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 Power Rankings: Tennessee scorching hot, Texas A&M free-falling as SEC Tournament play nears

The top SEC teams are all surging as the NCAA Tournament inches closer. Which of them will have success come March?
Jordan+Wright+drives+in+Vanderbilts+game+against+No.+2+Auburn+on+Feb.+16%2C+2022.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Jordan Wright drives in Vanderbilt’s game against No. 2 Auburn on Feb. 16, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

SEC conference play has made for plenty of insane finishes (yes, South Carolina), dominating storylines and chaos in the standings. Auburn still occupies the No. 1 spot, but three teams are tightly on their heels. 

The SEC has grown to be quite top-heavy, with four teams amidst hot streaks. The second tier of two teams have shown glimpses of brilliance, but have their own obstacles to overcome in pursuit of NCAA Tournament bids. Then there’s the rest. With Selection Sunday under four weeks away, and many more top SEC matchups to be played, the final month of the regular season should not disappoint. Here are this week’s SEC Power Rankings:

Auburn Tigers 24-2 (12-1)

Despite the close loss to No. 23 Arkansas and near slip-ups to Georgia and Missouri, this is still the best team in the SEC—though Tennessee, Kentucky and even Arkansas are really close. The Tigers are incredibly balanced, and their offensive prowess was on full display in a 94-80 win over Vanderbilt. NBA lottery prospect Jabari Smith had another outstanding game, finishing with 31 points, while shooting 7-for-10 from 3. His 6-foot-11 stature and 42% shooting from beyond the arc makes him impossible to stop and drives the success of this team. Auburn is also incredibly deep. Forward Wendell Green Jr. nearly posted a triple-double in the win over Vanderbilt, and also threw this nasty alley-oop to fellow bench star Devan Cambridge. The Tigers are greatly positioned for a tournament run, with aspirations to push even further than their 2019 Final Four appearance.

Tennessee Volunteers 19-6 (10-3)

Since falling to No. 20 Texas, the Vols have ripped off five wins in a row, none bigger than their 76-63 victory over No. 4 Kentucky. In the biggest win of the season, guards Santiago Vescovi and Kennedy Chandler dropped 18 and 17 points, respectively, while SEC Sixth Man of the Year candidate Zakai Zeigler notched 14. It was an all-around effort from the team, as Tennessee’s defense stifled Kentucky to 34% shooting. It’s this defense that has been the story all year, ranked best in the SEC, while holding opponents to 63.1 points a game. Tennessee is peaking and finding balance at the perfect time as SEC Tournament play nears, and matchups against No. 23 Arkansas and No. 4 Auburn loom large. 

Kentucky Wildcats 21-5 (10-3)

Kentucky had been on a tear, winning six in a row, until their revenge loss to No. 16 Tennessee on Tuesday night. The Wildcats had no answer for Tennessee’s defense, as they were held to a season-low 34% shooting. The story of the game, however, was guard Tyty Washington Jr.’s play after injury. After suffering a lower leg injury while diving for a ball in the victory over Florida, Washington Jr. returned and played 12 minutes before exiting the game. His status is murky ahead of a matchup against No. 25 Alabama on Saturday. Despite this, Kentucky is still a very strong contender, largely due to the play of Oscar Tshiebwe. The National Player of the Year candidate has been absolutely dominant, averaging over 16 points and 15 rebounds a game. Kentucky will always be in contention with the star big man, but the status of Washington Jr. will be worth monitoring. 

Arkansas Razorbacks 20-6 (9-4)

Stepping into the top tier of SEC teams, Arkansas has gone 10-1 in their last 11 games, with a massive 80-76 victory over No. 2 Auburn last week. Guard JD Notae had a huge game, logging 41 minutes and 28 points in the overtime win. The Razorbacks have simply taken care of business, as their defense has held nine of their last 11 opponents under 40% shooting. Arkansas has rebounded strongly from early-season letdowns to Hofstra and Vanderbilt, following up their only recent loss to No. 25 Alabama with a cruise control 19-point victory over Missouri. The final stretch won’t come easy—two games against No. 16 Tennessee remain, along with one against No. 4 Kentucky. The transfer squad has been extremely hot recently, but can the offense step up against top competition?

Alabama Crimson Tide 17-9 (7-6)

The Jekyll and Hyde of the SEC, Alabama’s season has truly been a wild ride. The Crimson Tide are riding a three-game winning streak, while picking up victories against No. 23 Arkansas and Mississippi State. Alabama’s defense finally showed up, holding the Razorbacks under 32% shooting. Ten different players scored, while leading scorer JD Davidson only notched 11 points in the victory. In the comeback over the Bulldogs, head coach Nate Oats was ejected, which seemed to spark the team, as a late 18-2 run locked down the victory. Strange games amidst a strange season, Alabama has not silenced both the believers and the haters. They live and die by the 3-ball, outshooting and scoring every other team in the SEC with it. Their offense and defense average a whopping 80.4 and 75.5 points per game, respectively, making for some entertaining games. The Crimson Tide are ranked and will head to the tournament, but will we get the team that has defeated three of the 2021 Final Four teams, or the one that fell to Georgia?

LSU Tigers 19-7 (7-6)

LSU has not dealt with much competition as of late: their last seven games have been against unranked opponents. The Tigers are 7-7 after their torrid 12-0 start, and are riding a three-game winning streak after losses to TCU, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. LSU’s offense has been a problem, but the team finally had its first 80-plus point game of 2022 in the victory over Georgia. Tari Eason, however, has been playing exceptional lately, averaging 19.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 53% shooting over the last nine games. LSU hopes to recapture some early season magic as they head into the final weeks of play with tough games against No. 4 Kentucky, No. 23 Arkansas and No. 25 Alabama on deck. The Tigers are currently eyeing a mid-tier seed in March Madness, but after the recent stretch, are they truly deserving of one?

Florida Gators 16-10 (6-7)

Florida plays exactly how they are supposed to: they usually beat the inferior teams, and always lose to superior ones. The Gators have zero wins against ranked opponents and are also on a two-game skid. The team’s offense completely sputtered against a cold Texas A&M team, shooting only 28.8% from the field. Senior Colin Castleton has been the lone bright spot, evident in his 15-point and 15-rebound showing against the Aggies. Drawing double and even triple teams all season, it is frustrating that no other players have stepped up for this team. A team truly on the fringe of an NCAA Tournament berth, this is shaping up as a lost season for the Gators. 

South Carolina Gamecocks 15-10 (6-7)

Losers of three of their last four, the Gamecocks wound up victorious against Ole Miss on an overtime game-winning heave by James Reese. The transfer guard had been 0-for-5 from 3 during the game prior to the miraculous shot. Keyshawn Bryant and Devin Carter—both finishing with 16 points—were key scorers holding up the team. Despite 3s driving them to victory in their past two games, South Carolina’s perimeter shooting still needs work: their 3-point percentage is only 32%. The Gamecocks lack a consistent, effective scorer, proving it difficult for their offense to hold up against the top SEC teams. The Gamecocks have a solid defense, but they need to work on boosting their offense, especially from 3, as they take on LSU’s strong defense next.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 14-11 (5-7)

Mississippi State has been struggling the past few weeks as their recent loss against No. 25 Alabama extends the losing streak to four. The team has struggled mightily on the road, having an 0-7 record away from Humphrey Coliseum. A team once on the brink of a tournament berth, hope is waning as their last home game against No. 16 Tennessee ended in a loss as well. A silver lining, however, for the Bulldogs is the play of guard Iverson Molinar. He’s been averaging 21 points a game during the losing streak, but this has not translated towards the win column. The Bulldogs need Molinar’s teammates to step up to get them the road wins they need. Mississippi State started the season strong, but their recent stretch of losses is proving to be dire. Even if they string together some wins, it will be too little too late.

Vanderbilt Commodores 13-12 (5-8)

While they started out strong in their last game against No. 2 Auburn, the Tigers offense proved too much for Vanderbilt’s stingy defense. The Commodores have lost their last two games against SEC teams, although they picked up a nice win over LSU just two weeks ago. Scotty Pippen Jr. and Myles Stute have been great assets for the Commodores, but the absence of guard Rodney Chatman has been detrimental to the team. Chatman has only played 10 games this season, but his 41% shooting from 3 and 78% from the free-throw line are exactly what the offense has missed when he’s hurt. As Vanderbilt goes into their next two games both at home, the Commodore offense needs to be more consistent to support their pesky defense.

Missouri Tigers 10-15  (4-8)

After a win against Ole Miss, the Tigers seemed unfocused and unmotivated against No. 23 Arkansas in their last game. The Tigers had a rocky start that carried into most of the game until midway through the second half. The Tigers have been lacking in discipline and consistency, and the kind of basketball they have been displaying is lackluster for this late into the season. Missouri’s offense has shown glimpses, but they truly struggle against even mediocre competition. While there is potential for this team to improve, missed passes at half court and multiple consecutive, unforced turnovers are not the kind of errors that will get the team where it needs to be. The Tigers need to play more disciplined and consistent basketball to grind out wins against their remaining SEC opponents. 

Texas A&M Aggies 16-10 (5-8)

The Aggies have been in an absolute free fall over the past month. While they started the season off strong at 15-2 overall and 4-0 in the conference, their last nine games featured an eight-game losing streak, followed by a lowly one-point win over Florida. The Aggies have truly dropped the ball lately, which is especially disheartening given that they were once considered a surefire NCAA Tournament team. The team has really struggled closing out games, as the average margin of defeat over the losing streak has only been 8.1 points. The win over Florida is a start, but A&M is going to have to toughen it out and come out victorious in their next five games, which will be a tough task for the Aggies, despite the light schedule moving forward. 

Ole Miss Rebels 12-14 (3-10)

A crazy half-court buzzer-beater shot in overtime against South Carolina pushed the Rebels losing streak to four on Tuesday. The loss against South Carolina is truly a heartbreaker, and team morale is certainly affected by the outcome of games like these. The last few losses are especially concerning for head coach Kermit Davis, as he is firmly on the hot seat. The Rebels lack the structure, game plan and talent they need to get them wins, and it’s apparent by their disappointing performances lately. They may end their losing streak against Georgia on Saturday, but their next four games after that will certainly be challenging—especially against conference heavyweights Kentucky and Tennessee. 

Georgia Bulldogs 6-20 (1-12)

On a six-game losing streak and standing 1-12 in the conference with 20 losses overall, the Bulldogs have had a terrible season. Georgia’s focus is no longer on wins or conference standings but rather intangible goals for the sake of self-motivation and morale. With loss after loss, the only question in regards to the Bulldogs for this season is whether they will even be able to win another SEC game. Head coach Tom Crean is shifting focus from wins to working on weaknesses, improving individual players and minor details. Georgia has been running low on players and energy—their full 14 player roster has played only six games this season while they have played six games with less than 11 players. With the absence of healthy guys and competent coaching, the Bulldogs are hoping to ride positive momentum into next season, as true victories become more and more like dreams. At least they won the football natty.

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About the Contributors
Adam Weiss, Former Staff Writer
Adam Weiss (2024) is a sophomore from Colts Neck, N.J., in the College of Arts and Science. He is studying economics and math with a minor in data science. Adam is currently a staff writer for the Sports section. In his free time, he loves to play basketball and golf, while also hoping his New York Giants and Knicks can turn it around.
Khushi Jani, Former Staff Writer
Khushi Jani ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in economics and political science and minor in data science. She is a staff writer for the Sports section. In her free time, she enjoys doing the daily Wordle and sudokus as well as dancing and hanging out with friends.
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