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It’s that time of year again where people start to care about basketball. LSU Football has dominated the news cycle in Baton Rouge, so it’s understandable if you’re not caught up to date on what’s going on the hardwood. As conference play approaches, let’s see how things look around the SEC.
Top of the class
As it stands, there are four teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. LSU is the last remaining unbeaten, but Alabama, Tennessee, and Auburn all look equipped to make a run at an SEC title.
Middle of the pack
Four more teams look like they could be formidable NCAA tournament selections. Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, and Mississippi State all add depth to the conference, but it just hasn’t all come together yet.
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LSU opens conference play with Auburn in 12 days. Auburn’s lone loss was in double overtime at the hands of UConn. Their best wins have come against Loyola-Chicago and VCU.
Auburn likes to shoot from deep. In the SEC, only Alabama averages more 3-pointers made per game. Jabari Smith and Wendell Green have been their most reliable shooters thus far. Smith’s 16.9 points per game currently lead the team.
Auburn sits second in the SEC in assists, where Green leads the team with 4.7 per game. They move the ball well and can score from inside and out. It’s hard to spot a weakness on their offense.
Their defense is nothing to ignore either. It’s a unit that ranks 13th in KenPom thanks to their ability to steal the ball and block shots. The big man Walker Kessler averages 3.3 blocks per game.
Auburn will face off against St. Louis and Murray State before hosting LSU.
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Tennessee, much like LSU, has ridden an elite defense this year. KenPom rates the Volunteers defense as the top defense in the country.
They create turnovers and block shots. Their 57.9 points allowed per game are second in the SEC, only behind LSU. They have three guys who are averaging at least one block per game.
What stands out most about Tennessee is their depth. They have nine players who average over 14 minutes a contest.
Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi lead the team in scoring, but a total of eight players score over five a game.
The Volunteers have a tough stretch coming up with games against Memphis, Arizona, and Alabama.
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The Sagarin Ratings currently have Alabama as the second-best team in the SEC, just barely behind LSU.
Last time out, the Crimson Tide lost to Memphis by 14. Before that, they had back-to-back wins over Gonzaga and Houston. Two teams in the KenPom top five.
They are led by their offense which leads the SEC in points per game. They play fast too, using more possessions than anyone else in the conference. They take a lot of shots and they make a lot of shots.
Junior Jaden Shackelford is currently the SEC’s scoring leader. Jahvon Quinerly and Keon Ellis have proven to be solid scoring options as well.
Their defense has struggled, though they’ve given some teams extra possessions by struggling to rebound and create turnovers. Teams have also found some success scoring from inside the arch against the Tide.
Alabama will have chances to right the ship against Jacksonville State and Colorado State before conference play tips off against Tennessee.
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Kentucky is always interesting. They’re the pinnacle of basketball in this conference, at least they’re expected to be. Despite that, there’s always some early-season drama with this group.
They are 7-2 but have lost to the two best teams they have played. All their wins have come against teams outside the KenPom top 100. They are elite on the offensive boards but really struggle to shoot the three.
On defense, they do a good job at defending shots but struggle to create turnovers. Their 6.7 steals a game rank 13th in the SEC.
Oscar Tshiebwe has been a bright spot and could be one of the best players in the SEC. His 14.4 rebounds per game lead the conference.
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After starting 6-0, the Gators have now lost three of four. They have impressive wins over Ohio State and Florida State, but an equally embarrassing loss to Texas Southern.
They can be inefficient from the floor and rank just 9th in the SEC in points per game. Their defense has been something to smile about. Only LSU and Tennessee have done a better job at preventing points.
Florida’s leading scorer Colin Caselton has proven to be one of the better all-around players in the SEC, averaging close to a double-double per contest.
They get South Florida and Stony Brook before opening up conference play.
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Arkansas started 9-0. One could argue they deserved a spot in the top tier. It’s just not clear how good of a team this is considering their best wins are over Kansas State and Cincinnati and their loss came at the hands of Oklahoma, the best team Arkansas has faced thus far.
They are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. Despite that, they still average 81.6 points per night. Fifth-year senior JD Notae is second in the SEC in points, pushing Alabama’s Shackelford.
They rebound well, especially on defense, but have had troubles defending the three. Arkansas could still be a mystery, but answers will emerge as they enter conference play.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
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Mississippi State just made the cut. They are 7-3 with just one top 100 win. However, they sit 41st in KenPom and 23rd in ESPN’s BPI.
Their defense has struggled at times, giving up 3-pointers and failing to create turnovers, but they still rank fourth in the conference and points allowed.
Junior guard Iverson Molinar is one of the top scorers in the SEC, averaging 16.7 a night, dishing out 4.8 assists on the side.
The Bulldogs rebound well on both ends of the court and have tune-up opportunities against Furman and Winthrop before beginning conference play.
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It’s early, but it’s clear Missouri and Georgia won’t factor into anything relevant this season.
Texas A&M could eventually push to be in that middle pack, but that offense needs a lot of work. They are 7-2 and still have plenty of opportunities.
Vanderbilt started 5-1 but has now lost three in a row. They are one of the worst shooting teams in the country but Scotty Pippen should provide some joy for fans.
South Carolina and Ole Miss both have decent out-of-conference records but have suffered some bad losses. The Ole Miss defense could keep them competitive in conference play.