With the regular season now complete, this will be the final installment of the SEC Power Poll. As such, I feel it's important to look back at what each team has done over the course of the entire season, not just within SEC play. Teams are being reminded this week of just how important those non-conference games were. Ole Miss has a good shot to make the Dance thanks to their strong play early in the year despite a middling SEC performance. Florida has a good chance of not making the Dance thanks to some very bad losses suffered in non-conference play despite a pretty good SEC performance. And all three of the SEC bubble teams--Ole Miss, Florida, and Mississippi State--should be cursing Arkansas and Auburn for the damage their non-conference woes did to the strength of the conference overall and their tournament resumes in particular. With that, and some surprising results from the final week of play, here's my much-altered ballot...
1) Kentucky (14-2 SEC, #4 RPI) - SEC champions. #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Enough said.
2) Vanderbilt (12-4 SEC, #20 RPI) - SEC runner-up. Top 20 team nationally. Swept Tennessee. Should have a top-4 seed in the tournament.
3) Tennessee (11-5 SEC, #13 RPI) - The third SEC team locked into an NCAA bid. Might could argue their win over #1 Kansas bumps them over Vandy but you have to respect Vandy beating them twice in a close contest between the two for the #2 spot in this poll.
4) Florida (9-7 SEC, #53 RPI) - The most likely of the three bubble teams to dance. I give them the nod over the other two due to playing more tough league games against East teams. Their big win over Michigan State was cancelled out by an embarrassing loss to South Alabama.
5) Ole Miss (9-7 SEC, #56 RPI) - In comparing them to Mississippi State, they had identical league records against the same schedule, but Ole Miss's non-conference performance was significantly better. They have a better chance than MSU of earning a bid at this point.
6) Mississippi State (9-7 SEC, #69 RPI) - Despite finishing #1 in the West and sweeping Ole Miss, their low RPI indicates just how steep a hill they need to climb to earn a bid and just how mediocre both their non-conference schedule and non-conference results were.
7) South Carolina (6-10 SEC, #82 RPI) - They have essentially the same conference record as the next four teams below them, but their RPI and big wins over Kentucky and at Vandy separate them from the group. It was a tough call putting them over Bama despite the Tide's head-to-head win and the fact that Alabama was one game better in non-conference play, but their SEC record is more impressive given that they played more games against the tougher East division.
8) Alabama (6-10 SEC, #98 RPI) - Bama's fairly solid non-conference performance separates them from Auburn and Arkansas here (see RPI for confirmation). They were one game better than Georgia in league play despite losing in Athens, and were one game better than the Bulldogs in non-conference play to boot. Bama could easily be anywhere 7-9. I had them 7th at first but decided to change at the last second. Feel free to talk me back into 7th.
9) Georgia (5-11 SEC, #99 RPI) - Despite the second-worst record in SEC play, the Bulldogs were forced to play against a tougher SEC slate than Arkansas or Auburn and they were much better overall on the year and have a much higher RPI. Were it not for the embarrassing loss to LSU, they would probably be two spots higher on my list.
10) Arkansas (7-9 SEC, #143 RPI) - They had the 7th-best record in SEC play, but one or two extra conference wins doesn't make up for the shame they brought to the whole league with their impersonation of a major conference team prior to January. I don't care if they were without their best player during that time. Other SEC teams have to pay the price for their low RPI, so they have to pay the price for it as well.
11) Auburn (6-10 SEC, #141 RPI) - Sure, they had the same SEC record as South Carolina and Alabama and were one game better than Georgia, but you can't erase the stench of a sub-par non-conference performance against a sub-par non-conference schedule with a few late-season wins. Their RPI indicates just how far behind those other teams they were in their non-conference results.
12) LSU (2-14 SEC, #222 RPI) - The lowest RPI rating I can ever remember an SEC team having.
As always, suggestions will be taken into account for the final ballot.