The stage is set.
All teams in the conference are now ranked from 1 to 14 depending on how they fared in SEC play with Kentucky leading the group and Vanderbilt lagging behind in last.
Within the mix, there are teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble who need one or two wins in order to solidify their case for participation. Kentucky, Auburn and LSU are golden, but Mississippi State, Florida and Arkansas would love to add a few wins to make a potential decision a little easier. South Carolina needs a prayer to say the least.
With all these good-looking teams, I introduce to you my rankings, which will be configured using potential tournament success.
This team should be everyone’s undisputed front-runner. Dropping a game to Tennessee and having to forge a double-digit comeback against Florida isn’t ideal, but Kentucky is the best and they have been for a majority of the season. The Wildcats also have four players spanning the All-SEC and All-Defensive teams. Good luck beating them.
As far as talent goes, Auburn has it. Samir Doughty and Isaac Okoro are their stars and they represent Auburn on the All-SEC teams. Despite all that star power, the Tigers still find ways to lose games of any difficulty, and I don’t believe that will change during the SEC Tournament. I have Auburn at two because they have the pieces to get it done and the coach to get them there, but no game will be a gimme, and they need to go in with that exact mindset.
I think it is pretty clear as to what LSU’s strength is: being home. Their only loss at home during SEC play was to Kentucky... and that is the furthest thing from a bad loss. When they travel away from Baton Rouge, that’s when things get more interesting, and it makes me ponder how the Tigers will respond to playing on a neutral court. After going 1-1 last week in games versus Arkansas and Georgia, LSU could definitely be entering the tournament a little hotter than they are now, but they still deserve the league’s respect.
Pure talent wise, I think Florida has the edge on Mississippi State. The thing is, they don’t have one impressive conference win on the road. The Gators can beat anyone on their home court (and you can see that as they came close to taking down Kentucky). The question is will they be able to do it in Nashville? Florida is in a good position for their first game, though, as they play the winner of Georgia and Ole Miss, two struggling teams.
5. Mississippi State
As for Mississippi State, they simply don’t have the stars. The Bulldogs have Reggie Perry... and who? It is evident as of late that they live and die by the way he plays. South Carolina contains him and the Cocks win. Perry has a game against Ole Miss and the Bulldogs win. It’s that easy. A double bye will work wonders for this team, though, and I refuse to write them off.
6. South Carolina
There is no way around it. USC shot themselves in the foot by losing to Vanderbilt. A win there was the difference between moving up the ranks and disappearing from the picture completely. They will likely need three wins to enter the conversation once again, although their only realistic way to get into the NCAA Tournament is to win the SEC Tournament... Good luck.
7. Texas A&M
This team is interesting. At times, they play like they don’t belong and in others, they beat teams much better than them... and it happens much more than you’d think. Down the stretch, they beat Mississippi State, Auburn and a talented yet inconsistent Arkansas team. They also don’t really have a star either, which makes what they’ve done that much more impressive. I am in on the Buzz Williams hype.
The Volunteers may have beaten Kentucky a week ago, but they are as their record (9-9) says they are: average. Their play never truly blew me away, although John Fulkerson has. What this team has going for them is their road experience, winning some tough ones away from good ole’ Rocky Top. If anything, this squad is tough. It’ll be a close one against Alabama on Thursday.
The Razorbacks continue to show flashes of brilliance, but it isn’t lasting. They beat LSU... and then lost to Texas A&M. What that shows me is they have the punch to compete with the powerhouses of the SEC but not the consistency to make it last. With a healthy Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, they gotta win at least one, and they did after handling Vanderbilt, but bets are off after that. Having a bottom four seed will undoubtedly be tough to work with.
Remember when I said South Carolina shot themselves in the foot? Well, if that’s the case then I have no way to describe Alabama’s ice cold finish to the regular season. After taking down the Gamecocks, they lost two embarrassing games to Vanderbilt and Missouri. They even had John Petty Jr. back for the Missouri. It’ll be tough to make things worse than they already are, but let’s see how they respond when they play Tennessee on Thursday.
Yes, those two recent losses to Florida and LSU must hurt, but they still have Anthony Edwards, and it’ll be fun to see him go beast mode when the games matter. The SEC Tournament will likely hold one of the last games of Anthony Edwards’ college career. Hate to see it end so soon.
12. Ole Miss
Losing by 25 to an in-state rival wasn’t the best look, but it was fun watching Breein Tyree and Anthony Edwards go head-to-head in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Ole Miss usually doesn’t have too hard of a time beating the bad teams, but they couldn’t get it done last night.
Away from home, Missouri is a team that gets exposed. They always gain some traction by winning a couple easy games, but it’s never anything real. I foresee an early exit for the Tigers.
Hey, the wins are coming! When was the last time they could brag about being on an SEC winning streak? This was by far the hottest the Commodores have been in a very, very long time, but they still didn’t have enough to take down Arkansas. It was fun seeing Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen Jr. ball out one more time, though.