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SEC Power Rankings Volume VIII

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Happy Auburn-Kentucky week everyone!!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 8th edition of SEC Power Rankings! It’s hard to believe we are two-thirds of the way through the SEC schedule but here we are. We’ve almost made it to the day I’ve had circled the biggest on my calendar for 6 months. No, not Valentine’s Day, but Auburn vs. Kentucky tomorrow night in Auburn Arena!! We’ve almost made it ya’ll!

Despite Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M, the Tigers start this week the same way they started last week, a 2 game lead on the rest of the SEC. (The 3 game lead no longer applies because Florida is now tied with Tennessee for 2nd and we haven’t played Florida yet.) But nevertheless, that week went as I expected. I was worried about that A&M game for weeks and Texas A&M have gotten their act together and played a great game here the other night. And despite being down 17 early in the second half, losing Bryce Brown to a shoulder injury, the Tigers came back and took the lead and had a shot at the end that darn near went in. Yes it was short, but it was certainly on line. If you weren’t proud of this team’s fight and resolve that night, I don’t know what to tell you. On Saturday, Auburn played one of their best defensive games of the year in Athens and bounced back with a 17-point win. We’ll get more into that here in a second. Despite Auburn’s loss, your Tigers stay at the top of the list for a 3rd straight week. Without any further ado, here’s the list for this week.

Biggest Riser: Texas A&M up 4 spots

Biggest Faller: Kentucky down 4 spots

That One Team That’s Currently 10-2 in the SEC: #10 Auburn 22-3 (10-2) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Lost to Texas A&M 81-80, Beat Georgia 78-61

This Week: Wednesday vs. Kentucky (8PM), Saturday at South Carolina (2:30PM)

In the first half against Texas A&M, the Tigers just didn’t seem to have it. There were some sloppy turnovers, missed 3-pointers and an opponent that was shooting lights out. And then Bryce Brown hurt his shoulder on a blocked dunk and the lead ballooned for the Aggies. Mustapha provided us with this highlight dunk right before the half. It was bold considering the score at the time.

A&M came out the locker room and the lead quickly rose to 17 points. Bryce Brown had an ice pack on his right shoulder and yet for some reason, I felt like we were going to be okay and make a run in that game. And did they ever! Mustapha and Jared put the team on their back and brought Auburn Arena back to life by coming all the way back to take a 2 point lead with 8 minutes left. Still, A&M’s offense was executing well and their big guys made life tough on our big guys.

The game unfortunately had some controversy at the end of it which is a shame because it ruined a great college basketball game. There were two very long reviews in this game that made the last 2 minutes of the game last a grand total of 25 real-time minutes. I don’t mind the reviews to get things right, but if you can’t make a definitive call in 2 minutes, the call on the court should stand, period. The flow of the game came to a crashing halt and it was very frustrating for all parties involved.

Having said that, did the ball go off of Horace’s hand on the first review? Yes.

Was Chuma’s heel on the restricted area line in the last 5 seconds of the game? Yes.

That one bothers me the most because the game should be put into the hands of the players, not the officials. I saw a play exactly like that the next night in the Duke-Carolina game with about a minute left and nothing was called. The call was very late and it really should have been a no-call and the players should have decided the game. That game might have gone to overtime and who knows what happens then. Still, if I had to lose a game (I never want to, to be clear), I’d rather of that happened on February 7th versus mid to late March.

So we go onto the Georgia game and obviously, Bryce sat out of the game which is a shame because I know how badly he wanted to play, especially in Georgia. One thing that is very noticeable about this Auburn team is where these guys are from and you know Georgia fans had to be kicking themselves when the starting lineup was announced. Jared Harper, from Mableton GEORGIA. Anfernee McLemore from Warwick GEORGIA. (Bryce from Stone Mountain GEORGIA would have been announced if he had played.) And then two guys that had major contributions off the bench: Chuma Okeke from Atlanta GEORGIA and Davion Mitchell had one of his best games of the season, who is from Hinesville GEORGIA. You get the point. 5 of Auburn’s 9 primary players come from the state of Georgia and they wanted nothing more than to go to Athens and beat their home state team, which they did.

Jared Harper scored 12 of the team’s first 19 points and many of those were driving to the basket with little resistance. Georgia adjusted to this and the Bulldogs cut Auburn’s lead down to 2 right before the half before a 7-0 run at the end of the half put Auburn up 40-31 at halftime. Mustapha also broke a Georgia player’s ankles in the first half.

From my vantage point, I initially thought he pushed off, but no, he took that guy to school.

In the second half, Auburn couldn’t hit anything early, not even a free throw. When has Jared Harper missed 3 straight free throws this year? Malik Dunbar, who started his first game with Auburn in Brown’s absence, missed 2 as well and the Tigers struggled mightily the first 7 minutes of the half, scoring just 5 points. Georgia cut the lead down to 4 but never got any closer. The defense did a terrific job of maintaining Yante Maten and smothering the Bulldogs offense into bad turnovers and bad shots.

Once Auburn found their stroke, this game was over. Davion hit big 3 midway through the second half and then back to back 3’s by Chuma and Malik put Auburn up 16 with 6 minutes left and that’s when the Bulldog fans had seen enough. With about 3:30 left, Mustapha put this game on ice with this reverse dunk.

Auburn did all of this without having the services of Desean Murray for all of the second half who dealt with cramping issues. Watch this play to see what Murray means to this team, it’s awesome.

Murray should be good to go the rest of the way and Bryce practiced yesterday so I think he’s got a fairly good chance of playing tomorrow night. Auburn won a road game going away, without their leading scorer and flat out embarrassed Georgia in the process. Auburn had not beaten Georgia twice in the same season since the 1985-1986 season. in this year of streak breaking: Another game, another streak broken.

Time to look ahead now and words can’t begin to describe how excited I am for tomorrow night. It doesn’t matter how Kentucky has struggled at times this year, THIS is the home game I and many of you been waiting for all season long for. I don’t think anybody could have imagined that Auburn would be the Top 10 team in this game before the season, while Kentucky is unranked, but here we are. Kentucky has lost 3 in a row for the first time since Calipari took over. Kevin Knox is one of Kentucky’s big guys that will be a tough matchup for us. He leads the team averaging 15 points per game and has the ability to go for 30+ as he did in Morgantown, but has also mightily struggled at times this year, (5 points at Missouri). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (13.1 ppg) has been the most consistent guard that Kentucky has had all season. Those are the Wildcats two leading scorers but Kentucky has multiple weapons and I still think the Wildcats are going to figure it out this year. I just hope it doesn’t happen until after Wednesday night.

I’ll close with this section with a Public Service Announcement. I think that instead of giving Tony Barbee a bunch of crap Wednesday night, let’s thank him. Thank him for putting Auburn in the position where they ultimately hired Bruce Pearl. Barbee as many of you know is now an assistant at Kentucky and did not make the trip the last time Big Blue Nation invaded the Plains. He went on a “recruiting trip” so this would be his first visit back since he was fired 4 years ago, if he comes. I’ve never met him or crossed paths and everything I’ve heard isn’t positive but still, let’s take the high road here. If you don’t take that advice from me, take it from Bruce, who said as much in his press conference so please, just don’t be that person that says or does something really dumb that puts a bad mark around the Auburn name.

2. #18 Tennessee 18-6 (8-4) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Beat #24 Kentucky 61-59, Lost to Alabama 78-50

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

What was that Tennessee? I expected you to lose to Alabama last weekend, but not by 28 points while only scoring 50 points! But when you shoot 27% for the entire game, those things happen. The best thing for the Vols to do is throw out the tape and move on to the next one. Despite the loss, I’m fine leaving Tennessee in the 2 spot this week. Tennessee had pulled within a game of Auburn after defeating Kentucky for the second time this season in a 61-59 nail-biter at Rupp Arena. It’s the first time Tennessee has swept Kentucky in the regular season since the 1998-1999 season. Still, I think Tennessee will be just fine, everyone has at least one or two games in the year that are absolute clunkers and Saturday qualifies as one for them.

3. Florida 17-8 (8-4) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Beat LSU 73-64, Beat South Carolina 65-41

This Week: Wednesday vs. Georgia, Saturday at Vanderbilt

The Gators got back on track this week after the wheels came off at home against Alabama last week. They took care of business against LSU before holding South Carolina to just 41 points in Columbia. That’s more like the Gators I’ve come to expect. For weeks, I have mentioned the impending return of John Egbunu but that looks less likely as he’s yet to practice with the team as he tries to recover from a torn ACL he suffered a year ago this Wednesday. The Gators will have to press on with him as they have had to all season. They will look to exact revenge on Georgia at home tomorrow night before a tricky trip to Nashville to take on Vandy.

4. #21 Texas A&M 17-8 (6-6) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Beat #8 Auburn 81-80, Beat #24 Kentucky 85-74

This Week: Tonight at Missouri, Saturday at Arkansas

Texas A&M is good and my goodness, what a difference two weeks make. The Aggies have won 4 in a row and have suddenly put themselves back into the conversation of a team that can make noise in March. I didn’t want to give up on Texas A&M but after losing to Kansas, I finally dropped the hammer on them 2 weeks ago because they were struggling mightily and I began wondering if they would get it together. Despite this, I was concerned about their looming visit to the Plains because I knew they would be ready to play. A fully healthy Texas A&M is one of the best teams in the conference. We saw that team here last Wednesday and they were as good as advertised. Their size overwhelmed our big guys and Robert Williams is the real deal.

Freshmen TJ Starks had a breakout game for the Aggies, scoring a career-high 23 points and looks to be one of the SEC’s best up and coming guards looking into the future. He backed that performance up against Kentucky scoring 17. He’ll have to be more of an impactful player as A&M lost senior guard Duane Wilson for the rest of the year with a knee injury. The grad transfer from Marquette was the guy who scrambled for a loose ball with Mustapha late in the 1st half and fell to the ground as Heron threw down a highlight reel dunk. Apparently, he’s been playing with a partially torn ACL and towards the end of the Kentucky game, the knee looked to finally give out, ending his collegiate career. On top of that, A&M had two reserve guards get arrested for marijuana after the Kentucky game and one has been dismissed and the other suspended indefinitely. A&M’s guard depth will be severely tested as we wind down the season. Best wishes to Duane Wilson!

5. Missouri 17-8 (7-5) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Beat Ole Miss 75-69, Beat Mississippi State 89-85 (OT)

This Week: Tonight vs. #21 Texas A&M, Saturday at LSU

Imagine if this team had Michael Porter Jr. for the entire season. Now imagine if this team gets Michael Porter Jr. back for the stretch run. It sounds more and more likely that this is going to become a reality. If Porter does return, this has the makings of a dangerous team and one that will be a tough out in St. Louis and probably the NCAA Tournament. Last week, Missouri joined Auburn as the only SEC teams to win a game in Oxford this season. The Tigers had complete control of the game against Mississippi State until they didn’t. They blew a 12 point lead with 1:37 left but were able to pull the game out in overtime thanks to a Kevin Puryear 3-pointer and a questionable foul call (read more to see what I’m talking about). But first the Puryear 3...

Like Texas A&M, Missouri has won 4 straight games and will look to avenge an 11-point loss earlier this season in College Station tonight in CoMo. This has the makings of one of the best games in the SEC this week.

6. Alabama 16-9 (7-5) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Lost to Mississippi State 67-63, Beat #15 Tennessee 78-50

This Week: Tonight vs. LSU, Saturday at Kentucky

A two spot drop for a team by beat the second best team in the conference by 28. Why? Well, stop consistently dropping games against teams you should beat and you won’t get dropped. As predicted by yours truly last week, the Tide went to Starkville and lost a close one before bouncing back to knock off Tennessee. They’re becoming a weekend team and struggling during the week. They’re last midweek win was against Auburn nearly a month ago. Also, it’s hard to ignore what Texas A&M did last week, as did Missouri. And Missouri’s head to head win over Alabama is why Missouri moved up to 5 this week. On Tuesday, Collin Sexton led the Tide with 18 points, but was just 5-16 from the field including 0-7 from 3-poing range. Fast forward to Saturday and he was 6-10 for 16 points but the team also got 17 points and 11 rebounds from Donta Hall. John Petty also scored 14 Saturday while only scoring 5 on Tuesday. Fact is Alabama a much better team when it’s not just the Collin Sexton show. The team shot 57% for the game while Tennessee was held to just 27% shooting for the game. The roller coaster continues this week as LSU comes calling tonight before a trip to Rupp Arena over the weekend before the rematch here in Auburn next Wednesday. My best guess is that Alabama will find a way to go 1-1 again this week somehow someway.

7. Kentucky 17-8 (6-6) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Lost to #15 Tennessee 61-59, Lost to Texas A&M 85-74

This Week: Wednesday at #10 Auburn, Saturday vs. Alabama

With Auburn next on the schedule, I hesitate placing Kentucky so low in the rankings. But after a 3 game losing streak (should be 4 but got bailed out against Vanderbilt), the Wildcats will limp into town after getting blown out in the second half at Texas A&M. I don’t know how I really feel about Kentucky coming in here tomorrow night with a 3 game losing streak. On the one hand, part of me thinks they can pull a Texas A&M and get out of here with a signature win. On the other hand, Auburn could also run them out of the gym and the Jungle has one big party. That remains to be seen. If things stay status quo, there’s going to be some anxious moments in Lexington coming down the stretch. After their trip to Auburn, they host Alabama (who will be scheduled to play well), at Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss, and at Florida to close the year. A 3-3 finish would have them at 9-9 in the conference and their best non-conference wins are West Virginia followed by Virginia Tech? Their best conference win right now is against a shorthanded Texas A&M team. Not terrible, but not great either. I think Kentucky will still get in and be in the 7-9 seed range and nobody would want anything to do with them in the NCAA Tournament. About six years ago, they were an 8 seed in the tournament and made it all the way to the National Championship game. Not saying that will happen again but anything is possible in this wild college basketball season. There is one statistic that will play a HUGE part in the outcome tomorrow. Kentucky is 3rd in the country in 3-point defense at 29.1%. What is Auburn’s strength? 3-point shooting. That is one of the many things to keep an eye on tomorrow night. Remember, Auburn only shot 9-26 in the loss to Alabama and 7-21 from 3 against Texas A&M.

8. Mississippi State 18-7 (6-6) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Beat Alabama 67-63, Lost to Missouri 89-85 (OT)

This Week: Wednesday at Vanderbilt, Saturday vs. Ole Miss

Mississippi State was absolutely robbed at the end of overtime against Missouri. What you’re about to see was called a foul in a 2-point game with 5 seconds left. We can empathize here in Auburn about a call made late when the whistles should have definitely been swallowed. (And this shouldn’t be a foul, period).

If you had any question about Mississippi State’s fight, watch the last 1:37 of regulation against Missouri. Down 12 late, the Bulldogs furiously rallied by forcing turnovers and forced overtime before falling by 4 in overtime. This will be a tough pill for the Bulldogs to swallow as this win would have gone a long way for them looking to March. Quite frankly, they deserved a better fate. I lamented over this game so much and yet, they did knock off Alabama at home earlier in the week. The Bulldogs have 2 games against Vandy and Ole Miss that they need to win to stay in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament spot.

9. Arkansas 17-8 (6-6) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat South Carolina 81-65, Beat Vanderbilt 72-54

This Week: Tonight at Ole Miss, Saturday vs. #21 Texas A&M

The Razorbacks returned to the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena and did what they’re supposed to do. They beat 2 of the bottom teams in the league and while that’s great, they need to beat some quality competition. Daryl Macon scored at least 20 points for the 7th straight game. Daniel Gafford provided one of the best sequences of the week by blocking a shot on one end, running the floor and throwing a windmill dunk down on the other.

They hit the road for a winnable game in Oxford tonight, and they have a chance for a big win I alluded to earlier when the Aggies come to Fayetteville Saturday.

10. LSU 14-10 (5-7) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Lost to Florida 73-64, Beat Ole Miss 82-66

This Week: Tonight at Alabama, Saturday vs. Missouri

LSU split their games this week, losing a fairly close one at Florida before bouncing back to beat Ole Miss at home. I don’t think this team will make the Tournament this year but the NIT in Year 1 of Will Wade considering the mess he took over in Baton Rouge would be quite an accomplishment. They have a shot tonight in Tuscaloosa as Alabama will be scheduled to not show up before hosting Missouri over the weekend.

11. Georgia 13-11 (4-8) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Lost to Vanderbilt 81-66, Lost to #8 Auburn 78-61

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

I was in Athens on Saturday. It was a big game for them as they desperately needed a win to get themselves back in the thick of things regarding being on the bubble. They honored several former Georgia players at halftime of the game. I’m sure they definitely were less than impressed by what they saw from the current group of Bulldogs. The fans certainly were and began heading to the exits with about 6 minutes left after Auburn had built a 16-point lead. Having a “Let’s Go Auburn” and “It’s Great to be an Auburn Tiger” chant resonating throughout your building the last 4-5 minutes of the game is not a good look for Mark Fox. Yante Maten threw down a nice dunk late in the game and none of the Georgia fans seemed to care that much. All of these were telling things at the state of things basketball wise in Athens, Georgia.

Do you really want to know how bad things are in Athens? Check out this Snapchat filter that was running rampant while we were in Athens this weekend.

This says it all. I think the Mark Fox era in Athens is all but over at this point. It’s his 9th season there and with one of the best players in the SEC in his senior season, the Bulldogs look like they’ll be on the wrong side of the bubble again. And I haven’t even mentioned that this team lost by 15 to Vanderbilt earlier in the week, meaning the Bulldogs have lost 3 straight by 15+ since beating Florida on January 30. They’ll need to go on a run like they did in 2008 through the SEC Tournament to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament.

12. South Carolina 13-12 (4-8) - Last Week: 13

Last Week: Lost to Arkansas 81-66, Lost to Florida 65-41

This Week: Tonight at #18 Tennessee, Saturday vs. #10 Auburn

I’m a fan of good offensive basketball. South Carolina scored 41 points over 40 minutes against Florida Saturday. That’s not good offensive basketball. It doesn’t get any easier this week as they play at Tennessee tonight and then Auburn visits on Saturday. It will be the first of 2 matchups over the next 3 weeks for Auburn and South Carolina. Chris Silva is the main focal guy for Auburn to defend, kind of like Yante Maten is for Georgia. South Carolina averages just 69 points per game, 287th in the country. They have wins over Kentucky and Florida though so Auburn will need to be ready to play when they head to the Palmetto State this weekend.

13. Ole Miss 11-14 (4-8) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Lost to Missouri 75-69, Lost to LSU 82-66

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

I’m really glad Auburn finally beat Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss at Auburn Arena this year because it will be his final visit to Auburn as the coach at Ole Miss. Kennedy and the school announced yesterday that they will be parting ways at the end of the season. I must say I’ve seen this coming for quite awhile as it’s been a tough season for the Rebels. Ole Miss has lost 5 straight games and it just seemed like it was time for a change in Oxford. That is now officially going to happen.

14. Vanderbilt 9-16 (3-9) - Last Week: 14

Last Week: Beat Georgia 81-66, Lost to Arkansas 72-54

This Week: Wednesday vs. Mississippi State, Saturday vs. Florida

The Commodores backed up their solid performance in a losing effort against Auburn with a 15-point win over Georgia. The Dores hit 11 3s in the victory and won the game despite Jeff Roberson only scoring 11 after torching Auburn for 30 in Auburn Arena. Saben Lee, a freshman that played well here, had 19 points in the win. Vanderbilt was a perfect 16-16 from the free throw line. Had they done the same at Bud Walton Arena, they would have left the cellar of this Power Rankings for the first time all season. But Vanderbilt shot just 25% from the field in Fayetteville and had nobody in double figures scoring. A couple home games for the Dores this week as Mississippi State and Florida come to the Music City.

That’s it for me this week! I look forward to being in a raucous Auburn Arena tomorrow night! War Eagle!