Seven of the SEC’s 14 member schools have been ranked #1 in the AP poll at some point in their history. When this week’s AP poll is released in a few hours, that number might be going up by one.
Auburn was #2 in the country last week, in spite of having more first-place votes than #1 Gonzaga, simply because a handful of voters ranked Auburn outside of the top 5. They were four votes short of their first #1 ranking in school history last week, and after an 83-60 beatdown of Georgia on Wednesday followed by an 80-71 win over Kentucky on Saturday, the Tigers have now won 15 in a row since their lone loss of the season (to UConn in double overtime) and 7-0 in the SEC.
Here’s how I rank the SEC’s 14 teams as we near the halfway point of the conference season.
- Auburn (18-1, 7-0): See above. The Tigers might be the best team in the country.
- Kentucky (15-4, 5-2): No, the Wildcats couldn’t come away with a win at Auburn on Saturday, snapping a four-game winning streak. But they’ve clearly been the most impressive team in the conference not named “Auburn,” and they split a pair of road games last week, handing Texas A&M their first conference loss in the other.
- Tennessee (13-5, 4-3): The road hasn’t been kind to the Vols, but they picked up their first SEC road win in four tries after beating Vanderbilt on Wednesday. Then they followed that up by beating LSU 64-50 on Saturday. The Vols feel like a 4/5 seed in March.
- LSU (15-4, 3-4): Oof. The Tigers are now on a three-game losing streak that started with a 65-58 loss to Arkansas at home last Saturday; this week, they lost 70-67 to Alabama on the road, then followed that up with the loss in Knoxville. Still, this is the #1 team in the country in defensive efficiency — a massive surprise for a Will Wade-coached team after the past few years.
- Alabama (13-6, 4-3): On the one hand, Alabama ended a three-game losing streak with back to back wins this week. On the other hand, the win over Missouri on Saturday was hardly impressive — the Tide trailed by as much as 14 in the second half before rallying to an 86-76 win.
- Mississippi State (13-5, 4-2): The Bulldogs split a pair of games this week, losing at Florida but beating Ole Miss, and continue to trend in the direction of the NCAA Tournament — though a November neutral-court loss to Louisville no longer looks so excusable.
- Florida (12-6, 3-3): The Gators are getting right after an 0-3 start to SEC play with three straight wins, including home wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt last week. The trend is in the right direction, but the Gators need to keep the momentum going in the right direction; and thanks to a make-up game, they’ll be playing three games this week.
- Arkansas (14-5, 4-3): It was only two weeks ago that the Razorbacks looked to be trending downward after an 0-3 start; now, they’ve won four in a row, with last week’s performances including an easy home win over South Carolina and a gutty overtime win over Texas A&M to claim a season split with the Aggies. They’re squarely on the bubble right now, but their upcoming schedule presents a good chance to extend the winning streak.
- Texas A&M (15-4, 4-2): I still don’t know what to think of the Aggies, and losing a pair of games last week (to Kentucky at home and at Arkansas) didn’t really do much to change that. Their best nonconference win was over middling Notre Dame on a neutral court — and three of their four SEC wins came against bottom feeders.
- Missouri (8-10, 2-4): Of the three teams at 2-4 in the SEC standings, Missouri’s probably been playing the best basketball of late, splitting a pair of road games at Ole Miss and Alabama last week that would have been a sweep if they’d held on.
- South Carolina (11-7, 2-4): Did what they were supposed to against Georgia to snap a three-game losing streak, but while they might find a few wins on the remaining schedule, I have to think this is it for the Frank Martin era at South Carolina.
- Vanderbilt (10-8, 2-4): Ugh. The Commodores scored 60 points in 71 possessions against Tennessee, and that was actually the better of the two offensive performances this week, with the other being scoring 14 points in the second half at Florida. Vanderbilt does have an opportunity to get right with South Carolina and Georgia on the schedule this week.
- Ole Miss (9-9, 1-5): The Rebels have been without leading scorer Jarkel Joiner for five of the last six games and it shows; they’ve lost all five games that he’s missed and are averaging 59 ppg in those games. In theory, three home games this week (Florida, Arkansas, Kansas State) is a chance to get right, but without Joiner this is a bad team.
- Georgia (5-14, 0-6): It looked like Georgia might get its first SEC win on Saturday — and then the Gamecocks went on a 33-5 second half run to put the Bulldogs away. Home games against South Carolina and Ole Miss in February are their best shot at avoiding a goose egg.
This Week’s Schedule
Florida at Ole Miss (6:00 PM CT, SEC Network+): This is a makeup game from December 29, and with Ole Miss’ leading scorer Jarkel Joiner still out a couple more weeks, I don’t like their chances.
Alabama at Georgia (5:30 PM CT, SEC Network)
Auburn at Missouri (7:30 PM CT, SEC Network)
Mississippi State at Kentucky (8:00 PM CT, ESPN)
Not a great Tuesday night slate; Alabama, Auburn, and Kentucky should all be favored by double digits, though Auburn’s game at Missouri could be mildly interesting as Auburn will likely be playing its first-ever game as the #1-ranked team.
Florida at Tennessee (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
Vanderbilt at South Carolina (6:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
Arkansas at Ole Miss (6:00 PM CT, SEC Network)
Texas A&M at LSU (8:00 PM CT, SEC Network)
A couple of mildly interesting games on Wednesday night. Florida should be on a four-game winning streak assuming it takes care of business at Ole Miss on Monday night; I have no idea why it’s set for such an early tip. And I still don’t think Texas A&M is For Real, but the Aggies might change my mind if they can win at LSU. The two 6 PM games will either be bad (Arkansas-Ole Miss) or don’t involve anybody chasing a tournament bid (Vanderbilt-South Carolina.)
LSU at TCU (11:00 AM CT, ESPN2)
Missouri at Iowa State (1:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
Oklahoma at Auburn (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
West Virginia at Arkansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
Kansas State at Ole Miss (3:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
Oklahoma State at Florida (3:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
Baylor at Alabama (3:00 PM CT, ESPN)
Mississippi State at Texas Tech (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
Kentucky at Kansas (5:00 PM CT, ESPN)
Georgia at Vanderbilt (5:00 PM CT, SEC Network)
Tennessee at Texas (7:00 PM CT, ESPN)
South Carolina at Texas A&M (7:30 PM CT, SEC Network)
Saturday is the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and I’ll lodge my annual complaint about (a) this being in the middle of conference play and (b) ESPN not doing the matchups Bracket Busters-style, which means that we end up with the SEC’s best team (Auburn) playing a weaker Big 12 team (Oklahoma.) I mean, wouldn’t it be great if Baylor were playing Kentucky or Auburn in this event?
As for handicapping this, I would probably give LSU, Auburn, and Arkansas an edge on the SEC side, with Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas Tech having an edge for the Big 12. That means, barring any upsets, this comes down to four swing matchups: Oklahoma State-Florida, Baylor-Alabama, Kentucky-Kansas, and Tennessee-Texas.
The two SEC games on Saturday night aren’t worth writing much about; you probably aren’t watching them unless you’re a fan of one of the involved teams (which we at Anchor of Gold obviously are.)