George Bagwell gives his SEC basketball power rankings for Week 6 of the season.
Matchup of the week: Tennessee vs. Arizona
Sneaky good matchup of the week: Alabama vs. Memphis
All game times are in EST.
1) Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week’s ranking: 2 (+1)
Last week: #1 Houston (W) 71-65
Next week: Memphis (Dec. 13 – 9 p.m), #15 Gonzaga (Dec. 17 – 1 p.m)
Best wins: Houston, Michigan State, North Carolina
Worst losses: N/A
What a game. For the second straight year, Alabama beat Houston in an instant classic, this time in H-Town. Down 14 with 15 minutes left, the Crimson Tide outscored the Cougars by 20 the rest of the way to win 71-65. Freshman Noah Clowney led the team in scoring with 16 on 7-12 shooting, while freshman Jaden Bradley provided 12 points off the bench. The Cougars held star freshman Brandon Miller without a made FG in a 0-8 effort from the field, but he still managed to go 8-9 from the line.
As a team, the Tide outrebounded Houston 44-39, and hit 30% of their threes to Houston’s 23% mark from behind the arc. The biggest swing may have come from the bench, however. Alabama’s bench scored 27 points, while Houston’s only managed 10.
A win over the #1 ranked team automatically vaults the winner to the top of the week’s SEC Power Rankings. (Though that rule may come back to bite me once Vanderbilt randomly beats Tennessee in a January road game, I’ll keep it for now.) This team, through a little more than a month, looks to be Nate Oats’s best team in Tuscaloosa so far.
2) Tennessee Volunteers
Last week’s ranking: 1 (-1)
Last week: Eastern Kentucky (W) 84-49, #13 Maryland (W) 56-53
Next week: @ #9 Arizona (Dec. 17 – 10:30 p.m)
Best wins: Kansas, Maryland, USC, Butler
Worst losses: Colorado
Tennessee beat a ranked team, which is good news, but got outscored by 14 in the second half, which isn’t. Beating Maryland will never move a team down in the rankings, and maybe I’m judging a team that gave up 17 points in the first half a bit too harshly. After all, they’re ranked first in defensive efficiency in KenPom, and just held the Terrapins to an 8.3% mark from behind the arc. But even in games where they can look like the number-one team in the nation, they are still prone to cold streaks. That’s not a good sign for March.
3) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last week’s ranking: 4 (+1)
Last week: Minnesota (W) 69-51
Next week: Jackson State (Dec. 14 – 7:30 p.m), Nicholls (Dec. 17 – 3 p.m)
Best wins: Marquette, Utah, Akron
Worst losses: N/A
Congrats to the Bulldogs, who are the lone remaining undefeated team in the conference. While they haven’t had the hardest non-conference schedule, they’ve looked great doing it. While I’m aware that sentence could have very well described Missouri before their blowout loss to Kansas, this team does look a bit stronger than the Tigers. Why? Well, after a 69-51 defeat of Minnesota, they’re the only team to not give up 55+ points in a game. They’re giving up an average of 49.8 PPG, just behind Houston’s first-ranked defense. They’re not horrible on offense either, scoring 70 PPG for an average margin of 20+ points.
Looking ahead, the Bulldogs should improve to 11-0 after games against Nicholls and Jackson State at home, and the two opponents shouldn’t bar the Bulldogs from extending their <55 point defensive streak.
4) Arkansas Razorbacks
Last week’s ranking: 3 (-1)
Last week: UNCG (W) 65-58, Oklahoma (W) 88-78
Next week: Bradley (Dec. 17 – 4 p.m)
Best wins: San Diego State, Oklahoma, Troy
Worst losses: N/A
Bad news from Fayetteville, as Trevon Brazile is out for the year after a knee injury against UNCG. While the team performance wasn’t good against the Spartans, falling behind with less than 6 minutes to go, the Brazile news is far worse for the Razorbacks than a close win. At the time of the injury, Brazile was one of the X-factors for Arkansas, scoring 23 against San José State and 20 against San Diego State. Hopefully, the Missouri transfer heals quickly and has a productive career once he returns, but the Razorbacks will have to deal without him for the rest of the year.
Arkansas did bounce back nice against Oklahoma, with Nick Smith scoring 21 points, but they’ll need to fill the void left by Brazile.
Looking ahead, they’re playing the best the MVC has to offer in Bradley this week, but Arkansas should still win.
5) Kentucky Wildcats
Last week’s ranking: 7 (+2)
Last week: Yale (W) 69-59
Next week: #16 UCLA (Dec. 17 – 5:15 p.m)
Best wins: Michigan, Yale, Duquesne
Worst losses: N/A
Yale isn’t a bad team, but one would reasonably expect Kentucky to beat them by more than 10. Oscar Tshiebwe had a classic Oscar Tshiebwe performance, scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds. However, every starter saw the floor for more than 30 minutes in a 10-point victory over an Ivy League opponent. Does that mean Calipari should experiment more with lineups? With CJ Frederick and Ugonna Onyenso on the bench, perhaps the answer is yes.
Looking ahead, the ‘Cats have a tough opponent this week, as they take on UCLA. It should be another litmus test for Kentucky, and they match up well against the Bruins.
6) Auburn Tigers
Last week’s ranking: 7 (+1)
Last week: Memphis (L) 73-82
Next week: Georgia State (Dec. 14 – 8 p.m), @ USC (Dec. 18 – 5:30 p.m)
Best wins: Saint Louis, Northwestern, Bradley
Worst losses: N/A
As mentioned in the previous edition of SEC Power Rankings, Auburn was going to need to stop Deandre Williams if they were going to beat Memphis. They could not, and did not. Scrubbed from the ranks of the unbeatens, the Tigers looked just as bad as Vanderbilt and Ole Miss did against the tandem of Williams and Kendric Davis. KD Johnson shot 1-7 from three, Wendell Green shot 0-4, and Allen Flanigan 1-3. That’s a combined 2-14 from behind the arc from the 3 players who got the most minutes against Memphis. If the threes aren’t falling, put the big men in and pound it down low. Dylan Cardwell again got only 17 minutes but shot 3-3 from the field.
I don’t think this is just an aberration for the Tigers. This team has some serious holes, and Memphis exposed them. They’ll need to regroup quickly with games against Georgia State and USC this week.
7) Missouri Tigers
Last week’s ranking: 5 (-2)
Last week: #6 Kansas (L) 67-95
Next week: UCF (12/17/22- 12 p.m.)
Best wins: Wichita State, Penn, SE Missouri State
Worst losses: N/A
Well. It was a good run, Mizzou. An offense that scored 80+ points in every game was shut down against a very good Kansas opponent, losing 95-67 at home. It was a dose of reality for the Tigers, after a relatively easy non-conference schedule before that. This is by no means a bad team, but their flaws were exposed against their rivals.
Their next game, a home matchup against UCF, is another quality opponent for Missouri. The Knights certainly aren’t Kansas, but it should still be a good game and one that Missouri can win.
8) Florida Gators
Last week’s ranking: 8 (+0)
Last week: #5 UConn (L) 54-75
Next week: Ohio (Dec. 14 – 7 p.m)
Best wins: Florida State, Oregon State, Stetson
Worst losses: Florida Atlantic
Losing to a top-five team in the country in UConn isn’t going to move a team down the rankings, even if it was a 21-point home loss in which the Gators got a 4-of-14 performance from Colin Castleton and a combined 0-of-10 from the field from Will Richard, Myreon Jones, and Kyle Lofton.
It’s fair to blame the sluggish start on the fact that it’s Todd Golden’s first year, but this team reminds me a lot of a Mike White-era Florida team, and that’s not a good thing. Not to mention, one could argue Chris Jans’s Bulldog team has less talent than the Gators, and they’re ranked and undefeated. So the first-year excuse loses a bit of its strength there.
This week, however, Florida gets to play Ohio at home before finishing up their non-conference schedule against Oklahoma the week after.
9) Ole Miss Rebels
Last week’s ranking: 9 (+0)
Last week: Valparaiso (W) 98-61
Next week: UCF (Dec. 14 – 7:30 p.m), Temple (Dec. 17 – 5 p.m)
Best wins: Stanford, Florida Atlantic, Chattanooga
Worst losses: N/A
Mississippi’s resume continues to improve by the week, as Memphis just took down Auburn and Oklahoma has looked improved. Plus, Florida Atlantic hasn’t lost since the Rebels beat them. However, beating Valpo isn’t going to move the needle much. This week, however, Kermit Davis’s team has a chance to beat two quality teams, or at least teams better than Valparaiso and Siena.
If the team is to go 2-0 this week against UCF and Temple, they’ll need good performances from both Matt Murrell and Amaree Abram.
10) LSU Tigers
Last week’s ranking: 10 (+0)
Last week: Wake Forest (W) 72-70
Next week: NC Central (Dec. 13 – 7 p.m.), Winthrop (Dec. 17 – 7 p.m)
Best wins: Wake Forest, Akron, Wofford
Worst losses: N/A
KJ Williams. That is all. Not actually, but it was 35 of LSU’s 72 points in a two-point win against a Wake Forest team that was a -1.5 point favorite. LSU fell behind 20 early and was down 8 at the half, but a 35-point, 10-rebound double-double from Williams was enough to lead the Tigers to victory, 72-70. In a game where Adam Miller shot 1-of-10 from the field, it was necessary for someone else to step up.
The Tigers get (another) week with relatively easy opponents, playing NC Central and Winthrop at home. While the Wake Forest win is solid, it’s also the first top-100 KenPom win the Tigers have on their resume. They’ll need to play a bit better once conference play comes around.
11) Texas A&M Aggies
Last week’s ranking: 11 (+0)
Last week: Oregon State (W) 72-54
Next week: @ Memphis (Dec. 17 – 7 p.m)
Best wins: Loyola-Chicago, Abilene Christian, DePaul
Worst losses: Murray State, Colorado
Texas A&M took care of business against a bad Oregon State team, quite handily. The Aggies outrebounded the Beavers by a +14 margin, and Dexter Dennis, Julius Marble, Tyrece Radford, and Manny Obaseki all scored in double digits.
The losses against Murray State and Colorado still sting, but a win against a Memphis team that seems to have every SEC team on its schedule this year could build some positive momentum. A Kendric Davis v. Wade Taylor IV matchup is certainly one to watch. The Aggies likely come in as underdogs but could very well win. (Even if the Tigers are 3-0 against the conference with wins over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Auburn.)
12) Georgia Bulldogs
Last week’s ranking: 13 (+0)
Last week: Georgia Tech (L) 77-79
Next week: Notre Dame (12/18/22- 5:30 p.m)
Best wins: Saint Joseph’s, Bucknell, ETSU
Worst losses: Georgia Tech
Georgia loses a game to their rival currently ranked 123rd in KenPom and moves up a spot. Make it make sense. But it’s SEC basketball, so it doesn’t have to make sense. I was actually impressed by Mike White’s squad, who led for a good portion of the second half and shot 46% from three. Shooting 9-16 from the line, however, could have been the difference in the two-point loss.
Losing to a rival stings, but the team matches up nicely with Mike Brey’s Notre Dame, whom they take on this week. Don’t look now, but could one of the SEC bottom 3 make it out of the cellar and into the Top 11? It’s possible.
13) Vanderbilt Commodores
Last week’s ranking: 12 (-1)
Last week: Pittsburgh (W) 75-74, Grambling State (L) 62-64
Next week: NC State (Dec. 17 – 10:30 p.m)
Best wins: Temple, Wofford, Pittsburgh
Worst losses: Grambling State, VCU
Vanderbilt went 1-1 last week, which was pretty much expected. What wasn’t expected was a dramatic one-point victory over Pitt followed by a 2-point home loss to Grambling. Much like the aforementioned SEC Power Rankings rule about beating the number one team, does losing at home to Grambling automatically relegate a team to the #14 spot? I’m torn, but for now, the Commodores stay at 13th because South Carolina still plays in the SEC.
For what it’s worth, Jerry Stackhouse has done a fine job at scheduling quality opponents, and they take on NC State at home this week. Kevin Keatts has a much-improved team compared to last year, and it’ll take a big effort from the Commodores to beat Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner.
14) South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week’s ranking: 14 (+0)
Last week: Presbyterian (W) 68-57
Next week: @ UAB (Dec. 14 – 7 p.m), East Carolina (Dec. 17 – 2 p.m)
Best wins: Clemson, Georgetown, USC Upstate
Worst losses: George Washington, Colorado State, Davidson
South Carolina is above .500 again after a win against the mighty Blue Hose of Presbyterian, which they were losing in the second half. A win that doesn’t inspire much confidence, but is nonetheless a win. GG Jackson led the team in points, (again), and is 4th in the conference with 17.1 PPG. A lottery pick seems almost certain for the star freshman.
But looking ahead, the ‘Cocks have to travel to a very good UAB team and could be heavy underdogs to a team that’s already beat an SEC team in Georgia. Then, it’s a matchup in Greenville against ECU. A 1-1 split in those games is expected, but 0-2 could happen if the same team that just played Presbyterian shows up.