I was recently asked to participate in the SEC Basketball Power Poll, which is an incredible honor. It's an honor which, frankly, I have done nothing to demonstrate that I am worthy of.
In that respect, I'm a lot like most of the basketball teams allegedly playing in the SEC this season. The phrase "race to the bottom" just doesn't quite seem to cover the demolition derby that has been SEC basketball 2010-2011. What began with a flurry of embarassing, RPI-killing nonconference losses has shifted seamlessly into a miasma of mutually assured destruction which threatens to dwindle the number of SEC teams in the Big Dance down to a number you can count on one hand. No es bueno.
But, even here in the
Atlantic Sun Sun Belt SEC somebody's gotta come out on top and somebody's gotta dwell at the bottom. Because this is America and competition is what separates us from the commie Russkies and the orangutans (alongside scotch whiskey and post-it notes). So here goes, my ham-handed attempt to rank the teams nominally playing SEC basketball this season.
1) Kentucky: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. The Wildcats came out strong against Mark Fox's Bulldogs then held on to secure a quality home win. Kentucky would not have been my #1 if I'd been a poll participant in previous weeks, but at this point I just don't have anybody else to put here. Cal's 'Cats have some close conference losses, but heck, that's a prerequisite to admission in the SEC this season. There's just no runaway best team in this conference, but if you told me that only one SEC team would win its conference matchup on a given night, I'd guess it would be Kentucky. I'd also not be surprised that 5 other conference matchups ended with both teams losing, because if ever there were a season for that to be possible this would be it. By the way, "the land of the blind" would be a great nickname for the Auburn compliance office, don't you think?
2) Florida: Wins in Athens and Knoxville, even overtime wins, place the Gators slightly ahead of the pack in the SEC East, despite a close loss this weekend on the road at Mississippi State. But I get the sense that Florida is either about to put it together going into the stretch run and possibly position themselves to challenge Kentucky atop the division or suffer a couple of inexplicable losses. I just don't know which is more likely at this point. Some of the mystery should be removed next Saturday when the Gators host Kentucky in Gainesville, probably for the top slot in my Week 5 Power Poll ballot.
3) Georgia: Mark Fox's team is the SEC leader in quality losses. If the last week of Mark Fox's life off the basketball court has mirrored his life on it, I'm assuming that he's a) finished putting together a bicycle for his daughter only to find that the manufacturer forgot to include a chain, and b) bought the first season of Archer on DVD and got home only to find the first season of You're Cut Off in the case instead. Georgia does not have a bad loss all season, and has a couple of fairly impressive wins. Falling in Rupp Arena by 6 in your worst shooting performance of the season, coming off a double overtime midweek loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Georgia is a pretty good basketball team with really bad luck right now. And right now, that's all it takes to be in the top 3 in the SEC. But a midweek showdown on the road against Arkansas looms large, and the result will likely either vindicate my placement of the Bulldogs, or provide the impetus for a steep drop on my week 5 ballot.
4) Tennessee: I struggled mightily over whether to place Tennessee at #3 or #4, especially in light of the Vols recent win over the 'Dawgs. That close triumph aside, I just can't quite get over the Vols' nonconference losses. They're like an itch that I just can't quite scratch. "But those were all solid mid-major teams!" you say. If this were the [insert mid-major conference here] Power Poll that argument would be persuasive, if not dispositive. But such is not the case. Of course Bruce Pearl pressured me to say that those losses didn't really happen, but my scruples and memory won out. Losing by double digits to the Charleston Cougars leaves a mark that takes some time to fade. Like Florida, I could easily see Tennessee trending upward from here on out, but a last-second win over Georgia and just isn't enough to sway me at this point.
5) Alabama: This begins the portion of the program about which I have little or no confidence. Nearly every team from here on down would be credited as unnamed SEC basketball team # 7 if this season is ever made into a movie (Billy Donovan would be played by Steve Buscemi). The Tide have only one loss in conference play and just eviscerated LSU. I presume that I'll be replacing them in this spot with either Mississippi State next week, but for now the Tide are the class of the SEC West. That's kind of like being the best curling team in Aruba, but it will have to do for superlatives this week. Only in the SEC West can a team be the class of the division after losing to Providence and the St. Peter's Peacocks. I've never even heard of the St. Peter's Peacocks.
6) Mississippi State: MSU with Dee Bost at full speed is a different team than without. They demonstrated that Saturday against Florida in Starkville. But some convincing early season losses (like the one I watched in Athens) preclude me from ranking the Bizarro Bulldogs in the top 5.
7) Arkansas: While the Razorbacks do own a win over 'Bama they have also suffered a loss to LSU (an ugly looking team) and Florida (a good looking team which dealt Arkansas an ugly 32 point loss). Now, as if I wasn't confused enough by Pelfrey's band of wild pigs, they go and upset Vandy in Nashville. I think Vandy will have a better season that Arkansas, but Arkansas had the better week.
8) Vanderbilt: Which is the real Commodore squad? The one that solemnly dispatched Georgia in Memorial Gym, or the one that was outrebounded and outgunned by Arkansas in that same notoriously tough venue yesterday? For this week I'm placing the Commodores behind the Razorbacks, but I have absolutely no confidence that those teams will vindicate my choice going forward.
9) South Carolina: After losing at home to Auburn they're lucky I didn't rank them #3 in the Atlantic Sun Power Poll. Wow, that was a stinker. You lose to Auburn at home and you take what the Power Poll voters give you, Darrin Horn.
10) Ole Miss: There's no shame in losing to Tennessee. There is a bit in losing to the Vols by 17, at home, while shooting 26% from the field. The Rebels tore through their fluffy nonconference slate, but with the exception of a solid win at LSU, have been exposed in SEC play, including in double digit losses to Georgia, Vandy and Tennessee in the past two weeks.
11) LSU: Thank God for the WarPlainsTigerNonProfitPhilanthropists, eh Bayou Bengal fans? That being said, Auburn's dominant win over the Gamecocks in Columbia is making me re-evaluate things. A lot of things. You're on neaux-tice, LSU.
12) Auburn: Holy hand grenades, Batman. The other night my wife changed the channel on the television to The Biggest Loser. It took me 10 minutes to figure out that the overweight people crying uncontrollably were not the home crowd at an Auburn basketball game, and that the title of the show wasn't what Lincoln Financial is now calling the SEC West game of the week. Then the Aubbies beat South Carolina on the road by 15. I do not know how to process this. It was like watching a dachsund play Moonlight Sonata on the tuba. Do. Not. Understand. That being said, it's gonna take a lot more than that to make me forget Tony Barbee's squad losing to Campbell and Jacksonville.
Your criticisms, questions and outright mockery are welcome in the comments. Until later . . .