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SEC Power Rankings Volume IX

A lot of things can change over the next 2 weeks

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

Let me first begin by saying what I know about SEC Basketball this year.

Expect the Unexpected.

This has such a wild and crazy year in the SEC and with two weeks left in the season, who knows how this is going to play out. Welcome to the penultimate edition of SEC Power Rankings. Just when you think you have things figured out in this league, all of the top teams go out and lose, like they did on Saturday. When the SEC only sent 3 teams to the tournament 3 years ago, this is what the league envisioned. A competitive league with at least 6-7 teams having a legitimate argument to be an NCAA Tournament team. Now everyone in this league just keeps beating up on each other and there’s no nights off in this league. Need proof: look at the standings. 3rd-11th is separated by 2 games. The 4 teams tied for 3rd in this league are 8-6 right now. Each team has 4 games left and so much can change over that time. The SEC Tournament is going to be wild and it wouldn’t shock me to see a team seeded lower than 4 walking out of St. Louis with the SEC Tournament Championship. So let’s get started.

1. #12 Auburn 23-4 (11-3) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Beat Kentucky 76-66, Lost to South Carolina 84-75

This Week: Wednesday vs. Alabama (7:30PM), Saturday at Florida (7:30PM)

What has been an absolutely magical season for Auburn took an absolutely cruel turn for the SEC leaders on Saturday. But before we talk about that, let’s go back to Wednesday and talk about the Kentucky game.

The environment at Auburn Arena was simply incredible. You could tell early that the Tigers wanted to make that 3 to get the crowd going. It took awhile but Malik Dunbar made a 3 about 9 minutes in and the Tigers offense started clicking after beginning the game 1-16 from the floor. Bryce Brown had to shake some rust off after missing the Georgia and once he got his first 3 to fall, he began to have a rhythm as well. At halftime, it was 39-33 Auburn with the Tigers shooting just 30% at the half while Kentucky shot 46%. The offense was sluggish to start the second half as well. But the defense kept this team in the game, especially on the interior. Desean Murray and Anfernee McLemore played their absolute tails off inside. I find it remarkable that despite being 6-3 that Murray has a knack for the ball as he does. And by the way, he only had 1 foul against all of the big guys Kentucky threw at him. Remarkable. McLemore played an incredible 3-4 minute stretch where Auburn surged ahead for good, playing great defense and throwing down 2 dunks off of lobs that sent the arena into a frenzy. Bryce Brown’s 3 with 1:50 left put Auburn up 7 and you look at the final and somehow, despite the poor shooting performance, Auburn beat Kentucky by 10. And yet, it was expected. It was just Auburn’s 3rd win over Kentucky since 1990. The last 2 have happened in each of Kentucky’s last 2 visits to Auburn Arena. Things looked really good for Auburn and then Saturday happened.

After a hard-earned, well-fought victory over Kentucky Wednesday night, Auburn went to South Carolina and had their worst first half, by far, of the season. The Tigers couldn’t buy a bucket and the team shot 31.7% for the game, including 5-27 from 3-point range. Auburn’s first made basket outside of a layup or dunk came with 3:27 left as Jared Harper made Auburn’s first 3 of the game. South Carolina led 42-16 before that. And then when you think things couldn’t get worse, they did in the most heartbreaking way possible. Anfernee McLemore goes down with a gruesome season-ending injury. It’s a massive blow to what’s been a wonderful season so far for Auburn. You never want to see that happen to anybody, but to see a guy like McLemore who represents the school well on and off the court have this happen to him, it’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s heartbreaking. Seeing this now makes me sad but this might have been one of my favorite segments of the year, orchestrated by none other than McLemore.

As for the game, after finding themselves in a 26 point hole against the Gamecocks, and losing their best shot blocker, the Tigers responded in a way that we’ve seen all year long: they fought until the end. It started as a 21 point halftime deficit and slowly, the Tigers began to chip away. They got the deficit all the way down to 5 (should have been 2 but a really bad whistle derailed that). Desean Murray and Horace Spencer did their best to hold their own on the glass in McLemore’s absence. In the end, the Tigers simply ran out of gas. You could tell the last 3-4 minutes that they were unable to get the rebounds they were earlier and the team looked like they had used all of their energy up coming back. Still, you can’t question the heart of this team. Give credit to South Carolina, those guys were ready to play and Frank Martin and the rest of South Carolina folks should be applauded for their classiness shown to McLemore and Auburn during extremely tough circumstances.

Behind Bruce, Frank Martin is my favorite coach in this league and I will applaud him when his team comes to Auburn next weekend for the way he handled this situation. As for McLemore, his surgery according to Bruce went “extremely well,” and he looks to be on the front of the 4-6 month return timeline. We love you 24 and look forward to having you back on the court next season!

With all that said, it’s time to turn the page and look to the future and things don’t get any easier. Both of the Tigers opponents this week are two of the most unpredictable teams in the country this year. Alabama comes to Auburn Arena tomorrow night and this time, they will have Collin Sexton. Auburn will look to Horace Spencer and Chuma Okeke to play more minutes in McLemore’s absence. Horace will have to do a better job at not fouling because they no longer have the luxury of him and McLemore playing the 5. This would be a great time for Chuma to step up and show how huge of a piece he is going to be for the future of Auburn Basketball. Auburn will have also look to avenge their loss to Alabama back in January. As for Saturday, the Tigers will head to Gainesville to play a Florida team that is wildly inconsistent. Last week, the Gators lost to Georgia and Vanderbilt and have not looked as good as they did at the start of the year. Still, I expect Auburn to take every team’s best shot going forward and this week won’t be an exception.

2. #19 Tennessee 19-7 (9-5) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Beat South Carolina 70-67, Lost to Georgia 73-62

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

We should have seen the South Carolina game coming considering how close they were to knocking off the Vols in Knoxville. Tennessee was fortunate to escape their game against South Carolina before losing in Athens against Georgia. Grant Williams only scored 5 points in that one and the team shot less than 35% from the field for the game. Still considering what Auburn did to Georgia the previous weekend, it was a bit surprising to see the Vols fall. Like last week, the Vols will play Auburn’s weekend opponent at home during the week as Florida comes to Thompson-Boling Wednesday before the first of 2 games in Mississippi, starting with Ole Miss on Saturday.

Note: For spots 3-8, you could honestly throw the next 6 teams in a hat and draw to see which team belongs at 3. There is next to no separation between 3 & 8 and while there’s a number between each of them, you can easily make an argument to put these teams at a different place than where I have them.

3. Missouri 18-9 (8-6) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Beat #21 Texas A&M 62-58, Lost to LSU 64-63

This Week: Tonight vs. Ole Miss, Saturday at Kentucky

Missouri at 3? How did we get here? Well for one, everyone at the top of the conference lost this weekend. Second, they put the clamps down on the team that looked to be firing on all cylinders in Texas A&M. They held the Aggies to 23 first half points and continued to play well at home. On Saturday, Missouri forced a turnover with 5 seconds left in Baton Rouge and had some point blank range shots to beat LSU but were unable to get one to drop. Upon watching the replay of the finish, the officials let some contact go that could have easily been called (perhaps they learned from the end of the Auburn-A&M game?) I kid, but that’s a tough loss for Missouri. Despite that blemish, they’ve played well here recently and look to be on their way to the NCAA Tournament. As for Michael Porter Jr., he has a doctor appointment Thursday to see if he’s cleared to possibly return for the Tigers. If so, they could be an ultimate wild card team to watch come March.

4. Alabama 17-10 (8-6) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Beat LSU 80-65, Lost to Kentucky 81-71

This Week: Wednesday at #12 Auburn, Saturday vs. Arkansas

If there’s one thing that I’ve gotten right in this Power Ranking series, it’s calling 1-1 weeks for Alabama. Most of the time it’s been a win on the weekends but that changed this week. Alabama took care of business against LSU before taking on a desperate Kentucky team that had lost their previous 4. Collin Sexton only took 11 shots in both games, trending down just a little bit from earlier in the season. Sexton has also gotten some help from his teammates, Donta Hall and John Petty, who have helped him out a bit more here recently. Still, you just don’t know what to expect from this Alabama team. They know they’re heading into hostile territory tomorrow night when they visit the Plains before hosting Arkansas over the weekend.

5. Arkansas 19-8 (8-6) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Beat Ole Miss 75-64, Beat #21 Texas A&M 94-75

This Week: Tonight vs. Kentucky, Saturday at Alabama

Arkansas is the hottest team in the league right now winning 4 straight games, but the first 3 was against the Bottom 3 in the league. Thus, their 19-point win over Texas A&M is sure to get people’s attention. They got back to playing basketball the way they did earlier in the year and they’re tough to beat at home in Fayetteville. I said last week they needed to get a good win and they got one Saturday. Now Kentucky comes to town tonight and that’s certainly one to watch.

6. Florida 17-10 (8-6) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Lost to Georgia 72-69 (OT), Lost to Vanderbilt 71-68

This Week: Wednesday at #19 Tennessee, Saturday vs. #12 Auburn

I’m afraid to drop Florida any further than this because Auburn plays them this weekend, but right now, I don’t know what to expect out of the Gators. I don’t think anyone does. The Gators don’t have time to feel bad for themselves as they face the top 2 teams in the SEC. Time is running out for the Gators to figure things out. Auburn will have to do a good job defending Chris Chiozza and Igor Koulechov if they want to win in Gainesville Saturday.

7. Kentucky 18-9 (7-7) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Lost to #10 Auburn 76-66, Beat Alabama 81-71

This Week: Tonight at Arkansas, Saturday vs. Missouri

On a team full of McDonald’s All-Americans, they just can’t seem to put it all together. Coach Calipari just in his postgame press conference that the team doesn’t seem to trust him or each other. That’s not a good sign. Kevin Knox was great for 25 minutes here in Auburn and then totally disappeared. Knox didn’t have a field goal attempt, much less a point, in the last 13:50 of the game (except a desperation 3 in the last 30 seconds of the game.) The biggest mystery of that game was why the Wildcats went away from Knox late because I thought he was having a really good game. Auburn had trouble defending him and he was doing what he wanted to do. He got some help from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the 2nd half but other than those 2, they didn’t get much from the rest of their guys. The play that changed the game in my mind was Hamidou Diallo’s 3 that rattled around the entire rim, twice, and rolled out when Kentucky led by 4. It was all Auburn after that point. Kentucky bounced back to beat Alabama in Rupp and head to Bud Walton tonight. They’ll look to avenge a loss to Missouri over the weekend.

8. Texas A&M 17-10 (6-8) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Lost to Missouri 62-58, Lost to Arkansas 94-75

This Week: Tonight vs. Mississippi State. Saturday at Vanderbilt

I don’t know what to make of this team. At the beginning of league play, the Aggies started off 0-5. Then guys got healthy and the Aggies took off with their biggest wins coming over Auburn and Kentucky last week. Things looked up and I gave them a big boost as a result. Then two players were arrested for marijuana, one being kicked off the team. On top of that, Duane Wilson’s season ended with a knee injury that had been bothering him for several weeks. A&M has little in terms of depth at the guard position and it showed last week.

9. Mississippi State 19-8 (7-7) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Lost to Vanderbilt 81-80, Beat Ole Miss 79-62

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

We talked last week about Mississippi State’s crushing overtime loss to Missouri. The Bulldogs had another one in Nashville Wednesday as they lost by 1 on a buzzer beating 3 at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs were able to pick up the pieces and take care of business against their in-state rival. They need to finish strong if they want to see themselves in the field on Selection Sunday. That starts tonight in College Station.

10. Georgia 15-11 (6-8) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat Florida 72-69 (OT), Beat #18 Tennessee 73-62

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

Just when I had declared Georgia dead a week ago, they go and beat Florida in Gainesville and Tennessee at home. I couldn’t have seen this coming a week ago and neither did anyone else outside of Georgia’s locker room. Yante Maten knows this is last chance to make the NCAA Tournament and to his credit, he’s not going down without a fight. Down 6 with 25 seconds left, Maten made 2 3-pointers to send the game in Florida to overtime. Now Georgia has an outside chance at somehow getting back into this thing. It would help if they would take care of business this week.

11. South Carolina 14-13 (5-9) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Lost to #18 Tennessee 70-67, Beat #10 Auburn 84-75

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

When you beat a Top 10 at home for the first time since 2010, it’s a big win for your program. That’s what Frank Martin’s bunch did against Auburn over the weekend. It was a good week for South Carolina who played the Top 2 teams in the league really tough, losing by 3 in Knoxville before Saturday’s win. South Carolina came out ready to play and grabbed so many loose balls that we’ve been accustomed to seeing our team come up with and really dominated the offensive rebounds early and late in the game. They nearly blew a 26 point lead in this one but a lot of that can be attributed to Auburn’s fight. It’s foolish to count Frank Martin out but Auburn will get another crack at them on Senior Day.

12. LSU 15-11 (6-8) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Lost to Alabama 80-65, Beat Missouri 64-63

This Week: Tonight vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday at Georgia

LSU didn’t really do anything wrong this week, Georgia and South Carolina just had better wins this week, thus the bump down. They ran into good Alabama last Tuesday and while it was a close game at halftime, Alabama ran away from the Tigers in the 2nd half. But Will Wade’s team, succeeding expectations all year long, bounced back and knocked off a hot Missouri team in Baton Rouge. Tremont Waters continues to be great for LSU as he hit the game winner Saturday with 19 seconds left in a 21-point outing. Another hot team in Vandy comes to Baton Rouge before a visit to Georgia over the weekend.

13. Vanderbilt 11-16 (5-9) - Last Week: 14

Last Week: Beat Mississippi State 81-80, Beat Florida 71-68

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

Congratulations Vandy! It took 8 weeks but you’ve made it out of the cellar! The Commodores won their 5th straight home game and won two thrillers over Mississippi State and Florida at Memorial Gym. The first was a buzzer beating 3 by Riley LaChance.

When they lost a heartbreaker to Kentucky at Rupp before coming to Auburn, it was valid to wonder how they would respond. They played very well here and won 3 of their last 4 games after that game. Jeff Roberson was the SEC Player of the Week averaging 24 points and 9 rebounds in their 2 wins. The Dores have to go to Baton Rouge tonight but can continue to play spoiler at home when the Aggies come to town this weekend. This isn’t a team I want to play right now.

14. Ole Miss 11-16 (4-10) - Last Week: 13

Last Week: Lost to Arkansas 75-64, Lost to Mississippi State 79-62

This Week: Tonight at Missouri, Saturday vs. #19 Tennessee

It’s been a tough week in Oxford. Last Monday, Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss agreed to part ways at the end of the season. Then the team lost games to Arkansas and Mississippi State. Kennedy was extremely disappointed with his team’s effort after the game Tuesday. On Sunday it was announced that he was stepping down effective immediately because he felt like he was hurting the team with his presence, more than helping them. It was time for a change but this isn’t the way he wants to go out. Since beating Alabama, the Rebels have lost 7 straight games and have fallen to the bottom of this list.

That’s all for this week! Please comment below and let’s beat the heck outta Alabama tomorrow night! War Eagle!