In college classes the first week of each semester is fairly laid-back. The first couple of meetings are usually held just to go over what is expected and to get an idea on what the coming weeks are going to look like. Because of this, the week is commonly referred to as "Syllabus Week." And if you were like me, the absolute very first thing you wanted to know (other than if attendance was taken, of course) was the grading policy. How many tests were there? Would they be curved? Did the lowest test grade get dropped?
So is the case in college basketball. But unlike the brutal, no nonsense, only written exams, honors class that is college football, in college basketball you get a couple of chances during the year to learn and improve. There's a few open-book tests scattered throughout the season. And if you schedule wisely in the non-conference, you may even get to retake some of those exams in March and see if you do better the second go-around.
As we sit here today in late December, most of the big non-conference matchups have come and gone for SEC teams. But looming just over the horizon in 2024, sits the gauntlet of SEC play. You can smell it and hear it snarling. If you peek over at it, it may bite you or just grin as if to say "I ain't going nowhere."
Welcome to SEC Basketball Fireside Chat. Where since before the three-point line we have been studying all that happens throughout the season in Southeastern Conference basketball. Sticking with the syllabus week test policy theme, below you will find the teams categorized into three tiers. Each tier gives them advice on how they should take advantage of college basketball's very generous allowance of schools to drop their lowest test score if the rest of their season is good enough to possibly earn them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Tier 1: Save it for later
Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee
Well isn't this group special. Everybody's off to a good start, 9 wins or more out of the gates, Ole Miss is undefeated, Tennessee and Kentucky in the Top 10. This tier also has the most teams in it, as it should. Only problem is they all have to play each other and the other good teams placed lower.
Other than the aforementioned Tennessee and Kentucky (and possibly Auburn), who just might be elite, everyone else may be in for a wake-up call. South Carolina has been playing local middle schools, and Mississippi State has a loss to Southern on its resume. No, not Southern Cal. Not even Southern Miss. Southern University from the SWAC.
But on the bright side, they all got out of non-conference play with passing grades and can use that confidence to help them heading into the new year. You better believe they will need it.
Tier 2: Keep studying
Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M
These three teams haven't looked awful by any means, sitting with 8-9 wins. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks they will come out and dominate once conference play starts. A&M probably has the best shot out of this bunch to do that, with a win at Ohio State and close losses to FAU, Memphis, and Houston. Either way, they all need to just keep studying as if they haven't accomplished anything. They may not need help on Selection Sunday, or they may need all of Bedford Falls to chip in like they did for George Bailey.
Tier 3: Drop it
Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, LSU, Vanderbilt
You never want to be in a class with Vandy. I mean that literally. If Vanderbilt is in there its either Aerospace Engineering IV in academics, or if its athletics it means you must be struggling.
Fear not and calm down though. This is why you get to take a drop. Come January it will be a whole new year and season. And for some of these teams, the record really doesn't tell the whole story. Yes, it is a fact Alabama suffered a three game losing streak. What you may not know, was that it was three games to Top 10 teams away from home. While that clearly proves the Tide are not currently in that elite class, losing the games by six, three, and thirteen points respectively does show that they are a good team that is better than the record indicates.
As for the other four schools, the record may indeed tell you everything you need to know. LSU lost to Nicholls State at home. Missouri lost to Jackson State at home (the SWAC strikes again...). Arkansas lost to UNC-Greensboro at home. Not UNC- never mind...you get it. The Razorbacks may have beat Duke earlier this season, but they barely got by Lipscomb and Abilene Christian the last two games.
Maybe having Vandy in this class won't be so bad after all - especially if there's a group project. Oh wait...I just checked the syllabus. There isn't.