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SEC Basketball Tier List at Halfway Point

Where does Tennessee land on the halfway point tier list?

Conference play is in full swing, and with every result, we are learning more and more about each team. Through learning about each team, we are finding the many strengths and weaknesses that persist through what has been a very good conference thus far. Teams are beginning to separate themselves from the pack in both directions, so let’s look at the SEC basketball team tier list at the halfway point.

Tier One: How do you look in orange?

The ‘How do you look in orange?’ tier is made up of a team who’s lost every game they’ve played against good teams and Tennessee.

Tennessee Volunteers

I don’t think it’s arguable that Tennessee is the best team in the SEC right now. They have the single best player in the conference for the first time since Grant Williams ran the show back in 2019, and they are the best defense in the SEC to boot. Knecht has been a raging inferno in conference play, averaging an SEC best 28.4 points per game in conference play on a 63.7% true shooting mark while leading the conference in shot rate at 38.3%. What he’s doing is absurd, but he’s not alone.

The growth of Jonas Aidoo has made him an arguable top-5 player in the league right now. He is the ultimate rim protector who has provided a major jolt offensively to the Vols as well. Aidoo’s shooting marks mirror that of a season ago, but he’s shooting the ball on nearly 10% more of Tennessee’s possessions this season (16.2% up to 25.9%). That’s tremendous efficiency to go with tremendous rim protection on the other end and a big reason I see Tennessee not just winning the SEC despite sitting in second place but finally getting over the hump in March.

Auburn Tigers

Why is Auburn here you wonder? It’s simple: my eyes say they’re good. Do I trust them? Absolutely not. I don’t buy into pedigree. For one, it’s how I cope as a Vols basketball fan, and two, the idea that Bruce Pearl got to a National Title at Auburn game simply means they’re capable of always doing it is insane to me. You should never trust Auburn’s guards. You should, however, trust Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams. Williams leads the entire SEC in Offensive Rating per KenPom in conference play at 136.7. The 6-foot-8, 230 pound wrecking ball is averaging 14.3 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game in SEC play, and he’s doing it on a 73.3% true shooting percentage, the best in the conference.

Tier Two: All Gas, No Stops

The second tier of the SEC is made up of the two best offenses in the conference who would struggle to get a stop if they held a giant stop sign in front of a cyclist. Alabama, the team in first place in the conference currently, headlines this section alongside the team media pundits want you to believe will make the Final Four.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama’s offense, when it’s on, is a supernova of pure shot making and guard play. Mark Sears is playing like the best point guard in the SEC as the Tide average a nation-best 89.4 points per game with four players averaging double figures.

They would lose to last year’s Alabama by 30.

The major difference between last year’s Alabama team and this year’s is entirely on the defensive end. The losses of big men and big time rim protectors Charles Bediako and Noah Clowney on top of 6-foot-9 lottery pick Brandon Miller who could guard one through five is essentially where my trust with this team starts and ends. Alabama’s bad nights are near guaranteed losses. The Tide are 15-1 when they shoot above the national average percentage from three; they’re 0-5 when they shoot below it. Last season, they were 15-4 in such games, and this season, four of those five losses have come against tournament teams, with the other being November Chris Holtmann and Ohio State.

The bad nights a season ago were masked with great defense from tip-off to final horn. This season, Alabama currently sits at the 66th ranked defense in the nation, a far cry from 3rd where they finished a season ago, and I don’t see that changing at all.

Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky’s true potential has been mixed in with its results way too much, and it’s kind of aggravating to watch. For my money, this is the best offense in the conference. How they get their points and the ease at which they’re able to get them sets them above Alabama for me consistency-wise as Kentucky dominates the fast break and subsequently the paint on offense. Their achilles heel, like Alabama, is also defense.

Kentucky gets crushed around the rim. Despite being second in the SEC in block rate in conference play, the ‘Cats are allowing 34.3 points per game in the paint, 11th in the SEC. Their defense against guards and on the wings has been poor — UK ranks bottom 4 in league play in both steal rate and non-steal turnover rate — despite having such solid rim protection.

If Kentucky wants to make the leap into the territory everyone seems to think they’re already in, they have to clamp up in the backcourt.

Tier Three: Road Warriors

South Carolina Gamecocks

Only South Carolina and Alabama have won three road games in SEC play thus far. South Carolina was the underdog in all three games. This tells me a couple things. One, it’s really hard to win on the road, and the powers that be in sports betting know that; lastly, sports books are late getting on board with South Carolina. This is a good team, and the biggest reason is they have so many guys who can beat you.

Meechie Johnson is their best guard and hasn’t played well since the loss to Georgia, yet this team hasn’t lost a single game since then. 6-foot-8, 270 pound BJ Mack has stepped up in a big way for the Gamecocks, leading the charge at Missouri and at Arkansas while Jacobi Wright has caught fire from three lately after a woeful start to the season. Then, of course, there’s Ta’Lon Cooper, the straw that stirs the drink in Columbia. Cooper is shooting 51.7% from three in SEC play, the best mark in the conference, and is averaging 15.3 points per game over his last four games on just 7.8 shots per game. His efficiency is unreal.

Winning on the road is extremely difficult, yet South Carolina is 3-1 away from Colonial Life Arena in conference play, and it’s set them up extremely well for March.

Tier Four: Bubble Watch

All four teams in the bubble watch section currently sit on the right side of the bubble...for now.

Florida Gators

Florida picked up their first Quad 1 win on Wednesday with a win over Kentucky in Lexington. This win is a major moment for Florida’s season that felt to be teetering a bit following a blowout loss at Tennessee. Since then, the Gators have rattled off four in a row, and the good play from guards Walter Clayton and Zyon Pullin and big man Tyrese Samuels has sparked it.

Clayton, an Iona transfer, was unconcious from three against Kentucky, raining in seven triples, while Pullin, a UC-Riverside transfer, added in 21 himself to go with 7 boards and 7 assists. Samuel, a Seton Hall transfer, added 22 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. If you’re going to pull an upset on the road, that’s how you do it.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

State is making a living on the bubble in recent years, but unlike Florida, things are not trending in the right direction in Starkville. State sits at 3-5 in SEC play having lost four of their last six games, all but one by single digits.

Tolu Smith is tremendous, but he can’t do it by himself. This team struggles mightily to shoot the ball from deep while turning the ball over quite a bit. That combo is enough to burst any bubble team’s hopes.

Ole Miss Rebels

This past week for Ole Miss was possible a season saver in terms of not just March, but the SEC as well. Having lost a pair of road games to LSU and Alabama, Ole Miss rebounded with three straight wins with two coming over teams in this same tier. Auburn at home this upcoming weekend is fascinating. Can this team continue to grow as the season goes on or was this their peak? We’ll find out soon enough.

Texas A&M Aggies

A&M has countered their big win over Kentucky with home losses to LSU and Ole Miss. The total lack of consistency from this team has been jarring. They’re just *so* bad offensively. A&M ranks in the bottom 20 in the nation in effective field goal percentage (44.3%) and three point percentage (26.8%). You can’t live this way as a team and expect any success to follow. This could get real ugly for A&M if they can’t turn around these shooting woes.

Tier Five: Almost Got ‘Im

Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia is frisky. They are 14-7 overall and 4-4 in SEC play, and they give everyone a game, but man...they’ve missed some chances. The Bulldogs led late against Tennessee, but it slipped away. They had Florida beat, and then they collapsed. Georgia led by as many as 16 against Alabama this past Wednesday, and they blew it. If they kept from collapsing both times in the past week, we’re talking about Georgia on bubble watch, but alas, this is why we play the games.

Tier Six: MEDIOCRE

LSU Tigers

They don’t come as painfully average as 2024 LSU. This team solely exists to pluck off wins against bubble teams, lose to the top teams, and finish around 9-9 in league play.

Tier Seven: ...You Good?

This section belongs to the disappointments of the season: Arkansas (way more disappointing) and Missouri.

Arkansas Razorbacks

What on earth is going on in Fayetteville?! Picked third in the preseason SEC coaches poll, Arkansas has lost six of their first eight SEC games with five of them being by double digits. There’s games where Arkansas flashes the immense talent they possess — they beat Duke for goodness sake — but sadly, they crumble back to earth as this poor shooting, low effort collective far too often. The SEC is capable of breaking teams, and this season it has been Musselman and Arkansas.

Missouri Tigers

Want a microcosm for how Missouri’s season has gone? Arkansas has been on a free fall in SEC play. Mizzou just lost to them at home. The Tigers have yet to win a game in SEC play. The portal giveth and taketh, and it has sure not been kind to this iteration of Dennis Gates’ portal ball team.

Tier Eight: Tarmac Season

Vanderbilt Commodores

Truly, what are we doing here? Vandy has lost 11 of their last 12, their last five coming by double digits. These guys clearly don’t want to play for Stackhouse, and the string should have been out a lot sooner than now.