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SEC Power Rankings, Volume V

Thoughts on Auburn plus the rest of the SEC as we head towards February.

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

Will the real #1 team in the SEC please stand up? I mean, it seems like nobody wants to be #1 in this league (or this power rankings). Every time I put a team at the top of my Power Rankings, they lose. To Illustrate:

Week 1 (12/25-12/31) – Texas A&M: Lost to Alabama

Week 2 (1/1-1/7) – Kentucky: Lost to Tennessee

Week 3 (1/8-1/14) – Florida: Lost to Ole Miss

Week 4 (1/15-1/21) – Auburn: Lost to Alabama

Anyways, welcome to the fifth edition of College & Magnolia’s SEC Power Rankings. Now that we are a month into this I have realized that whoever I put #1 for the week, it’s a guarantee they will lose during the week. So, because of that (not the entire reason), but unfortunately, Auburn isn’t #1 this week. As I prepared to write last week’s rankings, I wasn’t mentally ready to put Auburn at #1 just yet because I was afraid a loss would soon follow. However, after a 4-0 start in SEC play, the nation’s longest winning streak, and being the only team undefeated in the league, I had no choice but to put the Tigers at the top of those rankings. The loss I feared finally happened in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday evening. It was bound to happen, and I was okay with it, just wish it was against anyone but Alabama. It’s college basketball and almost every team loses multiple games a year. It happens. The important thing is not turning one loss into two losses. Fortunately for Auburn, they played their best half of the year in the 2nd half against Georgia and bounced back in a raucous Auburn Arena. As for this week’s edition, there’s a little bit of shuffling as only 3 teams in the league went 2-0 this past week (Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M).

The week ahead will be different from most because it’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge week! I love this event and it’s a shame that 4 teams from the SEC must sit out the next two years. Unfortunately, due to being in the bottom of the conference the last few years, Auburn will not be participating. It stinks because I would love to see another Big 12 team in Auburn before my time is up here next year. And chances are, it would be yet another quality opponent on the schedule for Auburn. Also, if you haven’t paid attention to Big 12 Basketball, it’s just as competitive from top to bottom. In fact, it’s probably the only other conference that has as much depth as the SEC does this season. Every team in that conference is darn good so the SEC has their hands full and a chance to build their reputation even more this weekend. Despite the Big 12’s depth, Kansas has won the regular season Big 12 title 13 straight years, a remarkable accomplishment considering all of the roster turnover in collegiate sports. And if they defeat Oklahoma tonight in Norman, they will have a 2 game lead on everyone in the conference and will be well on their way to a 14th straight title. This is clearly a personal opinion here and while Kansas is great, they also benefit from teams in the Big 12 just simply giving games away to them. Need proof: watch the second half of their game against West Virginia from last Monday night and the final sequence against Kansas State the previous Saturday. There are other games I can recall but those are the two most recent. This weekend is a chance for the SEC to stand up and prove their one of the best conferences in America by going head to head with the deepest conference in America.

Biggest Riser: Alabama up 5 spots

Biggest Faller: LSU down 4 spots

#1. #20 Florida 14-5 (6-1) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Beat Arkansas 88-73, Beat #18 Kentucky 66-64

This Week: Wednesday vs. South Carolina, Saturday vs. Baylor

Thank you Florida. Thank you for beating Kentucky in Lexington Saturday night to make this decision easy for me. I have maintained throughout this series that I believe Florida is in the long run, the best team in the SEC and they are starting to look the part. With wins over Arkansas and Kentucky, the Gators have re-entered the Top 25 Poll after several weeks out of it. Florida’s back where they belong as they are easily one of the 25 best teams in the country. The Gators sit a half game ahead of Auburn for 1st in the SEC based off the fact the Gators have played an extra conference game than Auburn. Anytime a team gets a win at Rupp Arena on the road, it’s a great win. I don’t even care that this isn’t a great Kentucky team, winning a game there is huge especially when you benefit from the below no call…

As I watched this live, it was hard to see a foul on the play based on the angle I was watching this game. But upon further review.....

I am shocked that this was not called a foul, especially at Rupp Arena. But as we have seen with officiating all year, can we really be surprised when something is or isn’t called anymore?

I saw a stat watching the end of the Kentucky game and noticed that the Gators are a great free throw shooting team. While the Gators don’t shoot as many free throws as Auburn, they make them when they go there and have the top 2 guys in the SEC in this category. Egor Koulechov leads the league at 94.3% (50-53). KeVaughn Allen is 2nd at 91.2% (52-57). Chris Chiozza is 5th at 89.5% (51-57). All 5 starters are at least 70% so fouling the Gators late is not a good recipe to coming back and winning against them. Florida gets two home games this week as South Carolina comes to town on Wednesday while they will host Baylor on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Baylor is near the bottom of the deep Big 12 this year but they’re still a good team capable of beating anyone.

#2. #19 Auburn 17-2 (5-1) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Lost to Alabama 76-71, Beat Georgia 79-65

This Week: Wednesday at Missouri (8PM), Saturday vs. LSU (5PM)

I knew the loss was coming. I knew going into the road swing with Mississippi State and Alabama that we were most likely going to split the two games. Winning 14 straight games puts a target on your back and every team is going to put forth their best effort to knock you off. When Auburn beat Mississippi State, I had a gut feeling about Wednesday night. Then Collin Sexton was ruled out for the game and a lot of people probably thought this would greatly enhance our chances of winning that game. Auburn dug an early hole but battled back to take a 3-point lead into the break on a Chuma 3-pointer at the buzzer. Then John Petty of Alabama couldn’t miss. The defense wasn’t very sharp, and we were taking some bad shots. One other thing that happened that hadn’t all year: we missed a lot of free throws. With 4 guys that shoot above 80% on the free throw line, you normally feel pretty good about your chances at the charity stripe in a close game. Auburn went 14-22 from the free throw line but missing 8 of them in a 5 point final margin hurts. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t our night there and we can always wonder that if we make our free throws, we’re probably sitting here talking about a 16-winning streak. But alas we didn’t, and despite all the struggles, we still had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation with a 3-pointer that we were unable to get off. It is what it is, it stunk losing to Alabama but a loss was bound to happen at some point.

Fast forward to Saturday and we played our worst half of the year. We shot 25% in the first half, our guards were 1-11 with 4 turnovers, Mustapha was scoreless and had early foul trouble and Georgia, to their credit, had a great half in all facets as they shot 56% in the first half. I’ll admit at halftime, I sat in my usual spot in the Jungle and wondered, had we peaked? How was the team going to respond to this 14-point halftime deficit at home against Georgia, the largest halftime deficit of the year? But like this team has done all season, they never quit and put to bed any doubts I had really quickly in the 2nd half. A change in defense was critical as Auburn went to a 1-3-1 Full Court Zone the entire second half after playing man to man the entire first half. This is something I think we need to do more often and credit assistant coach Steven Pearl for suggesting the change to Bruce at halftime. As the 2nd half started, it was imperative to get Mustapha going and he did just that with a 3 right out of the gate. Bryce hit a miraculous 3 to beat the shot clock and the crowd started getting back into the game at that point. And of course, the signature moment of the game, and possibly the season was Mustapha’s ferocious dunk to put Auburn ahead. You’ve seen it 100 times I’m sure but what’s 101 going to hurt?

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

(Quite the lasting image)

The place exploded! I think we all had an out of body experience, I sure did. There were people falling all over the place in the Jungle and that’s a moment I’ll never forget. It’s the loudest I’ve heard Auburn Arena in the time I’ve been here and it’s something you’ll see on highlight reels for years to come. From there, the 1-3-1 defense continued to plague Georgia and Bryce Brown took over the game. Brown, a Georgia native who went ignored by the Bulldogs in the recruiting process, had 25 of his 28 points in the second half mixing both 3 pointers and drives to the lane. Auburn converted a lot of and-ones in the 2nd half and held Georgia without a field goal until about 6:30 left in the game. Initially, I thought Desean Murray had a rough day against the Bulldogs (2 points and fouled out early) but after thinking about it, I think he did a really good job guarding Yante Maten. That’s a tough task for anyone, especially a 6’3 Power Forward. Maten, who is the SEC’s leading scorer at 19 points per game, had 17 points Saturday but 11 of those points came from the free throw line. Georgia had some shooters step up in the first half but a 53-25 second half for Auburn put the Tigers on top. Quite simply, when Auburn needed their best 20 minutes of the season, they delivered in emphatic fashion.

Auburn has a tricky game Wednesday night on the road at Missouri. Auburn won at Missouri for the first time ever last season and will look to repeat last year’s result. In addition, most of the team probably hasn’t forgotten how last season ended when Missouri hit a walk-off 3 at the buzzer in the SEC Tournament. That should be motivation to play well. It would be imperative for Auburn to get off to a fast start in that one considering the struggles in 5 of the 6 SEC games in the first half. One day, Auburn is not going to be able to dig out of the holes that they have consistently created here recently. That said, I’m really looking forward to Saturday though.

As I said in the open, Auburn will not play in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge this year (or next year) but all is not lost for Auburn fans as Tremont Waters comes to the Plains this weekend. He’s been a program changing player for LSU as the Bayou Bengals have exceeded expectations this year and personally, I’m looking forward to seeing him play in person. It will also be Auburn’s first time seeing new coach Will Wade and his passion on the sidelines. I’m looking forward to seeing the Jungle’s interaction with him as the game goes along. Finally, Saturday is the annual AUTLive game for Auburn as Auburn races money to fight cancer so buy a shirt if you can to support this wonderful cause.

#3. Alabama 13-6 (5-2) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Beat #17 Auburn 76-71, Beat Mississippi State 68-62

This Week: Tonight at Ole Miss, Saturday vs. #12 Oklahoma

Two weeks ago, I called this team a “box of chocolates.” Because to be honest, there have been many points in the year that you had no idea which Alabama team would show up on a given night. Since then, Alabama has won 4 straight and sit at 5-2 in the conference. At the moment, they’re the hottest team in the conference and thus, I’m sorry guys, I had to give them a big jump this week. While I don’t like it, the Tide may have turned the corner these past 2 weeks. The fact they beat Auburn and Mississippi State without Collin Sexton is a testament to how good of a team they actually are, when they put forth the effort to play hard and as a team. John Petty had the game of his life against Auburn and when a guy is throwing up shots like he did and almost all of them are going in, what are you going to do? In addition, I don’t know why I feel this way, but it’s almost like they play better as a team without Sexton. Kind of like how Auburn has adjusted to playing without their best player throughout the year. Yes, Alabama is better with Sexton but they were ready to play on Wednesday night and we just didn’t have our best game. Also, give them some credit for keeping the Sexton news away from everyone because I’m 99% sure the game plan for Auburn in Tuscaloosa was defending Sexton. If anything, it’s good for the state to have 2 good basketball programs and it ups the stakes for the rematch here in Auburn February 21st. John Petty already said they’ll beat us again so we’ll just have to wait and see about that. Regardless, I know we’ll be ready for them that night. As for the week ahead, Alabama goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss tonight before a marquee matchup between two of the best freshmen in college basketball this season. That is, if Collin Sexton is cleared to play by Saturday for Alabama as freshmen phenom Trae Young and the Oklahoma Sooners pay a visit to Tuscaloosa. College basketball fans are certainly hopeful that will be the case as that is guaranteed to be a fun one.

#4. #22 Tennessee 13-5 (4-3) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Lost to Missouri 59-55, Beat South Carolina 70-63

This Week: Tonight vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday at Iowa State

This was probably the hardest spot for me this week between Tennessee and Kentucky but for the 4th spot, Tennessee gets the spot despite splitting the Columbia two-step (At Missouri & At South Carolina). Why? They just have better overall wins than Kentucky plus the head to head win over the Wildcats. With two road games this past week, I fully expected a split from Tennessee this week and that’s exactly what happened. Tennessee did well in going to South Carolina and beating a team coming off a win over Kentucky. Lamonte Turner had 25 points off the bench to lead the Volunteers in that one. He also scored 25 against Auburn earlier this season. Tennessee finishes their home and home with their in-state rival Vandy on Tuesday before traveling to Ames, Iowa to take on the Iowa State Cyclones, the team who happens to be at the bottom of the Big 12 right now. Despite this, Hilton Coliseum is a tough place to play (ask Kansas most years) and will be a good test for the Volunteers out of conference.

#5 Kentucky 14-5 (4-3) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Lost to South Carolina 76-68, Lost to Florida 66-64

This Week: Tonight vs. Mississippi State, Saturday at #7 West Virginia

So, what’s missing from Kentucky this week? Well, after two losses to South Carolina and Florida this past week, the Wildcats are out of the AP Top 25. But never fret SEC fans, they will still be the featured game on ESPN’s Super Tuesday (for the 3rd straight week) and ESPN’s College Gameday (for the 2nd straight week) this week! (Please understand this is pure sarcasm). As we enter late January, Kentucky still has not found a go-to guy on this year’s team. This team is talented, but they haven’t been able to put all the pieces together quite yet. Several questions loom with this team such but the biggest to me is will Calipari be able to find a go to guy before March? That’s the biggest question going forward with this team. They have a chance to bounce back tonight as they host Mississippi State before going to Morgantown, West Virginia on Saturday to play #7 West Virginia. That will be a hostile environment for sure and West Virginia will be angry after losing to TCU last night in Fort Worth. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can handle the constant pressure West Virginia’s defense will bring and could this be the signature win Kentucky is looking for to turn their season around? Remember, Kentucky still is without a Top 25 win this year.

#6. Arkansas 13-6 (3-4) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Lost to Florida 88-73, Beat Ole Miss 97-93

This Week: Tonight at Georgia, Saturday vs. Oklahoma State

When Arkansas can put up points, they are hard to beat. 83 is still the magic number for the Hogs as they have won every game they have scored that amount and lost every game they haven’t. It took 97 Saturday to beat Ole Miss at home but their defense has been alarming so far in SEC play. The Hogs have given up an average of 83.1 points per game in 7 SEC contests. This team played well early in the season, but they have struggled upon getting into SEC play. They need guys other than Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon to step up if they want to have success long-term. Arkansas is in Athens tonight to play Georgia before hosting Oklahoma State on Saturday. Like many of the games on Saturday, this should be a good matchup between two teams that sit in middle of their respective conferences.

#7. Missouri 13-6 (3-3) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Beat #21 Tennessee 59-55, Lost to Texas A&M 60-49

This Week: Wednesday vs. #19 Auburn, Saturday at Mississippi State

After several close calls going against them the past few weeks against Florida and Arkansas, Missouri got a win they can value going into March. Missouri won a 59-55 slugfest over Tennessee at home and that was huge for the Tigers. They couldn’t maintain that momentum when they fell in College Station on Saturday and only scored 49 points. This team kind of reminds me of Georgia regarding offense. They don’t push the tempo very much and haven’t scored a bunch of points in games, especially lately. In their six conference games they have scored 79, 75, 68, 63, 55, and 49 points. In fact, according to the KenPom Rankings, Missouri ranks 332nd out of 351 teams in tempo. Missouri lost 2 of those games by 2 points to good teams but finally pulled a close game out so if it’s close late, Missouri may have a slight advantage over Auburn having been in so many close games with good teams. Like most teams, they will have a size advantage over Auburn starting two guys at least 6’10 so Auburn must plan accordingly to stop Mizzou’s big men. Like Auburn, Missouri will sit out of the challenge and play at Mississippi State on Saturday night.

#8. Georgia 12-6 (3-4) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Beat LSU 61-60, Lost to Auburn 79-65

This Week: Tonight vs. Arkansas, Saturday at Kansas State

Georgia played an almost perfect first half against us. They scored 40 in the half which hasn’t happened often and held our offense to 26. Things looked good for the Bulldogs until the avalanche hit them to start the 2nd half. Georgia went about 15 minutes between field goals and saw a 14-point lead evaporate quickly and suddenly found themselves down double digits before they knew what hit them. Georgia battled back to within 5 at the under-4 timeout but Auburn was able to put the Bulldogs away late. Georgia did get a nice win over LSU at the beginning of the week so they take a split out of the week. They get a chance to play Arkansas at home tonight, who has struggled away from Bud Walton Arena before heading to the “Octagon of Doom,” (that’s what they call their arena at Kansas State) or otherwise known as the Little Apple over the weekend for a tough matchup at Kansas State.

#9. LSU 11-7 (2-4) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Lost to Georgia 61-60, Lost to Vanderbilt 77-71

This Week: Tonight vs. Texas A&M, Saturday at #19 Auburn

Well LSU, I tried to give you some love last week and this is how you repay me? Lose at home to Georgia by 1 and then lose at Vanderbilt too? Such is life in the SEC this season. The loss to Georgia had to be incredibly painful considering how the game ended. I have praised Tremont Waters throughout this power rankings series, but he made a decision at the end of the game that he will want back.

The video below also shows the game winning basket by Yante Maten of Georgia which is followed by Waters final shot.

Simply put, he had more time to get a better shot and they didn’t need a 3 to win the game. That’s a freshman mistake that he will learn from and get better as a result. LSU gets a chance to beat Texas A&M for a second time tonight before coming to the Plains this weekend. This will be the only regular season matchup for LSU and Auburn.

#10. Texas A&M 13-6 (2-5) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat Ole Miss 71-69, Beat Missouri 60-49

This Week: Tonight at LSU, Saturday at #5 Kansas

The Aggies got on the board (Finally!) this week but were this close to going 0-6 in the SEC.

If that 3-pointer falls for Ole Miss, the Aggies sit at 0-6 and in some real danger regarding their NCAA Tournament hopes. They followed up their win over the Rebels with an 11-point win over Missouri. This might be the jumpstart A&M needed after digging themselves an 0-5 conference hole. When healthy, this team is incredibly talented, and they finally have all their guys back from injury/suspension to make a run in a wide-open SEC. This will be a tough week for the Aggies as they try to avenge the LSU loss in Baton Rouge before a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to take on the Kansas Jayhawks as one of the premier games in the Big 12/SEC Challenge this weekend.

#11. South Carolina 12-7 (3-4) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Beat #18 Kentucky 76-68, Lost to #21 Tennessee 70-63

This Week: Wednesday at #20 Florida, Saturday vs. #14 Texas Tech

In the midst of a tough stretch, South Carolina got a huge win over Kentucky on Tuesday evening that will look good on their resume. The Gamecocks have been up and down this year but with back to back wins over Georgia and Kentucky, things looked better in Columbia. Unfortunately, they couldn’t back it up with another Top 25 victory, as they fell by 7 to Tennessee on Saturday. Chris Silva has been incredible for Frank Martin’s bunch as he had 27 points and 8 rebounds in the win over Kentucky. He’s certainly made the most of his opportunity to be the focal point in South Carolina’s offense. South Carolina has two very difficult games this week. To start off, they travel to Gainesville and face the SEC leading Florida Gators Wednesday evening. Another huge chance to get a big win in Columbia comes this weekend as Texas Tech comes to town. Texas Tech already has wins over Kansas and West Virginia, so this will be a tough test for the Roosters. It will also be the 2nd straight week that they will face two ranked opponents.

#12. Ole Miss 10-9 (3-4) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Lost to Texas A&M 71-69, Lost to Arkansas 97-93

This Week: Tonight vs. Alabama, Saturday at Texas

As you saw in the above Texas A&M clip, that’s how close they were to getting out of College Station with a win. Unfortunately, the iron was unkind for them and resulted in another disappointing loss for the Rebels. They followed that up getting into a shootout with the Razorbacks and fell just 4 points short. It was certainly a tough week for Andy Kennedy’s bunch coming off the win over Florida the Saturday before. Things don’t get any easier for the Rebels this week as Alabama comes to town tonight before Ole Miss returns to the Lone Star State to face the Texas Longhorns in Austin. Texas has dealt with some major adversity off the court as one of their players, Andrew Jones, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Texas has been a bit up and down this year but they did beat Alabama by 16 in Birmingham back in December.

#13. Mississippi State 14-5 (2-4) - Last Week: 13

Last Week: Beat Vanderbilt 80-62, Lost to Alabama 68-62

This Week: Tonight at Kentucky, Saturday vs. Missouri

Mississippi State did what it was supposed to do and took care of business against Vanderbilt. Then the Bulldogs nearly overcame a 19-point halftime deficit in Tuscaloosa Saturday night. Now, they face the unenviable task of playing against Kentucky in Lexington, a team that has no intention of losing 3 games in a row. After that, they will welcome Missouri to the Hump on Saturday.

#14. Vanderbilt 7-12 (2-5) - Last Week: 14

Last Week: Lost to Mississippi State 80-62, Beat LSU 77-71

This Week: Tonight at #22 Tennessee, Saturday vs. TCU

The good news for Vanderbilt: they got a win this week. The bad news: it came after losing by 18 to Mississippi State ranked just above the Commodores. So, one thing remains consistent in this writer’s power rankings: Vandy remains at the bottom of the pack. Vandy goes to Tennessee tonight and then welcomes the TCU Horned Frogs to the Music City on Saturday. TCU was one of the last undefeated teams in college basketball this season but have struggled so far in Big 12 play until a win over West Virginia last night.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the games and be at Auburn Arena Saturday if you possibly can. The crowd was great for the Georgia game and hopefully it will stay that way for the rest of the year. War Eagle!