David Cloninger

SEC again trying to prove itself to selection committee

South Carolina basketball's Sindarius Thornwell
South Carolina basketball's Sindarius Thornwell dmclemore@thestate.com

The SEC season will begin on Thursday for 10 teams, with the remaining four starting on Jan. 4. The 18-game slate will determine how many teams advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Checking in as the non-conference season concludes (RPI from the NCAA):

ALABAMA (6-5)

RPI: 131

Notable win: St. Louis

Notable loss: Valparaiso

The skinny: They’ve lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to and mostly beaten the teams they were supposed to defeat. Big-time class coming next year, but likely another non-tournament season at the Capstone.

ARKANSAS (11-1)

RPI: 23

Notable win: Texas

Notable loss: Minnesota

The skinny: Impressive record and RPI but the schedule lacks “wow” factor. After a win over Texas (6-6), Arkansas’ best win is over a Houston team ranked 85th in the RPI. First SEC game is hosting No. 25 Florida – great chance to show if the Hogs are for real.

AUBURN (10-2)

RPI: 53

Notable win: Texas Tech

Notable loss: Boston College

The skinny: The surprise addition of top recruit Austin Wiley mid-season makes the Tigers a much better team, as evidenced by beating Oklahoma and UConn in Hartford. If the guard play holds, Auburn could finish top-four.

NO. 25 FLORIDA (9-3)

RPI: 5

Notable win: Miami

Notable loss: Florida State

The skinny: The other losses were to Duke and Gonzaga. Gators are very strong, although not very deep, and will get the benefit of the doubt by the selection committee as long as they finish well.

GEORGIA (8-4)

RPI: 58

Notable win: George Washington

Notable loss: Oakland

The skinny: They’ve lost to the good teams they’ve played, which puts them in a hole for SEC play. Yet if Yante Maten keeps doing what he’s doing (second in the league with 19.8 points per game), don’t count them out.

NO. 8 KENTUCKY (10-2)

RPI: 9

Notable win: North Carolina

Notable loss: Louisville

The skinny: Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox lead a team that again has the best assembly of talent in the league. 3-point shooting is a concern, but the only worry the Wildcats have is dropping from a 1 or 2 seed in March.

LSU (8-3)

RPI: 74

Notable win: Houston

Notable loss: Wake Forest

The skinny: The Tigers will hope nobody notices them. Perhaps that’s the best approach in post-Ben Simmons life, but it may not bode well for coach Johnny Jones’ future.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-3)

RPI: 210

Notable win: Boise State

Notable loss: Lehigh

The skinny: The Bulldogs caught a break when best player Quinndary Weatherspoon was thought to be lost for the season, but he discovered he could play with a torn ligament in his wrist. That’s helped through a weak non-conference slate (how did this schedule get SEC-approved?) but it may not in the next 18.

MISSOURI (5-6)

RPI: 250

Notable win: Western Kentucky

Notable loss: North Carolina Central

The skinny: It’s another rebuilding team, but how much losing can the school can stomach? Kim Anderson is a terrific guy and coach and walked into a horrible situation, but he’s going to have to answer for things at the end of the year.

OLE MISS (9-3)

RPI: 35

Notable win: Memphis

Notable loss: Middle Tennessee

The skinny: Another strong run through the non-conference with the one expected trip-up. Rebels usually gel throughout SEC play and this year appears no different.

SOUTH CAROLINA (10-2)

RPI: 31

Notable win: Michigan

Notable loss: Clemson

The skinny: Without Sindarius Thornwell, Gamecocks aren’t the team they were when they soared into the Top 25. All indications are he returns for the entire SEC schedule, but can USC immediately revert to what it was without losing the stellar production of P.J. Dozier?

TENNESSEE (7-5)

RPI: 107

Notable win: East Tennessee State

Notable loss: Chattanooga

The skinny: Give Rick Barnes credit – he’s not afraid to schedule tough. The Volunteers came close to beating North Carolina in the Deandome, but again had to settle for a “Good effort.” A little too young and inexperienced to make noise this year.

TEXAS A&M (8-3)

RPI: 70

Notable win: Virginia Tech

Notable loss: Southern Cal

The skinny: All three losses were to great teams and they beat a Hokies team that will be around in March. Don’t sleep on them.

VANDERBILT (6-6)

RPI: 87

Notable win: Chattanooga

Notable loss: Bucknell

The skinny:The Commodores are down to nine players for the season. It’s going to take some time to get those diamonds the previous regime always found.

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