SEC Basketball Power Rankings: SEC wins challenge vs. Big 12, Tennessee shines and Vandy gets a win
The SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place Saturday, with 9 games being played (No. 5 Texas at Kentucky was canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Wildcats). The SEC squeaked out a narrow 5-4 win over a conference many consider to be alongside the Big Ten as the best in college basketball.
Four SEC squads (No. 10 Alabama, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 18 Mizzou and No. 22 Florida) are ranked in this week’s AP Poll, and a few others are in the mix for the NCAA Tournament picture.
As we flip our calendars to February and turn our attention back to conference play, how do the 14 SEC teams stack up against one another?
Here’s a look at this week’s SEC basketball power rankings:
14. South Carolina (4-6 overall, 2-4 in SEC, Last week: 13)
Yes, I liked what the Gamecocks did in the middle of last week, beating Georgia 83-59. But you can’t go into Vanderbilt and lose, which is what South Carolina did on Saturday night. The Gamecocks’ defense got torched by Vanderbilt’s offense, losing 93-81.
Now, we’ll see if Frank Martin can get his team to bounce back this week, as the Gamecocks travel to Florida on Wednesday before hosting Mississippi State on Saturday. Tough week!
13. Vanderbilt (5-8, 1-6, LW: 14)
Saturday night’s win over South Carolina turned into the Maxwell Evans show. He had an impressive 29 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. He was using his defense to lead to easy buckets, as you can see from these 2 transition plays:
But Scotty Pippen Jr. continues to shine, too. He had 23 points and 7 assists. Look at this insane dunk he threw down after picking a South Carolina player’s pocket:
Yeah, that’s a scary fall, but he got up and finished the play. No, South Carolina is obviously not one of the best SEC squads, but picking up win No. 1 in conference play is the hardest. Now, we’ll see if the Commodores can keep the good times going this week, when they travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday night and head to Georgia on Saturday. Those are 2 very winnable games for Jerry Stackhouse’s crew.
12. Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6, LW: 12)
Texas A&M got one of the easiest draws in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, taking on a hapless Kansas State team that was coming off a 48-point loss at Baylor. The Aggies didn’t look great offensively, as they once again failed to reach the 70-point mark in their 68-61 victory.
But they did have 4 players score at least 10 points, so that’s encouraging. Now, they’ll try to keep things trending in the right direction during Wednesday night’s home game against Vanderbilt and Saturday’s trip to Arkansas.
11. Ole Miss (8-8, 3-6, LW: 10)
It was a rough week on the road for the Rebels, as they lost at Arkansas on Wednesday and at Georgia on Saturday. The problem? Ole Miss was abysmal from 3-point range. After shooting 2-for-13 from behind the arc against Arkansas, the Rebels went 1-for-16 at Georgia. That’s 3-for-29 overall. Yikes.
Things won’t get much easier for the Rebels this week, either. They’ll host Tennessee on Tuesday before heading to Auburn on Saturday. Those are both difficult games.
10. Georgia (10-6, 3-6, LW: 11)
It was yet another mixed week for the Bulldogs. First, they got blown out at South Carolina, then regrouped to pick up a 71-61 home win over Ole Miss on Saturday. Sahvir Wheeler continued his solid play, as he and Tye Fagan tied for the team lead with 13 points.
This was a pretty cool play, where Justin Kier saved a steal, Wheeler kept it from going out of bounds and then dished it to Fagan for an easy bucket:
— Georgia Basketball (@UGABasketball) January 31, 2021
The Bulldogs only shot 10-for-20 from the free-throw line, so I’d like to see them improve from the charity stripe moving forward. We’ll see if they can keep the positive momentum going this week at Auburn on Tuesday night and vs. Vanderbilt on Saturday.
9. Kentucky (5-10, 4-4, LW: 8)
There’s not much to say about Kentucky this week. The Wildcats are on a COVID-related pause and had their game against No. 5 Texas canceled Saturday. We’ll see if they’re able to travel to Mizzou on Tuesday or host Tennessee on Saturday.
In the middle of last week, it was the same old story for John Calipari’s squad. The Wildcats played really well and hung tough against Alabama for 30 minutes, then fell apart down the stretch. This team simply doesn’t have the leadership to close out games right now.
8. Mississippi State (10-8, 4-5, LW: 9)
The Bulldogs, like Texas A&M, got a break in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, playing host to an awful Iowa State team. The Cyclones are now 2-9 overall and 0-6 in Big 12 play. They got absolutely smoked by Mississippi State 95-56.
Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart Jr. and Tolu Smith continue to be a fearsome trio, as they combined for 53 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals against the Cyclones. They’re so selfless alongside each other, too. Here’s Stewart dishing it to Molinar for an and-one:
And here’s Smith grabbing a steal and passing to Molinar, who gives it back to Smith for a ferocious dunk:
This will be a tough week for Ben Howland’s squad, as the Bulldogs head to Arkansas on Tuesday and to South Carolina on Saturday. Road games aren’t easy in the SEC.
7. Auburn (10-8, 4-5, LW: 7)
Auburn got by far the toughest draw in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, heading to Baylor to face the No. 2 Bears. But Bruce Pearl’s squad hung tough, only losing by 12, which is not a bad effort against a team as good as Baylor.
After getting to the free-throw line a whopping 21 times (and making 18) against Mizzou earlier in the week, freshman PG Sharife Cooper was held more in check by Baylor, shooting (and making) only 2 free throws. Still, he managed to have a major impact on the game, scoring 15 points to go with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Right off the bat, he was making incredible plays:
Jaylin Williams was the beneficiary of a number of Cooper’s passes. He led the team with 17 points and 8 rebounds. As evidenced during the win over Mizzou, everyone is better when Cooper is on the court.
We’ll see if he can keep Auburn trending in the right direction this week, as the Tigers host Georgia on Tuesday and Ole Miss on Saturday in a pair of very winnable matchups.
6. Arkansas (13-5, 5-4, LW: 5)
Arkansas had a chance to pick up its first nonconference win over a major-conference team on Saturday at Oklahoma State but came up just short in an 81-77 loss. Earlier in the week, the Razorbacks trounced Ole Miss, so it wasn’t all bad.
With Justin Smith back and better than ever, things are looking up as the Hogs return to SEC action. Smith had 18 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists against the Cowboys, and always seems to be in the right spot to catch a pass from a teammate:
The Hogs host Mississippi State on Tuesday and Texas A&M on Saturday. They’ll need to win both to pad their NCAA Tournament resume.
5. LSU (11-5, 6-3, LW: 4)
LSU won a hard-fought battle against Texas A&M last week, and hung tough against No. 10 Texas Tech on Saturday before losing 76-71. It was a solid effort, but the Tigers failed to add a signature win to their resume.
Javonte Smart was impressive, scoring 29 points, but he had only 1 assist, and the Tigers struggle when he’s not dishing the ball around more. Freshman Cam Thomas continues to score in bunches, putting up 25 points against the Red Raiders, but he only made 6 of his 20 shot attempts. He needs to score more efficiently moving forward.
The worst news? Key forward Darius Days suffered a knee injury and might miss a couple of weeks. He’s the unsung hero of this LSU team, so his presence will be missed at No. 10 Alabama on Wednesday night and at home vs. No. 22 Florida on Saturday. Those are 2 very tough games for the Tigers.
4. Florida (10-4, 6-3, LW: 6)
I did not expect the Gators to go into Morgantown on Saturday and upset No. 11 West Virginia, but that’s exactly what Mike White’s crew did. The Gators have now won 4 consecutive games and are perhaps the hottest team in the SEC.
Colin Castleton continues to be a breakout star for the Gators. Even though West Virginia big man Derek Culver had 28 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals, Castleton held his own, leading the Gators with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. He joins Joakim Noah in an exclusive club:
Any time you’re mentioned in a sentence with Noah at Florida, you’re in good company. Now, the Gators are up to No. 22 in the AP Poll. Can they handle the pressure? We’ll see this week as they host South Carolina on Wednesday and travel to LSU on Saturday.
3. Tennessee (12-3, 5-3, LW: 3)
If Florida picked up the most surprising win in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the Vols earned the most impressive victory, absolutely smoking then-No. 15 Kansas 80-61. Yves Pons continued his improved offensive play, leading the team with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. He’s been great on that end of the floor lately and it is really helping Tennessee.
Also, the Vols remain undefeated this season when freshman Jaden Springer plays. It’s easy to see why, as he’s not the biggest guy on the court, but he is one of the toughest and most tenacious:
That is one tough freshman.
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 30, 2021
Springer had 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. The Vols are firing on all cylinders right now, and we’ll see if they can take their show on the road this week, as they head to Ole Miss on Tuesday and Kentucky on Saturday.
2. Mizzou (11-3, 4-3, LW: 2)
Mizzou is tied for the most Quadrant 1 victories in college basketball with 5. Now, that doesn’t mean the Tigers are trending in the right direction. Far from it, in fact. Last week, Mizzou lost at Auburn. It was the first time in SEC play the Tigers had lost when big man Jeremiah Tilmon had recorded a double-double.
But they managed to bounce back in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday, making a furious second-half comeback before taking down TCU in overtime. Still, that game should not have gone to overtime. The Tigers’ defense has taken a big step back.
Tilmon had another double-double on Saturday, and he and Xavier Pinson were electric. They now have the 2 highest point totals for any SEC players this year:
Pinson was clutch down the stretch. Here he is knocking down 3 3-pointers late in the second half as the Tigers came back from a 12-point deficit with less than 5 minutes left and a 6-point deficit with 1:29 remaining.
Now, we’ll see if the Tigers can get their stout defense going again this week. They’re scheduled (for now) to host Kentucky on Tuesday night and Alabama on Saturday afternoon. Those will be 2 tough games for Cuonzo Martin’s squad.
1. Alabama (14-4, 9-0, LW: 1)
The bad news? Alabama lost a tough game at Oklahoma on Saturday when the Sooners were down 2 starters. The good news? The Tide are still unbeaten in SEC play.
Alex Reese made some big plays against the Sooners, but elsewhere, other guys struggled mightily. John Petty Jr. and Herb Jones only combined for 16 points, and that’s not a winning formula for the Tide. Keon Ellis gave the Tide some good minutes against Oklahoma, though, scoring 11 points:
This is clinical. As Manek hedges, Quinerly reverses the ball to Herb, who hits Reese on the short roll. Ellis's man helps from the corner, so Ellis is wide open for three. pic.twitter.com/a8KdkkZ6oj
— Bama Basketball Film Room (@BamaFilmRoom) February 1, 2021
I’m concerned that the streaky Tide shooters won’t be able to shake off their sluggish (for them) offensive performances of this past week. Scoring 70 points against Kentucky and 61 against Oklahoma is concerning for a team that had scored at least 80 points in its previous 6 games.
They’ll host LSU on Wednesday night. Last time, the Tide put up 105 points and an SEC-record 23 3-pointers on the Tigers, so it’ll be a good opportunity to get right offensively before heading to Mizzou, a tough defensive squad, on Saturday.