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Andy Katz | Correspondent | November 22, 2017

Katz: Move over Kentucky, is Texas A&M the favorite to win the SEC?

Texas A&M is emerging as a serious contender in the competitive SEC.

1. Baylor is off to a 5-0 start after outlasting Wisconsin and Creighton to win the CBE title in Kansas City. Up next is a brutal, repeat brutal, stretch at Xavier and against Wichita State. I’m not sure there are many teams in the country facing two teams of that stature back-to-back in non-league games that aren’t in a tournament. So, everyone will find out just how good the Bears are within a week. Baylor coach Scott Drew had an idea, but he told that every player has practiced as well as they have played in games.

The surprise, if there is one, has been the impact 6-9 freshman Tristan Clark has had on the season. He had three blocks in the win over Wisconsin. “He’s very skilled and poised for a freshman,’’ Drew said. The Bears are once again long, athletic and can make the zone difficult to see through. Baylor’s early-success means the Big 12 may not be as thin as originally projected.

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2. Alabama squeezed out a one-point win over UT Arlington Tuesday night and coach Avery Johnson is well aware that he got a quality, resume-building win. Johnson told Wednesday that he expects Arlington to win the Sun Belt. “They have a high IQ as a team and they are experienced,’’ said Johnson. “They have a great 1-2 punch with (Kevin) Hervey (25 ppg, 7 rpg) and (Erick) Neal (17 ppg, 11 apg). They are great at changing defenses.’’ The Mavericks next elite matchup will be Dec. 18 at Creighton.

3. Texas A&M is clearly an SEC regular-season title contender. It’s not crazy to call the Aggies the favorite over Kentucky, based on early-season performance. The Aggies beat West Virginia at the Armed Forces Classic in Germany and won the Legends Classic over Oklahoma State and Penn State in Brooklyn. Two monster games loom at USC on Sunday and against Arizona on Dec. 5.

What has Aggies’ coach Billy Kennedy learned so far? “That our depth would be this good early,’’ Kennedy told Wednesday. The Aggies had to play the first two games without big man Robert Williams. They had to go the first five (that includes Friday’s game against Pepperdine) without point guard J.J. Caldwell. “We’re going to have to slowly figure that one out,’’ said Kennedy. “He’s talented.’’

MORE: Why Texas Southern is playing 13 road games in four time zones

4. Texas Southern has scheduled the first 13 games on the road against a slew of high-major schools. So far the Tigers have lost at Gonzaga, Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse and Kansas with Clemson pending Friday. So I asked Texas Southern coach Mike Davis for some quick thoughts: The best teams so far? “Kansas and Gonzaga.’’ The hardest to deal with? “Syracuse’s system is so good.’’ The toughest player to defend? “The point guard from Kansas (Devonte Graham).’’

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5. The SEC might be the deepest it has been in years. There is so much basketball to be played but the league has to be feeling good that it could have an ACC-like bid pool. Kentucky, Texas A&M, Alabama and Florida have the look and will likely have the resumes. Georgia and Arkansas should be in the mix above the cut line. Now, add Tennessee after the win over Purdue. Toss in a surprise in LSU and the SEC has eight teams to track. That doesn’t mean Missouri can’t recover from losing Michael Porter Jr., for the year or that Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina or Vanderbilt can’t make a push. But the league has to feel like it will be a major factor. The next month will go a long way toward strengthening or thinning out this list. The knock on the SEC for years has been its inability to provide quality non-conference wins. That won’t be a knock this season and it also means beating each other up during the conference season will be a plus, not negative.

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