With the SEC basketball season just over 1/3 of the way to completion, it's time to jump back in with our weekly SEC Hoops Power Poll. Not too many surprises this week, with three teams clearly emerging as contenders for the league crown and for top-4 NCAA seeding. After that, we have two teams in solid shape to get an NCAA invite, although both still have work to do to lock down their position or possibly move up the seeding ladder. Beyond that, two other teams are hovering around the bubble conversation, but both will need to pick things up down the stretch to make their case. Luckily for all of these teams, the bottom five teams in the league are much stronger than they were a year ago. That's good news for tournament resumes, but bad news for teams expecting anything but a battle in each and every SEC game.
Here's this week's ballot (poll results have yet to be posted, unfortunately, so you're stuck with my ballot for today).
1. Kentucky (21-1 overall, 7-0 SEC, projected NCAA #1 seed)
'Cats aren't invincible, but they may be the best team in all the land right now. Can anyone catch them before they claim yet another SEC championship? Regardless, they're near a lock for a #1 seed.
2. Vanderbilt (16-5 overall, 5-1 SEC, projected NCAA #4 seed)
The 'Dores are finally rolling after some misfires in non-conference play. They are one of two teams with a legitimate chance of competing with Kentucky for the SEC title, and they may be poised for a big postseason for once.
3. Florida (17-4 overall, 5-1 SEC, projected NCAA #4 seed)
The Gators keep surviving some close calls, and they've had their off nights along the way, but they're still easily one of the top three in the league, and along with Vandy, they're one of only two teams that really has a shot at the league crown.
4. Mississippi State (17-5 overall, 4-3 SEC, projected NCAA #8 seed)
The Bulldogs handled LSU in a close home game but couldn't quite overtake Florida in the O-Dome. That loss probably keeps them out of the SEC title discussion, but they're still in solid shape for an NCAA bid.
5. Alabama (14-7 overall, 3-4 SEC, projected NCAA #7 seed)
The Tide hit rock bottom with an ugly road loss to lowly South Carolina, capping a 4-game losing streak. Fortunately for Bama fans, they bounced back and got a nice home win over a good Arkansas team, and their RPI and SOS numbers are so good they're still in solid shape for a bid if the wins start coming again.
6. Arkansas (15-6 overall 3-3 SEC, projected NIT team)
The young Hogs are a dangerous team that will continue making noise the rest of the way. With their solid record they may can stay in the NCAA conversation along with Ole Miss, but their weak non-conference SOS gives them very little margin for error in league play, especially for a young team that has struggled away from home.
7. Ole Miss (14-7 overall, 4-3 SEC, projected NIT team)
The Rebels let a golden opportunity slip away against Florida at home, but rebounded to take care of South Carolina at home. With only one win over a projected tournament team and three total wins over top-100 teams, they have a lot of work to do
8. LSU (12-9 overall, 2-5 SEC)
The Tigers have a poor league mark, but all five losses have come to teams ranked in the top half of this power poll. They have a solid enough team (and a solid enough RPI) to rebound and perhaps chase an NIT bid with wins against the weaker teams in the league.
9. Tennessee (10-11 overall, 2-4 SEC)
The Vols have had a mini-resurgence in league play after some abysmal results in non-conference play. Their early-season results will likely keep them out of any postseason invites, but they've become a much more dangerous team than many imagined.
10. Auburn (12-9 overall, 2-5 SEC)
In typical fashion, Auburn is playing a feisty brand of basketball late in the season that makes them a tough out for teams that aren't "up" for that kind of game. Their RPI is weak due a a typical poor non-conference performance, so as always they'll play the role of spoiler for teams trying to improve their tournament positioning. Teams like Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Arkansas need to beware.
11. Georgia (10-10 overall, 1-5 SEC)
The 'Dawgs have played a very tough league schedule so far, so there's a chance to improve upon their poor SEC record. Still, there's not a lot of hope here for any postseason play, so it's all about building for the future in Athens.
12. South Carolina (9-11 overall, 1-5 SEC)
The 'Cocks got a big upset win over Alabama at home, but that's not enough to keep them from the cellar for now. The question is, can they win enough the rest of the way to save coach Darrin Horn's job?