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SEC Power Rankings, Volume VI

Will somebody please go more than 1 week at the top of these rankings?

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week 6 of the SEC Power Rankings! It’s hard to believe February 1st is on Thursday and you’ll start hearing “Bracketology” and “Bubble Watch” even more over the next 6 weeks. Barring an unforeseeable collapse, the Auburn Tigers will be locks to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first since 2003. Seeing some of the projections are exciting but it’s important for us all to remember that we need to keep taking this thing one game at a time and just enjoy this incredible journey that we’ve been on these past couple of months.

It has come to my attention that putting teams in a certain spot in this writer’s power rankings has become somewhat of a curse.

It’s only 5 weeks, but still, yes, I am now on my 5th straight week of putting a team at #1, only for them to lose that week. This week, Florida did the honors by losing at home to South Carolina. So what to do with the top spot this week? Well, two big wins in convincing fashion leave me no choice but to put Auburn back at the top of these rankings. Right now, they have the best RPI (5), the highest ranking in the AP Poll (11) and oh by the way, sole possession of first place in the SEC at 7-1 in the league. For my sake, I desperately hope Auburn wins their games this week and puts this curse to bed but if they lose a game this week, I apologize in advance. With that in mind, I’m going to refer to this spot a tad differently this week as you’ll see directly below.

Biggest Riser: South Carolina up 4 spots

Biggest Faller: Texas A&M down 3 spots

The # Between 0 and 2. #11 Auburn 19-2 (7-1) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Defeated Missouri 91-73, Defeated LSU 95-70

This Week: Tonight at Ole Miss (8PM), Saturday vs. Vanderbilt (7:30PM)

I can’t say enough about this team. When I put this team at this spot in the rankings 2 weeks ago, I wasn’t 100% confident in it but I went with it. This time, I had no issues putting Auburn here. They continue to surprise us and continue to make Auburn Basketball so much fun to watch. It’s been so fun this past week that in both games, Auburn had a big enough lead late to allow the walk-ons to get a few minutes on the court. Amazing. Also, just when you think Auburn Arena can’t get any louder, it turns it up a notch. It was loud for the Arkansas game, then 3400 students showed up for Ole Miss. The Georgia game will always be remembered by me for Mustapha’s dunk and then Jared’s acrobatic layup that had the building rocking. This week, it was the early 3-point barrage headlined by Heron and a 29-10 start leading to the first LSU timeout where the gym was jumping the most. Let’s recap the week.

Auburn had a tricky game last Wednesday in CoMo that I thought would be a nice test for Auburn. As great as the 2nd half was against Georgia, how would this team respond? Very early on in the Missouri game, shots went in and out but they kept on shooting and actually played a solid first half. That was a good sign considering how first half's have not been Auburn’s strength in SEC play. The second half started off well, and then an 8-0 Mizzou run cut Auburn’s lead to 1. Bryce had a big 3 shortly thereafter, but Chuma’s runner was key in starting the big second half run to put the game away. And once the bank opened up in Harpersville, the rout was on from there. If you blinked, you saw a 1 point lead turn into a 20 point lead really quick. If you want to watch more from that game, see the video below.

Fast forward to Saturday, and I could tell in warmups that Auburn was ready to play. They were really loose, Malik Dunbar was dancing and smiling as he always does and it was clear to me and those around me that Auburn was going to win this game. I wasn’t the only person that felt this way.

We’ve been clamoring for this team to start a game well and I don’t think you can start any better than what Auburn did on Saturday. Mustapha Heron hit the first 3 and if you watch the highlight film above, you will hear Rod Bramblett say “I think that’s what you’re going to see Auburn do a lot of today.” Spot-on analysis from Rod! (Side note: I get so much joy out of listening to all of the highlight packages just to hear Rod and Sonny Smith’s reactions).

Let’s be honest: this game was pretty much over at the first TV timeout. Auburn made their first 5 shots (all 3s) and LSU didn’t know what hit them. Mustapha Heron scored 16 of the first 19 points and the rout was on from there. It was a 3-point or alley-oop attempt party in the first half and even with a 51-32 halftime lead, I really hoped that Auburn would work on establishing an inside presence in the second half. Insert Desean Murray. Murray really made his presence felt with his offensive rebounding, toughness, and baskets to keep Auburn’s lead at a healthy margin throughout the second half. This was one of those games that you just got to sit back and enjoy every second of it.

And of course it wouldn’t be an Auburn basketball game without a Malik Dunbar highlight dunk. And if this play doesn’t embody a team, I don’t know what does. Murray could have had an easy basket, as could Jared, but they unselfishly gave it up and allowed Malik to throw down a dunk which sent Auburn Arena back into a frenzy.

From a personal standpoint, I’m just glad it actually happened on the end of the court that I was standing at for a change. A nice birthday present for him indeed. The only punch Auburn took in that game was from Bruce Pearl himself inadvertently striking Jared Harper in the face. Harper seemed to be alright but that might land on the Not Top 10 on SportsCenter this Friday. I love how Bruce jokingly thought Jared kind of flopped a little bit on it. I honestly thought the same.

One other thing that I was really proud of Auburn to see was their defense on Tremont Waters. I was excited to see LSU’s dynamic freshmen in person but Auburn took him out of the game as Harper, Bryce Brown, and Davion Mitchell played great defense on him. Waters had some foul trouble but he finished the game with just 4 points, 0 assists and 6 turnovers. For a guy that averages over 15 points per game and almost 6 assists per game, that’s impressive stuff.

As we move ahead to this week, Auburn needs to take care of business this week against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The Ole Miss game worries me a bit for the fact that they will be ready to avenge the loss they had here a few week ago. I don’t think they appreciated Bryce Brown’s last second dunk too much in the win here a few weeks ago. Also, Ole Miss has been really good at home in league play boasting wins over Florida and Alabama in their last 2 home games. Auburn has a target on their back now and we have to come out ready to play. The Tigers have not won in Oxford since February 16, 2008 (8 straight). Auburn already broke their 10 game losing streak to Ole Miss 3 weeks ago, as well as their losing streak in the state of Mississippi 2 weeks ago so what’s another streak breaker going to hurt these Tigers?

Although its been a rough year for Vanderbilt, don’t expect Riley LaChance and company to roll over to us. Their win over TCU was unexpected and was pivotal in the league winning the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Another incredible streak: Vanderbilt has won 13 straight against Auburn with the Tigers last win in this series coming on January 6, 2007. These games are extremely important this week as Auburn’s schedule is back-loaded as the last 8 games are all against Top 60 RPI teams. It’s to be expected Auburn might lose a couple in that stretch but let’s not start doing that this week.

#2. #23 Florida 15-6 (6-2) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Lost to South Carolina 77-72, Beat Baylor 81-60

This Week: Tonight at Georgia, Saturday vs. Alabama

So much for building off a win at Rupp Arena... The Gators came home and were outplayed on their home court by the Gamecocks. I think Florida will still be fine after this and they showed what they are capable of by blowing out Baylor on Saturday afternoon. Good news for Florida as John Egbunu looks to be getting closer to returning to action. Still, it seems as if the Gators have trouble getting focused for each of their opponents and South Carolina took advantage of that on Wednesday night. The Chris Chiozza-Collin Sexton matchup will be a good one to watch on Saturday in the O-Dome before Auburn’s game Saturday night.

#3. #18 Tennessee 15-5 (5-3) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Beat Vanderbilt 67-62, Beat Iowa State 68-45

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

Tennessee has been stuck in the 4 spot for a few weeks but after an impressive showing in Ames, coupled with their wins over Kentucky and Purdue (which looks better by the day), I put the Vols in the bronze position this week. I mean they are the league’s second highest ranked team right now. Right now, Tennessee is Auburn’s best win. Tennessee has two winnable games in Knoxville this week before a showdown in Lexington looms next week. But what I want to highlight here is check out the kid in Iowa State’s student section putting on a Tennessee jersey

As good as Auburn has been at trolling other teams this year, I have to give this guy some credit. Well done sir.

#4. #21 Kentucky 16-5 (5-3) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Beat Mississippi State 78-65, Beat #7 West Virginia 83-76

This Week: Tonight vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday at Missouri

Finally, Kentucky has a win over a Top 25 team and I’ll say this, look out. This is the kind of game that could spark Kentucky to go on a run the rest of the way. Down 15 at halftime on the road in Morgantown, Kevin Knox stepped up big time and scored 34 points to lead the Wildcats to a road win that clinched the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in favor of the SEC for the first time in the challenge’s history. The Wildcats needed this and most people didn’t give them much of a chance Saturday, except ESPN’s Jay Williams who hilariously trolled the West Virginia crowd at College Gameday.

Kentucky has a manageable week ahead of them as they look to build off their win over West Virginia. That Auburn/Kentucky game in about 2 weeks is going to be fun. Just hoping Dick Vitale will decide to make a trip to the Plains for that contest.

#5. Alabama 14-7 (5-3) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Lost to Ole Miss 78-66, Beat #12 Oklahoma 80-73

This Week: Wednesday vs. Missouri, Saturday at #23 Florida

Why a two spot drop after knocking off the #12 team in America? Because of a very puzzling performance at Ole Miss in which Collin Sexton returned to the lineup and went 2-13 for just 7 points coming off the bench. So of course, they come back and knock off Trae Young and Oklahoma. Alabama has 5 losses against teams outside of the Top 50 in RPI. You honestly just don’t know what to expect out of them on a nightly basis. I expect them to take care of business tomorrow against Missouri but a trough trip to Gainesville will be a huge test for the Tide. Of course they could do the exact opposite of this and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

#6. Arkansas 15-6 (4-4) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Beat Georgia 80-77 (2OT), Beat Oklahoma State 66-65

This Week: Tonight at Texas A&M, Saturday at LSU

Arkansas did two things this week that surprised me. First, they won on the road, something that hadn’t happened since they beat Auburn here at the end of February last year. Second, they finally won a game this season in which they didn’t score 83 points (which they enjoyed doing so much, they did it twice this week). Barford and Macon continue to pace the Hogs as they scored 49 of the team’s 80 points Tuesday night in Athens. Macon was the team’s only double digit scorer Saturday with 22. But the one thing I wanted to highlight in this section was check out the student section at Bud Walton Arena Saturday night. They call this Sharkansas.

Whatever floats your boat I guess. The Hogs hit the road this week for College Station and Baton Rouge so we’ll see if Arkansas can continue their winning ways this week.

#7. South Carolina 13-8 (4-4) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat #20 Florida 77-72, Lost to #14 Texas Tech 70-63

This Week: Wednesday vs. Mississippi State, Saturday at Texas A&M

The Gamecocks just finished a stretch of playing 4 straight ranked teams. They won 2 of them and lost by 7 in each of the other two games. Considering what the teams behind South Carolina here have done lately, I feel justified in moving up Frank Martin’s bunch up a bit this week. Chris Silva is clearly their go-to guy but they got a season high 22 points from Wesley Myers and went 11-21 from 3-point range in their win over Florida. The schedule eases up a bit the next two weeks so an opportunity for them to pick up some more wins.

#8. Missouri 13-8 (3-5) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Lost to #19 Auburn 91-73, Lost to Mississippi State 74-62

This Week: Wednesday at Alabama, Saturday vs. #21 Kentucky

You could seriously draw straws between Missouri, Georgia and LSU and put each of these teams in a different place. It’s been a tough week for Missouri with injuries mounting and the indefinite suspension of point guard Terrence Phillips coming down on Friday evening. One thing Missouri did well in the first half against Auburn was shooting the 3 but our Tigers did a good job in the 2nd half of keeping them away from this. As a result, Auburn eventually pulled away. The schedule does them no favors this week as they go to Tuscaloosa before hosting a rejuvenated Kentucky team. On the other hand, it’s a huge opportunity for Missouri to pick some much needed quality wins.

#9. LSU 12-8 (3-5) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Beat Texas A&M 77-65, Lost to #19 Auburn 95-70

This Week: Wednesday at #18 Tennessee, Saturday vs. Arkansas

I’ve been pretty high on LSU this year and Tremont Waters but I don’t think they knew what hit them in Auburn Arena Saturday night until the game was out of reach. While they tried using their advantage on the inside, they were no match for Auburn’s 3-point shooters. Late in the first half I remember looking at the stats and seeing LSU shooting 50% which normally is pretty good but instead, they were down 20. That just shows how much Auburn was on the other night, especially from 3. But regardless of how Saturday night for LSU, the future is bright for basketball in Baton Rouge. They have 2 wins over Texas A&M, and a 21 point win at Bud Walton so far in SEC play so they are definitely ahead of schedule in the rebuilding project.

*I wrote all of this and then this bombshell dropped late on Monday afternoon. This leaves only 7 scholarship players for the Bayou Bengals at the moment. The suspended players will miss the Tennessee game Wednesday.

#10. Georgia 12-8 (3-5) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Lost to Arkansas 80-77 (2OT), Lost to Kansas State 56-51

This Week: Tonight vs. #23 Florida, Saturday at Mississippi State

Georgia had a chance to beat a good Arkansas team at home last week and came up 3 points short. While we are used to scoring points here in Auburn, the Bulldogs average just 69.3 points per game which is 282nd in the country. People in the national media are higher on them than I am as I’m just not convinced that this is a NCAA Tournament team. Yante Maten was great (26 points and 15 rebounds) against Arkansas but to be honest, Georgia just doesn’t have the depth that teams like Auburn do. Coach Pearl commented after our game against them here about how Georgia’s lack of depth was key in the way Auburn was able to overwhelm them in the 2nd half here Saturday before last. Georgia has a opportunity to get a big win for their NCAA Tournament hopes with Florida in town this evening.

#11. Mississippi State 15-6 (3-5) - Last Week: 13

Last Week: Lost to Kentucky 78-65, Beat Missouri 74-62

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

Ben Howland’s group put up a valiant effort at Rupp Arena but they just ran out of gas late in the game Tuesday night. Kentucky closed the game on a 10-2 run in the last 3 minutes in a 13 point final margin. A nice bounce back for the Bulldogs though beating Missouri at home. I see a 1-1 record for the Bulldogs this week.

#12. Ole Miss 11-10 (4-4) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Beat Alabama 78-66, Lost to Texas 85-72

This Week: Tonight vs. #11 Auburn, Saturday at #18 Tennessee

The Rebels are doing their best at protecting their home court as they have consecutive wins over Florida and Alabama in Oxford. However, they gave up 85 points to a Texas team that came in averaging just shy of 72 on the season. They get another shot at a big home win tonight against Auburn. One major benefit for Ole Miss is they should have Deandre Burnett tonight unlike the previous matchup he missed due to the flu. They also haven’t forgotten Bryce Brown’s last second dunk which I’m sure will be a little bit of motivation for the Land Sharks. And in case you haven’t seen them yet, this is the promotion for the Ole Miss student section at the game tonight.

#13. Texas A&M 13-8 (2-6) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Lost to LSU 77-65, Lost to #5 Kansas 79-68

This Week: Tonight vs. Arkansas, Saturday vs. South Carolina

Once again, I can’t explain Texas A&M. While Auburn is one of the nation’s biggest surprises this year, Texas A&M is one of the nation’s biggest disappointments. This team just doesn’t look too engaged at the moment and it’s a shame considering the amount of talent on this team. While they only lost by 11 to the Jayhawks, it really wasn’t that close at all. It’s time for A&M to step up to the plate and they have 2 home games this week to try and put it together.

#14. Vanderbilt 8-13 (2-6) - Last Week: 14

Last Week: Lost to #22 Tennessee 67-62, Beat TCU 81-78

This Week: Tonight at #21 Kentucky, Saturday at #11 Auburn

It’s been a tough season for Vanderbilt. Last Tuesday, we learned that senior Matthew Fisher-Davis was going to have right shoulder injury ending his season, and his career at Vanderbilt. He was a big part of this year’s team and will certainly be missed. But Bryce Drew’s kids haven’t quit fighting. Riley LaChance scored 25 in the second half and almost overcame a 17-point halftime deficit in Knoxville. Then, Vanderbilt upset TCU at home and what was easily the league’s most surprising win on Saturday. Vanderbilt has seniors that are playing for pride and aren’t ready for their careers to end just yet. Don’t think Saturday night is going to be walk-over for Auburn. This team has beaten Alabama, LSU, and taken Kentucky to the limit in league play so far this year.

War Eagle!