So this is the week that head-to-head results might make our ballot look a little strange. While Tennessee has faced all of the very best teams in this league this month, Kentucky is yet to play Florida, Vanderbilt, or Mississippi State. It's not that I doubt the Wildcats, but that's just one example. Florida and Vanderbilt haven't played each other either. Meanwhile Alabama has four SEC losses already, having made their trip to Starkville plus games against Vanderbilt and at Rupp. It'll all balance out in the end, but right now we're just short of the amount of games needed to not make head-to-head such a huge factor in my mind, and the three best teams in the old Eastern Division haven't even played each other once. That's getting ready to change, however.
Here's our ballot for this week - as always, feel free to agree or disagree in the comments:
1. Kentucky - 21-1 (7-0) - RPI #4 - KenPom #3
The Cats will again be the number one team in the land in the polls, but their weird SEC schedule will eventually reveal exactly how great they can be. UK hosts Tennessee on Tuesday then travels to Columbia on Saturday, meaning the Cats will be nine games into league play before they see Florida or Vanderbilt. Fear not: they get them back to back the following week.
2. Florida - 17-4 (5-1) - RPI #19 - KenPom #11
I'm of the opinion that Vanderbilt is the best of the next tier, and I think most Tennessee fans would agree given the results of each of our games against them. But there's a clear beatpath here, so this week we're going with it. Florida beat Mississippi State 69-57 on Saturday in Gainesville, and did it with incredible efficiency: 11 of 24 from the arc, 15 assists on 27 made baskets, and only five turnovers. The Gators are eighth in the nation in three point percentage, hitting 40.8% as a team. The last time an SEC team finished the year above 40% from the three point line? The second Gator National Championship team in 2007. I am becoming convinced that this Gator team is either getting bounced in the first round or going to the Final Four.
3. Mississippi State - 17-5 (4-3) - RPI #34 - KenPom #59
The Bulldogs did lose in Gainesville, but still have an overtime win in Nashville in their pocket, so that keeps them ahead of the Commodores for now. Their next five games will be a test of their maturity and consistency, because they should win them all: Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia, at LSU, at Auburn.
4. Vanderbilt - 16-5 (5-1) - RPI #26 - KenPom #30
Kentucky is more talented (and UConn probably is too), but the best team I've seen all year was Vanderbilt. We all know what they tend to do come tournament time, but these guys start four seniors and the SEC's leading scorer. They have three overtime losses against Top 15 foes, two without Festus Ezeli, and really should be a Top 15 team themselves. Here's your chance to prove it: at Fayetteville Tuesday, at Gainesville Saturday.
5. Alabama - 14-7 (3-4) - RPI #35 - KenPom #25
Yeah, they lost four straight, but three of them were to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. No excuse for the South Carolina loss, and Anthony Grant let them have it in the press, but they responded well with a win they had to have against Arkansas. The conference record isn't great and lacks a quality win, but this isn't last year: their RPI is very healthy and they should be dancing if they just handle the business they should handle. They're off midweek, then host Ole Miss on Saturday.
6. Arkansas - 15-6 (3-3) - RPI #59 - KenPom #78
Missed a chance to move up and help their NCAA Tournament talk against Alabama. But Vanderbilt comes in Tuesday night, so they don't have to wait long for another such chance. Also still have home games against Florida and Alabama left on the schedule, and another game with Mississippi State who they already beat. There's still a chance, but they need quality wins.
7. Tennessee - 10-11 (2-4) - RPI #146 - KenPom #99
Now up 127 spots in RPI since conference play began, and hey, cracked the Top 100 in KenPom! The loss at Vanderbilt was ugly, and so was the win over Auburn (in a good way that we'll probably see more of), but I'm keeping them at seven for a couple of reasons: none of the teams below them have a pair of quality wins like Florida and UConn, none of the teams below them have so many close losses to good teams, and with Jarnell Stokes I'm still convinced that Tennessee is just better than the next five teams on this list.
8. LSU - 12-9 (2-5) - RPI #78 - KenPom #89
LSU has lost five of six, and the sixth is an overtime win over Auburn in Baton Rouge. However, I'm leaving them at eight because the five losses were to Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State, and Kentucky, all of them on the road except Kentucky. And the biggest head-to-head argument of the week: LSU beat Ole Miss by 26 points. That's still good enough for me.
9. Ole Miss - 14-7 (4-3) - RPI #41 - KenPom #110
Again, the hardest team to rank. Lost a tough one at home to the Gators this week, then beat South Carolina as they should have. Let me again remind you that their resume also includes wins over Arkansas, Mississippi State, and at Georgia...and an overtime loss at Auburn, plus the aforementioned 26 point loss at LSU. Same as their opponent, they're off midweek then host Alabama. RPI will continue to say they're a bubble team, but no way with such inconsistency.
10. Auburn - 12-9 (2-5) - RPI #143 - KenPom #177
Yeah, they were bad against us. But they did beat South Carolina by 11, and do have a win over Ole Miss. They'll host Georgia this week and that'll help settle things at the bottom.
11. South Carolina - 9-11 (1-5) - RPI #166 - KenPom #128
The win over Alabama gets them out of the cellar for the first time on our ballot.
12. Georgia - 10-10 (1-5) - RPI #114 - KenPom #140
Unfortunately, all they've done in SEC play is beat us at home in overtime. Their five losses are all to good teams - Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Kentucky - but are by an average of 12.8 points. Their November win over Notre Dame is looking better, but we're probably the second best win on their resume. Somebody has to be last.