SEC Power Rankings (01/04/21): Four league unbeatens fall; Gators, Tide shine

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LITTLE ROCK — My weekly SEC Power Rankings (01/04/2021): Four of the league’s 14 teams came into the week unbeaten (Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia) and all four lost on their homecourts, while both Alabama and Florida are 2-0 in SEC play (the Gators start hot despite the playing without preseason SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson), and Kentucky snapped its 6-game losing streak with a double-overtime win in its league opener. After the top 6 teams, the rest of the league is almost indistinguishable in terms of pecking order of whose mediocrity is slightly better than the rest.

1. Tennessee (7-1, 1-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 3 … the then-No. 8 Vols opened SEC play on the road in what was anticipated to be a showdown only to punish then-No. 12 Missouri, 73-53, before coming home to Knoxville and suffering a 71-62 loss against Alabama … versatile guard Santiago Vescovi, defensive whiz Yves Pond, and big man John Fulkerson combined for 39 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Mizzou in yet another impressive defensive performance, but against ‘Bama the Vols struggled to stop oenetration as the Tide were able to drive and kickout and ended up making 10-of-20 from 3 … the Vols host Arkansas on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed by a road game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Jan. 9 … previous ranking: No. 1.

2. Missouri (7-1, 1-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 10 … the Tigers may have fallen far and hard, 73-53 against Tennessee, in the only game between ranked league teams in their opener, but they got their revenge on the road against then-unbeaten Arkansas, 81-68, on Saturday as Mizzou manhandled the Hogs in the paint with senior big man Jeremiah Tilmon (6-10, 260) more than doubling his season-high in scoring with 25 points to go with 11 rebounds that were part of a plus-15 advantage on then glass for the Tigers (51-36), who also won points-in-the paint (34-22) … guard Xavier Pinson slashed his way to 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in the win … Missouri goes on the road to play Mississippi State on Tuesday before returning home to host LSU on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 2.

3. Florida (5-1, 2-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 22 … Florida had not played in 18 days following SEC Player of the Year pick Keyontae Johnson’s collapse in the early going against then-No. 20 Florida State on Dec. 12, but after resuming their season without Johnson the Gators responded by winning their first two SEC games last week — 91-72 on the road against Vanderbilt and 83-79 at home against LSU … sophomore guards Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis combined for 36 points and 10 rebounds while 6-11 junior Colin Castleton had 21 points and 6 rebounds in the win over LSU … the Gators play at Alabama on Tuesday and will host Kentucky on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 5.

4. Alabama (7-3, 2-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 36 … the Tide are out of the league gates fast with two wins — 82-64 at home against Ole Miss followed by a head-turning 71-63 win at then-No. 7 Tennessee as 6-5 senior guard John Petty, Jr., led a 10-of-20 ‘Bama effort from 3 with 4-of-4 from behind the arc as part of his game-high 17 points to go with 6 rebounds and 2 assists … ‘Bama became the first team to score more than 66 points against the Vols … next up for the Tide is a home game against Florida on Tuesday before making the short in-state trip to play at rival Auburn on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 6.

5. LSU (6-2, 1-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 23 … the Tigers split games last week, pounding Texas A&M at home, 77-54, before losing a close one at Florida, 83-79 … freshman guard Cam Thomas continues to light up the scoreboard as he hung a career-high 32 points on the Aggies followed by 28 points against the Gators as he now averages a league-best 24.6 points per game … LSU is one of the best offensive teams in the league and had three players score 20 or more points against Florida, but getting stops in close games continues to be a work in progress … LSU will host Georgia on Wednesday before going on the road to play Missouri on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 3.

6. Arkansas (9-1, 1-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 24 … the Hogs extended their unbeaten start through non-conference with an impressive 97-85 road win against Auburn in their league opener, but losing senior 6-7 combo forward Justin Smith to a right ankle injury in that game was costly as his absence opened the flood-gates for then-No. 12 Missouri to dominate the paint on Saturday in an 81-68 home loss in Fayetteville … last season, Arkansas went 0-5 in SEC games without star guard Isaiah Joe who was out for a few weeks after having a knee injury, and now the Hogs face another stretch of league games without a key starter as Smith is looking at 3-6 weeks before he returns following a surgery … freshman guard Moses Moody led an anemic Arkansas attack against Mizzou with his first career double-double (18 points and 10 rebounds) in a game that the Hogs shot 3-of-23 on layups … Arkansas plays at No. 9 Tennessee on Wednesday before hosting Georgia on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 4.

7. Texas A&M (6-2, 1-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 97 … the Aggies followed up a 77-54 blowout loss at LSU with a narrow 68-66 home win over Auburn as sophomore 6-7 forward Emanuel Miller continued his solid play (16 points and 5 rebounds in the win over Auburn) … the Aggies could end up being another grinding thorn in the side of the top half of the league, much like they were last season in Buzz Williams’ first campaign in College Station … TA&M has a road game against South Carolina on Wednesday before hosting No. 9 Tennessee on Saturday …previous ranking: No. 9.

8. Georgia (7-1, 0-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 86 … the Bulldogs played only once last week, losing 83-73 at home against Mississippi State in the league opener … Georgia gave up a combined 55 points to three MSU guards in the loss while surrendering a 12-of-27 effort from 3 defensively … sophomores Toumani Camara and Sahvir Wheeler are the inside-out driving forces for the ‘Dogs, who racked up non-conference wins at home against a mostly unimpressive list of mid-major schools … Georgia plays on the road twice this week — at LSU on Wednesday and at Arkansas on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 8.

9. Auburn (6-4, 0-2 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 76 … the Tigers are young and have stumbled out of the gates in league play with losses against Arkansas and Texas A&M in games that were close … 6-6 sophomore wing Allen Flanigan has been a bright spot as he totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds in the two games … Auburn does not have its typical mix of versatile veterans who pose matchup problems, which has been a staple under Burce Pearl … the Tigers plays at Ole Miss on Wednesday before returning home to host in-state rival Alabama on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 7.

10. Kentucky (2-6, 1-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 144 … the ‘Cats snapped a 6-game losing streak with a 78-73 double-overtime win at Mississippi State in their league opener on Saturday … 7-foot Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr snapped out of his funk with a double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds) while 6-6 freshman guard Dontae Allen came off the bench to lead four Wildcats in double figures with 23 points … it’s kind of early to suggest Kentucky is in must-win mode, but that’s exactly where the ‘Cats are in the first week of January … Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday before playing at Florida on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 9.

11. Mississippi State (6-4, 1-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 113 … the Bulldogs are moving up the board after splitting last week — a 10-point road win at Georgia followed by a double-overtime home loss against Kentucky … MSU has won 6 of its last 8 games after starting the season 0-2 … guards DJ Stewart, Iverson Molinar, and Deivon Smith combined for 55 points (included 9-of-17 shooting from 3) in the win at Georgia, while Stewart and Molinar combined for 36 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists in the home loss against Kentucky … the Bulldogs host No. 13 Missouri on Tuesday before playing at Vanderbilt on Saturday … previous ranking: tie No. 13.

12. Ole Miss (5-3, 0-1 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 62 … OM played twice last week — an 82-64 road thrashing at the hands of ‘Bama before losing a non-conference game at home against Wichita State, 83-79 … senior guard Devonate Shuler averaged 14.0 points in the two games, Arizona State grad-transfer forward Romello White averaged 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds, and junior forward KJ Buffen averaged 16.5 points and 7.0 rebounds … OM hosts Auburn on Wednesday before hosting South Carolina on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 11.

13. South Carolina (2-2, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 103 … the Gamecocks had gone 27 days between games before edging out Florida A&M, 78-71, on Saturday … junior wing AJ Lawson had a game-high 25 points to go with 5 rebounds in the win … does anyone have the first clue yet about what to expect from Frank Martin’s squad in ’20-21? The Gamecocks are scheduled to host Texas A&M on Thursday before playing at Ole Miss on Saturday … previous ranking: No. 12.

No. 14. Vanderbilt (4-2, 0-0 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 177 … it’s back to the basement for the Commordores after getting blasted at home, 91-72, against Florida last week … sophomore guard Scotty Pippen, Jr., is having an all-league start to the season (22.6 points and 4.6 assists per game) while 6-9 sophomore Dylan Disu has been productive, averaging 11.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game … the ‘Dores are set to play at Kentucky on Tuesday before playing host to Mississippi State on Saturday …previous ranking: tie No. 13.

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