Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  By Stan McNeal  |  Last updated 1/13/14
On the first night of play in the SEC, Tennessee went to highly regarded LSU and blew out the Tigers. The next night, Missouri had its nation-best 26-game home winning streak halted by the lowest-ranked team in the conference. Three days later, visiting teams came out victorious in five of seven conference games. Indeed, it was an unpredictable start to the SEC. "We're all trying to find ourselves," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday on the coaches' conference call. "That includes us, absolutely. We're all trying to figure out what are we and figure out exactly how we have to play to give our teams a chance to win." No surprise, then, that the first edition of our SEC power rankings might not look quite as you would have figured a week ago. 1. Florida (13-2, 2-0) This week: Georgia on Tuesday, at Auburn on Saturday Last week: Beat South Carolina 74-58, won at Arkansas 84-82 (OT) The Gators have had a lot of practice playing without key players this season, and it's paying off. They gave Arkansas its first home loss even with their leading scorer, Casey Prather, unable to play because of a bruised knee. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin (ankle) and center Patric Young (knees) did not start, either, because of nagging injuries but ended up playing big minutes and combining for 28 points. Wilbekin saved the Gators by tying the game with a late 3-pointer in regulation and making all six of his free-throw attempts in overtime. 2. Kentucky (12-3, 2-0) This week: At Arkansas on Tuesday, Tennessee on Saturday Last week: Beat Mississippi State 85-63, won at Vanderbilt 71-62 There seems to be a limit to Calipari's sympathy for the cramping woes of his star player, 6-foot-9 freshman Julius Randle. Asked Monday what can be done, Calipari said Randle perhaps could better acclimate himself to the stress of playing in games by working harder in practice. "He's not cramping in practice, which leads me to believe he has to step on the gas there," Calipari said. The coach also said he might try playing Randle in three-to-four minute spurts instead of eight-or-so-minute stretches during games. 3. Missouri (13-2, 1-1) This week: At Vanderbilt on Thursday, Alabama on Saturday Last week: Lost to Georgia 70-64 (OT), won at Auburn 70-68 Perhaps the biggest differences between the embarrassing home loss to the Bulldogs and the Tigers' victory on the road were the appearance of freshman forward Torren Jones and the disappearance of Tony Criswell. Jones played a season-high 13 minutes, pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and showed great fight on the offensive boards at Auburn. Criswell did not play because of an undisclosed violation of team rules, according to coach Frank Haith. Haith said Monday he would not have an update on Criswell's status until closer to Thursday's game. 4. Texas A&M (11-4, 2-0) This week: South Carolina on Wednesday, at Mississippi State on Saturday Last week: Beat Arkansas 69-53, won at Tennessee 57-56 The Aggies overcame a 14-point deficit at the half to score an impressive victory at Tennessee that left them as one of four teams to open SEC play with two wins. The game was the Aggies' first true road game of the season. 5. Tennessee (10-5, 1-1) This week: Auburn on Wednesday, at Kentucky on Saturday Last week: Won at LSU 68-50, lost to Texas A&M 57-56 Blowing a big lead against Texas A&M snapped a four-game winning streak and took some of the shine off an impressive conference-opening victory at LSU. 6. Georgia (8-6, 2-0) This week: At Florida on Tuesday, Arkansas on Saturday Last week: Won at Missouri 70-64 (OT), beat Alabama 66-58 A week ago, they were the conference's lowest-ranked team at 251st in the RPI ratings. Two wins later, they're up to 172 (still lowest in the conference) and things are looking a lot better in Athens. Sophomore guard Charles Mann was named SEC Player of the Week after scoring 40 points in leading Georgia to a 2-0 conference start. Mann was just as impressive on the defensive side at Missouri, where his length and strength clearly frustrated Jordan Clarkson. 7. Mississippi State (11-4, 1-1) This week: At Alabama on Wednesday, Texas A&M on Saturday Last week: Lost at Kentucky 85-63, beat Mississippi 76-72 It was a good week for the Bulldogs, who topped their victory total of last season with a win over their in-state rivals Saturday. They also led at Kentucky at the half before their lack of depth -- and the Wildcats' abundance of talent -- caught up to them. 8. LSU (10-4, 1-1) This week: At Mississippi on Wednesday, Vanderbilt on Saturday Last week: Lost to Tennessee 68-50, won at South Carolina 71-68 Freshman forward Jarell Martin is likely to find himself out of the starting lineup this week, and that's not a bad thing. Martin came off the bench and scored 18 points to lead the Tigers at South Carolina. It was only the second time this season that the Baton Rouge native did not start. 9. Arkansas (11-4, 0-2) This week: Kentucky on Tuesday, at Georgia on Saturday Last week: Lost at Texas A&M 69-53, lost to Florida 84-82 (OT) Playing Florida and Kentucky in back-to-back games makes for quite an early-season test, but the Razorbacks at least get both games at home. 10. Mississippi (10-5, 1-1) This week: LSU on Wednesday, at South Carolina on Saturday Last week: Beat Auburn 65-62, lost at Mississippi State 76-72 Pop-off gunner Marshall Henderson returns for the Rebels after missing the first two conference games because of a suspension. Even though Henderson has played in at least two fewer games than the SEC's other top shooters, he still leads the conference in 3-point attempts by 30. 11. Alabama (7-8, 1-1) This week: Mississippi State on Wednesday, at Missouri on Saturday Last week: Beat Vanderbilt 68-63, lost at Georgia 66-58 The Tide's leading scorer is a 6-0 guard, Trevor Releford, which should bode well for Missouri this week. The Tigers have been tough on opposing shooters all season, in part because they start two 6-5 guards who are adept at closing out quickly on 3-point shooters. 12. Auburn (8-5, 0-2) This week: At Tennessee on Wednesday, Florida on Saturday Last week: Lost at Mississippi 65-62, lost to Missouri 70-68 Auburn will need to step up its free-throw shooting or it could be looking at an 0-4 start. The Tigers made only 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) free throws in their two-point loss to Missouri. 13. Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2) This week: Missouri on Thursday, at LSU on Saturday Last week: Lost at Alabama 68-63, lost to Kentucky 71-62 Missouri is catching the Commodores at the right time. They are down to seven scholarship players after leading scorer Eric McClellan was dismissed from the team last week, in part for academic reasons. McClellan, a former teammate of Jordan Clarkson's at Tulsa, was averaging 14.3 points in his first season at Vanderbilt. 14. South Carolina (7-8, 0-2) This week: At Texas A&M on Wednesday, Mississippi on Saturday Last week: Lost at Florida 74-58, lost to LSU 71-68 The Gamecocks are off to an 0-2 start for the third straight season. Based on their 4-14 and 2-14 finishes in the two previous seasons, the slow start could be a sign of struggles to come. You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.
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