Did you know that Ken Pomeroy rates the SEC as the fourth-best conference in the country, now ahead of the Big Ten? No, seriously. It's true.
Whatever notions you might have had about the conference heading into last week... throw those out. It was actually difficult to put together the rankings this week, because everything is just so damn confusing. Ole Miss lost to LSU at home... then won by 14 at Arkansas. LSU followed up their road win in Oxford by losing to Texas A&M at home for the first time since like 1941. Alabama and Arkansas followed up solid 2-0 starts by dropping two in a row, while Georgia and Texas A&M won a couple after starting 0-2. Something happened in Starkville, Mississippi, that it's probably best for all of our sanity that I not mention.
After last week, there is only one thing that I am certain of, and that's that Kentucky is the best team in the conference. (Didn't see that one coming, did you?) But the nightmare scenario for the SEC, of the middle of the conference all cannibalizing one another, is coming to pass.
1. Kentucky (17-0, 4-0)
RPI: 1; Pomeroy: 1; Sagarin: 1
Last week: W 86-37 vs. Missouri; W 70-48 at Alabama
This week: vs. Vanderbilt; at South Carolina
Kentucky gonna Kentucky, I guess. After everybody spent some time freaking out about the Wildcats and the possibility that holy crap they might lose a game, Kentucky responded by beating Missouri by almost 50. Kentucky's scrubs even got into the game for a couple of minutes, which seems like it was not long enough considering the final score. Then the Wildcats aced a road test at Alabama, winning by 22 in a game that was never really close. Alabama got it down to 9 early in the second half, but Kentucky quickly put any thoughts of an upset to bed by reeling off a 10-0 run and that was that. If you're keeping score at home, Pomeroy now pegs Kentucky's odds of running the table at 35.9%, which sounds really low to a lot of people.
2. Georgia (11-5, 2-2)
RPI: 27; Pomeroy: 29; Sagarin: 40
Last week: W 70-67 at Vanderbilt; W 73-61 vs. Florida
This week: vs. Ole Miss; at Mississippi State
Because, fuck, who do I put here this week? Georgia continues to be underrated by the type of people who get paid to write about college basketball, I suspect that this is because the Bulldogs don't have any NBA talent (and by "NBA talent," I don't mean guys who will actually play in the NBA, I mean guys who are showing up on mock draft boards on the interwebs. These are the same people who keep telling us that Florida's Chris Walker is NBA talent. But I digress.)
Georgia played 80 minutes of basketball last week and trailed for exactly zero of those minutes, jumping out to big leads early against both Vandy and Florida. They had to withstand a late rally by the Commodores, but they put the Gators away with a 10-1 run early in the second half and Florida never threatened again. One of the advantages to having a deep bench is that Georgia had several role players hurt this week (Kenny Paul Geno missed both games, Juwan Parker missed the Vandy game and was limited to six minutes against Florida, Yante Maten also missed the Vandy game) but Mark Fox knows he can get quality minutes from guys like Cameron Forte and Houston Kessler if necessary.
3. Ole Miss (11-6, 2-2)
RPI: 47; Pomeroy: 35; Sagarin: 50
Last week: L 71-75 vs. LSU; W 96-82 at Arkansas
This week: at Georgia; vs. Florida
The LSU game was the first time in over a month, and only the fourth time all season, that Ole Miss has been held under a point per possession, and the problem was, basically, that the Rebels didn't shoot well. Even with a strong effort on the offensive glass, Ole Miss probably wasn't going to win while shooting 35 percent from the floor. The defense just isn't strong enough for Ole Miss to win on nights when the shots aren't falling.
But still, nights when the shots aren't falling are going to be few and far between with this bunch. The Rebels responded to that by going up to Fayetteville and shooting 56 percent from the floor, including an eye-popping 74 percent in the first half. I wrote last week that Ole Miss, with its experienced backcourt, likely wasn't going to be fazed by Arkansas's pressure and a raucous crowd in Fayetteville, and that was very much the case on Saturday night as Ole Miss only committed 11 turnovers. Now, Ole Miss has another opportunity to build their tournament resume with a trip to Athens coming up.
4. Arkansas (13-4, 2-2)
RPI: 31; Pomeroy: 41; Sagarin: 31
Last week: L 69-74 at Tennessee; L 82-96 vs. Ole Miss
This week: vs. Alabama; at Missouri
Arkansas's defense is good at forcing turnovers and not much else; the Hogs have now allowed all four opponents in SEC play to score more than a point per possession, because if Arkansas isn't turning you over, they're giving up buckets. And even against Tennessee, when the defense forced 14 turnovers, it wasn't happening because Arkansas was coughing it up a lot themselves and the Vols were shooting 51 percent from the floor.
Against Ole Miss, the press really wasn't working, and the combination of not forcing turnovers and a hot-shooting team meant that Arkansas gave up 96 points in 69 possessions. That's downright awful. Much like the Rebels, Arkansas features an elite offense paired with a defense that's very iffy and will get torched if they aren't turning you over. The good news is that the schedule eases up a bit this week, although I wouldn't put it past Arkansas to lose either or both games if they play like they did this week.
5. LSU (13-4, 2-2)
RPI: 48; Pomeroy: 59; Sagarin: 67
Last week: W 75-71 at Ole Miss; L 64-67 vs. Texas A&M
This week: at Florida; at Vanderbilt
Strange week. Johnny Jones continues to ride his horses hard, and in fact only played seven players in the Texas A&M game. And you might have started to see the results of that on Saturday. LSU led 58-47 with just under ten minutes to go, and then scored six points the rest of the way as the lead evaporated and the Bayou Bengals came away with a loss.
What happened in that stretch was pretty simple, really. LSU fell in love with the three, settling for jump shots and shooting 1-13 from three in the second half, which seems insane when you consider that Texas A&M had exactly no answer for Jordan Mickey (17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks) on the low block. While that game plan seems bad enough, it's probably worth considering that LSU's tired legs led to low shooting percentages and, ultimately, a loss.
6. Florida (10-7, 3-1)
RPI: 70; Pomeroy: 25; Sagarin: 41
Last week: W 75-55 vs. Auburn; L 61-73 at Georgia
This week: vs. LSU; at Ole Miss
Ken Pomeroy continues to be in love with the Gators (that's nothing new), largely because they tend to handle the Auburns of the world easily, but there were a lot of disturbing things about the Georgia loss. Georgia isn't a bad team, but the fact was that the game never really seemed to be in doubt: Florida got down early and managed to cut it to two early in the second half, but Georgia put them away pretty soon after that and the Gators never threatened again.
At least part of the reason for that is that Michael Frazier barely played in the second half, and it appears to be one of those fuzzy situations where the coach benches a player because he doesn't like his effort or the way he's playing and winds up actively harming his team's chances to win. But if that's the case, the second half of the Georgia game was probably as good a place as any to make a point; the Gators didn't appear to be terribly interested in making a comeback and the committee's not going to hold a road loss to Georgia against them anyway. It's still a situation worth watching, though, because with Jon Horford and now Frazier in Billy Donovan's doghouse the wheels could be coming off with this team.
7. Alabama (12-5, 2-2)
RPI: 53; Pomeroy: 44; Sagarin: 52
Last week: L 66-68 at South Carolina; L 48-70 vs. Kentucky
This week: at Arkansas; vs. Auburn
Oddly enough, in spite of going 0-2 last week, Alabama managed to pick up a top 50 RPI win thanks to Texas A&M moving up in the RPI. But that was balanced out a bit by the Tide adding a black mark to their resume (for now, anyway) with the loss at South Carolina. Alabama actually shot the ball fairly well and held South Carolina to a low percentage in that game, but that wasn't enough with the Tide getting murdered on the boards. But at least that game could have gone either way; back in Tuscaloosa, with a shot at really adding a marquee win, Alabama didn't even come close. You could argue that the time to catch Kentucky has come and gone, but other than briefly cutting it to single digits in the second half, Alabama never really threatened in that game. Now, with a trip to Arkansas coming up, Alabama could be looking at a three-game slide.
8. Texas A&M (11-5, 2-2)
RPI: 39; Pomeroy: 77; Sagarin: 64
Last week: W 74-70 vs. Mississippi State; W 67-64 at LSU
This week: vs. Missouri; at Tennessee
Why am I still not buying in on the Aggies in spite of a road win in Baton Rouge, on the heels of taking Kentucky to double overtime? Read what I wrote about LSU above. In short, Texas A&M just seemed to be in the right place at the right time when LSU decided to start playing like crap... you know, kind of like when the Aggies just happened to catch Kentucky on a day when they couldn't make a shot to save their lives. Billy Kennedy's bunch did seem to be better off this week with Jalen Jones back in the lineup, but watching A&M come back over the last ten minutes of the LSU game, it didn't seem like they were playing well so much as LSU was imploding. It's pretty hard for me to get on board with a team that just barely survived Mississippi State at home.
9. Tennessee (11-5, 3-1)
RPI: 52; Pomeroy: 86; Sagarin: 80
Last week: W 74-69 vs. Arkansas; W 59-51 at Missouri
This week: at South Carolina; vs. Texas A&M
Quietly, Tennessee is building a decent NCAA Tournament resume, with a pair of top 50 wins over Butler and now Arkansas and only one real black mark, a neutral-court loss to an iffy Marquette team back in November. But that's really going to matter only if the Vols' 3-1 start to SEC play holds up, and I'm still having a difficult time seeing that happening in light of the fact that two of the wins came against the SEC's worst teams, and they scored 38 points against Alabama. Tennessee seems surprisingly competent, but I'm still having a hard time even seeing this team finish .500 in conference play. Of course, I've been wrong before.
10. South Carolina (10-6, 1-3)
RPI: 107; Pomeroy: 40; Sagarin: 51
Last week: W 68-66 vs. Alabama; L 68-71 at Auburn
This week: vs. Tennessee; vs. Kentucky
Much like Florida, computers seem to be irrationally in love with the Gamecocks, but right now I'm seeing something completely different. What, because good teams do things like lose to Auburn? Turnovers were a problem in that game, but considering South Carolina's size advantage, getting outrebounded by Auburn is pretty egregiously bad. Luckily, the Gamecocks do get two home games this week, although one of those is against Kentucky. If they don't pick up a win or two this week, though, this season could be over in a hurry.
11. Vanderbilt (11-6, 1-3)
RPI: 116; Pomeroy: 64; Sagarin: 68
Last week: L 67-70 vs. Georgia; [REDACTED]
This week: at Kentucky; vs. LSU
Did we play on Saturday? I seem to have erased it from my memory. We're probably better off forgetting that that game ever happened and never speaking of it again.
12. Auburn (10-7, 2-2)
RPI: 114; Pomeroy: 134; Sagarin: 140
Last week: L 55-75 at Florida; W 71-68 vs. South Carolina
This week: vs. Mississippi State; at Alabama
In their first year under Bruce Pearl, Auburn is showing themselves to be at least competent enough to beat mediocre teams at home, but they're still nowhere close to competing with a team like Florida. Especially not when they're shooting 33 percent from the floor. But they're also going to have some nights like Saturday where K.T. Harrell catches fire, and I expect them to win a few games in SEC play. Unlike the last two teams, Auburn at least has a few things going for it right now.
13. Missouri (7-10, 1-3)
RPI: 149; Pomeroy: 165; Sagarin: 169
Last week: L 37-86 at Kentucky; L 51-59 vs. Tennessee
This week: at Texas A&M; vs. Arkansas
While I don't think anybody was expecting Missouri to beat Kentucky... well, wow. A 49-point margin in a conference game is not something you see every day. Missouri is a young team with some talent, but they're still going to have games or even weeks where they remind you that right now, they're much more young than they are talented. The Tennessee game was a bit like that, with the Tigers shooting 36 percent from the floor and committing 14 turnovers and losing to a beatable team at home. Montaque Gill-Caesar did return to action in the Tennessee game but was limited to nine minutes.
14. Mississippi State (8-9, 1-3)
RPI: 218; Pomeroy: 220; Sagarin: 203
Last week: L 70-74 at Texas A&M; [REDACTED]
This week: at Auburn; vs. Georgia
Over the past month and a half, I've been trying to reconcile the fact that Mississippi State really shouldn't be this bad with the fact that they, in fact, are this bad. But the former is how you'll occasionally get a result like the Bulldogs beating Florida State, or coming close at Texas A&M, or whatever it was that happened in Starkville on Saturday afternoon (nope, nope, that didn't happen), because there actually is some talent on this roster. It's still probably the worst team in the SEC, but... oh, fuck, this is what I get for saying Mississippi State would go 0-18 in the SEC, isn't it?