- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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The SEC waited to see how Kentucky would fare with "College GameDay" at fired-up Vanderbilt in what appeared to be UK's toughest road test to date.
Well, the Wildcats passed -- and now the SEC must deal with the possibility that Big Blue could run the table and win the conference handily. There are no givens, but UK appears to be as much of a lock to win its league title as any other favorite in the country.
1. Kentucky: The one potential problem for the Wildcats was at the point. Well, Marquis Teague played one of his best games of the season at Vanderbilt, dishing out eight assists. If Teague can distribute the ball, make smart decisions and not turn the ball over, the Cats have a legit shot to win the national title, not just cruise to an undefeated SEC record.
2. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are in the No. 2 spot by default. No one else appears to want this position, and Vandy did push Kentucky 'til the end this past weekend and had the Wildcats on the ropes. But the Dores got rushed at the end and tried to shoot over Anthony Davis -- a big mistake. Vanderbilt needs to be more patient in late-game situations.
3. Florida: The Gators are also in this spot because no one else stood up and grabbed it. Florida should know better than to come out flat against a Tennessee team that clearly played with more purpose and passion on Saturday. UT was the aggressor on the offensive backboard and found the holes in the Gators’ defense. If Florida doesn’t shoot its way to a win, it simply can't physically outmuscle teams. This loss was a major concern for UF going forward.
4. Mississippi State: Hey, look: We have a full-blown trend here. The Bulldogs could easily be at No. 2 in the SEC Power Rankings had they actually won a home game against a lower-level team. Instead, State fell flat in overtime to Georgia and took the air out of the marquee remaining home game against Kentucky on Feb. 21. The Bulldogs still have the frontcourt talent, shot-blocking ability and perimeter shooting to be a dangerous team in the NCAA tournament. But their lack of consistency makes them a hard team to back in March.
5. Tennessee: The Volunteers are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time, having won three in a row and five of their past seven. If Tennessee can bottle the way it played at Florida, this team has danger written all over it going into the SEC tournament. The Vols could be a major spoiler, as UT has the size and strength to cause serious problems for teams. The win in Gainesville showed how defense and board work can get this team far during the next three weeks. Cuonzo Martin may be the coach of the year in the SEC if he continues on this run.
6. LSU: The Tigers took advantage of a depleted Alabama squad and won a convincing home game Saturday night. LSU is making shots, looking like it has figured out how to score efficiently and defending at the right time. The Tigers won't be an NCAA tournament team but now are playing like a team that could at least make the NIT. Trent Johnson’s rebuilding plan is finally looking like it took a turn upward.
7. Arkansas: If the games are at home, the Hogs have a shot to be in the NCAA tournament. But they’re not. Arkansas simply can’t win a road game this season -- the latest evidence being that beatdown it took in Athens. The Razorbacks can still beat Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss at home to finish with eight wins in the conference. But there is no indication that this young group will win a road game -- which is essential for any bubble team.
8. Alabama: The Crimson Tide are now the big unknown. Anthony Grant made a choice of choosing character in his program over possible wins and the NCAA tournament when he suspended Tony Mitchell, JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele. There is no timetable for any of their returns. If they don’t come back soon, the Tide won’t be on the bubble any longer. But it’s the right choice for Grant to show that he has a program built on character.
9. Georgia: The Bulldogs have won two in a row and are now a team that may be trouble going forward. Georgia blew out Arkansas and then won at Mississippi State, a home court that had become as difficult as any other in the SEC. UGA didn’t hesitate to go right at Arnett Moultrie and challenge him in the post. The Bulldogs are playing loosely and without the pressure of making the Dance. That’s a dangerous combination in the final three weeks of the season for teams that need wins to impress the selection committee.
10. Ole Miss: The depleted Rebels are playing hard and staying in games, but they just don’t have the personnel to finish. Andy Kennedy had to make a similar choice to Grant when key players were suspended. In his case, they won’t return. That was the end of the Rebels’ NCAA chances. But it was worth the risk. He has to run a program with ethics and character. This squad simply doesn’t have enough scoring to win key games late.
11. Auburn: The Tigers’ rebuilding progress has hit a serious bump with losses in five of their past six games. Auburn looked like it could turn its season around with a home win over Alabama after nearly winning at Mississippi State. But the Tigers couldn’t score against their archrival and lost by 18. Losing to Auburn from this point forward will be considered a bad loss for teams trying to impress the selection committee (see Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida).
12. South Carolina: Darrin Horn has tried to turn the Gamecocks around during his tenure, but it’s getting harder to believe that this will happen in the short term. This team is simply struggling to put together two quality halves. The five-game losing streak needs to end against Georgia and LSU this week, or it could continue all the way to the SEC tournament.