SEC Status Report: It’s Wide Open Down South

The SEC might be the most interesting basketball conference this year and, come tournament time, they could have a bevy of representatives. There’s easily five or six teams I think could take the title, and a handful of teams who could be extremely effective spoilers. I believe Kentucky remains a title favorite, with Florida replacing Auburn in that category as well. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas highlight the ‘best of the rest’ in the SEC. There’s lots to be decided here, so let’s take a look at biggest risers and fallers.

Biggest Risers: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State

  • The Gators are playing really well right now, despite their recent 2-point loss at LSU. They are 4-2 in SEC play, sitting third in the conference. They’re 7-1 at home, and I could definitely see the Gators upsetting #1 Baylor this weekend in Gainesville. With a favorable schedule after the Baylor game, Florida has put themselves in good position for a high seed and potential SEC title run.
  • Alabama opened some eyes by staying right with both Florida and Kentucky in road games, and they’ve now won three straight. They broke Auburn’s winning streak in dominant fashion, beating their rivals by 19 points. Games against Arkansas and LSU loom on the docket for the Crimson Tide, who will look to make some more noise in the SEC.
  • The Bulldogs had a bad loss to Alabama and followed it up with a heartbreaking defeat at LSU. That tough sequence could have send Mississippi State into a spiral, but they’ve responded with a pair of dominant victories (72-45 over Missouri and 91-59 over Georgia) and then a resume-boosting win over Arkansas just last night. This team is climbing back into the picture and while I wouldn’t pick them to win the SEC, I could definitely see them getting into the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Biggest Fallers: Auburn, Missouri

  • Auburn is still a very good team, but I dropped them out of the title favorite category after a 2-loss week. It wasn’t just that Auburn finally lost, but they got manhandled twice on the road by unranked teams. I’m pretty high on both Florida and Alabama, but you simply don’t do that as a top-5 team. A four-game stretch in February against Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama could make or break the Tigers.
  • I listed Missouri as a dark-horse title pick after they beat up on Florida 91-75, but the Tigers have not impressed since. They lost by 27 to Mississippi State, by 14 to Alabama, and at home to a dismal Texas A&M squad. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Missouri doesn’t even make the SEC quarterfinals, let alone the NCAA tournament.

Quick Hits

  • I believe the SEC has a lot of quality teams, and I could definitely see them sending 8 teams dancing when all is said and done. Give me LSU, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the tournament.
  • I’m putting Georgia and Missouri on the bubble in the SEC. Both teams have shown potential, but they’ve suffered some ugly losses – I don’t think they’re in right now, but a solid end to the season could change that.
  • For all the talent at the top of the division, there’s a handful of pretty bad SEC teams. Here, I’m listing four that I don’t believe have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Teams that are declared dead are: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.

College Basketball Headlines: Duke Upset Headlines Crazy Day

Wow. What a weekend of college basketball. Three Top-5 Teams lost on Saturday as #3 Duke lost a tough one at home to #11 Louisville, while #4 Auburn and #5 Butler both lost decisively on the road to unranked opponents, with Florida and DePaul doing the job respectively. Along with those upsets, here’s the rest of the headlines from a  crazy Saturday of college basketball. 

Unexpected Heroes Highlight Unexpected Results

To pull a big road upset, a team often needs some unexpected contributions, and the Louisville Cardinals took that to a new level. Cardinals’ guard David Johnson was averaging 3.7 points per game, but he balled out for Louisville on Saturday, posting 19 points to go with seven assists, and four rebounds. Johnson’s stunning day outweighed a big performance from Duke’s Cassius Stanley and lifted Louisville to the 79-73 victory over Duke, who will be sure to drop in the polls after two losses this week. 

Auburn came to Florida and, after starting the year 15-0, the Tigers looked nothing like a top-5 team. The Gators got their own unexpected contributions, as Omar Payne, averaging 4.7 points per game, dominated Auburn to the tune of 19 points and 11 rebounds. After gleaning a 28-23 halftime edge, Florida ran away in the second half for a 69-47 victory. The Tigers are starting to slip badly after two blowout road losses, while the Gators look to be climbing back towards the team many thought they would be in the preseason. 

Depaul hosted a vulnerable Butler squad on Saturday. The Bulldogs were coming off a demoralizing home loss to Seton Hall, and they failed to come out of the gate fast, falling behind by ten at halftime. From there, DePaul closed it out, leading by as much 17 in the second half, eventually knocking off Butler 79-66. 

Not only did three top-5 teams lose in one day, they all suffered losses previously in the week, so expect some major shakeup in the AP Poll (and our Power Rankings) tomorrow. 

Three top-5 upsets stole headlines, but Kansas State topping West Virginia in dominant fashion was an absolute stunner. AP photo

The Other Upsets

While the upsets of Duke, Auburn, and Butler stole the headlines, there were some other notable upsets that occurred on Saturday. Kansas State dominated West Virginia, converting a  42-25 halftime lead into a 16-point victory. Cartier Diarra scored 25 for the Wildcats in a significant upset, as Kansas State improved to 8-9 and earned their first Big 12 win, dropping West Virginia to 14-3 in the process. 

Houston went on the road and earned a statement win over Wichita State, as no Shockers’ player had more than seven points, and Houston used a strong defensive performance and a steady offensive outing to put away the 16th-ranked team in the nation, 65-54. 

Arizona held serve on their home court, as the Wildcats played host to the #20 Colorado Buffalo, but Arizona didn’t let their visitors stick around in the game too long. ‘Zona outscored Colorado by eleven in the first half and ten in the second, earning a statement victory, 75-54. Most impressively, Arizona spread their offense around, with no scorers notching more than 13 points. Zeke Nnaji had 12 points and 12 rebounds to spur the offensive attack. 

And last but not least, in Big 10 play, it was Penn State dominating the skidding Ohio State Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions scored at will, putting up 42 points in the first 20 minutes, before heating up further and lighting up the scoreboard for 48 more in the second half. The Buckeyes drop to 2-5 in Big 10 play, and they could very well slip out of the rankings – barely two weeks after being a #1 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. 

Strong Road Performances Separating Elite Teams

Homecourt is a huge advantage, and its impact has become a noticeable trend throughout college sports. The home team is always expected to win more games, on any given day, but there are teams who look competent and capable of playing on the road – like Louisville on Saturday. But there are also teams who look like world-beaters at home but turn into limp noodles on the road. The Big 10 offers several examples of this, with Ohio State –  the #20 team in the nation – playing putrid basketball on the road, to the tune of a 1-4 road record. Michigan is 11-6, but they are 0-5 in true road games, and Penn State, a formerly ranked team, is 1-3 on the road. In an age where homecourt advantage is becoming ever more prevalent, the ability to win on the road will define which teams are capable of a deep run in March.

Non-CFP End Of Season Power Rankings

The college football season just ended, and so while we will largely turn our attention to basketball and hockey, here’s our end of season Power Rankings of Non-CFP teams. We did it this way so as to avoid having a virtually unanimous top 3 teams. After combining our votes, here is our final non-CFP Top 10 football power rankings. 

Honorable Mention

  • Baylor

The Bears came up short in some of their biggest games, but never by much. They led Oklahoma 28-3 in one game before losing, and they took the Sooners to OT in the Big 12 championship. They were competitive against Georgia in their bowl game, but ultimately, their struggles to claim a signature win kept them out of the top 10. 

The Rankings

#10 – Memphis

The Tigers fell in the Cotton Bowl to Penn State, don’t let that distract you from what they did to an elite defense. Memphis slapped 39 points on the board, eleven more than any other opponent scored against the Nittany Lions. Ohio State put up 28 points. Memphis scored 39. After a season-opening 15-10 win over Ole Miss, Memphis never put up less than 28 points all year, losing one regular season game by 2 points. They finished the year with consective wins over a ranked Cincinnati team to win their conference title and secure a berth in the Cotton Bowl. What a season for the Tigers. 

#9 – Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish fell short of expectations in some regards, but also put together a strong season. Road games against Georgia and Michigan were regarded as their toughest games, and sure enough the Irish faltered in both, including a horrible blowout loss to the Wolverines. But after the Michigan game, the Irish looked like one of the best teams in the nation, winning their final five games by an average of 28 points, including a 32-point victory over a Navy team that finished in the top 20. Only two of their 11 wins were closer than 15 points, indicating that the Irish were finally beginning to dominate teams they should dominate, but their letdowns in their biggest games keep them from being higher on the list. 

#8 – Minnesota

It was a razor-thin margin between the Gophers and their Outback Bowl victims in Auburn, but the Gophers fell a point shy of making that happen in our polls. Minnesota had an extremely impressive year, and neither their bowl win or their win over Penn State should be ignored. But the Gophers were also beaten handily by Iowa and smoked by Wisconsin. These blowout losses really knocked the Gophers out of the national picture after they gained respect by beating Penn State. A really impressive season from Minnesota, and they’ll definitely look to be contending for a Big 10 title in the near future. 

Auburn and Minnesota were neck and neck in our final Power Rankings. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

#7 – Auburn

Ultimately, it seems Auburn just really doesn’t care about bowl games. They are 2-5 in postseason games under Gus Malzahn (including a BCS championship loss), a record that now includes losses to lower ranked opponents like Minnesota and UCF. However, everything else Auburn did was extremely impressive. They held Joe Burrow to 23 points, which is basically a better achievement than a shutout against any other offense. They played Georgia and Florida, and they beat Oregon and Alabama, and at College Station against Texas A&M. All in all, it was a very good season from the Tigers, but they’ll look to qualify for the Playoff next year – maybe then we’ll see the real Auburn Tigers show up in the postseason. 

#6 – Wisconsin

Two four-loss teams make our Top-7, which may be surprising, but they’re both extremely good squads. Two of Wisconsin’s losses were to Ohio State – including the Big 10 championship, when they became the only team all year to lead the Buckeyes at halftime. While one loss was an inexplicable defeat to Illinois, their fourth was a 1-point bowl game loss to Oregon. They handled Iowa, throttled Michigan, and dominated Minnesota on the road to claim a spot in the Big 10 title game. Three very impressive victories and a strong finish to the regular season outweigh three really tough losses and one weird one, giving the Badgers the #6 spot her. 

#5 – Florida 

The Gators were the only team to lead LSU in the second half at any point this season. And considering LSU also played Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama, and Auburn – that is a really impressive statistic. They took down Auburn, dominated Florida State for a second straight year, and earned a few other impressive victories, including at Kentucky and at Missouri. Kyle Trask stepped up as the team’s signal caller and was very strong under center for the Gators, who polished off their season with a second straight New Years’ 6 bowl win, albeit as a heavy favorite versus Virginia. The next step is overcoming Georgia in the SEC East and making the Playoff for the Gators, they’re running out other ways to impress us. 

#4 – Penn State 

The Nittany Lions were in a dead heat with the Gators for the fourth spot, so we took out their lowest ranking for each team in the poll to decide, and Penn State edged out Florida by one point. We mentioned some of Penn State’s defensive exploits in the Memphis excerpt, as the Nittany Lions held Ohio State to 28 points, their lowest total of the year prior to the Playoff. They showed their ability to win ugly (17-12 over Iowa) and in a shootout (53-39 over Memphis), which is key for any team with championship aspirations. The Nittany Lions may very well have been a playoff team without their slip up at Minnesota, and they’ll have their eyes on taking the next step in 2020. 

The white out crowd always creates an electric home atmosphere for Penn State. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

#3 – Georgia

It feels difficult to laud the Bulldogs, as they haven’t really done anything unusual by their standards. They had a very impressive 11-1 regular season with statement wins over Auburn, Florida, and Notre Dame, but they also had an awful home loss to South Carolina, who finished 4-8. And ultimately, the Bulldogs fell short in the SEC again, and this time they weren’t even competitive, losing 37-10 to LSU. To be fair, LSU was a buzzsaw this year, but Georgia feels like they’ve been at the same level for 3-4 years now, and it’s time to take the next step. Finishing sixth or seventh in the country is not their goal, especially a couple of years removed from being three points shy of a national title. 

#2 – Alabama (1 first place vote)

I don’t think anyone bought the fact that the Crimson Tide were only the 12th best team in the country heading into bowl season. They more or less proved that point by laying a 35-16 beatdown on Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, shutting out the Wolverines in the second half. It was hard to rank them higher than 8th in the AP Poll, as Alabama really didn’t beat any other very good teams. Their Texas A&M win was their next best victory, so it was hard to justify moving up past Georgia, Oregon, and even Oklahoma, who beat Baylor twice. However, the Crimson Tide have never gone three years without winning a championship under Nick Saban – is 2021 the year for ‘Bama?

#1 – Oregon

I think a lot of people really wanted Oregon in the Playoff simply because, outside of a befuddling loss to Arizona State, the Ducks just looked like one of the best teams in the country. After their season-opening loss to Auburn, Oregon gave up 25 points in their next five games. And when Pac-12 offenses began to challenge their defense, Justin Herbert rose to the occasion, averaging about 30 points per game in conference play. Herbert finished his year with a gutsy performance in the Rose Bowl, rushing for three touchdowns and proving his ability to win without his best game, taking down a very impressive Wisconsin team. Oregon may have been the fourth best team in the country outside the Big 3, but due to an unforgivingly rigid Playoff Structure, they had to settle for being #1 in the non-CFP teams rankings.