SEC basketball power rankings: Balance apparent among league’s divisions

With conference play set to begin on Dec. 30, SEC basketball teams will spend the rest of the holiday season putting the finishing touches on their non-league resumes.

Thirteen of the 14 schools boast a winning record — a fact that will change when they start beating up on each other. Until then, let’s rank them all in our power rankings this week. Unlike in football, these rankings reflect a very balanced battle among teams in the SEC East and West divisions.

1. Texas A&M

Record: 9-1

Take: The Aggies debut in the top spot based on strength of schedule. They hold a pair of wins over Top 25 schools (West Virginia and USC) and a three-point loss to Arizona is the only blemish on their ledger. Texas A&M should be 11-1 when it opens league play at Alabama on Dec. 30.

2. Kentucky

Record: 9-1

Take: The Wildcats haven’t exactly faced a murderous early-season schedule, but their ceiling is likely the highest in the SEC. Their only loss was to No. 4 Kansas, and they’ll be tested again against UCLA and Louisville in the next 12 days.

3. Arkansas

Record: 8-2

Take: We’re not sure what happened in a 91-65 loss to Houston, but aside from that dark day in Texas, the Razorbacks have looked pretty good this season. Arkansas has won three straight since that game, including a 16-point win over a ranked Minnesota squad.

4. Tennessee

Record: 7-2

Take: The Volunteers let one get away in a narrow loss to North Carolina in Knoxville on Sunday. It was their second close loss to a top 10 school (Villanova) so far this season. Tennessee won’t get to ease into the league slate, either, as it visits Arkansas.

5. Auburn

Record: 9-1

Take: Bruce Pearl’s squad has been making hay against a soft schedule, but it will be interesting to see if the Tigers carry over this success into the conference schedule. A balanced attack, led by Bryce Brown’s 16.3 points per game, will help.

6. Missouri

Record: 9-2

Take: Missouri has reeled off four consecutive wins since an 83-79 loss to West Virginia, and already has topped its win total from last season. The Tigers will square off with Illinois on Saturday in their final tune-up before league play.

7. Florida

Record: 6-4

Take: No SEC school has faced a tougher schedule than Florida, as the Gators have played three games against ranked foes and three more against Power 5 schools. Still, losses to Loyola-Chicago and Clemson are a bit concerning.

8. Mississippi State

Record: 9-1

Take: We’d be more excited about the Bulldogs’ 9-1 start if it didn’t come against a schedule ranked 237th in the nation. Still, it’s the best start for Mississippi State since the 2003-04 season, and the Bulldogs will enter the SEC portion of their schedule with a ton of confidence.

9. Alabama

Record: 7-3

Take: Avery Johnson’s team has three losses by a total of 14 points so far this season, but the Tide are expected to add their leading scorer from last season, Braxton Key, back to the mix this week. The sophomore scored 12 points per game last season.

10. South Carolina

Record: 8-2

Take: The new-look Gamecocks have not really stretched themselves schedule-wise this season, but a win over a better-than-expected Clemson team Tuesday could change all that.

11. Georgia

Record: 7-2

Take: The Bulldogs have put together a solid season thus far, and have the chance to add to that this week with games against Georgia Tech and Temple.

12. LSU

Record: 6-3

Take: A basket in the final seconds doomed the Tigers in an 83-82 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Saturday, ending a three-game winning streak. LSU has three winnable games before it opens SEC play at home against Kentucky on Jan. 3.

13. Ole Miss

Record: 5-5

Take: The Rebels started fast, but have faded of late, dropping four of their last five games. Three losses at home this year have come in overtime, prompting coach Andy Kennedy to say, “Disaster. This is a disaster, and I’m responsible for it.”

14. Vanderbilt

Record: 3-7

Take: Vanderbilt has played a difficult schedule — and it has the record to prove it. While we admire the Commodores’ courage in choosing their opposition, their only wins have come against Austin Peay, UNC Asheville and Radford. It’s tough to place them anywhere else.

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