The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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 Basketball Power Rankings: Sweet Home Alabama

Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same: Alabama is on top of the SEC.
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)

It might be early, but we’re beginning to see a lot of similarities between the SEC basketball season and the SEC football season. The most obvious one, of course, is that the Alabama Crimson Tide remain atop the standings in this week’s power rankings. Just like in football, the SEC runs deep this year. Football saw 13 of the 14 SEC teams finish with six wins, making them bowl eligible. The most recent edition of Joe Lunardi’s bracketology projected seven SEC teams in the NCAA tournament, with two more on the bubble. 

One thing to note is that this may be a deep conference, but it is not a top-heavy conference. There are a lot of able teams, but few of them really stand out. They all have their weaknesses, whether it’s on the boards, on the defensive end or from the 3-point line, the SEC is still anyone’s game. 

1. Alabama: 7-1

The Crimson Tide are a prime example of a team that lives or dies beyond the 3-point line. When shots fall, they’re capable of beating top-five teams like Gonzaga. When they don’t, they can lose to pretty much anyone—no, seriously, they were escorted to the exits by Iona and the ghost of Rick Pitino. The final two weeks of nonconference play will reveal whether the SEC’s top-scoring offense can keep up the pace, as they’ll face No. 14 Houston and formerly-ranked Memphis. Responsibility for that task will continue to fall squarely on the shoulders of junior guard Jaden Shackleford, who may begin to hear NBA Draft buzz if he continues his campaign of 19 points and almost seven rebounds per game on 45 percent shooting. Beyond Shackelford, Alabama’s ability to remain towards the top of the conference in rebounding despite playing three guards for 30 minutes each night will be crucial for the team’s chances heading into conference matchups.

2. Kentucky: 7-1

Unsurprisingly, Kentucky remains near the top of the SEC power rankings. After starting the season 0-1 after losing to an excellent Duke team, the Wildcats have rattled off seven straight victories, all of which have been by double digits. After a down season last year that saw them go just 9-16, Kentucky seems to be back on the path of being a perennial contender in the SEC, and the nation. Kentucky still has two onerous nonconference matchups ahead in which they’ll face No. 21 Ohio State on the road and Louisville at home. Kentucky has dominated on the boards all season, leading the SEC with 46.6 rebounds per game. The majority of the credit must go to junior Oscar Tshiebwe, who is averaging an SEC-high 16 rebounds per game, six more than any other player. Tshiebwe turned in a 23-point, 11-rebound, 4-block and 2-steal performance in the Wildcats’ victory over Southern on Tuesday night. 

3. Arkansas: 9-0

Despite rattling off nine consecutive wins to begin the season, the Razorbacks find themselves behind the likes of Alabama and Kentucky for a simple reason: they haven’t beaten anyone that impressive. One-possession wins over Kansas State and Cincinnati would have been more impressive in football, but Arkansas will begin the final stretch of its nonconference slate with a chance for a resume-boosting win against Oklahoma. The actual product on the court has been noteworthy thus far: the Razorbacks lead the SEC in free-throw attempts per game and place second for both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. Expect to continue seeing big things from senior guards JD Notae—who ranks top five nationally in steals per game—and Au’Diese Toney—who ranks top five nationally among guards in field goal percentage.

4. LSU: 8-0

The season is certainly still young, but the Tigers are on fire right now, and have been one of the most pleasant surprises through the first month of nonconference play, albeit without playing a ranked team. Quality wins on the road against Penn State and Wake Forrest bolster their case as a top SEC team, but they don’t have any challenging nonconference matchups before their SEC season begins. The season’s start will be extremely telling as to how strong the Tigers are, as they will play seven ranked SEC teams in a row, starting with a road matchup against No. 18 Auburn. If they want to prove they can compete in the SEC, they’ll need Darius Days to continue his excellent play. The senior has averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and a steal on a red-hot, 42-percent clip from three to start the season. Whether or not the Tigers are legitimate will be revealed in the coming weeks, but for now, they can enjoy the title of being one of only two undefeated teams in the SEC.

5. Tennessee: 6-2

Tennessee suffered an absolutely heart-wrenching loss at the hands of Texas Tech on Tuesday night. The Red Raiders defeated the Volunteers 57-52 in overtime in an ugly defensive battle. The Volunteers shot 27 percent from the field and only 15 percent from three (6-40) in a game where absolutely nobody could get it going. The typically lethal backcourt duo of Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi combined to shoot 7-27 from the field and 3-15 from three. If there’s any solace for Tennessee fans after the team’s second loss, it’s that both came against very quality teams (the other one came on the road against No. 6 Villanova). The Volunteers will conclude the nonconference portion of their schedule against No. 11 Arizona and look to improve their record against ranked opponents to 2-1 before taking on Alabama on the road to start SEC play. 

6. Auburn: 7-1

It may have taken 1,095 days, but Auburn finally got its revenge against 2017 football national champions UCF with a sold-out, double-digit victory. The Tigers have been really impressive this year on both ends of the floor: they commit the fewest turnovers per game in the SEC while landing first and second, respectively, in blocks and steals. Only one Auburn opponent has crossed 80 points this season, while sophomores K.D. Johnson and Walker Kessler continue to lock down opposing players both on the perimeter and down low. Whether the Tigers can keep up the defensive intensity against top-tier opponents is yet to be seen, but games will only become more difficult once the team enters conference play against LSU on Dec. 29.

7. Florida: 7-2

Florida has been one of the most polarizing teams in college basketball to start the season. After ripping off a 6-0 start with quality wins over Florida State and No. 21 Ohio State, Florida has dropped its past two games, including their most recent 15-point loss at home to (previously) winless Texas Southern on Monday night. Texas Southern bullied the Gators down low, shooting only 11 3s, and converting five of them. While Florida also made five 3-pointers, they shot 24 of them, converting only 20.8 percent. The responsibility of getting Florida back in the winning column fell on Colin Castleton’s shoulders, and the senior did not disappoint. He put up 26 points, eight rebounds and two steals in a blowout victory over Northern Florida Wednesday night. One thing the Gators must improve on is their 3-point shooting, as they are shooting it at 30.7 percent from long-range so far this season. 

8. Texas A&M: 7-1

Texas A&M has impressed in their wins thus far, but they haven’t exactly been against the most high-quality opponents. Their one loss came during the Maui Invitational against a very solid Wisconsin team. If there’s one thing that the Aggies are lacking, it’s an elite scorer. Senior Quenton Jackson leads in that category, averaging 12 points a game while shooting a stellar 46 percent from downtown. The Aggies play a physical, defensive brand of basketball, allowing 60.1 points per game, second-best in the SEC. The Aggies also average 9.4 steals per game, with five different players averaging about a steal per game. An area that they’ll look to improve in is rebounding, as they average only 36 boards per game, second lowest in the SEC. While the remainder of Texas A&M’s non-conference slate should be smooth sailing, once conference play starts, the teams real identity will become apparent. 

9. Mississippi State: 6-2

Mississippi State does exactly what average teams do: beat up on bad teams and struggle against the good ones. The Bulldogs have gone undefeated against a slate of minor conference opponents with a combined record of 25-27, but failed to walk away with a victory against either Louisville or Minnesota. They’re also yet to play a true road game this season and will not do so until a Jan. 5 matchup against Missouri. Any chance this team has to make noise within the SEC will be contingent upon the continued success of junior guard Iverson Molinar, who leads the team in points, assists and minutes per game. Don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs are caught lacking this month against mid-majors Colorado State and Furman.

10. South Carolina: 6-2

Just like in football, South Carolina has managed to stumble backwards into six wins over the course of the fall. The Gamecocks have already picked up losses to Princeton and Coastal Carolina while barely coming away with victories against the likes of UAB and Rider. At a minimum, this is an all-around team with four players averaging double-digit points and five averaging at least 20 minutes per game. However, they’re definitely going to have to improve beyond the 3-point line in order to have success once SEC play starts—Erik Stevenson, the team leader in 3-point attempts, is shooting a putrid 28.1 percent. Expect the Gamecocks to struggle tremendously against Florida State and Clemson as they finish off their non-conference schedule.

11. Vanderbilt: 5-3

Vanderbilt has had its ups and downs to start the season. They looked strong through the first two games before scoring just 37 points in a home loss to VCU in November. They followed this up with three straight wins, including a double-digit road win on the road against Pittsburgh. They have since dropped two games straight against SMU and Temple. Their loss to Temple was a byproduct of a poor shooting performance from their three leading scorers: Scotty Pippen Jr., Jordan Wright and Myles Stute, who average 16.8, 14.9 and 7.9, respectively. The Commodores shot just 15.4 percent from three as a team, a stark contrast from their previous three games, where they shot the lights out. Vanderbilt draws their toughest matchup yet on Friday against America’s sweetheart Loyola-Chicago as they’ll hope to end their two-game skid.

12. Ole Miss: 6-2

Ole Miss’ schedule thus far effectively comes down to three games: a six-point loss to Marquette, a 10-point loss to Boise State and a four-point victory over Memphis. Going 1-2 in meaningful games isn’t bad for an NIT team, but the Rebels are going to have to pick it up if they want to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. Senior guard Jarkel Joiner is the only player averaging double-digit points, while seven-foot center Nysier Brooks’ almost eight points and rebounds per game contributes mightily to what is a veteran team. Do not be surprised if the Rebels score below their 2021 football season-high of 61 points more than a few times this season.

13. Missouri: 5-4

The Tigers should be very thankful they’ve amassed five wins by mid-December, as there’s a good chance they don’t win another game over the next month. At least the most embarrassing part of the season is already over: there’s no way it can get worse than losing to UMKC on their home court by double-digits. Perhaps head coach Cuonzo Martin should also be happy that the team’s biggest problem is easily diagnosable—they are absolutely horrendous at shooting beyond the 3-point line. As of Dec. 7, the Tigers are shooting a measly 26.2 percent beyond the arc, leaving them tied for seventh-worst in the country and clearly at the bottom of the SEC. Six-foot-eight forward Kobe Brown is still an exciting player to watch, as he leads the team in points, rebounds and steals; however, watching the junior from Huntsville, Alabama, go in the late second round would probably be the highlight of the season for Missouri fans.

14. Georgia: 4-5

Georgia, after starting the season 2-5, has won two straight, including a statement win against Memphis last week. The statement being that they aren’t as bad as people thought, of course. Sixth-year senior Aaron Cook is enjoying arguably the best year of his career, averaging 11 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting at an efficient 37.5 percent from downtown. Don’t get it mistaken though: Georgia is still the worst team in the SEC, and it isn’t particularly close. The Bulldogs are averaging just 68.1 points per game, the second-least in the SEC, while allowing a whopping 68.9 points per game, the second-most in the SEC. Georgia will look to improve to above .500, as they’ll face four easy nonconference opponents before their first SEC matchup against Texas A&M in January. 

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Non-revenue Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached 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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