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SEC Power Rankings, Volume III

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SEC Basketball is next to impossible to predict

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Alright Auburn fans, college football is over and quite frankly, I’m not really sure how I feel about what transpired last night. But now it’s time for everyone to turn their attention to college basketball and well what do you know, Auburn is ranked in college basketball for the first time since 2003! In two months, we’ve gone from losing our exhibition game and 2 of our best players to 14-1, 12 straight wins, including 2 straight over ranked SEC teams and ranked 22nd in the country. What Bruce Pearl has done with this team is simply remarkable and is starting to be noticed nationally. This is such an easy team to get behind. They play for each other, their coach and their school and do it in a way that should make every Auburn fan proud.

All of that said, it’s Tuesday and time for another edition of SEC Power Rankings. I have to admit this has been much more difficult than I thought it would be. Of course ranking basketball teams is next to impossible when 15 of the Top 25 teams in the AP Poll lost this week. As for the SEC, it’s loaded this year, top to bottom and there are no gimmes this year. Most teams have played 3 conference games so far and only 2 teams (Florida & Auburn) are still undefeated in conference play. It’s a testament to how this league has improved drastically over the last 3 years. There’s been quite a bit of shuffling in my rankings this week. For a 3rd straight week, there is a new #1 in the rankings.

Biggest Riser: Auburn up 4 spots

Biggest Faller: Texas A&M down 5 spots

#1. Florida 11-4 (3-0) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Beat #11 Texas A&M 83-66, Beat Missouri 77-75

This Week: Wednesday vs. Mississippi State, Saturday at Ole Miss

Why is Florida #1 here? Three things: first, I’ve been pretty high on Florida from Day 1 and I still believe that in March, they are a team that can do serious damage in the NCAA tournament. Second, I really think Florida may have turned a corner this week with 2 big wins on the road. Lastly, they are the only team that I'm still not sure that Auburn can play with just yet. Florida has so many shooters that they can rely on and they should have a good post game when the two teams meet February 24th in Gainesville. That’s one to circle on your calendars for sure. Speaking of this past week, the Gators picked up a dominating win over the Aggies in College Station where they shot 17-28 from 3-point range. Then they followed that up by stealing one over Missouri as Chris Chiozza’s steal and layup in the final seconds allowed the Gators to get out of Columbia with a win. This week, they have the same opponents as Auburn, just in opposite order. They’ll start with the Bulldogs in Gainesville before traveling to Oxford to play Ole Miss. They will be ranked in the polls again next week if they take care of business this week.

#2. #22 Auburn 14-1 (2-0) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Beat #23 Tennessee 94-84, Beat #22 Arkansas 88-77

This Week: Tonight vs. Ole Miss (8PM), Saturday at Mississippi State (2:30PM)

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

First off, it’s so cool putting a number next to Auburn’s name! This was the hardest spot for me this week and initially, I had Kentucky here. I had been cautiously optimistic in the first two week of Power Rankings for Auburn but after what they accomplished, it was time to give Auburn credit where credit was due and give them the biggest bump in this power rankings. Why? After looking at their schedules and seeing that Kentucky’s best win is over Virginia Tech while Auburn now has 2 more Top 25 wins than Kentucky does. I also based it off how the two teams have played recently, and I gave the nod to Auburn. This Auburn team is playing together and with a chip on their shoulder. 4-14, need I say more? Auburn has used this preseason prediction as fuel to say the least. It’s nice to see the team getting recognized nationally for what we’ve seen the past two months. Oh by the way, Mustapha Heron was this week’s SEC Player of the Week. Here’s some more team stats: Auburn is 11th in the country and both scoring (87.3 points) and rebounding (41.5 rebounds) per game. As for the defense, it’s allowing just 73.1 points per game so far this season. It’s hard to focus on just one player but right now, I want to talk briefly about Chuma Okeke. He’s become a huge part of the bench production scoring in double figures in each of his last 3 games. Chuma made 3 HUGE 3-pointers late in the second half against Tennessee. He made 2 more against Arkansas and is shooting 43.6% from 3-point range this year. He’s steadily improved as his freshmen season has gone on. Auburn just needs to take it one game at a time. It’s exciting thinking about the prospects ahead and some of the potential games down the road in February against Texas A&M, Kentucky and Florida but we’ll get there. Right now, let’s take care of business this week. Ole Miss comes in tonight after a win over their in-state rivals and the Rebels have beaten Auburn 10 straight times. It’s time for that streak, like many streaks, to end. Auburn had a 20 point lead at halftime the last time these teams played last year and lost that game. It’s time to get some revenge for that. As for the weekend, it’s not an easy trip to the Hump, just ask Arkansas who lost there Tuesday before losing here on Saturday. Mississippi State is off to a solid start to the season and will not be easy for Auburn on Saturday. Auburn’s last win in Starkville: February 28, 2009. Let’s take care of business this week and keep proving people wrong nationwide!

#3. #21 Kentucky 12-3 (2-1) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Beat LSU 74-71, Lost to Tennessee 76-65

This Week: Tonight vs. Texas A&M, Saturday at Vanderbilt

As the first two teams had common opponents this week, so do the next two teams on this list. Kentucky drops to #3 on this list after falling in Knoxville Saturday night. The same floor that Auburn won by 10 on four nights earlier. John Calipari called his team out after the loss saying his team needs to be tougher in order to compete in the SEC this season. It was a difficult week for Kentucky and I’m sure a good learning experience as Kentucky played their first 2 SEC road games of the season. The Wildcats were able to survive Baton Rouge (barely) before getting beat by a Tennessee team that was definitely motivated after losing to Auburn. In their 3 conference games, they haven’t looked very impressive and really a consistent go to player to step up. These losses, like the one to Tennessee, are probably going to happen here and there for this team but quite simply, they were dominated in the second half by the Volunteers. They get a desperate Texas A&M team tonight who has all kinds of issues (more on that below) and then play in the always difficult Memorial Gym on Saturday where who knows what will happen.

#4. #24 Tennessee 10-4 (1-2) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Lost to Auburn 94-84, Beat Kentucky 76-65

This Week: Tonight at Vanderbilt, Saturday vs. Texas A&M

I know Arkansas beat Tennessee weekend before last but based off of last week, Tennessee might be the better team. They certainly punched Auburn in the mouth early in the game on Tuesday and for a little while, it looked like they may run Auburn out of the gym. But as Auburn has all season, they were resilient and didn’t back down from the challenge. Tennessee also didn’t play as hard as Auburn did in the last 30 minutes of that game. Clearly, playing full games was addressed after blowing an early 14 point lead against Auburn after losing a game against Arkansas that they predominantly had control of. If the Vols can close out games the way they did against Kentucky, they’ll pick up some more good wins like the one they got on Saturday. Anytime you beat Kentucky, quite frankly, it’s a big deal. Their early season win over Purdue though, keeps looking better and better. Tennessee has to come off the big high and play in Nashville this evening, not an easy task. Then, Texas A&M makes the trip to Knoxville this weekend.

#5. Arkansas 11-4 (1-2) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Lost to Mississippi State 78-75, Lost to Auburn 88-77

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

When Arkansas plays at Bud Walton Arena, they’re extremely hard to beat. When the Razorbacks hit the road, well, they’re beatable as we saw twice this week. Auburn held Daryl Macon to just 10 points on Saturday evening, 6 of those coming in the last 4 minutes of the game. Macon had 33 against Tennessee but Auburn did a great job on him defensively. As a team, the Razorbacks just shot 4-19 from 3-point range Saturday. Another reason they lost twice this week: they didn’t reach 83 points. In all of their wins, the Hogs have scored at least 83 points and have lost all four contests where they have failed to reach that mark. Good news for Arkansas is they have 2 home games this week against LSU and Missouri and I have a feeling they will be tough to beat back home in Fayetteville.

#6. Georgia 11-3 (2-1) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Beat Ole Miss 71-60, Beat Alabama 65-46

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

For obvious reasons, Georgia fans probably didn’t play that much attention to their basketball team this week but Georgia took care of home court in their two wins this week. Yante Maten had a monster game on Saturday with 26 points and 11 rebounds in their win over Alabama. This week brings games that quite frankly, Georgia needs to win in order to boost their NCAA Tournament resume. They’re on the fringe of most experts brackets so they need to win these winnable games they have this week.

#7. Texas A&M 11-4 (0-3) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Lost to Florida 83-66, Lost to LSU 69-68

This Week: Tonight at #21 Kentucky, Saturday at #24 Tennessee

This week’s biggest loser and the only thing I can think is: What is going on in College Station? Injuries and suspensions have played a huge role in the Aggies struggles but losing your first 3 conference games is never a good look. They got DJ Hogg back from suspension for the LSU game but an incredible 3 pointer with 1 second left spoiled his return. They need to get healthy as they’re potentially staring at an 0-5 start to SEC play this week. Going to Rupp Arena is not a place you want to go if you’re desperate for a win. The talent is there but they need all their pieces back in order to be successful going forward this year. Now that I’ve said all of this, watch them go and beat Kentucky tonight. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me at all.

#8. LSU 10-4 (1-1) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Lost to Kentucky 74-71, Beat Texas A&M 69-68

This Week: Wednesday at Arkansas, Saturday vs. Alabama

Last week, I mentioned that LSU had a brutal start to their SEC play and well, they did alright. They got a good look at a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime against Kentucky that just didn’t go down. But when they needed one to go down Saturday, Tremont Waters hit one from near Houston. The freshmen for LSU has been a huge spark for Will Wade’s inaugural LSU squad. They have a tough test going to Bud Walton on Wednesday before getting Alabama at home this weekend.

#9. Missouri 11-4 (1-1) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Beat South Carolina 79-68, Lost to Florida 77-75

This Week: Wednesday vs. Georgia, Saturday at Arkansas

Missouri is probably going to look back at Saturday later this year and wonder what if. The Tigers had the ball with 5 seconds left in a tie game when they lost the ball and watched Chris Chiozza of Florida lay it in to take a win away from the Tigers. That’s a tough loss for any team to swallow. Of note in that game, Jordan Barnett had an impressive game with 28 points and 9 rebounds. We’ll see how Missouri responds as they entertain Georgia in the mid-week before heading to Fayetteville over the weekend.

#10. Mississippi State 13-2 (1-1) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat #22 Arkansas 78-75, Lost to Ole Miss 64-58

This Week: Wednesday at Florida, Saturday vs. #22 Auburn

Well Mississippi State, I was going to try and take you a bit more seriously after beating Arkansas last Tuesday and you give you a fairly big bump in this week’s rankings. Then you went and lost to Ole Miss on Saturday. Granted, the game was tied with 45 seconds left but the Rebels scored the game’s last 6 points. I did give them a small bump considering their win over Arkansas was by far their best on the season. They have a really tough test mid-week as they travel to Gainesville before hosting Auburn on Saturday. Rebounding will be key in that one as Mississippi State is a good rebounding team averaging 40.2 rebounds per game. Auburn must also do a good job of guarding the Weatherspoon brothers, Quinndary and Nick, who have combined to average 25.6 points per game this season.

#11. Alabama 9-6 (1-2) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Lost to Vanderbilt 76-75, Lost to Georgia 65-46

This Week: Tonight vs. South Carolina, Saturday at LSU

This was the SEC team in Alabama that was hyped as a really good team in the preseason but if one things for sure it’s this: Alabama Basketball is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get. One night they come out and look really good and blow out Texas A&M and then they go to bottom feeder Vandy and get down by 10 at halftime and couldn’t complete the comeback. And then there’s Saturday where they got 23 from Collin Sexton and 23 from... the rest of the team. Not good. Avery Johnson needs to stop worrying about Auburn’s schedule and get Collin Sexton some help if this team is going to go anywhere this year. Anyways, who knows what Alabama team we will see this week but to be honest, I’m sure many people in Tuscaloosa aren’t too worried about basketball right now.

#12. Ole Miss 9-6 (2-1) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Lost to Georgia 71-60, Beat Mississippi State 64-58

This Week: Tonight at #22 Auburn, Saturday vs. Florida

Ole Miss got a huge win on Saturday over Mississippi State. As they did in their New Year’s Eve win over South Carolina, there were able to pull out a really close game late against Mississippi State. The Rebels have been in a lot of close games and they are starting to win those games that they couldn’t earlier in the season. Definitely something to remember if tonight’s game is close. Like Auburn, the Rebels have a 9-man rotation that you will see tonight. Their leading scorer Deandre Burnett (14.4 ppg), had 21 in their win over Mississippi State but just 4 in their loss to Georgia. Their second leading scorer Terence Davis, who normally comes off the bench, has struggled mightily the last 3 games scoring just 10 points total. These two guards will be key for Auburn to slow down tonight.

#13. South Carolina 10-5 (1-2) - Last Week: 13

Last Week: Lost to Missouri 79-68, Beat Vanderbilt 71-60

This Week: Tonight at Alabama, Saturday at Georgia

South Carolina was in danger of dropping to the bottom of this writer’s power rankings before beating Vanderbilt on Saturday night. The Gamecocks got a career night from Chris Silva who scored 27 points and 8 rebounds in the win. South Carolina goes on the road twice this week where they probably wonder which Alabama will show and then go to Athens on Saturday.

#14. Vanderbilt 6-9 (1-2) - Last Week: 14

Last Week: Beat Alabama 76-75, Lost to South Carolina 71-60

This Week: Tonight vs. #24 Tennessee, Saturday vs. #21 Kentucky

One of the very few consistencies of this power ranking is this. Vanderbilt rounds out the SEC field for the 3rd straight week. They would have gotten out of the basement with a win over South Carolina but came up a bit short Saturday. They did however get on the board in SEC play when they held off Alabama last Tuesday. This week is not going to be easy for them but the one thing they have going for them, is both games are at home. Tennessee comes in off the high of beating Kentucky so we’ll see how the Vols respond after that game and it may play into Vandy’s hands a bit. Vandy surely will be ready Saturday when Kentucky rolls in as are most opponents when Big Blue Nation comes to town. A chance for some good wins this week for the Commodores.

Alright, there you have it! If you have a chance to get to Auburn tonight and support our Tigers against Ole Miss, please do so. I can’t wait for Auburn Arena to be rocking tonight. Let me know what you think of the rankings in the comments below and as always, War Eagle!