College Basketball Nation: Frankie Sullivan

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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Finally, some movement in the SEC power rankings. Tennessee secured a nice win over a mid-major power Thursday. Ole Miss, however, lost to a non-power-six standout over the weekend. Feels good to finally make a few changes.

1. Florida: If the No. 5 Gators score a convincing win at No. 8 Arizona on Saturday, they could enter next week as a top-three team. They’ve been as dominant as any squad in the country. But the Wildcats will be the toughest team that they’ve faced to date. Arizona is deep enough inside to limit Patric Young’s production, a rare trait for the teams the Gators have played thus far.

2. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad has one blemish, an 84-61 loss against Louisville on Nov. 23. But the Tigers have yet to play another nationally ranked squad (224th nonconference strength of schedule per ESPN.com’s InsideRPI). That will change Dec. 22 when they face undefeated Illinois.

3. Kentucky: Its most recent wins over Samford and Portland may have helped it recover from the back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor that cost the team its spot in the Associated Press' Top 25. But they’re just appetizers for the Dec. 29 matchup against rival Louisville, the nation’s most efficient defense. Kentucky’s point-guard problems will be scrutinized in the buildup to that game.

4. Texas A&M: This is where the league’s makeup gets murkier. Yes, Elston Turner (16.3 points per game) has led the Aggies to four consecutive wins. But a one-point neutral-site triumph over Washington State is their best victory. Three of the Aggies’ first four SEC games will include roads trips to Kentucky and Alabama, plus a home matchup against Florida. So this streak could end soon.

5. Tennessee: Cuonzo Martin needed Thursday’s night’s 69-60 win over previously undefeated No. 23 Wichita State, and forced 17 turnovers to hand the Shockers their first loss of the season. The Vols have been one of the top defensive teams in the country all season. But they’ve averaged just 39.7 points in their three losses. So putting up 69 and avoiding a third consecutive loss must have been a refreshing moment for Vols fans.

6. Alabama: I think the Crimson Tide (30th in defensive efficiency) will climb these ratings soon. But Alabama has to prove that it belongs in the SEC’s top tier. And a loss at the buzzer against Cincinnati and a follow-up loss to Dayton at home -- 11-for-36 from the 3-point line in the two games -- didn’t help Anthony Grant’s cause. And now that center Carl Engstrom is out for the season, Alabama has one legit center on its roster, Moussa Gueye. But the program can get back on track with a win at Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday.

7. LSU: Friday is a significant day for Johnny Jones’ squad. The undefeated Tigers have registered a 6-0 mark against a weak slate so far. Seton Hall (No. 80) is the only opponent they’ve faced that’s ranked higher than 190th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. And they haven’t left Baton Rouge. So Friday’s matchup at Boise State will be a better barometer for LSU’s progress, especially for a Tigers squad that has somehow gotten away with an average of 18 turnovers per game.

8. Ole Miss: The Rebels were off to a furious start until they ran into Middle Tennessee State last weekend. They had recorded 90 or more points in four of their first six games, all wins against mediocre opposition. But they scored just 62 points (5-of-21 from beyond the arc, 17 turnovers) against the Blue Raiders. Beware of inflated statistics in November and December.

9. Arkansas: If the Razorbacks' porous defense (205th in efficiency) matched their offense (80.3 ppg, 19th in the nation), they’d be a contender for the SEC title. But the two aren’t equal. So they continue to prove that they score (82 points in loss to Syracuse, 81 in a victory over Oklahoma) but they really can’t stop anyone.

10. Vanderbilt: A year after contending for the SEC title with the help of a veteran rotation, Kevin Stallings must rely on a multitude of underclassmen this season. And it shows. The Commodores are near the bottom of every meaningful statistical category in the conference. But last week’s 66-64 win at Xavier might mean that the young squad is growing up fast.

11. South Carolina: Frank Martin’s team is 6-3. And with matchups against Appalachian State, Manhattan, Presbyterian and South Carolina State preceding its SEC opener Jan. 9 at Mississippi State, it will probably be 10-3 soon. But the Gamecocks (228th SOS according to ESPN.com’s BPI) could come down to earth once league play begins, especially if they continue to average 19 turnovers per game.

12. Auburn: So, the Tigers have lost five of their past seven games. Not all bad losses. A double-overtime loss against 2-7 Rhode Island and a 49-point effort in a loss to Boston College, however, were. It might be a really tough year for Frankie Sullivan (18.5 ppg) & Co.

13. Mississippi State: Rick Ray is essentially relying on six guys with Jalen Steele sidelined by a wrist injury. So the Bulldogs’ struggles have continued. This is how most rebuilding jobs start. It’s probably going to be a rough season. But Ray has been a successful coach at other stops. He can certainly pull the Bulldogs out of this basement in the coming seasons. The program’s supporters need foresight so that he’s given the proper time and resources to do it.

14. Georgia: When I talked to Mark Fox at the Final Four, he was excited about this team. But it’s hard to have an optimistic outlook on the Bulldogs’ 2012-13 campaign based on how they’ve started. They’ve lost six of their past seven (a streak that includes defeats to Youngstown State, South Florida and Southern Miss) and their only two victories have come against East Tennessee State and Jacksonville.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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So, the Gators are even better than I thought, an assessment I made after their lopsided victory over Florida State on Wednesday night. The rest of the SEC, however, is quite confusing. Most of the league's programs still have a lot of work to do. Good thing it’s still early.

1. Florida. The Gators are definitely the best team in the SEC right now. The annihilation of Florida State was another showcase of their dominance thus far. They’ve defeated Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State by an average of 25.3 points.

2. Missouri. The Tigers slipped early against Southeast Missouri State -- they were down by 10 at halftime of Tuesday’s 81-65 victory -- but eventually recovered. But it was another effort that exposed their backcourt limits (Frank Haith’s three starting guards were 5-for-22), an issue they’ll have to address without the services of former standout Michael Dixon Jr.

3. Kentucky. With so many potential pros on the roster and John Calipari on the sideline, I’m confident the Wildcats can fix their kinks in the coming months. But their losses to Notre Dame and Baylor illustrated their ballhandling woes (28 turnovers in the two games).

4. Ole Miss. Its strength of schedule (324) is clearly a factor in its 6-0 start. The Rebels have averaged 87.0 points per game in that stretch (No. 2 in the country) and they’ve also been relentless on defense (17th in defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). But their nonconference schedule is so light that we really won’t know what they’re made of until SEC play begins, although Saturday’s matchup at Middle Tennessee won’t be an easy test to pass.

5. Texas A&M. The Aggies’ 62-54 win over Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday was their fourth consecutive victory. They’re ranked 68th in adjusted offensive efficiency and they’ve compiled a nonconference slate that’s rated 20th nationally in strength of schedule, according to ESPN.com. They’re 2-0 against squads in the top 25 of the RPI.

6. Alabama. I think they’ll end up much higher by the end of the season. But the Crimson Tide lost 58-56 to Cincinnati on Cashmere Wright's buzzer-beater Saturday and against Dayton, 81-76, Wednesday. The first week of December has been a rough one.

7. Tennessee. The Vols played two of the top defensive teams in the country in their past two games. But they were still very disappointing in Friday’s 37-36 loss at Georgetown and Wednesday’s 46-38 defeat at Virginia. They’re better than this, but might not really prove it until Jeronne Maymon returns from injury.

8. LSU. Johnny Jones’ new program is off to a 5-0 start against a pedestrian slate (328th SOS). But without any signature victories, it’s tough to peg the Tigers. Their best nonconference opportunity to validate the unblemished record will come Dec. 22 when they face Marquette in Milwaukee.

9. Arkansas. BJ Young (19.5 points per game) is a special talent. But the Razorbacks can’t rely on him alone. The supporting cast has been inconsistent in a rough stretch that’s featured three losses in four games, although they’re coming off an 81-78 victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday.

10. Vanderbilt. The young Commodores earned a crucial road win over Xavier, 66-64 in overtime, Thursday night. It was just their second win in their last six games, but it’s a noteworthy divider in a conference that’s tough to sort at the bottom.

11. Mississippi State. At this point, Rick Ray’s depleted squad just needs wins. And with Tuesday’s 53-42 victory over UTSA, the Bulldogs secured their second in three games.

12. South Carolina. The Gamecocks had won five of their first six matchups to open the 2012-13 season. But they’ve lost back-to-back games to St. John’s (89-65 on the road) and Clemson (64-55).

13. Auburn. Frankie Sullivan is one of the top offensive performers in the country (19.7 ppg). But that hasn’t been enough to pull Auburn out of the SEC’s basement -- the Tigers have lost four games in a row.

14. Georgia. The Bulldogs have lost six of their past seven games. Mark Fox has been unable to find any momentum in the first month of the 2012-13 season.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
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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.

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