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 Men’s Basketball Midseason Power Rankings: A Crimson Tide does not lift all boats

Alabama is good, Arkansas is okay and most of the conference is already counting down the days until football season begins.
Nikita Rohila
Tyrin Lawrence drives to the rim on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).

CORRECTION: The article previously incorrectly stated that Texas A&M won the 2022 Men’s NIT. It was updated on Jan. 19, 2023, to correctly state that Xavier won the 2022 Men’s NIT.

The perennial football powerhouse Alabama finds themselves atop the basketball rankings for the first time. Kentucky slipped down after entering the season as an NCAA championship contender. And, unforgettably, Vanderbilt beat Arkansas again. 

This week, the Vanderbilt Hustler takes a deeper look into how every team has looked through the first half of the season. 

1. Alabama (15-2)

The Crimson Tide are unambiguously the top team in the SEC: they hold? the best record and the only win in the country against AP No. 1 Houston. Led by freshman and NBA Draft Lottery lock Brandon Miller, this Alabama team retains all of the skills? displayed by last year’s squad while having shed its propensity to drop head-scratching games against inferior competition. As long as Alabama retains the high floor they’ve demonstrated through the first half of the season, it’s hard to imagine them losing more than a few games in conference play.

2. Tennessee (14-3) 

Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse had high praise for Tennessee — dubbing them “the best team in the SEC” — after they defeated the Commodores 77-68 last week. The Volunteers entered the season ranked at No. 11, but have greatly surpassed expectations. Rick Barnes has assembled a squad of elite defenders. The Volunteers boast the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the country, per KenPom. Led by seniors Santiago Vescovi and Olivier Nkamhoua, Tennessee is a threat to win it all this season. 

3. Texas A&M (12-5)

The Aggies were undoubtedly robbed of a tournament spot last season. After its magical NIT run ended with a loss to Xavier in the championship game, Texas A&M remained underrated, voted by the media to finish sixth in the SEC. With this in mind, the Aggies have flown out of the gates in SEC play this season, winning their first four conference games. Despite not getting much respect from the AP rankings and  still being unranked, Texas A&M is hot and show no signs of cooling down.

4. Auburn (14-3) 

Despite losing star players Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler to the NBA draft, Auburn remained atop the preseason SEC rankings. The key? Their stifling defense. The Tigers sit at No. 13 in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, and allow a measly 63.2 points per game. Sophomore Johni Broone has helped lead the way, averaging 12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. While these aren’t exactly Kessler numbers (4.6 blocks per game), Broone is still getting the job done. 

5. Arkansas (12-5)

This was certainly not the plan. Eric Musselman’s team entered the season with a top-10 ranking and Final Four expectations. Now, they’ve lost four of their last five games and have future top-five draft pick Nick Smith Jr. sidelined indefinitely. The good news — or the bad — is that a horrific run to start SEC play is exactly how Arkansas’ Elite Eight campaign started last year. This is also a very, very young team which always possessed the potential for a rocky start. Whether they get it together in time for March is anyone’s guess.

6. Missouri (13-4)

The start of SEC play has not been kind to the Tigers and first-year head coach Dennis Gates.  Despite an opening win against Kentucky — and who isn’t beating Kentucky nowadays except those guys in Knoxville — Mizzou has dropped three of their last four including last week’s losses against Texas A&M and Florida. To be fair, their other defeats were at the hands of Kansas and Arkansas, who aren’t bad at all, and senior guard Kobe Brown is a bucket. For those reasons, the Tigers will most likely find themselves dancing in March, but nothing should be considered certain.

7. Kentucky (11-6)

John Calipari bought himself some time with a 63-56 win over Tennessee, but it’s genuinely incredible that a Hall of Fame coach found himself in this situation in the first place. Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology has the Wildcats missing the NCAA Tournament entirely, courtesy of their lack of a quality win before Saturday. Reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and co. have the chance to right the ship with a relatively easy upcoming slate, but their sea legs will soon after be tested when they face No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 28. Expect the Calipari to Texas Twitter buzz to become deafening if they fall short of the Jayhawks once again.

8. Vanderbilt (9-8) 

Behind a raucous Saturday afternoon home crowd, the Commodores improved to .500 in the SEC with a win over No. 25 Arkansas. After struggling to get anything going in the first half, an offensive explosion to the tune of 63 second half points led the way for the Commodores. Vanderbilt is improving with every game and continuing to mesh as a team, which means they could pose threats for some of the SEC higher-ups down the stretch.

9. Florida (10-7) 

The Gators have been solid, but have failed to impress in any one thing. They rank seventh in the SEC in both offensive and defensive points per game, largely behind Colin Castleton’s 15 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. The senior center returned for a final season in the hopes of helping Florida reach the dance — something that may be challenging, but not completely out of the cards for the citizens of the Swamp. The Gators have rattled off three straight wins and will set their sights on a midweek matchup at College Station against Texas A&M.

10. Georgia (13-4)

Maybe we’re wrong to put a 13-4 team behind the likes of Vanderbilt and Florida. The problem is that the Bulldogs have only one impressive win, their one against Auburn, and also don’t have Stetson Bennett IV — sorry, wrong sport. In recent weeks, they’ve also fallen short against the Gators and barely held onto victories against the Mississippi dregs at the bottom of the conference. Bradley University transfer Terry Roberts is a cool story and an even better player, but Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology remains unconvinced and so do we. All hail the sacred bracket and its infinite wisdom.

11. LSU (12-5) 

After a 12-1 start — and a win against Arkansas to start SEC play — LSU has quietly dropped four straight conference games, including a brutal 40-point loss to No. 4 Alabama, and find themselves much further down in the rankings than most would expect. Senior KJ Williams has been nothing short of excellent, averaging 18 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Not to mention that he’s shooting 45.3-percent from beyond the arc. Despite this, the Tigers have struggled mightily, ranking outside the top 10 in the SEC in both total offense and defense.

12. Mississippi State (12-5) 

In stark contrast to their football program, the Mississippi State offense has been propped up by their defense all season. They allow just 57 points per game to opposing teams and rank ninth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Things have not fared nearly as well on the opposite side of the court. The Bulldogs are averaging just 65.6 points per game at a 28.8-percent clip from downtown, both thirteenth in the SEC. 

13. South Carolina (8-9)

The psyche of a South Carolina fan is a deeply intriguing case study at this point in the season. They beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena for the first time since the Obama Administration and put the work on former basketball phenom Emoni Bates’ Eastern Michigan squad. At the same time, they’re one of only two SEC teams below the .500 mark and are playing for, at best, a spot in the NIT. Maybe the fan base is looking to reignite the spark of their legendary 2005 and 2006 NIT championship runs. More likely, they’re looking forward to next season and a clean slate.

14. Ole Miss (8-9)

Here we have the other SEC team below .500: the Landsharks of Ole Miss. Whereas South Carolina can boast of a win over Kentucky, Ole Miss can’t claim a victory in this calendar year. In fact, they’ve lost seven of their last eight games, including to North Alabama, a team that’s in 12th place in the “Atlantic Sun Conference.” After scrolling through the stats page on ESPN, it appears that the Landsharks are top five in the SEC in blocks and turnovers. So, maybe there’s some upside? Whatever happens, it would be criminal not to give their SEC-Big 12 Challenge slot to Vanderbilt next season.

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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]
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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Comments (2)

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Gary F.
1 year ago

Texas A&M did not win the 2022 NIT. They lost to the champion Xavier, who beat Vanderbilt, preventing VU from going to New York.

1 year ago
Reply to  Gary F.

Corrected, thank you!