People always argue how early on you should start ranking teams. I, for one, never really get into that argument because I understand the true purpose of preseason polling and that’s that it develops headlines. Nobody actually knows who is going to be the best team before any games have been played, and hey, ranking Kentucky over Louisville is just plain fun.
So why did I wait a month before releasing my rankings? Well, first of all, my rankings aren’t generating any headlines so there was no need for me to release a “power ranking” of sorts. Secondly, I just didn’t really feel like it. But now, I’m ready to give it my best shot. Since this is a Kentucky basketball website I figured I’d just rank the best SEC teams instead of nationally. Because, you know, the SEC is college basketball, er something. So without further adieu here are the top five SEC teams:
5. LSU Tigers (6-2): LSU was one of my SEC sleepers going into the season and so far they’ve done a pretty good job of solidifying my claim. Currently they boast two pretty good neutral court wins against St. Joseph’s and Butler, while both of their losses came away from Baton Rouge against good teams (Memphis and UMass). The frontcourt duo of Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey have been terrific. Mickey, the freshman four-star prospect, has put up double figures scoring in every game to go along with his shot-blocking prowess (averaging 3.9 blocks per game). The good news for the Tigers is that they’ve been doing all of this while getting relatively little from their five-star freshman stud Jarrell Martin (7.3 ppg, 3 rpg). If Martin can get it going then this LSU team could immediately become a 2nd weekend NCAA team.
4. Tennessee Volunteers (6-3): Remember, I’m not ranking these teams based on resume or the Vols probably wouldn’t be slotted in the four spot. I know the three losses look bad right now (especially the one to UTEP) but I don’t think they’re very indicative of this team. They’ve got a go-to scorer in Jordan McRae, they’ve got a dynamic frontcourt with Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon (who’s slowly getting back into game shape and is playing better), and they’ve got some surrounding pieces in Robert Hubbs, Josh Richardson and Antonio Barton. They’ve been much better since the UTEP loss as well, thrashing both Xavier and Wake Forest (hardly world beaters but they’re not bad) before losing a tough road game against Wichita State. I like the Vols to beat both UVA and NC State to close out their non-conference schedule.
3. Missouri Tigers (10-0): The undefeated start is nice, as is the big home win over UCLA, but ranking this team third in the SEC is about as high as I can go. They’ve had some less than stellar games against terrible teams like Southern Illinois,Gardner Webb, IUPUI and Western Michigan (all at home). But they did win those games so I can’t penalize them too much for that. KenPom has this Mizzou team ranked 42nd in the nation (or 4th in the SEC) but that is with some preseason bias still built in the system so you can’t go based on that just yet. The backcourt duo of Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have been fantastic for the Tigers who are thinking of a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament under Frank Haith. If the Tigers can close the non-conference with three wins over Illinois, NC State and Long Beach State then I’ll consider moving the Tigers into my top two.
This top two is really hard, by the way.
2. Kentucky Wildcats (8-3): I think by the end of this year the Cats will still be best team in the SEC without question. But as of today, I think they are just barely behind the Florida Gators. My expectations have been tempered about this team, but not as much as you’d think. If you take a step back and look at the situation, the Cats have lost three close games away from Rupp against very good teams. Before the season I predicted three losses, to Michigan State, at UNC and at Florida. Now? I think they are probably a five or six loss team going into the NCAA tournament. Don’t get me wrong, the Cats have a lot of work to do in terms of gelling together. But lest remember that the John Wall-team never beat a top-25 KenPom team, and didn’t even play one until the West Virginia game. I’m willing to bet that if that team played this early schedule then they would have endured similar issues (turnovers and three-point shooting were problems with that team too). The twins have begun to show improvement, Willie has been dominant on the defensive end, and Randle is Randle (although he wasn’t Randle against UNC). So everybody just take a deep breath, this team is going to be just fine.
1. Florida Gators (7-2): The Gators were a buzzer beater away from getting a great road win against UConn, but this weeks beating against Kansas will have to suffice for the Gators. Florida is slowly but surely getting all of their pieces back, but the last piece won’t be back for a few more weeks. When Chris Walker joins the Gator-lineup I believe it takes UF from a Sweet 16 team to a Final Four contender. Wilbekin and Hill have been playing well with each other in a dual point guard system, while Casey Prather has blossomed into a star. 73rd year senior Patric Young continues to be a bully down low for the Gators as well. I expect Florida to give Kentucky all they’ve got in the SEC race.
Whaddya think? Let me know in the comments.