SEC Basketball Preview
The SEC in recent seasons has become one of the better conferences in the world of college basketball.
Two seasons ago, the SEC sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, and last year, seven teams received bids into the NCAA Tournament. This year the SEC is loaded at the top. Kentucky, once again headlines the top of the conference followed by a Florida Gator team that has their own sights on a National Championship. The SEC features four coaches in their first year at new schools.
Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt all have new coaches at the helm. Nate Oats at Alabama is in the best position for immediate success out of the four schools with new coaches. Assuming incoming transfer Jahvon Quinerly is eligible to play immediately, the ‘Bama backcourt will be very dangerous with Quinerly and Kira Lewis Jr. John Petty Jr. is back for year three and we know what he can do on the offensive end with his shooting, but if he can add to his game and become a solid perimeter defender, then this team will have the makings for a run come March.
Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will all be in a rebuild and this year. Eric Musselman at Arkansas, Buzz Williams at Texas A&M, and Jerry Stackhouse at Vanderbilt will all be looking to establish their culture and it will take a year or two for them to get “their” guys in and established.
Freshman guard Anthony Edwards signed with Georgia over Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Edwards is widely regarded as the second best freshman guard in the country behind Cole Anthony of North Carolina. Georgia features nine freshmen this upcoming season and there will likely be a lot of growing pains for Tom Crean this year.
Mike White got one of the biggest recruits in the country in the form of a grad transfer from Virginia Tech, Kerry Blackshear Jr. Blackshear Jr. entered his name into the draft but decided to play one more year of college basketball and landed in Gainesville, after getting recruited by Kentucky and Texas A&M among other schools. Along with Blackshear Jr., Andrew Nembhard, Tre Mann, Keyonte Johnson, and Scottie Lewis will all play major roles for this Gator squad. The Gators should have a very deep NCAA Tournament run as long as they can avoid the injury bug. This is Coach White’s best team yet in Gainesville, and “Gator Nation” should be very excited for this upcoming basketball season.
One of the biggest questions in the SEC will be if Auburn can continue their recent success. After losing key contributors in Chuma Okeke, Bryce Brown, and Jared Harper, the Tigers will be looking for new playmakers. Incoming freshmen Jaylin Williams, Tyrell Jones, and Isaac Okoro will all be key pieces. If Austin Wiley reaches his full potential as a game changer in the post, and these incoming freshmen live up to the hype then this team will have a very solid year.
Tennessee is in a similar position to Auburn, in the sense of they are losing a lot. The Volunteers said goodbye to Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone but have a lengthy five-star freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James coming in and will potentially have Uros Plavsic available depending on the NCAA’s ruling of his transfer from Arizona State. Plavsic is a 7-foot-1 center who redshirted his freshman year at Arizona State.
The class of the SEC remains Kentucky, a program that rose back up to College Basketball royalty after hiring John Calipari in 2009. Kentucky lost a lot this year (as they do every year), losing PJ Washington, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis, and Keldon Johnson, but as usual reloaded with a stellar recruiting class. The Wildcats added a ton of wings including, Keion Brooks Jr., Khalil Whitney, and Tyrese Maxey who can play either the Point or the two-guard position. This team has plenty of guards, including one of the nations best on ball defenders in Ashton Hagans but the one glaring weakness is the post play. With only three true big men which includes Nick Richards who has had a rough start to his college career, and EJ Montgomery who still hasn’t proven a lot, the Wildcats will be forced to play small ball which is not the norm for Coach Calipari. Even with all things considered, it is still National Championship or bust for this young, but talented team.
Top non-conference games:
Kentucky vs. Michigan State
Two top teams open the season up against each other in the State Farm Champions Classic. Michigan State is widely regarded as the number one team in the country and Kentucky will more than likely be No. 3 or 4 when the season starts. Two Hall of Fame coaches will face off in Tom Izzo and John Calipari, and two of the country’s best floor generals in Cassius Winston and Ashton Hagans will go head to head in this early season matchup. MSU will have the edge due to the lack of front court depth for Kentucky.
LSU vs VCU November 13th
This game is a sneaky good game. LSU is traveling up to Virginia for this game, and mix that in with the constant pressure and intensity VCU is known for on defense and all of a sudden this is a game that if you are an LSU fan, you are nervous about. LSU will have a challenge getting into a flow on the offensive side of the ball, especially if they settle for shots early instead of attacking the pressure that VCU will play with. LSU still has the better talent and should win this game but it could end up being a terrific game for the average fan to watch.
Tennessee vs. Washington November 16th Washington brings in one of the top recruiting classes in the country with the likes of Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart who will be immediate impact players. Washington will however be without transfer guard Quade Green who is ineligible until January due to transfer rules after leaving Kentucky last December. Washington looks a lot better on paper but Rick Barnes is one of the best coaches in America and he very rarely will get out coached.
Kentucky vs. Louisville
This game is on the list every year regardless of how good the teams are because this is one of the better college basketball rivalries out there. But this year it just means more. Both teams are loaded with stars. Jordan Nwora returns to the Cardinals for his Junior year and you mix that in with a stellar recruiting class for Chris Mack and the Louisville Cardinals will find themselves in the top ten to open up the season. The biggest advantage in this game will be Ashton Hagans ability to disrupt the Cardinals offense with his on-ball defense and ability to guard the full 94 feet. The game will also be played in Lexington so that will be a huge advantage for “Big Blue Nation.”
Tennessee vs. Kansas January 25th
This Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup will be must watch TV. Kansas comes in with Udoka Azubuike who is a seven-footer and a matchup nightmare for nearly every team in college basketball. Devon Dotson is looking to improve upon a decent freshman year and will more than likely be the go to perimeter threat for Kansas this year. Before seeing either team play, Kansas will have the edge but as we all know, by mid January, teams start playing their best basketball so it will be interesting to see how far Tennessee can improve up to that point in the season.
Here are my pre-season predictions for how things will shape up this year in the SEC.
7. Ole Miss
8. Mississippi State
11. Texas A&M
12. South Carolina
First-Team All-SEC Anthony Edwards (UGA) Tyrese Maxey (UK) Ashton Hagans (UK)
Scottie Lewis (FLA) Kerry Blackshear Jr. (FLA)
SEC Player of The Year Kerry Blackshear Jr. (FLA)
NCAA Tournament Teams 6 Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee