January 4, 2020
This was a huge win for Georgia. The Bulldogs didn’t play their best game, but the defensive effort was outstanding. If Tom Crean’s team can continue to play with that sort of effort, it could have a chance to open the SEC season with an upset against Kentucky on Tuesday night or at Auburn on Saturday (brutal stretch to open SEC play, right?).
4. Florida (9-4, 1-0, LW: 5)
This Florida team has been up-and-down all year long, and that was evident again on Saturday against Alabama. The Crimson Tide gave the Gators all they could handle, but Mike White’s crew eventually prevailed 104-98 in double-overtime.
Yes, when you play 10 extra minutes of basketball, this is a bit easier, but it’s still impressive that 3 Gators posted double-doubles. Kerry Blackshear Jr. had a monster game with 24 points and 16 rebounds. Blackshear also made a huge block that helped the Gators clinch the win:
With four fouls and the Gators up by two, Kerry Blackshear makes a critical block that has the Gators sitting on a 101-98 lead with 24 seconds left to play pic.twitter.com/h2D7mU21Nr
— libgator (@lib_gator) January 5, 2020
Then there were Scottie Lewis (15 points, 10 boards) and Keyontae Johnson (10 points, 12 boards) who also accomplished the feat.
Still, if this team plays like this moving forward, a loss at South Carolina on Tuesday and at Mizzou on Saturday wouldn’t be out of the question.
3. Kentucky (10-3, 1-0, LW: 3)
No one is probably more thrilled by the way Saturday’s SEC opener against Mizzou went. When Immanuel Quickly (23 points) and Nick Richards (21 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks) are leading the way like they did, that’s great for the Wildcats.
Look at all the great things Richards does on this possession — a block, a rebound, a great outlet pass, running the floor and finishing with an and-1:
GREAT sequence from Nick Richards. pic.twitter.com/DwYcZ6PS2K
— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 4, 2020
He’s playing great basketball. If he can continue to do that, the Wildcats should continue to roll in SEC play at Georgia on Tuesday and vs. Alabama on Saturday.
2. Arkansas (12-1, 1-0, LW: 2)
Would you be surprised if I told you Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones led the way for the Razorbacks in their win over Texas A&M on Saturday to start SEC play? If you are, you haven’t been paying attention.
Arkansas has perhaps the best backcourt in the SEC, and Joe and Jones combined for 34 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals on Saturday in the Hogs’ comfortable 69-59 victory. The road this week gets tougher, though, as they head to LSU on Wednesday and Ole Miss on Saturday.
1. Auburn (13-0, 1-0, LW: 1)
J’Von McCormick was named the SEC’s Player of the Week following his 28-point performance in Auburn’s 80-68 victory over Mississippi State to start conference play. Now, the Tigers are up to No. 5 in the AP Poll and are a perfect 13-0.
The Tigers had 5 players score at least 10 points Saturday, and that sort of balance makes them so tough to defend. When you shoot 41.5% from the floor, you’re going to win some games.
The Tigers host Vanderbilt and Georgia this week in games that a top 5 team should win. Can the Tigers improve to 15-0? That would be something special.