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SEC Power Rankings - Volume 1

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Are you ready for some SEC Basketball?

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Auburn Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

To begin, I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to the upcoming new year. Sadly, football season is just about over but good news: it’s time for SEC Basketball to begin! As conference play starts this weekend, I’ve been trying to think of a weekly piece to write about for awhile and on Christmas Day of all days, it finally hit me: starting this week, I’m going to do an article with a weekly SEC power ranking, based on my opinions, to track what’s going on in SEC play. In addition to Auburn, I watch a lot of college basketball, so I thought it would be a good idea to write about it. In this week’s edition, we will try and briefly recap non-conference play for everybody and give everybody an idea of what to expect in conference play, which starts Saturday. Below each analysis, I will include each team’s upcoming schedule for the week and since this week is the first one, I’ve also added the dates and times when each team will face Auburn (because that’s what we really care about), so mark your calendars and make your plans accordingly to be at Auburn Arena to support this team. If the non-conference schedule is any indication of how SEC play is going to be, then Buckle Up,* I mean, get ready for a wild and crazy ride. I really think there at least 6 teams from the SEC that will hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Keep in mind, this is just my observations up to this point and these will change as the season continues.

SEC Power Rankings

1. Texas A&M – 11-1

Of all the teams in the SEC, the Aggies look to be the best so far. Despite dealing with injuries and suspensions, coach Billy Kennedy has this Aggies team looking like one that has a chance to win the SEC this year. The Aggies are primarily a veteran team with most of their major contributions coming from juniors. They have 2 outstanding wins, a 23-point win over otherwise undefeated West Virginia in Germany, and a 16-point win AT Southern Cal. Their only loss was by 3 to Arizona in a game played in Phoenix. Leading scorer DJ Hogg has 2 more games to serve on his 3-game suspension so it’s feasible to see the Aggies losing 1 of their next 2 games as they play at Alabama and host Florida to start SEC play. Two names to keep an eye on: graduate transfer Duane Wilson from Marquette and freshmen Savion Flagg, last week’s SEC Freshmen of the Week. Currently, the Aggies are ranked #5 in the AP Poll. I think the Aggies have earned the right to start at the top of the power rankings, but will they continue to overcome adversity to stay there is the question.

This Week: Saturday @ Alabama

When do they play Auburn:

  • Wednesday February 7th in Auburn: 8PM

2. Florida – 8-4

If you were to look at the standings, you would see Florida far down in the standings and may wonder why do I have them at 2 on this list? Yes, they have 4 losses, including 1 to Loyola-Chicago team that you may not have heard of, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I think this team is better than Kentucky. They played their best ball in the PK80 Classic in Portland putting on a 3-point barrage in wins over Stanford and Gonzaga and really should have won that tournament, until Duke made an incredible late comeback in the championship game. It almost seemed to temporarily break the Gators because they came home and lost the next two to Florida State and the Ramblers. Then they lost to Clemson on a neutral floor and fell out of the Top 25. Still, I have a feeling the Gators will be just fine. They boast a neutral court win over Cincinnati and will get John Egbunu back from his torn ACL suffered against Auburn last year at some point. That will give them a solid big guy to go with Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson and company who can put points up in bunches. Coach Mike White will have his team ready for SEC play and I fully expect this team to have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament again this year.

This Week: Saturday vs. Vanderbilt

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday February 24th in Gainesville: 7:30PM

3. Kentucky – 9-2

Let’s get one thing straight, this is NOT a vintage Kentucky team. There is no Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, or John Walls on this team. It’s Coach Calipari’s youngest team (8 freshmen) and they’ve shown their youth early in the season. They have a nice win at home over Virginia Tech but not a ton of other big wins. They lost to Kansas and UCLA on neutral courts, but have otherwise mostly stayed at home and tried to pile up wins over mid-major schools. Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo led the Wildcats averaging about 15 points per game each. While Kentucky is #16 in the AP Poll, I’m just not that sold on Kentucky quite yet, but they will get better and as always, be tough to beat in SEC play. It’s always a big deal when Kentucky comes to town and this year will be no exception. The last time the Wildcats came to town, this happened:

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn witnessed a court storming after a 75-70 victory and paid out a 100K fine for their efforts. As one of those people who stormed the court, let me tell you it was well worth it.

This Week: Friday vs. Louisville, Sunday vs. Georgia

When do they play Auburn:

  • Wednesday February 14th in Auburn: 8 PM

4. Arkansas – 9-2

From a branding standpoint, the SEC needs Arkansas to be good, like close to their heyday back in the early to mid-90s when they made Final Fours and won a National Championship good. Bud Walton Arena is a tough place to play when this is the case. Coach Mike Anderson has a solid group this season and the Razorbacks have put together some impressive wins. They have wins over Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado State and Troy. In addition, like Auburn, they too have played UConn and beat them by 35 out in the PK80 Classic. In their two losses, they lost to North Carolina, who knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament last year and then lost to Houston in easily their worst game of the year. Still, it’s hard not to like a team that averages 90 points per game. The Hogs are led by Jaylen Barford (18.5 points per game) and Daryl Macon (15.3 points per game). They have scored at least 83 points in each of their wins but been held in the 60s in both of their losses so slowing down the Razorbacks offense will be key in defeating them in league play. Three of their top four scorers are seniors for this Razorbacks team so they have one of the most experienced teams in the SEC. Auburn fans won’t have to wait long to see the Razorbacks as they will be the first SEC team to invade Auburn Arena this season.

This Week: Wednesday vs. Cal State Bakersfield, Saturday vs. Tennessee

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday January 6th in Auburn: 5PM
  • Tuesday February 27th in Fayetteville: 8PM

5. Tennessee – 9-2

I don’t think a lot was expected of Tennessee this year but the Vols looked much improved in Year 2 of Rick Barnes. They opened a lot of eyes when they played in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving. They beat Purdue in overtime, lost to Villanova in the middle game but bounced back to beat North Carolina State to take 3rd in the event. Tennessee’s two losses are against the last two national champions, the aforementioned Wildcats, who are #1 and still undefeated this year and a 5-point loss to North Carolina at home. In each game, the Volunteers controlled a majority of the game only for the Wildcats and Tar Heels to take over late. They also have road wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. They are led by Grant Williams (15.4 points per game), Jordan Bowden (12 points per game), and Admiral Schofield (11.9 points per game) and are ranked #19 in the current AP poll. Auburn will open SEC play against Tennessee next Tuesday in Knoxville and it will be interesting to see if Bruce Pearl gets the same positive reaction he got the 1st time he returned to Thompson-Boling Arena. Remember, many Volunteer fans were desperately wanting Coach Pearl to be brought back after Cuonzo Martin left, but I would think they’re pleased with how Coach Barnes is currently doing.

This Week: Saturday at Arkansas

When do they play Auburn:

  • Tuesday January 2nd in Knoxville: 6PM

6. Missouri – 10-3

This is where the rankings got a bit tough for me. Losing Michael Porter was a huge blow for Missouri, but they have upgraded their talent and coaching this season under first year guy Cuonzo Martin. Yeah, the same guy mentioned above who left Tennessee for California because he wasn’t appreciated enough by Volunteer Nation, among other things. Look, Kim Anderson is a great guy, but I didn’t see him being a long-term fit there because he inherited a mess left by Frank Haith. In 3 years, Anderson only won only 8 SEC games and a change was needed. This brand of Tigers are led by Canisius graduate transfer Kassius Robertson with 15.1 points per game. They have wins over Iowa State, St. John’s, at UCF, and Stephen F. Austin, a team that left such an impression on Coach Martin that he went to their locker room after the game to congratulate them on a great effort. That’s first-class folks. They lost at Utah, to West Virginia in Orlando in a very competitive game, and then to Illinois in St. Louis last Saturday, which is easily their worst loss of the year so far. They have a solid group of veteran players that I think can still make this team a tournament team but oh what could have been if Michael Porter would have stayed healthy this year. We probably will never know what Porter could have done in college as he’s pretty much a one and done guarantee. I can imagine Auburn will be ready for this game as they will try to avenge last year’s season ending loss at the buzzer in the SEC Tournament.

This Week: Off

When do they play Auburn:

  • Wednesday January 24th in Columbia: 8PM

7. Auburn – 11-1

I went back and forth on Auburn and Georgia. I think Georgia has the best overall player between the 2 teams, but Auburn has much more balanced scoring, better offense and better free throw shooting. So, for now, I’ll take the Tigers over the Bulldogs. I came across this statistic which really shocked me: Auburn currently leads the SEC in free throw percentage (77.1%) and is tied for 21st nationally in that department. When’s the last time Auburn had a team that shot free throws well? Before the Bruce Pearl days for sure. It’s also helped that the Tigers have greatly improved their defense as well as rebounding where they have outrebounded each opponent except for Murray State. If you would have told me that Auburn, with Wiley and Purifoy, would get off to their best start since 1999 at 11-1 before the season started, I would have been happy with that. Without them, it’s quite a feat that these Tigers have pulled off. Auburn’s strength of schedule could be better, and they need UConn, Dayton, Middle Tennessee, and Murray State to have great seasons in their conference to make those wins look better. I figured Auburn needed to get through this non-conference schedule 11-2 or 10-3 at the very worst to have a realistic shot at the tournament and it didn’t look feasible in early November. Give Bruce Pearl a ton of credit for motivating his team and getting great effort from 9 guys that play together as a team and seem to have great team chemistry. Many of the national media expects Auburn to fall off during SEC play and will get tested right out the gate with games at Tennessee and hosting Arkansas next week. But Auburn will finish up non-conference play Saturday against Cornell from the Ivy League.

This Week: Saturday vs. Cornell

8. Georgia – 9-2

Georgia has one thing that Auburn doesn’t, a win over Temple. They have a nice win over Marquette, a middle of the pack team in the Big East and Saint Mary’s on a neutral court. So why Auburn over Georgia? I think Auburn’s a better all-around team than Georgia but also, I just think that Georgia’s 2 losses aren’t very good losses. They lost to San Diego State in the Wooden Legacy, a decent team but one that lost at home to California, which has been blown out by Chaminade, Central Arkansas and UC Riverside, just to name a few. Georgia’s other loss: at rebuilding Massachusetts and they played very poorly in that one. Yante Maten will be a nightmare matchup for most guys in the SEC but they only have 1 other player averaging more than 8 points per game. Georgia’s too top-heavy for my taste while Auburn boasts 6 guys averaging 8+ points per game. I think they will also be playing for Mark Fox’s job as well. After narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament for a few years, I feel like this team must make the Big Dance this year or else they will be in the market for a new coach. Can the Bulldogs rely solely on Maten or will others step up to lead Georgia into the tournament or will it be a return trip to the NIT?

This Week: Sunday at Kentucky

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday January 20th in Auburn: 5PM
  • Saturday February 10th in Athens: 2:30PM

9. Alabama – 8-4

Like Kentucky, I’m not sold on Alabama. They had a highly touted freshmen class, but I thought a Top 25 ranking in preseason was a bit high. Colin Sexton is phenomenal but what else do they have? Like Georgia, I think the Crimson Tide is too reliant on Sexton and the team goes as he goes and otherwise, they struggle. Watching the game against Texas was clear proof of it. He had 8 points against the Longhorns and the offense clearly struggled as a result. I don’t see a lot of big guys on this team either which is something other teams, like Texas have been able to exploit. Getting Braxton Key worked back into the rotation will be critical for the Crimson Tide. In addition, they need more from John Petty and Riley Norris. They played a challenging non-conference schedule to their credit and Avery Johnson can make excuses all he wants about what record they could have with an easier schedule, but he scheduled the games and as a team, you must go and win those games. Their losses are to Minnesota (remember they finished that game with 3 players), Central Florida, Arizona and Texas. And even in some of the games they’ve won, they’ve been barely skating by. They have 1-point wins over Texas-Arlington, and Mercer as well as a 3-point win over Louisiana Tech. Wins are wins but they’ve looked unimpressive so far to me. Despite everything I’ve said about them, I feel like this team will get it together and have a nice year in the SEC. Right now, I think they’re a borderline NCAA Tournament team. If Sexton keeps doing what he’s been doing and gets some help, this team will certainly have a chance to play in March.

This Week: Saturday vs. Texas A&M

When do they play Auburn:

  • Wednesday January 17th in Tuscaloosa: 6PM
  • Wednesday February 21st in Auburn: 7:30PM

10. South Carolina 8-3

South Carolina lost a lot of guys from their Final Four run last year and it’s showed in the early stages of the year. They lost to Illinois State in Myrtle Beach and then laid an egg at Clemson before Christmas, being held to just 48 points. Like Auburn, they also have a loss against Temple on their resume on a neutral court. Wofford may be their best win as their non-conference schedule hasn’t been great overall. Frank Martin is a phenomenal coach, and for that reason alone, this is a team that has a chance to move up these rankings. Chris Silva, one of the few returning contributors from last year, leads the team with 13.5 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. South Carolina will serve as Auburn’s Senior Day opponent this season.

This Week: Wednesday vs. Limestone College, Sunday at Ole Miss

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday February 17th in Columbia: 2:30PM
  • Saturday March 3rd in Auburn: 2:30PM

11. LSU – 8-3

Last year’s LSU team was terrible, but this year’s LSU team seems to have made major strides from last year. LSU has wins over Michigan and Houston and they will compete under new coach Will Wade. They lost to Notre Dame and Marquette in the Maui Invitational and have a 1-point loss to Stephen F. Austin on their resume. With the exception of the Notre Dame game which they lost by 39, they’ve been very competitive, something I don’t think LSU did very well over the past few years. But back to Will Wade, he reminds me a bit of a young Bruce in the sense that he has a lot of passion and seems to be a great motivator, things that were not seen in the previous regime. It’s a bummer for Auburn fans though that Johnny Jones is gone in the sense that the Bayou Bengals were one of the few teams the last few years that Auburn beat consistently. Freshmen Tremont Waters leads the way for LSU with 17 points per game. They have one more non-conference game and then arguably have the toughest 2 games out of the gate in SEC play hosting Kentucky and then playing at Texas A&M next week.

This Week: Thursday at Memphis

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday January 27th in Auburn: 5PM

12. Mississippi State – 11-1

Why is an 11-1 team ranked 12th in my list? Simple, they have only left the State of Mississippi once, and lost to Cincinnati in that game. Their non-conference schedule was by far the weakest in the league and their best win is over Stephen F. Austin, a good win but the rest of their schedule is pretty bleh. Like Auburn, they beat Dayton, a 2-point win for the Bulldogs at home. I think Ben Howland will get Mississippi State going like they were in the glory days of Rick Stansbury but they’re at least a year away in my book. Quinndary Weatherspoon leads the Bulldogs with 13.9 points per game.

This Week: Saturday vs. North Florida

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday January 13th in Starkville: 2:30PM

13. Ole Miss – 7-5

Andy Kennedy is still plugging away in Oxford but a 7-5 non-conference record for a Power 5 School isn’t great. They lost to Utah in Vegas and games at home to Virginia Tech, South Dakota State and Illinois State, all in overtime. It seems like a pretty simple strategy for road opponents: get the Rebels to Overtime in Oxford and you’ve got a good chance to win. I kid, but a trend is a trend. They also played Middle Tennessee and lost by 19 to them in Murfreesboro. Their best win: Georgia State? You get the idea. I think Ole Miss is another team that needs a good run in the SEC or perhaps they may be looking for a new coach as well. Ole Miss is led by Terence Davis with 16.1 points per game and Deandre Burnett at 14.4 points per game.

This Week: Sunday vs. South Carolina

When do they play Auburn:

  • Tuesday January 9th in Auburn: 8PM
  • Tuesday January 30th in Oxford: 8PM

14. Vanderbilt – 5-7

Somebody had to be at the bottom of this list and with a losing record, that dubious honor goes to Vandy. This team absolutely baffles me because this is a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year and are led this year in scoring by 3 seniors: Jeff Roberson (14.4 points per game), Matthew Fisher-Davis (12 points per game) and Riley LaChance (11.7 points per game). How can they be 5-7 at this point in the season? The only thing I can come of with is that Vanderbilt has played a brutal non-conference schedule. Scheduling tough games is great, but like Alabama, you’ve got to win at least some of those games. They went on the road and played Arizona State and Belmont and lost both. They also lost to Virginia and Seton Hall in Brooklyn while losing at home to Southern Cal, Kansas State and Middle Tennessee. Perhaps they will be better from playing these tough games early later on in SEC play, but the results so far leave me no choice but to put them at the bottom of this Power Ranking. The good news for Auburn fans is they don’t have to play in Memorial Gym this year (Thank Goodness!!). That place is a house of horrors for Auburn basketball, like Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge is for Auburn football. (Sigh)

This Week: Saturday at Florida

When do they play Auburn:

  • Saturday February 3rd in Auburn: 7:30PM

Well there you have it! My goal for this is to have power rankings released every Tuesday since games are played on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I would love to hear your opinions, such as what would you do differently. Who’s too high or too low? If you’ve made it to the end, thanks for reading, and War Eagle!

* To me, it just doesn’t feel right using a University of Alabama slogan to describe something