SEC HOOPS RISERS AND FALLERS
The SEC is a deep quality conference this college basketball season with several teams that have the potential make a big run in March. After Auburn on top of the standings, 11 teams have between two and four losses for a tightly packed group in the early season standings. Here is a look at teams likely to rise and fall in the SEC over the next few weeks.
TENNESSEE (4-3): The Volunteers have elite defensive numbers and only have losses vs. top SEC teams on the road in a 4-3 start. The remaining five SEC road games are all against weaker teams than the three teams that have defeated Tennessee in SEC play so far. The Vols also draw top ranked Auburn only once this season and that game is in Knoxville at the end of February, as are most of the remaining difficult games on Tennessee’s schedule. Currently tied for fifth place in the SEC standings, this looks like a team that will finish in the top four.
LSU (3-4): The Tigers have lost three consecutive games, but two of those three games have been road games vs. top tier squads. LSU still has the #1 defensive efficiency in the nation and the Tigers have battled through a truly difficult SEC schedule so far this season. Incredibly, each team that LSU will face in the next seven SEC games is a weaker team than every team LSU has faced so far in its 3-4 conference start. It would not be a shock if LSU went from 3-4 to 10-4 or 9-5 before facing Kentucky in late February in a big late season rematch.
MISSOURI (2-4): At 8-10 overall the Tigers aren’t even in the NCAA Tournament conversation right now, but this is a team that could climb closer to that picture in the coming weeks while holding one of the toughest strength of schedule ratings in the nation. Missouri has a notable SEC win over Alabama and had faced elite SEC teams in its three road losses in league play. Losing badly at Kentucky and at Arkansas early in the SEC weighs on the numbers but after facing Auburn this week, the Tigers have a nice path in early February with winnable games for three weeks straight. The past nine losses for Missouri have been vs. top 100 teams including non-conference losses to Kansas and Illinois as the numbers, particularly in 3-point shooting, should improve in the coming weeks.
KENTUCKY (5-2): The Wildcats didn’t hold up in last week’s big showdown at Auburn and while Kentucky will be favored to get to 7-2 in the next two SEC games, it is likely going to be a difficult February in Lexington. The defensive numbers remain mediocre for this team and this season’s non-conference schedule was much weaker than usual for the program with only one notable win over North Carolina. Only one of the first five wins in SEC play for Kentucky has come against a likely contender while the gauntlet of consecutive quality games on the schedule in the middle of February is likely to take a toll on this group. Kentucky won’t have to play Auburn again but the schedule features two meetings each with Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and LSU this season.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-2): The Bulldogs have a nice 4-2 record in SEC play, but they have already faced rival Ole Miss twice and lost one of those games. They do have home wins over Arkansas and Alabama but four of six games in SEC play have been in Starkville and they have already played the only meeting with last place Georgia. Mississippi State will be in an underdog in five of the next six SEC games as it will be a shock if the Bulldogs reach mid-February above .500. This squad has played one of the weakest schedules of any team in the conference as there are no quality non-conference wins to suggest that this group can maintain a position as a SEC contender.
TEXAS A&M (4-2): The Aggies may be having a breakthrough season for Buzz Williams, or more likely they have made the most of a favorable early path in conference play. Texas A&M started 4-0 in SEC play but a narrow home win over Arkansas is the only high-quality result and three of four SEC wins have been by five or fewer points. The Aggies have terrible free throw shooting numbers and will face top tier SEC teams in four of the next six games as going from 4-2 to 6-6 is likely for the Aggies.