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SEC men’s basketball power rankings: Kentucky back on top as league play begins

Cats win home and away to put them atop league as A&M falls with 0-2 start.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC men are on pace for the best season in over a decade with 11 teams currently inside the RPI top 65. According the ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, if the NCAA Tournament started today, eight schools would represent the SEC, trailing only the ACC (9) in bids. If that holds true, that would be the most tournaments bids ever from the SEC and the most since the 2007-2008 season.

1. Kentucky - (12-2 : 2-0) (RPI: 5 - SOS: 16)

Kentucky sits atop the SEC ranks after steam-rolling Louisville and starting 2-0 in league play. They knocked off Georgia at home by five before surviving a tight game with LSU on the road. Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the break-out ‘Cat in all three games. He scored 24, 21 and 18 off the bench to lead Kentucky in all three contests. The Wildcats have a tough week ahead as they hit the road to take on #23 Tennessee before clashing with #11 Texas A&M in Lexington.

2. Texas A&M - (11-3 : 0-2) (RPI: 21 - SOS: 29)

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Aggies were the most impressive team in the non-conference from the SEC but they have hit a brick wall at the start of conference play. It started with a 22-point loss at Alabama. Then, in their SEC home-opener, Florida scored 46 in the first half and cruised to an 83-66 win in College Station. The Aggies’ leading scorer, D.J. Hogg, was suspended for both of those games. Hogg is expected to return this weekend as A&M plays host to LSU. With road-trips to #17 Kentucky and #23 Tennessee to follow, A&M must pick up the pace or their SEC title hopes could be dashed by mid-January.

3. Arkansas - (11-3 : 1-1) (RPI: 11 - SOS: 15)

Arkansas checks in at number three after a hot and cold start to league play. A comeback-overtime win over #23 Tennessee was a great start but the Hogs followed it up by losing at Mississippi State. The Razorbacks blew the game in Starkville at the foul-line. While they only shot 12 free throws to Mississippi State’s 40, the Hogs only made five, meaning they were outscored 24-5 at the charity stripe in a three point loss. They have a tough trip to Auburn before returning home to face LSU.

4. Florida - (10-4 : 2-0) (RPI: 57 - SOS: 51)

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati vs Florida Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Gators finally figuring it out? Maybe so after a 2-0 start to SEC play. The built a big lead and held on over Vandy in the opener before thrashing Texas A&M on the road. Grad-transfer Egor Koulechov has had a great start in SEC play, scoring 22 and 19 in the first two games. They have a very good shot at starting 5-0 in league play (@ Missouri, Mississippi State, @ Ole Miss) before taking on #22 Arkansas and #17 Kentucky in two weeks.

5. Auburn - (13-1 : 2-0) (RPI: T-15 - SOS: 114)

Auburn can just flat-out score. The Tigers currently average 87.3 points per game, trailing only Arkansas in the SEC. After falling behind by double-digits in the first half in Knoxville, the Tigers rallied to score 94 points in a ten-point win over #23 Tennessee. Five players hit double figures, including Mustapha Heron who scored 16 points or more for the eighth time this season. Auburn plays host to #22 Arkansas and Ole Miss next week.

6. Tennessee - (9-4 : 0-2) (RPI: T-15 - SOS: 5)

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

After a great non-conference, the Vols have fallen flat in league play. After leading Arkansas for most of the game, Tennessee surrendered a late lead on the road and then were beaten easily in overtime by the Razorbacks. They followed that up by allowing 94 points to Auburn in their SEC home-opener. Now, the Vols will be looking for their first SEC win against Kentucky on Saturday in Knoxville. They’ll travel to Vanderbilt later in the week.

7. Missouri - (11-3 : 1-0) (RPI: 14 - SOS: 23)

Mizzou limped into league play by losing to 10-6 Illinois 70-64 after trailing by 20 at the half. They then picked up a road win to start SEC-play, knocking off South Carolina 79-68. They play host to Florida and Georgia next week as they look to keep adding to a solid resume for March.

8. Alabama - (9-5 : 1-1) (RPI: 39 - SOS: 10)

Avery Johnson’s crew started off league play with a bang, blowing out then 5th ranked Texas A&M 79-57. It was Alabama’s first win over an AP top-5 team since upsetting #1 Stanford in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. Following one of the biggest wins in program history, Alabama did something they have done far too often, lose at Vanderbilt. The 76-75 loss in Nashville dropped Alabama to 1-14 in Memorial Gym since 1990. The Tide’s fab-freshman, Collin Sexton, still leads the SEC in scoring (20.4) but he needs some help. They travel to Georgia before hosting South Carolina next week.

9. Georgia - (10-3 : 1-1) (RPI: 42 - SOS: 138)

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs split their first two league games, falling at Kentucky 66-61 before knocking off Ole Miss 71-60. Yante Maten is still the best low-post player in the SEC. The senior put up 17 points and 12 boards in the defeat to Kentucky before taking it easy on the Rebels with 15 and 7. The big-fella is averaging 21.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in Georgia’s last six games. Sitting firmly on the bubble, the ‘Dawgs have two crucial games next week when they host Alabama before traveling to Missouri.

10. Mississippi State - (13-1 : 1-0) (RPI: 40 - SOS: 252)

Things are looking up in Starkville after the Bulldogs upset #22 Arkansas last week. Brothers Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon both scored 22 in the win over the Hogs. The Bulldogs are starting to receive a little attention after gathering a few votes in last week’s AP top-25. They travel to rival Ole Miss and Florida this week.

11. Ole Miss - (8-6 : 1-1) (RPI: 135 - SOS: 91)

The Rebels started off league play with a74-69 home-win over South Carolina. Guard Deandre Burnett scored 18 in the win over USC but followed it up with a dud. The Rebels second leading scorer only managed four points in the 71-60 loss at Georgia. They host Mississippi State before traveling to Auburn next week.

12. South Carolina - (9-5 : 0-2) (RPI: 65 - SOS: 63)

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have had a rough holiday season. After a 16-point thumping at rival Clemson, USC defeated Limestone before dropping their first two SEC games. Forward Chris Silva had 21 points and 13 boards in the defeat at Ole Miss while Frank Booker also scored 21 in Oxford. No other Gamecock hit double figures as the rest of the squad combined for 27 points. Against Missouri, Silva scored 18 but only managed 17 minutes on the floor due to foul trouble. The Gamecocks host Vanderbilt before traveling to Alabama next week.

13. LSU - (9-4 : 0-1) (RPI: 98 - SOS: 131)

The LSU Tigers almost pulled off the shocker of the SEC season in their opener, missing a three-pointer at the buzzer in a 74-71 loss at home to #17 Kentucky. The Tigers did pick up a nice win over Memphis before hosting the ‘Cats as they look to break into the top-10 of the conference. They have two tough games next though, traveling to both Texas A&M and Arkansas.

14. Vanderbilt - (6-8 : 1-1) (RPI: 137 - SOS: 31)

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vandy went to Florida and fell behind by 20 at the half in their SEC opener. They then rallied to make a game of it, falling 81-74. Then the Commodores headed home and did what they do so well in Memorial Gym, which is hit the three-pointer. Vandy was outscored by Alabama 42-20 in the paint but hit 10 from outside to knock off the Tide 76-75. Alabama won’t be the last team Vandy pesters at home as they’ll likely play the bubble-buster role later on. They travel to South Carolina before hosting Tennessee and Kentucky next week.