AUBURN, ALA. - Auburn closes the decade as one of two remaining undefeated teams left in the country. Where do they fit in the mix of the SEC?
On Sunday afternoon, the Auburn Tigers defeated Lipscomb 86-59. The win pushed the Tigers to 12-0. Auburn was led by Danjel Purifoy, who had 17 points in the victory.
Now that non-conference play is over for Bruce Pearl's Tigers, how does Auburn compare to the rest of the Southeastern Conference right now?
Well, it is hard to tell, considering who the rest of the conference has played thus far. But it is more than likely upon agreement that the top tier of the SEC so far consists of Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Before we can determine an order of these teams as to who is above each other in the SEC, we must assess their play so far, quality of opponent and how convincing they are.
First, Kentucky. The Wildcats display a 9-3 record and are 1-2 away from Rupp Arena. Their best win of the season so far was a home overtime win against their in-state rival, Louisville. They outlasted the visiting Cardinals 78-70. Earlier this season in Rupp, they did get handed an embarrassing loss from Evansville 67-64. But, with the way they played against Louisville, they have seemed to have shaken off two consecutive losses to Utah and Ohio State as well, two quality opponents.
The bright spot for the Wildcats this year is Ashton Hagans, who leads the league in APG with 7.3 and is second in steals per game (2.1). Also, Tyrese Maxey is another positive player who scored 27 against Louisville. He can develop into a nationally recognized player when it is all said and done.
Next is Arkansas. The Razorbacks are led by Eric Musselman. Musselman is proving why his track record is so impressive from the past at Arkansas. The Hogs are 11-1 already this season, with an impressive road win today at Indiana 71-64.
The leader of this Arkansas team is junior Mason Jones. Jones averages nearly 20 points a game, 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Jones will be a key piece in trying to win upcoming road games in the SEC such as @LSU and @Ole Miss. Watch out for these games as they will be crucial to Arkansas starting off on the right foot in conference play.
Tennessee is next up on the list. Despite being 8-4, this team stays dangerous with Rick Barnes at the helm. A team that was the runner up in the SEC tournament last year and made a run in the NCAA tournament, the Volunteers are already 2-1 against top 25 opponents this year. After a strong season start, they have lost games to teams such as Florida State, Memphis and Wisconsin. All respectable opponents.
While this SEC East team does not post the best numbers, they share the ball and do a good job of distributing the scoring. This is something a lot of teams struggle doing. If Barnes can continue to share the wealth with scoring points and keep them playing competitively in close games, this will be a team to watch out for come March.
Finally the Auburn Tigers. One of two remaining undefeated basketball teams in the country. Bruce Pearl's squad looks great defensively going into 2020.
A big positive for Auburn is finally having a healthy Austin Wiley who is leading the SEC in rebounds with 9.4 per game. The Tigers have already won the Legends Classic this season and have beaten quality mid major opponents. So far, this team has beaten NC State, Richmond, South Alabama and more. The biggest concern for Auburn is finding consistent offensive production without Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke.
Another problem for Auburn has been slow starts. It seems as though they have been playing from behind to begin a lot of games. They will need veteran leaders in Samir Doughty, J'Von McCormick and Danjel Purifoy to step up in those guard roles. These three men combine so far for 37 points a game. This production is mandatory plus more in tough games this year including Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Having put all of this out there, we can see the ranks of the SEC heading into the new year. It seems as if Auburn has a slight edge over Arkansas and Kentucky as the best team in the league right now due to their record and athleticism. Right behind the Hogs and Wildcats is Tennessee who is looking to turn their efforts in the right direction at the right time.
I think we are being set up for an interesting conference regular season for the next two months and it will be entertaining to watch.