1. Auburn Tigers
The Tigers survived a scare against Vanderbilt to preserve a perfect record, now 15-0 after a lopsided home win against Georgia on Saturday. Auburn lacks the non-conference resume to be a strong early pick for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a pair of matchups against Kentucky could give the selection committee more clarity. If head coach Bruce Pearl can harness his team’s talent like he did in the SEC Tournament last year, which they won en route to a Final Four bid, this team is dangerous. Isaac Okoro’s dunk over Ejike Obinna of the Commodores starts to tell the story.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky, similarly to other No.1 ranked teams, sustained a shocking out of conference home loss to Evansville back on Nov. 12. Further setbacks against Utah and Ohio State seem to be behind this team, however, as they’ve rattled off three straight wins to open SEC play after edging out rival Louisville in overtime. Although nine point wins over middling Georgia and Alabama are probably underwhelming for head coach John Calipari, they keep the Wildcats with a perfect conference record and in the top 15.
3. LSU Tigers
LSU may be the best chance for the SEC to have a third top 25 team at season’s end, and their 3-0 conference start shows promise. After winning the SEC regular season with a 16-2 conference record in 2019, the Tigers look poised for another respectable run in 2020. Perhaps their last two wins by a combined three points will build character, and the Tigers could, with the relative ease of their January schedule, stay undefeated in conference play going into a road bout against Auburn on Feb. 8.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks
In a season perhaps lacking in feel-good stories for SEC basketball, the Razorbacks are an unexpected source. After a dazzling 12-2 start that included road wins over Georgia Tech and Indiana, Arkansas opened conference play with a road win against Ole Miss and received votes for the top 25 in the most recent AP poll. Sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Joe put up 34 against the Rebels and could be an early second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
5. Florida Gators
Florida turned in an average 8-4 nonconference slate and secured two SEC wins against Alabama and South Carolina before falling in a head-scratcher to Missouri by 16 on Saturday. The best explanation for why the Gators sit fifth in these rankings isn’t necessarily their quality wins but the lack of quality wins by teams below. Florida was ranked No. 6 in the preseason AP poll given the talent of point guard Andrew Nembhard and grad transfer Kerry Blackshear, but SEC pundits are currently wondering whether this team will live up to that hype.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols looked lost after a stretch of five games in December in which they lost a heartbreaker to Memphis, lost by 12 to Cincinnati and were trounced by double digits at home by Wisconsin and LSU. Tennessee is now 2-1 in SEC play after sneaking past South Carolina at home last weekend but does not look like the team featuring Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield that was the No. 1 team in the country for eight weeks in 2019.
7. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia’s 10-3 record in non-conference play, including a 65-62 road win over No. 21 Memphis, had SEC fans turning their heads. The Bulldogs were, however, knocked down a peg after a respectable loss to Kentucky and a less desirable, 22-point walloping at Auburn. We won’t judge them too harshly after playing the two best teams in the conference, and we should learn more about the trendy Dawgs after their home game against Tennessee this Wednesday.
8. Alabama Crimson Tide
Credit Alabama for scheduling several challenging non-conference games, including Rhode Island, North Carolina, Iowa State and Penn State. The Tide also turned in wins against Belmont and Richmond before entering SEC play. Although Alabama is just 1-2 in its three conference games, one was a blowout win against Mississippi State, and the other two were close road losses to quality Florida and Kentucky teams.
9. Mississippi State Bulldogs
The drop-off between No. 8 and the rest of these rankings is palpable. The Bulldogs are 0-3 in SEC play so far and looked dispirited against Auburn and Alabama, but they showed promise in a one-point loss at LSU on Saturday. Look for Reggie Perry, an underrated forward averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, to keep his team in enough conference games to assemble a decent, though perhaps not exciting, season.
10. Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss showed promise in its tight loss to Memphis in November and road win against Penn State shortly after but have suffered two losses to start conference play. Head coach Kermit Davis steered the team to an unexpected eight-win improvement between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and athletic guards Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler are producing impressive numbers, so expect Ole Miss to compete more frequently than the teams below. A road tilt against Florida this week, followed by a home game against LSU, should clarify this team’s caliber.
11. Texas A&M Aggies
The recent success of the Aggies speaks to the sheer unpredictability of the bottom third of the conference. Texas A&M followed up their conference opener, a road loss to streaky Arkansas, with decisive wins against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The bright spot for the team has been 6’9” forward Josh Nebo, who leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 71.6 percent and averages 3.4 blocks per game.
12. Missouri Tigers
Missouri scored a surprise SEC win against Florida on Saturday after double-digit losses to Kentucky and Tennessee. The Tigers are second in the conference in scoring defense so far, mirroring their defensive strengths of last season, and boast a more veteran squad than other SEC teams. But thus far they have underwhelmed, highlighted by a home loss to Charleston Southern during non-conference play.
13. South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks are tricky. Frank Martin led his team to the Final Four in 2017 and has a penchant for walking out with sneaky wins, most notably South Carolina’s road win against No. 18 Virginia, 70-59, on Dec. 22. They also played respectably in a road loss to Tennessee this past weekend. Still, the Gamecocks have troubling losses to Northern Iowa and Stetson on their record and lacked energy in their home loss to Florida.
14. Vanderbilt Commodores
Ah, Vanderbilt. The Commodores were 8-4 after an impressive home win against Davidson and looked poised, with guards Aaron Nesmith and Saben Lee leading the nation in scoring as a duo, to improve on last season’s implosion. That team was a matter of seconds away from a second straight non-conference win before collapsing in overtime against SMU and even played the sterling Auburn Tigers down to the wire on the road last Wednesday. Now, after Nesmith’s season-ending foot injury and an embarrassing home defeat to Texas A&M, the Commodores seem destined to repeat the sheer disappointment of last season. When multiple walk-ons receive first half minutes for an SEC team, it’s clear that depth, and individual skill, is sorely lacking. That elusive first SEC win since March 2018 will have to wait at least until Wednesday, when Vanderbilt visits Arkansas before hosting rival Tennessee on Saturday.