Kentucky, Ole Miss or Missouri? Pinpointing the SEC’s Second Best Team

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If the SEC hoops season functioned like a presidential election, Florida would be delivering its victory speech at the podium—the race called and the winner indisputably decided.

Billy Donovan’s team, like Kentucky of yesteryear, is the class of the conference in 2013, head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. No league foe would dare argue otherwise. But even the Gators—whether any in-conference opponent offers resistance the rest of the way—could use some delegated challenger, if for no other motive but a better league storyline.

Who exactly is the second-best team in the SEC, that pseudo contender we’ll pretend is capable of confronting Florida? No one has stepped up to claim the distinction, so Busting Brackets, relying on certain clues and bread crumbs dropped so far, is appointing one itself.

The Contenders:

Kentucky Wildcats Kentucky

Beware, cynics. Calipari’s crew is finally beginning to resemble a team armed with three Burger Boys, a McDonald’s All-American snub (Ryan Harrow) and the best defensive player on planet earth. Kyle Wiltjer has rediscovered his perimeter shot, Harrow is becoming more confident by the game and Willie Cauley-Stein is expected back soon. If Alex Poythress ever finds his motor—after breakout performances in his last two games, it seems he’s getting warmer—these young Wildcats won’t look like kittens by the time March rolls around.

Mississippi Rebels Mississippi

The feel-good story in Oxford has been interrupted by this dour dose of reality: the Rebels’ wagon is becoming unhinged. After jumping out to a program-best 6-0 start in SEC play, the Rebels received a humbling reminder of its standing in the league, courtesy of the defending national champs. In the process, the Rebels lost their least dispensable reserve—one of the conference’s top interior defenders—for the season. Still, Andy Kennedy’s upstart bunch has a renewed swagger thanks to the polarizing showmanship of Marshall Henderson. And with Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner banging down low, the Rebels still have enough beef to skate by for one more month. The big question floating around Mississippi now: was Wednesday’s loss to Kentucky merely the offshoot of a perfect storm or frank perspective as far as where the team sits on the SEC totem pole?

Missouri Tigers Missouri

Riddle me this: A cavalcade of in-bound transfers and the health of Laurence Bowers marked the two biggest wild cards facing Missouri heading into the season. Returning point guard extraordinaire Phil Pressey was supposed to be the one reliable mainstay. Here’s the twist no right-minded prognosticator could predict: From enigma to security blanket, Missouri’s transfers are keeping the Tigers afloat despite Pressey’s subpar play and recurring injuries to Bowers. UConn castaway Alex Oriakhi has been better than advertised, forming a meaty one-two punch with Bowers, when healthy, inside. Former Oregon sniper Jabari Brown has been the lights out shooter he was billed as, Pepperdine refugee Keion Bell has been an efficient scorer inside the 3-point line and Earnest Ross, the least dependable of the three wing players, can at least take credit for being a lockdown defender. For Mizzou to jump back into the passenger’s seat in the SEC—and not get embarrassed by Florida again when the two teams reunite in Columbia in three weeks—its third-year floor general can’t play like he is a transfer adapting to a new system.

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