New Kentucky Wildcats team, same results. John Calipari and Co. survived two late scares against Ole Miss and, more recently, Tuesday night against LSU, who had been challenging the 'Cats for the top spot in the SEC. Rather, UK pulled ahead thanks to decisive play from Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey and, surprisingly, Nate Sestina, who knocked down 3-of-4 from behind the arc in the second half. The victory puts Kentucky in the driver's seat in the SEC, but how do these teams actually rank? It's not as simple as looking at the standings.
5. LSU Tigers
LSU has lost four out of their last five games, and while they still sit at third in the SEC standings, they're clearly on the downswing. Will Wade must turn things around to avoid another stain on his rapidly-degrading reputation. The Tigers need more consistent help for Skyler Mays.
4. Florida Gators
The suddenly-hot Florida Gators have rebounded nicely from their Jan. three-game losing streak. Much of that can be credited to Kerry Blackshear and Andrew Nembhard. The Tigers' results include tough losses at the hands of No. 1 Baylor and then-surging LSU earlier in the season. Decisive wins over Arkansas, Georgia, Vanderbilt (twice) and Texas A&M have Florida back in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks
There has been no hotter team in the SEC than the South Carolina Gamecocks, led by AJ Lawson and Jermaine Couisnard. USC has won eight of their last ten games, including wins over Kentucky, LSU and Texas Tech. Earlier in the year, they beat Virginia. Case and point, these Gamecocks are an NCAA Tournament nightmare. In an unpredictable year for college basketball, Frank Martin's squad could be gearing up for another deep run.
2. Auburn Tigers
Auburn's consistency in their SEC schedule following a light non-conference is impressive, as such an adjustment wasn't expected to be easy for Bruce Pearl's bunch. In many ways, the Tigers represent the old mold of college basketball, led by upperclassmen (outside of Isaac Okoro) who have been there before. Their 22-3 record is slightly exaggerated due to their cupcake non-conference schedule, but they've proven capable when tested against Kentucky, South Carolina and LSU.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Could it be anyone else? Calipari's team has proven themselves and then some after a rough non-conference slate. Maxey is one of the most intriguing freshmen in the country, and Quickley is an electric scorer in crunch-time. Add one of the best defensive guards in the country in Ashton Hagans, plus a reliable big in Nick Richards and you have a Final Four contender. Wins over LSU, Texas Tech, Louisville and Michigan State only boosts their resume.