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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: One Game Down

After one game, the SEC hierarchy is already shaken up, hinting at a tumultuous season ahead.
Truman McDaniel
Scotty Pippen Jr. scored 21 second-half points in Vanderbilt’s 82-78 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 21, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

The 2021-22 college basketball season is underway and each team in the Southeastern Conference has competed in its first game. Ahead of the weekend, the conference had five ranked teams (No. 10 Kentucky, No. 14 Alabama, No. 16 Arkansas, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 22 Auburn) and a few more looking to make a real impact this season. Though the competition consisted largely of unranked opponents, the matchups still gave a glimpse into each team’s strengths, priorities and needs.

Here are your SEC basketball power rankings after game one:

1. No. 14 Alabama

The high-arcing Alabama offense showed its arsenal against Louisiana Tech, totaling 13 3-pointers in a lopsided 93-64 win. With over half of their shot attempts coming from beyond the 3-point line, the Tide will continue to rely on their sharpshooting to win games. Junior guard Jaden Shackelford, who averaged 14 points per game in 2021, scored 17 in the first matchup. Senior Keon Ellis added 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting along with three steals, while true freshman guard JD Davison totaled 12 points, six rebounds and six assists in just 13 minutes of play. Alabama’s mix of experience and new talent will make them a force to be reckoned with in their pursuit to defend their 2021 SEC Tournament championship. However, the loss of 2020-21 SEC Player of the Year Herb Jones to the NBA Draft will challenge Alabama to find new contributors and strategies to maintain the defensive intensity that led to their success last year.

2. No. 10 Kentucky

The Wildcats opened the year with an out-of-conference showdown against No. 9 Duke, resulting in a close 79-71 loss. Kentucky kept pace with a talented Duke team despite shooting 37.7 percent from the field and having four players receive treatment for fatigue. Junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe showed the value of his size and presence, totaling 17 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks on the night. Junior guard and playmaker Sahvir Wheeler also had a double-double with 16 points and 10 assists, though he will have to limit his turnovers (seven against Duke) going forward. The future is bright and the early season test against the Blue Devils gives Kentucky more room for growth heading into the rest of their nonconference schedule, and eventually, conference and tournament play.

3. No. 18 Tennessee

Tennessee put away UT Martin 90-62 in the season opener, struggling to keep their lead until late in the first half. The Volunteers stunned the Skyhawks with 17 3-pointers made at a 42.5-percent rate, led by freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler and junior Santiago Vescovi. The backcourt duo scored 40 points combined, with 10 3-pointers. The potential of the Volunteers was clear in the season opener, though consistency, free-throw shooting and physicality will be challenges for the team as they face tougher competition going forward.

4. No. 22 Auburn

Auburn opened their season with a 77-54 win against Morehead State that featured a starting lineup with four new players. The story of the game was defense, as Bruce Pearl’s Tigers held Morehead to single-digit scoring until the 4:30 mark of the first half. After going up 38-9, the Tigers eased up and spread playing time around the roster. Sophomore guards Wendell Green Jr. and K.D. Johnson will be two players to watch as the focal points of the offense this season. Though Auburn came out strong, it will be crucial to see how their new roster meshes in more competitive games, such as their Nov. 24 matchup with No. 24 UConn.

5. No. 16 Arkansas

Arkansas came out flat in their first game against Mercer, often trailing and only able to separate themselves in the final minutes, despite winning 74-61. Senior guard JD Notae scored 30 points and added seven steals, but the team failed to give a cohesive effort. There are high expectations for the No. 16 Razorbacks this season, but 15 turnovers and sloppy shot selection prevented them from demonstrating their full potential. One bright spot for Arkansas was the effort of senior Au’Diese Toney, who carved out a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds despite playing largely off the ball. If Arkansas can bring more of their players into the offense—like sophomores Jaylin Williams and Davonte Davis, who together took four shot attempts in 64 minutes—they may begin to resemble their national ranking.

6. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs began their year with a dominant win 75-49 over North Alabama, yet still find themselves outside of the top five of these rankings. However, the team is expected to improve from last year when the Bulldogs finished 10th in the conference. Junior guard Iverson Molinar is going to be a big part in their success, as he averaged nearly 17 points per game last season. In addition, senior power forward Garrison Brooks is off to a great start with an 18-point effort in their first game. Other contributors will be needed for the team to be competitive in the SEC though, such as freshman guard Cam Carter. Carter scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in less than 20 minutes, but it will be important to see if he can continue to provide that scoring boost alongside the veteran Bulldogs.

7. LSU

LSU obliterated their in-state counterpart UL-Monroe 101-39 in the opener. The game might as well have been a shooting drill for senior Darius Days, who led the team with 30 points, going 11 of 13 from the field and 8 of 9 from beyond the arc. Inside the paint, freshman center Efton Reid racked up 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Altogether, the game was too much of a blowout to tell what kind of team LSU will be in the coming year. Though the Tigers finished third in the SEC in 2020-21, the departures of Javonte Smart and Trendon Watford to the NBA have left a void of over 30 combined points per game from last year’s roster. The story of the season for LSU will be how they incorporate new players to replace those lost contributions; possibly with transfer guard Xavier Pinson and freshman Brandon Murray playing larger roles going forward.

8. Florida

Florida steadily kept their distance from Elon in their first game this week, winning the game 74-61. The starting lineup for the Gators scored 64 of the team’s 74 points in the game. Whether this is an outlier is yet to be seen, but that kind of weight on the starters in an early nonconference game could be a warning sign for a lack of depth on the roster. Returning Gators Tyree Appleby and Anthony Duruji combined for 24 points, while fellow starters Colin Castleton and Myreon Jones each scored 18 points. The Gators are coming off of a NCAA Tournament berth in 2020-21, despite losing the 2020 SEC preseason player of the year Keyontae Johnson due to a collapse in the middle of a game. Johnson is not medically cleared to play as of yet this season. But Florida is a talented team regardless and has potential to rise in these rankings throughout the season.

9. Ole Miss

Ole Miss put together an all-around team performance in a 82-61 victory over New Orleans. Six Rebels scored nine points or more on the night and the team shot 53.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range. The turning point of the game came when Ole Miss was down six and rallied to go on a 20-2 run, never looking back thereafter. The Rebels featured a starting lineup of all juniors and seniors, with varying levels of experience. In order for the team to grow beyond current expectations, seniors Robert Allen and Jarkel Joiner will have to be central to the effort alongside development from young talent.

10. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt started their year by doing what they were supposed to do against Alabama State, winning 91-72 in a consistent effort. Sophomores Jordan Wright and Jamaine Mann emerged as possible co-stars for SEC Offensive Player of the Year Candidate Scotty Pippen Jr. Unfortunately for the Commodores, head coach Jerry Stackhouse recently announced a setback in the recovery of star transfer Liam Robbins, who was expected to be the anchor of the defense at the center position this season. This comes after the loss of transfer guard Rodney Chatman, leaving the Commodores short-handed to start their 2021-22 season.

11. Texas A&M

Texas A&M got a surprising test from North Florida in their 64-46 win, with the Ospreys staying within four points as late as halfway through the second half. The difference for the Aggies was in the play of Henry Coleman III and Marcus Williams down the stretch. The two sophomore transfers combined for 38 points and were the only Aggies to reach double-digit scoring. The Aggies will need some contributions from elsewhere on their roster if they expect to keep up in what looks to be a competitive year in the SEC.

12. Missouri

The Missouri Tigers pulled away from Central Michigan in a 78-68 win that was decided in the final minutes. Five players on Missouri reached double-digit scoring in a balanced offensive attack. Senior Javon Pickett led the team with 18 points, which is three times higher than his average from last season. Whether this game is an outlier for the Tigers will determine their strength at the forward position. Either way, Missouri will have to work on finding consistency this season after struggling in their 8-8 SEC campaign last year.

13. South Carolina

The Gamecocks started their season with a 78-60 win against South Carolina Upstate, which was a welcome sight for the program after a 6-15 overall record last season. Despite the win, South Carolina struggled with their offensive efficiency. The three leading guards for the Gamecocks Jermaine Couisnard, Erik Stevenson and Devin Carter combined to shoot 11 of 35 from the field. If South Carolina hopes to move up from the cellar of SEC play, they will have to create more efficient shots on offense and clarify roles on the team.

14. Georgia

The Bulldogs narrowly escaped Florida International University 58-51 in a worrying game for the team. The matchup turned into a defensive battle due to the abysmal shooting numbers for both teams. The difference maker for the Bulldogs was their ability to draw fouls, ending up with 17 more free-throw attempts than FIU. Georgia’s top scorer on the night was senior Aaron Cook who put in 10 points on just 3-of-12 shooting, adding eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. But this effort will not be enough as Georgia heads into more competitive games. If the Bulldogs want to dig their way out of the bottom of these rankings, they will have to trust their shooting and get the ball moving to generate some better looks on offense.

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About the Contributors
Jonah Crist
Jonah Crist, Staff Writer
Jonah Crist ('24) is a Human and Organizational Development major in Peabody College. He is from Marysville, Ohio and enjoys spending his time walking around Vanderbilt's campus listening to old music and watching NBA games whenever possible. You can reach him at [email protected].
Truman McDaniel
Truman McDaniel, Former Multimedia Sports Specialist
Truman McDaniel (2023) is a student in the College of Arts & Science majoring in Environmental and Ecological Biology and Political Science. In his free time, he enjoys taking pictures, drinking coffee and watching movies. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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