Between seeing Alabama play three games in three days at the Maui Invitational and getting to get the first look at Texas A&M, Florida, and Georgia this week, I feel like I learned a lot more about where teams stand in the SEC pecking order. There are still a lot of questions I’d like answered, but I might not get those answers until more teams start to play tougher competition.
Missouri, Arkansas, and even Georgia have all looked very impressive, but only Missouri in that group has done it against tough competition. One team that has played some tougher competition has been Kentucky, but instead of the Wildcats using that to their advantage in my rankings, they’ve lost all three games and look to have issues beyond just being an extremely young team.
Anyway, here is where I think each SEC team stands, right now, as well as my general thoughts about the teams based on the small sample size that I have seen from each. If you’d like to discuss these rankings, the best place to start a conversation is on Twitter.
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: Won vs Texas State 68-51, Won vs North Texas 69-63
Mississippi State had a much better week this week compared to last, at least as far as results go. However, the Bulldogs have not looked good enough yet to justify me moving them over Vanderbilt, Georgia, or any of the other teams near the bottom of the standings. They will have another opportunity against a bad Jackson State team where they should be able to show off that their ceiling could be higher, but right after that, they’ll have one of their toughest games of the non-conference schedule when they play Dayton on a neutral court.
13. Vanderbilt Commodores
Last Week: No games played
Shortly after their win over Valparaiso in the first week of the season, Vanderbilt had to hit pause due to COVID-19. Over the next two weeks, Vanderbilt was supposed to play four games, including two of their toughest non-conference games against SMU on the road and Richmond. The Dores likely won’t be back for the SMU game, but if they can get back before December 13th, they’ll have a nice opportunity to flex their muscles against Mississippi Valley State, one of the worst teams in college basketball this year.
12. Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: Won vs New Orleans 82-53, Won vs Tarleton State 73-66, Won vs UT Rio Grande Valley 81-68
Texas A&M has started their year off with three straight wins, but all three teams are below 220 in KenPom and the narrow victory over D-1 newcomer Tarleton State is particularly concerning. The Aggies had a slow start last season, and Buzz Williams is more than capable of getting them back to being more competitive again, but until they win against better competition, I’m going to be conservative with their ranking for now. I also have Georgia ahead of the Aggies because they looked very talented, even if it was against equally bad competition.
Texas A&M has a road game against TCU on Saturday, so that could be a big opportunity for them to impress me more.
11. Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: Won vs Florida A&M 85-75, Won vs North Georgia (D2) 84-62, Won vs Jacksonville 98-65
I know it’s a little inconsistent to have Georgia up at 11 in these rankings considering they have played probably the weakest schedule out of all SEC teams so far. However, I’ve been even more impressed with Sahvir Wheeler this season and I think he can be a key piece to help Tom Crean get the most out of the Bulldogs. Wheeler has started the year with three straight points-assists double-doubles and he already looks like one of the best guards in the league.
Is Wheeler and Georgia’s success only because they’ve been playing teams in the bottom-50 of college basketball, or are the Bulldogs actually more dangerous this year? Only time will tell, and we might have to wait until conference play to know for sure since Georgia does not play a game away from Stegeman Coliseum until January 6th and the toughest non-conference game the Bulldogs have is against Cincinnati on December 19th.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: Won vs Tulsa 69-58, Lost at Houston 67-77
South Carolina now holds one of the better wins for the SEC with their win over Tulsa, and then followed it up with a near win at top-10 Houston. However, the stats for South Carolina do not indicate that they are a top team at all, so I’m going to hold off on moving them in my rankings for now. The poor stats could just be a result of the Gamecocks playing more difficult opponents than the rest of the SEC and the combination of not playing a home game yet. They will get a home game against Wofford on Thursday, so that might provide the opportunity Frank Martin’s squad needs to get some of the kinks out and put up nicer stats.
9. Auburn Tigers
Last Week: Lost at UCF 55-63, Won vs South Alabama 90-81
Auburn showed both extreme ends of the shooting and defensive spectrums this week when they shot poorly at UCF and ultimately lost despite good defense and then was on fire against South Alabama but let the Jaguars keep climbing back into it with poor defense and bad control of the ball. Both of those things sound like pretty common issues with really young teams. Auburn still has no sign of getting Sharife Cooper eligible, but Justin Powell has played very well in his absence.
The Tigers may end up settling for shooting that lies somewhere between the performances at UCF and against South Alabama, but the real concern is the defense. The ability is there, and the long, young players have plenty of upsides, but they’ll all need to settle down quite a bit if Auburn is going to be competitive in the SEC. The Tigers also need to find ways to work it inside just a little bit more. I am a firm believer that threes are better than twos, but Auburn has an insane three-point rate of 58.4%, which is almost 10% higher than the next highest team in the SEC.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: Lost vs Richmond 64-76, Lost vs Kansas 62-65, Lost vs Georgia Tech 62-79
Kentucky looked alright last week against Morehead State, but the next three games against better teams in Richmond, Kansas, and Georgia Tech told a much different story and pointed out a ton of flaws with the Wildcats beyond them just being young. Almost every year Kentucky starts off worse than they eventually become at the end of the year, and this team is even younger than usual for John Calipari, however, the issues might not just be with age and experience.
The Wildcats were able to keep it close with Kansas (who also might not be worthy of a top-10 ranking), but the games against Richmond and Georgia Tech certainly didn’t prove that Kentucky should be a top-25 team, and in my opinion, they’re not even a top-half team in the SEC right now. I’ve seen Coach Cal turn around way too many Kentucky teams for me to doubt him, and clearly, there are some highly talented players on this roster, but in a year where the Wildcats have a pretty tough schedule throughout non-conference play, there isn’t a lot of time to figure things out against lesser teams.
Currently, Kentucky has the second-worst offense in the SEC with an offensive rating of 93.8 (just 0.2 ahead of South Carolina) and almost all of that falls on their poor shooting (25.8% from three, 43% overall) and inability to protect the basketball (18.3 turnovers per game).
7. Ole Miss Rebels
Last Week: No games played
Ole Miss still hasn’t played a game this season due to COVID-19. If the Rebels do make it back onto the court this week, they’ll have an easy schedule to ease into things with their next four currently scheduled games all coming against teams ranked 180th or below in KenPom.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: Lost vs Stanford 64-82, Won vs UNLV 86-74, Won vs Providence 88-71
Alabama didn’t show up to Asheville as prepared as they could have been and therefore started the Maui Invitational with a pretty big loss to Stanford. The Cardinal were likely a better team, but I expected Alabama to make it a closer game. Despite the loss in the first round, Alabama made the most of the rest of their tournament in the lower bracket by knocking off both UNLV and Providence convincingly.
The win over Providence was good to see for Alabama specifically because the game was slower than Nate Oats would like to play, but the Crimson Tide still got a comfortable win and scored 88 points as well. Alabama has over a week off between their last game and playing a neutral game against Clemson this Saturday, but now they’ll have three more tough games with home games against Furman and Houston coming up after the Tigers.
I think Alabama had better wins than LSU this week, but LSU gets the slight edge in my rankings this week because I had them as a better team to start the year and they showed that their defense is competent, which can go a long way this year, especially when paired with their dominant offense. Sticking to my methodology, I’d pick LSU to defeat Alabama on a neutral court if they played this week, but it would certainly be a close game.
5. LSU Tigers
Last Week: Won vs Southeastern Louisiana 96-43, Won vs Louisiana Tech 86-55
Last week I mentioned that my main concern with LSU was their defense. Well, the Tigers answered in a big way by holding their opponents to just 47 points per game this week while still scoring over 85 points in both games. Sure, LSU only played Southeastern Louisiana and Louisiana Tech, but Tech is still just 115 in KenPom, so the 31 point win is worth something.
Trendon Watford continues to be a star and looks the part of an SEC Player of the Year frontrunner. LSU just has too many weapons available to them for the Tigers to drop any further in the rankings for now, especially if they’re playing better defense as a team.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: Won vs UT Arlington 72-60, Won vs Lipscomb 86-50
Eric Musselman admitted to slowing the game down late against UT Arlington to practice some scenarios in-game, so the 12 point win doesn’t look as dominant as it was, but the 36 point win over Lipscomb got the Razorbacks back on track as one of the best statistical teams in the SEC. Unfortunately, due to COVID issues with Tulsa, their game with Arkansas this week had to be canceled, so I won’t get to see Arkansas play a top-100 KenPom team until SEC play starts. Without seeing them against better competition, it’s hard to move Arkansas higher in my rankings, but so far they’re making the most of all of their new talent.
Arkansas currently has the best offense in the SEC with an offensive rating of 127.2 and the Razorbacks also have the best defense in the SEC with a defensive rating of 77.9.
3. Missouri Tigers
Last Week: Won vs Oregon 83-75, Won at Wichita State 72-62
I had a feeling that Missouri would be one of the better teams at the beginning of the season thanks to their advantage as one of the most experienced teams in the league. However, I did not expect them to be this good right out of the gate. In just a week, Missouri already has the SEC’s best win with a neutral court victory over a ranked Oregon team as well as a road win over Wichita State.
Mark Smith and Dru Smith are off to a hot start as two of the better players in the SEC so far, but they certainly aren’t alone as they have several other experienced weapons around them helping Missouri play as well as they have so far. The win over Oregon was big, and a good sign that Missouri might be back to their normal expectations, but that question won’t fully be answered until after the game against Illinois this Saturday. According to KenPom, Illinois is currently one spot behind Oregon, and the Tigers will get to face the Illini at home, so if Missouri can get a major win over one of their biggest rivals, the Tigers would certainly be worthy of this spot in my power rankings and could likely be a top-25 team in the country.
2. Florida Gators
Last Week: Won vs Army 76-69, Won vs Boston College 90-70, Won vs Stetson 86-40
Florida had to delay the start to their season, and missed out on a big game against Virginia because of it, but despite the late start, the Gators still look to be one of the best teams in the SEC after a quick 3-0 start with two big wins over Boston College and Stetson. Last season Mike White’s squad started pretty slow and eventually started to figure things out down the stretch. With the Gators starting strong this season, it’s a much better sign as to how good Florida could be this season. Keyontae Johnson has been as good as expected and key players like Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis, and Noah Locke have provided plenty of help around the SEC Player of the Year frontrunner.
A road game against Florida State will be the biggest challenge of Florida’s non-conference schedule, but if the Gators can win that game, they’ll convince me that they’re certainly capable of winning an SEC title this season and my doubts about Mike White will be lessened.
1. Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: No games played
The Volunteers are still on pause due to COVID-19 and have yet to play their first game. With Kentucky looking pretty bad, and none of the other top SEC teams looking great, I still don’t have a reason to move Tennessee out of the top spot since they were my preseason favorite to win the SEC. However, this time off could be an issue for Rick Barnes and company especially if the first game Tennessee plays is against a tough Cincinnati team on Saturday.