SEC basketball power rankings: Expect nice month for Auburn, Alabama Updated February 10, 2019 at 7:35 PM ; Posted February 10, 2019 at 7:11 PM Alabama and Auburn could lock up NCAA Tournament bids by the time the teams play again on March 5. (Julie Bennettfirstname.lastname@example.org) Comment
Kudos to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and the individual programs that have upgraded the conference's collection of coaches and talent.
The SEC is nationally relevant in basketball again.
It has been a long time since the conference had legitimate national championship contenders and a depth of NCAA Tournament teams simultaneously. But it makes for a fun February and March.
Here are my SEC power rankings, which are based solely on which team I'd favor on a neutral court if I was an oddsmaker accepting bets.
TIER 1: NATIONAL TITLE CONTENDERS
The SEC basketball renaissance is real. The league got a record eight NCAA Tournament bids last season.
But what the conference is missing to cement its status as a true competitor to the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 is hardware. The SEC claimed just two of the last 16 Final Four teams.
This year, it would not be shocking if the SEC took up half the Final Four, or even met to determine the national champion.
1. Tennessee (22-1, 10-0): If you like SEC basketball, cancel your Saturday night plans. The Vols visit Rupp Arena for a 7 p.m. CT tip-off on ESPN. It may be the most anticipated conference matchup in the sport this year outside of Duke-Virginia. This game, and eventually Tennessee's season, may be decided by whether the Vols can score more from the 3-point line than their opponent.
2. Kentucky (20-3, 9-1): The Wildcats are playing so well on defense that I strongly considered slotting UK ahead of UT. On a neutral court, I'd still favor Tennessee's veteran toughness, perhaps by one point. But the margin has shrunk to almost nothing. Six of Kentucky's last nine opponents have failed to top 55 points. And every game, it seems less likely that P.J. Washington is going to slip or coast.
TIER 2: CURRENT NCAA TOURNAMENT TEAMS
If Mississippi State and Alabama get results reflective of the strength of their teams, the SEC will get at least six in the NCAA Tournament. But the loser of Tuesday's showdown will find itself back on the NCAA bubble for now.
If LSU continues to play this well, the conference could enter March with three legitimate Elite Eight-caliber programs.
3. LSU (19-4, 9-1): Will Wade's team, and his point guard, may be the most overlooked in the country. The NCAA announced its current top 16 seeds Saturday, much like the in-season College Football Playoff rankings, and LSU was nowhere to be found. If this team enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed or worse, rejoice. You've got a secret weapon in your office bracket pool. Oh, and Tremont Waters? He's averaging 20.0 points, 6.8 assists and 3.0 steals per game in conference play, best in the SEC in all three categories.
4. Auburn (16-7, 5-5): The Tigers sunk 16 3s in a loss at LSU, but also allowed 22 offensive rebounds and handed LSU 26 free throws. Jared Harper turned the ball over an uncharacteristic five times. Losing at LSU in a competitive game is nothing to be ashamed about, especially with the team poised to beat Ole Miss and Vanderbilt this week to get to 18 wins.
5. Mississippi State (16-7, 4-6): The Bulldogs have lost by more than five points just once this season, at Kentucky on Jan. 22. Don't be fooled by the team's 2-3 record since, as the losses came against Alabama, LSU and Kentucky by a combined end-of-regulation margin of eight points. One could even argue Mississippi State is playing better thanks to the emergence of freshman Reggie Perry.
6. Alabama (15-8, 6-4): Buzzer-beating losses to Georgia State and Texas A&M at home are the only results standing between the Tide and a top 25 national ranking. Alabama survived a predictable collapse after building an 18-point second-half lead at Vanderbilt on Saturday. If Avery Johnson's team can beat Mississippi State on the road or Florida at home this week, it will have a chance to run its record to 18-9 and 9-5 in the SEC and come very close to assuring itself of a tournament bid (Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are next).
TIER 3: CAPABLE SPOILERS
I've predicted that one of these teams will creep into the NCAA Tournament. Right now, that team looks like Ole Miss. It's unusual to start 13-2 and not make the tournament. But the Rebels may collapse that far, as I favor them against just four SEC teams on a neutral court right now.
Home games against Missouri and Georgia on the next two Saturdays could get the Rebels to 18 wins, and the team has at least seven other opportunities before Selection Sunday.
7. Arkansas (14-9, 5-5): The Razorbacks built a 50-37 lead Saturday at South Carolina before fading hard. Daniel Gafford got into foul trouble and finished with just eight points and five rebounds. Mike Anderson remains a good coach, but this team doesn't have the depth to afford a bad game from its potential NBA first-round pick. It's an unfortunate result if you root for the SEC to get as many NCAA Tournament bids as possible, as a win at South Carolina would've put Arkansas at 6-4 in the SEC and thrust it into the bubble discussion.
8. Florida (12-11, 4-6): I'm mystified as to why people still plop Florida into their bracketology pieces as a bubble team. The Gators are 1-9 against KenPom top 50 teams, including five double-digit losses. Florida still must play KenPom No. 46 Alabama, No. 21 LSU (twice) and No. 7 Kentucky. Lose at Alabama this coming Saturday and Florida is almost guaranteed to finish with a losing conference record, even if it sweeps the bad teams left on its schedule.
9. South Carolina (12-11, 7-3): Former Kansas State coach Frank Martin is the basketball equivalent of Bill Snyder. Chris Silva aside, he doesn't have the talent that the rest of the SEC possesses. His teams never pop off the screen or intimidate. Yet South Carolina finds a way to cover spreads and win games. The Gamecocks are 5-8 outside of the SEC, with their best win coming against KenPom No. 150 Coastal Carolina. Yet only Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU are ahead of Martin's team in the conference standings.
10. Ole Miss (16-7, 6-4): Saturday's game at Georgia was the equivalent of an emotional Red Bull for a team running on fumes. Marshall Henderson has long since left Oxford, but this team thrives on the attitude and confidence of its scoring guards. We'll see if back-to-back wins against some of the SEC's worst teams can instill enough of that into the Rebels to avoid dejection after a likely loss at Auburn on Wednesday, or if this is just a temporary respite in a long fall.
TIER 4: THERE'S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR
Avoid losing to these teams at all costs if you want to make the NCAA Tournament, especially in the final month.
Alabama did that this week with a pair of double-digit wins against Georgia and Vanderbilt, or else the SEC's number of projected bids would look bleaker.
There's a clear bottom four, which could help prop up Tier 3 and help one of them rise into the field of 68.
11. Missouri (11-11, 2-8): The Tigers just blew its best chance at a win for the rest of the season by falling to Texas A&M at home. Missouri plays Georgia in Athens on March 6 and should win one or two more SEC games, but Cuonzo Martin's offenses have labored since he arrived in Columbia. If Jontay Porter (out for the season) were to leave for the NBA, this team could stay mired in a multi-year funk.
12. Texas A&M (9-13, 2-8): Four different Aggies scored in double figures at Missouri on Saturday, avenging a 66-43 loss in College Station on Jan. 19. But the rest of the team combined to score just six points and the team generated just six assists on 24 made baskets, a great illustration for its reliance on isolation basketball and its lack of depth.
13. Georgia (10-13, 1-9): First-year head coach Tom Crean pressed the nuclear button after Saturday's 80-64 loss vs. Ole Miss, eviscerating his players in a way that you'll rarely see in major college basketball. He expressed remorse that he kept some of the players in the program rather than nudging them out the door when he got the job, said his team has a "lack of mental toughness" and bashed his team's communication on the court. The Bulldogs now have to trudge through eight more regular-season games.
14. Vanderbilt (9-14, 0-10): The Commodores are averaging 63.4 points per game since the calendar turned to 2019, and that includes an 83-point outburst in an overtime loss vs. Tennessee. Vanderbilt couldn't even leverage its home dominance over Alabama and Memorial Gym voodoo to complete what would've been a wild comeback Saturday. Third-year coach Bryce Drew is under considerable fire despite his strong recruiting classes. View Comments