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SEC Power Rankings Volume X

It’s the season finale of the inaugural Power Rankings!

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

Well guys, this has been a lot of fun. When I envisioned this idea over Winter Break, I thought this would be a great way for me and others to keep up with what’s going on in SEC Basketball. I had no idea that the SEC was going to be as wild, crazy, and unpredictable as it has been. I’ve been wrong A LOT this year but that’s the beauty of college basketball. It’s so hard to predict and you’re often more surprised than not. We’re on the home stretch now and this is the last week of the regular season. That’s hard to believe because I feel like we just started! But that’s the typical college basketball season, it goes extremely quick and then you’re counting down the days until it starts again. I have no idea how this week is going to shape up but there are countless possibilities, and scenarios that will unfold.

Also this week, we’re going to look at where I currently see each team regarding their NCAA Tournament chances. I think there are 3 locks in the SEC at the moment, 2 more teams that are very likely in good shape and 4 more that have some work to do. The rest need a lot of things to go their way the next 2 weeks but as crazy as this league has been this year, nothing will be ruled out. Let’s get started!

1. #14 Auburn 24-5 (12-4) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Beat Alabama 90-71, Lost to Florida 72-66

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

Tournament Chances: Lock

There was a lot uncertainly for Auburn going into the Alabama game. How would Auburn respond not only after a loss to South Carolina, but the loss of Anfernee McLemore? And then, the announcement was made that Mustapha Heron was out with a stomach virus which left Auburn with 7 guys. But this game was an opportunity. An opportunity for Chuma Okeke, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer and others to step up. I don’t think a lot of people knew what to expect as the game tipped. This game was an opportunity. An opportunity for guys like Chuma Okeke, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer and others to step up to take on more roles. They all did that on Wednesday night.

This is my 4th SEC year watching Auburn basketball here in Auburn and Wednesday night was the best atmosphere I’ve been a part of in my time here. The place was rocking for 40 minutes and it was obvious the players fed off that emotion and energy that was shown all throughout Auburn Arena. Auburn jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 70 seconds and the place was going to quote the late Jim Fyffe, “Wacko!” Don’t believe me, take a look.

Alabama settled into the game and got the game tied at 30 until another late run at the end of the half. Chuma and Bryce each hit a 3 and Auburn went to the locker room up by 5. One of the key moments of the game was Pat Keim’s cameo as Bruce was obviously looking to steal a minute and allow Jared to rest briefly. I don’t care they called it a foul, Pat Keim stole the ball from Collin Sexton and that’s someone nobody can deny it.

This was about the point of the game when Chuma took the game over. He scored 10 of his 16 points in about a 5 minute stretch including this....

Chuma’s going to be a star on this team and it’s his time to assert himself with Anferenee done for the season. Amidst this, Bryce Brown hit this 3 to put Auburn up 6 at about the 12 minute mark.

Shortly after this, Auburn began to pull away. Davion Mitchell got in on the party and hit back to back 3s in less than a minute to put Auburn up by 15. And then, I feel like it’s been awhile since we’ve had a signature Malik Dunbar slam dunk moment but in a career night for Dunbar with 14 points and 7 rebounds, he gave us that highlight.

But wait! There’s more.

On Auburn’s next possession, Bryce missed a 3 but Horace Spencer was there with a follow up jam that REALLY brought the house down.

Dang Horace, Malik has a family! But yeah, Charles Barkley’s reaction to this play said it all, it was a dominating win for Auburn on this night avenging the loss on “Snow Day” in Tuscaloosa.

There’s an obvious connection between the two games. In the first Alabama game, Collin Sexton didn’t play and nobody knew he wouldn’t until right before tipoff. On Wednesday night, with no Heron, I’m sure Alabama had the same issue as I would imagine they had prepared a lot to maintain Heron. Auburn also didn’t see John Petty make 8 3-pointers like he did in Tuscaloosa. In fact, he was scoreless until the last 30 seconds.. of the game.

As for Saturday, I’ve said this for weeks but I knew that this was going to be a tough game for Auburn. Florida had a 3 game losing streak coming into this one and knew Auburn could clinch a share of the SEC Championship with a win on their home floor. Florida was having none of that. The O-Dome is the basketball version of LSU’s Death Valley in Football as the Tigers have not won in Gainesville since 1996. Florida made their 3-pointers, it seemed liked every time Auburn would make 1, Florida would respond with one on the other end. Mustapha Heron returned to the lineup and led the Tigers with 22 points and Chuma had his 2nd straight double-double 12 points and 10 rebounds. Auburn didn’t shoot the ball terribly in this one but turnovers were a story in this one as Auburn committed 16 turnovers Saturday night. And yet, despite not playing their best, Auburn did what they’ve done time and time again this year, they kept playing and fighting. A 14-point early second half deficit was wiped out as the Tigers came all the way back to take the lead late. However, Auburn just couldn’t get stops at the very end of the game and it was a tough loss for Auburn.

Time to look ahead now and I heard a couple of noteworthy things from Bruce Pearl’s press conference yesterday. First, the guys were mentally and physically exhausted after the Alabama game and quite frankly, they looked it on Saturday. Second, the key to beating Auburn is slowing down Jared Harper. Jared didn’t have one of his best games Saturday night. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come out and have a monster game tonight in Fayetteville. The Tigers have responded to each loss this year with a double digit win. Also, Auburn hopes to get Bryce Brown going again. He’s 7-33 (21.2%) from 3-point range in the last 3 games and clearly hasn’t been the same since his shoulder injury. If this team wants to have success in March, they need Harper and Brown to be on their A game. Tonight is going to be a really tough game. The Hogs play well at Bud Walton Arena and while Auburn won there the last time they played, it’s one of the toughest venues in the country. But perhaps Fayetteville is what Bryce Brown needs as he made 9 3-pointers the last time he was there. It’s also Senior Night for the Razorbacks so you know that Mike Anderson will have his guys ready to play. Saturday is a revenge game as Frank Martin brings his South Carolina team to the Plains. If Auburn can get a split at worst this week, they’ll be the #1 seed in St. Louis. But an outright SEC title would obviously be sweeter.

2. #16 Tennessee 21-7 (11-5) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Beat Florida 62-57, Beat Ole Miss 73-65

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

Tournament Chances: Lock

The Vols continue to make things difficult for Auburn as they took care of business against Florida and Ole Miss last week. They were able to hang on in Oxford after building a big lead early. They got the win despite only 6 points from Grant Williams, one of the frontrunners for SEC Player of the Year. He scored 23 in the win over Florida. While the Vols got it done in Oxford Saturday, tonight they move down the road to Starkville as they complete the Mississippi 2-Step. Tennessee can put even more pressure on Auburn by winning this one tonight. The Bulldogs are extremely tough at home and hopefully the Hump will be rocking for this one. The Vols close their season with Georgia who will desperately looking for a signature win to put on their resume. Honestly, Auburn and Tennessee’s are comparable as they have tricky road games tonight and challenging but winnable home games this weekend.

3. #23 Kentucky 20-9 (9-7) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Beat Arkansas 87-72, Beat Missouri 87-66

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

Tournament Chances: Lock

It certainly looks like the postgame press conference here in Auburn really galvanized Calipari and the Cats. Since leaving Auburn after saying it was his fault that the players didn’t trust him or each other, Kentucky has reeled off 3 double digit wins over 3 teams that look like NCAA Tournament teams. Their win at Arkansas was extremely impressive considering they fell down 11-0 early and completely took Arkansas’s crowd out of the game. Then on Saturday, they destroyed Missouri getting 6 guys to score in double figures led by Kevin Knox’s 24. This team might be peaking at the right time and that’s bad news for the rest of the SEC. But didn’t we all expect this was going to happen at some point. Kentucky is too talented to play the way they were playing for the majority of this SEC season.

4. Arkansas 20-9 (9-7) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Lost to Kentucky 87-72, Beat Alabama 76-73

This Week: Tonight vs. #14 Auburn, Saturday at Missouri

Tournament Chances: Very Likely

I’ve never seen Bud Walton as quiet for a big game as they were last Tuesday against Kentucky. I don’t expect that crowd to be like that tonight. After an 11-0 start against Kentucky, the Razorbacks just didn’t have it in the second half and Kentucky took full advantage. However, despite their highly documented road woes, they went into Tuscaloosa and pulled that one out. 5 Hogs scored in double figures against Alabama and similar results tonight would certainly help take the load off of Daryl Macon and Jalen Barford. Other than Daniel Gafford, all of Arkansas’s starters will be playing their final home game at Bud Walton tonight. Daryl Macon had a rough time against Auburn in the first matchup scoring just 10 points. I would imagine he’ll want to rectify that in his final appearance in Fayetteville. Arkansas has won 8 of their last 11 games so Auburn has a very tough task tonight. Arkansas will then face Missouri over the weekend in what will be a huge game for Missouri.

5. Florida 18-11 (9-7) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Lost to #19 Tennessee 62-57, Beat #12 Auburn 72-66

This Week: Tonight at Alabama, Saturday vs. #23 Kentucky

Tournament Chances: Very Likely

Florida’s early season wins over Gonzaga and Cincinnati are going to help them in March, but they needed that game on Saturday badly. Coming in, they were losers of 3 straight and showing inconsistency that would make Alabama look consistent, the Gators found their 3-point stroke Saturday night. Kevaughn Allen who was scoreless in Knoxville went off on Auburn, going for 24 points, including 6-10 from 3-point range. One of those was quite impressive, and quite simply, ridiculous.

I also want to give freshmen Dontay Bassett some credit. He came into the game Saturday averaging just 1.4 points per game but scored 12 against the Tigers. Florida has played a lot of close SEC games which is something Auburn hasn’t and I think that had a bit to do with how things turned out Saturday night. The Gators made plays in the last minute and defended Auburn’s last chance well to force a bad shot from Auburn. Florida has a couple of big ones to try and boost their seeding as they are in Tuscaloosa tonight for the battle of SEC Roller Coaster teams and then host a hot Kentucky team to end the year.

6. Missouri 18-11 (8-8) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Lost to Ole Miss 90-87 (OT), Lost to Kentucky 87-66

This Week: Tonight at Vanderbilt, Saturday vs. Arkansas

Tournament Chances: Work to Do

I’m sorry Missouri. I took a chance at putting you really high in the Power Rankings and you go and lose at home... to Ole Miss? With an interim coach? Yikes... to make matters worse, they went to Lexington and got blown out. But that’s not what everybody in CoMo and the country is talking about. It’s this. Last Thursday, Michael Porter Jr. was cleared for all basketball activities. The million dollar question is whether or not he will play. Porter has only played 2 minutes this year but there is no question he would make Cuonzo Martin’s team better. There are certainly pros and cons to the decision but surely Missouri will make the best decision for Porter. Missouri looked pretty good until last week’s hiccups and really need to take care of business this week. That starts tonight at Vanderbilt before welcoming Arkansas on Saturday. 10-8 in the SEC should be enough to get Missouri into the Tournament or else they need to hold serve at home next week and do damage in the SEC Tournament.

7. Mississippi State 21-8 (9-7) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Beat Texas A&M 93-81, Beat South Carolina 72-68 (OT)

This Week: Tonight vs. #16 Tennessee, Saturday at LSU

Tournament Chances: Work to Do

The most curious team in the SEC in regards to bubble talk is Mississippi State. Yes they are 21-8 with a 9-7 SEC mark, BUT, they’re non-conference schedule was horrendous. Their Strength of Schedule was around 300 at the start of league play. That’s been holding them back but honestly, I think the Bulldogs deserve a spot in the field. They are 18-1 at home with their only loss in Starkville coming to Auburn. After heartbreakers at Missouri and Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs have won 3 straight. The most impressive of the 3 wins was beating A&M by 12 in College Station. Abdul Ado led Miss State with 19 points and 9 rebounds in that one but got multiple contributions from their team. Ado will be a problem for SEC teams in the future with his 6-11 frame. They beat South Carolina in Overtime and have a huge opportunity for a signature win Tuesday night that would greatly improve their chances. Tennessee comes into town and what will be a huge matchup for Ben Howland’s team. Win this game, and you can move this team to likely status and make a bunch of people in Auburn very happy.

8. Alabama 17-12 (8-8) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Lost to #12 Auburn 90-71, Lost to Arkansas 76-73

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

Tournament Chances: Work to Do

We’ve been used to talking about a 1-1 week for Alabama but this week, they went 0-2 and have lost 3 straight. If you look at Bracketology’s across the board, the experts have Alabama pretty safely in the field as an 8 or 9 seed. That might be in jeopardy if they have another week like last week. We’ve already talked at length about the game and while Collin Sexton had 25 points, he got no help from John Petty who simply couldn’t buy a bucket here in Auburn. On Saturday, Braxton Key led the Tide with 16 points and Alabama had a chance to tie the game but missed a half court shot at the buzzer. They have a huge game tonight against Florida. I think if they win tonight, their NCAA chances would drastically improve. If not, that A&M game will be massive for both teams bubble chances.

9. Texas A&M 18-11 (7-9) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Lost to Mississippi State 93-81, Beat Vanderbilt 89-81

This Week: Wednesday at Georgia, Saturday vs. Alabama

Tournament Chances: Work to Do

It’s still hard to know what to expect out of this Texas A&M team. Injuries and suspensions have really derailed this team’s full potential. Beating Vanderbilt was huge for their confidence as the Aggies went into that one losers of 3 straight. A 9-9 SEC record would look much better than 8-10 so they really need both of these games this week. The matchup of Robert Williams vs. Yante Maten is interesting to watch on Wednesday before the Aggies look to the pre-New Year’s blowout at Alabama on Senior Day. If the Aggies somehow lose both this week, there will be anxious moments in College Station as they prepare for the SEC Tournament. A 7-11 SEC record would NOT be a good look.

10. Georgia 16-12 (7-9) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Lost to South Carolina 66-57, Beat LSU 93-82

This Week: Wednesday vs. Texas A&M, Saturday at #16 Tennessee

Tournament Chances: Need a good SEC Tournament or NIT

I would like for somebody to tell me how Georgia scored 93 points on Saturday. This was the most surprising thing I saw. In their 15 previous SEC game, the Bulldogs were averaging just 64.7 points per game. Check out Yante Maten’s stat line Saturday against LSU: 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks. In addition to Maten, they got a career high 21 points off the bench from Rayshaun Hammonds. And the other crazy thing about this offensive outburst was they missed 17 free throws (28-45)! To quote one of my favorite college basketball guys to follow on Twitter, “Free Throws are Free!” Every game is a must win for Georgia at this point as a sweep this week would get them to 9-9 in the league and they might have a shot at sneaking into the field with a run in St. Louis.

11. LSU 16-12 (7-9) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Beat Vanderbilt 88-78, Lost to Georgia 93-82

This Week: Wednesday at South Carolina Saturday vs. Mississippi State

Tournament Chances: Win the SEC Tournament, or most Likely NIT

Looking at what Tremont Waters is doing to some of the other SEC teams makes what Auburn did to him even more impressive (4 points, 0 assists, 6 turnovers). Waters scored 28 points and had 9 assists in the win over Vanderbilt. He had 25 points in the loss to Georgia. In his last 3 games, he’s averaging 24.7 points per game. While I know he won’t win SEC Freshmen of the Year, he certainly deserves to be in the conversation. As I’ve said before, this is most likely a NIT team and that’s a nice accomplishment for the Bayou Bengals. If Waters returns for his sophomore season, which I truly hope he does, this will be a Top 5 team in the league next year.

12. South Carolina 15-14 (6-10) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat Georgia 66-57, Lost to Mississippi State 72-68 (OT)

This Week: Wednesday vs. LSU, Saturday at #14 Auburn

Tournament Chances: Win the SEC Tournament or bust

South Carolina followed their win over Auburn with a win over Georgia. They then fell in a tough one in Starkville. Hassani Gravett did provide one of the best plays in the SEC this week with a buzzer beating 3 that sent the game to overtime.

They host LSU before Auburn gets a chance to avenge their loss to the Gameocks in the final home game here in Auburn this year. Stating the obvious but it will very imperative for Auburn to not allow South Carolina to start that game the same way the game started in Columbia.

13. Ole Miss 12-17 (5-11)

Last Week: Beat Missouri 90-87 (OT), Lost to #19 Tennessee 73-65

This Week: Wednesday at #23 Kentucky, Saturday vs. Vanderbilt

Tournament Chances: Win the SEC Tournament or bust

So Andy Kennedy quits on his team and Ole Miss does the improbable by going on the road and beating a hot Missouri team in overtime. Impressive. Against Tennessee, they fell down 20 early but made a game of it in the second half before falling to the Vols. Still, it seems as if Kennedy’s departure may have galvanized the team and they’ll bear watching going forward.

14. Vanderbilt 11-18 (5-11)

Last Week: Lost to LSU 88-78, Lost to Texas A&M 89-81

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

Tournament Chances: Win the SEC Tournament or bust

Their time out of the basement lasted a week. A couple of tough losses for Vandy this past week puts them back at the bottom. Give them some credit though for battling back against Texas A&M, it was similar to Auburn against South Carolina to show some comparison. Once down 22, the Dores cut the deficit to 4 in the last minute before A&M’s free throws put the game away. They have a chance to play spoiler against Mizzou in what should be an emotional Memorial Gym crowd with all the seniors on Vandy’s team. I’ll leave you with a nice dunk from one of Vandy’s future star, Saben Lee.

That’s all for me! Thanks to everyone who read the Power Rankings throughout the year. Next week, we’ll look at what to expect at the SEC Tournament. Quite frankly, I have no idea but I’ll try and figure it out over the next week. But until then, War Eagle!