Alabama ended last week with a very impressive road win over Tennessee. At the time, it was Tennessee’s first loss and the Vols played a pretty uncharacteristic game, and I was hesitant to immediately overreact and move Alabama to the top.
The Crimson Tide has also had a history of having a really good week followed by a disappointing week. That certainly wasn’t the case this time. After a good week last week, Alabama might have had an even better week this week and have established themselves as the best team in the SEC right now.
Tennessee has bounced back well from the loss and doesn’t slide down much in my rankings this week.
The biggest news this week was Keion Brooks Jr. getting medically clear to play for Kentucky and Sharife Cooper being cleared by the NCAA to make his debut for Auburn. Both guys gave their teams major boosts and both appear to not only be key players in their own right but also make the guys around them better and each team operates better overall with them on the floor.
Otherwise, I went 5-1 with my predictions on Saturday and 6-1 in the midweek games, so I at least seem to have a good handle of where teams stand currently in the league. That could change quickly and I fully expect to just miss most of my picks next week, but for now, it made a pretty straightforward decision for each of these spots.
I also tried to write about teams throughout the day as I watched games on Saturday, and that leads to a few more thoughts on each team. I hope these don’t continue to get longer, but with it still being the early season and us learning a lot with each game, I have a lot of ideas to share.
With all that said, enjoy my updated SEC basketball power rankings. As always, if you’d like to discuss them or have a disagreement, the best place to reach out is on Twitter. Thanks for reading.
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. Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: Lost at LSU 92-94 OT, Lost at Arkansas 69-99
I was impressed with Georgia forcing overtime against LSU and being in a game that they could have likely won with an extra possession or two, but then they turned around and just got destroyed on the road at Arkansas.
Texas A&M and Vanderbilt might also have a claim for this last place spot, but I’m going to favor recency bias a little bit and put more emphasis on the pitiful game against Arkansas instead of rewarding them too much for almost beating LSU.
The Bulldogs are 11th in the SEC in offensive efficiency at just 96.5 points per 100 possessions and 13th in defensive efficiency giving up 113.8 points per 100 possessions.
Sahvir Wheeler hasn’t been awful, but he’s still lagging pretty far behind the numbers he was putting up in the early season. He’s down to 13.7 points per game and 7.5 assists per game after starting the year with several double-doubles. His offensive rating of 89.2 is one of the worst among the 94 players that qualify for my SEC player rankings and Wheeler only finds himself at 39th overall.
Toumani Camara has been Georgia’s best player overall so far and sits at 11th in my SEC player rankings, but he’s slightly undersized and that mismatch down low is getting exposed by a few teams. Obviously, he can’t just grow for the Bulldogs, but Camara will have to be even more efficient to help take them out of this basement.
13. Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: Lost at South Carolina 54-78, Lost vs Tennessee 54-68
It took a last-second layup for Texas A&M to beat Auburn at home in just an ugly game last Saturday. The Aggies then followed that up by getting blown out by a South Carolina team that seems to be bad (but it’s hard to truly tell with all their COVID issues) and then lost to Tennessee at home.
The Aggies have scored just 54 points in each of their SEC losses and the offense is dead last in the SEC with an offensive rating of just 87.0 which is almost 5 points worse than the next best team. Texas A&M isn’t really stopping anyone either as they have the 11th best defensive rating at 109.3 through 4 SEC games played.
Not counting Sharife Cooper’s fantastic first game, Emanuel Miller is still the best overall player in my SEC player rankings, but he is clearly going to need a lot more help if Buzz Williams’s squad is going to be taken seriously in league play. The next best player in my rankings is Quenton Jackson, who is all the way down at 53rd, even after he was the MVP in the Aggies’ loss to Tennessee.
Texas A&M is lucky to have faced Auburn at home, without Sharife Cooper, and without Justin Powell during the second-half comeback, because that win is about the only thing keeping them out of the last place so far.
They have an average ranking of 10.1 in all of the regular stat rankings and an average of 10.1 in the advanced stats rankings amongst SEC teams, which is the 13th and 14th best compared to all other SEC teams.
12. Vanderbilt Commodores
Last Week: Lost at Kentucky 74-77, Lost vs Mississippi State 81-84
Vanderbilt still went 0-2 this week and has yet to get their first SEC win this season, but both games were very close and the Commodores at least have shown enough to keep me optimistic on their potential to actually win a few games this year.
They went on the road and had leads against Kentucky and then almost managed to steal one at home against Mississippi State. As both of those teams also continue to look better, it gives me more confidence that Vanderbilt won’t just be the pushover they’ve been in previous seasons.
Like Emanuel Miller I mentioned above, Scotty Pippen Jr. seems to be another guy having a great individual season that can’t get enough help from his team. Pippen Jr. is right behind Emanuel Miller in my SEC player rankings and leads the conference with 6 games where he’s been his team’s best player. Dylan Disu has also been good for the Dores, but no other guys are in my top-50.
Vanderbilt will need to actually get some wins and improve overall statistically for me to move them up, but consider me a believer in the Commodores being better this season than in recent years. It’s just hard to get out of the cellar as the SEC continues to improve as a whole.
11. South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: Won vs Texas A&M 78-54
South Caroline looked very impressive against Texas A&M in their lone SEC game after struggling to get by Florida A&M before that. However, the Gamecocks then had another COVID issue this week and are now on the third pause of the season.
With just one game, even if it was a blowout against Texas A&M, it’s hard to know where the Gamecocks actually stand. With this ranking, I’m leaning towards them still being fairly bad, and Texas A&M just being worse, but we won’t really know unless they can actually play multiple games in a row without having to shut down their season.
Frank Martin and his program have played just five games this season, which is almost half of the rest of the SEC teams and will likely be exactly half by next week. Florida, who canceled the rest of their non-conference games when Keyontae Johnson went down has the next lowest amount of games with 8 currently.
I get that a lot of the issues with COVID are hard to avoid, and there is a lot of bad luck involved, but it’s concerning that South Carolina has now had three separate instances that caused them to shut things down. Hopefully, they’ll get things figured out and can play enough games in a row to show what they’re made of this season.
10. Ole Miss Rebels
Last Week: Won vs Auburn 72-61, Lost vs LSU 75-61
Last week I had dropped Ole Miss quite a bit when they lost big at Alabama and also against Wichita State out of the conference. This week I thought they were going to climb back up with a good performance against Auburn where their defense continued to be impressive.
However, with the last-minute change of plans and LSU coming to town, Kermit Davis and the Rebels didn’t have the time to put as much preparation into the other Tigers gameplan and I think that showed on Saturday night.
LSU only got 4 minutes from star freshman and leading scorer Cameron Thomas before he left the game with an injury and eventually didn’t return. That didn’t stop the Tigers from getting almost all they wanted against Ole Miss, especially before they took their foot off the gas down the stretch.
I’ll credit Ole Miss for not giving up and getting totally blown out during a game that seemed like they couldn’t buy shots. Devontae Shuler struggled and had his only points come from a single trip to the free throw line while going 0-9 from the field and 0-6 from deep.
Shuler was supposed to be the Rebels’ senior leader and take that next step to become their All-SEC guard that would provide most of their offense. Instead, it’s been more of an inside presence from guys like Romello White and Luis Rodriguez that is leading to Ole Miss’s most reliable offense.
The defense, as long as they can continue to gameplan well for future opponents, should keep the Rebels from bottoming out too much in league play, but they’ll need more people to step up if they’re going to rise much more than this. Ole Miss will not be a truly dangerous team in the SEC if Devontae Shuler is only producing as the 34th best player in the SEC like I currently have him ranked.
9. Auburn Tigers
Last Week: Lost at Ole Miss 61-72, Lost vs Alabama 90-94
Had Sharife Cooper not been declared eligible, Auburn likely would have slipped all the way down to the bottom two or three places in my rankings. While they still went 0-2 this week, the addition of Sharife Cooper clearly showed that this team might have its missing piece to play with now.
As I expected, Kermit Davis had a good gameplan for Bruce’s team, and once again the Tigers couldn’t get much going in Oxford. But then in Sharife Cooper’s debut against Alabama in the big rivalry game, Auburn almost managed to pull off a win against one of the best teams in the league, even without Justin Powell, who is still out with an injury.
It’s been clear that Auburn had a lot of young, exciting talent, but they played like young guys all going for big plays and continued to make tons of mistakes and look lost at times. Cooper pulls all of that together and lets players like Allen Flanigan and Justin Powell when he returns to go back to their natural positions.
While it is one game, and a high energy rivalry game at that, JT Thor also looks like a player that can take another step with the help of Cooper facilitating. JT Thor had his best game of the year against Alabama and while some of that was of his own doing, a lot can be credited to Cooper’s ability to set him up for some easy points and highlight plays.
Along with making everyone else around him better, Sharife Cooper also showed that he can heat up and be incredibly hard to guard when he gets going. He had a short slow start, but after a quick time on the bench to readjust, he came back in and basically took over for Auburn up until the final minutes of the game. There are issues where he seems to still be trying some things that worked in high school, but those can be excused mostly since he didn’t get a non-conference schedule to work those things out of his game.
Not to make this entire thing about Cooper, but clearly, he’s the catalyst that Auburn needed. It could have just been a fortunate first game, but assuming Auburn looks like they did against Alabama, they should be able to start racking up some actual wins in SEC play and can then climb these rankings again.
Also, to address again why I have Auburn ahead of Texas A&M and now Ole Miss, it’s because Cooper is now eligible. It may be my Auburn degrees talking in my head, but I truly believe that with Cooper Auburn would have won both of those games, and maybe even against Arkansas. Clearly, we can’t change the past, and there’s no certainty that my assumption is correct, but these power rankings are more about current standings and a prediction of the immediate future, so I definitely think Auburn is better than the teams I have behind them. Will they be good enough to get back into the top half, I’m not sure, but they’re certainly not a bottom-tier SEC team with Sharife Cooper now eligible.
8. Missouri Tigers
Last Week: Lost at Mississippi State 63-78
I thought that Missouri had bounced back from their big home loss against Tennessee when they beat Arkansas on the road last week. But a 15-point loss to Mississippi State would suggest otherwise.
Missouri still has one of the best non-conference resumes, but their SEC start leaves a lot to be desired if I’m going to keep them high up in my power rankings. To pile on the two bad losses, the Tigers also had COVID issues come up this week and will likely have to delay at least a few games, including the one against LSU that was supposed to take place on Saturday.
Without another opportunity to show what type of team Missouri really is right now, I’m going to assume the two big losses outweigh the win at Arkansas for now.
The game against LSU getting delayed might have a slight benefit for Missouri if they can get it made up later on. The Tigers had already played two of the better teams in Tennessee and Arkansas, and Mississippi State looks to be one of the early surprises in league play. Another top game against LSU to start the year could have further exposed Missouri and their slow start.
In SEC play, the Tigers have had the second-worst offense with an offensive rating of just 91.6 through their first three games. A lot of that struggle probably lies with their poor shooting. Missouri has just a 47.4% effective field goal percentage through three games, which is 12th in the SEC.
I believe I hinted at this last week, but despite the win, the advanced stats were not kind to the Tigers even a week ago and they took even more of a dip after the loss to Mississippi State. Missouri has an average ranking of 8.9 between all of the advanced stats I track, and that average places them at 11th place when compared to the rest of the SEC teams.
Jeremiah Tilmon might have been fortunate to get a huge game against an undersized Arkansas team missing Justin Smith. Tilmon still has the ability to be one of the best bigs in the league, but for now, he’s only 32nd in my SEC player rankings and yet is still the Tigers’ highest-ranked player.
Stats don’t tell the entire story, but I think Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith, and others will have to keep producing more if Missouri is going to match their expectations they set with the very impressive non-conference schedule and results.
7. Florida Gators
Last Week: Lost at Alabama 71-86, Lost vs Kentucky 58-76
I had mentioned that I expected Florida to take a slight step back from how they were playing to start SEC play because while they had impressive wins over Vanderbilt and LSU, they were still going to be missing their best player for the foreseeable future and I assumed that was bound to catch up to them eventually.
However, I did not expect the Gators to fall off as bad as they did. While it’s a possibility that Kentucky is actually really good already, and Alabama is clearly playing like one of the best teams, two losses by 15+ don’t look good, especially with both games not being competitive for most of the time.
They mentioned in the broadcast of the Kentucky game that Keyontae Johnson has not officially been ruled out for the rest of the season, but it seems like he’s at least going to be out for quite a while. As he remains out, more will continue to be expected of players like Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, and Colin Castleton.
In a best-case scenario, each of those guys, and the other players on the team, will learn to play a little bit better without Keyontae Johnson and still manage to keep the Gators on the right side of the Bubble so that if Johnson is able to return, Florida has the shot at postseason success.
I truly applaud the Gators for how well they played in the first few games without Keyontae Johnson, especially with the extended break as well, but they’ll need to regroup again if they want to climb back to the top of my power rankings. It’ll also help for Mike White and his staff to put them in better situations and have them prepared with a solid gameplan, but I’m afraid that it once again seems that that could be an issue.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last Week: Won vs Missouri 78-63, Won at Vanderbilt 84-81
Last week I put Mississippi State at seventh in my power rankings because I thought they were just the best of the rest, but now with two more wins, one of them being a big one of Missouri, the Bulldogs might be an early contender for the team that I had most underrated in the preseason.
It’s concerning that Mississippi State let Vanderbilt hang around most of the day and really almost gave the game away at the end, but winning at Memorial Gym is never an easy task, and as I mentioned in Vanderbilt’s section, they’re a team with a few good players that looks better than past seasons. The Commodores also came close to knocking off Kentucky in Rupp, so a close win over Vanderbilt for Mississippi State is nothing to punish them for.
Iverson Molinar continues to power the Bulldogs and he’s up to the fifth-best player in my SEC player rankings (which would be 4th if you remove Sharife Cooper who is currently first but has played just one game). He’s joined by Tolu Smith and DJ Stewart Jr. in the top-26 and each of the three is averaging over 13 points per game with Stewart Jr. and Molinar averaging over 18 points per game.
The Bulldogs currently have the second most efficient offense in the SEC scoring 109.9 points per 100 possessions, but they’re doing that almost entirely from inside the arc. Mississippi State shoots the deep ball less frequently than all the other SEC teams and currently has a three-point rate of just 22.9% through 4 games in SEC play (which is down even more compared to 27% over the full season).
In 2021, it doesn’t seem like the popular thing (or most optimal thing) to try and win without shooting threes, but the Bulldogs are so good from inside that their effective field goal percentage (52.5%) and true shooting percentage (60.8%) are still third and first in SEC play so far. Both of those stats give more of a bump to threes made, so to still be leading without many three points makes or attempts, the Bulldogs are clearly shooting a very high percentage from inside the arc. Mississippi State is also second in the league in three-point percentage (43.6%), despite the few attempts.
I am still not sure how much higher Mississippi State can climb, because they might be at their ceiling, but for now, they’ve definitely shown me enough to deserve being comfortably in the top half of my power rankings.
5. Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: Won vs Vanderbilt 77-74, Won at Florida 76-58
A five-spot jump is quite an improvement for Kentucky, and it might be too much and an overreaction to the Florida win. But I, like most people, knew deep down that Kentucky had too many talented basketball players for John Calipari to not figure something out eventually.
Even when I had Kentucky slotted lower in my power rankings, they never quite went as low as their record might suggest, even when they sat at 1-6 after non-conference play. The signs of life started to emerge when the Cats got a hero game from Dontaie Allen which propelled them to the double-overtime win at Mississippi State.
Now, with the return of Keion Brooks Jr., it appears that the Wildcats might actually be making progress quicker than I expected. Brooks provided more of the spark and experience that Kentucky clearly was missing. He had a good game as an individual player, but he also did a great job of making all of the other guys around him better.
As this Kentucky team has more time to keep figuring things out, and as they get more of their roster back and inch towards 100% availability, they’re starting to look like the normal team that is always a player in the SEC.
Brandon Boston Jr. had his best game of the season and Davion Mintz and Devin Askew are starting to look like they’ve settled into their roles as the point guards.
As long as the defense remains solid, and the offense continues to progress, I have to think this Wildcat team still has SEC title capabilities and with a 3-0 start, they’re certainly right there in the race right now. Currently, Kentucky has the fourth-best offense and fourth-best defense with ratings of 109.0 and 96.7 respectively.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: Lost at Tennessee 74-79, Won vs Georgia 99-69
Arkansas made it a close game, but could not finish the job and get a win in Knoxville like Alabama did last week. But the Razorbacks did seem to have a lot of things fixed when they trounced Georgia at home yesterday in a 99-69 route in Bud Walton Arena.
The Hogs are still going to struggle against teams with more of a presence inside as long as Justin Smith remains out with an injury, but if opposing teams don’t have a physical big man, or Connor Vanover can play well, they should have enough to still get some good wins.
Moses Moody continues to be fantastic and looks like he’ll challenge Cameron Thomas and maybe Sharife Cooper for the SEC Freshman of the Year award the rest of the season. Thomas is a better pure scorer, but Moody has been helping Arkansas by pulling down rebounds and playing better defense while being slightly more efficient scorer than LSU’s freshman.
The 99-69 win certainly helps out in statistical rankings right now, but that game and the other three SEC results currently have Arkansas leading the SEC in average statistical ranking for all advanced stats. The Hogs have the third-best offensive rating and 6th best defensive rating in SEC play at 109.1 and 101.4 respectively.
While the Razorbacks have started shooting the ball better after a slight lull, the main issue I see that they need to improve is creating easier baskets for each other with more assists. Arkansas is fourth in the SEC at 14 assists per game in SEC play, but that is down from first overall and 16 assists per game for the season overall. The tempo-free assist rate of 48.3% in SEC play is even worse and comes in at ninth-best in the SEC.
I don’t think the gap between LSU and Arkansas is very big, but there are still a few small things that both teams need to clean up to reach the same level Alabama and Tennessee are playing at right now.
3. LSU Tigers
Last Week: Won vs Georgia 94-92 OT, Won at Ole Miss 75-61
LSU might have gotten away with a win in a game that shouldn’t have been that close when officials decided not to review a call that likely would have given Georgia an extra possession. But the Tigers survived, and then followed it up with a good road win at Ole Miss.
The Georgia game would lead me to believe that the defense isn’t fully there yet, but it’s clearly better than I expected at the beginning of the year, and the offense has been able to outscore just about anyone. The Tigers currently have the top offense in the SEC at 112.2 points per 100 possessions and the fifth-best defense giving up just 100.1 points per 100 possessions.
One concern for LSU will be if Cameron Thomas’s injury that he sustained early against Ole Miss becomes a long term thing. It appeared to just be an ankle issue, but he tried briefly to return against Ole Miss and then ended up sitting the rest of the game after just 4 minutes played. That could have been because LSU was rolling most of that game without him and there was no risk to further set him back, but if it is an issue going forward, LSU will be missing a lot of scoring.
Shareef O’Neal has still missed the last 4 games, and 5 total this season, so the Tigers really don’t need injuries to start piling up and derail their best shot at staying in the race at the top of the SEC. For now, LSU looks like a team that can compete with Alabama and Tennessee at the of the league, but without Cameron Thomas, I’m not sure how feasible that is.
Trendon Watford continues to be a pretty quiet top player in the league, and he stepped up more in the scoring aspect when Thomas went down. Watford is currently the fourth-best player in my SEC player rankings (3rd if you don’t count Sharife Cooper’s one game that has him at the top for now).
Hopefully, Cameron Thomas can make it back before the midweek game against Arkansas, because if he’s playing for LSU, those two teams might put up 100 points each in a battle for who belongs in the top-3 of my power rankings.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: Won vs Arkansas 79-74, Won at Texas A&M 68-54
Losing to Alabama last week has proven to be not a massive sign of cracks in Tennessee’s defense, but it was enough to show that they are the better team right now. Tennessee falls from the top spot for the first time all season, but they won’t fall far because they responded to their first loss with two wins this week.
The defense has slipped a little bit in SEC play, going from a defensive rating of 83.6 for the season overall to 93.5 in SEC play only. That could be a sign of just better competition or maybe there are things the Vols need to clean up a little more. Giving up just 93.5 points per 100 possessions is still good for third in the SEC (should be second if you don’t count South Carolina’s one game), so not a lot of room for major concern.
Tennessee’s offense has also improved after being slightly exposed against Alabama. The Vols were able to outpace Arkansas and finish the win with 79 points and then put up 68 against Texas A&M in just 57 possessions. They shot 45% from the field against Arkansas and then a very impressive 58% against the Aggies.
It’s a shame that Tennessee won’t get the opportunity to match up with Alabama again unless they meet in the SEC Tournament, but that will certainly be a game I hope happens.
Similar to Alabama, Tennessee hasn’t established a single go-to guy, but that’s because they have so many options. The Vols have no players in the top-15 of my player rankings, but then have Josiah-Jordan James and John Fulkerson at 17th and 18th as of now. Victor Bailey Jr. is also in the top-50 and guys like Yves Pons, Jaden Springer, and Keon Johnson are providing so much that doesn’t necessarily show up in individual stats.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: Won vs Florida 86-71, Won at Auburn 94-90
As I mentioned at the top, I held off on shooting Alabama immediately to the top of my rankings last week when they beat Tennessee, who was my top team all year long, on the road.
The Crimson Tide responded by getting two almost equally impressive wins: a 15-point home win over Florida and a 4-point road win over a completely different Auburn team with Sharife Cooper now eligible. Alabama is legit and looking even better than I expected in the preseason.
The wins they hold over Tennessee and Florida will likely be a major key in their pursuit of a regular-season SEC championship this year. There is still a lot of basketball left to play, but at the moment, Alabama is playing like the best team in the SEC and I think they’re in the driver seat for the SEC regular-season championship because they’re 4-0 and already hold wins over two teams that might be their main competition for the title.
This week was even more impressive because Alabama reeled off both wins without their starting point guard, Jahvon Quinerly. Jaden Shackelford and Keon Ellis stepped up in his absence against Florida and Josh Primo came up big, especially in the first half, against Auburn.
Alabama’s offense is still dangerous, especially with the multitude of weapons that they have available to them on any given night, but the things that have propelled them to another level this year is the defense and rebounding. The Tide have a defensive rating of 92.9 in SEC play, which is only behind South Carolina who has just one game, and is second in rebounding at 43.8 per game.
While Alabama is still putting up a ton of threes a game (29.3), their three-point rate is “just” 45.5% on the year and down to 40.8% in SEC play. Alabama is making 9.4 threes a game (10.0 in SEC play), which trails only Auburn.
One last thing that makes Alabama so good is that they don’t have a single star player statistically, and a different guy can step up each game. Herbert Jones is the top player in my SEC player rankings, but he’s only 23rd out of 93 players that meet my threshold of 40% of minutes played. The Tide have no players in my top-20 but have five guys in my top-50. And I still think we haven’t seen the best of guys like Jaden Shackelford and John Petty Jr. yet.
This could all get derailed fast, but I truly think that with a wealth of experience this season, and the high standard Nate Oats is holding this team to (just ask Petty and Rojas), Alabama might be able to stay at the top and avoid even sniffing the Bubble, in a good way, this season.