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SEC Hoops Review: Week 5

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Where things are beginning to sort themselves out, and I don't mean into Kentucky and everybody else.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

No intro this week; we're a third of the way through the season, but I'm starting to feel like I'm saying the same things over and over again in the intro section.  On to the review!

1.  Kentucky (12-0)

Last week: W 83-44 vs. UCLA

RPI: 1; Pomeroy: 1; Sagarin: 1

Yeah, that score is ugly, but if there's one thing that's been established early in the season, it's that you're not going toe to toe with Kentucky.  55 of UCLA's 71 field goal attempts were twos, and the result of that was predictable.  The teams that have had at least some success cracking Kentucky's defense thus far have either hit the offensive glass, hard, like Texas and North Carolina; or else, they've been teams like Columbia and Boston U. that have been willing to abandon any semblance of an inside game and just fire up a bunch of threes.

The latter seems like the more likely way for the Wildcats to go down, though it's still a long shot.  Kentucky will see a couple of teams that can really shoot from outside in SEC play: Arkansas and, oh yeah, Vanderbilt.

2.  Arkansas (8-2)

Last week: W 84-67 vs. SE Missouri State

RPI: 11; Pomeroy: 33; Sagarin: 33

The Razorbacks never trailed in this one, but this was also a little closer than you'd be comfortable with.  One thing about Arkansas is that while they're generally exceptionally good at turning you over, they're not that great at preventing baskets if they don't force a turnover: SEMO shot 50 percent on twos and this game might have been closer if they could shoot the three at all.

In any case, Arkansas has the best non-conference resume of anybody not named Kentucky, with a home win over Dayton and a road win at SMU balancing out a road loss to a fairly bad Clemson team.

3.  Florida (7-4)

Last week: W 63-50 vs. Wake Forest

RPI: 87; Pomeroy: 14; Sagarin: 36

While the Gators' defense has generally been effective this season, the Wake Forest game marked the sixth time in 11 games that Florida has been held under a point per possession.  Michael Frazier's shooting percentages have gone down this year as he's become the focal point of the offense (more or less) rather than being an overqualified third option on the offensive end.  So far, nobody has really stepped up to take the pressure off him: there are plenty of candidates, but Dorian Finney-Smith shot 5-13 against Wake and Chris Walker disappeared as frequently happens.  And Florida's not all that good at taking care of the basketball, either.  The defense is probably good enough to carry the team, possibly to the NCAA Tournament -- though as of right now, Florida's best win is over Yale, which doesn't scream "NCAA team" -- but the offense really needs to come around for this team to do any more than that.

4.  LSU (8-2)

Last week: W 79-70 at UAB

RPI: 17; Pomeroy: 61; Sagarin: 58

The next four teams (and, really, you could probably throw Florida in that mix as well) are fairly interchangeable, potential NCAA teams with some sort of identifiable flaw and/or holes in their resume, at least early on.  Out of that group, LSU probably has the most potential, and earlier wins over UMass and West Virginia show what they can do when they're on.  But the Bayou Bengals seem to have a maddening tendency to play down to the competition: UAB is not a very good team, and yeah, road wins are never easy to come by, but this really isn't the kind of game that should have been close.  One positive takeaway is that with Josh Gray out and Tim Quarterman and Jalyn Patterson filling in, LSU is actually a bit less turnover-prone; normally you'd expect to see the opposite with the starting point guard out, but that suggests that the Tigers could be (at least in some ways) better off with him out.

5.  Georgia (6-3)

Last week: W 65-47 vs. Seton Hall

RPI: 44; Pomeroy: 32; Sagarin: 52

Seton Hall doesn't sound like a "signature" win, but the Pirates are currently in the top 25 of the all-important RPI, so that could end up giving the Bulldogs' tournament resume a much-needed boost depending on how Seton Hall holds up the rest of the way.  This was a classic Mark Fox game, with the offense fairly ugly but the Bulldogs won it with good defense and rebounding; and yes, that's 5'10" J.J. Frazier pulling down 11 boards, somehow.  Georgia isn't a great team on paper but looks good enough to slog their way into the tournament.

6.  South Carolina (7-3)

Last week: W 68-45 vs. Clemson, W 78-52 vs. Coker

RPI: 66; Pomeroy: 34; Sagarin: 35

South Carolina is kind of the opposite of LSU, with points-based systems like Pomeroy and Sagarin loving the Gamecocks due to their huge margins over Oklahoma State and Clemson, and the RPI hating them due to narrow losses to Akron and Charlotte.  The latter could wind up being an issue with the Selection Committee, but the former suggest that this team might be good enough that it won't really make much difference.  Like Georgia, the Gamecocks make their bones with defense and rebounding, though it's a bit weird to see purported star player and NBA prospect Sindarius Thornwell struggling to shoot the ball.  Luckily, Duane Notice (shooting 41.7 percent from three) and Laimonas Chatkevicius (12.3 ppg on 67 percent shooting in the last four games) are picking up a lot of the offensive slack, and this offense can be even better if Thornwell lives up to his potential.

7.  Vanderbilt (7-3)

Last week: W 99-79 vs. Western Carolina, L 60-65 at Georgia Tech

RPI: 125; Pomeroy: 72; Sagarin: 76

The defense is kind of porous at times and the rebounding isn't that great, the latter coming back to hurt the Commodores against Georgia Tech.  Really, Vandy is good at one thing; the good news is that that one thing is shooting the ball.  In addition to having a bunch of deadeye shooters, Vandy can score close to the basket with Damian Jones and James Siakam.  The latter, really, has been the key separating the okay offenses under Stallings from the great ones; Stallings' most successful teams have had enough inside scoring punch to keep defenses honest.  Georgia Tech isn't great, but they beat Georgia at home; and South Carolina narrowly lost to Baylor, just like Vanderbilt -- so it's fairly safe to put the Commodores in the same tier as those two.

8.  Alabama (8-3)

Last week: L 52-53 at Wichita State, W 69-49 vs. Stillman, W 60-59 vs. Appalachian State

RPI: 39; Pomeroy: 76; Sagarin: 75

You don't come close to beating a team like Wichita State -- on their home floor, no less -- without being at least a pretty good team.  But go back and watch the last few minutes of that game.  That was a pure meltdown by the Tide, and you really can't even say that Wichita State won that game so much as Alabama lost it.  Then they turned around a few days later and nearly lost to a bad Appalachian State team, only getting bailed out by 17 and 10 from Michael Kessens.  By all rights this should be a good team, but it's hard to tell if they aren't mentally there or if something else is going on; and yes, this team missed out on a signature win.

9.  Texas A&M (7-3)

Last week: L 64-71 vs. Kansas State

RPI: 46; Pomeroy: 62; Sagarin: 62

Sadly, I haven't watched enough of this team that I can pinpoint what exactly is going on with them.  One idea that's been floated is that lockdown defender Alex Caruso suddenly becomes, well, not a lockdown defender when he gets in foul trouble.  Another possibility (and note that, again, I haven't watched this team enough to know the truth of this) is that Danuel House, for all his talent, isn't a very good defender; I've read reports that his effort on the defensive end was an issue at Houston and might still be an issue.  Whatever the reasoning, though, the K-State game was A&M's fourth straight subpar defensive performance, and as long as that's an issue this team's improvements on the offensive end aren't going to mean a whole lot.  Like Alabama, this team can be good, but right now it's not happening.

10.  Tennessee (5-4)

Last week: L 72-83 at NC State, W 61-58 vs. Tennessee Tech

RPI: 68; Pomeroy: 98; Sagarin: 120

As I've said before, Tennessee's defense is good at one thing and one thing only.  When they're not turning you over, as they didn't against NC State, then you're basically scoring at will: the Wolfpack shot 51 percent from the floor, including 11 threes, and won pretty easily in spite of the Vols hitting 10-18 from three.  Then, even while forcing 16 turnovers in a slow-paced game, the Vols nearly got punked by Tennessee Tech on Friday night.  Basically, while this team probably avoids the cellar in the SEC, they still aren't that good.

11.  Ole Miss (7-3)

Last week: W 71-68 vs. Coastal Carolina

RPI: 72; Pomeroy: 93; Sagarin: 97

Is Andy Kennedy trying to lose his job or something?  The death warrant was being faxed to the executioner when Ole Miss fell behind by 17 in the first half -- against Coastal Carolina, slayers of Auburn, no less -- before shooting 61 percent from the floor in the second half to win, narrowly.  But still, it took an extraordinary shooting performance and Coastal missing free throws down the stretch to come away with a win, which doesn't exactly scream competence.

12.  Auburn (5-5)

Last week: W 80-62 vs. Winthrop, W 89-88 vs. Xavier

RPI: 104; Pomeroy: 147; Sagarin: 161

Xavier shoots 57.5 percent on twos, so you'd figure they would have a field day against Auburn, right?  It turns out that 7'2" Trayvon Reed (seven blocks in two games this week) actually does a lot to shore up that glaring weakness; Xavier shot 20-46 on twos and Reed swatted five shots.  Walk-on Alex Thompson, who has some size (6'9", 210), also rejoined the team this week.  Basically, while I still wouldn't call the Tigers' post defense a strength, it's no longer going to be something that teams can exploit so easily -- at least, while Reed is on the floor (he's also rather foul-prone at this point.)

13.  Missouri (5-6)

Last week: L 59-62 vs. Illinois

RPI: 152; Pomeroy: 158; Sagarin: 186

It was still a loss, and with the usual platitudes about rivalry games, Mizzou did at least show some signs of life in the Illinois game.  After some pretty bad defensive performances over the past couple of weeks, Missouri did hold Illinois in check and could have easily won this game -- still, though, it's hard to know if that was Missouri's defense or if Illinois was just missing jump shots, because other than a 4-18 performance from three Illinois actually did do pretty well on the offensive end.  And that's the rub; against good teams, even if the opposition is shooting poorly, Missouri's offense isn't all that great right now.  With all the freshmen and sophomores getting big minutes, this could get better as the season wears on, but right now this team has nothing but problems.

14.  Mississippi State (5-5)

Last week: L 55-69 vs. Arkansas State, L 51-53 vs. USC Upstate

RPI: 151; Pomeroy: 146; Sagarin: 189

The Bulldogs shot 32 percent from the floor against Arkansas State.  They shot 39 percent against USC Upstate -- including a ghastly 1-15 from three -- and also committed 16 turnovers; it didn't really help that Gavin Ware played five minutes due to an ankle injury.  But seriously -- do you need commentary on a week where you lost to Arkansas State and USC Upstate?