The SEC conference season officially kicked off Saturday without Missouri. The Tigers have been left out of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge along with Auburn, so both get a late start while the rest of the league has already played once.
So now is a good time to check in on the rest of the league as Missouri awaits their first opponent. Reconfiguring the preseason expectations of teams is always interesting after the body of work plays out a little bit. So I figured we could start by looking at what I thought heading into the season:
- Kentucky 14-4
- Texas A&M 12-6
- Florida 12-6
- Missouri 11-7
- Alabama 11-7
- Vanderbilt 11-7
- Ole Miss 9-9
- Auburn 9-9
- Mississippi State 8-10
- Arkansas 8-10
- Tennessee 7-11
- Georgia 6-12
- South Carolina 5-13
- LSU 3-15
Some good picks, maybe some less good. Feel free to call it hedging bets but I never saw a big difference between #4 and #11. The difference between an 11-7 record and a 7-11 record is a few breaks along the way. So it doesn’t surprise me to see these shaken up a little bit.
After a fairly short discussion with Matt, this is what we came up with for the current power rankings.
- Texas A&M
- Mississippi State
- South Carolina
- Ole Miss
In full disclosure, we did these before the action Saturday and Sunday, and I’m not entirely convinced the results change how I feel. Sure Alabama beat A&M, but they did so without D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder. And Arkansas beat Tennessee... though it was at home and they needed overtime after UT fouled out Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
Let’s get to the individual teams.
- Current KenPom Rating: 12
- Non-conference record: 11-1
Up until losing on the road to Alabama without Hogg and Gilder, Texas A&M had looked like the best team in the SEC and it wasn’t even close. However only one of their early season victories has held up, their opening romp over West Virginia. USC fell flat a bit, Oklahoma State and Penn State were mostly okay. Still, the Aggies steamrolled through everyone except a recovered Arizona Wildcat team in Phoenix. With solid guard play, the Aggies front court has been able to shine, but they need Gilder, J.J. Campbell, and Duane Wilson to keep up their play if the Aggies want to remain on top.
So far they’ve: exceeded exceptions. Even if it’s just by a little, I’ve been impressed with the Aggies consistency and they’re the best bet to win a league title away from Kentucky.
- Current KenPom Rating: 16
- Non-conference record: 10-2
All preseason I felt the Wildcats were being a little overrated and I said as much in my preview. Yes, they are talented and probably the most talented in the league. But through they may have as many as eight future NBA players, Kentucky doesn’t really have a dude. They’re trying hard to make Kevin Knox the guy, but he’s probably better equip right now to be a 3&D guy. Hamidou Diallo has been very good so far, but he’s not a high volume shooter and better equipped playing in the open floor.
So the Wildcats are very good, they just aren’t great. It will still be very tough for any other team to wrestle the conference title away from the team in Lexington.
So far they’ve: met expectations. Kentucky is a legit top 25 team and will likely spend the season ranked somewhere between 10 and 20.
- Current KenPom Rating: 20
- Non-conference record: 9-2
The surprise team of the league so far has been the Volunteers. Tennessee plays an aggressive but disciplined style which saw them net some big wins over Purdue, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, and only narrow losses to North Carolina and Villanova. The Vols are far better than anyone expected, but I keep pointing to my preseason thoughts when I was going over their roster and found myself liking this team far more than I expected to. Where the SEC writers had the Vols 13th, I had them 11th and felt kind of bad about it. I’m not sure I’m convinced the Vols are the 3rd best team in the league, but they’re a solid top half team and they’re going to be a tough out for anyone to go up against.
So far they’ve: exceeded expectations. The Vols are good, and as this point you have to think Rick Barnes is the leader in the clubhouse for coach of the year.
- Current KenPom Rating: 23
- Non-conference record: 10-2
Arkansas was a lot like Tennessee to me, I’m not quite sure how I ended up with them as low as they were because having known quantities is usually better than unknown, and we knew Jaylen Barford and Darryl Macon were good. And Macon and Barford have been very good. With those two plus Daniel Gafford on the inside, Arkansas has really only had one letdown this year and that was an ugly loss to Houston. A win over Oklahoma has aged well, along with a big win over Minnesota. Right now the Razorbacks are set for an NCAA big and with their ability to win at home, simply grabbing one or two road wins should probably be enough.
So far they’ve: exceeded expectations. I’m not sure I’d have been Arkansas to ever be a top 3-4 team in the league, but they’re getting contributions from all corners of the roster.
- Current KenPom Rating: 37
- Non-conference record: 12-1
I’ve been impressed with wha Auburn has done, even if their non-conference slate was a bit of an easy skid they’ve only had one letdown. Their loss to Temple isn’t pretty, but the Tigers have won most of their games easily including a couple challenges with Middle Tennessee and Murray State on the road. We’re certainly about to find out how good they really are with Tennessee and Arkansas up first, but considering Auburn has had to deal with a bunch of off the court issues and they’ve been missing two of their top four players in Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, being 12-1 is a big accomplishment. It wouldn’t surprise me much to see the Tigers slip back a bit once they settle into conference but Bruce Pearl has this team on the cusp of an actual NCAA bid right now.
So far they’ve: exceeded expectations. Not many thought Auburn would hold it together the way they have, and while there is no telling what happens from here, they deserve credit for where they are.
- Current KenPom Rating: 43
- Non-conference record: 8-4
Maybe the biggest question mark with still the highest ceiling exists in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has a chance to be scary good but often fell short in a very up and down non-conference season. Losses to UCF, Texas, Arizona and Minnesota with only one top 50 win against Rhode Island. With Collin Sexton, Alabama can play and beat anyone. Perhaps right now even 6th is too high, but there’s no denying Alabama is talented and showed it with the SEC opener by blitzing Texas A&M. If Avery Johnson can get a little more consistency from the supporting cast Alabama can and will be a dangerous team the rest of the conference play.
So far they’ve: disappointed. Collin Sexton has been sensational but the rest of the cast has been uneven leading to uneven results.
- current KenPom Rating: 36
- Non-conference record: 8-4
There’s nothing quite like going out to the PK80 in Portland and looking like a potential Final Four team, nearly beating Duke, then dropping a home game to a decent Florida State team, then an ugly home loss to Loyola. Four losses in five games left many wondering exactly which team the Gators are. The answer is actually simpler, they’re a team with a high ceiling, but when the 3-pointers aren’t falling, they’re fairly ordinary. Mike White has preached his team needed to be better defenders and the consistency hasn’t shown up, but if it does the Gators can quickly climb up the rankings again.
So far they’ve: been uneven. They were exceeding expectations for a while, then really not, now they’re starting to look like we expected.
We’ve still got seven teams to go. Missouri will come in at the top of that list, and they’ll have ample opportunities to move up. The good news is the league overall has been really very good. The current lowest rated KenPom team is 82, which should mean the league is about as even as it’s ever been.
There’s probably only a handful of teams who are not good enough to be considered for a tourney bid right now.