SEC Power Rankings: Florida No. 1, UK rising

The beat goes on for Florida, which has won all eight league games with no team coming closer than 14 points. With top-ranked Michigan and No. 2 Kansas falling last week, the Gators currently stand at No. 2 in the country, behind No. 1 Indiana.

Defending national champion Kentucky is starting to resemble the Wildcats of previous years, beating Ole Miss and Texas A&M on the road — the latter of which avenged an earlier home loss. And Alabama continues to exert itself as a team with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations.

Through the first month of conference play, here’s an updated look at the SEC Power Rankings:

1. Florida (18-2, 8-0)

In a clash of the league’s top teams, Ole Miss proved to be no match for Florida on Saturday, with the Gators leading by 23 before cruising to a 14-point victory. It marked the eighth time UF won 10 in a row under coach Billy Donovan.

Junior center Patric Young had his fifth double-double of the season. Ole Miss was held to 64 points — 16 below its season average that ranked fifth in the country. On Wednesday night, Florida held South Carolina to 36 points, the Gamecocks’ fewest one-game point total since joining the SEC in 1992.

2. Alabama (14-7, 6-2)

The Crimson Tide overcame an 11-point, second-half deficit Saturday by outscoring host Vanderbilt 18-3 down the stretch. Despite shooting just 38 percent, Alabama picked up its first win at Memorial Gym since 1990.

The Tide overcame a season-high 21 turnovers in a Thursday win over Arkansas by hitting nine of 10 free throws down the stretch. Alabama is 6-2 when outrebounding opponents, like it did 38-29 over the Razorbacks.

3. Kentucky (15-6, 6-2)

The youthful Wildcats grew up last week with road wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Freshman Nerlens Noel played more than 40 minutes and had a season-high 19 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots against Texas A&M. Last week, he was named one of 12 finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Award that honors the nation’s top freshman.

Noel leads the nation at 4.6 blocked shots per game, including a school-record 12 swats against Ole Miss. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer notched a career-high 26 points at Ole Miss. It was UK’s first win over a Top 25 opponent this season.

4. Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2)

After a best-ever start to league play at 6-0, the Rebels had reality set in last week with losses to traditional SEC powers Kentucky (home) and Florida (road). SEC-leading scorer Marshall Henderson posted a game-high 25 points, including making seven 3-pointers, against the Gators. Ole Miss trailed 60-39 before a late rally made the final tally respectable.

In the 13-point loss to Kentucky, sophomore guard LaDarius White had a season-high 22 points. Senior forward Murphy Holloway, the only SEC player to average a double-double, became the Rebels’ all-time leading rebounder, surpassing Walter Actwood’s record of 946 boards. Previously ranked No. 16, the Rebels fell out of the Top 25 with the two losses.

5. Missouri (16-5, 5-3)

There is no place like home for the Tigers at Mizzou Arena, where they are now 13-0 this season and 79-4 overall following Saturday’s blowout of Auburn. Junior guard Earnest Ross, a transfer from Auburn, scored a career-high 23 points against his former team.

Senior forward Laurence Bowers, the leading scorer who missed five games with a knee injury, returned in the 73-70 loss at LSU. The No. 21 Tigers have struggled to start games all season and trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half at LSU. Missouri is winless on the road this season.

6. Arkansas (13-8, 4-4)

The up-and-down Razorbacks got a home win Saturday over Tennessee. Sophomore guard B.J. Young, the top scoring freshman in the SEC last season, scored a game-high 25 points off the bench to help the Hogs reserves outscore UT’s 46-9.

Just after new Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema was introduced and addressed the home crowd at Bud Walton Arena during a first-half timeout, the Razorbacks went on an 18-7 run.

The loss at Alabama on Thursday was the Hogs’ eighth setback in a row on the road. The Razorbacks rallied from an 11-point deficit but an errant 3-point shot by Young at the buzzer failed to force overtime.

7. Tennessee (11-9, 3-5)

After surviving two point-blank shots by Vanderbilt that would have given Tennessee a home loss Tuesday, the Volunteers were lethargic in a 13-point loss Saturday at Arkansas.

With the one-point win over Vandy coming after a similar margin over Alabama in the previous outing, the Vols won consecutive one-point victories for the first time since 1962-63. They are winless in six road games this season.

Against Arkansas, sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes had 18 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double and third in a row. After playing 60 games in a row, junior point guard Trae Golden was sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered in the Vandy game. Senior center Kenny Hall had 14 points for his first double-figure scoring effort in SEC play this season.

8. Georgia (10-11, 4-4)

After starting league play 0-3, the Bulldogs have won three straight SEC games — including wins last week against visiting Auburn and at South Carolina — and four of their last five.

Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, while shooting 64 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range in the two wins.

Caldwell-Pope currently ranks among SEC leaders in nine categories, including second in scoring (17.5) and steals (2.1). In 21 games, he has led the Bulldogs in scoring 19 times. Georgia has used 12 different starting lineups this season. In the win over South Carolina, the Bulldogs shot 60 percent from the field and limited the Gamecocks to 35 percent.

9. LSU (12-7, 3-5)

After an 0-4 start to league play, the Tigers found themselves in the cellar of the SEC Power Rankings after just two weeks. But they have since won three out of four games, including last week beating then-No. 17 Missouri at home before pulling out a one-point win at Mississippi State.

Their only loss in the last four games was a near miss at Kentucky. Against State, sophomore guard Anthony Hickey, the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, scored seven points in the final 46.7 seconds, including the game winner.

Sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant III became the first Tiger to record five straight double-doubles since Glen “Big Baby” Davis in 2005-06. The win over Missouri was the first over a Top 25 team under first-year coach Johnny Jones, the former LSU standout.

10. Texas A&M (13-8, 3-5)

The Aggies played two overtime games last week, winning at Mississippi State before falling to visiting Kentucky. It was the first time Texas A&M had ever played host to the defending national champion.

After scoring 40 points in the win at Kentucky, Aggies senior guard Elston Turner scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half. The win at Mississippi State was A&M’s 1,300th in program history.

11. Vanderbilt (8-12, 2-6)

The youthful Commodores can’t win for losing. After watching two close attempts at the buzzer go awry at Tennessee earlier in the week, they blew an 11-point lead in the second half and lost to Alabama. Junior Rod Odom was not in the starting lineup against Alabama for the first time this season.

The Commodores have made a three-pointer in 852 straight games and in every game since the line’s inception during the 1986-87 season. UNLV is the only other team to hit a 3-pointer in every game. Half of Vandy’s six league losses have come by four points or less.

12. South Carolina (12-9, 2-6)

By scoring only 33 points, the Gamecocks were embarrassed at Florida. It was the lowest point total for the team since joining the SEC in 1992. (The previous low was 40 points scored against Kentucky in 1999.) Trailing 33-10 at halftime, the Gamecocks had only three field goals and two assists to go with 11 turnovers.

Freshman forward Michael Carrera had 16 points and seven rebounds as South Carolina showed some life in the loss to Georgia. The teams changed leads a dozen times in the first half. Since missing the first nine games of the season while playing football, junior guard Bruce Ellington has averaged 10.3 points per game.

13. Auburn (8-13, 2-6)

The Tigers have lost six games in a row since opening league play 2-0. That includes road losses last week at Georgia and Missouri. Auburn shot 28 percent from the field, including 4 for 20 on 3-pointers, at Georgia. During one stretch in the second half, the Tigers missed 12 straight shots.

Junior guard Chris Denson scored 12 points in his first start since Dec. 29 against then-No. 12 Illinois. The loss at Missouri closed a stretch of five-of-seven games on the road. The Tigers made 32 of 36 free throws against Missouri.

14. Mississippi State (7-13, 2-6)

The Bulldogs, now riding a six-game slide, blew a 17-point lead in Saturday’s home loss to LSU — just three days after surrendering a 12-point lead in the overtime home loss to Texas A&M.

The Bulldogs have lost four straight home games at Humphrey Coliseum, the longest stretch since dropping six a row in 2006. On the season, Mississippi State is 2-12 when shooting less than 45 percent from the field.