SEC Power Rankings (12/21/20): Tennessee, Mizzou still on top; LSU & Hogs move up

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By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — My weekly SEC Power Rankings(12/21/20): Four of the league’s 14 teams remain unbeaten with two of those (Tennessee and Missouri) building solid non-conference resumes and the other two (Arkansas and Georgia) playing only at home while feasting on low- and mid-major junk food. Florida pauses non-conference play with star forward Keyontae Johnson recovering from collapse, Kentucky continues to free-fall, Ole Miss dropped its first game, as did Vanderbilt as the Commodores were the latest SEC team to get Richmond’ed, and ‘Bama took one on the chin at home against a proven high-major-hunter from the mid-major ranks.

1. Tennessee (4-0, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the No. 8 Vols devoured Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech last week by a combined winning margin of 95 points, but the real stat with value is that Tennessee held ASU to 38 points and TNTech to 49. Only Cincinnati has scored 50 points or more (56) against the Vols so far this season as Colorado managed only 47 … Oregon transfer Victor Bailey, Jr. and freshmen Jaden Springer provided most of the scoring punch in the two blowout wins … the Vols have home games scheduled against Saint Joseph’s and SC Upstate this week before opening league play at unbeaten Missouri on Dec. 30 … previous ranking:No. 1.

2. Missouri (5-0, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Tigers jumped into the Associated Press Top 25 last week at No. 16 after a 3-point home win over then-No. 6 Illinois, and depsite not playing since then due to a game cancellation against Prairie View, the Tigers jumped to spots to No. 14 in this week’s AP Top 25 … the league’s best resume so far includes wins over then-No. 21 Oregon, a 10-point road win at Wichita State, a home win over 4-3 Liberty, and the aforementioned 81-78 home victory over the Illini … the Tigers were not preseason picks for the top of the league, but they look the part early as head coach Cuonzo Martin returned underrated talents in veteran guards Xavier Pinson (14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists), Dru Smith (14.4 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds), and Mark Smith (15.0 point, including 14-of-29 from 3 for 48.9%), plus sophomore forward Kobe Brown, senior center Jeremiah Tilmon, junior guard Javon Pickett, and senior forward Mitchell Smith of Van Buren all bring production, experience, and impact to the court … the Tigers host a game against Bradley this week before an SEC showdown at home against No. 12 Tennessee in their league opener on Dec. 30 … previous ranking: No. 2.

3. LSU (4-1, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Tigers played only once last week: an 88-66 home win over Sam Houston State as talented guards Javonte Smart and Cam Thomas combined for 44 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists … forwards Trendon Watford (ankle) and Shareef O’Neal (undisclosed) did not play, but junior Darius Days did an had a double-double = 16 points and 10 rebounds … the Tigers are once-again high-octane on offense, and they have won all 4 games by double-digit-margins with a 4-point road loss against Saint Louis (6-1) of the Atlantic-10 conference … LSU had upcoming home games against New Orleans, North Texas, and VCU either canceled or postponed, so it’s conceivable the Tigers’ next game will be at home against Texas A&M in the league-opener on Dec. 29 … previous ranking: No. 4.

4. Arkansas (7-0, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Hogs played only once last week but faced a real test against Oral Roberts on Sunday before a dominant final 12 minutes erased a 12-point second-half deficit as Arkanas pulled away for an 87-76 win … the Hogs won’t face a high-major opponent or their first road test until the start of SEC play … freshman guard Moses Moody of Little Rock is the team’s best player and leading scorer (16.3 points per game), and his 18 points (7-of-12 field goals) and 7 rebounds were a bit in the shadows of double-doubles by senior combo forward Justin Smith (22 points and 17 rebounds) and junior combo guard Desi Sills (16 points and 10 rebounds) in the win over ORU … the SEC’s worst rebounding team a season ago leads the league so far, and the Hogs destroyed a good-rebounding squad in ORU to the tune of 58-32  … one more home game in the non-conference remains against Abilene Christian on Tuesday, marking the Hogs’ only non-conference opponent with a winning record before Arkansas opens league play at Auburn on Dec. 30 … previous ranking: tie No. 5.

5. Florida (3-1, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Gators suffered a heartbreaking blow when preseason SEC Player of the Year pick Keyontae Johnson collapsed in the early going against No. 20 Florida State on Dec. 12, and since then the Gators postponed their remaining 3 non-conference games before the beginning of league play at the end of the month … Johnson’s status from a health standpoint has reportedly improved and is encouraging, but plenty of questions remain as to what happens next with the Gators resuming their season … with Johnson, the Gators had beaten a good Army team, they took down Boston College by 20 points, and they throttled Stetson … Johnson had been averaging 20 points per game, and with uncertainty surrounding his health it means sophomore guards Tre Mann (15.8 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.5 rebounds) and Scottie Lewis (12.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists) must be prepared to step up … the Gators will hit the road for their league-opener at Vanderbilt on Dec. 30 … previous ranking: No. 3.

6. Alabama (4-3, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Tide have played a stronger schedule than most in the league, and they split at home last week against two good mid-major programs (3-point win over 5-2 Furman and a 2-point loss against 6-2 Western Kentucky) … veteran guard John Petty, Jr. struggled shooting and scoring in the two games, but 6-8 senior forward Herbert Jones played well, averaging 17.0 points and 8.0 rebounds … next up for ‘Bama is a home game against East Tennessee State before the Tide open up league play by hosting Ole Miss on Dec. 29 … previous ranking: tie No. 5. 

7. Auburn (5-2, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Tigers played twice at home last week and won both games — 80-63 over Texas Southern and 77-41 over Troy — and now Auburn is on a 5-game winning streak (all during December after starting 1-2 in November) … sophomore wing Allen Flanigan of Little Rock led the way by averaging 16.0 points in the wins over TSU and Troy … Auburn will host Appalachian State this week before opening league play at home against visiting Arkansas on Dec. 30 … previous ranking: No. 7.

8. Georgia (6-0, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Bulldogs passed their first true test of the season, Cincinnati, with a convincing 83-68 home win in their only game played last week … sophomore 5-10 point guard Sahvir Wheeler (12 points and 7 assists), forward Toumani Camara (19 points and 10 rebounsd), senior guard Justin Kier (18 points), and junior guard Tye Fagan (17 points and 9 rebounds) led the way in the win over the Bearcats … Georgia will host Northeastern this week before opening league play at home against Mississippi State on Dec. 30 …previous ranking: No. 12.

9. Kentucky (1-5, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the ‘Cats played only once last week and lost their 5th consecutive game — 75-63 at home against then-No. 22 North Carolina in a game that replaced UCLA on the schedule — and now Kentucky sports the worst record in the SEC … guards Davion Mintz and Brandon Boston, Jr., stepped up with a combined 32 points, but the ‘Cats frtonline starting duo of Olivier Sarr and Isaiah Jackson were held to a combined 5 points and 9 rebounds in the UNC loss … head coach John Calipari didn’t use the words “indefinite suspension” on Monday when he announced via Twitter that freshman wing Cam Fletcher was asked “to take some time and step away from the team” … the ‘Cats host Detroit Mercy before playing at Louisville, then they open league play by hosting South Carolina on Dec. 29 … previous ranking: No. 8.

10. Texas A&M (4-1 , 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Aggies played once last weel — a 69-52 home win over Southeastern Louisiana — as 6-7 sophomore forward Emanuel Miller (20 points and 10 rebounds) continued to be a force offensively and on the glass … the Aggies are playing Wofford today (Monday, Dec. 21) before opening league play at LSU on Dec. 29 … previous ranking: tie No. 9.

tie 11. South Carolina (1-2, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Gamecocks did not play a game last week with games against Wofford and Clemson either canceled or postponed … USC-E has an 11-point neutral-site win over defending American Athletic Conference champion Tulsa, a 16-point neutral-site loss against Liberty, and a 10-point road loss against then-No. 10 Houston … versatile 6-6ish junior guards AJ Lawson (11.3 points per game) and Keyshawn Bryant are back, as is 6-4 sophomore guard Jermaine Couisnard (13.3 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals) and forwards Justin Minaya, Alanzo Frink, and Jalyn McCreary … USC-E will host South Carolina State this week before going on the road to open league play against Kentucky on Dec. 29 … previous ranking: tie No. 9.

tie 11. Ole Miss (4-1, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … OM plaeyd three times last week — double-digits wins over Central Arkansas and Middle Tennessee State, and a 65-62 road loss at Dayton … senior guard Devonate Shuler averaged 14.0 points and Arizona State grad-transfer forward Romello White averaged 11.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in the 2-1 run last week … OM has Tennessee-Martin on the schedule this week before playing at Alabama to begin league play on Dec. 29 … previous ranking: No. 11.

13. Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Commordores split games last week — losing at home against Kentucky-slayer Richmond, 78-67, before defeating Radford at home, 59-50 … sophomore guad Scotty Pippen, jr., has been outstanding (21.5 points and 4.8 assists per game) … 6-9 sophomore Dylan Disu is averaging 11.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game … the ‘Dores are set to play Davidson and Alcorn State before hosting Florida in their league opnener on Dec. 30 …previous ranking: No. 13.

14. Mississippi State (4-3. 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking (N/A) … the Bulldogs played only once last week — an 81-65 win over Central Arkansas — as 6-6 sophomore guard and leading scorer DJ Stweart has 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists … MSU will host Mississippi Valley State before opening league play at Georgia on Dec. 30 … previous ranking: No. 14.

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