SEC Basketball Power Poll & Season Preview

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RockyTopTalk is once again proud to be a part of the SEC Basketball Power Poll, and today we take a look at our preseason ballot and the state of the league for 2012. The poll is once again hosted by the fine folks at our SB Nation South Carolina site Garnet and Black Attack, where you can see the full results for Week Zero. Conference play begins on Saturday; Tennessee and Florida actually play the first SEC game of the year, bright and early from Knoxville at 11:00 AM ET.

If you're familiar with my work as the commissioner of the Head to Head Police in our football BlogPoll, you won't be surprised to hear that I rank these teams based on their existing body of work; it's less hypothetical/eye test and more results-based; "who has the best body of work?" over "who do I think is the best team?". Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments, that's half the fun, of course. The initial ballot was due Tuesday night, before Auburn and Tennessee got thumped on Wednesday, but I've left the rankings as is because I'm not really sure I would've changed them. And remember: there are no divisions this year, top four teams in the league get first round byes in the SEC Tournament.

1. Kentucky - 14-1 - #2 AP - #3 KenPom - #11 RPI

The Wildcats, once again of the eight man rotation, have six players averaging double figures. Hooray. You'll remember Doron Lamb (leading scorer at 14.9 and 45.1% from three) and Terrence Jones (11.2 points 6.5 rebounds 1.9 blocks per game). But 6'7" Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and 6'10" Anthony Davis are new, giving Kentucky a much bigger set of marquee players overall this year. UK beat North Carolina and lost at Indiana (their only true road game) by identical 73-72 scores. The only other team to play within ten points of them was Louisville, who fell 69-62. UK's list of victims also includes Kansas. The best team in the SEC, and the only reason they're not the best team in the nation is because Syracuse is still undefeated.

2. Mississippi State - 13-2 - #15 AP - #52 KenPom - #51 RPI

So they lost to Akron by ten in the second game of the year, which caused many of us to do that reflex thing where we write them off and kiss Rick Stansbury goodbye. Then they ripped off eleven straight, including dominant performances over Texas A&M and Arizona. Their only other loss came against Baylor on a neutral floor by two points, and while they do have some close wins (Florida Atlantic, Detroit, Utah State all by seven or less), they remain wins. Arnett Moultrie, a transfer from UTEP, is averaging 16.8 points and 11.4 rebounds. He goes with familiar names like Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, and Knoxville's Jalen Steele to put together a group that could put up a huge number against the old SEC West rotation.

3. Florida - 12-3 - #11 AP - #11 KenPom - #36 RPI

The main reason the Gators are below the Bulldogs here is their double overtime loss to 8-7 Rutgers, which doesn't get the early season excuse like Mississippi State with Akron. The Gators' only other flaw has been their schedule, which has seen Florida lose a pair of close games to Ohio State and Syracuse. They have the same quality wins MSU has - it took overtime for Florida to beat Arizona, but they blasted Texas A&M by 20. They also just spanked Florida State by 18. Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Patric Young, Erik Murphy...you know the drill here. But they also added freshman guard Bradley Beal, who is the team's leading scorer.

4. Vanderbilt - 10-4 - #49 KenPom - #45 RPI

There's Vandy without Festus Ezeli, losing to Cleveland State, Indiana State, and Xavier and Louisville in overtime. But Vandy with Festus Ezeli is 4-0, including a 74-57 beatdown at Marquette. You know the drill on these guys too: John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor both shoot over 40% from the arc, Lance Goulbourne and Brad Tinsley are also still around, and Steve Tchiengang continues to hang around long enough for us to learn how to spell his name. When you look at their entire rotation, they're probably the second most talented team in the league.

5. Alabama - 11-3 - #16 KenPom - #18 RPI

Both Ken Pomeroy and the RPI love Alabama, who put up a solid number against an improved schedule. Their losses are to Georgetown by two at the buzzer, at Dayton the next game (letdown?), and against Kansas State on a neutral floor. They have solid wins over a bunch of name teams that aren't at their best this year - Maryland, Purdue, VCU, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech - but they've yet to get an elite win. They'll get a chance to change that soon: they open with Georgia and LSU, but then go at Mississippi State, home to Vanderbilt, and at Kentucky January 14-21. JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell both average more than fifteen per game.

6. Arkansas - 11-3 - #86 KenPom - #113 RPI

Year One for Mike Anderson has seen losses to UConn, Oklahoma, and Houston, but the Razorbacks have taken care of business the rest of the way. Their most impressive win might be against Oakland. To me, there's a fine line between the Hogs and the next three teams based on what we've seen thus far. They've got a kid named Mardracus Wade from Memphis who is 33 of 66 from the arc this year.

7. LSU - 10-4 - #98 KenPom - #86 RPI

What the Tigers have to separate them from this tier is a marquee win, beating Marquette on December 19. That helped heal the wounds from November, where LSU lost to Coastal Carolina, Northwestern, and South Alabama. Since the overtime loss to the Jaguars on November 23, neither LSU nor their opponent has scored 70 points. They almost got the best of Virginia using the same strategy before falling 57-52 in their last game.

8. Ole Miss - 10-4 - #110 KenPom - #47 RPI

RPI loves the Rebels because they played the right teams. Most would probably say that Ole Miss is better than LSU, but the difference here is Marquette's 30 point win against the Rebels. Ole Miss has also lost to Southern Miss, MTSU, and Dayton, a three game skid they just barely broke by beating SMU 50-48 on Tuesday. They play LSU first, so we'll settle that argument quickly.

9. Auburn - 10-4 - #177 KenPom - #194 RPI

Bringing up the rear for the SEC in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, when Auburn loses, they lose in style. Other than a seven point loss to UTEP, their other setbacks have been massive: 22 points at Seton Hall, 21 to Long Beach State, and 19 at Florida State this week. But they've been able to hold their own against the rest of their schedule, no matter how weak. Do I expect them to fall to one of the bottom two spots in this poll very soon? Yes. But for now, they hold at nine.

10. Georgia - 9-5 - #120 KenPom - #102 RPI

The Dawgs lost five of six in late November/early December, and most weren't pretty: 24 points against Cal, 14 points at Xavier, a dozen against Georgia Tech with close losses to Colorado and Cincinnati thrown in. But since then they have won five straight, including wins over Southern Cal and an overtime affair with Winthrop. Having lost so much, it's a team that struggles to score: freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope actually leads the team, and Gerald Robinson is still around, but after that points have been hard to come by.

11. Tennessee - 7-7 - #121 KenPom - #273 RPI

Well, if you'd like to make the case against RPI as a valid formula for ranking teams, the Vols would appreciate it this year. After owning it for so many seasons under Bruce Pearl, the Vols have no quality wins against a schedule that's included acceptable losses as well as head scratchers. The Vols have the lowest RPI in the SEC by 79 spots over Auburn. KenPom is more kind, but the question from the beginning of the year remains: is Tennessee really the 11th best team in the SEC? The lack of any quality wins forces me to leave them down here for the moment, but I do think the Vols can be better than two teams in their old division (Georgia and South Carolina), as well as a couple of the other old SEC West teams. But there's a clear separation between the top five in this league and Tennessee, and they'll be hard pressed to compete in this league every night. Better days are ahead with Jarnell Stokes and more time for Cuonzo Martin...how soon, though, remains to be seen. The Vols have to go 9-7 in the SEC to qualify for the NIT at above .500 (or 8-8 with a win over UConn). And the SEC is very good this year.

12. South Carolina - 8-6 - #118 KenPom - #180 RPI

Like Tennessee, the Gamecocks don't have a marquee win (Clemson doesn't count this year) and have played a brutal schedule (losses to North Carolina and Ohio State). But the Gamecocks have also lost to Elon and Tennessee State, which is enough to put them behind the Vols in my book.

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