1. Kentucky (17-0, 4-0)
2. Tennessee (11-5, 3-1)
3. Florida (10-7, 3-1)
4. Arkansas (13-4, 2-2)
5. LSU (13-4, 2-2)
6. Alabama (12-5, 2-2)
7. Georgia (11-5, 2-2)
8. Texas A&M (11-5, 2-2)
9. Ole Miss (11-6, 2-2)
10. Auburn (10-7, 2-2)
11. Vanderbilt (11-6, 1-3)
12. South Carolina (10-6, 1-3)
13. Mississippi State (8-9, 1-3)
14. Missouri (7-10, 1-3)
And then there was one . . . after only two weeks of league play.
It didn’t take long for Kentucky to become the only team unscathed team in SEC action. There also won’t be a long-term 0-fer in the ranks as Mississippi State and South Carolina scratched off a win last week, and the other two teams that began 0-2 in the conference – Georgia and Texas A&M – each claimed consecutive victories to get back to .500 in the league.
Joining the Wildcats, Bulldogs and Aggies in the 2-0 department last week was the highest riser on the SEC totem pole, Tennessee. First-year coach Donnie Tyndall has the Vols playing at a clip that virtually no one expected in the preseason, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the orange and white to continue making noise in the next few weeks (see below).
Moving in the other direction were a quartet of teams that went winless in the week that was – Arkansas, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Missouri. The latter two are actually on three-game losing benders, but the most disappointing of this bunch is Arkansas, which will fall from the top 25 with a pair of losses.
The Razorbacks lost in the midweek at Tennessee 74-69 before returning home over the weekend to generate one of the most stunning score lines of the week. Arkansas, which seldom loses in Bud Walton Arena, dropped a 96-82 home decision to Ole Miss. All nine Rebels that played scored at least six points, and Hotty Toddy as a whole shot 56.4% from the field, underscoring the Achilles heel that makes Arkansas vulnerable – defense.
HELLO, ROCKY TOP
With little fanfare coming into January, Tennessee is becoming an unexpected contender in the SEC. The Volunteers are coming off a week that produced a home win over ranked Arkansas and a road victory at cellar dweller Missouri. In all UT has now won seven of its last eight games since starting the season 4-4.
What’s most interesting is to examine the Vols’ four non-conference losses: to ranked VCU, to ranked Kansas, versus Marquette and at North Carolina State. No shame in any of those setbacks. Then, when you consider wins over Kansas State and ranked Butler, it comes into focus that Tennessee entered conference play as battle-tested as any team other than Kentucky or possibly Florida, just based on strength of schedule.
On the other end of the floor senior guard Josh Richardson has carried the Volunteers. One of only two Tennessee players to average double figures scoring, Richardson is posting the following averages – 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 46.6% from the field. If the season ended today he’d be a no-doubt first-team All-SEC performer.
When projecting into the future with Rocky Top, one thing is clear – Tyndall & Co. better make hay soon because the schedule gets treacherous in a few weeks.
This week Tennessee is at South Carolina and then home versus Texas A&M, so it’s entirely possible the Vols could get to 5-1. But the gauntlet UT will stare down in the second half of its SEC schedule includes trips to Georgia, Florida, a home date with Kentucky and two games versus LSU.
If the Volunteers are still in the heat of the SEC – and Big Dance – discussion by the end of February, Tyndall will deserve a look as conference coach of the year, even if John Calipari’s Cats go undefeated.
WHAT’S WITH YOU THREE?
After Kentucky and Florida, the league’s established two-headed monster over the past half-decade (or more), a trio of teams were thought of as a cut above the rest in 2015. Arkansas, LSU and Georgia were supposed to give the league more depth at the top and overall credibility this season.
All three currently sit at 2-2, which is by no means a death sentence, but it is a good indicator of how frustrating each of these squads have been to their fan bases.
And, in a turn of poetic justice, all three took different routes this past week to get to 2-2.
Georgia rattled off a pair of wins, including a convincing 73-61 home win over Florida, a triumph which ended the Gators’ 24-game winning streak in SEC play.
LSU went one up and one down, but the Tigers did it the unconventional way, winning at Ole Miss before losing a 14-point second-half lead in a meltdown of a home loss to Texas A&M on Saturday.
Arkansas, as documented above, dropped both of its games while giving up a combined 170 points to Tennessee and Ole Miss. The Hogs are in the top seven in the country in scoring (82.9 PPG) and assists (17.9 APG), but Mike Anderson’s troops are operating as a sieve on the defensive end of the floor.
Add it all up, and these are three teams with NCAA Tournament talent that play the type of maddening up-and-down ball that could land one or more of them in the NIT. How, or if, they get their acts together on a consistent basis will be one of the major storylines getting into the heart of conference play.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
Johnny Jones and LSU will be road warriors this week with trips to Florida and Vanderbilt while South Carolina will welcome the top two teams in the SEC to Columbia in Tennessee and Kentucky. Every other team will play one home and one on the road. The only other note of interest: Georgia will take its turn against the state of Mississippi, hosting Ole Miss in the midweek before trekking to Starkville for a Saturday date with Mississippi State.
Alabama: at Arkansas (Thurs), vs. Auburn (Sat)
Arkansas: vs. Alabama (Thurs), at Missouri (Sat)
Auburn: vs. Mississippi State (Wed), at Alabama (Sat)
Florida: vs. LSU (Tues), at Ole Miss (Sat)
Georgia: vs. Ole Miss (Tues), at Mississippi State
Kentucky: vs. Vanderbilt (Tues), at South Carolina (Sat)
LSU: at Florida (Tues), at Vanderbilt (Sat)
Mississippi State: at Auburn (Wed), vs. Georgia (Sat)
Missouri: at Texas A&M (Wed), vs. Arkansas (Sat)
Ole Miss: at Georgia (Tues), vs. Florida (Sat)
South Carolina: vs. Tennessee (Tues), vs. Kentucky (Sat)
Tennessee: at South Carolina (Tues), vs. Texas A&M (Sat)
Texas A&M: vs. Missouri (Wed), at Tennessee (Sat)
Vanderbilt: at Kentucky (Tues), vs. LSU (Sat)