With most teams having played three Southeastern conference games, the season is fully and truly in the swing of things. The conference as a whole had some pretty brutal nonconference results, leading some to predict only four SEC teams to make the NCAA Tournament, down substantially from the seven bids the conference earned in 2019.
Bracket prognosticators have been slightly higher on the conference as a whole this week, with both ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and The Athletic’s Brian Bennett tabbing the conference to secure five bids; only the Big East and Big Ten conferences have more.
This week in SEC basketball has featured buzzer-beater shots, improbable comebacks and key injuries. The Missourian breaks down who (or what) has seen its stock rise or fall since the last SEC review published Jan. 6:
Stock up: Texas A&M (8-6, 2-1)
Heading into this week, many had Texas A&M slotted in at last place in their SEC basketball power rankings, and for good reason. After dropping their conference opener to Arkansas, the Aggies ranked 171st in KenPom, largely due to the 296th-ranked offense and a 3-point shooting percentage (23.8%) that still is dead last in the country, a full point behind Maryland Eastern Shore, the second-worst team. The Aggies best win? A home victory over Oregon State, their only win against a KenPom top 150 team. All of that is to say: The Aggies figured to be the SEC’s doormat.
But Texas A&M had other plans, picking up double-digit wins against Mississippi and Vanderbilt to cement what is by far its best week of the season. Mississippi jumped out to a 10-point lead but the Aggies, led by senior Josh Nebo’s 17 points on 100% shooting, rallied to outscore the Rebels by 30 in the second half and pick up their first conference victory.
In its next game out, A&M proved the win against the Rebels was not a fluke, getting out to an early 23-9 lead that it did not relinquish on the way to a fairly easy road win against Vanderbilt, which had just given undefeated Auburn a run for its money.
A 2-0 week doesn’t necessarily turn the season around for Texas A&M, but it does set the Aggies on the right track to at least be competitive in conference play, something you couldn’t say a week ago.
Stock Up: Auburn (15-0, 3-0)
Despite frequent cries that they haven’t played anybody, and despite losing a trio of players to the NBA from last season’s Final-Four squad, the Auburn Tigers are still undefeated, riding a 15-game winning streak into a No. 4 ranking in the AP Poll, the highest in the conference.
The Tigers had a fairly easy schedule this past week, playing Vanderbilt and Georgia in Auburn Arena. The Commodores gave the Tigers a scare, taking them down to the wire in an 83-79 Auburn victory. But Auburn responded by putting an 82-60 shellacking on future top-five NBA pick Anthony Edwards and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Auburn’s own star freshman, Isaac Okoro, is projected as one of the better wing defenders in the 2020 NBA Draft. He showed why against Edwards, holding the three-level scoring wing to just 18 points on 6-15 shooting. While that’s still a solid stat line, 12 of Edwards’ 18 points were scored in the final 10 minutes after Auburn had already run away with the game, having built a 22-point lead.
This week features tougher challenges for the Tigers as they go on the road to play Alabama and Florida. Those two games will be a great data point for how we evaluate Auburn moving forward.
Stock Down: Georgia (10-5, 0-2)
Georgia has certainly not had an easy start to SEC play. The Bulldogs played the conference’s two best teams — Kentucky and Auburn — in their first two games, dropping both.
While Georgia was competitive with the Wildcats until Kentucky outscored it by 12 in the fourth quarter to pull away, the game against Auburn was a disappointment. The Bulldogs were never competitive against the undefeated Tigers.
After picking up perhaps the conference’s best nonconference win on Jan. 4, a 65-62 triumph at Memphis, the Bulldogs were punched in the mouth by a brutal start to conference play.
Luckily, Tom Crean still has the conference’s best player in Anthony Edwards. The schedule gets slightly easier this week, though Tennessee and Mississippi State are no slouches.
But with the best scorer in the SEC on their roster, the Bulldogs will have a chance in every game they play and would regain some momentum with good performances against two teams in the SEC’s middle tier.
Stock Down: Vanderbilt (8-7, 0-2)
Things have not been great for Vanderbilt basketball as of late. The Commodores lost back to back heartbreakers to two teams in the KenPom top 100 in SMU and Auburn within a week. The SMU loss was in overtime and the Auburn loss was one of the best performances of Vanderbilt’s season, even though it came up just short down the stretch.
To top it all off, Vanderbilt lost its leading scorer and best player, Aaron Nesmith, to what likely is a season-ending foot injury.
The freshman point guard was averaging 23 points per game, good for fifth among all players in the country. He was coming off an outstanding 29-point performance against SMU and had even begun building NBA draft momentum, having been projected to go 22nd overall in ESPN’s Jonathan Givony’s latest mock draft.
One of the youngest teams in college basketball under a first-year coach, the expectations for Vanderbilt basketball weren’t sky-high. But this will feel like a week of missed opportunities, and losing Nesmith for the year just a season after losing another future NBA point guard, Darius Garland, to a knee injury has to sting for Commodores fans.
Missouri Tiger fans no doubt can relate.