By now, many assumed that Kentucky would own the No. 1 post in the SEC. As I compile the first edition of ESPN.com’s power rankings for the conference, however, I’m not even sure they’re No. 2. The Wildcats have faced some tough teams but they’ve been inconsistent. It’s early, so these rankings will change. But the Gators are on top. It might be tough for the rest of the league to knock them off their perch, too.
1. Florida. The Gators destroyed Wisconsin and crushed Marquette in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Kenny Boynton is one of four players averaging double figures for the 6-0 squad. Plus, Florida has been one of the nation’s most efficient offensive and defensive units in November.
2. Missouri. Michael Dixon Jr. leaving the program is certainly a blow for the Tigers, but they’re still one of the league’s best teams. Phil Pressey (15.0 points, 6.2 assists per game) and Laurence Bowers (14.2 ppg, 6.3 rebounds per game) have led Frank Haith’s squad to victories over Stanford and Virginia Commonwealth in recent weeks.
3. Kentucky. John Calipari’s young squad has been battered by some of the nation’s top teams, suffering losses to Duke and Notre Dame (on the road). The 14-point loss against the Fighting Irish on Thursday was a blow to its ego but the Wildcats could shake it off Saturday if they get a win over Baylor.
4. Alabama. I’m not sure whether I believe Alabama’s 6-0 start but I believe in Trevor Releford (18.6 ppg) and the leadership he’s provided for Anthony Grant’s squad. The Crimson Tide have been tough on defense. And they can prove that this start hasn’t been a fluke when they visit No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
5. Tennessee. The Vols were overmatched against Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico but they bounced back with a victory over UMass and then crushed Oakland, a Summit League contender, by 27 points. A win at No. 20 Georgetown on Friday would certainly elevate Tennessee nationally.
6. Ole Miss. The Rebels haven’t played a high-major opponent this season, but they’ve crushed the non-BCS opponents on their schedule by an average of 29.2 ppg. Andy Kennedy’s 5-0 squad has looked good thus far, but this start won’t mean much until it starts SEC play in January.
7. Arkansas. The Razorbacks lost to Wisconsin and Arizona State during the Las Vegas Invitational. But I still think this Arkansas team, led by BJ Young (20.5 ppg) and Marshawn Powell (12.2 ppg), is better than most of the teams in the SEC. Friday’s home matchup against No. 6 Syracuse will be an opportunity to show it.
8. Texas A&M. Elston Turner (15.7 ppg) is one of three players averaging double figures, and freshman J'Mychal Reese (7.3 ppg) has been a young standout for a 5-1 Aggies squad that’s beaten teams it’s supposed to defeat. The Aggies did give up 70 points (and only recorded 49) against a Saint Louis squad that’s rarely recognized for its offense.
9. LSU. Johnny Jones’ tenure has started off with five wins and zero losses, including Thursday’s 72-67 victory over Seton Hall. And with a small sample size, the Tigers are top-100 in defensive efficiency. Could be worse for a program that’s struggled in recent years.
10. Georgia. The Bulldogs need to stop the bleeding after losing four of their past five games, although two of those losses came against Indiana and UCLA. They’ll play at South Florida on Friday in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Few SEC squads need a win as badly as Mark Fox’s.
11. South Carolina. Frank Martin’s team is in a bad spot. The Gamecocks lost to Elon last week and suffered a 24-point defeat to St. John’s on Thursday. Bruce Ellington’s return, until the football team begins prep for its bowl game, is a plus for the squad.
12. Auburn. The Tigers have lost close games to Boston College (50-49) and Rhode Island (double overtime). Frankie Sullivan (18.3 ppg) shoulders the bulk of the offensive burden and that’s one of the 2-4 team’s problems: It lacks balance.
13. Vanderbilt. The Commodores, who lost every significant player from last season's rotation, get a pass for losses at Oregon and to Davidson (at a neutral site). Scoring 33 points against Marist? Ugh.
14. Mississippi State. Rick Ray walked into a messy situation when he accepted the head-coaching job last spring. These Bulldogs have struggled on both ends of the floor. It’s worth noting, however, that Marquette, Texas and North Carolina were responsible for three of their four losses.