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SEC Power Rankings, Volume II

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SEC Basketball really gets going this week!

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

Welcome to the SEC Power Rankings Volume II and welcome to the new year! I figure most of us (I did) had to hit the reset button on 2018 and try our hardest to pretend that yesterday didn’t happen and are starting fresh today. But never fear, SEC Basketball is here! Now that football season is (sadly) over, it’s time to go all-in on Auburn Basketball! Last week, I started a weekly write-up in which I compare Auburn to the other SEC teams and see how we stack up. While most of us focusing on the football games (understandable), we had some interesting results to set the table for SEC Basketball. We started the SEC schedule off with an overtime classic in Fayetteville, we had last week’s #1 team (in my rankings) lose by 22 points and capped it out with a close, albeit foul fest game in Lexington. Games this weekend showed how competitive the SEC is going to be this season (and how difficult ranking them is going to be for me). SEC play kicks into full gear this week and there’s a new #1 team in this week’s edition. It’s not who I thought it would be if you read last week’s article. Without further ado, let’s try this again.

Biggest Riser(s): Kentucky, Alabama +2

Biggest Loser: South Carolina -3

#1 Kentucky – 11-2 (Last Week: 3)

Last Week: Defeated Louisville 90-61, Defeated Georgia 66-61

This Week: Wednesday at LSU, Saturday at #23 Tennessee

Although I know Coach Cal didn’t read this Auburn student’s opinion of his basketball team from last week but seeing the score against Louisville made me feel like he did. Something clearly clicked in Lexington as they took on their in-state rival. The Wildcats simply went out and bludgeoned Louisville. They followed it up 48 hours later by grinding out a win against Georgia in a game that featured 49 fouls and 59 free throw attempts. Yuck. Kentucky have found a new offensive weapon this week in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who came off the bench to score 24 and 21 points in their two wins this week. While I initially had the Gators ahead of Kentucky in my power rankings, the Wildcats had a much more impressive week than Florida and have just a bit more consistent so far. Texas A&M is still my pick in the SEC, but for this week, this spot goes to Kentucky especially when you read about what happened to Texas A&M last week. With trips to Baton Rouge and Knoxville this week, we’ll see how long the Wildcats stay at the top. Kentucky is ranked 17th in this week’s AP Poll.

#2 Texas A&M – 11-2 (Last Week: 1)

Last Week: Lost to Alabama 79-57

This Week: Tuesday vs. Florida, Saturday vs. LSU

That was a rough trip to Tuscaloosa for the Aggies. They clearly missed leading scorer DJ Hogg, serving his 2nd of a 3-game suspension for breaking team rules. The Aggies also have some injury concerns moving forward as well. Both of these factors played a part in their loss to Alabama on Saturday. Despite this, I could only drop them one spot because I believe this team got a needed wake-up call and they’ll bounce back. The Aggies shot 2-21 from 3-point range in this game and I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re not going to win games in this league or pretty much any league with that shooting performance. The Aggies can only go up from there in that statistic. The Aggies have little time feeling down after their loss as the Gators are in town this evening. Texas A&M is ranked #11 in this week’s AP Poll and despite the loss, is still the SEC’s top ranked team.

#3 Arkansas – 11-2 (Last Week: 4)

Last Week: Defeated Cal State Bakersfield 95-68, Defeated Tennessee 95-93 OT

This Week: Tuesday at Mississippi State, Saturday at Auburn

For 36 1/2 minutes on Saturday, I really thought this spot was going to Tennessee. The Hogs struggled to score against the Vols defense and had trouble slowing down the Vols offense but came through in crunch time. Over the last 3 ½ minutes of regulation, Arkansas’s press gave the Vols fits and allowed the Hogs to climb back into the game and force overtime. The Hogs dominated the first 4 minutes of overtime and had just enough to withstand a late furious Tennessee rally. Their win over Oklahoma also continues to look better and better as the season goes along. Now the Hogs hit the road twice this week to play a pair of 12-1 teams. Arkansas isn’t quite the same team away from Bud Walton Arena, so we’ll see how the Razorbacks play while on the road. For Auburn, it will be imperative for the defense to try and hold Arkansas below 83 points. That’s been the magic number for Arkansas in each of their wins this season. Arkansas is ranked #22 in this week’s AP Poll.

#4 Florida – 9-4 (Last Week: 2)

Last Week: Defeated Vanderbilt 81-74

This Week: Tuesday at #11 Texas A&M, Saturday at Missouri

Over the last week, I realized that perhaps I had more faith in the Gators than I should have. While the Gators looked great in the 1st half of their game against Vandy but proceeded to give up 54 points in the 2nd half. Between that and their inconsistent play over the last month, it was time to bump the Gators down two spots this week. Long-term I think this will be just fine and that’s how I have them ranked higher than most folks. But I’m not sure what happened to the team I saw out in Portland. As I said last week, they sorely miss John Egbunu and can’t wait for his return to give the Gators some size in the paint. Florida hits the road twice this week as they play Texas A&M Tuesday for a critical early season SEC battle and then to Missouri on Saturday.

#5 Tennessee – 9-3 (Last Week: 5)

Last Week: Lost to Arkansas 95-93 OT

This Week: Tuesday vs. Auburn, Saturday vs. #17 Kentucky

It’s hard for me to penalize a team that lost by 2 on the road in overtime. However, this game is one they controlled for the vast majority of and should have closed it out. Tennessee is going to be a tough out this year after being picked 13th in the SEC this year. Foul trouble really plagued the Vols late as 4 of their 5 starters ended up fouling out. It also didn’t help that they played not to lose and had some questionable shots and possessions late after doing a good job of playing the game at their tempo. Auburn would be wise to try and push the tempo and force Tennessee to play fast because while Tennessee was in control, they spent a majority of the game looking for good shots late in the shot clock. After a tough loss, it will be interesting to see how Tennessee responds with Auburn rolling into Knoxville tonight. Will they be highly motivated after losing a tough game to the Hogs? I would think so. But will they be looking ahead to Kentucky’s visit on Saturday? Here’s to hoping the latter is true. Tennessee is ranked #23 in this week’s AP Poll.

#6 Auburn – 12-1 (Last Week: 7)

Last Week: Defeated Cornell 98-77

This Week: Tuesday at #23 Tennessee, Saturday vs. #22 Arkansas

What an opportunity for Auburn this week! They have a chance to get not just one, but two wins over Top 25 teams. I moved Auburn up a spot this week because I can but mostly because they looked good in the game they played this past week. While it took a while for Auburn to get going after the Christmas break, the Tigers still put up 47 points in a half where they somewhat sleep walked. The second half was much better as Auburn built a 39-point lead at one point to cruise to an easy victory. They seemed destined to easily top the century mark but were unable to score at the end with primarily the reserves and walk-ons getting some playing time. It was so much fun watching the ball movement shown by the Tigers on Saturday and made for some great highlights for everyone to watch. Auburn has won 10 in a row but now we see what this team is made of. The gauntlet of SEC play begins tonight in Knoxville and they will be challenged right out of the gate. I believe that if Auburn can go 9-9 in this loaded SEC this year, there’s a good chance this team makes the Big Dance. There are a lot of tough games for the Tigers to navigate but Auburn has shown no fear and continue to play hard and together every single night. I think a fair and realistic goal for the Tigers this week is to try and split these two games this week. 2-0 would get them right on the doorstep of the Top 25, if not in, but I still think going 1-1 would be a successful week for Auburn.

#7 Alabama – 9-4 (Last Week: 9)

Last Week: Defeated Texas A&M 79-57

This Week: Tuesday at Vanderbilt, Saturday at Georgia

Another team that I didn’t think much of last week went out and looked really good this week (not that any of them really care right now). Alabama got a marquee win over Texas A&M Saturday that will look good on their resume come March. In fact, that win is better than any win Missouri has gotten so far and thus, the Tide move up 2 spots this week. They played more like a team they were hyped to be in the preseason (darn). The Tide finally got more from their supporting players as John Petty led Alabama with 18 points on Saturday night. They also got good performances form Donta Hall and Dazon Ingram. The Tide did suffer a big loss as senior Riley Norris will have hip surgery and is done for the season. Now how does Alabama handle this success as the Tide heads to Vandy tonight (where it’s never easy) and Georgia on Saturday.

#8 Missouri – 10-3 (Last Week: 6)

Last Week: off

This Week: Wednesday at South Carolina, Saturday vs. Florida

Missouri will have had 10 days to get over their Braggin’ Rights loss to Illinois as they open SEC play on Wednesday in the other Columbia. Despite not playing this week, I dropped Missouri two spots because I really like how Auburn is playing right now and Alabama’s win over Texas A&M was a huge win. I think they can Wednesday night and Saturday’s game against Florida is huge for them.

#9 Georgia – 9-3 (Last Week: 8)

Last Week: Lost to Kentucky 66-61

This Week: Wednesday vs. Ole Miss, Saturday vs. Alabama

A missed opportunity for Georgia as the Bulldogs fell by five in Rupp Arena Sunday evening. Georgia had their chances in this one but couldn’t finish Kentucky off. Yante Maten led the way with 17 points and 12 rebounds but shot just 5-15 from the field. As I’ve said before, Georgia needs more than just Maten to be successful. A few winnable home games for the Bulldogs this week give them an opportunity to bounce back.

#10 LSU Tigers – 9-3 (Last Week: 11)

Last Week: Defeated Memphis 71-61

This Week: Wednesday vs. #17 Kentucky, Saturday at #11 Texas A&M

Welcome to the SEC Will Wade! You start your SEC coaching career by getting to host Kentucky and traveling to Texas A&M, how do you feel? Probably not too bad consider where LSU was last season. It’s also worth mentioning that LSU has recently given Kentucky fits in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have beat Kentucky 2 of the last 3 times these teams have played in Baton Rouge and the other game was a 2-point win in the year Kentucky went undefeated all the way to the Final Four in 2015. That said, this game may be one to watch Wednesday evening. LSU picked up a road win over former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith’s Memphis team last Thursday. In the past it would be a massive win but like many of Auburn’s opponents, Memphis is not very good this year. This could be a week of growing pains for LSU but a great opportunity to see how they have improved under Will Wade.

#11 Mississippi State Bulldogs – 12-1 (Last Week: 12)

Last Week: Defeated North Florida 109-81

This Week: Tuesday vs. #22 Arkansas, Saturday at Ole Miss

Mississippi State hung 109 up on North Florida Saturday and like Auburn, finished non-conference play with a 12-1 record. It’s still hard for me to get too excited about these Bulldogs but the level of competition rises tonight as Arkansas comes to town. They also have an early Egg Bowl matchup with Ole Miss in Oxford on Saturday. Perhaps we’ll learn more about what Mississippi State is about this week.

#12 Ole Miss Rebels – 8-5 (Last Week: 13)

Last Week: Defeated South Carolina 74-69

This Week: Wednesday at Georgia, Saturday vs. Mississippi State

Free throws are very important and Ole Miss made eight straight in the final 90 seconds to knock off South Carolina on New Year’s Eve. It’s a solid win for Ole Miss who have had several close games go against them at home this year. Ole Miss has won 3 in a row and will look to keep it going when they travel to Athens on Wednesday before their in-state rivals visit on Saturday. Seeing Auburn will face Ole Miss next Tuesday, I’ll keep a closer eye on the Rebels this week.

#13 South Carolina Gamecocks – 9-4 (Last Week: 10)

Last Week: Defeated Limestone College 74-45, lost to Ole Miss 74-69

This Week: Wednesday vs. Missouri, Saturday vs. Vanderbilt

Sorry South Carolina, this week you are my biggest loser. While I’m sure Frank Martin has his reasons, playing a regular season against a Division II school, especially at the end of the non-conference schedule just doesn’t move the needle for me. On top of that, they lost a close yet winnable game against Ole Miss. I miss seeing Sindarius Thornwell on this team as it’s clear these aren’t last year’s Roosters.

#14 Vanderbilt – 5-8 (Last Week: 14)

Last Week: Lost to Florida 81-74

This Week: Tuesday vs. Alabama, Saturday at South Carolina

The good news for Vanderbilt is they scored 54 points in the 2nd half against Florida. The bad news is they only scored 20 in the 1st half and couldn’t completely dig out of a 20-point halftime hole. Vanderbilt sits at 5-8 and will have to go on an incredible run through the SEC to have any hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament. That road continues tonight with Alabama visiting Memorial Gym.

That’s all for this week! Let you know what you think of my picks this week and as always, let me know what you think. For Auburn, the road to the NCAA Tournament really begins tonight. War Eagle!