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: March Madness prelude

Vanderbilt shoots up the power rankings as Georgia takes a tumble in The Vanderbilt Hustler’s most recent rankings.
Quentin+Millora-Brown+hangs+onto+the+basket+momentarily+after+dunking%2C+as+photographed+on+March+4th%2C+2023+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FOphelia+Lu%29.
Ophelia Lu
Quentin Millora-Brown hangs onto the basket momentarily after dunking, as photographed on March 4th, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).

Now that the regular season is officially over, the Hustler takes a look at how each team stacks up in a loaded SEC conference. At the moment, eight teams are projected to earn at-large bids to the tournament, per Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology.

The conference tournament has major implications for both bids and seeding purposes. Currently, Mississippi State is one of the “Last Four In”, per Lunardi. Vanderbilt, despite finishing tied for fourth in the conference, is listed in Lunardi’s “considered” section — meaning it has some work to do.

The SEC Tournament will begin when LSU and Georgia clash on Wednesday, March 9 at 6 p.m. CST. Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look at each team.

1. Alabama (26-5, 16-2)

Despite suffering a loss to the Aggies, Alabama still remains at the top. Their ranking was considerably predictable given the significant stride they underwent in mid-February by dethroning Purdue as the No. 1 basketball college team in the nation. The Crimson Tide also owe their first place to their performance in SEC conference games: with 16 wins facilitated by their team spirit and the breakthrough of promising freshman Brandon Miller. 

This was quite a phenomenal season for the Tide: they managed to crush almost all of the teams they played against and leave a noticeable margin between them and their opponents’ scores. With its sights firmly set on the postseason, Alabama will undoubtedly be looking to maintain its winning ways and solidify its position as the team to beat at the Bridgestone Arena. This won’t come easy — several elite teams in the Southeastern Conference continuously nip at the Tide’s heels and have looked to topple the Tide from their perch at the top.

2. Texas A&M (23-8, 15-3)

After defeating the Crimson Tide 67-61, the Aggies have cemented their second place in the power ranking and closed out their campaign with an impressive 15 conference wins. The Aggies have been on a steady winning streak, sustaining only three losses to their name. The team’s consistency and endurance over the course of the last nine months of the SEC Tournament had made them a great opponent for any team that participated in the championship. At the forefront of the Aggies’ success is sophomore point guard Wade Taylor IV, who has been instrumental in helping A&M keep its standing. Taylor led the team against Alabama with a remarkable 28-point performance.

3. Kentucky (21-10, 12-6)

Although Kentucky faced setbacks from injuries to key players, the Wildcats put up a valiant fight with the help of senior guard Antonio Reeves. The Wildcats have been best at the end of the regular season when they won five of their last six games. Still, their resilience was put to test when freshman guard Cason Wallace sustained a leg injury during their game against Vanderbilt alongside the ongoing incapacity of junior Savhir Wheeler, who missed games for Kentucky due to an ankle injury. After handing Arkansas its third consecutive loss with an 88-79 triumph, the Wildcats are set to fight for the seventh SEC Tournament title under John Calipari. 

4. Vanderbilt (18-13, 11-7)

The Commodores, after starting conference play 3-6, ripped off eight wins in their final nine games to come back to life and return to the brink of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Tragedy struck, however, when the team lost star player Liam Robbins when he sustained a right leg injury just four minutes into their victory against Kentucky. Even without Robbins, the team defeated Mississippi State in a close 77-72 win with the guidance of seniors Ezra Manjon and Jordan Wright. This season, Vanderbilt has picked up its game, finally cementing a respectable NCAA Tournament resume. The Commodores will take on the winner of tonight’s encounter between Georgia and LSU on Thursday, March 9 with the same never-say-die attitude and determination that has characterized its recent performances. The Commodores will need not only to perform well on the court but also cause higher-ranked teams to falter in order to carry on their winning streak and hold the Vanderbilt torch even higher. 

5. Tennessee (22-9, 11-7)

The Volunteers had a season of ups and downs but managed to maintain their top-five position in the conference despite losing multiple games to unranked opponents. Tennessee feasted on the defensive end of the court, led by senior Santiago Vescovi and sophomore Zakai Ziegler. Ziegeler went down with a season-ending ACL injury just last week. His impact was clearly missed in their most recent game as they suffered a fifth straight-away defeat 79-70 to Auburn. While the Vols were initially in the race to tie with Missouri for fourth place, their narrow 86-85 defeat to Auburn cost them the double-bye. As they head to the tournament, it’s up to the Volunteers to show they still have what it takes to compete against the top teams.

6. Missouri (23-8, 11-7)

Mizzou wrapped up their SEC regular season on a strong note with their fourth consecutive win, an 82-77 victory over Ole Miss. This marks the highest SEC seed in the school’s history. The Tigers’ win and Tennessee’s loss guaranteed them a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. It was an overall incredible season for head coach Dennis Gates’ squad. There were low expectations heading into the season for the team during Gates’ first season, and he shattered those goals. The Tigers will be playing on Friday in the quarterfinals, a prime opportunity to assert their school as a serious contender for a run in the NCAA Tournament. If they succeed in capitalizing on this chance, they would prove themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Big Dance.

7. Auburn (20-11, 10-8)

The Auburn Tigers locked up the seventh position in our power rankings as they finished their regular season with 20 wins. During their victory over Tennessee, the duo of seniors Allen Flannigan and Jaylin Williams contributed a combined 29 points. Head coach Bruce Pearl’s squad ended the season losing two of its last three, with losses at Kentucky and Alabama before the Tennessee victory. The No. 7 Tigers will head to Nashville to take on Arkansas this Thursday. As the Tigers enter the tournament with their winning streak halted multiple times during both seasons, do they have what it takes to make a deep run?  

8. Mississippi State (20-11, 8-10)

After dominating the non-conference portion of their schedule (11-1), the Bulldogs have struggled immensely in conference play. Through the end of December and just about all of January, Mississippi State won just one game, defeating in-state rivals Ole Miss 64-54. 

Things seemed to turn around for the Bulldogs after losing to Alabama by just three points on Jan. 25. Head coach Chris Jans’ squad proceeded to win eight of its next eleven, including ranked wins over TCU and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs find themselves right on the cusp of the bubble — the onus will fall on first team All-SEC selection Tolu Smith to use his size against a Florida team lacking serious depth at the center position. A win against the Gators would all but ensure a tournament berth for them.

9. Arkansas (19-12, 8-10)

Arkansas is a rare case: The Razorbacks exhibit similarities to Mississippi State in the sense that they struggled at times in the non-conference and ended up in the bottom half of the final regular season standings. However, they differ from nearly every team in the conference in terms of talent — as in, they have no shortage of it. Ricky Council IV and Antony Black were both selected to the All-SEC second team, and freshman Nick Smith was the number one recruit in the 2022 class. Davonte Davis averages 10.8 points per game and was selected to the All-SEC defensive team, and Trevon Brazile also averages in double figures. Oh, and the NET loves them, ranking them at No. 18 in the country. 

The talent is there, but can Arkansas produce results? The Razorbacks’ first matchup in the SEC Tournament will come against Auburn in what projects to be a thriller with some legitimate tournament implications. 

10. Florida (16-15, 9-9)

Excitement bubbled in Gainesville when Colin Castleton announced he would be returning as a graduate for the 2022-2023 season. However, the team simply did not have the depth around Castleton to succeed. Outside of the fifth-year big man, only Will Richard averaged in double figures this season with 10.8 points. The Gators struggled in the non-conference, dropping games to Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic University, and they never really got back on track. Once Castleton went down with a broken hand in February, ending his season, Florida dropped three straight before righting the ship and ending the season with wins at Georgia and home against LSU. Florida’s season is all but over barring a miraculous SEC tournament run this week.

11. South Carolina (11-20, 4-14)

There weren’t many expectations for South Carolina entering this season — it was picked by Sports Illustrated to finish last place in the conference — and the Gamecocks’ season can perhaps best be summed up with their eight-game losing streak from mid-January to mid-February. Still, there are positive takeaways from this season. A win at Rupp Arena over Kentucky and a near overtime win against Alabama are encouraging. While freshman wonder GG Jackson is almost certainly heading to Brooklyn in the NBA draft this summer, his presence in the program is reassuring. Head coach Lamont Paris was able to flip him from UNC this summer, and while the team struggled, Jackson averaged 15.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game en route to an All-Freshman selection in the SEC. Proving to recruits that South Carolina can nurture top-level talent is essential for the future of the Gamecocks program. They’ll take on Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday.

12. Ole Miss (11-20, 3-15)

Ole Miss is another team that falls under the “poor expectations, poor results” category. There were already minimal expectations for the team, but you know a season has gone awry when a coaching change occurs as late in the season as it did for the Rebels. On Feb. 24, the university announced that Kermit Davis had been fired after five seasons with the team. Win Case (yes, that’s his name) took over head coaching duties for the final three games of the season. Case led the team to a win over LSU and narrow losses to both Texas A&M and Missouri. Rumors of Chris Beard filling the vacant head coaching position have been swirling around the college basketball world for the last week. If the Rebels can return juniors Matthew Murall and Jaemyn Brakefield, bring in some key transfers and find the right coaching fit, perhaps things will change in Oxford. For now, though, Ole Miss will have its undivided attention focused on its Wednesday matchup against South Carolina. 

13. Georgia (16-15, 6-12)

Georgia was a bit of a strange case this season. After finishing last in the conference last season, the Bulldogs were not expected to make much noise. Still, they came out of the gates strong and entered conference play hot with a 10-3 nonconference record. A win over Auburn in the first game of the conference schedule had fans thinking optimistically, and even through January, the Bulldogs were a fringe bubble team sitting at 4-4 in the SEC. It all came crashing down through February and early March, as the Bulldogs lost eight of their last ten — including five straight to end the season. 

Mike White’s first season had some positive takeaways, especially considering he inherited a broken roster in the midst of a complete culture rebuild. He’ll go back to the drawing board ahead of season two, but not before his squad takes on LSU in the opening round of the SEC tournament. 

14. LSU (13-18, 2-16)

I truly have no words for LSU’s season. How can a team start 12-1, including quality wins over Arkansas and Wake Forest — and a close loss against Kansas State — and finish 13-18? They were projected by many as a tournament team and transfers Adam Miller and KJ Williams headlined first-year head coach Matt McMahon’s squad, but the wheels completely fell off the bus for the Tigers in a season that many projected to go well. 

Things simply did not work out the way LSU intended in McMahon’s first season, perhaps best exemplified by the team’s 13-game losing streak that spanned over six weeks. Of course, the Tigers figured it out against Vanderbilt as Williams dropped 35 points and 10 rebounds, dimming the Commodores’ tournament hopes. McMahon will look to replicate the success he found as Murray State’s head coach in his second year with the team. The Tigers will have their sights set on a matchup with Georgia in round one of the SEC Tournament.

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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].
Anseley Philippe
Anseley Philippe, Staff Writer and Photographer
Anseley Philippe ('25) is a potential biomedical engineering and Spanish double-major who aspires to be an immunologist. Outside of The Hustler, he can be found queuing up at 2301, wandering around campus during his evening promenades or trying to keep up with his Spanish. He can be reached at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Editor
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
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