Who’s The Most Dangerous Team In The SEC?
SEC basketball is as interesting as itâ€™s been in a decade. The conference in 2018-19 is about as strong as we can remember in recent memory, yet it is also without a dominant force, clear favorite, or even most likely NCAA contender.
Tennessee looked like that team, and has spent much of the season with the nationâ€™s number one ranking. However, Kentucky thoroughly dominated the Vols last weekend, ending the Tennessee winning streak and potentially shifting the balance of power in the conference. Further illustrating the point that the SEC has no true leader though, Kentucky pulled off this win fresh off a home loss to LSU. LSU is a quality team, and Kentucky may have been robbed by a bad call, but this was still a rough conference loss for the Wildcats, right on the eve of their biggest win of the year.
So, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU – someone else? The relative turmoil of late, and the generally high quality at the top of the conference, begs the question of who the SECâ€™s best team really is, or more specifically who among the conference contenders is the biggest threat in March.
These are the teams in the mix.
Kentucky may have had an up-and-down week between the LSU loss and the Tennessee win, but as has been written over and over again, this team has come a very long way from its early season beatdown at the hands of Duke. The Wildcats can beat you any number of ways, and seem to be building momentum toward a high seed and a possible Final Four run. They donâ€™t put off the same unbeatable air of some recent John Calipari teams, even when theyâ€™re playing well – but save perhaps a top tier of Duke, Virginia, and maybe Gonzaga, they look about as good as anybody right now.
If it seems like Tennessee has taken too big a hit from the Kentucky loss, itâ€™s probably because many have taken notice that the Volunteers had an incredibly cushy schedule for the first six weeks or so of SEC play. Nevertheless, they werenâ€™t number one for no reason. They dethroned Gonzaga in arguably their toughest matchup of the season, and have shown a lot of grit and versatility that makes them look like a tough out in March. As Jay Bilas pointed out in some of his own recent rankings (albeit before the Kentucky loss), this is an old school team that has grown up together – not a collection of one-and-done talents. So if you buy into experience counting in March, you may want to stick with Tennessee.
LSU is actually leading the conference, and has been incredibly convincing of late with wins at Mississippi State, against Auburn, and at Kentucky. Tremont Waters has been arguably the best guard in the conference, and with capable scorers around him he seems prepared to guide the Tigers past anyone they face in the SEC. That assertion will be put to the test when the Tigers host Tennessee this weekend, but right now LSU looks as good or better than any of these teams. Theyâ€™ll be a team far too many people will overlook in March.
Auburn has been a bizarre team this season. They started off as a fringe top-10 team, and showed some flashes in the Maui Invitational, most notably giving Duke a pretty good fight. Since then though itâ€™s been all downhill for this bunch, and they look like one of the most disappointing teams of the season. That said, Auburn still has a lot of talent, and isnâ€™t being counted out. Itâ€™s likely that the Tigers will make the NCAA Tournament, and some of the latest guides for lines and odds in college basketball have specifically singled them out as long-shot Final Four contenders. In other words thereâ€™s still some belief – keep an eye on Auburn for a late-season (and postseason) surge.
Mississippi State is one of the strongest teams no one seems to be noticing. The Bulldogs donâ€™t have too many quality wins to speak of – theyâ€™ve beaten Florida and Alabama, and defeated Auburn as well – but their losses have spoken well to their potential. In back-to-back games recently, Mississippi State lost to LSU and Kentucky – both possible Final Four teams – by just eight combined points. Now, you donâ€™t showcase yourself as a contender by losing to your best competition, but the Bulldogs will likely be a tournament team, and have the experience to gut out a few good wins, even if a Final Four run is probably out of the question.