Last Monday, I wrote an expertly-reasoned post about the state of Southeastern Conference basketball. Its impetus was ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes, who had recently gone on an impassioned rant about the quality of the conference. After completing the post and disproving Dykes’ belief, I was happy to let a sleeping dog lie.
Then, as if baiting me personally, Dykes embarked on a similarly pleading campaign during a recent SEC game. I believe it was Kentucky-Ole Miss, but I could be mistaken. In any case, if I were a sleeping dog, Dykes is the guy poking me with a stick just for the fun of it. I could just open my eyes, shoot him a “seriously?” look, and then go back to sleep. But I lack the self-control to do that, so I’m going to wake up and chase him around the yard for a while.
When we last looked at Kentucky, the Wildcats had a 16-4 overall record, including 5-0 in-conference. Now their overall record is 16-7, 5-3 in-conference. The conclusion is inescapable: I am a gigantic jinx. After saying “Kentucky absolutely deserves to be ranked” and that they can “compete with any team in the country,” the Wildcats lost three straight games. First came Ole Miss on the road, 85-80. Then came South Carolina at home, 78-77. Last was Mississippi State at home, 66-57. The Pomeroy Ratings ranked Kentucky at #20 during the last post; now they’re ranked #31. Call me stubborn or call me stupid, but I still think they’re the best team in the conference. This does not mean they should be ranked, however. There are currently other SEC teams more deserving of that honor.
At the time of my first post, the Florida Gators were the second-most deserving of a ranking, behind Kentucky. The Gators had a 17-3 overall record, 4-1 in-conference. Now their record is 19-4, 6-2 in-conference. Since January 26th, they destroyed a miserable Georgia team at home, lost to Tennessee by 16 on the road, and beat South Carolina at home. The Gators are the first of three SEC teams that kind of, sort of, maybe deserved to be ranked. Their four losses are respectable – Syracuse, Florida State, South Carolina, and Tennessee. But they still lack any quality wins, other than their late-November victory over Washington. Ultimately, the Gators should remain unranked. Florida State, South Carolina, and Tennessee are unranked, and if the Gators can’t win at least one of those games, they should not be ranked either. The Pomeroy Ratings have the Gators two spots behind Kentucky, at #33. This seems just about right to me.
On January 26th, the LSU Tigers were the surprising conference leaders in Efficiency Margin. Their record was 15-4, 3-1 in-conference. Now their record is 18-4, 5-2 in-conference. I declared the Tigers a good team, but not worthy of a ranking because of their lack of quality wins. I also said that they were likely to regress a little. Clearly, they have not regressed. Since the first post, they’ve beaten Tennessee and Georgia on the road, as well as Arkansas at home. None, however, is the quality win that the Tigers need to legitimize themselves. Tennessee shows signs of aptitude, but is 14-7 nonetheless. Georgia and Arkansas stink. I sympathize with LSU a great deal. There is a chance that the Tigers are a legitimately good team that deserves a solid ranking. But their conference is so bad that the schedule provides few, if any, opportunities to prove themselves. Look at their remaining schedule: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Auburn. Time will tell, but at this juncture of the season, that is a sorry-looking bunch of teams. Ultimately, the Tigers probably aren’t one of the best 25 teams in the country. But an 18-4 record (likely 19-4 before the polls come out) in a major conference is worth something. If they appeared at #25 in either poll, I would be neither shocked nor dismayed. For what it’s worth, the Pomeroy Ratings have the Tigers at #38.
The South Carolina Gamecocks went without mention in my last post. At the time, they were 14-4 overall, 3-2 in-conference. Now their record is 16-5, 5-3 in-conference. After Florida and LSU, South Carolina is the third team that kind of, sort of, maybe deserves a ranking. The Gamecocks’ five losses aren’t terrible. They begin inauspiciously with an early-season stinker at Charleston. After that, they lost to Clemson at home, and then LSU, Tennessee, and Florida on the road. While they have one more loss than LSU, their wins are slightly more impressive – Baylor and Kentucky on the road, Florida at home. Like LSU, South Carolina is probably not one of the best 25 teams in the country. But also like LSU, their inclusion at #25 in the next poll wouldn’t be shocking or outrageous. The Pomeroy Ratings have the Gamecocks at #53.
Last we checked on the Tennessee Volunteers, I summarily dismissed their candidacy for a ranking because of their 12-6 record. Their record currently stands at 14-7, 5-2 in-conference. Since January 26th, the Volunteers have lost to LSU at home, beaten Florida at home, and beaten Arkansas on the road. Tennessee still should not be ranked, but they remain the SEC team with the highest variance and, therefore, the most mystery. Their non-conference schedule has been impossibly difficult, with two games against Gonzaga and one against Georgetown, Marquette, Kansas, and Memphis. Of course, it would help if the Volunteers actually won a few of those games; they were 2-4 against that group. Losses to Temple and the flaky LSU-Kentucky duo also hurts their case. In the last post, I said they were probably better than their 12-6 record indicated. They’ve only played three games since that statement, but they’re still winning two games for each loss. That’s not good enough for a ranking, at least not now. The Pomeroy Ratings have the Volunteers at #39.
I am only including the Arkansas Razorbacks again to rub more salt in the wound of my great tormentor, Jimmy Dykes. Dykes, an Arkansas alum, cited the Razorbacks as one of the many SEC teams that can compete with any team in the nation. Their record was 12-5 at the time, 0-4 in-conference. Now it’s 13-7, 1-6 in-conference. Their lone conference win came against also-terrible Alabama. I understand that Dykes got excited about Arkansas’ wins against Oklahoma and Texas when they were ranked #5 and #7, respectively. They are still gigantic flukes. Arkansas is awful. The Pomeroy Ratings have the Razorbacks at #113. That being said, I am positive they will beat Vanderbilt on March 8th, because that’s how things work.
It’s only a week and a half later, but the SEC remains a bunch of mediocre teams with one or two pretty good teams mixed in. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell which is which. Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Alabama are bad or mediocre. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are definitely mediocre. Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Tennessee, and South Carolina are frisky or pretty good. The SEC should not have any ranked teams right now. If it does happen, it should be either Florida, LSU, or South Carolina, and the team should be ranked at #25.
I will revisit this issue once more later in the season when teams are mostly finished with their schedule. Frequency, however, is subject to how many more times Jimmy Dykes pokes me with a stick.
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Random blurbs that cannot fill a post of their own:
- Notre Dame has been revealed as a bit of a sham. The Fighting Irish are now 12-9, 3-7 in-conference. They’ve lost six in a row. The Big East is most assuredly a difficult conference, but good teams do better than 3-7. That’s why I make the big bucks, for comments like “good teams do better than 3-7.”
- During the UConn-Louisville game, Dick Vitale loudly (as all things Vitale are) professed shock over Luke Harangody’s NBA draft stock. Vitale claimed that he saw Harangody projected as a late-second round pick. This sounds about right to me, but Vitale was apoplectic about this. After a spiel about Harangody’s numbers and heart and grit and determination, Vitale concluded that this projection was idiotic. I disagree. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, Harangody is a bit overrated. His 25 points and 13 rebounds per game have the “wow” factor, but they don’t tell the whole story. Notre Dame plays at a fairly fast pace, which causes more possessions, which causes more opportunities for points and rebounds. Also, Harangody is a shockingly inefficient scorer. He shoots 47.9% from the field, which is low for a big man. His 1.26 points per shot are also down from last year, and mediocre by any standard. These are the reasons I cringe whenever he and Blake Griffin are mentioned in the same sentence (Griffin >>>> Harangody), and these are the reasons why Harangody should be a late-second round draft pick.
- Other things Dick Vitale went on tangents about during the UConn-Louisville game: the Super Bowl, Coach K, Duke, PJ Carlesimo, UNC, Tyler Zeller, Jimmy Dykes, the decline of SEC basketball, Opening Day, the Tampa Bay Rays, Pat Summitt, Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan, Herb Sendek, Shaq, Jamie Moyer, Kentucky fans, Gonzaga, Patrick Mills, Davidson, Stephen Curry, Seth Curry, Patrick Ewing, Butler, Utah State, Gerald Henderson, Richard Hamilton, the 1999 NCAA Tournament Championship Game, Villanova, KC Rivers, Trevor Booker, Jeff Teague, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jr., Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Emeka Okafor, and Larry Bird. This may or may not become a regular feature.
- If Missouri beats Iowa State on Saturday, and they should, the Tigers absolutely must be ranked on Monday. Missouri is now 19-4 overall, 6-2 in-conference. They don’t have to be ranked high, but they must be ranked, especially after beating Texas. The Longhorns, on the other hand, should plummet from #16. Should. I’ve thought Texas was overrated for a while now; you’re just going to have to take my word for it. They lost to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Missouri. There were no six-loss teams in either poll last week. I personally believe that Texas should be dropped from the rankings altogether. The Pomeroy Ratings have them at a probably more-rational #25.