Buzz Williams, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC basketball

George Bagwell gives his SEC Basketball Power Rankings one week into the 2022-23 season.

 

Matchup of the week: Kentucky vs. Gonzaga

Sneaky good matchup of the week: Arkansas vs. South Dakota State

Before you read this, keep in mind this is solely judging the first week. This doesn’t take into account any preseason rankings, only each team’s performance so far this season. This means the rankings are likely to fluctuate early and begin to “normalize” in the coming weeks. 

1) Alabama Crimson Tide

Last week ranking: 6 (+5)

Record: 2-0

Last week: Longwood (W) 75-54, Liberty (W) 95-59

Next week: @ South Alabama (Nov. 15 – 10 p.m.), Jacksonville State (Nov. 18 -9 p.m.)

Best wins: Longwood, Liberty

Worst losses: N/A

Alabama picked up comfortable wins against reigning Big South champion Longwood and ASUN favorite Liberty by an average of 28.5 points. Impressively, they held Darius McGhee to just 8 points after he averaged 24.6 PPG last season. 

Freshman forward Brandon Miller and Ohio transfer guard Mark Sears have led the way for the Crimson Tide, both averaging 17 PPG, while Sears is also averaging 8 rebounds and 4.5 assists through the team’s first two games. Freshman guard Rylan Griffen also has played well, averaging 15 points per game. Perhaps the most impressive fact is that the team is playing without Jahvon Quinerly, who is still recovering from knee surgery. 

2) Mississippi State Bulldogs

Last week ranking: 12 (+10)

Record: 3-0

Last week: Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (W) 63-44, Akron (W) 73-54, AR-Pine Bluff (W) 80-47

Next week: South Dakota (Nov. 17 – 9 p.m.), Marquette (Fort Myers Tip-Off) (Nov. 21 – 8:30 p.m.)

Best wins: Akron, AR-Pine Bluff

Worst losses: N/A

Mississippi State’s last 5 halves were textbook basketball. The first half against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi was forgettable, in which they were outscored 30-25. But since then, new coach Chris Jans has his team dialed in. 

Besides the fact that the Islanders made the tournament last year, Akron and Arkansas-Pine Bluff are quality wins, too. Obviously, they’re still mid-majors, but Akron had just beaten a tough South Dakota State team and was projected near the top of the MAC, while AR-Pine Bluff played both TCU and Oklahoma close, with TCU needing a last-minute basket to escape. The relative ease at which the Bulldogs beat these programs factored into their high spot in the rankings.

Individually, Tolu Smith has been the unquestioned leader through three games. He’s averaging 18.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG, near the top of the conference in both statistical categories. D.J. Jeffries is also a major contributor, adding 10.7 PPG. On defense, Shakeel Moore is averaging 2.7 SPG. 

Next week, the Bulldogs draw South Dakota at home and kick off the Fort Myers Tip-Off against Marquette, in what should be their first real litmus test of the year. The only thing barring Chris Jans’ squad from the top spot this week is how well Alabama looked. 

3) Arkansas Razorbacks

Last week ranking: 1 (-2)

Record: 2-0

Last week: North Dakota State (W) 76-58, Fordham (W) 74-48

Next week: South Dakota State (Nov. 16 – 8 p.m.)

Best wins: North Dakota State, Fordham

Worst losses: N/A

Eric Musselman has an entirely different team compared to last year’s Elite Eight squad. Only Davonte Davis and Kamani Johnson returned from the previous season, and the rest of the squad is completely new, either from the portal or freshman class. 

However, through two home games, the Razorbacks don’t look like they’ve taken too big of a step back. Yes, they’ve played a lower-tier A-10 squad and a Summit League team at home, but they’ve taken care of business pretty easily, something not every SEC team can say.

Two transfers are currently leading the way, former Wichita State guard Ricky Council IV and former Missouri forward Trevon Brazile. Council is averaging 18.5 PPG through two contests, and the lengthy guard should slide right into the role vacated by Stanley Umude last season. Brazile, just a sophomore, leads the team in rebounds with 10 per game, while also averaging 14.5 PPG. Davonte Davis has 12.5 PPG through the first two games while adding 2.5 SPG on the defensive end. 

In terms of the stellar freshman class, the Razorbacks are still waiting to get Nick Smith on the court, which could be the most impressive fact about their 2-0 start. Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh aren’t playing horribly, but Black hasn’t gotten off to a great start, shooting just 26.7% from the field over 27.5 minutes per game. He has grabbed 6.5 rebounds per game but also has given up 3 turnovers per game and hasn’t had quite the impact many fans would have hoped. Walsh, however, is shooting 75% percent from the field and has looked like a smooth transition to the collegiate game from the prep field. 

The caveat here is, of course, the small sample size, just two non-conference games. But this team resembles last year’s team a lot, even with an almost completely retooled lineup. Look for Arkansas to continue to win in non-conference play next week with a win against South Dakota State. 

4) Kentucky Wildcats

Last week ranking: 3 (-1)

Record: 2-0

Last week: Howard (W) 95-63, Duquesne (W) 77-52

Next week: Michigan State (State Farm Champions Classic) (Nov. 15 – 7 p.m.), South Carolina State (Nov. 17 – 7 p.m.), Gonzaga (Nov. 20 – 7 p.m.) 

Best wins: Howard, Duquesne

Worst losses: N/A

The biggest story about Kentucky isn’t how they’ve played or who they’ve played, but rather who hasn’t played. That ‘who’ is reigning Wooden Award winner Oscar Tshiebwe, who’s been held out of the first two contests while nursing a knee procedure. Hopefully, he can get back on the court sooner rather than later and provide a big boost for Big Blue, but as for right now, the Wildcats have been playing quite well in his absence, beating Howard and Duquesne by an average margin of 28.5 points. (Same margin of victory as Alabama in their two non-conference victories.)

Freshman Cason Wallace has played fantastic, averaging 11.5 PPG to go along with 6.5 APG. Starting guard Sahvir Wheeler did not play in the ‘Cats first game against Howard, allowing Wallace to grab the start in his first career game. Wallace fell just one assist and two rebounds short of a triple-double against Howard. Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves is averaging 20 PPG, leading the team through 2 games despite coming off the bench in both contests. Jacob Toppin, brother of Obi, is averaging 11.5 PPG to go along with 9.5 RPG. Former Iowa Hawkeye guard CJ Frederick, who did not play last season, is averaging 17 PPG through the two games.

College basketball has known John Calipari can recruit freshmen for a long time. (Case in point, DJ Wagner.) But what do Wheeler, Tshiebwe, Reeves, Toppin, and Frederick all have in common? They didn’t start their careers at Kentucky. Calipari has ventured into the portal recently and it’s paid off. Maybe not in March, but certainly in the regular season. Time will tell, especially after a litmus test against Michigan State on Tuesday, but Kentucky seems to be in very good standing, even with Tshiebwe out for the time being. A win against the Spartans would vault the Wildcats up the rankings. 

5) Texas A&M Aggies

Last week ranking: 4 (-1)

Record: 2-0

Last week: UL Monroe (W) 87-54, Abilene Christian (W) 77-58

Next week: Murray State (Myrtle Beach Invitational) (Nov. 17 – 4 p.m.), UMass OR Colorado (Myrtle Beach Invitational) (Nov. 18 – 2 p.m.)

Best wins: UL Monroe, Abilene Christian

Worst losses: N/A

Texas A&M snuck into the Top 25 after Villanova and Oregon’s losses, and the Aggies are looking potent this year. Notably snubbed from last year’s Big Dance after a run to the SEC Championship, the Aggies were seconds away from an NIT title against Xavier. With most of last year’s nucleus returning minus Quenton Jackson, Texas A&M hasn’t missed a beat. 

Blowout wins against UL Monroe and Abilene Christian aren’t going to move the needle toward the very top of the conference, but the way they happened might. Wade Taylor IV has looked amazing, averaging 19.5 PPG through two games while going 7-9 from beyond the arc. Henry Coleman III has put together 13.5 PPG and 9 RPG through two, adding 4 steals in the win against Abilene Christian. Tyrece Radford has struggled, shooting just 28.6% from the field, but look for him to bounce back in Myrtle Beach this week. Wichita State transfer Dexter Dennis has also looked good in his first games with the Aggies, hitting on 9 of his 13 attempts so far.

Perhaps the most impressive stat for the Aggies is the amount of depth they’ve shown. Out of 13 players to make an appearance over the first two contests, 11 of them have averaged more than 10 minutes per game. Look for this trend to continue in the Myrtle Beach Invitational as Buzz Williams works out his best lineup options. So far, so good for the newly-ranked Aggies. 

6) South Carolina Gamecocks

Last week ranking: 10 (+4)

Record: 2-0

Last week: South Carolina State (W) 80-77, Clemson (W) 60-58

Next week: Colorado State (Charleston Classic) (Nov. 17 – 8 p.m.), Davidson OR Charleston (Charleston Classic) (Nov. 18 – 5 p.m.)

Best wins: South Carolina State, Clemson

Worst losses: N/A

The Gamecocks probably would have been slotted near the baker’s dozen mark in these rankings after the first game against South Carolina State. That was, until Lamont Paris took down upstate rival Clemson in a thriller on the new coach’s birthday. The Gamecocks looked much improved in their second game compared to the first, especially on the defensive end. Although the Tigers hit more shots than the ‘Cocks, South Carolina hit 10 threes and outrebounded Clemson 50-32. The primary reason for that difference? Mr. Columbia, GG Jackson. 

The 17-year-old (the youngest player in the nation) who committed to Paris and reclassified after becoming the first player since J.R. Smith to decommit from UNC has absolutely shown his worth from the get-go. An 18-point, 10-rebound performance in his college debut preceded his 12-point, 8-rebound performance against Clemson. Physical and providing an emotional spark for a team that’s been in basketball purgatory since 2017’s Final Four run, Jackson is quite possibly the most impactful recruit in South Carolina’s program history. Where would they be without him? Likely 0-2 and at the bottom of the conference. 

But it hasn’t been all Jackson. The Citadel transfer forward Hayden Brown (7 years older than GG) led all scorers with 21 against South Carolina State, including 9-12 from the line. Jacobi Wright, one of the few returnees from last season, has been extremely efficient through the first two games, averaging 12 PPG and 3 APG while hitting 72% of his 3PT attempts. Two other returnees have shined, with Chico Carter Jr. hitting the game-winner against Clemson in a 16-point performance, and Josh Gray averaging 8 RPG in just 16.5 MPG. Look for Gray to take on a bigger role with the struggles of Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Gray’s 7’ frame. Freshman Zach Davis and Daniel Hankins-Sanford also have averaged over 8 MPG each. 

Overall, South Carolina certainly doesn’t look perfect. But they’re 2-0 and have something no other SEC has: a win over a Power 6 team. The other SEC-Power 6 matchups (Tennessee vs. Colorado and Georgia vs. Wake Forest) resulted in a loss. We’ll learn more about this team in the Charleston Classic, but this is looking like a squad that could win that tournament. 

7) Florida Gators

Last week ranking: 8 (+1)

Record: 2-0

Last week: Stony Brook (W) 81-45, Kennesaw State (W) 88-78

Next week: Florida Atlantic (Nov. 14 – 7 p.m.), @ Florida State (Nov. 18 – 8 p.m.)

Best wins: Stony Brook, Kennesaw State

Worst losses: N/A

Florida looked great against Stony Brook in Todd Golden’s first game. They shot 40% from beyond the arc, 47% from the field, limited themselves to only 10 turnovers, and outrebounded the Seawolves 44-28. Transfers starred in the first game, as former Belmont guard Will Richard and former LSU forward Alex Fudge combined for 30 points. Star center Colin Castleton didn’t have a huge game, but didn’t need to, since the result was never in doubt. Kowacie Reeves looked good as well, and the sophomore guard could be in line for a breakout season after playing well towards the end of the last season. 

However, against Kennesaw State, the Gators really needed Castleton. The big man delivered with 33 points and 9 rebounds. The game wasn’t as close as the score suggests, but the Owls did manage 11 offensive rebounds, which led to second-chance points for Kennesaw State. Myreon Jones had another quiet game with just two points. The senior guard has yet to make a shot through two games. The Gators also picked up two technical fouls, which didn’t help. On the bright side, Will Richard and Reeves had good performances against Kennesaw State after the Stony Brook games. The two should help Castleton balance the offensive workload this year.

Looking ahead, a matchup in Tallahassee is looking a lot easier than it did at the start of the season. The Seminoles have lost to Stetson and UCF to start the season. However, Todd Golden’s squad can’t look past their rivals or they could be caught napping.  

8) Ole Miss Rebels

Last week ranking: 11 (+3)

Record: 2-0

Last week: Alcorn State (W) 73-59, Florida Atlantic (W) 80-67

Next week: Chattanooga (Nov. 15 – 7:30 p.m.), UT Martin (Nov. 18 – 7:30 p.m.)

Best wins: Alcorn State, Florida Atlantic

Worst losses: N/A

Ole Miss hasn’t looked particularly impressive over two games, beating Florida Atlantic and Alcorn State. The team started slow in both, up by one at half against Alcorn State and playing FAU close for the first ten minutes before pulling away. 

Guard Matt Murrell leads Kermit Davis’s squad in points, but he’s only shooting 33% from the field. On the contrary, Jaemyn Brakefield is averaging 10 PPG and hasn’t missed a shot at all through two games. Senior forward Robert Allen is looking good too, averaging 12.5 PPG. Davis has been giving freshman Amaree Abram minutes, but he leads the team in turnovers. It’ll be interesting to see if freshman TJ Caldwell steals some of Abram’s minutes. They’ve been splitting time, but Caldwell hasn’t committed a single turnover yet.

This week, Chattanooga could spell trouble for Ole Miss. They lost their coach to South Carolina and their best player to Gonzaga over the offseason, but they’re still a good mid-major in a good conference. 

9) Auburn Tigers

Last week ranking: 5 (-4)

Record: 2-0

Last week: George Mason (W) 70-52, South Florida (W) 67-59

Next week: Winthrop (Nov. 15 – 7 p.m.), Texas Southern (Nov. 18 – 8 p.m.)

Best wins: George Mason, South Florida

Worst losses: N/A

Auburn is ranked and undefeated but sit at #9 in the Power Rankings. Why? The arena management must’ve forgotten to take off the plastic covering off the baskets when they bought the hoops. Seriously, though, through two games, this team cannot buy a basket, which is something that was highlighted as a concern in CBB Review’s Auburn preview before the season. From the floor, the Tigers are shooting an abysmal 36%. From the arc, just 18%. That’s good for 338th in the nation. From the line, just 62%. If it weren’t for this team’s defense and Wendell Green averaging 18 PPG, this could be an unranked Tigers team after a close matchup against South Florida. 

While acknowledging it’s a small sample size, the shooting problem isn’t a new issue. Auburn was abysmal shooting threes last year, too, and that was with a generational talent on the roster. (Jabari Smith) K.D. Johnson is shooting 23%, Johni Broome is shooting 29%, and Jaylin Williams is shooting 30%. This is a problem Auburn needs to fix, and soon. They’ll have chances against Winthrop and Texas Southern this week.

But enough criticism. This defense is GREAT. Shoutout to Dylan Cardwell, another player mentioned in CBB Review’s Auburn preview as someone who should get a longer look on the court. Cardwell has only shot the ball three times, but it went in every time. He’s shooting 75% from the line, averaging 5.5 RPG, and, get this, 5 BPG. All in just 16 minutes per game! That’s a Walker Kessler-type statline. Yes, it’s been two games, but that’s a block every 3 minutes. Cardwell has been splitting time with 5-star freshman Yohan Traore, who actually has been playing well too, but it’s time for Cardwell to start getting more minutes. This defense should be enough to keep the Tigers undefeated before a Nov. 27 matchup against St. Louis will be a great litmus test for Bruce Pearl’s offense. 

10) Missouri Tigers

Last week ranking: 7 (-3)

Record: 3-0

Last week: Southern Missouri (W) 97-91, Penn (W) 92-85, Lindenwood (W) 82-53

Next week: SIUE (Nov. 15 – 8 p.m.), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 20 – 7:30 p.m.)

Best wins: Penn, Lindenwood

Worst losses: N/A

Missouri is 3-0, tied for the most wins in the conference so far. But in these rankings, it’s about quality over quantity. And with the way Missouri played their first two games, there is some room for questions and a lot of room for concern. Small sample size, yes, but giving up 91 points to Southern Missouri isn’t exactly a great way to start the season. Penn is slightly more excusable, but it’s still more points than any SEC team has given up so far, even Georgia or Vanderbilt. The offense is there (first in the conference!), but the Tigers need some defense. (Worst in the conference!) 

Northern Iowa transfer Noah Carter has been great, averaging 16.7 PPG, and Kobe Brown, senior leader of the team, is averaging 13.7 PPG to go along with 7.7 RPG. Missing, however, is Isiaih Mosley. Averaging just 4 PPG in two contests after averaging over 20 PPG last year for Missouri State, (he did not play in the game against Penn) he is leading the team in turnovers with 3 per game. Clemson transfer Nick Honor has played well, but these Tigers need more backcourt help, especially from Mosley. Hopefully he can rediscover his form from last season, especially since the Tigers’ schedule only gets easier this week against SIUE and Mississippi Valley State. 

It’s not a great start for Dennis Gates’s squad in his first year in Columbia, but 3-0 is 3-0. Even holding this week’s slate of opponents to under 70 per game would be an improvement, given the fact they’re giving up 76 a game right now. 

11) LSU Tigers

Last week ranking: 9 (-2)

Record: 2-0

Last week: Kansas City (W) 74-63, Arkansas State (W) 61-52

Next week: New Orleans (Nov. 17 – 8 p.m.)

Best wins: Kansas City, Arkansas State

Worst losses: N/A

LSU is undefeated, which is about the best thing you can say about this squad. A two-game stretch against UMKC and Arkansas State in which both games were contested in the second half is not a great sign for Matt McMahon’s team so far. One stat really stands out. In the win over Arkansas State, 11 Tigers played. Only 5 of them scored a point. Only 3 of them scored more than 5 points. 

Through two games, (yes, it’s only two games, but still) the only reliable players for LSU have been Adam Miller, KJ Williams, and Justice Hill. As good as they’ve been, (Miller especially, but the trio has averaged a combined 48! PPG) they’re basically the only offense. In fact, they account for over 71% of points scored. Which works against UMKC and Arkansas State, but they need depth if they’re going to win against better opponents. Mwani Richardson, Trae Hannibal, the entire frontcourt minus Williams, all need to step up. 

The Tigers host New Orleans on Thursday, which is great if they’re looking to stay undefeated but not a great way to get this roster accustomed to actual competition. It’ll be hard to move the Tigers further up these rankings next week, even with a win. 

To end on a positive note, however, Adam Miller has been absolutely incredible in his return from an ACL injury, averaging 22 PPG. Kudos to Mr. Miller. 

12) Tennessee Volunteers

Last week ranking: 2 (-10)

Record: 1-1

Last week: Tennessee Tech (W) 75-43, Colorado (L) 78-66

Next week: Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 16 – 7 p.m.)

Best wins: Tennessee Tech

Worst losses: Colorado

The concept of transitive wins is low-hanging fruit for many a basketball writer early in the season. It’s probably just a bad day at the court for a very good team against a team that might have played its best game of the year. But…at the end of the day, the fact remains: after the first week of college basketball, Tennessee lost to the team that lost to Grambling, badly. 

Rick Barnes’s team probably would’ve been top 5 on the list had it these rankings been posted a day earlier. They picked up a very solid win against Tennessee Tech, only giving up 43 points. Tyreke Key came off the bench to score 17 points, Santiago Vescovi scored 9 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and the Volunteers went a perfect 9-9 from the line. Freshman Julian Phillips got the start and grabbed 3 offensive rebounds, and the team dished out 21 assists. 

However, the second game of the season was a complete 180. Vescovi shot 2-13, including a 2-11 mark from behind the arc, Phillips shot 1-6, and senior Olivier Nkamhoua shot 1-8 to go along with 4 turnovers. Zakai Zeigler shot 4-12. 

If there was a bright spot, it was Josiah-Jordan James, who went 5-11 from the field and 4-8 from three, finishing with 15 points. However, it wasn’t enough to offset a 25% mark from the field as a team. The Volunteers got outrebounded 47-38 and committed 15 turnovers. Give credit to the Buffaloes, who shot 43.5% from the field, but that mark’s concerning for the Volunteers after such a good defensive performance against Tennessee Tech.

In the grand scheme of things, this loss is more of a wakeup call for Tennessee rather than a sign of things to come, but as for now, given the fact that they’re 1 of 3 teams with a loss in the conference, #12 is where they’ll reside. They’ll look to get right this week against an FGCU squad that already beat Southern Cal. 

13) Georgia Bulldogs

Last week ranking: 14 (+1)

Record: 1-1

Last week: Western Carolina (W) 68-55, @ Wake Forest (L) 81-71

Next week: Miami (OH) (Nov. 14 – 7 p.m.), Bucknell (Nov. 18 – 7 p.m.)

Best wins: Western Carolina

Worst losses: Wake Forest

Welcome to Athens, Mike White. And welcome to the Mike White experience, Athens. A win against Western Carolina was closer than some would like, but overall the Bulldogs looked solid. Kario Oquendo played well after a breakout season last year, scoring 18 points on 7-11 shooting. The ‘Dogs outrebounded the Catamounts by a +16 margin, and shot 49% from the field. The 21 turnovers could be excused…against Western Carolina.

An away game against Wake Forest was a different beast, even with Alondes Williams no longer on the Demon Deacons. Falling behind early, the Bulldogs were never able to close the gap even with an improved second half. Oquendo wasn’t able to have the same performance as against Western Carolina, shooting 11 times again but only making 4 shots, including a 1-5 mark from behind the arc and 4 turnovers. As a team, the Bulldogs committed 15 turnovers and 21 fouls, a sloppy performance even for the first few games of the season. 

On the defensive end, it wasn’t much better. Mike White could not prepare the ‘Dogs against his former guard Tyree Appleby, who he had coached at Florida for two years. Appleby went for 22 points, while guard Daivien Williamson led both teams with 24 points. Georgia even allowed 6’4” guard Cameron Hildreth to grab 11 boards. While Wake was favored by -7.5, the game served as a reminder that this team isn’t too far removed from the team that just went 1-17 in SEC games last year. 

The Bulldogs will look forward to two home games this week that they should win, with emphasis on ‘should’. They’re going to need much better performances from Frank Anselem and Justin Hill if they’re wanting to improve from last year. 

14) Vanderbilt Commodores

Last week ranking: 13 (-1)

Record: 0-2

Last week: Memphis (L) 76-67, Southern Miss (L) 60-48

Next week: @ Temple (Nov.1 5 – 7 p.m.), Morehead State (Nov. 18 – 7 p.m.)

Best wins: N/A

Worst losses: Memphis, Southern Miss

Vanderbilt’s football team has more wins this month than the basketball team. That’s not a good sign. Congrats to the Commodores’ gridiron success against Kentucky, but 2-0 through this point in the season for Jerry Stackhouse’s team wasn’t out of the picture. Sure, Memphis is a tough opponent to start the season, but Vandy looked very bad, falling behind 19 early in the second half and never administering anything close to a capable comeback, even when Memphis gifted them the bonus from the line just minutes into the half. Memphis shot over 50% from the field and it’s clear Vanderbilt is feeling the loss of Scotty Pippen Jr.. 

But the loss at Memphis was at least excusable. The double-digit, 48-point performance against Southern Miss at home was not. Every facet of the game was ugly. The Commodores shot 12% from the three-point line against a team that ranked 349th out of 363 teams in opponent three-point percentage last year. Southern Miss didn’t even play particularly well, shooting just 34% and getting outrebounded by Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt just decided to gift the Golden Eagles a win, committing 15 turnovers and shooting 3-8 from the free throw line. The road doesn’t get easier from here, as Vanderbilt travels to Temple to face the team that just beat Villanova. If there’s one positive, at least Jerry Stackhouse isn’t scared to schedule quality teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The most likely opportunity for the ‘Dores to pick up their first win will be against Morehead State on Saturday. 

Individually, Jordan Wright has been a bright spot, leading the team in points, assists, and steals.

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