The SEC this season has not been quite as strong as most observers thought, largely due to injuries or suspensions to key players and also to some poor play by teams who were expected to do very well. All in all, the league is doing better than last year at this point, but not much better.
Kentucky, at the moment, is much the best of all the SEC, which you would expect for an undefeated basketball team that has been ranked in the top five all year. The Mississippi St. Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks, who were both expected to be well-placed for an NCAA bid, have been slightly disappointing. The Alabama Crimson Tide so far has been the surprise of the league (a surprise, that is, to anyone not familiar with Anthony Grant's work coaching the Virginia Commonwealth Rams).
The first thing I always like to look at is Ken Pomeroy's page to see how the teams compare based on the statistics of the work they have done so far. I've added a couple of other fields in there just for reference, and you can see that after the jump.
||AdjO||rnk||AdjD||rnk||AdjT||rnk||Next Game||Probable result||AP||Coaches|
|Kentucky||15-0||0-0||0.9516||11||116.3||14||89.7||33||69.7||122||Sat, vs. Georgia||(W, 78-60, 95%)||3||3|
|Tennessee||10-2||0-0||0.9397||16||111.1||40||87.5||19||73.6||23||Wed, vs. Charlotte||(W, 87-70, 92%)||16||15|
|Vanderbilt||11-3||0-0||0.9272||21||111.1||38||89.1||29||70.9||77||Sat, vs. Florida||(W, 71-64, 75%)|
|Florida||11-3||0-0||0.8918||42||105.2||109||87.6||21||68||194||Sat, vs. Vanderbilt||(L, 71-64, 25%)|
|South Carolina||9-5||0-0||0.8039||81||105.9||100||93.7||69||73.7||22||Sat, vs. Auburn||(W, 81-78, 59%)|
|Georgia||8-5||0-0||0.6654||112||104.6||117||98.6||145||64.8||301||Sat, vs. Kentucky||(L, 78-60, 5%)|
|Mississippi St.||12-3||0-0||0.9397||15||110.3||49||86.9||15||68.8||164||Sat, vs. Mississippi||(L, 74-72, 43%)|
|Mississippi||12-2||0-0||0.9157||28||116||15||94.2||75||71.2||66||Sat, vs. Mississippi St.||(W, 74-72, 57%)||14||16|
|Alabama||10-4||0-0||0.8039||82||108.4||67||95.9||98||66.1||267||Sat, vs. Louisiana St.||(W, 66-63, 63%)|
|Auburn||9-6||0-0||0.5994||134||102.8||146||99.2||159||73.5||28||Sat, vs. South Carolina||(L, 81-78, 41%)|
|Louisiana St.||9-5||0-0||0.5621||149||102.5||149||100.3||172||64.4||309||Sat, vs. Alabama||(L, 66-63, 37%)|
|Arkansas||7-8||0-0||0.5145||164||103.6||131||103.1||211||70.1||108||1/14, vs. Mississippi St.||(L, 82-62, 3%)|
Just some quick legend info here -- AdjO and AdjD are adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies respectively. AdjT is adjusted tempo.
By looking at this, we see nothing particularly shocking. The teams that were supposed to be at the top of their respective divisions largely are, with Kentucky leading the pack. A quick side-note as to that observation, how nice is it for order to have been restored to the SEC? The last time UK was at the top of this league other than briefly last year was 2004-05. That was a long, long time ago by my lights.
To continue, 4 SEC teams currently reside in the Pomeroy top 25 and one just outside, and all things considered, that's about right. My biggest disappointment comes with the bottom of the league, which currently has four teams ranked over 100. Not good at all.
Moving on to the SEC RPI and strength of schedule, our chart looks like this (Via Statsheet.com):
|Rank||Team||Wins||Losses||RPI||SOS||SOS Proj||SOS Rnk||SOS Proj Rnk|
The darker the green, the better. The more red, the worse. The ranges for the colors are somewhat arbitrary.
Again, there are no major surprises here. The teams expected to be near the top pre-season still are. The biggest surprise is how low Mississippi State is and how high Alabama is. Florida's RPI is actually worse than Alabama, which is a bit of a surprise. Also, South Carolina seems to be underachieving a bit at this point.
Notice that the Vanderbilt Commodores have the best combination of RPI and SOS. I think Vandy is undervalued overall, because they have played a tougher schedule, even though it has cost them three games, than anyone. That should serve them very well going into the SEC. Unfortunately, Vandy lost three of it's toughest non-conference games, and that will hurt them a bit at the end of the year. Big wins against Missouri and at Arizona will help.
Kentucky, as you can see, has played a weak schedule and doesn't figure to wind up with a particularly strong one. The good news for the 'Cats is that they have beaten all their tough opponents in the pre-season, and that will really serve them well going forward. You would expect that UK would find a way to lose a game or two in the SEC, but the first real chance for that to happen comes at the Florida Gators in six days. After the game this Saturday versus the Bulldogs, the 'Cats go on the road for three out of their next four.
Overall, Kentucky looks to be in a decent position to pull the unlikely and go undefeated in the regular season. I don't think it's particularly likely (Pomeroy rates our chances of an unbeaten season at less than one half of one percent, or less than 1 in 200) because of away games at Vandy and Tennessee, but unless Tennessee gets their best player back, those odds probably increase significantly.
Here is how the SEC compares to other conferences right now (via Statsheet.com):
|Conf||RPI rnk||avg rpi||SOS rnk||avg SOS||W||L||pct||avg||median||hi||low|
It is a bit surprising to see the ACC so low, and the SEC is within striking distance of them. Thati is a little unusual. But the Big East is far and away the toughest conference at the moment.
Finally, we'll look at the SEC's place in the college basketball universe (via Statsheet.com):
There you have it. Going into the SEC season, UK is about to take on the fourth toughest conference in the country, a league which figures to get between four and six bids to the NCAA tournament. Right now, the Wildcats are the heavy favorite to win the SEC, which I think is more than fair, and it looks to me like the SEC this year should be a great place for the Wildcats to sharpen their claws before heading into the post season.