George Bagwell gives his SEC basketball power rankings for week 7 of the season.
Matchup of the week: Missouri vs. Illinois
Sneaky good matchup of the week: Mississippi State vs. Drake
All game times are in EST.
1) Tennessee Volunteers
Last week ranking: 2 (+1)
Last week: @ #9 Arizona (L) 0-75
Next week: Austin Peay (Dec. 21 – 6 p.m.)
Best wins: Kansas, Maryland, USC
Worst losses: Colorado
Before I get into Tennessee, the reason they’re sitting at first in these rankings is more because of how bad the rest of the conference played last week rather than Tennessee looking impressive. No disrespect to the Vols, as a close loss on the road to a top-10 team is nothing to be ashamed of, but under normal circumstances a team wouldn’t jump to the top spot after a week where they didn’t win a game. The rest of the conference seemingly didn’t want the top spot, with Alabama giving up 100 to Gonzaga, Mississippi State beating Nicholls by 2 at home, and both Kentucky and Auburn losing to Pac-12 basketball teams.
Zakai Zeigler had 21 points off the bench on 8-11 shooting, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a combined 5-22 mark from Santiago Vescovi and Tyreke Key. If the Volunteers want to march into April, they’ll need to improve a 40.4 FG% to supplement their defense.
2) Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week ranking: 1 (-1)
Last week: Memphis (W) 91-88, #15 Gonzaga (L) 90-100
Next week: Jackson State (Dec. 20 – 7 p.m.)
Best wins: Houston, Memphis, North Carolina
Worst losses: N/A
It was a bit of good and bad for the Crimson Tide last week, as they beat a good Memphis team by three then lost to Gonzaga by giving up 100 points to the Bulldogs. Even though they beat Houston the week before and came into the week ranked 4th, the performance against Gonzaga should be enough to put a hold on Alabama’s Final Four hopes. That defense is what separates Alabama *at the moment* from other contenders. That’s not to say they can’t improve as the season goes along, but it’s certainly something to watch. And it’s enough to move the Crimson Tide from the #1 spot this week.
3) Arkansas Razorbacks
Last week ranking: 4 (+1)
Last week: Bradley (W) 76-57
Next week: UNC-Asheville (Dec. 21 – 9 p.m.)
Best wins: San Diego State, Troy, Oklahoma
Worst losses: Creighton
Thank you, Arkansas, for being one of the few SEC teams to actually take care of business last week, beating the best of the MVC. Freshman Jordan Walsh scored 18 points on a perfect 7-for-7 night from the field and fellow freshman Anthony Black added 15 as well.
Perhaps the most positive stat of the night for the Razorbacks was 27 turnovers forced. The Hogs only turned it over 11 times for a TO margin of +16 for the night. The only bad news besides Trevon Brazile’s injury two weeks ago is that the loss to Creighton is looking worse by the day. Looking ahead, Arkansas takes on a scrappy UNC-Asheville team that’s already beaten UCF.
4) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last week ranking: 3 (-1)
Last week: Jackson State (W) 69-59, Nicholls (W) 68-66
Next week: Drake (Dec. 20 – 5 p.m.)
Best wins: Akron, Marquette, Utah
Worst losses: N/A
Is it safe to say Mississippi State is the worst undefeated team left? There’s 5 of them remaining, with Utah State, New Mexico, Purdue, and UConn joining the Bulldogs in the ranks of the unbeatens. I’d have a hard time picking Chris Jans’ squad to win a game against either of those 4 teams given what transpired in Starkville on two separate nights last week.
The first game against Jackson State in which Mississippi State was a -20.5 point favorite had Jackson State leading in the second half. The Bulldogs only scored 6 points in the first 10 minutes. Next, against Nicholls, a botched inbounds play gave the Colonels a chance to beat the Bulldogs at the buzzer, but the shot rimmed out. After not giving up more than 55 points in their first 9 games, they’ve given up at least that in the last two games.
They play Drake this week, and in a matchup of Bulldogs, I don’t know if Mississippi State can pull this out. Drake is a very solid team.
5) Missouri Tigers
Last week ranking: 7 (+2)
Last week: UCF (W) 68-66
Next week: Illinois (Dec. 22 – 9 p.m.)
Best wins: Penn, Wichita State, UCF
Worst losses: N/A
What a shot. Deandre Gholston capped a 16 point performance with a miracle buzzer beater from the logo to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against UCF, who already beat Ole Miss that week. Due to the shot and the shortcomings of Kentucky and Auburn, Missouri is granted their #5 spot back before playing host to Illinois in which should be the game of the week in the conference. Can the Tigers take advantage of an Illinois squad that appears to be struggling as a team right now? A win could mean a top-4 spot for the Tigers. (In these rankings, not the AP Poll of course.)
6) Kentucky Wildcats
Last week ranking: 5 (-1)
Last week: UCLA (L) 63-53
Next week: Florida A&M (Dec. 21 – 7 p.m.)
Best wins: Michigan, Yale, Duquesne
Worst losses: N/A
Kentucky. What happened? An offense that worked somewhat adequately against Yale fell apart against a quality opponent in UCLA. Coach Calipari is (justifyingly?) getting a lukewarm seat in Lexington message boards. That’s not to suggest he’s in any danger of losing his job, but it’s a reminder that Kentucky hasn’t won a NCAA Tournament game since the pandemic started. They need to get right before conference play starts, and that starts with Florida A&M.
7) Auburn Tigers
Last week ranking: 6 (-1)
Last week: Georgia State (W) 72-64, USC (L) 71-74
Next week: @ Washington (Dec. 21 – 9 p.m.)
Best wins: Bradley, Saint Louis, Northwestern
Worst losses: USC
Auburn continues to struggle, playing Georgia State close and losing to Southern Cal. The win was actually more concerning than the loss, as KD Johnson was benched for a game leaving Wendell Green and Zep Jasper to shoot 25% from the field in his absence. A strong game from Jaylin Williams may have won the game for the Tigers, as he scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in a 8-point win.
The loss to USC revealed some positives, however. Tre Donaldson got extended minutes and looked good doing it, adding 4 steals. With the struggles of Wendell Green and KD Johnson, it’s worth asking if Donaldson should eat into their minutes against Washington before SEC play starts. (Also, it wouldn’t be a SEC Power Rankings if I didn’t advocate for Dylan Cardwell getting more minutes. He’s shooting 86% from the field, Bruce Pearl.)
8) Florida Gators
Last week ranking: 8 (-)
Last week: Ohio (W) 82-48
Next week: Oklahoma (Dec. 20 – 9:30 p.m.)
Best wins: Florida State, Oregon State, Kennesaw State
Worst losses: Florida Atlantic
Florida won’t move up in the rankings after beating Ohio, but they certainly won’t move down either. It was a nice win for a team that was really in need of a nice win, with Kowacie Reeves coming off the bench to score 20 points for the Gators. The defense looked much better compared to their performance against UConn, although of course the difference in competition is the caveat there. Looking ahead, The Gators play Oklahoma in a matchup of soon-to-be conference rivals. A win could springboard Todd Golden’s team into SEC play, but a loss puts them at 7-5, a place no team in the conference wants to be. (Besides maybe Vanderbilt and South Carolina.)
9) Ole Miss Rebels
Last week ranking: 9 (-)
Last week: UCF (L) 61-72, Temple (W) 63-55
Next week: North Alabama (Dec. 20 – 3 p.m.)
Best wins: Florida Atlantic, Chattanooga, Stanford
Worst losses: Oklahoma, UCF
Mississippi has looked good since the 12:07 mark in the first half against UCF. But the first 7:53 pretty much defined their week, falling behind 21-0 against the Knights, which sounds more like a football score than a college basketball game. They outscored UCF by 10 the rest of the way, but it wasn’t enough to come back. They did rebound with a win against Temple, but the start to UCF will sting for a bit.
Looking ahead, they’ve got a matchup at home against North Alabama this week before conference play starts.
10) LSU Tigers
Last week ranking: 10 (-)
Last week: NC Central (W) 67-57, Winthrop (W) 89-81
Next week: ETSU (Dec. 21 – 8 p.m.)
Best wins: Wofford, Wake Forest, Akron
Worst losses: N/A
LSU continues to win badly. Yes, they win. But it’s so painful to watch. A 10-point victory over NC Central and a rock fight with Winthrop doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Matt McMahon’s team. This team has feasted mostly on cupcakes in non-conference, and while they taste good, they also don’t mean much to the selection committee in March.
In terms of team notes, KJ Williams has replaced Adam Miller as the predominant force for the Tigers, and Cam Hayes continues to impress. Hayes should receive more minutes if he keeps up a 55% mark from the field. Looking ahead, the Tigers play ETSU at home this week.
11) Georgia Bulldogs
Last week ranking: 12 (+1)
Last week: Notre Dame (W) 77-62
Next week: Chattanooga (Dec, 21 – 3 p.m.)
Best wins: Saint Joseph’s, Bucknell, Notre Dame
Worst losses: Wake Forest, UAB, Georgia Tech
Congratulations, Mike White! The Georgia Bulldogs finally took home a Top-200 KenPom win, something that had evaded them all season long. But a dismantling of a solid Irish team coupled with a Texas A&M loss earns the Bulldogs a vaunted spot at #11, the highest they’ve been all year.
Now, we’ll see if that lasts when they play UTC this week at home before transitioning into conference play.
12) Texas A&M Aggies
Last week ranking: 11 (-1)
Last week: Memphis (L) 79-83, Wofford (L) 62-67
Next week: Wofford (Dec. 20 – 2 p.m.)
Best wins: Loyola-Chicago, Abilene Christian, DePaul
Worst losses: Murray State, Colorado, Wofford
4-1. Memphis might have more SEC wins than South Carolina by the end of the season. (No offense, ‘Cocks.) The latest came at the expense of this Texas A&M squad that just hasn’t managed to put together a consistent streak of play so far this year. At least they played Memphis closer than Auburn and Ole Miss, but that isn’t saying much.
Four Aggies managed double digits, with Wade Taylor IV leading the way with 25, but the Tigers managed 55% shooting from the field to the Aggies’ 38% mark. It’s hard for a team to win when the opponent can make more than half their shots, let alone with a -17% FG differential.
And then, to make matters worse, Texas A&M lost a buy game to Wofford. Ouch.
So, in response, I’ve put the Aggies in the Bottom 3 cellar.
13) Vanderbilt Commodores
Last week ranking: 13 (-)
Last week: NC State (L) 66-70
Next week: Alabama A&M (Dec. 22 – 8 p.m.)
Best wins: Pitt, Wofford, Temple
Worst losses: VCU, Grambling State
So close, Vandy. Vanderbilt actually looked pretty good against NC State, leading at the half and for stretches of the second. Myles Stute led the team with 16 points, and Ezra Manjon hit a layup to give the ‘Dores a one-point lead with under 2 minutes to play, but the Wolfpack outscored them 7-2 the rest of regulation.
While a win would’ve put Vanderbilt over .500 again, it’s not a horrible loss given the -5.5 spread in favor of NC State. They looked much better against the Pack than in the loss against Grambling. With another game against a SWAC opponent this week, the Commodores will try and avenge their previous loss before heading into SEC play.
14) South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week ranking: 14 (-)
Last week: UAB (L) 70-84, East Carolina (L) 56-64
Next week: Western Kentucky (Dec. 22 – 7 p.m.)
Best wins: Clemson, Georgetown, USC Upstate
Worst losses: George Washington, East Carolina, Davidson
Good teams win, but great teams cover. Sure, South Carolina went 0-2 last week to mid-major opponents. But Meechie Johnson hit a three with 14 seconds remaining to beat the -16.5 point spread against UAB, so all is well in Columbia. It’s disappointing, but when a team loses its top six scorers from the previous year, there’s really no way to improve. Coach Paris can use the portal next year to improve the team mightily, but this first year is going to be rough.
The Gamecocks have two remaining non-conference games, one against Western Kentucky next week and another against Eastern Michigan. Carolina will likely have to win both before going on the road to play Vanderbilt if they want to get above .500 again this season. Best of luck, ‘Cocks.