With the exception of Georgia's rise to respectability, there weren't too many surprises in the SEC this week. Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida swept overmatched teams that sunk to the bottom of the power rankings, LSU finally got a series win against a conference team, and Mississippi continued to be an underachieving mystery. Two things, however, stood out - Georgia's sweep of Mississippi State, and Alabama's series win against Arkansas.
The Bulldogs victory over the ...Bulldogs gave Georgia their sixth conference win of the season, one more than they had all of last year. The team now has a better in-conference record than out-of-conference, and is making a serious case for a NCAA Tournament bid. Their current RPI is 16 and Aaron Fitt has them as a two-seed (!) as part of a nine-team Southeastern Conference effort. If the 'Dawgs can keep it up, it will be an incredible turnaround for the boys from Athens.
Alabama's late surge in 2010 and subsequent run to a Super Regional seems to have carried over to 2011, as the Crimson Tide have opened up a three-game lead in the SEC West and appear poised to join the conference's elite. They'll get their biggest test of the season this week when they travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt in a series that constitutes the toughest in-league matchup either team has faced. 'Bama can earn national respect and a huge jump in the rankings with a big win against the Commodores.
Both teams stand as a showcase of the league's depth. The SEC runs three (or possibly four, if 'Bama keeps it up) deep with elite teams before giving way to a volatile center of good-to-great teams. As a result, compiling any type of winning streak is going to be tough. Still, it'll provide the pressure cooker environment that these teams need to make a deep run in Omaha. It's been the key to bringing the past two national championships home to the Southeastern Conference. 2011 looks like a solid bet to make it a third.
Power rankings after the jump...
|1)||1)||Vanderbilt||27-3 (7-2)||Vandy keeps the top spot be virtue of a three-game sweep over the outmatched and over-hyped Tigers in Auburn last weekend. The 'Dores bats came alive just one week after struggling to plate runs against Arkansas.|
|2)||2)||South Carolina||23-5 (7-2)||Getting it done with pitching. Opponents are averaging just 2.25 runs against them over their last eight games. Somehow Rhode Island was able to torch the Gamecocks for more runs in one game (8) than Florida (7) or Kentucky (5) were in full weekend series.|
|3)||3)||Florida||24-6 (7-2)||Rolled over Tennessee, then dropped a non-conference game to Central Florida. It might cost them slightly in the polls, but the UCF loss is a throw-away game. They can take out their frustrations on the freshly-exposed Mississippi State Bulldogs this weekend.|
|The Ever-Shifting Middle Ground of the SEC|
|4)||7)||Alabama||21-10 (7-2)||Basketball season all over again? The Tide are getting it done against a relatively soft SEC schedule after a few stumbles in out-of-conference play. They've parlayed their in-league proficiency into a top 25 ranking and can make a case for the top spot in the power rankings with a decisive win at Vanderbilt this weekend.|
|5)||11)||Georgia||15-14 (6-3)||Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are. A 6-2 surge, including a sweep of Mississippi State, put the 'Dawgs over .500 for the first time all season. Georgia's SEC play is making their out-of-conference start look stupid, and now the team is in good shape for a invititation to Hoover for the SEC Tournament.|
|6)||5)||Mississippi State||20-9 (4-5)||Everything was looking so good until the offense decided to take the weekend off in Athens. The Bulldogs rebounded strongly with a win over #17 Southern Miss this week, but they've got some ground to cover in the SEC.|
|Good Teams Falling on Hard Times|
|7)||6)||LSU||21-8 (3-6)||Finally got a series win in SEC play. Their showdown with Arkansas this week will be a good indicator of how the middle of the league will shake out. Kurt McCune and Mikie Mahtook are both having insane seasons - can they lead this team back to prominence in 2011?|
|8)||4)||Arkansas||19-8 (3-6)||Only one win in each SEC weekend series of the season so far. Their pitching suggests that they should be part of the league's elite. Unfortunately, their anemic offense (2.3 runs per game over the last two weeks) has dragged them down to the bottom of the SEC West.|
|Mediocre Teams Falling on Hard Times|
|9)||8)||Ole Miss||19-11 (4-5)||Lost last week's series to LSU and then got beat up by a lackluster Memphis team. I still don't think anyone knows quite what to make of these guys, but they certainly aren't inspiring confidence.|
|10)||9)||Auburn||15-14 (2-7)||The Tigers are making everyone who had them ranked after their series win over Arkansas look foolish. They're 1-8 over their last nine games, with six of those losses coming by four runs or more.|
|Pretty Bad…Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Pretty…Pretty Bad.|
|11)||12)||Kentucky||16-14 (2-7)||Their only SEC wins have been against Tennessee. It's enough to keep them out of the basement, but also a clear recipe for an early end to the Wildcats' season.|
|12)||10)||Tennessee||19-10 (2-7)||They can't beat anyone in the SEC, and with this week's loss to Presbyterian, their talent for being mid-tier teams might be wearing thin as well. A visit from South Carolina isn't the thing they needed to pull out of this tailspin.|