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SEC Basketball Cram Session

How does the SEC shape up entering conference play?

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-South Carolina vs Mississippi State Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed the Anchor Drop this morning, ten SEC teams open conference play tonight. The other four will close out their nonconference schedules this week; the ten playing in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in January will make up that conference date tonight.

Here’s what you need to know about SEC basketball this year.

  1. Tennessee (10-2)

KenPom: 3; NET: 3

Yep, I hate it too. Tennessee is probably the best team in the SEC this year, though it’s not a big gap between them and the next three or four teams on this list. The Vols lack a go-to scorer (leading scorers Olivier Nkamhoua and Santiago Vescovi both average 11.8 ppg), but they more than make up for that on the defensive end, where they rank #1 in the country in defensive efficiency and have held 9 of their 12 opponents thus far to 53 points or fewer. That list includes a pair of top 25 teams in Kansas and Maryland.

2. Alabama (10-2)

KenPom: 12; NET: 8

Alabama has the SEC’s single best win in nonconference play, a road win at Houston on December 10, and their two losses (to undefeated UConn on a neutral court and to Gonzaga in Birmingham) are certainly not embarrassing. This is basically the same kind of team that we’ve seen every year from Nate Oats, playing at a fast pace and attempting a ton of threes, but this year’s Alabama team has a bona fide lottery pick in 6’9” freshman Brandon Miller, who’s currently second in the SEC averaging 19.2 ppg.

3. Arkansas (11-1)

KenPom: 9; NET: 10

A completely healthy Arkansas would probably be ahead of Alabama and possibly even Tennessee, but the Razorbacks have already lost key defensive stopper Trevon Brazile for the season, and Nick Smith, the #1 recruit in the country per some outlets, has only played in five games and missed the last one. 6’6” junior Ricky Council IV (18.3 ppg) has been a nice find in the transfer portal, and I still won’t be surprised if they win the SEC.

4. Kentucky (8-3)

KenPom: 10; NET: 32

Well, then. This certainly wasn’t how we expected the first two months of the season to go for preseason #4 in the country Kentucky. They lost to Michigan State in double overtime, Gonzaga in Spokane, and UCLA in Madison Square Garden; which, none of those outcomes are particularly devastating, but the problem is that they haven’t looked all that impressive otherwise. Their most impressive win was over Michigan (48th in KenPom) in London; they also didn’t put away Yale until late and let KenPom 357 Florida A&M score 68 points in 59 possessions. The talent appears to be there, but it feels like something isn’t quite right here.

5. Auburn (10-2)

KenPom: 17; NET: 27

Auburn hasn’t fallen off a ton from last year’s SEC championship team, but with Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler gone, this team doesn’t seem to have that kind of upside. The Tigers are still waiting on top 50 freshmen Yohan Traore (3.4 ppg) and Chance Westry (2.7 ppg) to provide them with something, and 6’10” Morehead State transfer Johni Broome has replaced Kessler’s defensive presence to some degree; still, this team looks like it’s a clear notch below the top four.

6. Mississippi State (11-1)

KenPom: 36; NET: 26

It’s hard to tell what’s real about Mississippi State’s start to the season; they’ve managed to go 11-1, albeit against a pretty weak schedule to date, though they did pick up a pair of Quad 1 wins against Marquette and Utah on a neutral court. Other than that, though, eight of their 11 wins have come against Quad 4. That said, they’re 5th nationally in defensive efficiency, and they’re very experienced, with their top eight players all being juniors and seniors. At the very least, they’ll be in the bubble conversation all January and February.

7. Missouri (11-1)

KenPom: 43; NET: 40

In some ways, Missouri is similar to Mississippi State: a surprising 11-1 team that hasn’t played much of a schedule, though they do have a 93-71 drilling of Illinois on their resume. In other ways, they’re night and day different: where Mississippi State is getting it done by grinding teams, Missouri ranks 24th nationally in tempo and 7th in offensive efficiency, but might not be able to guard anyone when it counts.

8. Florida (7-5)

KenPom: 50; NET: 65

Well, first-year Florida coach Todd Golden — unlike his counterparts at Mississippi State and Missouri — certainly didn’t shy away from tough games out of conference; the Gators have already played five teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom. The problem? They lost all five of them. (That includes a November home game against Florida Atlantic, which is stunningly ranked 13 in NET and counts as a Quad 1 loss.) Unlike some of the teams below them, they haven’t hurt themselves out of conference; but at some point, they’re going to have to start beating good teams and not just piling up quality losses. They at least haven’t played around with the bad teams on the schedule; the seven wins have come by an average of 25.7 points.

9. LSU (11-1)

KenPom: 78; NET: 81

Like Mississippi State and Missouri, LSU has piled up wins against a weak schedule; unlike those other two, though, they really, truly haven’t beaten much of anyone. They whiffed in their lone Quad 1 game to date (against Kansas State on a neutral court); their most impressive win to date was against Wake Forest (87 in NET) on a neutral court. Other than that, they’ve piled up wins against bad teams, and what’s really alarming is that many of those have been close. But at least they haven’t lost to any of them, unlike...

10. Ole Miss (8-4)

KenPom: 73; NET: 91

It looked like Ole Miss might weather an early injury to starting point guard Daeshun Ruffin; without him, the Rebels went 6-1 with the only loss coming to Oklahoma on a neutral court, and they even picked up a suddenly-impressive win over Florida Atlantic. Then Ruffin returned and the team lost at Memphis. Which, fine. Then UCF came into Oxford and promptly went ahead 21-0. And then they lost to North Alabama, currently ranked 287 in KenPom (and that was boosted 26 spots by beating Ole Miss.) There’s enough talent here to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, but right now it’s not happening.

11. Texas A&M (7-5)

KenPom: 72; NET: 104

The Aggies are currently saving Kentucky from the title of the SEC’s biggest disappointment. Kentucky might have had some trouble finishing off good teams, but at least they’re not out here losing to the likes of Murray State (which isn’t good this year) and Wofford, or getting drilled by Colorado and Boise State. What’s happened here is that Texas A&M didn’t actually have a replacement lined up for last year’s leading scorer, Quenton Jackson — but weirdly, it’s the defensive end where Jackson’s presence is missed the most, with A&M dropping from 30th to 105th in defensive efficiency.

12. Georgia (9-3)

KenPom: 97; NET: 131

Sure, Georgia has fattened up on bad opponents — though that changed a bit the week before Christmas when they beat Notre Dame and Chattanooga. But given how much of a mess this program was last season, well, this was about as good as you could have realistically expected. Junior Kario Oquendo continues to give off “good player on a bad team” vibes.

13. Vanderbilt (6-6)

KenPom: 106; NET: 147


14. South Carolina (6-6)

KenPom: 192; NET: 273

Yeah, somehow likely lottery pick GG Jackson (16.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) plays for this team, which should tell you how good the rest of the roster is. The difference between South Carolina and Vanderbilt is that while Vanderbilt has played a bunch of mediocre teams close and lost some of them, South Carolina has straight up gotten blown out by the likes of Colorado State, Furman, and George Washington. The metrics peg this as the worst team in the SEC by a pretty wide margin.