Florida won the battle against visiting Kentucky for first place in the Southeastern Conference, remaining firmly atop the SEC Power Rankings as it has been all season long.
But Kentucky suffered two defeats in the game. Freshman center Nerlens Noel, the leading shot-blocker in the country, injured his left knee and was lost for the season.
The shock to the system of Noel’s loss might have had something to do with the Wildcats’ 30-point setback at Tennessee. It was Kentucky’s first game without the projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.
Despite the two losses, Kentucky drops only one spot to No. 3 this week in the SEC Power Rankings. With the losses, the Wildcats did last week – lose on the road at national title contender Florida and surging Tennessee – what a lot of other SEC teams have been doing recently.
All the while, Alabama has quietly crept into the No. 2 spot in the SEC Power Rankings with a pair of pedestrian wins. Missouri and Ole Miss can’t string wins together, but they are securely among the league’s top five.
Heading into the seventh week of the season, here’s a look at the SEC Power Rankings:
1. Florida (21-3, 11-1)
Florida had lost seven of eight games to Kentucky before the 69-52 win. Five Gators scored in double figures in the win, which matched the largest for the Gators over UK under coach Billy Donovan, equaling the 17-point win in the 2005 SEC tournament championship game. Before Noel went down with eight minutes to play, Gator center Patric Young had 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. At No. 5, Florida is the only SEC team ranked in this week’s Top 25.
With the 31-point win over Auburn, the Gators have now beaten a league opponent by 30 points or more six times, leaving their SEC average margin of victory at 22.8 points. The Gators hit 15 of 30 3-pointers, including six of seven from guard Michael Frazier, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week. He is shooting 60 percent from 3-point range in SEC play.
2. Alabama (17-8, 9-3)
The Crimson Tide did what it was supposed to do by beating Georgia and South Carolina. They have won five of their last six games and 10 of 13. “We’re in second place in the league by ourselves, so that’s a good position to be in,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.
Senior guard Andrew Steele didn’t play Saturday against South Carolina to rest a stress reaction in his right foot. Alabama has held 10 straight SEC opponents and 17 of 25 overall to under 60 points. Sophomore forward Nick Jacobs has five double-doubles in SEC play after posting none in non-league games.
3. Kentucky (17-8, 8-4)
Noel tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he landed awkwardly after trying to block the shot of Florida guard Mike Rosario. The nation’s top shot-blocker, Noel raced the length of the court and collided with the goal support underneath the basket. He is expected to have surgery within the next few weeks. The normal recovery period is estimated at six to eight months.
The 88-58 loss to Tennessee was the most-lopsided loss by the Wildcats in the 216-game series. Tennessee led by 24 points at halftime. “They deserved to beat us by 50 today,” UK coach John Calipari said. The lifeless Cats were out-rebounded 39-21. The Wildcats still have a bevy of young talent. Willie Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot freshman center and yet another heralded recruit, moves into Noel’s spot in the post.
4. Missouri (18-7, 7-5)
The Tigers become tame when they hit the road this season, although they did finally break through last week with a 42-point win at Mississippi State. But they got back to their normal road woes Saturday with a two-point loss at Arkansas. It came against former Tigers coach Mike Anderson. Senior guard Keion Bell had a season-high 25 points for Missouri, which plays host to Florida on Tuesday night.
The Tigers are one of just a few teams in the country with six players averaging double figures in scoring. Missouri’s 125 wins is the best five-year run in program history. Point guard Phil Pressey became the first Tiger to record 500 career assists.
5. Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4)
With SEC leading scorer Marshall Henderson struggling to score only 10 points before fouling out in the two-point loss at Texas A&M, the Rebels went to freshman forward Derrick Millinghaus for their last eight points. But his shot at the buzzer to force overtime went awry. Henderson came back to save the day in the overtime win at Georgia, scoring 14 points, including his team’s 10 in a row, in the final 3:36 to force the extra period. He also hit all 14 free-throw attempts.
The Rebels are 13-1 at home this season. Andy Kennedy got win No. 144 as Rebels coach, tying him with former Rebels skipper B.L. Graham as the all-time program leader in wins. Senior forward Reginald Buckner now has 16 career double-doubles, including eight this season.
6. Arkansas (16-9, 7-5)
Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson beat Missouri in his first game against the team he coached five seasons before moving to Arkansas. It also kept Arkansas in the NCAA tournament conversation. Junior forward Marshawn Powell, the SEC Player of the Week, had 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting, but it was sophomore guard B.J. Young who saved the day.
With the Hogs trailing by two with 19 seconds to play, he raced the length of the floor to score a basket, get fouled, and make a free throw for the lead they never relinquished. The Hogs forced 17 turnovers that turned into 18 points. They forced 16 turnovers for 21 points in the eight-point win at Auburn.
7. Tennessee (14-10, 6-6)
Don’t look now, but the Volunteers have won three in a row and five of their last seven. They closed the regular season last year by winning eight of nine games. The win streak started with the road breakthrough at South Carolina, followed by a convincing win at Vanderbilt and the dismantling of Kentucky.
Junior guard Trae Golden’s 24 points against UK was his best SEC effort. After not playing at Vanderbilt, senior center Kenny Hall responded with 12 points. Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes fell short of his seventh consecutive double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. With the capacity crowd of 21,678 at Thompson-Boling, the Volunteers have played in front of more than 20,000 spectators 49 times since 2005-06.
8. Georgia (12-13, 6-6)
In losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, the Bulldogs proved they’re not quite ready to challenge the SEC’s upper echelon. But the two close calls also showed Georgia, which had won five leagues games in a row, has some bite to go with its bark. Alabama had to close on a 12-4 run for the seven-point win. The Bulldogs shot only 31 percent from the field, but outrebounded the Crimson Tide.
The gut shot might be the overtime loss Saturday to Ole Miss. They blew an eight-point lead in the final 3:36. Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the only SEC player and one of 11 players nationally to score in double figures in every game.
9. Texas A&M (15-10, 5-7)
About the time you want to embrace the Aggies, like after beating Ole Miss, they go on the road and lose at Vanderbilt. In the two-point win over the visiting Rebels, senior forward Elston Turner scored 37 points thanks to a career-high seven 3-pointers. It was the most points scored in an Aggies home game at Reed Arena, eclipsing the previous record of 36 scored by Baylor’s Curtis Jerrells in a five-overtime game in 2008. But Turner could only manage 14 points against Vandy in the first meeting between the schools since 1955.
10. LSU (15-8, 6-6)
Remember when the Tigers opened SEC play with four losses? Well, the Tigers have now won five of seven games and are in the midst of playing three games in six days. It started with wins Thursday at South Carolina and home Saturday over Mississippi State, and then concludes with Tuesday’s game at Tennessee. In the 18-point win at South Carolina, sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant II scored a career-high 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting. He leads the SEC with 11 double-doubles following the win over State.
11. Vanderbilt (10-14, 4-8)
These young Commodores are driving veteran coach Kevin Stallings crazy. After a lackluster performance in a home loss to Tennessee, the Commodores turned around Saturday and played well enough to beat visiting Texas A&M for just their second win in seven games. Sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker had a career-high 17 points on five 3-pointers. He had only 12 treys all season before that.
Junior forward Rod Odom continues to emerge as team leader in a variety of ways, notching 19 points and seven rebounds against the Aggies. Stallings is now 12-17 against in-state rival Tennessee. Memorial Gym has had only one sellout this season.
12. Auburn (9-16, 3-9)
It was two home games and two home losses for the Tigers, who have lost three in a row and nine of their last 10. In the first half against visiting Florida, the Tigers had more turnovers (10) than field goals (eight). The Gators shot 57 percent from the field compared to Auburn’s 35 percent for the game. “We just played one of the best teams in the country,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said matter-of-factly after the game. Against Arkansas, the Tigers held a two-point lead at halftime. Junior guard Chris Denson led the Tigers in scoring in both losses.
13. South Carolina (12-13, 2-10)
Freshman Laimonas Chatkevicius, a 6-foot-11 center out of Lithuania, continues to show promise, as evidenced by his season-high 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench in the loss Saturday at Alabama. The Gamecocks, who have lost six games in a row and eight of nine, committed 20 turnovers against the Crimson Tide. The Gamecocks matched a season-high eight blocked shots against LSU, but shot a horrid 28.1 percent from the field. They hit only 3-of-19 3-pointers for 15.8 percent.
14. Mississippi State (7-17, 2-10)
The Bulldogs have lost 10 SEC games in a row after opening league play 2-0. In the loss at LSU Saturday, freshman guard Craig Sword scored a career-high 25 points, while State committed a season-low nine turnovers. The Bulldogs went scoreless the first nine minutes against Missouri by missing their first 11 shots. They eventually hit rock bottom with the 42-point home loss, the worst ever at Humphrey Coliseum. The 36 points scored by State was the lowest since scoring the same against George Washington in 1996.