The season is flying by. Selection Sunday is a little less than 8 weeks from today. Will our beloved Crimson Tide hear their name called? That remains to be seen, but they've still got a puncher's chance. Something we couldn't say this time last season.
I figure we can post a power ranking here every couple of weeks to create discussion, name-calling, silent nods of disapproval, etc. Please feel free to share your own power rankings in the comments section.
1. Kentucky - The safest bet in the conference. The Wildcats had some struggles to open SEC play, but have won their past two games by a combined 71 points, including Saturday's dismissal of Alabama by 22. This team is good enough to take nights off and survive. And when they play their best, forget about it. Unfortunately, the dominance Kentucky has shown so far this season has put them in a corner with the media and their own fans. Anything less than a national championship and this season will be seen as a disappointment.
2. Georgia - You could put any number of teams in this spot. Seven teams, including Georgia, currently sit at 2-2 as we begin the third week of conference play. The league desperately needs a few teams to distance themselves from the pack over the next couple of weeks in order to aid the chances of increased representation in the NCAA tournament. For now, I'll put Georgia here. They've got a solid resume. An RPI in the top 30. Good wins over Seton Hall (RPI: 18) and at Kansas State (currently in 1st place in the Big 12). They started 0-2 in league play, but bounced back with a win at Vanderbilt and an impressive showing this past weekend against Florida. Not a flashy team, but solid enough to pick up double digit victories in conference and make the NCAA Tournament.
3. Florida - The Gators challenged themselves in the non-conference, but didn't pick up any quality wins (and a loss to Florida State - RPI: 133 - is going to stick). As a result, Florida probably needs to win at least 12 games in SEC play to put themselves on the bubble. They're off to a good start at 3-1 in league play, but two of those wins were home wins over Mississippi State and Auburn, two teams not expected to finish anywhere near the top of the standings. Fortunately for Florida, they seem to be improving, and they're as healthy as they've been all season. I'm not sure Florida has enough firepower to return to the NCAA tournament, but I'm not ready to count them out either.
4. Ole Miss - This team is one of several in the league that is the epitome of an enigma. Ole Miss has a top 50 RPI (46) despite home losses this season to Charleston Southern (RPI: 187), Western Kentucky (RPI: 72) and TCU (RPI: 150). They've offset those losses with a neutral court win vs Cincinnati (RPI: 28), and a nice road win at Oregon (RPI: 92), and a very nice win this past week at Arkansas (RPI: 31), in which they scored 96 points. They also took Kentucky to OT at Rupp, and probably win that game if one of their top players, Stefan Moody, doesn't struggle with cramping. If this team can be more consistent, they're going to punch their ticket rather easily come March.
5. Arkansas - For a moment, it looked like the inconsistency that has been at the heart of this program under Mike Anderson was a thing of the past. The Razorbacks were 13-2, 2-0 in league play with an impressive win at Georgia to open league play, and they were ranked #19 in the AP poll. And then last week happened. It began with a loss at Tennessee in which Arkansas played rather listlessly for 38 minutes, and continued on Saturday when they allowed Ole Miss to score 96 in Bud Walton. All of a sudden Arkansas has lost two straight and doesn't look like the automatic dancer they once did. The resume is still in good shape, but Arkansas can't afford to go into the tank the way they did late last season when it appeared they had a tournament bid within reach. The game with Alabama on Thursday suddenly looms large for both teams.
6. LSU - Like Ole Miss, LSU has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle. They may be the most talented team outside of Kentucky, but for all of their moments of greatness, there have been just as many lapses in focus that have cost them two games (Missouri, A&M) that they controlled, and almost cost them another one in an overtime win against Georgia. Their resume is in good shape so far with three wins against the current RPI top 50, but they need to play to their strengths and with a greater sense of urgency if they're going to reach their potential.
7. Alabama - It was a rough week for our guys as they lost by 2 at South Carolina, and then had the unfortunate experience of facing Kentucky's A game. The RPI remains respectable (52), but the margin for error is growing thin. Somehow, someway, Texas A&M is in the top 40 of the RPI (39) so Bama's win over the Aggies to start conference play counts as a top 50 win as of today. UCLA has also recovered out west, and their current RPI of 58 is also propping up Bama's resume. And that road win at Tennessee looks better and better. But I don't think more than 4 - maybe 5 - teams reach the NCAA Tournament from the SEC so our beloved Crimson Tide have work to do.
8. Texas A&M - The Aggies are an intriguing team. If there's one team that could put together a run and be a surprise team in the bubble conversation come March, it's these guys. Since their leading scorer Jalen Jones has returned to the team, A&M is 2-0, including a nice win at LSU on Saturday. Very much like Alabama in that they have no bad losses, but need to accumulate more quality wins to have a real shot in March.
9. Tennessee - You have to give Donnie Tyndall credit. He has very little depth or size, and yet Tennessee continues to compete, currently tied for 2nd in the league at 3-1. Two of those wins were against struggling Missouri and Mississippi State, but both wins came on the road, which always counts for something. They also have a win over Arkansas and an RPI just outside the top 50 (55). If Tennessee keeps winning, they will be one of the most surprising stories in college basketball this season.
10. South Carolina - That win over Iowa State seems a long time ago. Proving once again that momentum isn't all it's cracked up to be (Carolina won seven straight games coming into conference play), the Gamecocks are off to a sluggish 1-3 start in conference play. Three of their next four are at home, providing an opportunity for South Carolina to get back into the conference discussion. It won't be easy though as Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia are all playing good basketball right now.
11. Auburn - 10-7 and 2-2 at this point in January wouldn't be cause for celebration for many Power 5 programs around the country, but many of those teams probably didn't spend the last four years toiling at the bottom the way Auburn has. I'll give the Auburn fans credit. They're buying tickets, they're coming to games, they're being loud. As a result, Auburn has a nice home court advantage in its favor right now. Keep winning their home games, steal a road game or two, and Auburn will be no worse than knocking at the NIT's door. The immediate schedule presents an opportunity to string together some wins (next four: Mississippi State, @Alabama, A&M and what should be an interesting game at Tennessee).
12. Vanderbilt - This young Vandy team had a solid non-conference season, and beat Auburn in their conference opener. Since then, it's been rough. Three straight losses capped by a loss in Starkville to a Mississippi State team that is, once again, an RPI killer. As a result, Vandy's RPI is now in the triple digits (117), as they travel to Rupp Arena tonight to play Kentucky. Conference play is brutal, man.
13. Missouri - I thought the Tigers took a step back in their last game. A home game with Tennessee seemed like a winnable game for this young, but talented in spots, Missouri team. Instead, Tennessee outplayed them and dropped Missouri to 1-3 in the conference. New head coach Kim Anderson will have to work overtime to keep this young team from phoning in the rest of the season. I still think the future is bright for this program under Anderson, but can they salvage something from this season?
14. Mississippi State - It's okay to be an SEC basketball fan and hate Mississippi State this season. Why? Because with a current RPI at 219, they are the one team in the conference right now that could seriously screw up a team's postseason hopes by beating them (Missouri is trending that way as well). State picked up their first conference win on Saturday over Vanderbilt. Vandy probably wasn't an NCAA tournament team prior to that loss, but if a team from the SEC happens to find itself on the bubble come March, and one of their losses was to Mississippi State, go ahead and pop the bubble.