SEC is rugged

Five Southeastern Conference teams are ranked in the top 25 nationally … and we're talking BASKETBALL. Once known almost exclusively for its prowess on the gridiron, the SEC continues to build a reputation on the hardwood.

The latest Associated Press national rankings show defending national champ Florida No. 1, with Alabama No. 10, LSU No. 16, Tennessee No. 22 and Kentucky No. 25. Arkansas just missed the top 25 by a few votes.

"The league is very strong at the top," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "With five teams ranked in the top 25, that speaks volumes. But where the league really has improved is at the bottom."

The coach has a point; even the SEC's second-tier teams are capable of beating quality teams on a given night.

For instance:

Auburn put a scare into No. 12 Oklahoma State before losing 66-65, pushed LSU to the limit before bowing 65-63 last Saturday in Baton Rouge, then upset visiting Tennessee 83-80 last night.

Georgia won at Wake Forest (87-86), beat Gonzaga (96-83) and stunned Arkansas (67-64) last night in Fayetteville.

Ole Miss gave a good account of itself in an 82-70 loss at Memphis, currently ranked No. 17, knocked off Arkansas (74-72) last weekend and played LSU tough in Baton Rouge last night before bowing 62-55.

Mississippi State hung surprisingly tough in road losses at No. 22 Tennessee (82-74) and at No. 25 Kentucky (64-60).

Vanderbilt is proving almost unbeatable in Music City. The Commodores beat Georgia Tech (73-64) and Tennessee (82-81) on their home floor, then annihilated Alabama (94-73) last night in Nashville.

"Some of the teams at the bottom are doing well," Pearl noted. "Top to bottom, it looks like any win is going to be a great win."

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