Week 3 of conference play marked the end of a third of the Southeastern Conference’s expanded schedule. With six games in the books, we rank ‘em and grade ‘em in this edition of SEC Basketball Roundup.
1. Florida (16-2, 6-0 SEC)
Florida could not have begun conference play any more impressively, dominating all six opponents by a whopping 26.5-point average. A balanced offense and suffocating defense has the Gators ranked atop the SEC in both categories. Incredibly, Florida has allowed an average of 48.3 points in the opening — a figure 10 digits less than the second best defense in the conference. In Week 3, Florida slugged through a 17-point rout of UGA and then throttled Mississippi State.
Next: South Carolina (1/30), Ole Miss (2/2)
2. Ole Miss (17-2, 6-0)
Had the Gators not busted the grading curve, the surprising Rebels would be Valedictorian of the opening. Ole Miss has kept pace with Florida, joined atop the SEC with a perfect 6-0 mark. Propelled largely by its audacious gunner, Marshall Henderson, the Rebels have suddenly become a fun team to watch. Joined by Murphy Holloway and Jarvis Summers — Henderson and Co. are looking more legitimate each passing week. However, what has made them great may also be an Achilles’ heel. The gunning Rebels are prone to poor shot selection and lapses in offensive discipline. Despite being second only to Florida in scoring, they slip to the middle of the pack in field goal percentage. The second begins with two very telling tests for Ole Miss.
Next: Kentucky (1/29), at Florida (2/2)
3. Missouri (15-4, 4-2)
This mark is likely generous, as Missouri has certainly failed to meet expectations. However, at 4-2 the Tigers have seemingly licked its metaphorical wounds, and may also be healing physically. Laurence Bowers has been sorely missed, but is set to return in the coming games. Still, even has absence can’t offset the apparent mismatch that played out in Gainesville. Though ranked third scoring offense, Missouri’s defense has yielded far too many easy baskets. The Tigers rank eighth in points allowed, and a lowly 11th in field goal percentage defense. Week 3 allowed the Tigers to slip by South Carolina and pummel and weak Vanderbilt squad. Missouri must improve on the road, going winless in its early away contests.
Next: at LSU (1/30), Auburn (2/2)
4. Alabama (12-7, 4-2)
Alabama looked poised to turn the corner, having capped a four-game winning streak with a win over Kentucky. But the proverbial tide turned, and the team’s winning ways were washed out by a somewhat controversial loss to Tennessee. Grant’s team has been solid defensively, ranking behind only Florida in scoring defense. In its four conference victories, Alabama has conceded an average of only 53 points. Surprisingly, the Tide has struggled on the boards — losing the rebounding battle by an average of over four per game.
Next: Arkansas (1/31), at Vanderbilt (2/2)
5. Kentucky (13-6, 4-2)
Depending on one’s expectations for this Wildcats team, the grade may be viewed as either too high or too low. But when viewed with more metered metrics than the preseason prognosticators, Kentucky has been — well, OK. Three of their four wins have come against rather lowly competition — LSU, Vanderbilt and Auburn. But hey, that is the state of the conference. The Wildcats rank high in scoring offense (fourth) and rebounding margin (third), and not surprisingly lead the conference in blocked shots. But they have struggled mightily taking care of the ball, ranking next to last in turnover margin. And do not expect to see many of those annoying 3-point, eyeglasses gestures. Through six games, Kentucky has made the least in the conference — a mere 27.
Next: at Ole Miss (1/29), at Texas A&M (2/2)
6. Tennessee (10-8, 2-4)
The Volunteers represent the conference’s under-achieving, poor-performing student who seems capable of so much more. At 2-4, Tennessee was on the verge of flunking out, but a narrow victory over Alabama kept hope flickering for a resurgent second. The Volunteers have floundered in some of the most fundamental aspects of the game — missing free throws, shooting abysmally from the arc and turning the ball over. A bit of good news: Jordan McRae ranks second in scoring, dropping in nearly 21 points per game.
Next: Vanderbilt (1/29), at Arkansas (2/2)
7. Arkansas (12-7, 3-3)
Grade: B+ / F-
Arkansas seemingly dresses two different teams — one for home games, the other for away contests. Thus, we will provide two different grades, with the latter reflecting a miserable failure. Kidding aside, the Razorbacks have redefined road ineptitude, going winless not only while travelling within the conference, but also on the season. Fayetteville has hosted 12 victories and a mere loss to Syracuse. Meanwhile, the Hogs are a most welcomed visitor, losing to Texas A&M, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Arkansas leads the SEC in turnover margin, with an impressive plus-6 figure per game. But that is often neutralized, particularly on the road, by poor rebounding. In its three conference losses, the Razorbacks have lost the battle of the boards by a total of 44 rebounds.
Next: at Alabama (1/31), Tennessee (2/2)
8. South Carolina (12-7, 2-4)
Beneficiaries of a grading curve that expected little from South Carolina, the Gamecocks receive passing marks for the first. At 2-4, they have shown signs that Frank’s fury may be taking effect. A recent rout of Arkansas showed a bit more offensive discipline and domination on the backboard. But even that contest yielded too many late turnovers — a trait typical of group too often forcing offense. The Gamecocks typically defend well, especially from the arc where they lead the SEC in lowest percentage allowed.
Next: at Florida (1/20), Georgia (2/2)
9. Georgia (8-11, 2-4)
In fairness, this is not a talented group and it could be argued that a 2-4 mark represents over-achievement at this stage. But Georgia is a near failure in all categories. The Bulldogs rank dead last in scoring offense, and have failed to find any complement to Caldwell-Pope. Georgia also struggles defensively, and allows SEC opponents the highest 3-point conversion rate in the conference. Still, they have managed two victories, including a road win versus the Aggies. The Bulldogs star guard notched 22 points in that win.
Next: Auburn (1/30), at South Carolina (2/2)
10. Vanderbilt (8-10, 2-4)
For the typically strong Vanderbilt program, this season-start represents a failure, but hardly one unexpected. Coach Kevin Stallings lost everything from a talented, deep and veteran roster — leaving him to fighting just to be competitive. To their credit, the Commodores have sporadically been able to do so. Prior to getting obliterated by Missouri, Vanderbilt fought Kentucky and Ole Miss to the wire, and beat South Carolina and Auburn. Vanderbilt plays reasonable defense, but simply can’t shoot — not from the field, nor the free throw line. They rank next to last and dead last in those categories respectively.
Next: at Tennessee (1/29), Alabama (2/2)
11. Auburn (8-11, 2-4)
Tiger fans were unexpectedly giddy after a 2-0 conference start, but the house of cards collapsed, and so too did Auburn’s grade. Since beating LSU and South Carolina, the Tigers have dropped games to Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Offensively, they have been sound — sharing and shooting the ball relatively well. But they are paper tigers on defense, yielding 72.2 points per game. That figure is topped only by Mississippi State.
Next: at Georgia (1/30), at Missouri (2/2)
12. Texas A&M (12-7, 2-4)
Similar to Auburn only in record and start to conference play, the Aggies would otherwise provide the perfect complement to the team ranked one spot above. Texas A&M plays sound defense, but unless playing Kentucky — can’t find the hoop. If that 83-point anomaly at Rupp Arena is removed from the equation, the Aggies have averaged a mere 54 points per game. In four consecutive losses, they have scored an abysmal 50.5 points per game. Up next is the very generous Mississippi State defense. If the Aggies do not score in that test, it is dunce cap time.
Next: at Mississippi State (1/30), UK (2/2)
13. LSU (10-7, 1-5)
A close win over the Aggies is squeezed between 5 conference losses. The only thing saving LSU from abject failure is an admirable effort to compete. Outside of being routed by Florida, LSU has been able to keeps its claws in every game — including a five-point defeat at Rupp and an overtime loss to South Carolina. But a 1-5 record ranks the Tigers dead last in conference standings, a spot they possess in many statistical categories as well.
Next: Missouri (1/30), at Mississippi State (2/2)
14. Mississippi State (7-11, 2-4)
Ugh. There is no “A for effort” with this squad. Unlike the teams above, which have at least shown glimmers of hope, effort or competitiveness — Mississippi State has seemingly “Lost” it all. And yup, that is “Lost” with a capital “L”. In is four-game conference skid — wait, “skid” is not the right word. In its four-game crash-and-burn, the Bulldogs have lost by an average of 27 points. In 11 losses, Mississippi State has been bested by double-digits nine times. The Bulldogs can’t score, defend, rebound or take care of the ball.
Next: Texas A&M (1/30), LSU (2/2)