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How did the SEC fare in non-conference basketball play?

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With the non-conference schedule all but wrapped up, let’s look back at how things went for the league, and preview conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look now, but the Southeastern Conference isn’t the worst of the major conferences! Thanks to Washington State and Oregon State being awful and sub-200 in KenPom the SEC slides in ahead of the Pac12 in the conference ratings. Ahead of them are the Big 12, ACC, Big East and Big 10. A few teams have just a game left in their non-conference schedule and at the end of January the SEC-Big 12 challenge happens but with the conference season starting on Thursday, I thought it was an appropriate time to see where everyone is.

1. Kentucky 10 - 2

  • Preseason #1 (~)
  • Best Win: #5 North Carolina 103-100
  • Worst Loss: #13 UCLA 97-92
  • MVP: Malik Monk

The more things change the more they stay the same. Kentucky lost twice in two wildly entertaining games against UCLA and Louisville. They also beat Michigan State, North Carolina and a host of mid-majors. The fun part of the Wildcats is always their ability to get better as the season goes along. They open at Ole Miss, then host Texas A&M and Arkansas. The Wildcats are currently favored in every game remaining on their schedule with a projected W/L record of 15-3 in conference play. But with only one game on the schedule in the toss-up category (a road tilt at Florida), Kentucky realistically could improve upon that 15-3 record.

So far they: Met expectations. They’re a top 10 team nationally and have no bad losses and a few good wins.

2. Florida 9 - 3

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Little Rock at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • Preseason #2 (~)
  • Best Win: #28 Miami (FL) 65-56
  • Worst Loss: #26 Florida St 83-78
  • MVP: KeVaughn Allen

Florida looks to have rebounded after a couple rough seasons but the problems the Gators had in those seasons are still there, they just aren’t as bad. The Gators struggle to score the ball at times, but they’ve got enough elite talent they can overcome those struggles most nights. Canyon Barry (pictured above) has been a solid addition despite his struggles from 3FG%. But the Gators need to do more to get and keep Devin Robinson involved in the offense. They head to Arkansas to open up SEC play which will be a tough early test before the retreat back to the friendly confines of the O-Dome to play Ole Miss and Tennessee. Pre-season I had the Gators at 12-6 and that feels about right. They should be a lock for the NCAA’s at this point.

So far they: have slightly disappointed, but only a bit. I really feel they should be 10-2 right now.

3. South Carolina 10 - 2

  • Preseason #6 (+3)
  • Best Win: #29 Michigan 61-46
  • Worst Loss: #49 Seton Hall 67-64
  • MVP: P.J. Dozier

It’s clear that Frank Martin has the Gamecocks rolling. They’ve lost two games, but both came while Sindarius Thornwell was out under suspension. No word yet on when Thornwell will return, but the benefit for the team is it became P.J. Dozier’s squad, as he became the dominant go-to force many expected him to under Frank Martin. Dozier is playing so well and the defense has been, as usual, SMOTHERING. The concerns from the pre-season are still there with some young bigs, but they’ve played well in a committee-like approach even though Chris Silva still fouls far too much. With good wins over Michigan and Syracuse, and single possession losses to Seton Hall and Clemson. Their current resume is NCAA worthy, but they’ll still need a strong run in conference and getting Thornwell back will help with that quite a bit.

So far they: exceeded expectations, but if you didn’t think this was at least possible you probably don’t know Frank Martin very well.

4. Arkansas 11 - 1

NCAA Basketball: Sam Houston State at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
  • Preseason #3 (-1)
  • Best Win: #53 Houston 84-72
  • Worst Loss: #47 Minnesota 85-71
  • MVP: Moses Kingsley

Mike Anderson preached before the season that he liked this team, and in true Mike Anderson fashion he lined his schedule with a series of cupcakes and has taken that schedule to a nice 11-1 record. A nice win over Texas is looking less like a nice win, Houston is solid but unspectacular, and the only other major conference opponent was Minnesota who handled the Razorbacks. So going into conference play there are still a lot of questions about this team, but its impossible to deny they’re better than a year ago and quite possibly dangerous enough to win a lot of games in the SEC.

So far they: met my expectations, at the least. I thought they’d be good enough early to turn some heads, but they’re going to need to get to 11 wins in conference or they’re likely looking at the bubble.

5. Texas A&M 8 - 3

  • Preseason #7 (+2)
  • Best Win: #35 Virginia Tech
  • Worst Loss: #44 USC
  • MVP Tyler Davis

I honestly still don’t quite know how good the Aggies are. They beat a good Va Tech team, but I watched that game and it felt more like a collapse on the Hokies end than any magnificent comeback by A&M. They were also getting blasted by Arizona before storming back to a narrow loss. And after Va Tech their only top 200 wins are against Denver (#165) and Texas A&M Corpus Christie (#192). The Aggies will need to win a few games they shouldn’t to be safely in the tournament and with Tyler Davis, Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg they’ve got the scoring to do it. I pegged them for 10-8 before the season, KenPom has them at 11-7 right now... both might be enough to get in but I think they’d want one more win.

So far they: met my expectations. I knew they had questions, they lost some games they should and won the games they should so they’re on target.

6. Georgia 8 - 4

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Oakland Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
  • Preseason #4 (-2)
  • Best Win: #119 Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Worst Loss: #100 Oakland
  • MVP: Yante Maten

I mean, if the Bulldogs could figure out how to come out in the early season and play like they seem to do in conference play, they’d be in really good shape. Alas, instead they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA discussion. Which is a shame because it means that the brilliant play of Yante Maten is going to again go largely unnoticed nationally. Maten is without a doubt the best unknown player to the masses, and one of the best players in the nation regardless of renown. Still, no good wins and a loss to a not terrible Oakland team isn’t going to impress anyone on the committee. If the Bulldogs don’t find the consistency from their supporting cast, it’ll be another year of the NIT.

So far they: have been a disappointment. I’d really hoped Mark Fox would be able to get enough production from his talented youth to get them over the top and into the top 4 in the conference.

7. Auburn 10 - 2

  • Preseason #11 (+4)
  • Best Win: #27 Texas Tech
  • Worst Loss: #193 Boston College
  • MVP Danjel Purifoy

On top of the Tigers being better than we expected, they also added a 5-star post player at semester due to the early enrollment from Austin Wiley. Nice for Bruce Pearl to have that in his back pocket. Still, kenpom doesn’t love Auburn as they’re only ranked 87th currently, which isn’t going to win any hearts on the committee, and neither is losing to Boston freaking College. Yuck. There are no excuses for losing a game like that, but the Under Armour Challenge at Madison Square Garden bit Auburn and bit them hard. Three good wins over UConn, Oklahoma and Texas Tech showed they can compete with tournament teams, but the real test starts now if they can sustain some recent success in conference play.

So far they: have been a nice surprise. I don’t think anyone foresaw the impact Purifoy would have, but the combination of Jared Harper, Mustapha Heron and Purifoy has proven formidable when added to T.J. Dunans. The Tigers are dangerous.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow we’ll look at the bottom half of the league.