The SEC made a lot of noise in the regular season last year, proving it is more than just a football conference. Six teams ultimately made the NCAA Tournament from the SEC but only Arkansas made the Elite Eight as the SEC has not had a Final Four team since Auburn made it in 2019. The 2022 tournament from the SEC perspective will be remembered for the Round of 64 exit from Kentucky as a #2 seed as one of the tournament favorites.
Conference play opened in the SEC this week with the SEC holding six spots in the AP top 25 including top 10 placements for Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas. In a league with 14 teams but only 18 conference games there are unbalanced paths in the SEC scheduling. Five teams appear to have elite potential this season in the SEC, here is a breakdown of which teams have a benefitted most from the draw in the 2022-23 SEC Basketball season.
TENNESSEE: The Volunteers appear to have the most favorable path of the SEC contenders. They will face six games vs. the top four other contenders but four of those games are at home. Tennessee is also the only team among the five top teams that will get to play South Carolina twice with the Gamecocks gradings as the worst team in the SEC by a significant margin at this point. Tennessee will also play Missouri and Florida just once each as Tennessee is a threat to back up last season’s SEC Tournament title with a regular season title.
AUBURN: The Tigers went 15-3 to win the SEC regular season title last season, earning a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament but getting bounced by Miami in the Round of 32. Auburn did not lose a home game last season and will get four of the six toughest games this season at home, doubling up with Tennessee and Alabama but playing lone meetings with Arkansas and Kentucky at home for a favorable path. Auburn won its SEC opener vs. Florida and the Tigers won’t play the Gators again while playing Missouri and Mississippi State just once each. Auburn will play Georgia twice but has just one meeting with Vanderbilt and South Carolina on the other end of the conference ratings.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats losing to Missouri to open the SEC season will make winning the regular season title more difficult. Kentucky has just one SEC regular season title in the past five seasons despite being the most prominent team in the conference. This year’s path features a pair of games with both Tennessee and Arkansas while playing Alabama on the road and hosting Auburn. Kentucky will have to play Florida twice in the SEC schedule and gets South Carolina just once. Kentucky does double up with four games with Georgia and Vanderbilt for a reasonable draw even with the early 0-1 start.
ALABAMA: The Tide closed last season with four straight losses as the big non-conference wins early in the season wound up being the season highlight. Alabama was only 9-9 in SEC play last season and this year’s path will have some difficulty. Alabama plays Auburn and Arkansas twice each while the only meeting with Tennessee will be on the road. Alabama beat Mississippi State on the road in the conference opener for a nice result and will play Florida and Missouri just once each this season. Alabama also only plays South Carolina and Georgia once each however and several of the toughest games are line up in back-to-back situations.
ARKANSAS: The last team standing from the SEC last March was Arkansas, but the Razorbacks have the most difficult conference draw this season. Four of the six games against the other four top five teams are on the road with Arkansas playing its only meetings with Tennessee and Auburn on the road. Arkansas lost its opener with LSU and will play the Tigers again while also having to play surging Missouri twice this season. Arkansas will only have single meetings with Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina as the Razorbacks have the most difficult conference path of the current projected contenders.
SLEEPER: Missouri doesn’t rate as a top threat and the 11-1 non-conference schedule featured a favorable draw with a blowout loss in the toughest game hosting Kansas. Missouri did get some attention with mid-December wins over UCF and Illinois before stunning Kentucky in the SEC opener however as this team can’t be ignored. Missouri has two meetings with Arkansas this season but won’t have to play Kentucky again while has just one meeting each with Tennessee, Auburn, and Alabama as it is a relatively favorable draw for Missouri to stay in the mix despite the modest expectations ahead of the season.