The days and weeks of the SEC basketball season are sliding away, and with them go the hopes and dreams of a handful of SEC teams who now appear less and less likely to be headed to the NCAA basketball tournament. Some are feeling resignation over their place in the pecking order. Some are feeling a twinge of regret over missed chances. Some are even feeling outright despair and self-loathing (hint: that last one's Auburn 'cause they suck at basketball this year). And some are simply pleased with their place in the roundball firmament. Let's see who's who in this week's power poll ballot:
Games watched and/or followed via television, Game Tracker, and radio whether live, in Deee Veee Aaar speed, or through a cold-induced haze: LSU at Ole Miss, Florida at South Carolina, Xavier at Georgia, Kentucky at Vanderbilt, LSU at Arkansas, Alabama at Vanderbilt, Georgia at South Carolina, Tennessee at Florida.
1) Florida: The Gators have been easily the most consistent squad in the SEC of late. Are they blowing teams out? No. But wins are wins, Florida is the only team in the conference with 20 of them, and is yet to lose during the month of February.
2) Alabama: I have a hard time penalizing any squad for a 4 point loss on the road in the SEC. Especially at Memorial Gym, where Vandy has been a buzzsaw all year. A completely different team than they were the first few weeks of the season, Alabama is 8-2 in conference and should be favored in every game from here on out with the exception of their March 1 road trip to Gainesville. A good conference tournament showing could make the Tide a top 6 tournament seed. The St. Peter's Peacocks say "you're welcome".
3) Vanderbilt: I've chided the Commodores repeatedly over the discrepency between their play at home and away. But at a certain point I have to acknowledge that on a boat, with a goat, in a house, with a mouse, the 'Dores are winning a good number of basketball games. What does it say that I was more surprised about their Thursday win over Alabama than their Saturday triumph over Kentucky?
4) Tennessee: The Volunteers are losers of 3 in a row and will have to win 5 out of their final 6 just to get to the 20 win plateau. Would the last couple of weeks have been different with Bruce Pearl not suspended for misleading investigators and a healthy Scotty Hopson? Probably. And if my Aunt had an Adam's apple she'd be my uncle.
5) Georgia: Xavier is a tournament-quality team with 3 consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances, so it's not so much that Mark Fox's squad lost to the Musketeers. It's that the Hoop 'Dawgs lost to them at home and looked pretty crappy in doing it. The 'Dawgs' road win at South Carolina was not terribly pretty (especially during a sloppy second half), but it was absolutely necessary to keep their tournament hopes alive. Am I excited about the direction in which the Georgia basketball program is headed? Sure. But I don't think we'll look back on the 2010-2011 Bulldogs and say they overachieved given the talent on the roster.
6) Kentucky: At this point anyone placing the Wildcats in one of the top 4 slots in the SEC is doing so either reflexively, lazily, or both. The win over Tennessee in Rupp was a good one. The problem is it's Kentucky's only win so far in the entire month of February. This is an incredibly talented group of individuals who just do not play fundamentally sound team basketball at times, especially late in SEC road games, a fact which was on vivid display in the Vanderbilt loss on Saturday. The good news for Wildcat fans is that most of those talented individuals might pull it together in March and will be back next season, with a year of experience under their belt. Unless they just go ahead and jump to the NBA anyway and Coach Calipari has to start all over again. Oh bother.
7) Arkansas: Eviscerated LSU over the weekend, but then, who hasn't? Arkansas befuddles me, because when they step on the court I don't know if I'll be watching the team that won at Vandy two weeks ago or the team that went 0-for-Mississippi last week.
8) Ole Miss: Dropped a weekend contest against Alabama to snap a 3 game winning streak. With a pair of games against Auburn, and one each against South Carolina, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Alabama, 20 wins is not out of the question for the Black Bears. Let's all raise a glass to Andy Kennedy!
9) Mississippi State: Lost to Auburn over the weekend. That's not an insult, it's a fact. Ok, I guess it's an insulting fact.
10) South Carolina: Immediately after watching the Gamecocks' first half effort aginst Georgia on Saturday, I'd have rank them 13th if I could. It was, without a shadow of doubt, the worst half of basketball I've seen in the SEC this season. Until the Bulldogs' half-assed, lackadaisical second half which almost allowed the Gamecocks to win anyway.
11) Auburn: I'm not saying Tony Barbee won't lead the WarTigerAtlantaAreaChurchImprovers back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. I'm just saying he won't do it this season. Next year ain't lookin' so hot either. But for one week at least, LSU appeared even more monumentally terrible than their Tiger brethren in outer Opelika. So kudos to you, guys. You've earned this one.
12) LSU: Courtside seats to a double elimination tournament among the bottom three teams in the SEC would be a suitable replacement for incarceration at Guantanamo Bay, if it didn't violate every human rights treaty to which the U.S. ever subscribed. South Carolina, LSU and Auburn are collectively a total trainwreck right now. Order them however you want to, because in the end it doesn't really matter whether the caboose, the dining car or the engine goes over the cliff first. In the end it's still a bloody, mangled mess.
As usual, helpful suggestions and outright mockery are welcomed and encouraged in the comments. Until later . . .