Alabama Basketball: Who is Tier I in the SEC?

Alabama v Auburn
Alabama v Auburn / Michael Chang/GettyImages

The SEC has become one of the toughest and most competitive leagues in all of college basketball. Bama Hoops sits at the top of the heap in the current standings, but how do we truly define “Tier I” in the SEC? At this point in the season, it is very difficult to quantify.

The conference features six teams with four or less league losses, and seven teams with seven or less total losses. A lot of this will shake out over the next two weeks, with many of these teams playing each other. For instance, consider Alabama’s upcoming schedule.

The Crimson Tide is slated to play five straight games against opponents with seven or fewer losses, including four games against opponents that are currently ranked in the AP Poll. Similarly, Tennessee and Florida will both close the regular season with very tough stretches. As a result, this logjam at the top of the SEC should quickly sort itself out. 

In my opinion, the true Tier I in the SEC consists of Alabama, Tennessee, and Auburn. Not far behind, Tier II would include Kentucky, South Carolina, and Florida. If this is the true pecking order, it will come to fruition by early March, which is what I expect. 

Alabama is an overwhelmingly talented offensive team that is seeking improved efforts on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. Its offense has largely carried it to 10 SEC wins and the top spot in the standings, but Alabama will have to defend better down the stretch to hold onto that spot. 

Tennessee may be a slightly more balanced team. The Vols always play stingy defense and a physical brand of basketball under Rick Barnes, and are improved offensively with the addition of Dalton Knecht. However, Tennessee’s dependence on Knecht’s scoring ability could prove to be its downfall. Additionally, if Alabama can hold up over the next week, Tennessee's path to a regular season title may go straight through Tuscaloosa. The Vols come to Coleman Coliseum, which has become one of the toughest places to win in the sport, on March 2nd.  

The inverse of Alabama in some ways, Auburn has been very tough defensively but inconsistent on offense. Additionally, the recent injury to starting forward Jaylin Williams, who is one of the most difficult matchups in the league, could hurt the Tigers’ bid for a regular season championship. Still, Auburn has one of the more favorable schedules amongst SEC title contenders and will likely be in the picture until the end. 

Kentucky has had bouts of inconsistency, an inevitability with such a young team, but it is still one of the most talented rosters in the SEC. Coach Calipari’s team is coming off a statement win at Auburn, and has a somewhat manageable schedule down the stretch. Games against Alabama and at Tennessee will be critical, but the Wildcats can still make a run at the regular season championship. 

Florida has been one of the surprise teams in the SEC this season. The Gators have won seven of their last eight contests, and have a potent offense that will allow them to compete with anybody. Two games against Alabama and a road trip to Columbia, SC will likely determine Florida’s final spot in the standings. 

South Carolina started the SEC schedule as strong as anybody, winning 9 of its first 11 conference games. Though it earned impressive wins against Kentucky and at Tennessee, I would argue that it otherwise capitalized on a fairly weak schedule. The Gamecocks have now dropped two in a row and face the difficult task of getting back on track with back-to-back road games. When South Carolina returns home, it will host Florida and Tennessee. South Carolina has the capability to stay in the SEC title hunt, but it’s pretty easy to see this thing going off the rails.

There will be a lot of high-level SEC basketball over the next 2-3 weeks, which will lead directly into what should be a scintillating SEC Tournament. Stay tuned to see how it shakes out, and if the Crimson Tide will claim its third conference title in four years.