College basketball: There's a top 10 team in the SEC, but it's not UK or UF
Any given ... Tuesday?
2016 seems to be a time of unparalleled parity in college basketball.
Five different teams have lost while boasting a No. 1 ranking, Duke is unranked for the first time in almost nine years and last year’s Final Four teams -- Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan State and the aforementioned Blue Devils -- have suffered 25 defeats between them.
And this parity, chaos, fun or whatever you want to call it, is reflected even in what is normally a two-horse league: the Southeastern Conference.
Yes, the home of perennial contenders Kentucky and Florida is currently wide open.
The SEC, who hasn’t seen a regular season champion that wasn’t a Wildcat or Gator team since 2009, is topped by a team that wasn’t even in the SEC four years ago (Texas A&M).
LSU, the last team that wasn’t UK or UF to win the regular season conference crown, and South Carolina, who suffered another loss Tuesday after falling to No. 25, also pulls rank on the SEC’s bluebloods.
Meanwhile, the 20th-ranked Wildcats are in danger of dropping out of the rankings all together after losing their sixth game of the season to Tennessee. The Gators haven’t even tasted the Top 25, posting a 15-7 record so far this season.
No. 8 Texas A&M and LSU both boast a 7-2 conference record, but the Aggies' out-of-conference success give them the edge over the Tigers. South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida all sit at 6-3. Georgia and Vanderbilt are only one off at 5-4.
And each of these teams have at least four of the other top seven left on the schedule.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of chaos that could easily happen between now and tournament time that could see any of the top seven teams end up clinching the regular season title.
At least one thing’s for sure: SEC basketball promises to be electric for the rest of the season.
It’s cliché to say every conference game is tough, but, in the 2016 edition of the SEC, it couldn’t be more true, especially when the top seven, who are separated by only two games, are playing an almost round robin with less than a month to go.
It may sound far-fetched to say that a sixth or seventh-place team could rally to claim the conference championship with less than a month less in the season, even more so considering that Georgia and Vandy aren't quite hoops powerhouses.
But the Bulldogs’ recent victory over the Gamecocks could be evidence of a breakthrough for a team that dropped close decisions to Ole Miss (1 point) and LSU (4 points) and led No. 17 Baylor at the half. Georgia will face Florida and visit Kentucky and South Carolina before season’s end, so things could get interesting with the Bulldogs.
The Commodores have also showed signs of breaking through, dropping three decisions to ranked teams (Kansas, Baylor and South Carolina) by four points or less before upending the conference-leading Aggies on Thursday. If Vandy can keep this momentum through a tough seven day stretch in late February that sees match-ups with Georgia, Florida and Kentucky in succession, interesting might not be a strong enough word.
It still might seem far-fetched that the streak of dominance that Kentucky and Florida have established could be at its end. Yet here we are, with five teams in almost the same position as the bluebloods.
There’s no absence of motivation for the five in position to break the streak.
The 2016 SEC regular season title would be Texas A&M’s first. LSU was the last team to own the conference before the streak, but Baton Rouge is dying to end the drought nonetheless. South Carolina has been waiting since 1997 to call themselves SEC Champions, and Vandy's been hungry since 1993. Georgia's been waiting the longest, however, with a drought that predates the Clinton administration. The Dawgs' last conference title was in 1990.
Despite the hostile neighbors, when all is said and done, the Wildcats or Gators could likely own the conference again.
But so could the Aggies, Tigers, Gamecocks, Bulldogs or even Commodores.