With the calendar turned to 2019 and conference play underway, it’s time to take a look at how the Southeastern Conference stacks up.
Here are your power rankings for the new year:
Not only is Tennessee currently the best team in the SEC, but they might be the best team in all of college basketball. Last year’s surprising regular season conference co-champions had the majority of their deep and dangerous roster return and it has shown.
The squad, headed by the tandem of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield – arguably the best one-two punch in the nation – only has one loss (to the then #1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks, in overtime and on the road no less), while dominating most of their games and even beating then-#1 Gonzaga on a neutral court. The Vols opened up SEC play with a 46-point beatdown of Georgia and then beat Missouri by 24 three days later.
They currently lead the conference in overall points per game, field goal percentage, assists per game, and blocks per game. It is looking like a special year for Rick Barnes’s team.
The Auburn Tigers are the other half of last season’s unexpected regular season conference co-champs. Just like Tennessee, most of their important players are back (excluding last year’s leading scorer Mustapha Heron) for another run. They also added players who missed parts, or the entirety, of the previous season either due to injury (Anfernee McLemore) or eligibility concerns (Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy) to their versatile roster.
The Tigers, currently ranked #11, have several wins over solid teams like Washington, Arizona, and Murray State and have only lost to current #1 Duke and #15 NC State. Though they have not begun SEC play, it certainly looks like they will compete against Tennessee for the conference title.
The perennial powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats shockingly finished 4th in regular season conference play last year, yet were able to heat up at the right moment and win the SEC tournament. As usual, John Calipari’s squad lost most of its starters, but brought in another elite recruiting class (#2 in the nation) to replace them, along with grad transfer Reid Travis.
The Wildcats have been inconsistent this year; after getting crushed by Duke in their season opener, they rattled of seven straight double digit victories, yet were then upset by Seton Hall and Alabama in their SEC opener. Keldon Johnson is looking like Kentucky’s yearly lottery pick, while Travis, Tyler Herro, and PJ Washington have helped carry the load. With talent at every position, this team is likely the best challenger to Tennessee and Auburn.
4. Mississippi State
Mississippi State currently has the second best overall record in the conference at 12-2, which is a considerable improvement from last year’s 21-10 team. Despite having one of their best recruiting classes in recent memory, the team’s top-five scorers are all upperclassmen, led by the sharpshooting senior Quinndary Weatherspoon. The Bulldogs currently do not boast any great wins, but their only two losses have come against a good Arizona State team and at South Carolina in OT. The #14 team in the nation will try to bounce back from their defeat on Saturday vs Ole Miss.
5. Ole Miss
The conference’s biggest surprise is without a doubt the Ole Miss Rebels. Projected to finish last in the SEC preseason media poll, the team is 1-0 in conference play and 11-2 overall. Having finished 14th last season, head coach Kermit Davis has worked a remarkable turnaround in his first year on the job.
Despite being known for his zone defenses, it is Ole Miss’s offense that is currently one of the most efficient in the nation, according to Kenpom Ratings. In their most recent game, Breein Tyree, second in the SEC in scoring, dropped a career-high 31 against Vanderbilt. The Rebels have a crucial week coming up as they face conference foes Auburn and Mississippi State.
LSU is yet another solid team that is not ranked higher due to the SEC’s ridiculous depth. Second-year coach Will Wade was able to recruit five-star power forward Naz Reid to add a big man to play alongside their formidable combo-guard duo of Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters. The Tigers are 11-3 overall and began conference play by beating Alabama (at home). This win was the best of the season so far for a team that has no terrible losses, nor any great wins. LSU will try to boost their SEC record in the next game at Arkansas.
The joy of upsetting Kentucky on the basketball court in their SEC opener on Sunday was likely erased by the football team’s loss on Tuesday in the national championship, yet Alabama basketball is 10-4 overall and already beat one of their conference’s favorites.
The Crimson Tide lost their best player this season in top-ten pick Collin Sexton, yet they are currently doing better than a year ago behind their freshman phenom Kira Lewis Jr. Despite the team’s great win over Kentucky, they have had a roller coaster of a season as they came out three nights later and lost to LSU, while also having very bad losses against both Georgia State and Northeastern.
The fact that Florida is arguably the most disappointing team in the conference speaks volumes about its level of talent. Even though the Gators are an unimpressive 8-5 overall and 0-1 in the SEC, their only bad losses have been a 21-point loss to a 13th-ranked Florida State in the season opener (on the road) and one against South Carolina where they lost on a game-winner.
Kenpom ratings actually has them as a top-25 team, far and away the best team to have not reached ten wins, and they even received a vote in the last AP poll. The Gators are clearly struggling offensively as they only have two players (KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke) who are averaging double figures in the points column, yet their defense has kept them afloat as it is one of the best in the nation. They will play Tennessee this weekend at home in what could be a statement game for Mike White’s squad.
Vanderbilt’s season did not end with Darius Garland’s meniscus injury. The Commodores are a worse squad without him and they are finding it difficult to replace his playmaking and scoring, yet the rest of the roster has shown that they will not simply lie down and give up on the season. Led by Saben Lee and Simi Shittu, the team is 5-3 since the injury with the losses coming against three above-average teams in NC State, Kansas State, and Ole Miss, while they also got a crucial sixteen-point win against then #18 Arizona State.
They did lose their SEC home opener against the aforementioned Rebels, but it is worth noting that: Vanderbilt had the lead for the majority of the game, had its worst free-throw performance of the season, and Breein Tyree of Ole Miss had a career night. Bryce Drew and his team will need to improve their defense if they want to increase their chances of making it to the tournament. The Commodores next games are against Georgia and Kentucky where they will look to get back on track.
Rounding out the top ten, and the list of SEC teams with a real chance to make the Tournament, is Arkansas. The Razorbacks have a strong 10-3 overall record and are 1-0 against the conference. So far they have one good win against Indiana early in the season, yet two very bad losses against Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. Possible lottery pick Daniel Gafford is making his case for SEC Player of the Year as he anchors their defense while nearly averaging a 17-point double-double. They will take on the struggling Gators in their next SEC game.
The Missouri Tigers are another team that have outplayed their projections so far. The Tigers are sitting at 9-4 overall, though they have no outstanding wins and were blown out by Iowa State and Kansas State. Still, what Cuonzo Martin’s team has done is impressive, especially considering that they lost their best player (and projected lottery pick) Jontay Porter just before the season. Their two lead guards, Jordan Geist and Mark Smith, have done an excellent job of replacing his scoring and playmaking.
After losing by 24 to Tennessee in their SEC opener, the Tigers have a crucial matchup against South Carolina on Saturday.
12. South Carolina
The Gamecocks may be near the top of the SEC standings at 2-0, but they are also close the bottom when considering overall records. South Carolina has proven that it can beat very good teams like Florida and Mississippi State, but they also have an assortment of losses to woeful teams, showing the squad’s inconsistency.
Two of the team’s bright spots are freshmen standouts A.J. Lawson (their leading scorer) and Keyshawn Bryant. Though the victory over the Bulldogs may give the team a spark, to make the NCAA Tournament, head coach Frank Martin (and the fans) will likely have to hope they can recapture the magic from their Tourney run two years ago.
Georgia is one of the SEC teams that is meeting their expectation of being in the conference’s bottom tier. While an 8-5 overall record isn’t terrible, they have no good wins and several awful losses, including a 46-point decimation at the hands of the Volunteers in their SEC opener. The Bulldogs’ best hope for the future is the fact that they are being driven by a skilled sophomore class, but it seems unlikely that they will make any real noise in the conference this year.
14. Texas A&M
In the SEC, Texas A&M is the team that has had the biggest drop-off from the season before. This year’s 6-7 team is very different from the one that comfortably eliminated North Carolina to make it to the Sweet Sixteen just a year ago. The decline is understandable, and was easy to predict, as the Aggies lost several key players to graduation and to the draft. This will definitely have to be considered a rebuilding year for the program as they will not make the Tournament, yet they have an exciting sophomore class that will be joined by a solid recruiting class next year.