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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

SEC men’s basketball power rankings: week of February 27

Blake Dover
February 25th, 2017 – Fans sing the alma mater after the Commodores’ 77-48 win against Mississippi State Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gym.

Coming down the stretch, the SEC looks like a safe bet to get four teams into the NCAA tournament, and it could even add another. It wasn’t long ago that the Supreme Elite Conference was on pace for only three bids, but the improvement of a couple of teams has the league in a decent spot 13 days out from Selection Sunday. Here’s how I see the conference right now.

1. Kentucky (24-5, 14-2 SEC)

After a blowout loss at Florida and a couple of underwhelming performances at Georgia and Missouri, Kentucky appeared to have lost its hold on the top spot in these rankings. However, a win over the Gators without De’Aaron Fox in the second game of the teams’ home-and-home keeps the ‘Cats at No. 1. UK looks like a long shot to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, although winning its last five games (two to end the regular season and three to win the SEC tournament) could get it one. I’m not particularly sold on Kentucky’s Final Four credentials, but the win over Florida paired with Gators center John Egbunu’s season-ending injury means they’re the SEC’s best team in my mind.

2. Florida (23-6, 13-3)

Florida’s nine-game winning streak was impressive, but does anyone think that could happen against an ACC or Big 12 schedule? I don’t. Despite the Gators’ No. 7 KenPom rating, I remain relatively unconvinced. Without an elite scorer, and now without Egbunu, Florida isn’t a team I’ll be picking to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament (barring an easy draw). I’m confident that Florida will make the SEC tournament final, but I’d probably take a No. 7 seed like Iowa State or Saint Mary’s over the Gators if they end up with a No. 2 seed.

3. Arkansas (22-7, 11-5)

With their sneaky-good overall record, 60th-ranked schedule and 10-5 record against the RPI top 50, the Razorbacks are candidates to earn a surprisingly good NCAA tournament seed. They’re also a strong candidate to get blown out in the first round by a team like Miami, Michigan or Wichita State. Arkansas gets this third spot due to its win at South Carolina and the Gamecocks’ coinciding struggles, but this team continues the early theme here — I’m not confident in any of these teams once March Madness starts.

4. South Carolina (21-8, 11-5)

I’m not as down on South Carolina as others may be, while it makes its seemingly customary late-season swoon. The Gamecocks should at least be in the game against any possible NCAA tournament first-round opponent due to their elite defense (No. 2 nationally according to Ken Pomeroy). South Carolina may not have enough shooting to advance more than one round, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them at least put a scare into a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the second round. It’ll need to play better than it has in February, though.

5. Vanderbilt (16-13, 9-7)

Predictably, not everyone liked my ranking of Vanderbilt when I placed it ahead of mediocre Ole Miss and Alabama teams while it was still under .500. Regardless of how the Commodores’ last two games go, it looks like I’ve been vindicated. Vanderbilt is up into the top 50 of the RPI and KenPom ratings and has an impressive portfolio of wins for a bubble team.

Teams like Ole Miss, Alabama and Georgia might have better records, but they mostly haven’t beaten anyone of consequence. The NCAA tournament selection committee places a tremendous amount of importance on quality wins, and these rankings do as well. I doubt the ‘Dores will end up making the NCAA tournament, but their great wins and No. 4-ranked schedule could certainly test the committee’s historic unwillingness to include 15-loss teams in the at-large pool.

6. Georgia (17-12, 8-8)

Georgia gets this spot by virtue of head-to-head wins on the road against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Alabama. Vanderbilt might have the best position to earn an at-large bid right this second, but the Bulldogs’ strong schedule and lack of terrible losses means they can work their way into the conversation. What’s more, their schedule to finish the regular season (home against Auburn, at Arkansas) put them in much better position to win out than Vanderbilt. My best guess is that UGA will finish 9-9 in the league and go 1-1 in the conference tournament, ultimately heading to the NIT.

7. Ole Miss (18-11, 9-7)

You could put the next three teams in any order, and I wouldn’t argue. With only four top-100 wins, Ole Miss doesn’t have an NCAA at-large case. But the Rebels have a great shot at the NIT, and they’ll have a good chance to advance in the conference tournament. Ole Miss hasn’t gotten a significant win since its February 4 win at Vanderbilt, but Tennessee has gotten crushed by the two of the last three legitimate teams it’s played and Alabama hasn’t earned a meaningful win of its own since February 7. Games against Alabama and South Carolina to end the season mean Ole Miss has a wide range of potential SEC tournament seeds.

8. Tennessee (15-14, 7-9)

I don’t have a ton to say about Tennessee except that its blowout loss to South Carolina put its at-large hopes to rest. A trip to LSU on Wednesday is the perfect opportunity for UT to turn around its recent play, and the season finale at home against Alabama is very winnable. The Vols could easily still end up at 9-9 in the league and overtake teams like Vanderbilt and Ole Miss based on their win over Kentucky (record against the league champion is the second tiebreaker for conference tournament seeding).

9. Alabama (16-12, 9-7)

Alabama ranks lower than Tennessee in KenPom rating, and I can’t bear to watch its offense. Combine those two factors with the Tide’s two straight losses, and they’re behind Ole Miss and UT here. Games this week against Ole Miss and at Tennessee hold a lot of significance with respect to SEC tournament seeding and NIT possibilities.

10. Texas A&M (15-13, 7-9)

The Aggies got a decent home win over Alabama this week and rank about 20 spots higher than Auburn in Pomeroy’s ratings. They also beat the Tigers handily at home last week. That’s enough to stay ahead of the Fightin’ Bruce Pearls.

11. Auburn (17-12, 6-10)

Auburn can play spoiler Wednesday night against Georgia on the road. The Tigers have unsurprisingly topped Pearl’s highest SEC win total since he came to Auburn in 2014, but they’ll need to either beat UGA or hope Texas A&M loses at Missouri in order to avoid playing on Wednesday at the SEC tournament.

12. Mississippi State (14-14, 5-11)

My dream of an MSU-TCU former Pitt coach NIT battle is hanging by a thread as the Bulldogs have lost six in a row. An NIT region featuring a Pitt-Vanderbilt coach cage match with Bryce Drew, Kevin Stallings, Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland will only be in play if MSU can make a run at Bridgestone Arena next week.

13. Missouri (7-21, 2-14)

Vanderbilt has to be kicking itself for losing to Missouri a couple of weeks back — the Commodores would be in great position to make the NCAA tournament otherwise. The Tigers have played better in February, posting two wins and four competitive losses this month. LSU has the head-to-head tiebreaker, but it’s lost 15 straight since that win.

14. LSU (9-19, 1-15)

LSU is quite talented for a team that’s 10 games under .500 and has only one conference win. Sophomores Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson were seen as possible NBA prospects coming into college, but the Tigers’ lack of defense is the issue. According to Pomeroy, LSU has allowed 120.3 points per 100 possessions in conference play. That makes the Tigers easily the worst defensive team in conference since at least 2001-02, the first season Pomeroy’s website has data for.

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Blake Dover, Author

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