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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 Power Rankings: Somebody call 911, Shawty Fire Auburning on the dance floor

Despite a scare against Missouri, No. 1 Auburn is still rolling.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt center Liam Robbins lines up for free throws against Kentucky on Feb. 2, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

The SEC has been wildly inconsistent this year, which has made for some intense showdowns, upsets and blowouts. The inconsistency of the conference makes for uncertainty when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, as it’s feasible that any of these teams could make the postseason if they get hot at the right time. Except Georgia. Sorry, Georgia fans. At least you have that National Championship.

So far, Auburn is the best team in the SEC, and it isn’t close. They’re undefeated in the SEC, the winners of 17 straight, and show no signs of slowing down.  From there, it’s anybody’s game. Every other team has at least two conference losses, albeit some worse than others (We’re looking at you, Arkansas). With that said, at the end of each segment, we’ll be assigning our own confidence level out of 10 for each team to make the NCAA Tournament. You could say we’re something of bracketologists ourselves.

Auburn 21-1 (9-0)

Basketball fans, it finally happened—Bruce Pearl got locked up for life (by Auburn, not the NCAA investigative authorities). This Auburn team is dominant in ways even their 2018-19 Final Four counterparts were not: it’s their first No. 1 ranking in program history, they have a consensus top-three draft pick in forward Jabari Smith and they haven’t lost a game since Thanksgiving. As of right now, they’re the No. 1 overall seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology and two games above the next team in the SEC standings. They’ve beaten LSU, Kentucky and Alabama (twice), with no team better than Arkansas remaining on the docket. Is it possible that they slip up and lose a game? Yes—they managed only a one-point victory against Missouri last week. But don’t count on Auburn to drop another game until at least the later rounds of the SEC Tournament. 

Confidence Level: 10/10

Kentucky 18-4 (7-2)

Kentucky seems to be back to their normal form this year after a poor season during the pandemic in 2020. The Wildcats are undefeated in Rupp Arena, with all four of their losses—three of them against ranked teams—coming during road games. The Wildcats have won three straight, including their most impressive win of the season which came on the road against No. 10 Kansas. Kentucky waltzed right into Allen Fieldhouse and dominated for an entire40 minutes. They took the lead at the 17:57 mark of the first half, and ran away with it from there. Kentucky is just as well-balanced as a team can be, with five players averaging in double figures. The Wildcats look well on their way for a tournament berth and a top seed, meaning only one thing: a loss to an inferior team in the first two rounds of March Madness is inevitable.

Confidence level: 9/10

Arkansas 17-5 (6-3)

Arkansas basketball in the 2021-22 season has been a wild ride. They started the year fresh off their first Elite Eight appearance in a quarter-century, gaining momentum with nine straight victories and a No. 10 ranking in early December. After that, they spent a month attempting to lose as many games as possible—going on a 1-5 stretch that featured home losses to Hofstra and Vanderbilt (Anchor Down). With an 0-3 start to conference play, a head coach in need of surgery and a fanbase ready to move on to next season, the Razorbacks wrestled back control of their own destiny with four consecutive SEC victories and a win against West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. However, many of the Razorbacks’ best opponents remain on the schedule, as they still have to play every ranked SEC team at least once. That means there will be ample opportunity to either build a respectable resume or crash and burn out of contention. What Eric Musselman’s transfer-laden squad will do with the opportunity is anyone’s guess. 

Confidence Level: 8/10

Tennessee 15-6 (6-3)

Tennessee is a confusing team, and there’s no getting around it. They have a fantastic defense and they show up to play night in and night out.  But they allow a measly 63.3 points per game, the second fewest in the SEC to No. 25 LSU. The offense is more of a work in progress. They have the pieces to rain fire upon any opponent, but there’s something about the team that just doesn’t click. When they’re knocking down their shots—like in their 90-80 victory over Texas A&M, where they shot 42.3% from deep—they’re a dangerous team. As seen in the Volunteers 52-51 loss to Texas, when they shot 27.8% from 3-point range, they don’t always connect from deep. They average a miniscule 61.6 points in their losses as opposed to their season average of 74.1. Tennessee is a scary team, but their success is contingent upon their offensive success, and their offensive success rests on the shoulders of guards Santiago Vescovi and Kennedy Chandler. When those two are on, Tennessee is as good as any other team in the conference, perhaps even the country. The problem is, both of them aren’t usually on at the same time, and it makes Tennessee incredibly vulnerable. 

Confidence level: 8/10

Alabama 14-8 (4-5)

The world was warned back in early December: Alabama is “capable of beating top-five teams” yet “can lose to pretty much anyone.” Over the course of the season, they’ve proven adeptly capable at doing both of those things. Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member Iona—loss. No. 3 Gonzaga—win. Barely above .500 Memphis—loss. No. 14 Tennessee—win. Below .500 Missouri—loss. No. 13 LSU—win. Last-place team in the SEC Georgia—loss. No. 4 Baylor—win. The Crimson Tide have literally beaten three of last season’s Final Four participants while managing to lose to two of the three worst teams in their own conference. How they do it is two-fold: they take more 3-point shots than almost anyone else in the country, and they play zero defense. When shots fall, their lack of defensive ability doesn’t matter; when the well runs dry, they can—no, they will—lose to literally anyone. Unless they lose almost every game left in the season, they’re still going to make the NCAA Tournament—as of now, they’re projected as a No. 5 seed by Lunardi. However, let the world be warned once again: either Alabama is losing in the first round, or they’re going to the Final Four. There is no in-between. 

Confidence Level: 8/10

LSU 16-6 (4-5) 

LSU has quite literally fumbled the bag since their hot start. They entered SEC play undefeated, boasting an impressive 12-0 record. Since then, they have gone 4-6, dropping games against Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, TCU, Auburn and their most recent 76-72 loss against Ole Miss. LSU trailed from the opening tip, and despite clawing back and making it a game within the final minutes, they came up short. Their defense, which had been so dominant when they were undefeated, failed to get a stop down the stretch. They’re approaching a light stretch with five unranked opponents on the docket, including Vanderbilt and Georgia. It will be an extremely telling section of games, and LSU will hope to go 5-0 through it. The real test will come when they face No. 3 Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri in their final four games before the SEC Tournament begins. As long as LSU can finish with less than 10 losses and win a game or two in the SEC Tournament, they should be on their way to their second NCAA tournament berth in three years. 

Confidence Level: 6/10

Mississippi St. 14-7 (5-3)

Iverson Molinar is a bucket. That’s why this otherwise average team has any prayer of making their second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last decade. The junior guard has logged at least 16 points in each SEC game for the Bulldogs in addition to a bittersweet 30-point performance against Kentucky. According to Lunardi, Mississippi State is one of the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament field—a position not helped by their 26-point loss to Texas Tech last weekend. With consecutive games against Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Alabama coming up, the Bulldogs will need to both maintain the Molinar magic and play better defense. Since the start of the new year, Mississippi State has failed to hold its opponents to below 70 points in six out of eight games. That’ll have to change, and the Bulldogs will have to find a few more quality wins, before their place within the bracket can be solidified. 

Confidence Level: 5/10

South Carolina 13-8 (4-5)

Though not the toughest stretch known to mankind, one has to give South Carolina credit for ending January on a 3-0 run. Unfortunately for them, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State found a way to spoil the fun as soon as the calendar flipped pages. It doesn’t bode well that the Gamecocks’ three best wins—against Alabama-Birmingham, Florida State and Texas A&M—are all outside the NCAA Tournament field. Out of the remaining schedule, Georgia, Ole Miss and Missouri are must-win games, while a get-even win over Mississippi State would ensure that the Bulldogs’ aren’t guaranteed the upper hand in seeding. Victories in those four matchups would likely need to be paired with at least two wins out of Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Alabama and Auburn—as well as a late run in the SEC Tournament—for the Gamecocks to glide heroically into the sunset. 

Confidence Level: 4/10

Texas A&M 15-7 (4-5)

The Aggies have dropped five straight after a four-game winning streak left them undefeated in SEC play. Perhaps the most sickening part is that all five losses have been by 10 points or less, including their worst loss of the season, where No. 3 Kentucky defeated them 64-58. Texas A&M shot a sickening 4.5% from downtown. They hit just one 3-pointer out of the 22 that they attempted. An atypical performance for the Aggies because they’re second in the SEC in 3-point percentage, shooting at a 34.1% clip. To add insult to injury, they were leading 35-30 at halftime and simply imploded in the second half. In today’s day and age, it simply isn’t feasible for a team to shoot that poorly and win a game, so the fact that it was even close is impressive. They’ll look for the season sweep against Missouri on Saturday before facing off against No. 25 LSU and No. 1 Auburn next week. Beating Auburn will be a tough task, but if they want to stand any chance of making the postseason, they’ll need to beat the other two Tigers. 

Confidence Level: 3/10

Florida 14-8 (4-5)

New week, same story. The Florida Gators are too top heavy. Teams cannot sustain long-term success when they can only count on one player to show up night in and night out. Colin Castleton is a great player, but he’s already done everything that he can for the team, and it’s time for other players to step up. Maybe they can give Emory Jones a call – after all, he is 6’2”– and he’s already proven that football might not be his sport. Tyree Appleby has improved his play as of late, but he’s still been wildly underwhelming through his career as a Gator. Florida has a couple of light matchups this week with home showdowns against Ole Miss and Georgia. From there, though, they’ll have to buckle down and try to take some of the pressure off of Castleton’s shoulders as they face No. 3 Kentucky twice and No. 1 Auburn in the final seven games of the season. It’ll take some strong performances and a deep run in the SEC Tournament, but an NCAA Tournament berth is not out of the question. 

Ole Miss 12-10 (3-6)

With another painstakingly average season in Oxford, the Rebels have a shot at avenging their blown 10-point halftime lead in the first round of last year’s NIT; but, before they can get back to postseason losses against Conference USA teams, they’ve got to finish the season with a positive record. This looked like a much more difficult task a week ago before they picked up back-to-back wins as underdogs against Kansas State and LSU. Perhaps they can pull off a few more upset victories against either Alabama, Auburn or Kentucky; otherwise, they’ll need four victories in their six more winnable games: against Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. They’ve already lost by a combined 41 points to Missouri and Texas A&M, so it’s nowhere near a foregone conclusion that coach Kermit Davis will be allowed to disappoint the Ole Miss faithful in the postseason rather than the regular season. 

Confidence Level: 2/10

Vanderbilt 11-10 (3-6)

Vanderbilt finally completed their New Year’s resolution: Liam Robbins is healthy! The senior played 14 minutes in his Commodore debut against No. 3 Kentucky on Wednesday night, compiling two rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. Granted, it didn’t make much of an impact as Vanderbilt still lost the game 77-70. However, the Commodores have all of their players healthy for the first time, and they’ll have an immediate opportunity to prove that they can contend with the conference heavyweights, starting with a matchup against No. 25 LSU at Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday and continuing with matchups against unranked Missouri, No. 22 Tennessee and No. 1 Auburn. Realistically, they’ll need to win every game through the rest of the season, save for the Auburn matchup, to stand a chance at making the tournament. 

Confidence Level: 1/10

Missouri 8-13 (2-6)

Given that they’re five games below .500 in early February, the Tigers should probably be focused on making an NIT push rather than a run at the NCAA Tournament. To pull off the former, they’d need to stop the bleeding of their current 1-6 stretch and improve their record back to .500. They would then be relying on upset wins against Alabama and SMU—as well as their SEC pedigree—to secure a spot in the field. With only 10 games remaining in the regular season, any path to a break-even record requires wins against bottom-feeders Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Georgia. Games against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Mississippi State (twice) will also provide realistic opportunities for the Tigers. If forward Kobe Brown—who leads the team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks—can carry his team to victory in all of these games, Missouri will still need to beat one of Arkansas, Tennessee or LSU to qualify for the postseason. 

Confidence Level: 1/10

Georgia 6-16 (1-8)

I apologize in advance, Georgia fans. Every time it seems as though the team can’t get any worse, they get worse. After their 85-77 road loss against Vanderbilt, Georgia suffered a 26-point loss against Arkansas. At home. It was their worst loss to date, and they’ve had some awful losses. Things won’t get any easier for them as their next matchup is against No. 1 Auburn on Saturday. They have a -6.4 scoring margin, the lowest in the conference, and if it wasn’t for a lucky win against Alabama, they would be facing the threat of going winless in the SEC. Perhaps they just have the Crimson Tide’s number in 2022 and they’ll proudly enter the baseball season knowing that they haven’t lost to Alabama in any of the three major sports this year. The Bulldogs will have to win every remaining game on their schedule and make a deep run in the SEC Tournament in order to stand any chance at the tournament, and that simply isn’t happening. 

Confidence Level: 0/10

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About the Contributors
Jayce Pollard, Assistant 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]
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
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].
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