Here we are in the second week of January, and the SEC season is starting to heat up.
Looking around the SEC, we have seen some surprises. The Tennessee Volunteers upending the Kansas Jayhawks was definitely a surprise, even if it was out of conference. I think the SEC came to a whole new level of respect for Bruce Pearl's coaching ability after that one. It was truly impressive seeing a team as short-handed as Tennessee defeat a team as talented and experienced as the Jayhawks.
But there are other surprises around the league, which we'll get to, along with my ballot, if you'll follow me past the jump.
First, the ballot itself:
|1||Kentucky Wildcats||2||0||17||0||11||10||Winning at home and on the road. Still perfect.|
|2||Tennessee Volunteers||0||0||12||2||12||24||Taking down the Jayhawks was a serious statement by this star-crossed team.|
|3||Vanderbilt Commodores||2||0||13||3||24||21||Vandy is starting to find their groove, and that means trouble for their foes.|
|4||Mississippi St. Bulldogs||1||0||13||3||17||54||Rounding into form after a mediocre pre-conference campaign.|
|5||Mississippi Rebels||1||1||13||3||37||48||This team needs to take care of their defensive glass. They are 300th in DR%, and the MSU Bulldogs exploited that weakness.|
|6||South Carolina Gamecocks||2||0||11||5||74||57||When the Gamecocks shoot well, they are tough.|
|7||Florida Gators||0||2||11||5||49||87||Tough start for the Gators, but their schedule softens a bit now. They need the next four games bad.|
|8||Alabama Crimson Tide||1||1||11||5||62||81||Near miss versus the Commodores, but the next three games present an opportunity for the Tide to improve their standing.|
|9||Georgia Bulldogs||0||2||8||7||107||94||Two tough losses against the top of the conference, and it doesn't get any easier for a long time.|
|10||LSU Tigers||0||2||9||7||165||174||0-2 is about where I expected them to be. The Tigers are showing no signs of getting out of the cellar.|
|11||Auburn Tigers||0||1||9||7||135||218||Hard to see how this team gets to six wins this year, especially shooting like they did against the Gamecocks.|
|12||Arkansas Razorbacks||0||0||7||8||163||221||Showed well against Texas with Fortson back. They have some opportunities in the next 3 games to get out of the cellar.|
Now for a little explanation into my reasoning:
- People may think that the loss of Tyler Smith hurt the Vols, but I am beginning to think it may have been addition by subtraction, or at least a wake-up call. Bobby Maze played by far his best game as a Volunteer in the Kansas game, and they went on to handle the Auburn Tigers with ease last night.
- Don't be fooled by the close game Vandy had in Tuscaloosa versus the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tide are legit, and capable of beating anybody, maybe even Kentucky.
- MSU barely getting past the Razorbacks tells you two things -- the Hawgs are a lot better with Courtney Fortson, and the Bulldogs still have issues, particularly defending the three and closing out games.
- Ole Miss is good, but their rebounding is not. That has gotten them beat once and nearly got them beat at Georgia.
- Defensive rebounding is a big issue with the Gamecocks. They did well against a weak LSU team, but they need to keep it up. Their upcoming schedule for the next few games will seriously test their NCAA hopes, probably to the breaking point.
- Florida still has toughness issues, particularly in the paint. But if they continue to shoot the perimeter shot well, they may buy time to fix some of their inside problems.
- Alabama is a dangerous team and should not be taken lightly by anyone. They allow too many offensive rebounds, but other than that, they are solid.
- Georgia's turnovers are killing them. If they can get those down to under 20%, this team could win some games.
- LSU cant't shoot straight, but they can guard. Unfortunately, you have to put the ball in the basket to win.
- Auburn cannot shoot the 3, and cannot get to the line. They are allowing almost 100 points per 40 minutes, a sure recipe for disaster.
- Arkansas has got to find a way to get to the line more. They were doing it okay earlier -- what happened?
The SEC is starting to show it's teeth a little, and the road to the NCAA tournament will be tough. Most models I have seen have five teams from the SEC getting to the Big Dance, and from what I've seen, that looks about right. Right now, you have to say that Florida is once again looking like a big time bubble team, but the Ole Miss Rebels could wind up there, too. Those two and South Carolina look like they will fight it out for the fifth spot at this point.