SEC Landscape Becoming Clearer by the Day

Grant Foree

January 24, 2023 at 10:14 pm.

The top of the SEC looks really, really good. The middle of the SEC looks pretty good. The bottom of the SEC looks … bad. Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee are by far the best teams in the SEC, if not the country. This week will show us how the SEC pairs up with the rest of the country with the SEC and Big 12 facing off in the final “SEC/Big 12 Challenge.”

The order of teams below reflects their current standing in the Southeastern Conference; the AP Poll is updated every Monday, while KenPom and NET rankings are computerized rankings that update after each game. To evaluate each team’s standings in relation to the NCAA tournament, I include ESPN’s projections by Joe Lunardi. Foree’s Feel is my opinion-based ranking of each team in the SEC, at the time of writing.


Alabama (17-2, 7-0)

  • AP Poll: 2
  • KenPom: 3 (2nd in SEC)
  • NET: 3 (2nd in SEC)
  • Foree’s Feel: 1

I don’t think many people, myself included, would’ve been surprised if Alabama lost a game this week, as the team dealt with the felony arrest of Darius Miles, who was charged with capital murder after he allegedly aided in a shooting in Tuscaloosa. While dealing with everything off-the-court, Nate Oats led the Crimson Tide into two arenas where the program hasn’t fared well, historically. But Brandon Miller, Mark Sears and the rest of the Crimson Tide took care of business this week, beating Vanderbilt and Missouri to separate from the rest of the league.


Auburn (16-3, 6-1)

  • AP Poll: 15
  • KenPom: 16 (3)
  • NET: 21 (3)
  • Foree’s Feel: 3

Auburn lost its second SEC game to Georgia after struggling to beat Florida, but Bruce Pearl’s Tigers have turned the corner and are starting to look like the team we’ve come to expect on the Plains. The Tigers, analytically, are towards the top of the league across the board, but Auburn’s defense has given them life. Auburn has only allowed 70 or more points four times this season (3-1 in those games) and sits in third in the SEC in scoring defense. While the number is impressive, the Tigers have played the league’s worst teams so far. That will change when Texas A&M travels to east Alabama on Wednesday.


Tennessee (16-3, 6-1)

  • AP Poll: 4
  • KenPom: 2 (1)
  • NET: 2 (1)
  • Foree’s Feel: 2

The Vols fell flat last week but responded with authority this week. Like Auburn, Tennessee hasn’t played the best the conference has to offer. According to KenPom, Tennessee has the worst strength of schedule in SEC play, but the Vols still sit at the top of the analytical rankings. Tennessee is first in two- and three-point field goal percentage in conference play, but the Vols no longer hold the league’s most efficient defense in league play. The road gets much tougher for Tennessee in February, but this week’s matchup looks like a Volunteer win against Georgia.


Texas A&M (13-6, 5-1)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 48 (7)
  • NET: 53 (7)
  • Foree’s Feel: 5

I was about to buy what was being sold in College Station until the Aggies lost in Rupp Arena on Saturday. While there’s nothing wrong with losing on the road to a Kentucky team that’s getting better, this was A&M’s first SEC game against a team without a first-year head coach.  Texas A&M’s first five SEC games were really impressive, winning three of the five by 10 or more points, including blowout wins over South Carolina and Missouri. The Aggies led by as much as six in Rupp on Saturday, but Kentucky pulled away to give A&M its first SEC loss.


Kentucky (13-6, 4-3)

  • AP Poll: Receiving Votes
  • KenPom: 33 (5)
  • NET: 39 (5)
  • Foree’s Feel: 4

Kentucky’s start to conference play needs to be studied. Ten days ago, it all looked bleak for the Wildcats. Rupp Arena wasn’t anywhere near full when the Gamecocks of South Carolina punched Kentucky in the mouth, adding fuel to John Calipari’s warming seat. After that head-scratching home loss, Kentucky looked like a different team. In the last three games, Kentucky averaged just under 70 possessions per game which is four possessions above its season average. Unsurprisingly, this tempo change came with a new offensive philosophy, which has pushed the Wildcats right back into the conversation for the NCAA Tournament and a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament.


Florida (11-8, 4-3)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 42 (6)
  • NET: 44 (6)
  • Foree’s Feel: 6

Like almost every team outside of Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee, Florida is good, but nothing really sticks out. Under new head coach Todd Golden, the Gators have played fairly well to open conference play, but none of their wins have done enough to impress the analytics, AP voters, bracketologists or me. Florida has done enough to win games against the teams at the bottom, beating LSU by 11 and narrowly leaving Starkville with a win on Saturday, taking down Mississippi State, 61-59. Florida should win its mid-week game over South Carolina on Wednesday, but the Gators have the unenviable task of playing a white-hot Kansas State squad on Saturday.


Georgia (13-6, 3-3)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 92 (12)
  • NET: 105 (12)
  • Foree’s Feel: 9

Georgia is coming back down to earth, quickly. After starting SEC play with a 3-1 record, the Bulldogs got manhandled by Oscar Tshibwe and Kentucky this week before losing to Vanderbilt at home on Saturday. While Georgia has played well, the analytics don’t favor the Bulldogs. Defensively, Georgia doesn’t force turnovers, block shots or limit opponents from three. Offensively, it’s almost the exact same story. Georgia is among the country’s worst in turnovers, shooting percentage and shots blocked. This doesn’t bode well for a team that has yet to play Tennessee or Alabama.


Vanderbilt (10-9, 3-3)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 84 (10)
  • NET: 85 (10)
  • Foree’s Feel: 8

Vanderbilt is confusing, to me. The Commodores were down by 20-plus points at home to Alabama on Tuesday and screamed back to make the Crimson Tide sweat. Vandy did the same two weeks ago by erasing a big deficit at home to Arkansas. If the Commodores can keep from getting down big in games, I don’t see a reason why they can’t finish in the top half of the SEC. After all, the schedule gets a bit easier from here, except for return matchups with Tennessee and Alabama in February. If Jerry Stackhouse’s team can upset Kentucky and Texas A&M this week, they’ll be in the conversation for a bid to the NCAA tournament.


Missouri (14-5, 3-4)

  • AP Poll: Receiving Votes
  • KenPom: 63 (9)
  • NET: 58 (8)
  • Foree’s Feel: 7

Like Georgia, Missouri has come crashing back to earth. Many experts anticipated the Tigers having a rough time in SEC play, simply because on a non-conference schedule that didn’t test them much. Even with a home loss to Alabama on Saturday, Missouri still sits in the top half of my SEC rankings. Why? The Tigers were without Kobe Brown, who averages 15.5 points per game and scored 30 against Alabama last season. Without Brown, Missouri still fought for 30 minutes and I think the Tigers would’ve stuck around longer if their shots could fall. Missouri travels to Ole Miss on Tuesday and hosts a top-25 Iowa State team on Saturday.


Arkansas (13-6, 2-5)

  • AP Poll: Receiving Votes
  • KenPom: 23 (4)
  • NET: 27 (4)
  • Foree’s Feel: 10

Arkansas just can’t get it going. After advancing to the Region Finals of last year’s NCAA tournament, the Hogs were picked to finish second in the SEC this season. That isn’t going to happen. In fact, the Razorbacks are in danger of not getting a first-round bye in the conference tournament and their at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament is slowly slipping away. Arkansas struggled for most of its game on Saturday against Ole Miss before pulling away to pick up a crucial conference win. Arkansas looks for revenge against LSU on Tuesday and will travel to Baylor on Saturday.


South Carolina (8-11, 1-5)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 244 (14)
  • NET: 279 (14)
  • Foree’s Feel: 14

South Carolina’s upset over Kentucky will probably be the brightest spot for the Gamecocks this year. South Carolina remains among the country’s worst in almost every statistical and analytical category. The Gamecocks have lost five SEC games by an average score of 82.8-59.6, with two of those being home losses by more than 40 points. This week didn’t help much, with the Gamecocks losing home games to Ole Miss and Auburn. South Carolina visits Florida and Georgia this week in games that they will certainly be big underdogs.


LSU (12-7, 1-6)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 118 (13)
  • NET: 130 (13)
  • Foree’s Feel: 13

LSU entered SEC play with a record of 11-1. Since the Tigers upset Arkansas to open conference play, they haven’t scored more than 71 points in any games, and they’ve only lost one game by less than 10 points. LSU was only down seven points before halftime against Tennessee this past weekend, but a huge run by the Vols changed LSU’s body language heading into the locker room. Once Tennessee took over, the Tigers’ defensive effort plummeted, and the blowout ensued. If LSU can stay confident in Fayetteville this week, the Tigers should be able to keep it close and walk out with a win.


Mississippi State (12-7, 1-6)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 56 (8)
  • NET: 63 (9)
  • Foree’s Feel: 11

After a great non-conference slate for the Bulldogs, things changed quickly. Mississippi State has dropped four straight games, but the Bulldogs haven’t gotten blown out in any of them. Mississippi State’s defense is one of the best in the country, but its offense is toward the bottom of the country in two of the three categories that actually lead to points being scored (350/363 in three-point percentage and 359/363 in free throw percentage). If the Bulldogs can’t score, they’re not going to be able to win games in the SEC, especially with a trip to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday.


Ole Miss (9-10, 1-6)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked
  • KenPom: 87 (12)
  • NET: 104 (11)
  • Foree’s Feel: 12

Ole Miss picked up its first win of SEC play this week with a 70-58 victory over South Carolina. The Rebels followed that win up by hanging around for a while against Arkansas, in a game they lost by 12. Like their in-state rivals, the Rebels have a pretty good defense but a very bad shooting offense that keeps them from winning games. Ole Miss is ranked 330 in the country in three-point percentage and also is toward the bottom in turnovers. Ole Miss hosts Missouri on Tuesday before facing Oklahoma State on Saturday.

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