One month from now, Kentucky starts conference play.
With four teams in the Top 25 and a few others lurking in the wings, SEC Basketball is legit this year, and, for once, Kentucky is not the best team in the conference. In my mind, at least two other SEC teams are better than the Cats right now, meaning Kentucky will be challenged early and often starting December 31.
Here’s a glimpse at what the rest of the SEC’s been up to this season, as told by Seinfeld GIFs because why not?
They’re real and they’re spectacular
Best win: #17 Gonzaga (111-105); Loss: #1 Duke (87-84)
The Gators took #1 Duke down to the wire in the PK80 on Sunday. Behind Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, grad transfer Egor Koulechov, and KeVaughn Allen, the Gators are a scoring machine, hitting 32 three-pointers over their first two games alone. Thankfully, Kentucky’s first game vs. the Gators comes in Rupp, or I’d already have that chalked up as a loss. (Even then…)
Best win: at #10 USC (75-59)
When potential top 10 draft pick Robert Williams announced he was returning to school, we knew the Aggies would be good this season, but so far, they have exceeded expectations, beating then #11 West Virginia and #10 USC with ease. They also have wins over Oklahoma State and Penn State. Florida will steal the spotlight because of Duke and the numbers they put up, but the Aggies might be the most dangerous squad in the league. They come to Lexington on January 9 in what should be one heck of a game.
Best win: Vermont (73-69); Loss: #4 Kansas (65-61)
Kentucky is improving, but will they pull it together enough to withstand the major challenges that await them in the SEC? Probably not, but this group is getting better by the moment and will benefit from a tough SEC slate come March. I can’t wait to see how they do vs. Florida and Texas A&M, and thank goodness both of those road games come later in the schedule.
Best win: vs. BYU (71-59); Loss: #14 Minnesota (89-84)
Bama’s best performance came in their only loss. With only three players, Alabama outscored #14 Minnesota in the final ten minutes, and even though they lost, that’s one heck of an accomplishment. Collin Sexton had 40 points in that game and may be the best player in the SEC now that Michael Porter Jr. is out with injury. Thankfully, Kentucky’s only game vs. Alabama this season will be at Rupp on February 7.
Best win: #18 Purdue (78-75); Loss: #5 Villanova (85-76)
The Vols are legit this year, beating #18 Purdue in overtime and leading #5 Villanova by double digits before losing in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. They also beat an NC State team that upset then-#2 Arizona. Sophomore forward Grant Williams is really good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vols get the best of the Cats yet again on January 6 in Knoxville.
Best win: Oklahoma (92-83); Loss: #9 UNC (87-68)
The Razorbacks held their own in the PK80, routing UConn to finish third after a loss to #9 UNC (during which Daryl Macon went down with an ankle injury). Arkansas is a veteran squad, led by senior guard Jaylen Barford, and I still think Kentucky’s trip to Fayetteville on February 20 has the makings of a classic trap game. We’ll know more about the Razorbacks after they play #12 Minnesota next weekend.
Yada Yada Yada
Best win: St. John’s (90-82); Losses: at Utah (77-59), #23 West Virginia (83-79)
Mizzou is without Michael Porter Jr., potentially for the season, but they haven’t flatlined in his absence. The Tigers got a quality win over St. John’s and were up on #23 West Virginia by 16 in the second half before losing by four. They clearly aren’t the same squad that they would be with Porter Jr., but they can still cause some teams fits.
Best win(s): Western Michigan (78-60, 79-66); Loss: Illinois State (69-65)
It feels odd to have a team that went to the Final Four so low, but life after Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier has been an adjustment for the Gamecocks, who lost to Illinois State in the opening game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Big man Chris Silva is by far the best player on the team, which is still struggling to find consistent scoring.
Best win: at Dayton (73-60); Loss: Temple (88-74)
Despite not having Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley (suspended indefinitely over eligibility concerns), the Tigers have looked decent this season, beating a good Dayton team. Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron lead the way, averaging 17 points each, but Auburn’s success this season will really be dependent on whether or not Purifoy and Wiley play.
Best win: #21 Saint Mary’s (83-81); Loss: San Diego State (75-68)
Georgia’s overtime win over #21 Saint Mary’s is almost enough to make you forget they lost to San Diego State and only beat Texas A&M Corpus Christi by three. Right now, the Bulldogs just look like Yante Maten and a bunch of dudes.
Best win: None; Losses: Utah (83-74), South Dakota State (99-97)
I couldn’t even list a best win for Ole Miss because they haven’t beaten anyone of merit. Their wins so far: Louisiana Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia State, and Rice. The loss to Utah is forgivable, but they lost to South Dakota State (an NCAA Tournament team last year) by two earlier this week. South Dakota State’s a decent team, but if Ole Miss can’t beat them at home, they don’t impress me much.
Best win: None; Losses: Belmont (69-60), #10 USC (93-89), Virginia (68-42), #20 Seton Hall (72-59)
Vanderbilt was touted as one of the league’s best teams coming into the season, but they’ve fallen hard vs. a tough schedule. I still think the Commodores are a dangerous bunch — especially at home — but the fact that they haven’t done anything with the number of opportunities they’ve been given is telling so far.
Best win: Michigan (77-75); Losses: #13 Notre Dame (92-53), Marquette (94-84)
The Tigers upset Michigan in the Maui Invitational then got blown out by #13 Notre Dame. Remember Tremont Waters? The onetime UK target and former Georgetown commit leads LSU in scoring with 18 points and 5.8 assists per game. He’s good.
Best win: None; Losses: None
How can a team that’s undefeated be at the bottom of this list? The most impressive team the Bulldogs have played is Stephen F. Austin and they only won by five. Mississippi State’s schedule is the weakest in the SEC by far, ranking 347th in the country per ESPN. We’ll know more once they face Dayton and #11 Cincinnati in the coming weeks.