We tackle the best question asked by Kentucky fans every day. If you’d like to submit a question, tweet to Kyle Tucker here and Joe Mussatto here. Look for the Question of the Day every Monday through Friday.
We have a couple of related, league-wide questions today. From Brian Smith: Why does the SEC appear to be a random number generator this season? And from Michael Hash: Do you think a 12-6 record is going to be good enough to at least tie for the league title in this ultra-competitive version of the SEC?
So let’s set the stage first, for anyone not closely monitoring conference results:
Tuesday night was a wild one for SEC basketball, which had earned some real respect with its performance in non-conference games. Then league play started and all hell broke loose.
Three of the league’s four ranked teams played Tuesday — with No. 17 Kentucky playing at LSU tonight — and each of them lost to unranked SEC teams: No. 11 Texas A&M lost (by 17) to Florida, No. 22 Arkansas lost to Mississippi State and No. 23 Tennessee lost to Auburn (by 10). Also, a very good Alabama team lost to Vanderbilt.
That same Crimson Tide squad crushed the Aggies, who were a top-5 team a week ago, by 22 points on Saturday. However, A&M has recently been wiped out by injury and suspension to many of their best players, so that’s a bit of a unique situation.
The Tennessee situation is more alarming. After piling up wins against Purdue, Wake Forest, N.C. State and Georgia Tech, and nearly toppling North Carolina, the Volunteers blew a late lead at Arkansas on Saturday before falling to Bruce Pearl and the Tigers at home on Tuesday.
Now, to the first question: I think it’s very possible that all these seemingly unexpected results actually indicate much-improved depth in the conference. For example: They hadn’t really beaten anybody yet, so nobody noticed, but Mississippi State and Auburn are both 13-1 after their upset wins this week.
Vanderbilt, an NCAA Tournament team last season, is just 6-8 so far this season — but the Commodores played arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in America, facing six top-60 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings: No. 6 Virginia, No. 16 Arizona State, No. 21 Seton Hall, No. 40 Kansas State, No. 48 Southern California, No. 60 Middle Tennessee. That’ll get you ready to do battle in the SEC.
Oh, and here comes Florida. The Gators (my preseason pick to win the league) were ranked No. 5 after beating Gonzaga and nearly knocking off Duke early, then they lost 4 of 5 and fell completely out of the polls. Now they’ve won four straight, including 2-0 to open league play and that romp in College Station.
Crazy thing is, Florida isn’t even one of the nine SEC teams in the top 50 of the RPI right now. Those are: No. 7 Arkansas, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 17 Tennessee, No. 19 Auburn, No. 22 Texas A&M, No. 25 Missouri, No. 41 Alabama, No. 43 South Carolina and No. 45 Mississippi State. That list also excludes Georgia and LSU, both of whom have a pair of strong non-conference wins already on their resumes.
Which finally brings us to that second question: Yeah, a 12-6 league record really might be good enough to at least share the SEC regular-season title this year. Just two years ago, Kentucky and Texas A&M shared the conference crown at 13-5 — and it wasn’t nearly as competitive a league then.
Thanks to the Aggies’ 0-2 start this year, I’d say the Gators still have the best shot at putting it all together and being a cut above everyone else. But this is starting to feel like a year when so many solid teams from top to bottom will actually muddle the top of the league.
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