With the non-conference out of the way, now is a good time to take a stab at how the final SEC standings will look. Here's my take:
1. Texas A&M- Sure, Kentucky is the popular pick, but $tansbury has worked his magic and brought a lot of talent to College Station, and they have played as well as anybody in the non-conference schedule. They come in with an 11-2 record, including impressive wins over K-State and Baylor. Their two losses were on the road at Arizona State and Syracuse on a neutral site. They have generally beat the teams they should, and by sizable margins.
2. Kentucky- As always, by far the most talented team in the conference. They are 11-2 with a road loss to UCLA and a neutral site loss to Ohio State in New York. They've played a tough schedule, and have big wins over Duke, Arizona State, and Louisville. There is little doubt they will be the best team in the conference going into March, if they aren't already, but I think this young team will slip up a couple of times on the road, especially early in the season. I think we have as good of a chance as anybody to get them next Saturday.
3. South Carolina- Frank Martin's squad is undefeated, but they haven't really played anybody. Their only true away game is a 6 point win in their home state against Clemson, so it's hard to judge what they have right now, but I'll give them credit for convincingly beating the teams on their schedule.
4. Vanderbilt- Sure, they are only 8-5, but their losses are to Kansas, @Baylor, Dayton, @Purdue, and their first game against LSU. They really haven't shown anything to justify their preseason hype, but I've got a hunch Stallings will get it turned around.
5. LSU- Easily the second most talented team in the conference behind Kentucky. They have the best player in the nation and a couple of 4 and 5 stars around him, but unfortunately for them I'm not sure if the Dream team could have even won the bronze if Johnny Jones were coaching them. When they are on, they are unbeatable, but they rarely bring their A game. They are 8-5 with losses to Charleston and Wake Forest, but they are off to a good start getting a road win at Vanderbilt.
6. Alabama- We were preseason picked 13th, but expectations have changed with upset wins over Wichita State, Notre Dame, and a road win at Clemson. All of our losses were to top 30 RPI teams. I think we are all pleased with the position that we are in right now, but we have a brutal January schedule coming up. If we can sniff .500 for the next month, we'll be in good shape to finish in the top half of the SEC which will likely put us squarely on the bubble if not on the right side of it in March. As exciting as things are, we were one possession away from losing not only the Wichita State, Notre Dame, and Clemson games, but also Southern Miss and Jacksonville State. The line between 9-3 with some quality wins and 4-8 with a couple of horrible losses is very thin. I could see us finishing anywhere between 4th and 12th. The key will be to continue to win more of our fair share of close games. I suspect there are more surprising upsets in our future as well as a few disappointing blowout losses along the way.
7. Georgia- The Dogs are 7-4, but not off to a great start with a loss at Florida. Their other losses have all been reasonable, an overtime loss to a strong Chattanooga team, a road loss to Seton Hall, and 2 point loss to Kansas State. They have a veteran team, and Mark Fox seems to have that program finally ready to take the next step.
8. Ole Miss- They've got great senior leadership in Stephan Moody and opening a badly needed, brand new arena. It seems like everything is aligned for the Rebels to make a strong showing this year. They are 10-3, but haven't played the toughest of schedules. Their best win is probably at Memphis. They had a rough tournament in Charleston, losing to George Mason and Seton Hall.
9. Florida- They are 9-4, but they've played a pretty tough schedule. They have a nice win over Oklahoma State, and were competitive at Michigan State. The lost to Purdue by 15 and dropped both of their rivalry games, at home to Florida State and at Miami. I'm not convinced Mike White was the best hire, but we will see.
10. Auburn- The Tigers should be slightly improved over last year, they've got 3 guys who can really play but not much depth after that. Bruce Pearl's recruiting classes are going to have to start producing soon. They are 7-5, but off to a good start in conference play with a win over Tennessee.
11. Arkansas- They are 6-7, but have played a reasonably tough schedule. They've lost to every decent team they've played, although they did take Dayton to overtime on the road. Mike Anderson is probably starting to feel the heat. I expected him to do a lot better there than he has.
12. Tennessee- Rick Barnes will get them turned around eventually, but this will be an adjustment year. They are 7-6, undefeated at home, but winless away from Knoxville. They've at least been respectable in their losses including giving Butler and Gonzaga pretty good games.
13. Missouri- They are 7-6 against a tough schedule, but have not been competitive in their losses against quality competition. I really thought the addition of Mizzou to the SEC would help us in basketball, but that hasn't been the case. Being in the Midwest, with some of the nicest facilities in the conference, there is no reason for them to continue to be a cellar dweller. I suspect Kim Anderson's days are numbered unless there is a drastic turn around.
14. Mississippi $tate- Ben Howland has already started to work his magic on the recruiting trail, but this is a bad team and it will take a year or two before our friends up Highway 82 start seeing some improvement. They are 7-5 and have played a little better of late, but they were blown out against decent competition and also have embarrassing losses to Southern and UMKC on their resume.
Things are wide open, I picked aTm over Kentucky mostly to be a contrarian, but I really can't see anybody else other than the Aggies challenging UK for the crown. There is really not much difference between 3-12.