As usual, Kentucky is at the top and the rest of the league refuses to make it easy to vote in this poll. Five tournament teams, one entering the conversation, one with an unusually high RPI...and then there's Tennessee. But we're not talking about that this week.
1. Kentucky - 19-1 (5-0) - AP #1 - RPI #5 - KenPom #5
Of course. They still don't wow quite like the 2010 team (though who does?), but they've picked up their annoying habit of maturing as a team without losing along the way. Alabama threw everything they had at them, and Kentucky still won in businesslike fashion. They're in Athens and Baton Rouge this week.
2. Mississippi State - 16-4 (3-2) - AP #18 - RPI #39 - KenPom #57
They're so hard to love. They lose to Arkansas and Ole Miss, but they beat Tennessee, Alabama, and the big prize: won at Memorial Saturday. That's enough to keep them at number two, for now. They get LSU and a trip to Gainesville this week.
3. Vanderbilt - 14-5 (4-1) - RPI #30 - KenPom #32
Almost went 2-0 in a rough week; they get the bump over Florida based on strength of schedule in-conference. The Dores won in Tuscaloosa by ten, holding Alabama to 19 points in the first half. And they played the ultimate see-saw game with Mississippi State before falling in overtime. We'll see them tomorrow night.
4. Florida - 15-4 (3-1) - AP #14 - RPI #36 - KenPom #12
After losing in Knoxville, Florida has won three straight against Georgia, South Carolina, and LSU. That's just not enough competition for me to bump them any further, for now. They get the turnaround screwjob this week: in Oxford Thursday night, home for a 1:30 tip against Mississippi State on Saturday.
5. Alabama - 13-6 (2-3) - RPI #29 - KenPom #18
Three straight losses to the top three teams on our ballot, but had their chances in Starkville and in Lexington. Vanderbilt showed how fragile they can be even with great defense, a lesson Tennessee is learning as well; the Tide shot 32% from the floor and 25% from the arc in that loss. Like the Vols, they don't need much offense, but it'll take a little more than that. However, next five: at Carolina, Arkansas, Ole Miss, at Auburn, at LSU.
6. Arkansas - 14-5 (2-2) - RPI #63 - KenPom #83
Can they play well two nights in a row? Beat Mississippi State by ten, lost at Ole Miss by eight, beat LSU by nine, got destroyed in Rupp Arena, then opened up a 20 point lead on Michigan before almost blowing it all in a 68-66 win over the Wolverines. Auburn is next. The RPI may not be the best right now, but Mike Anderson's club has a very strong record with a dozen to play. The quality wins over Mississippi State and Michigan put them in the tournament conversation.
7. Tennessee - 9-10 (1-3) - RPI #161 - KenPom #102
Now up 112 spots in the RPI since conference play began. The Georgia loss certainly hurts, but Jarnell Stokes has made the entire conference pay attention, and is already seasoned having faced Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. He'll get Festus Ezeli tomorrow night and a rematch with Davis next Tuesday, after which we can figure out if we're really dreaming of the big dance or solely focused on qualifying for the NIT.
8. LSU - 12-7 (2-3) - RPI #75 - KenPom #80
They continue to get the nod over Ole Miss because of their 26 point win over the Rebels. Their losses have all been quality in the league - at Alabama, at Arkansas, at Florida - and it continues this week with a trip to Starkville and a home date with UK. Still, the NIT is a real goal for this team as well.
9. Ole Miss - 13-6 (3-2) - RPI #34 - KenPom #110
The most difficult team to rank. If you like RPI, you like Ole Miss - their non-conference losses are to 16-4 Marquette, 14-5 Dayton, 19-2 MTSU, and 17-3 Southern Miss. But it's their conference losses that are baffling: 26 points to LSU, and in overtime against Auburn. Four of their six losses are by 30 (Marquette), 26 (LSU), and 12 (Dayton and MTSU). So we're sticking with KenPom and head-to-head for now, even though some are beginning to put them on the bubble. Home against Florida Thursday night, so we'll see.
10. Georgia - 10-9 (1-4) - RPI #122 - KenPom #141
I was definitely moving Georgia ahead of Tennessee before Saturday. Then the Vols beat UConn and the Dawgs lost at home to Ole Miss, so nevermind. But good news: Kentucky comes calling tomorrow night!
11. Auburn - 12-7 (2-3) - RPI #132 - KenPom #181
Continuing to bring up the rear in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, Auburn beat Ole Miss in double overtime, lost to LSU in overtime, then beat South Carolina. Their soft non-conference schedule got them a ton of wins early, but they'll several more in SEC play to get in the NIT. In Fayetteville and Knoxville this week.
12. South Carolina - 8-10 (0-4) - RPI #201 - KenPom #142
Finally caught a scheduling break after opening SEC play against Kentucky, Vandy, and Florida...but then Auburn beat them by eleven to make it 0-4 in the SEC with all four losses by double digits. With four of their next five on the road, the one in Columbia being Kentucky, and the road trips including Gainesville, Knoxville, and Fayetteville, things could get real ugly real fast for Darrin Horn. We leave you with this fun fact from our friends at Garnet & Black Attack in the aftermath of the loss at Auburn:
Why no links from the usual South Carolina beat writers, you might ask? Because none of them went. If that's not an indictment on the overall health of the men's basketball program, then nothing is; all the in-state dailies ran with the generic AP piece.