The Southeastern Conference was definitely challenged in the final edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
With Vanderbilt among four SEC teams not participating, the SEC went 3-7 against the Big 12 — with two of the wins coming against depleted Big 12 teams. (No, I do not understand why a Big 8 conference game between Iowa State and Missouri was counted; then again, I also do not understand why Vanderbilt-Texas A&M was not counted.) Alabama, widely thought of as the SEC’s best team, went on the road and got pantsed by 24 points. This was not a good showing for anyone involved.
On to the power rankings!
- Tennessee (18-3, 7-1)
KenPom: 1; NET: 2
Last week: Beat Georgia 70-41; beat Texas 82-71
This week: at Florida (Wednesday); vs. Auburn (Saturday)
Tennessee is currently behind Alabama in the SEC standings, and their resume is less impressive (7-3 against the first two quadrants compared to Alabama’s 11-3 mark), but being the #1 team in the country according to KenPom has to be worth something. They’re also ever-so-slightly better per possession in SEC play. Tennessee and Alabama also play just once, in Knoxville, on February 15, and I have to think that will decide the SEC’s regular season title.
2. Alabama (18-3, 8-0)
KenPom: 5; NET: 4
Last week: Beat Mississippi State 66-63; lost at Oklahoma 93-69
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Tuesday); at LSU (Saturday)
Yeah, no, you don’t get to lose by 24 points and be in the top spot. Alabama does maintain its lead in the SEC standings, though, and as mentioned above their resume is very impressive with six Quad 1 wins and no losses outside Quad 1. It’s really a two-team race for the SEC regular season title.
3. Texas A&M (15-6, 7-1)
KenPom: 41; NET: 42
Last week: Won at Auburn 79-63; beat Vanderbilt 72-66
This week: at Arkansas (Tuesday); vs. Georgia (Saturday)
I’m just as confused about who to put next after Tennessee and Alabama as you are. In terms of season-long resumes, Texas A&M isn’t there (in fact they were in Joe Lunardi’s first four out on Friday), but in terms of who’s playing the best basketball right now... well, that’s the Aggies, who are a late fade in Rupp Arena away from being undefeated in the SEC, and they’re outscoring SEC opponents by 17.1 points per 100 possessions. Again, their overall resume isn’t super impressive (with a 4-4 record against the first two quadrants and a Quad 4 loss to Wofford at home), but that shouldn’t be much of a problem if they continue playing like they’ve been for the last few weeks.
4. Auburn (16-5, 6-2)
KenPom: 29; NET: 31
Last week: Lost to Texas A&M 79-63; lost at West Virginia 80-77
This week: vs. Georgia (Wednesday); at Tennessee (Saturday)
Last week certainly wasn’t a good week for Auburn — the Tigers lost to Texas A&M by 16 at home and trailed West Virginia by as much as 17 in the second half. Bad-loss avoidance has been the best feature of Auburn’s resume, with no losses outside the first two quadrants; on the other hand, they have just two Quad 1 wins, and both are rather iffy (Northwestern on a neutral court and Arkansas at home.) But I also can’t figure out who behind them belongs ahead of them.
5. Kentucky (14-7, 5-3)
KenPom: 34; NET: 36
Last week: Won at Vanderbilt 69-53; lost to Kansas 77-68
This week: at Ole Miss (Tuesday); vs. Florida (Saturday)
Kentucky’s win at Tennessee on January 14 is currently doing a lot of work. That wouldn’t be true if they had managed to beat Kansas, but as it is, the Tennessee win (and it’s big) is the Wildcats’ only Quad 1 win. And I’m not sure they have that many more opportunities. John Calipari seems to have figured out his best lineup, but will he continue to insist on weird lineups that don’t work?
6. Arkansas (14-7, 3-5)
KenPom: 21; NET: 28
Last week: Beat LSU 60-40; lost at Baylor 67-64
This week: vs. Texas A&M (Tuesday); at South Carolina (Saturday)
This is where I get into speculation: Arkansas pretty clearly isn’t a bad team, though they have been outscored in SEC play, and they still don’t have Nick Smith back. There’s no shame in losing at Baylor, but it would have helped a resume that has a serious lack of heft: the Razorbacks have just one Quad 1 win, over San Diego State in Maui. This is another SEC team that’s more bubbly than you probably expected they’d be heading into February.
7. Florida (12-9, 5-3)
KenPom: 49; NET: 50
Last week: Beat South Carolina 81-60; lost at Kansas State 64-50
This week: vs. Tennessee (Wednesday); at Kentucky (Saturday)
Surprisingly, Florida is outscoring SEC opponents by 7.6 points per 100 possessions, one of the best marks in the league. That tends to happen when you lose three games (two of them to Texas A&M) by a total of eight points. Then again, the Gators have yet to see the SEC’s heavyweights, something that’s about to change over their next three games. That will be a good chance to add to a resume that (stop me if you’re noticing a theme here) still has just one Quad 1 win.
8. Missouri (16-5, 4-4)
KenPom: 51; NET: 45
Last week: Won at Ole Miss 89-77; beat Iowa State 79-62
This week: vs. LSU (Wednesday); at Mississippi State (Saturday)
Missouri was one of the few SEC teams that really helped itself last week; the win over Iowa State (which was shorthanded, but still) was the Tigers’ third Quad 1 win of the season, and they don’t have a single loss outside of Quad 1. The danger here is that they’ve been outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions in SEC play, and they’ve lost some blowouts. The resume is strong, but could a fade be coming down the stretch?
9. Mississippi State (13-8, 1-7)
KenPom: 53; NET: 54
Last week: Lost at Alabama 66-63; beat TCU 81-74
This week: at South Carolina (Tuesday); vs. Missouri (Saturday)
It feels weird to be putting a team that’s 1-7 in SEC play here, but to date, they’ve played the toughest schedule in the league (having already played Tennessee and Alabama twice.) TCU, like Iowa State, was shorthanded, but it still counts as Mississippi State’s third Quad 1 win of the season after neutral-court wins over Marquette and Utah in November that have aged really well. That means State has an opportunity to sand off the rough edges of its resume over the last ten games of the regular season; KenPom actually has them favored in eight of them, including both this week.
10. Vanderbilt (10-11, 3-5)
KenPom: 91; NET: 93
Last week: Lost to Kentucky 69-53; lost at Texas A&M 72-66
This week: at Alabama (Tuesday); vs. Ole Miss (Saturday)
Vanderbilt’s M.O. this season seems to be playing everyone close, though the Kentucky game wasn’t really competitive last week. They did have a real chance at winning in College Station on Saturday, but then they just couldn’t hit a damn shot in the final three minutes. In the before times, we’d look at a team like this and say “wow, just imagine how good they can be next year,” but now, in the age of the transfer portal... well, are you really sure everyone who’s supposed to come back will actually do that?
11. Georgia (14-7, 4-4)
KenPom: 103; NET: 112
Last week: Lost at Tennessee 70-41; beat South Carolina 81-78
This week: at Auburn (Wednesday); at Texas A&M (Saturday)
Georgia’s proven to be competent this season after being one of the worst SEC teams I’ve ever seen last year (and they still won an SEC game, Bryce.) Competent, though, isn’t the same thing as good, something that they’ve shown over the last two weeks when they faded late at Kentucky, lost to Vanderbilt at home, got blown out in Knoxville, and needed overtime to beat South Carolina. The remaining schedule is pretty rough, too, so they might still be playing on Wednesday night at the SEC Tournament.
12. Ole Miss (9-12, 1-7)
KenPom: 100; NET: 114
Last week: Lost to Missouri 89-77; lost at Oklahoma State 82-60
This week: vs. Kentucky (Tuesday); at Vanderbilt (Saturday)
This looks like it’s going to be it for Kermit Davis, who made the NCAA Tournament with Andy Kennedy’s players in his first season and since then has gone 21-41 in the SEC. Things seem to be getting worse, too: leading scorer Matthew Murrell missed both games last week. That said, there’s a pretty clear difference between the Rebels and the two teams behind them in the power rankings; Ole Miss has only been outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions in SEC play, and somehow they handed Florida Atlantic its only loss this season back in November. That looks like it’s going to be the high-water mark of the season.
13. LSU (12-9, 1-7)
KenPom: 128; NET: 137
Last week: Lost at Arkansas 60-40; lost to Texas Tech 76-68
This week: at Missouri (Wednesday); vs. Alabama (Saturday)
After a 12-1 start that included a neutral-court win over Wake Forest and a home win over Arkansas, things have really gone south for LSU, which has lost eight in a row by an average of 16.8 ppg. That’s bad. Even worse: they lost to winless-in-the-Big 12 Texas Tech at home on Saturday. It turns out that just bringing players with you from the mid-major you came from might not be the greatest idea (though it’s working okay for Missouri, I guess.)
14. South Carolina (8-13, 1-7)
KenPom: 241; NET: 272
Last week: Lost at Florida 81-60; lost at Georgia 81-78
This week: vs. Mississippi State (Tuesday); vs. Arkansas (Saturday)
There’s not a whole lot to write here: this team is bad, and it will be extremely hilarious if they go 1-17 in the SEC with the “1” being Kentucky at Rupp. Then you remember that they’re doing (gestures broadly) all this with a likely lottery pick not only on the roster, but healthy and playing.