The non-conference slate of the college basketball season is in it’s final stages as we inch towards 2018 and SEC play. Texas A&M and Kentucky have continued to show that they are the class of the conference while Tennessee continues their surprising surge towards the top. The biggest surprise of the last few weeks is Florida dropping four of five, sending them spiraling down the rankings. One thing is sure, the numbers love the SEC so far this year. 11 schools are currently ranked in the RPI top 64. That prompted ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to put seven teams from the SEC in his latest bracket last Friday. That trailed only the ACC (11) for the teams in the field of 68.
1. Texas A&M (9-1: Last: 1) (RPI: 8 - SOS: 41)
The Aggies suffered their first lost of the campaign when they fell at #23 Arizona 67-64. The bounced back by cruising past Prairie View A&M and Savanna State. Seven different Aggies hit double figures as they scored 113 in the win over Savanna State. They were also without star big-man Robert Williams after he suffered a concussion, who is expected to return next game. They host Northern Kentucky and Buffalo before opening SEC play at Alabama on Dec. 30.
2. Kentucky (9-1: Last: 2) (RPI: 22 - SOS: 85)
Coach Cal’s Cats have cruised through a pretty average non-conference slate. They were pushed hard last time out by Virginia Tech, trailing by six at the break. But star freshman Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo caught fire in the second half to lead them to a 93-86 win. They tangle with UCLA (in New Orleans) and Louisville at home before hosting Georgia in their SEC opener on New Year’s Eve.
3. Tennessee (7-2: Last: 4) (RPI: 5 - SOS: 18)
The Volunteers will likely stay in the AP top 25 after suffering a narrow defeat to the defending champion, #7 North Carolina Tar Heels on Sunday. The Vols led by six at the break but could not seal the deal in Knoxville, falling 78-73 to the Heels. They’ll host Furman before traveling to Wake Forest. They open up SEC play at Arkansas on Dec. 30.
4. Arkansas (8-2: Last: 11) (RPI: 9 - SOS: 13)
Arkansas is the big mover this time around, jumping up seven slots after going 3-0 against Colorado State, Minnesota and Troy in impressive fashion. The closest contest of the three was a 95-79 hammering of then ranked #14 Minnesota. Guard Jaylen Barford scored 22 in the win over the Golden Gophers, hitting 18 points or more for the seventh time in ten games. He leads what is the SEC’s best offense, scoring 88 points per game. They’ll host Oral Roberts and Cal-State Bakersfield before hosting Tennessee in their SEC opener.
5. Missouri (9-2: Last: 8) (RPI: 7 - SOS: 16)
Missouri moves up three slots after going 3-0 against Miami (OH), Green Bay and North Florida by an average margin of victory of 18 points. Guard Jordan Geist broke out in the win over Green Bay, scoring 28 points. The Tigers are doing just fine without arguably the nation’s highest rated prospect, Michael Porter Jr. They are showing they could still qualify for the tournament without Porter, something few could possibly happen. They play Stephen F. Austin and Illinois before traveling to Columbia to open up SEC play with the Gamecocks on Jan. 3.
6. Alabama (7-3: Last: 5) (RPI: 25 - SOS: 15)
The Crimson Tide suffered another defeat last time out, falling at #23 Arizona 88-82. They did however pick up a win over strong mid-major Rhode Island before heading west. Star freshman Collin Sexton scored 30 in the defeat to the Wildcats, putting him back on top of the SEC scoring charts at 21.8 points per game. The Tide host Mercer and Texas before playing host to #9 Texas A&M in their SEC opener on Dec. 30. Some good news for Avery Johnson is that last seasons star freshman, Braxton Key, is expected to make his season debut, following injury, sometime in next few games.
7. Florida (6-4: Last: 3) (RPI: 55 - SOS: 25)
The strangest team in the SEC, maybe the entire nation, has to be Florida. The Gators started out 5-0 after knocking off #12 Gonzaga in the PK80 tournament. They were then only a few minutes away before beating #4 Duke and possibly being ranked number one in the country. Now, the Gators will likely find themselves outside of the top 25 released later today after suffering a neutral-site loss to Clemson. That was their fourth defeat in five games, including a blowout loss to Florida State and a home-loss to Loyola-Illinois. Before losing to Clemson, they knocked-off #17 Cincinnati on a neutral floor. If coach Mike White can figure it out, the Gators still have the talent to make a run in March. They play James Madison and Incarnate-Word before hosting Vandy in their SEC opener on Dec. 30.
8. Auburn (9-1: Last: 10) (RPI: 32 - SOS: 184)
Auburn moves up another two spots after going 3-0 against Gardner-Webb, UAB and Middle Tennessee State. Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley are still out with suspensions but the Tigers have had no trouble scoring without them. They have won seven straight and currently are second in scoring in the SEC at 86 points per game. Mustapha Heron has been the go-to-guy, averaging 16 points per contest. They play Murray State, UCONN and Cornell before opening up league play at Tennessee on Jan. 2.
9. South Carolina (8-2: Last: 9) (RPI: 44 - SOS: 187)
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks stay put in the nine slot after knocking of Wyoming and Coastal Carolina. Guard Hassani Gravett was the goat turned hero after his 3-point play gave the Gamecocks an 80-78 win over the Chanticleers. Gravett struggled with turnovers throughout but made the play at the end to win it. Meanwhile, Frank Booker, Chris Silva and Justin Minaya hit double figures in both contests. The Gamecocks have avoided a resume crushing loss so far and they have a chance to pick up a signature win before league play beings. With Clemson winning at Florida, the Tigers have moved up the ladder in the college basketball world and could be ranked later today. Carolina will have the opportunity to avenge last seasons home loss to Clemson when they travel to Little-John tomorrow night. The Gamecocks then play Limestone before opening SEC in Mississippi against Ole Miss on New Year’s Eve.
10. Georgia (7-2: Last: 7) (RPI: 64 - SOS: 248)
Georgia suffered their second defeat on the season with a 72-62 road-loss against UMass. Yante Maten scored another 20 points and gathered nine boards in the loss. He continues to dominate, averaging 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest. He has gotten some help from guard William Jackson III lately. Jackson III hit double-figures in six straight games but he is the only other bulldog averaging double-digits. The Bulldogs host Georgia Tech and Temple before opening league play at Kentucky on New Year’s Eve.
11. Mississippi State (9-1: Last: 6) (RPI: 42 - SOS: 237)
State suffered their first defeat of the season when they went to Cincinnati last week. They trailed by double-digits at the break and never really got back into the game, losing 65-50. They bounced back by hammering Tennessee-Martin by 31. Big-man Aric Holman racked up his second straight double-double. If Holman’s play can continue, giving the Weatherspoon brothers consistent help on the inside, then Ben Howland’s Bulldogs will make some noise in SEC play. They Little-Rock, Southern Miss and North Florida before opening league play with Arkansas on Jan. 2.
12. LSU (6-3: Last 12) (RPI: 131 - SOS: 166)
LSU suffered their third loss to Stephen F. Austin, losing 83-82 at home. That followed two home wins over UNC-Wilmington and Houston. Tremont Waters continues to lead the Tigers, averaging 18.2 points per game. He hit a three from the parking lot to give them the lead before losing to SF-Austin in the final seconds. The Tigers host Sam Houston State and North Florida before traveling to Memphis. They’ll open up SEC play with Kentucky on Jan. 3 before going to A&M and Arkansas, giving them the toughest start to SEC play.
13. Ole Miss (5-5: Last: 13) (RPI: 174 - SOS: 110)
The Rebels dropped two of their lost three, bringing their record to .500. The team with the worst luck in the SEC so far, they suffered their third, home overtime loss of the season against Illinois State last time out. They host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Bradley before opening league play at home against South Carolina on New Year’s Eve.
14. Vanderbilt (3-7: Last 14) (RPI: 160 - SOS: 26)
Vanderbilt is planted firmly in the basement with their 3-7 record. They are also 0-2 against Nashville rivals, Belmont and Middle Tennessee State. They put up a good fight at #5 Arizona State yesterday, losing 76-64. They host Houston-Baptist and Alcorn State before opening up SEC play at Florida.