The past few weeks have been a roller coaster for SEC basketball, and we’re only in December. Several high-profile teams competed in November tournaments, such as Tennessee in Maui, with no one taking home a trophy. The conference split the SEC-ACC challenge by a score of 7-7. Every ranked SEC team lost last week, and no one looks like they want to be the best team in the SEC, but someone has to be.
Who’s the Best Team in the SEC?
Our first contender, Kentucky, took down number 15 Miami last week. Following that game, Kentucky lost to UNC Wilmington at home on Saturday. One could say it’s them being young and coming off a huge win. However, Kentucky officially has a defense problem. To be fair, they’ve been playing without three centers, one of which, Aaron Bradshaw, made his debut Saturday and was +8, the only Cat with a positive plus-minus. Kentucky has only held three teams under 80 points this year, two of which are transitioning into division one. They have the 62nd-ranked defense on Kenpom. The positive is they have arguably the best win in the conference, taking down Miami at home. They have the 12th-ranked offense, are elite at shooting the three, and might have the best guards in the country. They just have to guard anybody at all.
The preseason pick to win the conference, Tennessee, has a good case by the numbers. They are the number one SEC team on Kenpom and the NCAA’s NET rankings. The numbers really like Tennessee, and I don’t blame them. Rick Barnes has a track record of having good regular season teams. The problem with Tennessee is they’ve had three chances to get a ranked win and have failed to capitalize every time. It’s been a different problem every game; against Purdue, it was a whistle fest; against Kansas, they shot 31%; against North Carolina, they couldn’t stop anything. Tennessee showed what they could do when they put it all together against Wisconsin; they just had to be consistent. With Santiago Vescovi getting benched against UNC and Dalton Knetch day to day, guys will have to figure it out and step up.
Alabama, just like Tennessee, has a great case by the numbers. They are the second-highest-ranked SEC team on Kenpom and the NET rankings. Offensively, they look amazing, scoring over 76 in every game this year. However, on Kenpom, they rank 70th on defense. Allowing 91 to Oregon is not acceptable. They’re also staring down a gauntlet in December with three top-15 teams. With how the defense looks right now, I’d call it a success if they win just one of those. Mark Sears is my pick for SEC Player of the Year right now. I love his game, and he’s leading what might be the best offense in the country. Nate Oats has had elite defenses in the past; he has to right this ship.
Texas A&M is really up and down. They put out a horrific offensive showing against Virginia, alongside a just as horrible defensive showing against FAU. However, they looked excellent against Ohio State, who took down Alabama, and a solid Iowa State team. However, they have to start playing games their way. Texas A&M is 324th in adjusted tempo on Kenpom. They are also 337th in possessions per game. Why are they taking 67 shots against FAU? Virginia is even slower and less talented than them. How did they control the game like they did? I like the depth, I like the star power, and I love the coaching. We’ll see how they handle a great Houston team that plays at a slow pace as well.
If you ask five different people who the best team in the SEC is, you might get five different answers. Overall, I still really like Texas A&M. Kentucky has the most upside, but Kentucky hasn’t hit its ceiling since before COVID-19 hit, so I’m skeptical. Tennessee has some injury issues, and I don’t know how long it takes to hit their stride. Alabama is playing the same way they did last year, and while they’re very talented, I don’t think they’re as talented as last year. I think Texas A&M is the best mix of experience, coaching, talent, and balance in the SEC.