With its conference schedule opening up this week, here’s an updated look at the SEC Power Rankings:
1. Florida (9-2)
The loss to Kansas State on Dec. 22, still hurts, but the No. 13 Gators are still 10-2 and have lost two road games by a combined seven points. Since its downfall in the Little Apple, coach Billy Donovan’s team has rebounded with convincing wins over Air Force and Yale. Led by point guard Kenny Boynton, the Gators are humming on offense, averaging 119 points per 100 possessions (4th nationally) and locking down defensively. Barring another slip up, Florida’s next big test will come against Missouri in a couple weeks.
2. Missouri (11-2)
With his 7.2 assists per game, Tigers point guard Phil Pressey is right where most predicted him to be during the preseason: He’s among the nation’s assist leaders through 13 games (9th nationally). Even ignoring his SEC-record 19 assists against UCLA in a loss last week, Pressey has proven himself as one of the nation’s premier point guards in leading Missouri to an 11-2 record. Though UCLA is talented but still figuring how it wants to play under Ben Howland – making it a so-so loss to a team ranked No. 36 in the RPI – Missouri’s only other loss came to Louisville, which is playing better than almost every other team in the country. At No. 12 nationally, Missouri is doing just fine.
3. Kentucky (9-4)
Raise your hand: Who in Big Blue Nation (or anyone else) had the Wildcats entering conference play with four losses under their belt. Coach John Calipari tried to warn some that this team would go through growing pains, but very few listened after he ran roughshod through his schedule with a young team last season. However, looking at the losses – Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor and Louisville, respectively – Kentucky has lost four games to four top-45 RPI teams. And while that may not suffice in Lexington, facing the Nos. 1 and 2 team could prove beneficial down the road. Kentucky still ranks in the top-5 in defensive efficiency (84.1 points per 100 opponent possessions), so if it can find more stability offensively this could be a dangerous come March.
4. Arkansas (9-4)
Scoring guard B.J. Young has followed up his impressive freshman campaign with even higher per game averages in points, assists and rebounds, but his shooting percentages have fallen off dramatically in 2012-13. After finishing seventh in the country with a 57.5 effective field goal percentage last season, he’s fallen to 50.5 percent (still top-30, but still a large drop off) while being utilized on a greater portion of the Razorbacks’ possessions. But despite his still-strong numbers, Arkansas already boasts losses to Arizona State, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Michigan, a tough non-conference schedule for most. Coach Mike Anderson’s program has won five straight as the competition has leveled off, but will need to log some quality wins in conference play to have a shot at the Big Dance.
5. Ole Miss (11-2)
Surprise, surprise. After five seasons of 20-win ballclubs, it appears Rebels coach Andy Kennedy may have his best team in Oxford. At 10-2, he’s also poised to make a run at his first NCAA Tournament appearance. Junior guard Marshall Henderson leads the SEC in scoring with 18.2 points per game thanks to his outside shooting (52 3-pointers, 7th nationally), while big man Murphy Holloway is averaging a double-double for first time in his career. It should be noted that the Rebels have yet to face a ranked opponent, but this team has an opportunity in the top-heavy conference.
6. Tennessee (8-4)
The loss of Jeronne Maymon, a second team All-SEC selection last season, has doubtlessly set back coach Cuonzo Martin’s program further than a expect. Maymon, who will redshirt his senior season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds last season in Knoxville. In his absence, though, Tennessee still remains a top-tier defensive team (11th in defensive efficiency). However, scoring the ball continues to be a struggle – the Volunteers have been held under 50 points in three of their losses – and Maymon’s presence sure could help shoulder some of the load.
7. Alabama (8-5)
After placing teams in the top-10 in defensive efficiency over the past two seasons, Anthony Grant is tasked with his worst defensive team since he arrived in 2009-10. Grant’s teams had improved in defensive efficiency every season, but the trend has broken (in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions):
Alabama has lost five of its last seven games, including a 73-54 blowout at the hands of Grant’s former team, VCU. The Crimson Tide better batten down the hatches, too: A trip to Missouri is next on the schedule.
8. LSU (9-2)
On its face, LSU’s inaugural season with Johnny Jones has been an early success: 9-2, three solid wins and its only two losses coming to top-50 RPI teams Boise State and Marquette. All in all, not too bad. The Tigers are a poor offensive unit, but have received decent production from its upperclassmen Shavon Coleman and Charles Carmouche and sophomore Johnny O’Bryant III. For now, though, this team remains a bit of an unknown.
9. Texas A&M (10-3)
The Aggies are one of five conference teams with 10 wins, but they’ve struggled on offense and are even worse defensively (175th nationally). And don’t be fooled: The non-conference schedule was not a minefield, either. But with back-to-back-to-back dates with Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida, respectively, on the horizon, Texas A&M is in for a rough patch. Ten wins might be the look for a while.
10. South Carolina (10-3)
New coach Frank Martin has infused some energy into the program, but the lack of talent has been evident, especially on the defensive end. Even against a laughable schedule – a slate that led to the Gamecocks’ 10-3 start – Martin’s team is allowing nearly 106 points per possession this season, a paltry mark for the tough-minded coach. It might take some time for him to get things off the ground in Columbia.
11. Georgia (6-7)
Can we just call this team the Kentavious & The Klunkers? In spite of the efforts of one of the conference’s brightest all-around studs (sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), Georgia can not get its offense off the ground. It’s Caldwell-Pope or bust – he’s averaging 17.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.3 steals – and, at 7-6, there’s been a good bit of busting. The Bulldogs have won four straight, but the schedule gets rockier as conference play begins.
12. Vanderbilt (6-6)
The fact that Vanderbilt ranks 209th in offensive efficiency a season removed from finishing 12th in that same category says all you need to know about effects the exodus of talent had on coach Kevin Stallings’ team. With Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor all roaming the NBA hardwood, there was not much left behind. Sophomore Kedren Johnson is one of the few bright spots on a 6-6 squad.
13. Auburn (6-7) 14. Mississippi State (5-7)
Just because misery loves company, the bottom two teams in the SEC can share the cellar dweller role this week. Neither team has exhibited a true pulse on offense this season and near-identical seven-loss records are the immediate result. At least, in the Bulldogs’ case, Rick Ray is still piecing together his newly-inherited program. Here’s looking at you, Tony Barbee.