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SEC Power Rankings Volume VII

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We did it! We broke the streak!

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Auburn Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 7th edition of the College & Magnolia SEC Power Rankings! There’s been some big movement in the middle to bottom part of these standings. But as we start this week, allow me to take just a moment to reflect on my thoughts from last week.

Going into last week, a lot was made from my friends and those that read this power rankings (and me), that my #1 team in the Power Rankings each of the first 5 weeks had gone on to lose a game the next week. So when I put Auburn at the top of last week’s power rankings, there was some pressure on me heading into Tuesday’s game against Ole Miss. I was nervous because I knew it Auburn lost to Ole Miss, I would never hear the end of it. It was close for about 30 minutes but eventually, Auburn wore down the Rebels and got out of Oxford with a 9-point win. So all Auburn had to do was beat the statistically worst team in the league at home and while it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t the team’s best defensive performance, the Tigers got the job done. The fact that Vanderbilt is the last place team in the SEC and yet continues to play close against the league’s best teams just shows how good the league is this year. Vanderbilt was no pushover and they played a very good game and yet despite that, Auburn still won by 12. While Vanderbilt cut a pair of 20 point leads into single digits, I never really felt Auburn was going to completely blow the game. As you can imagine, there was relief afterwards for me because for the first time since the inception of this writer’s power rankings, I knew we would have the same #1 team that was there last week! Your Auburn Tigers! So with that, here we go!

Biggest Riser: Texas A&M Up 5 Spots

Biggest Faller(s): Arkansas/South Carolina Down 5 Spots

1. #8 Auburn 21-2 (9-1) - Last Week: 1

Last Week: Beat Ole Miss 79-70, Beat Vanderbilt 93-81

This Week: Wednesday vs. Texas A&M (8PM), Saturday at Georgia (2:30PM)

Did anybody in November ever think that Auburn would be ranked #8 in the country this year, ahead of bluebloods like Duke, Kansas, UNC, and Kentucky? Never in my wildest dreams did I think this was possible but here we are. I think I can safely say this, but your Auburn Tigers are going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003! It’s just a matter of what seed they are going to end up with at this point. Can you believe we are having the conversation of a possible 1 seed for this team? I’m not ready to think that just yet knowing what still lies ahead for this team but we’re having this conversation about basketball in Auburn, Alabama. Incredible. Remember, this team was picked to finish 9th in the SEC this year. 9th! Auburn is 21-2 and one of only six teams left in America with just 1 or 2 losses (Villanova (1), Virginia (1), Purdue, Cincinnati and Saint Mary’s) are the other 5. But reaching the Top 10 shouldn’t be and isn’t the end goal for Auburn, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Auburn continues to break streaks this year and they broke two this past week. They won a game in Oxford for the first time since 2008. Before the January meeting, the Rebels had beaten Auburn 10 straight times but Auburn swept this year’s series with Ole Miss. Then, Auburn beat Vanderbilt for the first time since January 2007, a streak of 13 games that came to an end here Saturday night. They made a season high 17 3-pointers on 26 attempts, a 65.3%. While the majority of the SEC is a jumbled mess, Auburn has a 2-game lead on Tennessee for first place (and technically 3 because they own the tiebreaker over the Vols). What this Auburn team is doing is nothing short of remarkable and I’ve nearly ran out of superlatives to describe this year’s team. If Bruce Pearl doesn’t win SEC Coach of the Year, there needs to be an investigation launched and he should be a frontrunner for National Coach of the Year for the turnaround here amongst all the circumstances. Auburn still leads the league in scoring at 86 points per game.

Right now, Bryce Brown should be the SEC Player of the Year. On the broadcast Saturday, Jimmy Dykes believes he should be as well. High praise from a well-respected SEC analyst who also think very highly of this Auburn team. He has stepped his game up to another level this year. This week, he scored 23 and 25 points respectively and was 17-28 from the field, including 8-14 from 3-point range. Overall, Bryce is averaging 17 points per game and leads the SEC in 3-point shooting at 41.5% an incredible number for a high volume 3-point shooters. He’s doing this while attempting the most 3-pointers in the league as well. While he continues to be really good from 3-point range, Bryce has added another threat to his game this year. Opposing defenses have to think about this as Bryce has shown his willingness to drive the ball into the paint which is something he didn’t do here the first 2 years. Bryce has also stepped up and become one of the team’s best defenders. He welcomes that challenge and always plays with such a big chip on his shoulder. When Auburn has needed a big shot this year, Bryce has made it. He also has the ability to take over a game when necessary and scored 15 straight points midway through the second half against Vandy. In several of Auburn’s SEC games, when an opposing team has made a run on Auburn in the second half, Bryce has drained a 3, sometimes, 2 3’s, to push momentum back in Auburn’s favor.

Jared Harper had 14 points along with a career-high 14 assists in the win over Vandy Saturday night. One reason we’ve seen such improvement from him as a point guard this year; his offseason work with Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. That’s a good person for anyone looking to improve their game to work with. He had 7 assists in the win over Ole Miss and is averaging 5.8 assists per game this year. Of his 14 assists Saturday night against Vandy, this was my favorite...

And I haven’t even mentioned Mustapha Heron who has stretches of games where’s simply unstoppable. He scored 16 of the team’s first 19 points against LSU last week and then scored 13 straight points early in the second half against Vandy capped off by the dunk you saw above. I only wish that Mustapha would be a more consistent scorer as he tends to pile most of his points up in a short amount of time.

It also helps Auburn’s case when you’ve got interior players doing stuff like this...

McLemore’s scoring numbers are down and he’s dealt with more foul trouble lately, but his knack for finding the ball on defense hasn’t slowed down. Desean Murray continues to take the challenge of facing bigger opponents and is holding his own. Chuma Okeke is giving Auburn a nice scoring option off the bench. He hit a huge 3 right before the halftime buzzer against Vandy after the Dores had cut the 20 point lead down to 7. Horace Spencer continues to play hard,, diving for loose balls, and he and Anfernee have formed a nice tandem in the center spot. Davion Mitchell is learning from Jared Harper and giving Auburn good minutes off the bench. And lastly, Malik Dunbar continues having a great time playing basketball and while he didn’t have a highlight dunk against Vandy, he got in on the 3-pointer party and made 2 in the 2nd half.

Now things start getting real interesting around here, schedule wise. Of Auburn’s last 8 games, the team with the current lowest RPI is South Carolina at 63. I think Auburn’s toughest game yet is Wednesday night against Texas A&M. This game has scared me for weeks because I just feel like A&M is going to play one of their best games of the year when they come in here tomorrow night. Auburn is the hunted now and A&M wants to put themselves back on the map after falling off of everybody’s radar in January. Yes, both of their games were at home last week but they took care of business against Arkansas and South Carolina, handily. They have size, they are healthy and when they want to, they can be one of the best teams in the league. Auburn Arena will be rocking tomorrow night and it’s a ESPN2 broadcast for those watching at home. Then the rematch at Georgia follows, which will not be easy. If Auburn wins Wednesday night and knowing Kentucky is next on the schedule and this has the makings of a trap game for Auburn. Yante Maten was contained for the most part in the game here two weeks ago going just 3-7 from the field so you know he will be looking for retribution. Finally, I’ll conclude with this because it’s too good not to be featured. Late in the game, Jared Harper lost his shoe and Bryce Brown picked it up and played defense with the shoe in his hand. He did it effectively as well, take a look.

2. #15 Tennessee 17-5 (7-3) - Last Week: 3

Last Week: Beat LSU 84-61, Beat Ole Miss 94-61

This Week: Tonight at #24 Kentucky, Saturday at Alabama

While Auburn is entrenched in the top spot for a second straight week, Tennessee has established themselves as the 2nd best team in the league right now. The Vols took care of business at home in dominating fashion. They handled a shorthanded LSU with ease just as Auburn had in LSU’s previous outing and then had 5 players score in double figures in a blowout over Ole Miss. But this week will be much tougher for Tennessee as they hit the road twice. The highest profiled game in the SEC this week takes place tonight in Lexington as Tennessee heads to Rupp Arena where Kentucky will looking to avenge an earlier loss to the Vols. They follow that up with a trip to Tuscaloosa where the Tide will be scheduled to show up since lately they only do so every other game.

Note: While Auburn and Tennessee have established themselves as the Top 2 teams in this league right now, 3-13 is a mess. Two games separate 3rd place from 13th place in the standings. One bad week and your place in the SEC standings will take a major hit. The SEC continues to beat up on each other and there are no right or wrong answers here. We currently have 3 teams at 6-4 in the standings, 2 teams at 5-5, and 6 teams at 4-6.

3. #24 Kentucky 17-6 (6-4) - Last Week: 4

Last Week: Beat Vanderbilt 83-81 (OT), Lost to Missouri 69-60

This Week: Tonight vs. #15 Tennessee, Saturday at Texas A&M

Like many teams in the SEC, I’m still trying to figure this team out. They should have lost to Vanderbilt on Tuesday at Rupp, but the Commodores forgot how to make free throws (as they did in the 1st meeting) and inexplicably fouled the Wildcats with 2 seconds left in the backcourt to allow Kentucky to make 2 free throws and send the game to overtime. Kentucky survived the overtime as Vandy missed a 3 that would have won it. Then they went to Missouri and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. They scored just 18 points in the first half and didn’t make a 3-pointer until 2:51 left in the game. Kevin Knox, who spurned Missouri for Kentucky, was booed loudly throughout and was held to only 5 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems to one of the few consistent players on this team as he scored 30 in the win over Vandy and was the only double figure scorer on Saturday with 15. Auburn has fed out the crowd in a lot of their home games this year, but the same can’t be said at Rupp Arena and John Calipari has noticed. He said the following things in a tweet on Sunday.

“We need you Tuesday to be at your best from the tip to the finish. If we’re going good, ride it and push us to make the lead unbearable. If we’re struggling some, encourage us and bring us back. The last eight minutes of the game, do not sit down! We need you more than ever now!”

And to the students:

“To our students, let’s pack the place. We need your help. Student tickets are still available by going to the UK ticket office starting at 9 a.m. on Monday.”

Before our season started, these are things I could see Bruce Pearl saying but not Coach Cal. Things don’t get easier for the Cats as Tennessee rolls in tonight before heading to College Station and Auburn for their next 2 games.

4. Alabama 15-8 (6-4) - Last Week: 5

Last Week: Lost to Missouri 69-60, Beat #23 Florida 68-50

This Week: Tonight at Mississippi State, Saturday vs. #15 Tennessee

Let’s recap the last 2 weeks for the Tide. First, they lost to Ole Miss only to respond by slowing down and beating Trae Young and the Oklahoma Sooners. Most would expect a win of that caliber to boost a squad, but not this Alabama team. They came back and laid an egg against Missouri in a game where they made just 5 shots in the entire second half, 5! So naturally, Alabama responded to that by outscoring Florida 41-17 in the second half, in Gainesville, on their way to an 18 point win. I don’t know if I ever recall a team being so inconsistent as this team is. So naturally, I expect Alabama to lose to Mississippi State and then knock off Tennessee this week, or something like that.

5. Florida 15-8 (6-4) - Last Week: 2

Last Week: Lost to Georgia 72-60, Lost to Alabama 68-50

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

Perhaps I should add Florida to the list of teams that can be described as a box of chocolates, as I routinely call Alabama. Quite simply, that was a horrible week for Florida. The Gators have lost 3 straight SEC games, 2 of them at home. The latest being an 18 point loss to Alabama in a game where they only scored 50 points. And yet, that’s not even the worse thing to come out of Gainesville this week...

I have no other words...

6. Missouri 15-8 (5-5) - Last Week: 8

Last Week: Beat Alabama 69-60, Beat #21 Kentucky 69-60

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

Missouri took a step forward in their attempt to reach the NCAA Tournament this week. They recorded their two best wins of the year, starting with a road win in Tuscaloosa last Wednesday. They were clearly the aggressive and more desperate team that night after losing their previous 3 games. They came back home and pulled out a hard-earned win over Kentucky, a game which they controlled through the balance of and deserved to win, despite 20 turnovers. It speaks volumes at how Auburn was able to win on that floor by 18 to see Missouri do what they did last week. Saturday was Missouri’s 1st all-time win over Kentucky. They had lost all 10 previous matchups to the Wildcats, including 6 as members of the SEC. They have the opportunity to build on their resume this week as they play both of the Mississippi schools. That game Saturday against Mississippi State is pretty intriguing to me and will certainly have bubble ramifications.

7. Mississippi State 17-6 (5-5) - Last Week: 11

Last Week: Beat South Carolina 81-76, Beat Georgia 72-57

This Week: Tonight vs. Alabama, Saturday at Missouri

This may be the kiss of death for Mississippi State but after weeks of keeping them close to the bottom of the standings, it’s time for me to give them a little love. The Bulldogs have been hanging in there in the rugged SEC this year. They followed their road win over South Carolina by holding Yante Maten to 13 points in a dominating win over Georgia. I honestly didn’t think that Mississippi State would do too much this year but they have exceeded mine and most expectations. (Sound familiar?) Their strength of schedule is brutal compared to everyone else in the SEC which will hinder them in March but if they keep on winning, who knows.

8. Texas A&M 15-8 (4-6) - Last Week: 13

Last Week: Beat Arkansas 80-66, Beat South Carolina 83-60

This Week: Wednesday at #8 Auburn, Saturday vs. #24 Kentucky

When I first saw this upcoming game on our schedule this year, this is one I put on my calendar. (I put all of them on my calendar but this is one I have looked forward to more than most.) I saw this game as a trap game for Texas A&M as they have Kentucky following the matchup with Auburn. But my, things have changed. A&M handily took care of business at home and also takes advantage of other team’s struggles and gets the five spot boost this week. They are healthy and are starting to find their rhythm, just in time for the Aggies to make their way to the Plains tomorrow night. The Aggies were my pick to win the SEC this year and they still have the talent to do major damage in this league. Like Auburn, they have 4 guys who score 10 or more points a game, and They have 6-9 DJ Hogg, 6-10 Robert Williams, and 6-10 Tyler Davis starting on the front line so this will be a tough challenge for Murray, McLemore and Spencer. Williams leads the SEC in rebounding at 9.6 rebounds per game and is right behind McLemore with 2.6 blocks per game. Throw in guards Admon Gilder, TJ Starks, and Duane Wilson and it’s amazing to think where this team could be right now if everyone was healthy/stayed out of trouble. Like Auburn, they have pretty solid depth so wearing them down will be tougher than it has been for most teams. Don’t let their record fool you, these guys are good and are capable of being one of the best teams in the SEC. When they want to be.

9. Georgia 13-9 (4-6) - Last Week: 10

Last Week: Beat #23 Florida 72-60, Lost to Mississippi State 72-57

This Week: Wednesday at Vanderbilt, Saturday vs. #8 Auburn

I was ready to drop the Bulldogs much lower but beating Florida is a win that could help them in March. That’s of course if they don’t lose another game like they did to Mississippi State over the weekend. And I feel like a robot on repeat when I say this but: When Yante Maten plays well, Georgia has a good chance to win, when he doesn’t, they don’t have much of a chance. Yante Maten scored 20 points and had 7 rebounds in their win over the Gators. On Saturday, Yante Maten was held to 13 points, 6.3 below his average. As the season continues, it will be interesting to see who will named by the experts as SEC Player of the Year. Dickie V said on Saturday that he believes Maten is the Player of the Year right now. It will be an interesting argument over the next few weeks but I believe Maten is one of, if not the most important player to their team’s success. It will be interesting to see how they fare against Vandy tomorrow before their showdown with Auburn on Saturday.

10. LSU 13-9 (4-6) - Last Week: 9

Last Week: Lost to Tennessee 84-61, Beat Arkansas 94-86

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

In last week’s edition, you may recall 4 players being kicked off the team/suspended for breaking team rules. This left LSU with 7 players to play at Tennessee and the game went as expected. But LSU came home and bounced back against a reeling Arkansas team. After two rough games, Tremont Waters bounced back and had 27 points and 11 assists against the Hogs. 5 LSU players scored at least 13 points in the game and LSU was able to bounce back from two straight road blowouts. LSU heads to Gainesville tomorrow before hosting Ole Miss this weekend.

11. Arkansas 15-8 (4-6) - Last Week: 6

Last Week: Lost to Texas A&M 80-66, Lost to LSU 94-86

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

The Hogs are another team that I can’t explain. If they’re not careful, they’ll play themselves out of the NCAA Tournament. The Hogs road woes continued this past week as they fell to A&M by 14 last Tuesday and then by 8 to LSU. Daryl Macon moved back into the starting lineup against LSU but the Hogs lost their first game this year when scoring at least 83 points. They continue to struggle on defense during SEC play giving up 82.9 points per game. The Hogs return to the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena for two games this week that they absolutely need to win.

12. South Carolina 13-10 (4-6) - Last Week: 7

Last Week: Lost to Mississippi State 81-76, Lost to Texas A&M 83-60

This Week: Tonight at Arkansas, Saturday vs. Florida

Last Week, I bumped South Carolina up to 7 because I was really excited about their win over Florida and how competitive they kept it against Texas Tech. Oops! Grad transfer Frank Booker scored a season high 25 points in the loss to Mississippi State. Booker, who started his career at Oklahoma before transferring to Florida Atlantic, is shooting 40.3% from 3-point range this year. The Roosters head to Fayetteville tonight before hosting the Gators on Saturday.

13. Ole Miss 11-12 (4-6) - Last Week: 12

Last Week: Lost to #11 Auburn 79-70, Lost to #18 Tennessee 94-61

This Week: Tonight vs. Missouri, Saturday at LSU

I have to hand it to Ole Miss, the Marshall Henderson shirts were a creative promo to try and get their students hyped up for their game against Auburn last Tuesday. However, their attempts at getting in Auburn’s head with “FBI” and “Chick Fil-A” chants were foiled as Auburn made enough free throws down the stretch and gave Ole Miss their first home loss in the SEC. And then, Ole Miss went and got obliterated in Knoxville. They play a surging Missouri team at home tonight so we’ll see if they can bounce back on their home court.

14. Vanderbilt 8-15 (2-8) - Last Week: 14

Last Week: Lost to #21 Kentucky 83-81 (OT), Lost to #11 Auburn 93-81

This Week: Wednesday vs. Georgia, Saturday at Arkansas

Vanderbilt may be the worst team record wise in this league but I would hate to be the (most likely) #11 seed in the 1st Round of the SEC Tournament and have to face these guys. They do not play like a now 8-15 team and if you need proof, take a look at last week. They went on the road and had a victory against Kentucky locked up, until they couldn’t make free throws to ice the game. That was a brutal end to regulation for Vanderbilt as the Commodores fouled Kentucky in the backcourt with 2 seconds left as the ball was loose and nobody looked like they were close to gaining possession. Once the game got to overtime, despite Vandy's last gasp effort, you knew Kentucky was going to survive. Then they came down here Saturday night and the focus was on Riley LaChance. But Jeff Roberson had a career high 30 points, 10 rebounds and played all 40 minutes against Auburn. Roberson has scored at least 20 in 5 straight games and 6 of his last 7. This group of primarily seniors is not going to go away quietly and they didn’t in either half against Auburn and they certainly won’t as the season winds down. As Bruce said in the postgame, I hope we don’t see Vanderbilt again until next year.

And there you have it, thanks for reading, leave your thoughts below and War Eagle!