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Matter's SEC Heat Check: Top four teams pulling away?

Matter's SEC Heat Check: Top four teams pulling away?

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After a full week of SEC basketball, the top four teams are still the top four teams with a subtle switch at Nos. 3 and 4 after a head-to-head outcome. Nine weeks from today you’ll be filling out your NCAA Tournament brackets, and through the first full week of conference play, the SEC doesn’t exactly have the makings of a seven- or eight-bid conference. The NET rankings and have only two SEC teams in their top 25 — and not the same two teams — but here at the SEC Heat Check everyone makes the cut. Here’s the latest …

1. AUBURN (15-0, 3-0): The Tigers made enough plays late to avoid a major upset against Vanderbilt then unleashed all their firepower in Saturday’s 22-point win over Georgia, cementing their place as the current kings of the SEC. After pouring in 23 points over Vandy, freshman Isaac Okoro was every bit as valuable Saturday with an admirable job guarding Georgia star freshman Anthony Edwards.

Last week: No. 1

This week: at Alabama, at Florida

2. KENTUCKY (12-3, 3-0): How unfair is Kentucky’s talent? Immanuel Quickley has made 10 of his last 11 3-pointers and is averaging 18.8 points over UK’s last three games — and he comes off the bench. The Cats didn’t have much trouble with Georgia and Alabama but head on the road for a couple tests this week.

Last week: No. 2

This week: at South Carolina, at Arkansas

3. LSU (11-4, 3-0): The Tigers swept Arkansas and Mississippi State by a combined three points and needed a Skylar Mays buzzer-beating jumper on Saturday to beat the Bulldogs after trailing by nine points with five minutes left.

Last week: No. 4

This week: vs. Texas A&M, at Ole Miss

4. ARKANSAS (13-2, 2-1): Arkansas could very well be the third-best team in the league, but LSU gets the nod — for now — by virtue of its two-point win over the Hogs. Isaiah Joe, maybe the league’s most dangerous shooter, blew up for 34 points against Ole Miss on Saturday with seven 3-pointers. Count on a rockin’ Bud Walton on Saturday with Kentucky in the house.

Last week: No. 3

This week: vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Kentucky

5. TENNESSEE (10-5, 2-1): Are the Vols this good? Probably not, but they get credit for sweeping two close games against Missouri and South Carolina. Once freshman point guard Santiago Vescovi stops turning the ball over, the Vols might become a threat to the teams listed higher. He’s given the ball away 21 times in three SEC games.

Last week: No. 9

This week: at Georgia, at Vanderbilt

6. ALABAMA (8-7, 1-2): Welcome to the soft middle of the conference. After blowing a 21-point lead at Florida a week ago, the Tide clobbered Mississippi State then stayed within single digits at Kentucky on Saturday. First-year coach Nate Oats has Bama playing faster than anyone in the league, and if the 3s are falling, the Tide can topple anyone in the league.

Last week: No. 7

This week: vs. Auburn, vs. Missouri

7. MISSOURI (9-6, 1-2): The Tigers blitzed Florida on Saturday with — gasp! — an aggressive offensive approach and the their hottest 3-point shooting game since 2013. The last time Mizzou shot better than Saturday’s 63.1 percent from behind the arc, the 3s came from the following Tigers: Keion Bell, Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross and Stefan Jankovic. Through three SEC games, MU has the lowest turnover rate in conference play and ranks second in 3-point shooting.

Last week: No. 8

This week: at Mississippi State, at Alabama

8. FLORIDA (10-5, 2-1): Is there a team in the SEC getting less with more? Mike White has a collection of premier recruits, plus the SEC’s best offensive big man in Kerry Blackshear Jr., but it’s been an underwhelming start for a Gators team that began the year ranked in the top 10.

Last week: No. 5

This week: vs. Ole Miss, vs. Auburn

9. TEXAS A&M (8-6, 2-1): Who knew? The Aggies have losses to Harvard and Fairfield but smoked Ole Miss and Vandy by a combined 29 points last week, proving you can pile up wins in a league bloated with mediocre teams. The Aggies are winning with defense, which is good because they still can’t shoot.

Last week: No. 14

This week: vs. LSU, vs. South Carolina

10. GEORGIA (10-5, 0-2): Tom Crean might have the league’s best player (Edwards) and one of the SEC’s best nonconference wins (Memphis), but the supporting cast is still lacking. Then again, nobody kicked off league play against a tougher schedule, at home against Kentucky, at Auburn

Last week: No. 6

This week: vs. Tennessee, at Mississippi State

11. MISSISSIPPI STATE (9-6, 0-3): The Bulldogs have a lot of size and wipe the offensive boards clean, but Ben Howland’s team can’t shoot straight, just 22.2 percent from 3-point range through three SEC games.

Last week: No. 10

This week: vs. Missouri, vs. Georgia

12. VANDERBILT (8-7, 0-2): What a brutal week for the Commodores, who were on the verge of upsetting Auburn on the road but stumbled in the closing minute. Then Vandy lost super scorer Aaron Nesmith to a foot injury, possibly a season-ender. (You think your team’s cursed? Vandy lost lottery pick point guard Darius Garland five games into last season, now loses the nation’s fifth-leading scorer.)

Last week: No. 12

This week: at Arkansas, vs. Tennessee

13. OLE MISS (9-6, 0-2): The Rebels had 20 fouls, 10 turnovers, four free throws and just 11 field goals last week at Texas A&M. That’s how you lose by 10.  Brutal start offensively for Kermit Davis’ team — and a brutal week ahead.

Last week: No. 11

This week: at Florida, vs. LSU

14. SOUTH CAROLINA (8-7, 0-2): Frank Martin might beat some teams near the top of this list at some point this year — but not the way the Gamecocks are shooting this year. Nebraska is the only worse high-major team from the foul line and only Virginia and Texas A&M are worse from 3-point range.

Last week: No. 13

This week: vs. Kentucky, at Texas A&M

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