Catching up with each SEC men’s basketball team on the eve of the conference season (RPI by rpiratings.com).
Notable wins: Southern Miss, Arizona State, UCLA
Notable losses: Xavier
Strength of schedule: 90
The skinny: Anthony Grant’s never been afraid to take on the best in the country (he seems to be the coach more than any other to really adopt Mike Slive’s edict to schedule tougher games). This year, though, it’s paying off. The Crimson Tide won at UCLA and have lost the games they were supposed to lose (the others were Iowa State on a neutral court and at Wichita State). Last year, a brutal non-con schedule left Grant 6-7 and the hole was too deep to climb from. Now, he has a chance to snuff some of the coils of smoke around the legs of his chair.
NO. 23 ARKANSAS
Notable wins: SMU, Iowa, Dayton, Milwaukee
Notable losses: Clemson
Strength of schedule: 136
The skinny: Only a couple of hiccups (Iowa State and then Clemson on the road, naturally) but Arkansas has rebounded well. The Razorbacks are back in the Top 25 and just like everyone not named Kentucky, see second place in the SEC as very reachable. Their SEC slate is favorable; they only have to play Kentucky once and that’s near the end of the season. As long as they’ve figured out how to win on the road (they’ve only played three away from home and lost two), they’ll be fine. But five of their last eight are on the road.
Notable wins: Milwaukee, Xavier
Notable losses: Colorado, Tulsa, Texas Tech, Coastal Carolina, Clemson
Strength of schedule: 74
The skinny: Injuries (such as to Antoine Mason, who was expected to be the leading scorer this year) have knocked Bruce Pearl’s momentum off the tracks but he knows what it takes to win in the SEC. Most picked a mid-level finish for the Tigers just because of Pearl, and right now, even with a very average non-conference finish, it’s achievable.
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Notable wins: Louisiana-Monroe
Notable losses: Miami, Florida State, Connecticut
Strength of schedule: 104
The skinny: Why is a win over Louisiana-Monroe considered notable? Because the Gators had to go to overtime to do it. It’s been a rough season in Gainesville, Billy Donovan holding the worst record through 13 games during his long and fruitful tenure and unable to find the right answers. Injuries, suspensions, working in transfers and other problems have left only Michael Frazier as an everyday starter and everyone is still waiting for the light to come on with the mercurial Chris Walker. Florida’s going to win some games; the Gators may reverse their start in SEC play. But they’re wounded right now, going on the road for their first SEC game and playing a South Carolina team that is coming off its biggest win in years.
Notable wins: Seton Hall, Mercer, Kansas State
Notable losses: Georgia Tech, Minnesota
Strength of schedule: 14
The skinny: The win over Seton Hall got Georgia over the “haven’t beaten anybody and lost to the good teams” tag. The Bulldogs have won six straight and topped Mercer in a triple-overtime thriller. A team that finished a surprising 12-6 in the SEC last year has many of those players back and their RPI and SOS will have them challenging for the NCAA tournament. They simply need the wins to go with them.
NO. 1 KENTUCKY
Notable wins: Kansas, Providence, Texas, North Carolina, Louisville
Notable losses: None
Strength of schedule: 5
The skinny: Goodness, is Kentucky ever loaded. The Wildcats basically have two NBA starting fives in their rotations and didn’t miss a beat when veteran Alex Poythress went down with a torn ACL. They roll in 7-footers like they’re off an assembly line and the way they have manhandled opponents with their defense has been stunning. While there may be a game where Kentucky struggles or simply can’t shoot, its defense can still win said game. It’s unfair to have a team this good. While they may have an off game during the league season, there’s nobody in the SEC – or the country – that has more talent than the Wildcats.
Notable wins: West Virginia, Southern Miss
Notable losses: Old Dominion, Clemson
Strength of schedule: 125
The skinny: The Tigers lost two games in the Virgin Islands that they shouldn’t have but have strongly rebounded. With an NBA frontcourt and recruiting for next year causing waves of ecstasy in Baton Rouge, LSU is going to be a top-four finisher in the league. At least, Tiger fans hope so. To stumble with this collection of talent and knowing Johnny Jones isn’t going anywhere (cannot lose those recruits) might cause some consternation.
Notable wins: St. Louis, Florida State
Notable losses: TCU, Tulane, Oregon State, Arkansas State, McNeese State
Strength of schedule: 164
The skinny: Gotta feel for Rick Ray. He was handed a terrible situation and basically asked to be a caretaker, to guide the program through some troubled seasons and then be taken care of (even if he won’t be coaching the team anymore). It would be one thing if the Bulldogs were losing to good teams but they’re not. Injuries have had much to do with that. Not sure how much of a leash Ray will get, especially if he can’t get above the 13th and 14th-place finishes of the last two years.
Notable wins: Oral Roberts
Notable losses: Missouri-Kansas City, Illinois
Strength of schedule: 31
The skinny: Say this – Missouri is playing like a completely overhauled team should when it’s lined up against a brutally tough schedule. The non-shocking losses – Arizona, Purdue, Oklahoma, Xavier, Oklahoma State. The bad news is the Tigers could be in a season-long adjustment to first-year coach Kim Anderson. The good news is while the SEC will be tough (LSU and Kentucky in the first three games), hardly anybody else in the league will be tougher than what Mizzou has already faced.
Notable wins: Creighton, Oregon, Cincinnati
Notable losses: Charleston Southern, TCU, Western Kentucky, Dayton
Strength of schedule: 85
The skinny: The only really bad notch is Ole Miss has lost three of four at home. Still, the Rebels have great talent and are a bad matchup for almost everybody they play. The SEC opener (at Kentucky) will be ugly, and getting past South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida in consecutive games may be Houdini-esque. But I really believe Ole Miss is a top-four team.
Notable wins: Oklahoma State, Clemson, Iowa State
Notable losses: Akron, Charlotte
Strength of schedule: 112
The skinny: Life is good in Columbia, but Frank Martin isn’t stopping just yet because his team has mastered how he wants it to play and the country’s starting to notice. The SEC has hardly been kind to USC (three winning seasons in 23 years) and while he’s not one for using history as a crutch, just two games out of 18 can burst a lot of bubbles. Gamecocks go 1-1 or better against Florida and Ole Miss, watch out. 0-2, could be another long year.
Notable wins: Kansas State, Butler
Notable losses: VCU, Kansas, Marquette, NC State
Strength of schedule: 71
The skinny: You could see it coming, after the NCAA allegations against Donnie Tyndall (for potential violations at Southern Miss) surfaced just before the season. The Volunteers, expected to struggle anyway, were going to lose and lose badly. Instead, an unknown team has pulled off some impressive wins and its losses are to very strong teams/away from home. Tennessee is playing very hard under its first-year coach and may have some surprises this season. The SEC is wide-open under Kentucky; Tennessee, like the rest of the conference, figures it might as well try to finish second.
Notable wins: Arizona State
Notable losses: Dayton, Baylor
Strength of schedule: 100
The skinny: So far, so good, but that’s usually the case. If the Aggies can make a postseason tournament this year (and not one they have to pay to play in), it would be a huge step. Next year they welcome a banner class of program-changing recruits. The new class will be in anyway so even if they don’t have a great season, the excitement will be there. But naturally Aggies fans aren’t pleased that they went to the NCAA tournament every year from 2006-11, and haven’t been since.
Notable wins: Purdue
Notable losses: Rutgers, Baylor, Georgia Tech
Strength of schedule: 126
The skinny: They haven’t beaten anybody of note but there’s confidence brewing in Nashville. Nobody expects much from the Commodores, which is usually where Kevin Stallings pulls off a few surprises. They definitely have the talent and a very conducive schedule – their toughest road game (outside of Kentucky) is at Arkansas.
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