Because of COVID cases in a few SEC programs and those scheduled to play others, we didn’t get all of the matchups that the first week of the season was scheduled to have. But we still got enough games to teach us some early things about most of the teams in the league. I’m trying to tell myself not to overreact to anything with such a small sample size, but I’ve already seen enough to adjust my power rankings slightly.
Hopefully we don’t have anymore COVID shutdowns, because this next week should allow the rest of the teams to get their first games in and then we’ll at least have some data to compare all of the teams to each other.
Once again, it’s early in the season and the canceled games even make these rankings even less rigid, but if you do have complaints or suggestions for my rankings, feel free to reach out and discuss on Twitter. Before you do, I just ask that you actually read my rationale for each team and you might also want to read my preseason rankings to get a basis for where I’m coming from to get these slight adjustments.
My method for power rankings is whom I think will win a game between two teams on a neutral court if the game was played at the time of the rankings. For instance, I would pick the number one team to beat every team ranked below it on a neutral court and the fourth-ranked team would be favored over everyone other than the top three teams. I consider the entire season as a basis for how good I think the team is, but if a team is missing key players or is in a slump, that can weigh more in my current power rankings, even if a team is better overall for the season.
14. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last Week: Lost vs Clemson 42-53, Lost vs Liberty 73-84
I had low expectations for Mississippi State going into the year and had them as the 13th team in my preseason power rankings, but even I expected them to get one of their few wins against Liberty. Liberty did manage to knock off South Carolina as well, so either Liberty is better than expected, or both South Carolina and Mississippi State are in for a long year. Until we have more context, I’m going to drop both teams, but South Carolina gets a bit more of a pass because I had them higher going into this year and they have only played one game, which is hard to fault any teams for, especially this season.
The real concerning thing for Mississippi State is that their offense looks to be struggling early on. With the small sample size, they have the worst offense in the SEC so far, scoring just over 90 points per 100 possessions. DJ Steward and Tolu Smith were the leading scorers in both games, with 12 points each against Clemson and 20 points each against Liberty. It took 33 total shots for Stewart to get his 32 total points between the game, which isn’t a good rate at all, but especially so when he only attempted six threes.
This next week, Mississippi State has two games against Texas Southern and North Texas who are both ranked similarly to what Liberty was according to KenPom. Mississippi State has to win at least one of those, but should probably win both if they want to have any positive outlook on this season. I picked the Bulldogs to win just eight games this season, but one of those was Liberty. Losing both games this week would be two more of the games I had them winning, so you can see how prospects could get even worse in Starkville, despite the long season ahead.
13. Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: No games played
Georgia had both of their games in the first week canceled due to COVID-19 cases on both of their opponents. The Bulldogs should still be healthy and are scheduled to get a replacement game against Florida A&M today. Mississippi State played poorly enough for me to move them below Georgia for now, but the Bulldogs could move back down depending on how their first few games go. Vanderbilt also looked good in their only game, so moving up might be more difficult as well.
However, it’s early in the season so a lot could change early on. I’m sticking with a lot of preseason expectations for now, but given a few games, I could make some major adjustments depending on how teams look early on, especially with a lot of newcomers.
12. Vanderbilt Commodores
Last Week: Won vs Valparaiso 77-71
A win over Valparaiso was expected, even for Vanderbilt, but I think Scottie Pippen Jr. showed even more promise. He finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals and went a perfect 14-14 from the free throw line. Vanderbilt has had NBA level talent each of the past few years, but that wasn’t enough to make them a good college basketball team. Scottie Pippen looks like he will be able to carry on that torch, but I’m going to see much more from others, or a sustained effort from Pippen Jr. if I’m going to move Vanderbilt much higher in my power rankings.
Vanderbilt managed to play twelve different players for at least five minutes in their first games, so Jerry Stackhouse could certainly still be learning about his team like many coaches are doing early on this season. A season without exhibitions and scrimmages means that even head coaches don’t know what they have, so a win in the first game of the year is certainly something that any team can’t take for granted.
11. Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: No games played
A&M was always set to start their season a little late, so we’ll have to wait and see what Buzz Williams is working with in year two. The Aggies face New Orleans today in a game they should win, but as I said with Vanderbilt, no one knows what to expect at the start of this season, so nothing is guaranteed.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: Lost vs Liberty 62-78
I will chalk it up to “the first game in a weird season” for now, but a 16 point loss to Liberty is certainly cause for concern early on. The Gamecocks got double-digit scoring from three of their guys, but just barely. Keyshawn Bryant and Jermaine Couisnard finished with 10 points each and AJ Lawson led with 12 while Justin Minaya only had 2 points in 30 minutes.
South Carolina shot under 40% from the field and scored less than a point per possession in a relatively slow game. Frank Martin will have to get his team to regroup quickly, because they have an even harder game against Tulsa tonight. I had South Carolina going 1-1 in Kansas City, so a win tonight will make it even based on my expectations, but Liberty isn’t the team I saw them losing to. Frank Martin is one of the better coaches in the SEC for a reason, so hopefully he’s able to get his guys playing better by next week before they face a talented Houston team.
9. Missouri Tigers
Last Week: Won vs Oral Roberts 91-64
Missouri looked pretty good in their first win of the season against Oral Roberts. They were led in scoring by Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith, and Mark Smith who each had 16+ points and Jeremiah Tilmon shot 80% from the field and pulled down 12 rebounds. Mark Smith show 4-6 from deep while Dru Smith dished out 6 assists.
Oral Roberts is a team that every SEC team should beat, but Missouri deserves credit for not letting it be close in the first game of the season. They’ve left the opportunity open to move up more in these power rankings if they can keep the winning going against better teams coming up like Boston College and Wichita State.
8. Auburn Tigers
Last Week: Won vs Saint Joseph’s 96-91 OT, Lost vs Gonzaga 67-90
The main reason for Auburn’s drop in the power rankings this early is that 5-star point guard Sharife Cooper has still noted been cleared to practice or play. Without their projected starting point guard, Auburn didn’t look as bad as some might have expected, but the fact that this is a very young team was even more apparent without a true point guard to tie it all together. Auburn had stretches where they looked in control against Saint Joseph’s but ultimately needed overtime to get by the Hawks.
Then, Gonzaga did to the Tigers what just about anyone should have expected, especially after what they did to a good Kansas team. The young guys on Auburn’s team did a good job hanging around and having a short memory against Gonzaga, but no amount of raw talent and athleticism was going to keep Auburn above water against a team as good as Gonzaga. The country missed out on a Sharife Cooper, Jalen Suggs matchup, but Suggs certainly held up his end of the preseason expectations.
With Sharife Cooper out, Tyrell Jones and Justin Powell both handled the point guard spot well enough and Allen Flanigan seems to have taken a big jump going into his sophomore year. Jaylin Williams looked very impressive against Saint Joseph’s but then was almost non-existent against Gonzaga primarly becuase of foul trouble the entire game. I don’t think having Sharife Cooper would have changed the final result in either of these games, but Auburn now plays UCF on the road this week where not having Cooper could mean a loss that probably would have been a win with him playing.
Bruce Pearl almost always values experience and tough competiton in the non-conference schedule, but with no postseason this year for Auburn, learning and developing is the name of the game even more. The ceiling is clearly high with this young talented team, but whether or not Cooper plays at all will determine how low the floor can be as well.
7. Ole Miss Rebels
Last Week: No games played
Ole Miss had to cancel their home MTE after a COVID issue, but even without playing they move up one spot thanks to Auburn not having Sharife Cooper.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: Won vs Mississippi Valley State 142-62, Won vs North Texas 69-54
It’s still very early and the competition was far from the best, but Arkansas looks to be one of the better teams so far. Almost all of the key players for the Razorbacks have been as good as or better than what I expected and the 7’3” center Connor Vanover looks to be a major asset. The big man had 23 points on 4-5 shooting from deep in the first game and then followed it up with 16 rebounds and 6 blocks against North Texas.
The Razorbacks just move up to sixth in my power rankings for now, because I don’t want to overreact to these results against the worst team in college basketball and North Texas squad that is still just outside of the KenPom top-100. However, the Razorbacks have even more serious weapons than I expected and if Musselman can get enough of them to keep playing well togehter night-in and night-out, Arkansas could be one of the first teams to jump into my rankings near the top as soon as anyone else falls out.
5. Florida Gators
Last Week: No games played
Florida wasn’t able to get in their games against UMass Lowell and Virginia this week, and the Gators are probably really wishing they could have played the Cavs now that they lost to San Francisco instead.
4. LSU Tigers
Last Week: Won vs SIU Edwardsville 94-81, Lost vs Saint Louis 81-85
Outside of Auburn playing Gonzaga, LSU had the most difficult matchup while playing on the road against Saint Louis. The loss is forgivable, but it highlights a major concern for LSU once again: defense. Between Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, and especially Cameron Thomas, there is no doubt that LSU will be able to score at will this season. However, if they’re going to put up almost no fight on defense, any team that has a decent shooting night is going to have the chance to hand the Tigers a loss.
I dropped LSU below Alabama for now because the Tigers did lose, even if it is an understandable loss, and the Crimson Tide answered a few of my concerns eraly on. Despite the poor defense, LSU is going to be a very exciting team to watch as long as Cameron Thomas keeps up the scoring he showed in the first two games. Based off the small sample size, Thomas has a decent chance to carry on his scoring prowess from high school and could be one of the top scorers in the SEC, even as a freshman.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: Won vs Jacksonville State 81-57
Coming into the season, I knew that Alabama was going to be good because they returned John Petty Jr., Jaden Shackelford, and Herb Jones. My one question that caused me to pause on putting them too close to the top was that they were replacing an NBA lottery pick at point guard with a player that had not played in a live game for over a year. Well, Jahvon Quinerly made the most of his birthday debut and did plenty to answer my questions I had about Alabama’s backcourt. Quinerly finished with a team high 18 points and 3 assists. Jaden Shackelford, whom I already had high expectations for, didn’t disappoint either as he matched Quinerly’s scoring and added 11 rebounds.
Like Arkansas, I don’t want to overreact to one home game against an average team, but Alabama seems to have a good starting point in this weird season and they answered my biggest early question. For now there is still a gap between Kentucky and Tennessee at the top, but if Alabama’s main stars can keep this up, they might have the talent and style of play to challenge those two by the time we get to SEC play.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: Won vs Morehead State 81-45
Kentucky did a good job of playing well as a team while also showing that there is clearly some tough competition to solidify starting spots and main roles as the season gets started. Both Devin Askew and Davion Mintz played well in the point guard role with both scoring double-digit points and both shooting 2-3 from three.
While none of the freshman really stood out more than the others, they all looked good in the first game, and all of them playing well is probably better for Kentucky in the long run than a few of them becoming major stars while others underperform. John Calipari had quite the monologue after the game, but he ultimatley praised his young team for being this prepared with no exhibitions or scrimmages.
Other results from this week point towards the non-conference schedule for Kentucky not being as challenging as previously expected, but the teams like Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and UCLA still have time to get it together before they play Kentucky. As they do almost every year, this young Kentucky team will only get better as the season goes along, so if this is the starting point for John Calipari’s squad, he might have a dangerous team by the end of the season.
1. Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: No games played
Tennessee had to cancel their first few games after Rick Barnes tested positive, and it’s a shame we won’t get to see the Volunteers face this Gonzaga team. Now we won’t get to see if Tennessee is truly the best team in the SEC this season until December 4th, but they’ll have a tough challenge right out of the gate with a road game against Notre Dame.