Looking at the SEC as the conference season begins.
The skinny: About what was expected for a bad program in the first year under a new coach. I think Kristy Curry will eventually take Alabama to the NCAA tournament but it won’t be this year and probably won’t be in three years. The Crimson Tide do have some nice solid wins, though, beating Wisconsin and Cal State Fullerton. They’ve basically lost to who they’re supposed to lose to – Duke, or on the road at Nebraska and Tennessee-Chattanooga. If they can get through the SEC with a .500 record, that would be amazing. Starting off against Kentucky and then at Texas A&M, though, is not good for that goal.
Ranking: Receiving votes (26)
The skinny: It was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and it very well may turn into one, but so far, the Razorbacks are perfect. No, they haven’t beaten a lot of teams of note, but they did beat a good Middle Tennessee State squad and beat Kansas at Kansas. If nothing else, coach Tom Collen should keep his string of consecutive 20-win seasons going, since Arkansas has given itself the best possible start. But like several SEC teams, the real season begins now.
The skinny: Perhaps the league’s biggest sleeper, Auburn has struggled through the non-conference season but will perhaps benefit from playing a much tougher slate than its conference brethren. The Tigers lost their four games on the road – Temple, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Iowa State (in Las Vegas) and Minnesota. They’ve won at home and in a couple of neutral sites. Their wins haven’t been too notable, but with the way they finished the season last year, Auburn is in no way an automatic win for anybody.
The skinny: All good so far. Florida’s winning some big games (Georgetown in overtime) and staying healthy. The Gators only have nine players, but thus far, all nine are still playing. Outside of Georgetown, Florida hasn’t beaten anybody of note, and lost at Virginia Tech, to Illinois State in the Bahamas and to Florida State at home. They’re probably doing a little bit better than expected.
The skinny: The usual -- Georgia’s good. The Lady Bulldogs beat Ohio State at home but lost at Rutgers. They haven’t beaten anybody else of note but they’ll be a top-four finisher in the SEC.
The skinny: Like Georgia, Kentucky was expected to be very strong. This strong so soon is a bit surprising, especially with DeNesha Stallworth out for most of the non-conference season. The Wildcats’ only loss was to Duke, and they beat Middle Tennessee State, Louisville and Baylor, in a four-overtime game that was one of the best you’ll ever see. They’re getting production from their bench (against Baylor, Jennifer O’Neill elevated her career scoring high from 21 to 40 points) and showing that when Stallworth does return, they’ll just be that much more formidable. Kentucky could very well win the SEC.
The skinny: Another team that could make a run at the title, LSU has only lost two games (Louisville and NC State, both on the road). It’s probably nothing, but the Tigers just haven’t looked as dominant as expected. Now, they’ve won, which is the only thing that matters, but they’ve won some very close games. Is that a sign of not being as good as expected, or a sign that LSU knew exactly what it had to do to get the victory? As long as the wins keep accumulating, I guess it doesn’t matter.
The skinny: Very strong foothold for the Bulldogs as they attempt to make the postseason – perhaps it’s just what the doctor ordered considering how brutal the SEC may be. MSU won its opener at Houston, and only lost one game (to Middle Tennessee on a neutral court). But, MSU hasn’t played anybody of note, and I mean nobody. Their biggest win in the non-conference schedule came over Southern Miss. Yet, the first three SEC games (Florida, Auburn and Arkansas) are all winnable. Get all of them, who knows how much confidence can be gained?
The skinny: Another team that may sneak up on everybody, although it hasn’t beaten anybody of note in the non-conference season. The Tigers’ only losses were to Miami and Missouri State, and they’ve mostly stayed at home all fall. We’ll find out how good they are rather quickly – after Ole Miss and Arkansas, Missouri faces Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M in consecutive games.
The skinny: Hey, it’s actually not bad. After losing to Baylor on Dec. 18, Ole Miss had won seven straight, and the loss was only seven points. The Rebels are playing hard, even though they know that the hammer of NCAA verdict may drop at any moment. Ole Miss lost every game in its exempt tournament, but has won most of its home games. Nowhere to go but up, although it will take a while to get anywhere.
The skinny: The Gamecocks have only lost once, to the best team they played (North Carolina). That can be viewed two ways – they lost to a really good team, or they lost to the only team they played. USC won some road games, but hasn’t played a very strong opponent other than the Tar Heels. There is plenty of offensive talent, but the defense that was USC’s hallmark over the past two years is still a work in progress.
The skinny: Hey, the Lady Volunteers are again one of the country’s elite teams. Hasn’t changed in 30 years, why should it now? Only loss was to Stanford, by six points, and Tennessee beat Middle Tennessee, North Carolina and Texas. LSU and Georgia are a tough first two SEC games, but it’s Tennessee.
The skinny: They games they’ve lost have been to good teams, and away from home. Still, it seems as if the Aggies are still adjusting to life post-Kelsey Bone. They’re not carving opponents the way they did, but then again, that was expected. Got to find a way to win a road game as well.
The skinny: Two losses to Duke and Marquette aren’t anything to be ashamed about. Vanderbilt hasn’t lost since, although it hasn’t played a lot of great teams. Still, the Commodores know how good they are and how good they can be. Their first four SEC games are Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn and Tennessee, though, so if they have any hope of finishing in the top four, they vitally need to start strong.
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