SEC Power Rankings (2/23/21): Alabama steady at No. 1; Hogs, LSU, Mizzou next

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LITTLE ROCK — My weekly SEC Power Rankings (2/23/2021): Alabama maintains a comfortbale 3.5-game lead over Arkansas and LSU entering the 3 final scheduled games of league play, meaning the SEC would have to allow teams to make up league games that were postponed either due to covid-19 protocols or inclement weather, otherwise the Tide has locked up the 2020-21 SEC regular-season title while earning the league’s No. 1 seed for the SEC tournament that is scheduled to run March 10-14 in Nashville, Tenn. With Arkansas hosting both Alabama and LSU in the upcoming week, the pecking order for the top 3 teams in the league standings could be resolved in less than a week. The SEC has 4 ranked teams — No. 6 ‘Bama, No. 20 Arkansas, No. 24 Missouri, and No. 25 Missouri — with two more in LSU and Florida joining that group to give the league 6 teams that seem all but certain to receive NCAA torunament at-large bids in a few weeks.

1. Alabama (18-5, 13-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 8 … the Tide played once last week and had to hold on for an 82-78 home win over Vanderbilt … guards John Petty, Jr. and Joshua Primo struggled shooting the ball, but guards Jaden Shackleford (27 points) and Jahvon Quinerly (15 points) picked up the slack … senior big man Jordan Bruner returned from a long layoff due to injury and had 1 point, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist in 19 minutes … at this point, even a total collapse might not be enough for the Tide to surrender first place in the SEC … ‘Bama plays at Arkansas on Wednesday before playing at Mississippi State on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 1.

2. Arkansas (17-5, 9-4 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 26 … the hottest team in the SEC, the Hogs are on a serious roll having won 7 league games in a row, including a 75-64 home win over Florida in their only game played last week … freshman guard Davonte “Devo Davis” led with 18 points and got scoring support from Moses Moody, Justin Smith, and Jalen Tate in the win over the Gators … Arkansas has finally settled into a top 8 rotation consisting of 5 veterans and 3 freshmen, and for a team that began league play with its calling card being offense, it’s been an emerging defense that has the Razorbacks forging close-call wins  … the Hogs are set to host Alabama on Wednesday and LSU on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 2.

3. LSU (14-6, 9-4 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 27 … the Tigers have won 3 consecutive games, including a 104-80 home victory over Auburn in their only game last week … freshman guard Cam Thomas, all but certain to finish as the league’s scoring leader, led the charge with 27 points in the win over Auburn with backcourt mate Javonte Smart pitching in 16 points and 6 assists, sophomore forward Trendon Watford contributing a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, junior forward Darius Days registernig 17 points, and junior forward dropping his own double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds … LSU leads the SEC in scoring at 83.1 points per game, and maybe there’s enough firepower in Baton Rouge to overcome inconsistent defensive performances … LSU is set to play at Georgia on Tuesday and at Arkansas on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 3.

4. Missouri (14-6, 7-6 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 39 … with senior big man Jeremiah Tilmon on a temporary leave of absence, the Tigers had dropped two consecutive games as part of an overall 3-game losing streak before he returned in time to help Mizzou win at South Carolina, 93-78, on Saturday as the big man finished with a team-high-matching 17 points (5-of-5 field goals and 7-of-7 free throws) in his return … guards Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, and Mark Smith combined for 46 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists in the win, and sophomore forward Kobe Brown had 12 points and 6 rebounds … Mizzou’s NET ranking in the high-30’s seems odd given the team’s resume that includes 4-2 against the NET Top 50 and 5-4 in Quad-1 games … the Tigers will host Ole Miss on Tuesday and Texas A&M on Saturday … previous ranking: tie No. 4.

5. Tennessee (15-6, 8-6 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 17 … the Vols’ roller-coaster continued last week with a 1-1 finish — a 93-73 home win over South Carolina followed by a 70-55 home loss against Kentucky — as the team is 5-5 in its last 10 games … guard Victor Bailey, Jr., scored 29 points (including 7-of-10 shooting from 3) in the win over the Gamecocks, and he followed that up with 18 points to lead his team in the loss against the Wildcats … Tennessee continues to be one of the strongest teams nationally when looking at the NET and AP rankings, but at 5 games behind the top of the league Rick Barnes’ crew is battling for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th seed in the upcoming SEC tournament … Tennessee is set to play at Vanderbilt on Wednesday and at Auburn on Saturday … previous ranking: tie No. 4.

6. Florida (11-6, 7-5 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 29 … the Gators split the week with a 75-64 road loss against Arkansas followed by a 70-63 home win over Georgia on Saturday … guard Tyree Appleby (Jacksonville, Ark.) and big man Colin Castleton were the most productive Gators when looking at both games … Mike White has done an admirable job of leading his team out of the gut-punch that was the early-season loss of preseason SEC Player of the Year pick Keyontae Johnson … Florida is one of 5 teams behind ‘Bama that is battling for a top 4 seed and a double-bye in the upcoming SECT … the Gators play at Auburn on Tuesday before playing at Kentucky on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 6.

7. Ole Miss (12-9, 7-7 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 62 … on the cusp of playing themselves onto the right side of the Bubble, the Rebels laid an egg in their only game last week — a 66-56 home loss against in-state rival Mississippi State … senior guard Devontae Shuler had a rough outing, scoring only 4 points on 1-of-15 field goals shooting … however, junior forward KJ Buffen had his best game in weeks with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists … OM owns 3 Quad-1 wins with a chance to add another this week … Ole Miss plays at Missouri on Tuesday and at Vanderbilt on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 7.

8. Kentucky (8-13, 7-7 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 64 … the Wildcats had lost 7 of 8 games, but have now won 3 in a row after going 2-0 last week with wins at Vanderbilt (82-78) and at Tennessee (70-55) … senior guard Davion Mintz and freshman forward Isaiah Jackson each had a big, productive week to lift up a Wildcats squad that is having a forgettable season in Lexington … barring an SECT title to earn the league’s automatic berth, there will be no NCAAT in ’20-21 for  Big Blue … Kentucky had its mid-week game against Texas A&M postponed but is set to host Florida on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 9.

9. Georgia (13-9, 6-9 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 91 … the Bulldogs split games last week, picking up a win over Jeremiah-Tilmon-less Missouri (80-70) before losing at Florida (80-73) … led by senior guard Justin Kier, the Bulldogs had 5 players score in double figures in the win over the Tigers, while sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler went off for 27 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds in the loss at Florida … the Bulldogs’ NET ranking is nowhere near sniffing Bubble talk, but with 3 Quad-1 wins under their belt the team has proven it can rise up and play role of spoiler … Georgia will host LSU on Tuesday before hosting South Carolina on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 8.

10. Mississippi State (12-11, 6-8 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 84 … the Bulldogs went on the road and took down in-state rival Ole Miss, 66-56, to get revenge on the Rebels who beat the ‘Dogs by a double-digit margin in Starkville earlier in league play … dynamic guard duo of Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart combined for 33 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in the win … MSU had a promising start in league play after a poor non-conference showing, but losers of 6 out of their last 8 league games assures the Bulldogs of an extra long offseason barring a run through the SECT … Molinar, Stewart, and forward Tolu Smith at least give Ben Howland a solid foundation to build on in ’21-22 … MSU will host South Carolina on Wednesday and Alabama on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 12.

11. Auburn (11-12, 5-9 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 71 … the Tigers have lost 4 out of their last 5 games, including a 104-80 thumping at the hands of host LSU in Auburn’s only game last week … freshman guard Sharife Cooper led the Tigers with 26 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in the loss … Auburn started 0-4 in league play before winning 3 of its next 4 (including a home win over Missouri), only to go 1-5 (including a loss against Baylor in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge) in its last 6 games … Auburn hosts Mississippi State on Thursday before playing at LSU on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 10.

12. South Carolina (5-11, 3-9 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 119 … the Gamecocks lost twice last week — 93-73 at Tennessee and 93-78 at home against Missouri — and have now dropped 5 consecutive games since staking an impressive 72-66 road win over then-No. 22 Florida on Feb. 3 … junior wings AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant have been the biggest bright spots for a team that has played only 12 league games (and only 16 total games) … Carolina’s season has been a disappointment, again, as Frank Martin’s program has not done much since a Final Four run in ’16-17 … the Gamecocks go on the road to play at Mississippi State on Wednesday and at Georgia on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 11.

13. Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 123 … the Commodores came oh-so close twice last week, but suffered two 4-point losses (both by the score of 82-78) — home against Kentucky and at Alabama … star sophomores in point guard Scotty Pippen, Jr. (21 ponts, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists) and forward Dylan Disu (29 points and 16 rebounds) came up big against Kentucky, and the duo was up for the challenge again at ‘Bama (Pippen had 24 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds while Disu had 17 points and 15 rbounds) with senior guard Maxwell Evans scoring 18 points … Vandy has been competitive in most of its league games, something that bodes well for the program in the future as long as Pippen and Disu remain in Nashville … the ‘Dores host Tennessee on Wednesday and Ole Miss on Saturday …previous ranking: No. 13.

14. Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 136 … due to covid-19 protocols, the Aggies paused basketball activities and have had 6 consecutive games postponed with at least one more (at Kentucky) postponed in the coming week … the last time A&M faced a league opponent was on Jan. 26, a 78-66 home loss against LSU that was followed by a 68-61 home win over Kansas State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 30 that marked the last time the Aggies played a game … sophomore forward Emanuel Miller is by far the best player for A&M as he averages 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest … A&M is scheduled to play next at Missouri on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 14.

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