George Bagwell gives his SEC basketball power rankings for week 5 of the season.
Matchup of the week: Alabama vs. Houston
Sneaky good matchup of the week: Missouri vs. Kansas
All game times are in EST.
1) Tennessee Volunteers
Last week’s ranking: 2 (+1)
Last week: McNeese State (W) 76-40, Alcorn State (W) 94-40
Next week: Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 7 – 7 p.m), Maryland (Dec. 1 – 4:30 p.m)
Best wins: Kansas, Butler, USC
Worst losses: Colorado
Tennessee is proving their earlier loss to a streaky Colorado squad was just that, a loss to a Buffaloes team that can beat anyone on their best day, (Texas A&M, Tennessee) or lose to anyone on their worst day (Grambling, UMass). And it’s hard to win a game with a 25% shooting rate from the field. Since then, however, the Vols have been on a roll, winning all their games by double digits besides an OT contest against USC, including a 14-point decision over Kansas. The depth of Rick Barnes’s team is quite impressive, with five Vols in double figures, and a sixth at 9.5 PPG (Zakai Zeigler, who also leads the team in assists.)
Statistically, the Vols have the highest Net Rating in the conference, despite their loss. Their SOR ranks first in the conference as well, to go along with a top 4 strength of schedule in the SEC.
Their defense gives up only 51.5 PPG, and the Vols’ defensive efficiency is ranked first nationally, even above Houston and Mississippi State. Perimeter defense is especially good, with Tennessee averaging 11.9 SPG, led by Santiago Vescovi at 2.6 PG. The team PG mark is good for 2nd in the SEC and 2nd nationally, trailing solely Missouri.
Tennessee also grabs 14.4 offensive rebounds per game, good for 3rd in the conference. While they haven’t been the greatest at shooting the rock, finishing at just a 41.7% clip, they still manage 75 PPG, 7th in the SEC. They get the points by solid passes both inside and outside, averaging 17.6 APG, good for 14th nationally.
Looking ahead, they should beat Eastern Kentucky before a critical matchup against so-far-undefeated Maryland led by Kevin Willard. Look for the Vols to take a win in the game.
2) Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week’s ranking: 1 (-1)
Last week: South Dakota State (W) 78-65
Next week: @ #1 Houston (Dec. 10 – 3 p.m)
Best wins: Michigan State, North Carolina, Liberty
Worst losses: N/A
Alabama isn’t at two for any fault of their own, but rather for how good Tennessee has looked. After taking care of business against South Dakota State, the Crimson Tide holds wins over Michigan State and UNC, with their only loss coming to an undefeated UConn team. Nate Oats should be proud of the way his team is performing this year. Statistically, Alabama’s FG% may seem alarming at 42.4%, 10th in the conference, but that’s only due to the volume of threes they take, 31 attempts per game. On those threes, Alabama has a solid 35.1% mark, good for 4th in the conference. For effective field goal percentage, which takes account of threes, Alabama ranks 6th out of 14 in the SEC.
However, the real strength of this Alabama team is rebounding. They are averaging 50.3 RPG, almost 7 more than any other team not just in the conference, but in the nation! They average more offensive AND defensive rebounds than any other team. And it’s not like they’ve been playing cupcakes. In fact, their strength of schedule is ranked first in the conference. So the Tide have been flexing their rebounding prowess against some of the best teams in the nation. Star freshman Brandon Miller leads the team with 8.9 RPG, (he also leads in PPG with 19.1, most by any freshman in the nation) but freshman Noah Clowney also averages 8 RPG, followed closely behind by Christian Bediako with 7.3 PG.
Brandon Miller, however, is the story of the season for Alabama. He leads all freshmen nationally in scoring, as mentioned previously, and could even move into SEC Player of the Year conversations, which would have seemed impossible at the beginning of the season. I fully expect him to be a first-round draft pick next year, and he plays with an aura of experience I have yet to see from a player his age.
Statistically, Alabama has some areas of excellence and areas of concern. Let’s start with the good news. They make 10.9 3’s per game, good for 9th in the country. That’s not unexpected when they shoot the 4th-most threes out of 363 teams, but it’s not like that’s a bad thing. The Crimson Tide are 4th in the nation in BPG, with 6.4 per contest. Charles Bediako leads the way with 2.3 per game, followed by Noah Clowney with 1.3 and Brandon Miller with 1.0 (Get used to hearing about Clowney and Miller.)
Now for more good news for people who love bad news. Alabama tends to play a very sloppy brand of basketball. Alabama plays at one of the fastest tempos in the country, and that leads to mistakes. 16.4 per game, to be exact. The Crimson Tide’s turnover rate ranks 343rd nationally, with only 20 D1 teams committing more turnovers per game. It hasn’t necessarily hurt their defensive numbers, as they give up 68.5 PPG, middle of the pack nationally. But if slowing the tempo down can improve Alabama’s ball-handling and distribution, they could take their offense to the next level. Another area of concern is fouls, keeping in line with the sloppy play claim. Alabama commits 19.8 FPG, good for 308th nationally, which naturally means their opponents get to the line. Alabama’s opponents have made 14.5 FT per game this year, good for the 268th mark in the nation for the Tide.
But in general, this is a very good team. It’s almost unfair that they’re ranked in the top 10 with those turnover and foul numbers because if they straighten those out, it’ll be hard for anyone to beat Nate Oats’s team.
Looking ahead, the Crimson Tide play Houston on the road. That’s the type of game where a win would catapult the trajectory of anyone’s season upwards. Also, perhaps, the game of the year so far. Houston is ELITE, and Houston’s defense vs. Brandon Miller and the Alabama offense is a salivating matchup. Remember what happened last time these two played each other? Yet another reason to tune in.
3) Arkansas Razorbacks
Last week’s ranking: 3 (-)
Last week: Troy (W) 74-61, San José State (W) 99-58
Next week: UNCG (Dec. 6 – 7 p.m), Oklahoma (Dec. 10 – 1 p.m)
Best wins: San Diego State, Troy, San José State
Worst losses: N/A
Arkansas’s win against Troy looks a lot better now that San Diego State, (that Arkansas also beat) went down to the wire against them. Never doubt Eric Musselman. Arkansas finally got Nick Smith back! He looked great against San José State, going for 16 points and 5 assists. Look for him to gain an expanded role in the team as they play UNCG and Oklahoma this week.
Despite losing almost all the team from last year, this year’s team is just as deep. Ricky Council, Anthony Black, Makhi Mitchell, Davonte Davis, and now Nick Smith create one of the, if not the, best starting centers in the conference. Black struggled out the gate but has improved quickly after adjusting to the college game. Council still leads the team in points with 19.8 PPG.
Statistically, the Razorbacks are an outlier in the fact that they don’t shoot many threes. Only 16.4 per game, which is 344th in the nation. But they’re only connecting on a 32.8% clip from deep, so perhaps it’s for the best. Inside the arc, they’re shooting 56.3%, good for 31st nationally. That’s a perfect example of making adjustments as a coach from Eric Musselman.
The switch to a more inside approach hasn’t negatively impacted their offensive numbers, either, as the Hogs are still scoring 79.9 PPG, which is 32nd in the nation. Look for Arkansas to roll this week against UNCG and Oklahoma.
4) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last week’s ranking: 3 (-1)
Last week: Omaha (W) 74-54, Mississippi Valley State (W) 82-52
Next week: @ Minnesota (Dec. 11 – 8:30 p.m)
Best wins: Marquette, Utah, Akron
Worst losses: N/A
Mississippi State has the 2nd best defense in the country behind Houston and remains one of 12 undefeated teams going into the second week of December. Just like Missouri, I did not expect this. I am apologizing right now for putting this team 12th in the league in the SEC Preview. Please forgive me, Starkville.
This team is led by Tolu Smith, who’s the only Bulldog in double figures with 16.2 PPG. He also leads the team in rebounds with 10 per game. The next two leaders for the Bulldogs are senior D.J. Jeffries and junior Cameron Matthews. But the two have been hooping together much longer than just two years. They both were teammates at Olive Branch HS in Olive Branch, Mississippi before going to college. Neat. But they’re also quite good, with Jeffries averaging 9.8 PPG and 5 RPG and Matthews averaging 7.6 PPG and 4.9 RPG. Guard Dashawn Davis is second on the team with 9.8 PPG, and guard Shakeel Moore leads the team with 2.9 SPG on the defensive end. It’s a real team effort in Mississippi.
What’s the caveat here, though? An undefeated SEC team? Behind three one-loss teams? Well, the strength of schedule isn’t great, and the offense is a work in progress. So basically Missouri with a good defense instead of a good offense. But they do have 2 wins over Power 6 opponents, beating Utah and Marquette by a combined 6 points. Let’s dive into the stats.
According to KenPom, the Bulldogs are the 25th-best team in the land, with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 75th and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 4th. And, much like Missouri, an adjusted strength of schedule of 339th out of 363.
But, Mississippi State is a disciplined team, only committing 12.6 FPG, good for 7th in the country. Not sending an opponent to the line is a great skill to have once March rolls around. The team also gives up less than 50 points per game, 49.6 to be exact. No other team besides Houston gives up less than 50. Opponents are only shooting 34.5% against Chris Jans’s team, tied for third nationally with Tennessee. Defending the arc is key too, and they can do it. The Bulldogs are only letting in 27.1% of opposing threes, good for 28th out of 363 teams. But it’s not just shot defense. Mississippi State also grabs 11.6 SPG, which is 3rd in the country, but also third in the conference after Missouri and Tennessee. This defense is legit, on the inside and perimeter.
But, the team still has to score. Offensively, the Bulldogs are a work. They’re 180th in PPG with 70.1, which isn’t bad until you remember they’ve got the 24th easiest schedule in the country. They make exactly half of their two-point attempts at a 50% mark, which is again in the middle of the pack at 179th nationally. But they can’t shoot threes, unfortunately. Well, they can shoot them, as they’re in the top 33% of 3PT attempts. But they can’t make them. A State 3-pointer goes in 30.1% of the time, good for 283rd in the country. Free throws are difficult, too, with only a 62.2% mark. That’s 336th. What does all this mean? I’d say abandon the three and work it down low to Tolu Smith, but I’m not Chris Jans. I’m also not leading a team to an 8-0 start in my first season as head coach, so I’ll trust him to make the proper adjustments.
Looking ahead, a date with Minnesota awaits. The Golden Gophers are 151st in KenPom, so look for Mississippi State to move to 9-0 after this week.
5) Missouri Tigers
Last week’s ranking: 4 (-1)
Last week: Wichita State (W) 88-84, SE Missouri State (W) 96-89
Next week: #6 Kansas (Dec. 10 – 5:15 p.m.)
Best wins: Wichita State, Penn, SE Missouri State
Worst losses: N/A
Missouri is a very fun team to watch, and despite their defense’s best efforts, they are still undefeated. Their prize for making it this far? A home matchup against the Kansas Jayhawks. Despite their record, they haven’t been tested much. They did have a road game against Wichita State which they took care of in OT, but besides that their best win is Penn. But don’t fret Missouri, the challenge is here. This is the ultimate litmus test for a team that has been scoring at will the entire season. They’ve scored at least 80 points in all 9 games they’ve played, with a high of 105 (twice.) That’s first in the SEC, which is great. But! It’s also the best mark in the nation. I did not expect to be typing about Missouri having the country’s best offense a month into the season. But here we are, and we’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, we’re in Columbia, Missouri, where the Jayhawks are starving to hand the Tigers their first loss in an old Big 12 rivalry.
For all the smoke about Missouri’s schedule, they’ve made the most of it, and are actually a really solid squad. They’ve got 5 scorers in double figures, and 7 averaging 9+ PPG. D’Moi Hodge has been solid again, Kobe Brown leads the team in rebounds and is second in PPG, Noah Carter seems to be a 6’6” version of Brown, and Nick Honor is solid as usual. Sean East Jr. is also in double figures after 17 points against Wichita State and 21 against SEMO. A nice two-game stretch or a breakout performance for the junior? Time will tell.
Looking at the stats for Missouri is a mathematician’s dream. 1st in the nation in assists with 21.6 per game, 1st in the nation in steals with 14.1 per game (the gap between Missouri and the 2nd ranked team is larger than the gap between the 2nd team and the 17th team.) An astounding 3 Tigers average at least two steals per game, and 7 Tigers average at least one per game. They’re 2nd in the nation in 2PT% with 63.8%, and rank 4th in FG% with 51.6%. “But the schedule!” Ok, and? KenPom ranks Missouri’s offense 14th in the country and that’s *adjusted for schedule*. KenPom also has Missouri 3rd in the nation in Adjusted Tempo. They’re fast, high-scoring, and fun to watch.
But yeah, the defense isn’t great. They’ve given up 10.1 offensive rebounds per game, good for 297th in the nation, so a tall physical team matches up well against them. They let opponents hit 35.8% of threes, which is 259th in the nation. They also send their opponents to the line, averaging 18.1 fouls per game, 234th in the country. In terms of how their opponents score, the Tigers’ defense allows 37% of their opponents’ points to come from behind the arc, a mark that puts them 317th out of 363 teams. So Missouri is a team that can’t stop the three, can’t rebound on the defensive side, and send their opponents to the line often, all against the 360th-strongest schedule so far, and they’re about to play the defending champions. Do they have a chance?
The answer, emphatically, is yes. Kansas already lost to Tennessee by double digits, and even though Tennessee’s game style is literally the complete and total opposite of Missouri’s, Kansas has not played a team like this so far this year. If Missouri starts hot, they are impossible to beat. Keep in mind that even though the defense has struggled, they’re still averaging over 14 steals per game. In Bill Self and Dennis Gates’s first meeting, my money is on Gates.
6) Kentucky Wildcats
Last week’s ranking: 7 (+1)
Last week: Bellarmine (W) 96-56, Michigan (W) 73-69
Next week: Yale (Dec. 10 – 1 p.m)
Best wins: Michigan, Duquesne, North Florida
Worst losses: N/A
Congrats to John Calipari’s Wildcat team for beating a quality opponent for the first time this year! But seriously, Kentucky looked pretty good against Michigan, playing close the whole game but never relinquishing the lead when it mattered most, at the end. Freshman Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin led the way with 14 points, Oscar Tshiebwe did Oscar Tshiebwe things, and the ‘Cats shot better from three (60%) than they did from the charity stripe (50%.)
After going weeks of beating the bad teams on the schedule and losing to the good teams, Kentucky stepped up and beat a quality opponent. However, a look at the underlying statistics shows this team is actually better than their record suggests. They still sit at #5 in the KenPom ratings even after two losses, but keep in mind those two losses were to a ranked Gonzaga and an overtime loss to Michigan State. Sure, their best win besides Michigan is Duquesne, but at least they’ve beaten the cupcakes, which is something not every team in the conference can say.
Statistically, the ‘Cats are led by Oscar Tshiebwe of course, but he’s got a nice supporting cast in Lexington. Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves is leading in PPG with 14.4 per game, with Tshiebwe, Toppin, and Wallace all in double figures as well. In terms of cleaning the glass, Tshiebwe is the undisputed top cleaner in Kentucky, averaging 13.5 RPG, almost double Toppin’s next-highest mark of 6.9 per game. Overall, the Wildcats average 42.5 RPG, good for 5th in the country. They also sit in the top ten nationally in BPG with 6.1 per game. But, shocker. Tshiebwe doesn’t lead the team in blocks. That distinction belongs to freshman Ugonna Onyenso, who’s averaging 2.1 BPG in just 11.3 minutes per game. He’s 2nd in the nation in blocks per minute behind 7-5 Jamarion Sharp. It looks like Coach Cal has found another rim protector, even if he’s a bit raw.
If anything, this team could afford to shoot more threes. They rank 171st in the country with a 2PT% of 50.9% but are 22nd in 3PT% with a 39.3% mark. Despite this, they’re shooting two-pointers 65.4% of the time, good for 110th most in the nation. A jump outside to the perimeter to give Wallace, Reeves, and CJ Frederick more threes could give this offense even more juice.
Although this may seem nitpicky, the Wildcats need to improve from the stripe. They’re shooting 68.4% from the line, which isn’t great. In fact, it’s 238th out of 363 teams. Especially given how well they shoot the three, a free throw should be a given.
On an unrelated note, CJ Frederick’s 5.9% turnover rate needs a shoutout.
Looking ahead, the Wildcats take a bit of a cupcake against Yale this week before taking on UCLA the next week.
(Also of note, Kentucky’s ranking of #6 is a testament to an iffy strength of schedule from Kentucky and the combined 36-3 record of the 5 teams above them.)
7) Auburn Tigers
Last week’s ranking: 6 (-1)
Last week: Colgate (W) 93-66
Next week: Memphis (Dec. 10 – 5 p.m)
Best wins: Saint Louis, Northwestern, Bradley
Worst losses: N/A
Auburn is still undefeated. Congrats. But watching them feels like a bomb waiting to go off. They can’t shoot the three, (the Tigers sport a 29% clip from behind the arc, last in the SEC and 311th nationwide out of 363 teams) but they continue to try, with 22 attempts per game, 8th most in the SEC and 156th nation-wide. With options down low like Dylan Cardwell, who’s shooting 81.8% (yes, that’s the correct number), Chris Moore at 51.6%, and Yohan Traore at 46.4%, the Tigers have the tools to score inside, just like last year.
So, why don’t they pound the rock into the paint? Or, at least improve shot selection? The quartet of Yohan Traore, Chance Westry, Johni Broome, and Tre Donaldson are a combined 2-33 from behind the arc. That’s a 6.1% rate. It’s fine not to be able to hit a three consistently, as the Wooden Award frontrunner Zach Edey hasn’t hit a three in his career. But if you aren’t consistently making them, shoot from inside the arc.
The only player who has seen the court and not taken a three is Dylan Cardwell. As mentioned plenty in previous editions of SEC Power Rankings, repeat readers may be familiar with the Augusta, GA, native and his shooting efficiency. But it’s not just his FG% that leads the team. He’s first on the team in win shares, first on the team in offensive rating, first on the team in player efficiency rating, first on the team in Box Plus-Minus, (his Defensive BPM alone would put him 3rd on the team) and he has both the highest offensive and defensive BPM. Despite this, Cardwell has only an 11.2% usage rate, the second-lowest on the team behind only Lior Berman, who has played 16 minutes this year. He has the highest block percentage on the team and ranks 5th *nationally* in blocks per minute out of over 5,000 D1 players. In terms of win shares per 40 minutes, Cardwell ranks first on the team with .273. The gap between him and the second player (Johni Broome) is bigger than the gap between the second player and the entire* Auburn Tigers’ starting lineup. (*Save for starting guard Zep Jasper, who falls at 11th.)
But despite all the numbers, the efficiency ratings, and even the eye test, Cardwell is only averaging 17.5 MPG. That’s good for 7th on the team. At what point does Cardwell get more minutes and opportunities? Will it take a loss for Bruce Pearl to make lineup changes? Does Cardwell have to turn into prime Michael Jordan? Is shooting 81.8% from the field not good enough to start a game when the starters are shooting a combined 42.7%?
Bruce! I have a fever and the only prescription is more Cardwell!
Another stat that pops out is opponent FT%. Auburn ranks first out of all 363 D1 schools in that category. Opponents only make 55.2% of their FTs against the Tigers. There could be multiple factors going into these numbers, such as Auburn playing 6 of their 8 games so far at home against opponents with an average KenPom rating of 156.5. Auburn Arena is *always* rocking as one of the premier home-court advantages in college basketball, and Saint Louis going 4-14 from the line in a 5-point loss is likely due to the fans. But in the two games in Cancun at a neutral site, their opponents shot a combined 69% from the line, 14 points higher than back home. Once Auburn either travels to away games in the conference, starts playing better teams, stops getting lucky at the line, or all three, that number should regress toward the mean. And despite the home-court advantages the Tigers have been given over the past month, they aren’t too great from the line, sporting a 65% mark, good for 306th in the nation.
Another issue, despite having multiple quality big men, is opponent rebounding. The Tigers are giving up 10.3 offensive rebounds per game to the other team. That’s a number that puts them at 309th nationally in the category. If you’ve been reading this, you know the solution: more Cardwell.
Looking ahead, the Auburn Tigers will play the Tigers of Memphis at home this week. Memphis is right on the cusp of the AP Poll, and has great interior defense. If Auburn wants to keep their undefeated season alive, they’ll need to hit their shots.
8) Florida Gators
Last week’s ranking: 11 (+3)
Last week: Florida A&M (W) 102-62, Stetson (W) 89-51
Next week: #5 UConn (Dec. 7 – 9 p.m)
Best wins: Florida State, Oregon State, Kennesaw State
Worst losses: Florida Atlantic
Florida moves up 3 spots after simply taking care of business last week against teams they should beat. But really, it’s also a slight against the teams under them in the rankings. Belmont transfer Will Richard has really come on lately, scoring 18 against Xavier and 14 off the bench against Stetson, while making at least 50% of his shots in his last 4 games. That’s especially a good thing recently since Colin Castleton has cooled off a bit after a hot start, including a 1-6 effort against West Virginia. He’s averaging 16.6 PPG, but hasn’t hit over 12 since his 25-point performance against Florida State.
Trey Bonham is third on the team in PPG, averaging 10.2 in just 17.9 minutes. It’s worth wondering if Todd Golden will give him more minutes as the season progresses. As a team, Florida is hitting 47.6% of their shots from the field, good for 3rd in the conference, mostly led by Castleton and Richard. They are also hitting threes at a solid clip, 38.4%. This is also 3rd in the SEC, but they only attempt 19.6 PG, 221st in the country. It’s also worth wondering if they should transition to a more balanced attack with more focus on the perimeter, given how well they’ve shot.
They don’t commit many turnovers, just 11.3 PG, which is the 2nd least in the conference behind Mississippi State. This is a good team, according to the stat book. How they’ve lost to Xavier, West Virginia, and Florida Atlantic is a question with few answers. Looking ahead, they’ve got a date with undefeated UConn. While a win could shape Todd Golden’s first year, a loss is likely imminent. The home crowd won’t be as raucous with students off for break, and UConn just has too much talent for the Gators to overcome.
9) Ole Miss Rebels
Last week’s ranking: 8 (-1)
Last week: Memphis (L) 57-68
Next week: Valparaiso (Dec. 10 – 3 p.m)
Best wins: Stanford, Florida Atlantic, Chattanooga
Worst losses: N/A
Out of all the surprises this year in the conference, Ole Miss has pretty much played to expectations, beating the teams they should beat and losing to the teams they should lose to. As expected, Matt Murrell leads the team in scoring with 14 PPG, and as expected, 247Sports #68 recruit Malique Ewin is averaging 0.6 PPG in 7 MPG. Hm? Not expected? Maybe Ewin needs more time to develop or there were some issues the scouts didn’t pick up on, but Amaree Abram has been the most effective freshman in Oxford. He’s averaging 11.8 PPG on 52.1% from the field, good for second on the team, and while he needs more work as a passer, (3.0 turnovers per game) his 47% mark from behind the arc makes up for that. He should be in All-Freshman consideration from the conference at the end of the year.
As a team, Ole Miss is acceptably average. They’re ranked 7th out of 14 in the conference in FG%, 3PT%, and RPG, as well as 8th in SPG. There’s no one stat they’re horrible at, and they do foul at a low rate, with only 14.4 PG.
Coming up, they’ve got an easy matchup against Valpo for their only game this week before games against UCF and Temple that should be some good litmus tests.
10) LSU Tigers
Last week’s ranking: 9 (-1)
Last week: UT-Arlington (W) 63-59
Next week: Wake Forest (Dec. 10 – 2 p.m.)
Best wins: Wofford, Akron, Illinois State
Worst losses: N/A
LSU sits at 7-1, which is good but also hasn’t really looked impressive, which isn’t good. Their best win is Wofford, and the three-point victory was one of only two top 200 KenPom wins so far, with the other being Akron. Just last week, they were down to UT-Arlington with four minutes to go before pulling ahead. (UT-Arlington currently sits at 286th in KenPom ratings.) One could make a case that their lone loss to Kansas State was the Tigers’ best performance this year, given that the Wildcats are the only top 100 KenPom teams that LSU has played so far.
Their basic stats aren’t horrible, with a 46% shooting percentage that ranks 5th in the conference, and a 3PT% of 38.6% that ranks 2nd in the conference. They’re also shooting 72.9% from the line, good for 5th in the country. However, those shooting stats are inflated by two factors: strength of schedule and usage rates. The top three shooters for LSU, Adam Miller, KJ Williams, and Justice Hill have attempted 64.25% of all shots by a Tiger in uniform this year. The fourth-leading shooter, Trae Hannibal, has only shot 27 times in 8 games. Once LSU starts playing teams that can match up with the triple threat of Miller, Williams, and Hill, the Tigers’ offense won’t be nearly as efficient.
Besides shooting, the Tigers are dead last in the conference in rebounding at just 34.6 RPG, good for 180th in the nation. What will LSU do when Arkansas matches up Trevon Brazile on KJ Williams, Ricky Council on Adam Miller, and Anthony Black on Justice Hill? Or when Alabama comes into Baton Rouge averaging 16 more boards per game than the Tigers? Or when LSU has to face the nation’s 2nd best defense in Starkville? We’ll get at least some semblance of a look this week when LSU plays Wake Forest.
11) Texas A&M Aggies
Last week’s ranking: 10 (-1)
Last week: SMU (W) 83-64, Boise State (L) 71-86
Next week: Oregon State (Dec. 11 – 6 p.m)
Best wins: Loyola-Chicago, DePaul, Abilene Christian
Worst losses: Murray State, Boise State, Colorado
This could be the most disappointing team in the conference so far. At least South Carolina was predicted last in the conference. The Aggies were a dark horse contender to win the conference in the preseason, and while they certainly can still do that, it doesn’t look nearly as likely.
The biggest issue for the Aggies so far, after losses to Colorado, Murray State, and Boise State, is fouls. The Aggies average 23.4 FPG, easily last in the conference and *358th* in the country out of 363 teams. They’re not horrible in other categories, shooting 44.9% from the field, and 71.6% from the line, both 6th in the SEC. They also average 9.6 SPG, good for 5th in the conference.
However, their issues defensively are on the inside. One would think that a team fouling almost 24 times a game would be an aggressive, rim-protecting defense that simply played too sloppy. But the Aggies only average 2.8 blocks per game, last in the conference. To put that in perspective, *two* Auburn *players* average more than 2.8 per game. The Aggies rank 218th nationally in that stat, and they oddly enough can’t stop the three-ball either, letting 37.4% of opponents’ threes go in. That’s good for 297th nationally.
Individually, the box scores have been stuffed, with Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford, and Henry Coleman III all scoring in double figures. Taylor IV leads with 15.1 PPG while adding 2.6 SPG and 3.8 APG, leading the team in both categories, as well.
However, they need more frontcourt help. Could that mean giving Julius Marble more minutes with Coleman in the lineup? Maybe more minutes for freshman Solomon Washington, who’s shooting 43% from three and averages 3 RPGs in just 15 minutes? Whatever the necessary adjustments are, Buzz Williams will be hard-pressed to make them.
Looking ahead, a Pac-12 opponent in Oregon State waits. Hopefully, the Aggies take care of business this time.
12) Vanderbilt Commodores
Last week’s ranking: 12 (+0)
Last week: VCU (L) 65-70, Wofford (W) 65-62
Next week: Pittsburgh (Dec. 7 – 9 p.m), Grambling State (Dec. 9 – 7 p.m)
Best wins: Temple, Wofford, Fresno State
Worst losses: Southern Miss, VCU
Vanderbilt is better than its record suggests. Not much better, but definitely better. They’ve played a tough non-conference schedule so far against teams such as Saint Mary’s, VCU, and Memphis. And the Southern Miss loss looks better now that the Golden Eagles are sitting at 8-1.
And they’ve got some quality wins too, beating Temple on the road and Fresno State at a neutral site. Jerry Stackhouse’s team has a nice bit of depth too, with 3 double-digit scorers in Myles Stute, Liam Robbins, and Tyrin Lawrence (Jordan Wright sits just outside at 9.9 PPG.) But points aren’t everything. Ezra Manjon is leading the ‘Dores in assists with 3.8 PG to go with 1 SPG on the defensive side.
Overall, this team was hurt by the loss of Scotty Pippen Jr., as would be expected. But in terms of depth, this team certainly is deeper than last year’s. The ‘Dores are 1-0 against Power 6 opponents and get a chance to improve that mark against Pitt this week before a buy game against Grambling (Who’s already beaten Colorado.)
13) Georgia Bulldogs
Last week’s ranking: 13 (+0)
Last week: Hampton (W) 73-54, Florida A&M (W) 68-46
Next week: @ Georgia Tech (Dec. 6 – 7 p.m)
Best wins: Saint Joseph’s, Bucknell, ETSU
Worst losses: N/A
Georgia’s record looks good at first glance, but one glance at the underlying metrics shows the holes in this Bulldog squad. Sure, Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo are combining for 27.7 PPG, but that’s really where the positives stop. No one else is in double figures. The Roberts-Oquendo duo also combine for 5.7 turnovers per game, and Georgia’s best win thus far is against an ETSU squad that has lost to Tennessee Tech and Appalachian State. They haven’t beaten a single team ranked in the top 200 in Kenpom Ratings, something every other SEC team can say, even South Carolina.
Georgia is shooting just 41.7% from the field, 13th in the conference. They sit 12th in the conference in 3PT% at just 32%, 13th in APG with just 12.3, average the 2nd-most turnovers per game in the conference with 15.8, all while having the second-easiest schedule in the SEC.
The only categories the Bulldogs aren’t mediocre at are FT%, rebounds, and fouls committed, where they rank 2nd, 5th, and 3rd in the conference, respectively. Perhaps it’s a sign of a mismanaged offense by Coach Mike White that such a gap exists between FT% and FG%, or maybe it’s just first-year hiccups.
Looking ahead, Georgia takes on Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Tuesday in a game that could give the Bulldogs their first quality win of the season.
14) South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week’s ranking: 14 (+0)
Last week: George Washington (L) 55-79, Georgetown (W) 74-71
Next week: Presbyterian (Dec. 11 – 6 p.m)
Best wins: Clemson, Georgetown, USC Upstate
Worst losses: George Washington, Colorado State, Davidson
South Carolina had a 1-1 weekend, which, for worse or for worse, was expected. What wasn’t expected was how they got there. A blowout loss to George Washington where the Colonials led at one point 60-25, and an overtime escape against a Georgetown team that had already lost to Loyola Marymount and American. Star freshman GG Jackson had his first rough game of the season against George Washington, going 4-17 from the field for 11 points, but bounced back against Georgetown, leading the team with 22 points and at one point scoring 14 straight for the ‘Cocks.
But that in and of itself is an issue. Where would this team be without the efforts of Jackson? The answer: 0-8. It’s not an exaggeration, either. The first win, a 3-point win over South Carolina State in which Jackson recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The next win against Clemson was a 2-point victory in which Jackson shut down the Tigers’ frontcourt and scored 12 points to go along with 8 boards. The next win came against the USC Upstate Spartans in which Jackson scored 22 after the ‘Cocks fell behind at halftime. The latest victory over Georgetown wouldn’t have been possible had Jackson not again scored 22 points, including the 14 consecutive points in the second half. Without Jackson, Lamont Paris’s first Gamecock squad would be being looked at in the same vein as Louisville and Florida State right now. With him, however, the future in Columbia looks to be much brighter even if he likely jumps to the NBA after this season. Just having a recruit like Jackson should help to recruit immensely for Paris.
This year, however, the holes are glaring. There is a real lack of a frontcourt besides Jackson, as the other 5 big men on the roster are averaging a combined 10.6 PPG, compared to Jackson’s per-game output of 17 PPG. Jackson also leads the team in rebounds with 7.5 RPG, while the other 5 combine for 13.1 RPG, less than what Jackson and SF Hayden Brown combine for per-game. (13.5) The frontcourt needs to step up if South Carolina wants to win some conference games this year.
The problems don’t end at the frontcourt, however. The loss of Coastal Carolina transfer Ebrima Dibba certainly didn’t help depth, but the guard play for Carolina has been inconsistent all year. There have been sparks of brilliance, (Chico Carter scoring 26 against Davidson and 16 against Clemson, Meechie Johnson scoring 17 against Georgetown) but overall this group is struggling. Johnson has shot the most three-pointers for the team this year (despite missing two games), but is only shooting 31% from behind the arc, 4th on the team behind Carter, Jackson, and Hayden Brown. The team only averages 12 APG, which not only is last in the conference but 218th nationally. Vanderbilt is 4-4, too, but at least Vanderbilt’s SOS is 2nd in the conference. South Carolina sits at 10th. Hayden Brown leads the conference in fouls with 3.6 per game, and Meechie Johnson is leading the team with 2.7 TOPG.
Defensively, the perimeter defense is lacking, with the Gamecocks last in the conference in SPG, with 4.5, good for 331st nationally (out of 363 teams.) A team also can’t win games if they can’t score, and South Carolina has difficulty with that, averaging 63.8 PPG. (That’s 302nd nationally.) However, they also can’t stop their opponents on the defensive side of the ball, a Frank Martin staple. They’re giving up 71.4 PPG, good for 199th nationally. They’re last in the conference in FG% with 39.6%, and the only team in it not shooting 40% or better. That’s 323rd nationally.
A 4-4 record isn’t horrible, and it’s the same record as Vanderbilt. But make no mistake, Vanderbilt is still miles ahead of this team. Believe it or not, South Carolina sits as the 12th luckiest team in the country, according to KenPom. They could just as easily be 0-8 as 4-4.
Looking ahead, a matchup with KenPom #310 Presbyterian should get the ‘Cocks above .500 again.
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