Thank goodness for South Carolina. Otherwise there would be no figuring out the SEC.
The Gamecocks moved to 7-0 with Sunday's slugfest of a road victory over Mississippi State. After that, the conference is a cluster of teams virtually indistinguishable by record and performance. After the Gamecocks, each of the SEC's other 13 teams has at least two conference wins. No one has more than four. Everyone has at least two losses but no more than five. Georgia is tied for last place, yet is a mere 2½ games out of second place, and the Lady Dogs are included in this week's projected NCAA tournament field.
The good news: None of the craziness has kept anyone out of the NCAA tournament projection yet. Thanks to nonconference play, deciding which teams are NCAA-worthy and which aren't remains clear with the possible exception of bubble-sitting Georgia.
Still, that doesn't mean the league has made much sense. Consider:
Arkansas, which still has a losing overall record, beat ranked opponents Tennessee and Missouri back-to-back, then lost to Auburn.
That same Auburn team beat then-undefeated Kentucky before losing four of its next five.
The Wildcats, who have wins over Arizona State, Duke and Louisville on the résumé, also lost to Ole Miss, which has only one other SEC victory.
This week Georgia stunned Mississippi State at home only to fall at the hands of LSU in Athens three days later. The Lady Dogs have just two SEC wins but they are against ranked teams (Florida is the other).
Tennessee managed to top that inconsistency, dominating Missouri in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a women's basketball game in Mizzou Arena, before falling at home to Florida later that week.
Mississippi State and Kentucky once looked like the breakout teams that would contend with South Carolina for a title. Now the Bulldogs and Wildcats are just a combined 7-6 in league play and have lost six of their past 10.
Texas A&M seems as if it could be the steadiest of the bunch, but its loss at Arkansas prevents that theory from being fact.
The bottom line is that plenty of SEC teams are good; the conference leads the way for the second straight week with eight teams in our bracketology update.
But just how good and how different these teams are is nearly impossible to tell with these kinds of results.
Those contrasts have not only shown up in the results in league play but also in the overall evaluation of each individual team. After South Carolina there doesn't appear to be a Final Four-caliber team. Yet in this week's projection, five of the top 16 schools are from the SEC (which is why Mississippi State and Tennessee ended up in the same region). Four of those teams fall between 10 and 15 on the S-curve. Four are among the RPI's top 20.
The SEC is the deepest, most balanced league in the country, but just how good it is remains difficult to discern with a virtual grab bag of game results.
With only South Carolina able to dominate nationally, the SEC isn't as strong at the top as it has been in recent seasons -- and even the Gamecocks have shown some vulnerability. Against Texas A&M and Mississippi State, they were perhaps two or three possessions away from suffering an upset. Despite some shaky free throw shooting, South Carolina has been superior and more consistent than any other team in the conference.
The Lady Vols have yet to find any consistency, but they have the best opportunity for separation behind the Gamecocks this week with games against Kentucky (Big Monday, 7 p.m. ET) and Mississippi State (Thursday). However, if recent history is a predictor of future events, Tennessee might win one impressively and lose the other confoundedly, leaving us no closer to figuring out the SEC in 2016.