SEC Basketball Power Rankings – 1/15

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    (Photo via Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports)

    With Christmas break wrapped up, the calendar turning to 2019, and every SEC team with a couple conference games under their belt, our SEC power rankings are back. During non-conference play, Auburn was the clear-cut No. 2 team in the SEC. Since conference play has began, the Tigers have fallen off their pedestal while injuries have forced one team to fall back into last.

    As SEC play moves along, we’ll rank the teams in the conference each week. Here is our next installment of our SEC Power Rankings for the games that have been played through Monday, January 14th.

    SEC Men’s Power Rankings (1/14)

    No. 1: Tennessee

    The Vols are the clear-cut No. 1 team in the SEC and arguably the best team in the entire country. Nobody is playing better team basketball than Rick Barnes’ squad, and that’s evident in that they are leading the SEC in assists per game (20.4).

    Following an impressive road win in Gainesville over the weekend, No. 3 Tennessee is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor on the season, while surrendering a 37.2 field goal percentage to its opponents. The margin of 14.3 percent between the two categories is the largest in all of Division I this season according to Tennessee’s stats and information department.

    No. 2: Ole Miss

    There is no doubt who the surprise team in the SEC is this season. Kermit Davis’ first-year Rebels’ team was picked to finish last in the SEC, but they’ve gotten off to a 13-2 start — including three-straight wins to begin SEC play.

    Over the weekend, No. 18 Ole Miss went on the road and defeated arch-rival No. 24 Mississippi State by a score of 81-77. Freshman Blake Hinson was terrific, scoring a career-high 26 points thanks to five 3-point makes. Breein Tyree added 19 points.

    Senior guard Terrence Davis was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Rebels’ two contests. No. 18 Ole Miss is playing great team basketball, and they’re well on their way to finishing much better than last in the league as predicted. The Rebels are what Tennessee was last season right now.

    No. 3: Auburn

    In Auburn’s road loss to Ole Miss on Tuesday night, the Tigers looked all out of whack. The Tigers trailed 42-29 at the half, but they managed to make it a two-point game at one point in the second half. Ole Miss responded to every Auburn run, however, out-rebounding the Tigers 45-37 and forcing Bruce Pearl’s team to make just eight two-point shots.

    Auburn has plenty of talent and depth, but it doesn’t play as a team. That’s Pearl’s biggest problem at the moment. He has a bunch of individuals playing basketball and not playing together as a team. Auburn is the Houston Rockets of college basketball. It shoots a lot of 3’s and when they’re going in, it can beat anybody in the country. But when they’re not going in, the Tigers look terrible.

    But give Auburn credit. It bounced back on Saturday afternoon with a 93-78 home win over Georgia.

    No. 4: LSU 

    LSU is the best team in the SEC that nobody is talking about. Will Wade’s athletic Tigers are off to a 12-3 (2-0 SEC) start and have won both of their games to begin conference play.

    In an 88-79 win over Alabama, LSU dominated for the majority of the game – at least in the first half. It led 43-28 at the half, but they were out-scored 51-45 by the Crimson Tide in the second half to make the game look closer than it actually was. Star point guard Tremont Waters had 19 points and seven assists.

    LSU followed the win over Alabama with a 94-88 road win over Arkansas in overtime. Naz Reid scored a career-high 27 points on four made 3’s while Marlon Taylor dropped in 21 and Waters scored 17.  The win marked LSU’s fifth-straight and seventh in the last eight.

    No. 5: Kentucky

    The Cats continue to underperform this season despite being 12-3 (2-1 SEC) on the season.

    Kentucky began SEC play with an embarrassing loss to an average Alabama team on the road, and they followed that up with an ugly win over a bad Texas A&M team and then squeaked by an injury-riddled Vanderbilt team. The Cats have gotten better since their embarrassing loss to Duke at the beginning of the season thanks to the emergence of Ashton Hagans at point guard, but they’re still not living up to their preseason hype.

    Against Texas A&M, Kentucky got off to a dreadful start on both ends of the floor but were able to bounce back with a win thanks to 21 points from Tyler Herro and a career-high 18 points from Hagans.

    In its game against Vanderbilt, it once again struggled to get off to a good start.”We’ve got to figure out how we start games, this is getting ridiculous,” John Calipari said following the game. And he’s right.

    No. 6: Mississippi State

    Ben Howland’s Bulldogs got off to a really nice start to the season, going 12-1, but Mississippi State has now dropped back-to-back games to begin conference play. To make matters worse, State is better than the South Carolina and Ole Miss teams they lost to on paper.

    Free throws killed the Bulldogs against South Carolina, as they missed 10 in an 87-82 overtime loss in Columbia. State then had a two-point lead at halftime against Ole Miss, but they were out-scored 42-36 in the second half.

    Mississippi State looked great during non-conference play despite rumblings that it was a product of a weak schedule. It appears those rumblings may have been correct. State is a veteran team that should bounce back assuming it gets its defense back in order.

    No. 7: South Carolina

    There has not been a more dramatic turnaround in all of college basketball this season than what Frank Martin has done with his Gamecocks. South Carolina (8-7, 3-0 SEC) was the only team to begin SEC play with a losing record following losses to Stony Brook, Wyoming, Wofford, Providence, and Clemson. But the Gamecocks have since began SEC play 3-0 with wins over Florida, Mississippi State, and Missouri.

    South Carolina upset then-ranked No. 14 Mississippi State last week thanks to a career-high 25 points from Malik Kotsar. The Gamecocks killed the Bulldogs on the offensive glass – pulling down seven more than State. Against Missouri in its next game out, South Carolina was led by 15 points from Keyshawn Bryant and 14 points from Chris Silva.

    Its just the third time South Carolina has ever started conference play with three straight wins. The Gamecocks’ offense has taken a huge step forward, scoring eight more points per game in conference play than it did in non-conference play.

    No. 8: Florida

    Despite making nine first half threes against Tennessee on Saturday and leading by three at half, Florida (9-6, 1-2) was unable to beat the Vols at home – falling 78-67. In the second half, the Gators were just 3-of-10 from the 3-point line. KeVaughn Allen finished with 18 points and Noah Locke finished with 16. Quite frankly, Tennessee was just better than Florida for 40 minutes. The Gators didn’t necessarily play poorly — they were just out-manned.

    Prior to its loss to the Vols, Florida beat Arkansas on the road 57-51. Allen scored 18 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line. The Gators were able to close out the win despite blowing a 14-point lead in the second half. The win was much-needed following an embarrassing home loss to South Carolina the game prior.

    No. 9: Arkansas

    Arkansas (10-5) had a tough week, losing both of its games to begin SEC play 1-2.

    Against LSU on Saturday, the Hogs lost 94-88 despite star forward Daniel Gafford scoring a career-high 32 points. Arkansas trailed LSU 73-61 near the end of the game, but a 14-2 run sparked by seven points from Gafford tied it at 75-all. He would dunk with 30 seconds left in regulation to send the game to OT and finish 14-of-19 shooting from the floor. But LSU prevailed in overtime.

    The opposite happened in a 57-51 loss to Florida earlier in the week. Gafford played with four fouls for much of the second half and finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. Mason Jones finished with a career-high 30 points, but the rest of the team combined to shoot 3-of-13 from the free throw line.

    Arkansas has to find more consistent scorers outside of Gafford going forward.

    No. 10: Alabama

    Alabama (10-5, 1-2 SEC) should not be at No. 10 on this list, but the are because Avery Johnson’s teams continue to underachieve year-in-and-year-out. The Crimson Tide have plenty of talent, but they continue to struggle to be consistent.

    Following a nice win over Kentucky in Coleman Coliseum, Alabama has lost back-to-back games — an 88-79 loss to LSU in which the Tigers dominated for most of the game and an 81-80 loss to a bad Texas A&M team.

    The Aggies trailed for most of the game, but T.J. Starks banked in a three as the clock expired to escape Tuscaloosa with a win. Texas A&M out-scored Alabama 48-30 inside the 3-point line as the Crimson Tide struggled to hold onto its lead.

    No. 11: Georgia

    Following an embarrassing loss to Tennessee to begin SEC play, Georgia (9-6, 1-2 SEC) bounced back with an impressive 82-63 win over Vanderbilt. In the win, Rayshaun Hammonds scored 19 points – all in the second half – to lead the Bulldogs. Georgia led just 56-55 at one point, but then they went on an 18-2 run to put an exclamation point on Tom Crean’s first SEC win.

    Against Auburn, Georgia was simply out-manned in a 93-78 loss on the road.

    No. 12: Missouri

    The Tigers (9-5, 0-2 SEC) continue to really miss Jontay Porter, who tore his ACL before the season began.

    Not only has the offense struggled without its best player, but Missouri has need Jeremiah Tillmon to step up, and he hasn’t been able to because of foul trouble. Tillmon has now fouled out in three consecutive games. He played 13 minutes in an 85-75 loss to South Carolina on Sunday and nine minutes in an 87-63 loss to Tennessee last Tuesday.

    Not only has Tillmon created offensive struggles, but against the Gamecocks, Mizzou turned it over 20 times – the second-highest turnover output of the season. Against the Vols, Missouri turned it over 15 times.

    No. 13: Texas A&M

    Texas A&M (7-7, 1-2 SEC) escaped Tuscaloosa on Saturday afternoon with an 81-80 win thanks to a T.J. Starks bank-shot at the buzzer. Starks had struggled throughout the game, shooting just 3-of-16 from the field, but he came up big when his team needed him most. The win was the Aggies’ first SEC win of the season, snapping a three-game losing streak.

    In the game prior, Texas A&M lost to Kentucky on the road despite jumping out to an early lead.

    No. 14: Vanderbilt

    The Commodores (9-6, 0-3 SEC) are in this position solely because of the loss of Darius Garland – who is out for the season due to a knee injury. I also don’t think Vanderbilt is the worst team in the SEC, but through three SEC games, the Commodores have the least impressive resume.

    Against Kentucky, Vandy shot just 24 percent in the second half. It was the second game in a row in which Vanderbilt struggled in the second half as in the game prior it allowed Georgia to go on a big second half run to secure an 82-61 win despite a career-high 21 points from Semisola Shittu.

    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He grew up an Army brat and lived in Alabama for a bit, but he bleeds orange. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also a co-host on the RTI Live Show and RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.