Now that bowl games and coaching searches are out of the way, I’m back to the blog this week with a snapshot look at the Southeastern Conference’s basketball picture. Here’s a look at how I rank the teams one to 14 heading into Wednesday night’s games.
1. Florida (15-2, 4-0 SEC): Billy Donovan sports his usual balanced club, with former Tennessee prep star Casey Prather (17.3 ppg) basically coming out of nowhere to lead the Gators in scoring. UF took an are-you-kidding-me? scare from lowly Auburn over the weekend, but in the bigger picture, this team’s riding a nine-game winning streak.
2. Kentucky (14-4, 4-1): National analysts have started to fawn over the Wildcats; I’m quite not there yet after seeing them in person recently against Vanderbilt and knowing that they’re not a great outside-shooting club. However, you can see the building blocks here with all that talent. The key right now may be keeping center Willie Cauley-Stein out of foul trouble, which has been a real problem lately.
3. Tennessee (11-6, 2-2): There are more things to like about the pieces of the Vols’ roster, and if it comes together, this is a Top 25 club. But just when you think you’ve figured out what the Vols are right now after destroying an excellent Virginia team by 35 and then winning at LSU by 18, UT inexplicably loses at home to mediocre Texas A&M by a point.
4. Arkansas (12-5, 1-3): The Razorbacks have good wins over Kentucky, SMU, Minnesota and Clemson and if things go right, have a chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament. The problem is, last year’s team was 11-6 at the same point and it had the same issue, which is that it can never, ever, beat anyone on the road under any circumstance.
5. LSU (12-5, 3-2): Coach Johnny Jones also has his team in position to capture a potential NCAA bid because coach Johnny Jones really has this team buying in at the defensive end. However, the Tigers lack marquee wins and with a weakened SEC, they’ll have to cash in at least once in two games vs. Kentucky and another at Florida.
6. Missouri (14-4, 2-3): After a 12-1 start, the Tigers haven’t looked so hot in losing three of their last five. That included bad losses at Vandy and Georgia, and a near-disaster at Auburn, also.
7. Ole Miss (12-5, 3-1): As Marshall Henderson goes, so often go the Rebels. Unfortunately, Henderson has missed two things: a lot of shots, and part of the season to suspension.
8. Alabama (8-9, 2-2): What in the world is going on at Alabama? The Crimson Tide were competitive against a load of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams (though they couldn’t win any of those games) but are getting obliterated by everyone right now. It helps to be able to win away from home, which has yet to happen for coach Anthony Grant’s squad.
9. Texas A&M (12-6, 3-2): The Aggies started to get people to sit up and take notice with consecutive wins over Arkansas, UT and South Carolina, and then came an overtime loss to dreadful Mississippi State.
10. Vanderbilt (9-7, 1-3): Give coach Kevin Stallings credit, he’s doing his best to make lemonade without a lot of lemons — seven scholarship players, to be exact.
11. Georgia (7-10, 3-1): Coach Mark Fox’s team beat absolutely no one of stature out of conference, but has shocked everyone with a road win over Missouri, plus home wins over Alabama and Arkansas, to start conference play.
12. South Carolina (7-10, 0-4): As if an 0-4 conference start wasn’t bad enough, Carolina also has now lost Ty Johnson, its point guard and leading scorer, to a broken foot.
13. Mississippi St. (12-5, 2-2): There’s quite a void of talent in Starkville as coach Rick Ray’s rebuilding phase probably has at least one year to go, so hats off to Ray for early defeats of Ole Miss and Texas A&M. That’s already as many SEC wins as I thought MSU might get this season.
14. Auburn (8-7, 0-4): The Tigers are also awful, but give ’em credit, they’ve hung in every SEC game so far.