Final 2020-2021 SEC Power Rankings (3/07/21): Tide & Hogs share No. 1

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LITTLE ROCK — My FINAL ’20-21 SEC Power Rankings (3/07/2021): While Alabama won its first regular-season league title in 19 years (2001-02), Arkansas heads into the postseason riding an 11-game league winning streak that matches the program’s best SEC run accomplished 27 years ago by the ’93-94 national championship Hogs. During the streak, Arkansas defeated ‘Bama by 15 points to avenge a 31-point loss against the Tide early in league play when the Hogs were without star forward Justin Smith. With a head-to-head split as both teams clearly separated themselves from the rest of the league, it seems fitting to suggest each program is heading into the postseason having made a strong case as being the best team in the SEC. LSU, Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida are next with Ole Miss likely needing a run to the SEC tournament finals to potentially sneak into the Dance as the league’s 7th representative.

tie 1. Alabama (21-6, 16-2 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 7 … the Tide finished the regular season by winning 6 of their last 7 games with the lone loss coming at Arkansas, 81-66, roughly two weeks ago … coming into the week having already locked up the league title, the Tide disposed of Auburn (70-58 at home) and Georgia (89-79 on the road) … senior combo forward Herbert Jones is arguably the most versatile player in the league and deserves consideration for both SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly is a leading candidate for 6th Man of the Year, and head coach Nate Oats is likely the leading candidate for SEC Coach of the Year … the Tide is the most prolific three-point shooting team in the league while boasting the nation’s No. 3 “adjusted defensive rating” according to KenPom.com … as the No. 1 seed in the SECT, ‘Bama has a double-bye into the Friday semifinals and will play the winner of Kentucky-Mississippi State … previous ranking: tie No. 1. 

tie 1. Arkansas (21-5, 13-4 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 17 … freshman guard Moses Moody continued his leading role in Fayetteville by posting back-to-back career-high-matching 28-point outings (with ZERO turnovers) while leading the Razorbacks to victories at South Carolina (101-73) and home against Texas A&M (87-80), and it’s the opinion here that Moody finishes what will likely be his one-and-only regular season at Arkansas as the SEC’s top player and top freshman … like ‘Bama, the Hogs have multiple players — Justin Smith and Davonte “Devo” Davis are two examples — deserving of various all-league consideration with head coach Eric Musselman in a two-coach race with Oats for SEC Coach of the year … the Hogs’ identity forged from a historic 11-game league winning streak is, well, no identity at all as this team has shown under the clever plan-hatching of Musselman that it can shape-shift into any playing style necessary to win games … as the No. 2 seed in the SECT, the Hogs have a double-bye into Friday’s quarterfinals and will play the winner of Missouri-Georgia … previous ranking: tie No. 1.

3. LSU (16-8, 11-6 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 29 … the Tigers swept the week — 83-68 over Vanderbilt and 86-80 at Missouri — as they won 5 of their last 7 games while cementing the 3rd-seed in the SECT … freshman guard Cam Thomas wrapped up a top-shelf offensive campaign and finished the regular season as the league’s leading scorer at 23.1 points per game, and he’s certainly among the top two candidates for the league’s freshman of the year honor … Javonte Smart and Trendon Watford are also worthy of all-league honors … the Tigers have the talent and firepower to beat anyone in the league, BUT questionable decision-making and spotty defensive play have been problematic all season … as the No. 3 seed in the SECT, LSU has a double-bye into the Friday quarterfinals and will play the winner of Ole Miss-South Carolina … previous ranking: No. 6.

4. Tennessee (17-7, 10-7 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 21 … the Vols’ disappointing roller-coaster ride through the final two-thirds of league play ended on Sunday with a 65-54 home win over Florida as Rocky Top finished 7-6 in its last 13 games … freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer have been bright spots bringing more consistency game-to-game than the veteran Vols, which helps explain the up-and-down season in Knoxville … strong analytics aside, Tennessee fell from an early-season perch that was approaching national top 5 status and now it seems fair to suggest Rick Barnes’ crew is stumbling into the postseason … as the No. 4 seed in the SECT, the Vols received a double-bye into Friday’s quarterfinals and will play the winner of Florida-Game 1 winner (Vanderbilt or Texas A&M) … previous ranking: No. 4.

5. Missouri (15-8, 8-8 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 45 … Mizzou split two tough games last week — winning 72-70 at Florida before losing 86-80 at home against LSU — which is a respectable result, but since taking down then-league-unbeaten Alabama on Feb. 8 the Tigers lost 5 of their last 7 games … much like Tennessee, Mizzou started great in non-conference and early league play only to stumble during the final one-third of the season … guards Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson along with big man Jeremiah Tilmon all deserve postseason league honors consideration … as the No. 7 seed in the SECT, Missouri will play Georgia on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 5.

6. Florida (13-8, 9-7 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 28 … the Gators lost twice last week — 72-70 at home against Missouri and 65-54 on the road against Tennessee — after enjoying a 3-game winning streak … star guard Tre Mann missed the game against the Vols, but he’s in line for all league honors as is big man Colin Castleton … transfer guard Tyree Appleby (Jacksonville, Ark., native) was a great addition for the Mike White’s Gators … along with ‘Bama’s Nate Oats and Arkansas’ Eric Musselman, Mike White should be on the shortlist for SEC Coach of the Year consideration … as the No. 5 seed in the SECT, Florida will play the Texas A&M-Vanderbilt winner on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 3.

7. Ole Miss (15-10, 10-8 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 52 … the Rebels had to win both games last week to keep their feeble Bubble hopes alive, and that’s just what they did — 70-62 over Kentucky and 56-46 over Vanderbilt … senior guard Devontae Shuler has had some misfired but his overall body of work has been all-league worthy, while backcourt mate and transfer guard Jarkel Joiner has been a solid complementary piece … the league’s last chance for a potential 7th NCAAT at-large bid is among ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out”, meaning a run to the SECT finals might be enough for Ole Miss to sneak itself onto the right side of the Bubble … as the No. 6 seed in the SECT, Ole Miss plays South Carolina on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 7.

8. Kentucky (9-15, 8-9 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 58 … after losing 7 of 8 games, the Wildcats have won 4 of their last 6 games, including a split last week — a 70-62 road loss against Ole Miss followed by a 92-64 home win over South Carolina … these words appear in this space every week because oddly enough they are true: it’s a forgettable season in Lexington, and a run through the SECT to earn the league’s automatic NCAAT bid is the only way that Big Blue will Dance in ’20-21 … for a team that has floundered, it should come as no surprise there are no candidates for individual postseason honors outside of the all freshmen team … as the No. 8 seed in the SECT, Kentucky will play Mississippi State on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 8.

9. Mississippi State (14-13, 8-10 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 79 … the Bulldogs split games last week — a 63-57 road win over Texas A&M followed by a 78-71 road loss against Auburn … the backcourt duo of Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart deserve all league consideration, and forward Tolu Smith has also been a bright spot on Ben Howland’s squad … the ‘Dogs had their moments with wins over Florida and Ole Miss standing out, but losses at home against A&M and Vanderbilt were also glaring … as the No. 9 seed in the SECT, MSU will play Kentucky on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 9.

10. Georgia (14-11, 7-11 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 92 … the Bulldogs played only once last week — an 89-79 home loss against Alabama — as they dropped two consecutive games to end the regular season … sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler, sophomore forward Toumani Camara, and freshman guard KD Johnson all showed promise for the future under Tom Crean … the Bulldogs’ NET ranking has never been anywhere near sniffing Bubble talk, but with 4 Quad-1 wins under their belt the team has proven it can rise up and play role of spoiler next week … as the No. 10 seed in the SECT, Georgia will play Missouri on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 10.

11. Auburn (13-14, 7-11 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 68 … the Tigers split games last week — losing 70-58 on the road against ‘Bama before closing their season at home with a 78-71 win over Mississippi State … there’s no postseason for Auburn, and that includes no SECT … sophomore wing Allen Flanigan (Little Rock, Ark., native) deserves alll league recognition and freshman star guard Sharife Cooper should earn a spot on the all freshman team despit playing in only 12 games … the Tigers’ self-imposed postseason ban conveniently comes during a season in which they were not playing beyond the league tourney  had they not banned themselves … Auburn next plays in ’21-22 … previous ranking: No. 11.

12. Vanderbilt (8-15, 3-13 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 110 … the Commodores played three road games last week with losses against LSU (83-68) and Ole Miss (56-46) sandwiched around a win against Cincinnati (78-64) … Vandy finished the regular season having won 3 league games for the second consecutive season … sophomore star Scotty Pippen, Jr., and Dylan Disu have earned all-league recognition, and freshman guard Issac McBride (Little Rock, Ark., native) stepped up late in the season including a 16-point outing to lead his team in the loss against Ole Miss … as the No. 12 seed in the SECT, the ‘Dores will play Texas A&M on Wednesday …previous ranking:No. 12.

13. South Carolina (6-14, 4-12 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 133 … the Gamecocks were dismantled twice last week — 101-73 at home against Arkansas and 92-64 on the road against Kentucky … Carolina’s best player has been AJ Lawson, who is deserving of all-league consideration … the big question in Columbia now is: What to do with head coach Frank Martin? … as the No. 11 seed in the SECT, the Gamecocks play Ole Miss on Thursday … previous ranking: No. 13.

14. Texas A&M (8-9, 2-8 SEC) … NCAA NET ranking No. 144 … due to covid-19 protocols, the Aggies paused basketball activities and had 9 consecutive games before resurfacing last week for two games — a 63-57 home loss against Mississippi State followed by a valiant, hard-fought 87-80 road loss against Arkansas … sophomore forward Emanuel Miller is by far the best player for A&M — he had 23 points and 10 rebounds against the Hogs — and is deserving of postseason all-league recognition … as the No. 13 seed in the SECT, A&M will play Vanderbilt on Wednesday … previous ranking: No. 14.

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