The SEC has been criticized for years for not having the depth of the other big conferences in college basketball. Sure, they have Florida and Kentucky most years, but that is it. I went so far as to say they were closer to a mid-major conference than a high-major. Missouri has already moved into the top 25 rankings, and LSU has received votes twice this season. These two teams are the only two teams in the discussion for third-best in the SEC, but which one is better?
Missouri has a top-25 win over UCLA, but they have not played a true road game yet and lost to Illinois who is unranked. LSU does not have a top-25 win, but both of their losses are to ranked teams, UMass and Memphis, and they were in both games. LSU does have a win over Butler, and they have won on the road. Missouri is 10-1 right now and has two games left before SEC play starts with only a road game at North Carolina State as a possible loss. LSU also has two games left before conference play starts, but both of their games are at home against bad teams.
According to the RPI, LSU is the better team. They are currently ranked 20th in the nation — six spots ahead of Kentucky — because they have four top-100 wins, and both of their losses were to teams in the top 40. Missouri has the lone top-100 win, UCLA, but that is it as far as strength of victory and their lone loss is to the 10th ranked team in the RPI. The RPI is slightly flawed, especially this early in the season. LSU has only played two teams that are ranked 150 or higher in the RPI while Missouri played four such teams. This shouldn’t matter, but it does. Missouri would have probably beaten the same teams LSU did, but since they scheduled really bad teams their RPI ranking is much lower. This will even itself out over the season once they start playing SEC teams, all of whom are top-150 except Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia.
Since the RPI doesn’t show up much this early in the season and both teams have no bad losses, we have to use the eye-test on this one; what have we seen with each team? What I’ve seen from LSU is a team that can score on the inside and outside. I see a team that rebounds well, is one of the best defensive teams in the SEC, and according to KenPom.com they are second only to Florida. I see a team that moves the ball, plays as a unit, and can hang with most teams in the country. When I watch Missouri I see a three-man show. Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Brown lead the show for Missouri, and there is a big drop off after them. If one of them struggles, who will step up? I see LSU as a more balanced team that plays better defense, so that is why I think they are behind only Florida and Kentucky in the SEC. When you throw away the rankings and go with what we have seen, LSU is the clear choice.
This season was supposed to be the year the SEC was going to have the usuals, Florida and Kentucky, as well LSU, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas all in the running for an NCAA Tournament berth. So far LSU, Missouri and Arkansas have accepted the challenge and are in the top 50 of the RPI; Tennessee has struggled a little, but they still have a shot. If LSU can get that one big win and join the top 25 it would give the SEC four ranked teams and start to eliminate the mid-major tag that has been put on them.
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