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SEC Conference Basketball Preview

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Taking a birds eye look at the SEC Conference, and what to expect coming up this season.

After months of looking at rosters and schedules, it's come to this. The season has officially started, we're under way and the SEC (again) hasn't acquitted itself as we'd all hoped to this point. With conferences losses to Baylor, Akron and Charlotte (South Carolina), UMKC, Purdue and Arizona (Missouri), VCU (Tennessee), Dayton (A&M), Charleston Southern (Ole Miss), Old Dominion and Clemson (LSU), Georgia Tech (Georgia), Miami (Florida), Tulsa and Colorado (Auburn), and Iowa State (Alabama). That's 16 conference losses already which is not ideal for a Conference trying to remake it's image into a good one. Even some of those wins haven't been what you would call decisive, and with only 4 teams left undefeated (two of which are Vanderbilt and Mississippi State), there's definte reason at this point to think that the SEC won't be remaking it's image this season.

So keep in mind that much of the "previews" that are written below were written well before the season started, when many of us were still (somewhat) optimistic about the SEC. For a slightly more up-to-date ranking, check out HHKB Chris' Power Rankings post.

1. Kentucky WILDCATS

Helpful Assist: Glenn Logan, A Sea Of Blue

CHECK OUT THE FULL PREVIEW:
The top ranked Wildcats received 13 of 14 first place. The only thing surprising about that is that it wasn't all 14. This wasn't surprising at all as the 'Cats are returning a lot and bringing in more as they are wont to do. It should be a fun season for the Big Blue Nation as last years 40-0 talk, while ridiculous, gets slightly less ridiculous this year. If the Wildcats bring defensive intensity to each game like they did vs Kansas the other night, the sky is the limit for this team.

Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 3
Top Player Lost: Julius Randle
Top Returning Player: Aaron Harrison

2. Florida GATORS

Helpful Assist: Andy Hutchins, Alligator Army

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Florida was far and away the second ranked team. The early version of the Gators will likely not look very much like the later version as the Gators are younger than they've been in a while, but possibly more talented. Chris Walker and Kasey Hill team up to provide a little more flash, while Michael Frazier II, Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith bring experience and poise. They should be a fun to team to watch.

Highest Ranking: T - 1
Lowest Ranking: T - 4
Top Player Lost: Scottie Wilbekin
Top Returning Player: Michael Frazier II

3. LSU TIGERS

Helpful Assist: crabshire, And The Valley Shook

CHECK OUT THE FULL PREVIEW:
I think this is a little lofty for LSU, and not because they don't have talent, but I worry about their guard depth. Phrasing it that way makes it sound like they might have guard depth, but they don't. There are two guys, in Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby (both fine players) who can be considered guards, after Tim Quarterman (who hasn't shown that he has taken that next step) there really isn't anyone that the Tigers can turn to on the perimeter. They're as deep and talented on the front court as anyone in the country, but you need guards to win basketball games.

Highest Ranking: T - 1
Lowest Ranking: 13
Top Player Lost: Johnny O'Bryant
Top Returning Player: Jordan Mickey

4. Arkansas RAZORBACKS

Helpful Assist: Doc Harper, Arkansas Fight

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Arkansas is one of the few teams that has started well. It helps to have so much returning, not just Bobby Portis (who could make a run at being an All-American this year), but Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden are back as well. The Hogs are a deeper and better team offensively than Mike Anderson has had in Fayetteville, so the odds are with him that this is the season they finally break through.

Highest Ranking: 2
Lowest Ranking: T-12
Top Player Lost: Coty Clark
Top Returning Player: Bobby Portis

5. Missouri TIGERS

Helpful Assists: HHKB Chris, switzy227, Rock M Nation

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It seems that everybody liked what Missouri had on the roster, but the reality is that this is a team that is still searching. 5th was likely too high, but there is enough there that Missouri could make a Georgia-like run in the SEC, once league play starts. The flaws are showing up in excess with early losses to UMKC, Arizona and Purdue. And the schedule doesn't get much easier with non-conference games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Xavier and Illinois. Kim Anderson has his work cut out for him with his first season on the job. Welcome Home, Kim.

Highest Ranking: 3
Lowest Ranking: 11
Top Player Lost: Jabari Brown
Top Returning Player: Johnathan Williams III

6. Auburn TIGERS

Helpful Assists: Austin Lankford, Matt Donaldson, College & Magnolia

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If Missouri was thought too well of to start the year, then Tigers from Auburn are even more so. I think everybody knew that Bruce Pearl had a bit of a reclamation project on his hands, but I don't think anyone envisioned them losing early in the season to Tulsa while only scoring 35 points. I have no doubt that Pearl will get things rolling in Auburn, in fact his 2015 recruiting class is already excellent, but the roster is dangerously thin in the frontcourt, and there aren't a lot of guys who can score the ball. It will be interestingn to see if he can build that team to be effective well into the season.

Highest Ranking: 2
Lowest Ranking: 14
Top Player Lost: Chris Denson
Top Returning Player: KT Harrell

7. Georgia BULLDOGS

Helpful Assist: Mr. Sanches, Dawg Sports

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At this point the Bulldogs are starting to look pretty good to some folks I would think. They return Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, and the interior guys have gotten a year older and wiser. Georgia still doesn't have the depth that Mark Fox would prefer, but they'll be sound defensively and make you fight for ever point. The Bulldogs had a notoriously slow start last season and are hoping to avoid the same trappings from back then. They have a decent but not overwhelmingly hard schedule coming up games against Gonzaga, Colorado, Seton Hall and Kansas State.

Highest Ranking: 3
Lowest Ranking: 13
Top Player Lost: Brandon Morris
Top Returning Player: Charles Mann

8. Tennessee VOLUNTEERS

Helpful Assist: Will Shelton, Rocky Top Talk

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8th might be a bit high with how things have gone around Knoxville recently. The Vols haven't played a game but have already lost two assistant coaches from new Head Coach Donnie Tyndall's staff, stemming from the NCAA investigation into Tyndall's time at Morehead State and Souther Miss. That's not exactly the start you want to get off to when you start your new big time job in the SEC. I love Tyndall as a coach and think he could get Tennessee rocking, but he may not get the chance. A huge roster makeover had to be made when he started, and now he's possibly going to have to fight the NCAA off just to hold on to his job.

Highest Ranking: 5
Lowest Ranking: T - 13
Top Player Lost: Jordan McRae
Top Returning Player: Josh Richardson

T-9. Alabama CRIMSON TIDE

Helpful Assist: BamaBrave4, Roll Bama Roll

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With so much turmoil going on in the SEC, I think Alabama is one of those teams that could sneak under the radar and be pretty good. They've got experience and athleticism. They've also got good depth. They went to Iowa State and narrowly lost to a top 15 team, which was their first loss of the season. The Tide will continue to play Grant-ball, which will slow the pace down and players will defend. It's very possible that Alabama ends up in the top 5.

Highest Ranking: T - 3
Lowest Ranking: 13
Top Player Lost: Trevor Releford
Top Returning Player: Levi Randolph

T-9. Ole Miss REBELS

Helpful Assist: the Ghost of Jay Cutler, Red Cup Rebellion

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Now that the whirlwind existence of Marshall Henderson as a part of the Ole Miss basketball program has passed, Andy Kennedy can get hopefully get back to coaching and focus less of his time and energy on putting out fires. There is a presiding attitude that the Rebels largely underachieved during Henderson's time in Oxford, but with a distraction that large it's also possible that they achieved all they could while watching Marshall hoist 26 shots a night. Ole Miss didn't exactly come out of the gate like gang busters by dropping their home opener to Charleston Southern, which I wasn't even sure was a real program, but were a robust 13-18 last season in the Big South.

Highest Ranking: T - 4
Lowest Ranking: 12
Top Player Lost: Marshall Henderson
Top Returning Player: Jarvis Summers

11. Texas A&M AGGIES

Helpful Assist: DerekAggie06, Good Bull Hunting

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Looking at the offseason I liked Texas A&M a lot more if they would be able to get Danuel House eligible. The transfer from Houston is a former 5-star wing who could add a much needed scoring punch. House had to sit out the first few games, one of which was a close loss to Dayton, but was turned loose on his transfer and allowed to play in the last game against New Mexico. This is the kind of thing that could turn A&M into a threat in the SEC. Now scoring should be a little easier for the Aggies, and their depth jumps quite a bit. Couple that with getting Tony Trocha-Morelos eligible as well could take A&M from the bottom of the SEC, right on up towards the top.

Highest Ranking: T - 7
Lowest Ranking: 13
Top Player Lost: Jamal Jones
Top Returning Player: Alex Caruso

12. Vanderbilt COMMODORES

Helpful Assist: Christian D'Andrea, Anchor Of Gold

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There is little doubt that Damian Jones is an elite player in the league, and the depth in the front court is quite good, and has some experience. The backcourt is another matter. They're young and especially talented, but they're young. Youth in the back court is a big reason why expectations outside of Nashville are tempered. Riley LaChance, Wade Baldwin and Shelton Mitchell are all going to special players for the Commodores, it will be interesting to see how they impact wins and losses, particularly away from home. Vandy has a lot riding on the freshmen, if they step up it could be a positive season.

Highest Ranking: T - 3
Lowest Ranking: 13
Top Player Lost: Rod Odom
Top Returning Player: Damian Jones

13. South Carolina GAMECOCKS

Helpful Assist: ChickenHoops, Garnet & Black Attack

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The start of the season isn't exactly what the Gamecocks had planned, but Frank Martin is still early in the rebuilding process. There's a chance for the Gamecocks to get things moving but they'll have to get contributions from the big men. Right now this is a guard oriented team out of necessity. The guards are good, with Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, Tyrone Johnson and Marcus Stroman all playing productive minutes to date. More nights than not the bigs will have a hard time competing with the rest of the SEC. Opening losses to Baylor, Charlotte and Akron has put a bit of a dent in the plans. The season is long, and they just need to focus on getting better.

Highest Ranking: 6
Lowest Ranking: 13
Top Player Lost: Breton Williams
Top Returning Player: Sindarius Thornwell

14. Mississippi State BULLDOGS

Helpful Assist: justinrsutton, For Whom The Cowbell Tolls

CHECK OUT THE FULL PREVIEW:
Most people don't expect much from the Bulldogs this year, and maybe that's a good thing. With a lot of players coming back this year, Rick Ray has more experience and depth than Mississippi State has had in his tenure. They haven't lost yet, and their early season schedule is manageable, which could get the players a little more confident. If the Bulldogs could get off to a good start they could ride that wave into a productive season in Starkville.

Highest Ranking: T - 9
Lowest Ranking: 14
Top Player Lost: Colin Borchart
Top Returning Player: Craig Sword

Pre-Season Coach of the Year

John Calipari - Kentucky Wildcats

Not only is Calipari a great recruiter, but Coach Cal gets a lot of young talent to look beyond the headlines and see the legend they can build. Kentucky doesn't always play well, and they don't always play hard, but Cal knows the risks of recruiting such young players. And somehow by the end of year Kentucky is almost always playing their best ball. They'll be the odds on favorite to win just about everything this year, and that's evidence of the respect that people have for Coach Calipari's ability to recruit, and his ability to coach. Kentucky won't have to go undefeated for Cal to win Coach of the Year, but they'll have to live up to expectations. And signs are pointing up already.

Pre-Season Player of the Year

Michael Frazier II - Florida Gators

Frazier was a key cog in Florida's record breaking run a year ago, a deadly shooter who took advantage of a lot of open shots that were created for him from the Florida offense. This year Florida will need Frazier to take the next step from being a key cog, to being the most important player on the floor. The Gators are deep with talent, but they'll need Frazier's leadership and scoring to become a great team. It will be Fraziers newfound ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim that may be the difference, but you can still expect him to be lethal from 3-point range as well.

Sleeper Player of the Year

Sindarius Thornwell - South Carolina Gamecocks

Thornwell was the first big recruiting score for Frank Martin and crew, and he's already paid off with a solid freshman campaign. Thornwell has the ability to elevate the Gamecocks this season from the also-ran that they've been, to a threat in the league. They took steps a year ago, but the one thing that was missing was a reliable scorer. Thornwell has the ability to be that guy.

ALL SEC 1st Team

ALL SEC 2nd Team

  • Andrew Harrison - Guard, Kentucky Wildcats
  • KT Harrell - Guard, Auburn Tigers
  • Sindarius Thornwell - Guard, South Carolina Gamecocks
  • Jarell Martin - Forward, LSU Tigers
  • Willie Cauley-Stein - Center, Kentucky Wildcats

ALL SEC Honorable Mention

Charles Mann, Georgia; Kenny Gaines, Georgia; Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida; Michael Qualls, Arkansas; Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky; Alex Poythress, Kentucky; Trey Lyles, Kentucky; Kasey Hill, Florida; Damian Jones, Vanderbilt; Rashad Madden - Arkansas;

ALL SEC Newcomers

  • Karl-Anthony Towns - Forward, Kentucky
  • Cinmeon Bowers - Forward, Auburn
  • Montaque Gill-Caesar - Guard, Missouri
  • Shelton Mitchell - Guard, Vanderbilt
  • Trey Lyles - Forwad, Kentucky