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SEC Hoops Review: Week 1

With a full week in the books, we still don't know everything about the SEC, but we at least know some things.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It might seem strange to adjust the preseason rankings based on a week's worth of action, but while we don't know everything yet, I can at least make a few observations that teams are going to be better or worse than expected.

1.  Kentucky (5-0)

Preseason: 1

This week: W 72-40 vs. Kansas, W 89-65 vs. Boston U., W 86-28 vs. Montana State

When Kentucky feels like it, they're the best team in college basketball and it isn't even close.  Yes, that was a top 10 team that the Wildcats completely dismantled on a neutral court.  But the Boston U. game shows why Kentucky (probably) won't go undefeated.  They're going to have some off nights.  The interior defense, with all that size, isn't going to have an off night, but BU shot 9-24 from three and in spite of the final score, this was a competitive game for about 30 minutes.  Eventually, Kentucky is going to have a bad game against a team that can actually beat them -- but fortunately for the Wildcats, the list of teams that could conceivably beat them is pretty short.

2.  Arkansas (3-0)

Preseason: 3

This week: W 83-53 vs. Wake Forest, W 99-71 vs. Delaware State

This ranking might not hold up, but at least at the moment Arkansas is the best team in the SEC not named Kentucky.  No, Wake Forest is not that good, but I can think of a few SEC teams that would lose to the Demon Deacons; Arkansas coasted to a 30-point win.  Mike Anderson, at least early on, finally appears to have a team that's well-suited to his system of basketball, and this looks like a tournament team.

3.  Florida (2-1)

Preseason: 2

This week: L 67-69 vs. Miami, W 61-56 (OT) vs. Louisiana-Monroe

You could have written off the Miami loss as Miami being underrated, but getting taken to overtime by Louisiana-Monroe?  That's sounding some alarm bells.  But really, the Gators just need to get healthy more than anything -- with Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith both missing the UL-Monroe game, Florida was down to just six scholarship players.  Jacob Kurtz is currently averaging 31.7 mpg, and while Kurtz is better than your average walk-on, he's also not somebody you want playing 30 minutes a night.  Kasey Hill, who's shooting 3-24 on the season, is really struggling, but so far Chris Chiozza isn't mounting much of a challenge to the starting point guard gig.

4.  Georgia (3-1)

Preseason: 5

This week: W 80-70 vs. Stony Brook, W 82-60 vs. Troy, W 74-61 vs. Florida Atlantic

Georgia recovered nicely from the season-opening loss to Georgia Tech; through four games they look like a strong rebounding team and a solid defensive team, much as expected, but so far this season they're also shooting the ball pretty well.  Basically, this is about what we expected, though we'll see whether the shooting percentages hold up.  Freshman Yante Maten looks like a nice find for a three-star recruit.

5.  Texas A&M (3-1)

Preseason: 9

This week: L 53-55 vs. Dayton, W 59-50 vs. Charleston, W 64-51 vs. New Mexico

This is a textbook example of how missed opportunities are multiplied in early-season tournaments.  Missing out on a resume-building win over Dayton was bad enough, but the last-second loss also cost the Aggies a shot at UConn.  Of course, it's a win by itself that A&M's potential NCAA resume is even worthy of mention.  It might seem weird to see a team jump four spots based on a week's worth of play, but that's in large part due to Danuel House being ruled eligible to play this season; that's something I hadn't accounted for in the preseason (I assumed that House would be required to sit out.)  Even without that, though, this team looked clearly better than expected through the first three games before House became eligible.

6.  LSU (3-1)

Preseason: 4

This week: W 69-64 (OT) vs. Texas Tech, L 61-70 vs. Old Dominion, W 72-58 vs. Weber State

It's hard to put my finger on it, but there's something that's disturbing me about this LSU team.  Perhaps it's the lack of depth: just four games into the season, Johnny Jones has four players playing 34 minutes a night or more, and while that's skewed a bit by the overtime game against Texas Tech, it's also tough to take that as a good sign this early in the season.  And unlike Florida right now or Vanderbilt last year, this isn't a matter of simply not having the bodies available; LSU has 11 scholarship players available but most of them aren't playing much for whatever reason.  Obviously it's a very different kind of team, but the early returns have me thinking that this year's LSU team is too much like last year's Missouri team for my comfort.  The top level talent is great, but there's almost nothing behind them and this team could be worn out by the slog of SEC play, particularly since they're playing at a fast pace.

7.  Alabama (3-0)

Preseason: 7

This week: W 80-74 vs. Western Carolina, W 81-67 vs. Southern Miss

Levi Randolph, at least so far on the young season, is showing why you don't give up on potential.  Randolph was a high four-star recruit coming out of high school but hadn't really done much in three years at Alabama; so far this year, though, he's averaging 19 ppg and 7.7 rpg on an Alabama team that could be better than expected.  At the same time, it's hard to draw too big of a conclusion when Alabama hasn't really played anyone yet.  We'll know more about this team after they play Iowa State tonight.

8.  South Carolina (2-3)

Preseason: 8

This week: L 65-69 vs. Baylor, W 69-45 vs. Cornell, L 63-65 vs. Charlotte, L 63-68 vs. Akron

While it's hard to get too excited about a team that's 2-3, all three of the losses were to good teams (in fact, it's not a stretch to think all three will make the tournament) and this team is not very far away from being 5-0.  (Ignore for a moment that had they beaten Charlotte they would have played Miami instead of Akron.  Missed opportunities, again.)  This looks like a strong rebounding team that takes care of the ball, albeit a rather poor shooting one... but, well, Sindarius Thornwell can do better than 20.7 percent from three, right?  I'm still bullish on this team and Carolina will have a few more opportunities to build their resume.

9.  Missouri (2-1)

Preseason: 6

This week: W 78-64 vs. Oral Roberts

Missouri had a much better offensive performance against Oral Roberts, but a lot of that was tied to a hot shooting performance (8-for-9 on threes in the second half.)  After further review, this team is going to have a steeper learning curve than thought and could see more struggles in the near future, particularly with the always-tough Maui Invitational coming up this week.

10.  Ole Miss (3-1)

Preseason: 10

This week: W 74-64 at Troy, W 69-38 vs. Southern, W 80-74 vs. Northern Arizona

Interesting stat: While Ole Miss is shooting just 23.4 percent from three, they're also shooting 76.8 percent from the foul line, an indication that they could wind up shooting better than they are right now.  The Rebels could be better than they look right now, but at this time they're still far too reliant on guard play at the offensive end, particularly Jarvis Summers.  And they're also turning the ball over too much.  I'm still not seeing too many reasons to get excited about this team.

11.  Vanderbilt (3-0)

Preseason: 11

This week: W 72-62 vs. Lipscomb, W 78-46 vs. Tennessee State

Guarded optimism are the words here.  There are reasons to look on the bright side: Luke Kornet looks to be vastly improved and Vandy could have a very good frontcourt between him and Damian Jones (getting better as well). The freshmen guards look like they'll hold their own in the SEC at worst.  But, well, let's see the Commodores do it against somebody better than the Trevecca/Lipscomb/TSU combo we've played before we think too much.  The failure to put away Lipscomb after getting out to a 15-point halftime lead is a bit concerning.

12.  Auburn (2-1)

Preseason: 12

This week: L 59-90 at Colorado, W 105-80 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Colorado bigs Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson, and Josh Scott combined for 50 points (on 17-for-27 from the floor), 26 boards, and 5 blocks.  That's called "exploiting a mismatch."  Auburn has offensive talent but the interior defense continues to be an eyesore.  Some teams, like UL-Lafayette, won't have the personnel to take advantage of it, but it's hard to see this team making much noise in SEC play as long as they can't stop opposing offenses at the rim.  The good news is that this might improve once Matthew Atewe returns from injury and Trayvon Reed joins the team (assuming he does), but this still might be a season-long problem.

13.  Mississippi State (3-0)

Preseason: 14

This week: W 89-68 vs. Mississippi Valley State, W 71-63 vs. Utah State

It's still hard to get a good read on the Bulldogs, although Utah State is at least a middle-of-the-pack Mountain West team and Craig Sword, last year's leading scorer, hasn't played a minute this season.  So there's at least some evidence that Mississippi State could be improved, and it's not really hurting matters that Auburn and Tennessee look fairly bad so far -- and unlike those two, the Bulldogs can actually defend the basket a bit.

14.  Tennessee (1-1)

Preseason: 13

This week: W 70-58 vs. Texas Southern

Is it too early to call Robert Hubbs a bust?  In Thursday's win over Texas Southern, Hubbs played seven minutes and scored two points -- and to be playing seven minutes on this team is saying something.  Tennessee, like Auburn, has some offensive talent but doesn't have size and will struggle to defend the basket.