The college basketball season is only a few weeks old but it’s never too soon to start ranking the best teams from the SEC. It’s setting up to big year with the conference hoping to capitalize off of top recruiting classes and the good publicity from South Carolina’s run to the Final Four last season. Four squads from around the league are currently ranked in this weeks AP poll and a few more could crack the top 25 after their performances so far in the Thanksgiving tournaments.
1. Kentucky (5-1)
Coach Cal’s Cats have already suffered their first defeat of the season, dropping a tight one to Kansas in Chicago. Five new 5-star recruits are in Lexington and so far chemistry has been a problem, as expected. All of the freshman have had big games but not in the same contest. They have had a different leading scorer in five of six with top recruit Kevin Knox the only player to lead the team in points in multiple games. Last game, a win over Fort Wayne, 5-star Nick Richards finished with 25 and 15 boards but no other Cat scored more than 11.
2. Florida (4-0)
The Gators have not played anyone to brag about yet with their best win being a 3-3 Stanford team in the PK80 tournament. They did pummel the Cardinal though, hitting 13 three pointers in the first half en-route to a 108-87 win. Graduate transfer Egor Koulechov (from Rice) and junior Jalen Hudson have been bright so far. Hudson had 26 in their close win over New Hampshire before their trip to the northwest. Koulechov went 5-5 from deep in the first half against Stanford. They face #17 Gonzaga tonight.
3. Texas A&M (4-0)
A&M has had the most impressive start in the conference. They just cracked the initial AP poll (25) before the start but now sit at 16 and will likely crack the top-15 next week. They blew out West Virginia in their opener (without reigning SEC defensive player of the year Robert Williams) and then beat both Oklahoma State and Penn State by double-digits in Brooklyn. Williams made his season debut in those last two games, finishing with a double-double in both. They travel to Los Angeles to take on #10 Southern Cal on Sunday.
4. Alabama (4-0)
Avery Johnson has by-far his best team for his third season in Tuscaloosa. The Tide came in at #25 in this week’s AP poll, becoming ranked for the first time since December 2011. The two 5-star prospects (John Petty and Collin Sexton) have been as good as advertised so far. Petty hit a school record 10-three pointers in the win against Ala. A&M and Sexton scored 29 in the win over UT-Arlington. The Tide started slow against Arlington before pulling it out by a point. While a one-point home win against a mid-major is nothing to brag about, UT-A is one of the best mid-majors in the nation and they were receiving votes in the polls. Bama heads to Brooklyn to take on BYU and #14 Minnesota this weekend. That starts a very tough non-conference schedule.
5. Arkansas (4-0)
Arkansas picked up a nice win over Oklahoma in their PK80 tournament opener. Guard Daryl Macon scored 27 in the win over the Sooners, scoring 20+ for the second time this year. Jaylen Barford has also enjoyed a solid start to the season, averaging 20 points through the first four games. They get #9 North Carolina today in the PK80 tournament today.
6. Tennessee (3-1)
The Vols have had a good time in the Bahamas so far. They knocked off #18 Purdue in OT before blowing a double-digit halftime lead in a defeat against #5 Villanova yesterday. Grant Williams has been the star, scoring 22 and 20 so far in Atlantis. They get NC State today who suffered defeat to Northern Iowa after upsetting #2 Arizona in the tournament opener. 2-1 against those three would be a fantastic trip for coach Rick Barnes and company.
7. South Carolina (4-1)
The Gamecocks check in at seven to start out. USC has cruised past Wofford, Western Michigan (twice) and UTEP but suffered defeat to Illinois State in the Paradise Jam opener. The Illinois State defeat hurts but will likely not be a bad loss. The Gamecocks have had multiple contributors but have yet to have someone provide consistency beside Chris Silva. While the big man is clearly the best player on the squad, he also has yet to stay out of foul trouble. He fouled out against Illinois State and has not finished with less than three fouls yet, limiting to the least amount of minutes among Gamecock starters.
8. Missouri (4-1)
The Tigers lost arguably the nations top player in Michael Porter Jr. for the year in their opening win over Iowa State. They then took one on the chin at Utah for their lone defeat. They’ll likely fluctuate between 9-14 for the remainder of the season but new coach Cuonzo Martin will definitely have them playing better ball than they have the last few years.
9. Ole Miss (4-1)
Like Missouri, the Rebels suffered their lone-loss at Utah. They are also another team that will float around the middle of the pack. Guard Deandre Burnett is off to a great start, averaging 16 points per game.
10. Georgia (4-0)
The Bulldogs have won their first four but have not been exactly impressive, especially in the 3-point win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. One thing is certain however, Yante Maten is a premier player in the SEC. The big man is averaging 21 points and 13 boards so far.
11. Vanderbilt (2-3)
The Commodores have struggled against a tough schedule. They dropped a game against Nashville rival Belmont (not a terrible loss) before suffering an overtime defeat to #10 Southern Cal. They then suffered a big loss to Virginia in Brooklyn. They play #20 Seton Hall tonight. Setting up to be another 18-19 Vandy team with a top strength of schedule rating to stay on the bubble. They still have the core group from last year’s tourney team.
12. LSU (3-2)
The Tigers had a decent showing at the Maui invitational over Thanksgiving. They upset Michigan in the opener before getting hammered by #13 Notre Dame, the eventual winners of the invitational. They then played Marquette to a close defeat in the third-place game. One thing is for sure about LSU, Tremont Waters will score when he’s hot. The guard has scored 27, 5, 21, 8 and 39 so far this year.
13. Mississippi State (4-0)
Coach Ben Howland started the Bulldogs schedule off pretty soft with Alabama State, Florida A&M and Green Bay. So far those schools are a combined 2-13. They then picked up a nice win over mid-major Stephen F. Austin. Guard Tyson Carter scored 25 in that comeback win over the Jaxs, providing Quinndary Weatherspoon some help. State has tougher games before league play begins and they’ll need Carter to keep providing help to Weatherspoon.
14. Auburn (3-1)
Auburn has plenty of talent but their problem is eligibility. So far Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley are suspended and a cloud is hanging over Bruce Pearl’s head as he has refused to cooperate with the school in the investigation. They defeated North Florida, Indiana State and Hofstra but lost by 14 to Temple, by far the best team of the four. If everything gets cleared, the Tigers have the unit to push for a tournament bid. The problem is that is just as likely as Bruce Pearl being fired by New Year’s with Purifoy and Wiley not suiting up this year.