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SEC Basketball is looking up with a strong group of teams that could make the NCAA tournament

With the SEC slate kicking off tomorrow, this is our last chance to take stock in what happened during the offseason and try to figure out what we're going to see going into this season. There is a lot of reason to get excited for the coming SEC Basketball season. For one, each coach hired in the offseason comes with serious pedigree. Billy Donovan finally took the opportunity he's been wanting for a long time and is now head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he's been replaced by Mike White. White may not be a name that more casual fans of basketball will know, but he's a hot up and coming coach and Florida did well hiring him. Donnie Tyndall got run out of Knoxville and the Vols brought in Rick Barnes, the most distinguished coach in Texas Longhorns history. Rick Ray got fired at Mississippi State, and his replacement was Ben Howland who has been to multiple Final Fours with UCLA and already has the basketball world buzzing with his recruiting in the last six months. And Alabama got rid of Anthony Grant in favor of Avery Johnson, a charasmatic former NBA coach, who has done some pretty spectacular recruiting in his own right. Add those four to John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, not to mention the steady hands of Mark Fox, Kevin Stallings, Mike Anderson, Frank Martin, Andy Kennedy and Billy Kennedy and you've got a heckuva coachhing lineup. Johnny Jones has done wonderfully to get in top talent, the biggest question mark at this stage is if he can get them all on the same page. The jury is still out on Missouri's Kim Anderson, but there is even reason for optimism there as well.

When publishing the previews, we counted down from 1 to 14 based upon my rankings. But today I present the rankings based upon the masses predictions. Here's how this went: we (Chris Bohkay and myself) sent one writer from each teams SBN site a Google Form with the entire game-by-game SEC schedule on it to fill out, and these are the results. Why we do it this way is because most tend to go through and assign a record or a place in the order for each team without regard for the schedule, which is so important in the SEC with the unbalanced schedule. Each SEC team plays five other teams home and home, and then takes the other eight and only play them once. This means that some teams will only have to play Kentucky once, which gives them one extra game against NOT-KENTUCKY to notch a conference win. So teams that have not just Kentucky, but Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, LSU and possibly Florida, are more likely to end up with better records. Another benefit to having one writer from each site do this exercise, is it cancels out biases. Sure you can vote for your bottom half team to finish with 14 wins, but nobody else will, so it will balance out.

With all that said, let's get to the rankings. Below you'll also find my personal picks for SEC Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, ALL SEC First, Second and Honorable Mention teams.

1. Kentucky WILDCATS

PREVIEW: The Wildcats are again poised and ready to make another run towards a #1 seed
the Masses Projected Record 15.2 - 2.8

%min %pts
LOST 77.6% 1st 85.7% 1st
RETURNING 22.4% 1st 14.3% 14th
INCOMING Conf Rank 1st

Jason Marcum from, is confident in this year's Wildcats:
As is the case with seemingly every UK team under Cal, the potential is clearly there, but so too is the uncertainty as to exactly how good everyone will be and how well they'll mesh with each other. I expect this team to have a good start but lose 1-2 games before conference play opens, the most likely candidate being to Duke. Once SEC play rolls around, I think they'll be clicking enough to come out of conference play with no more than four losses and win the regular-season and tournament titles.
My Ranking 1st
My Projected Record 15 - 3

My Take: This is sort of a no-brainer. Kentucky is really good again, Cal has another crop of super talented new comers, they're going to win a lot of games. With Tyler Ulis, Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray and Alex Poythress, the 'Cats have plenty of star power. But the supporting cast is damn good as well with Isaiah Briscoe, Marcus Lee, Mychal Mulder and others providing great depth. The Wildcats won't be as good as they were a year ago, and they could be more vulnerable in conference, but they'll still be the best team and win the most games.


PREVIEW: LSU has the talent to be contenders, but can the Tigers find consistency?
the Masses Projected Record 13.3 - 4.7

%min %pts
LOST 34.8% 10th 43.5% 8th
RETURNING 65.1% 5th 56.4% 7th
INCOMING Conf Rank 2nd

Chris Abshire from, has cautious optimism about his Tigers:
Ultimately, the Tigers’ season will come down to the stars staying healthy and avoiding those 100+ Ken Pom/RPI losses. I thought the Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri losses could have torpedoed LSU’s NCAA hopes last year. I don’t think that’s in play as much this season but there are far more expectations this season with Simmons and Blakeney in the fold. Can LSU win the games it’s supposed to and be a top 25 mainstay? Can they parlay that into a 4-5 seed come March and a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond? There’s optimism, but it’s cautious and, until proven otherwise, the league shouldn’t be trembling just yet. Just don’t be surprised if there’s enough talent that Jones’ coaching flaws appear well hidden this winter.
My Ranking 6th
My Projected Record 10 - 8

My Take: The masses are far more optimistic about LSU than I am. It's not that they aren't talented, the Tigers have what amounts to the second most talented roster in the league. It's not that Ben Simmons isn't what he's cracked up to be either. It amounts to my trust in Johnny Jones, who hasn't proven to this point that he can mold a talented roster into a consistent winner. This is going to be the tell-all year for Jones. He's brought a great roster to Baton Rouge and the Tigers could be a sleeper for a Final Four with the roster they have. The biggest question mark comes with the head coach.

3. Texas A&M AGGIES

PREVIEW: Experience and talented youth boost the Aggies to the top
the Masses Projected Record 12.4 - 5.6

%min %pts
LOST 39.2% 7th 37.1% 10th
RETURNING 60.8% 8th 63.9% 5th
INCOMING Conf Rank 10th

Gigthem08 from, wants the fans to buy in on this team:
Will the fans finally buy in? I mentioned it at the outset... but a big portion of our fans are jaded. Their response to success has often come with a "when will the other shoe drop" hesitation, and to their credit the other shoe has always dropped. Last season's 1-4 nosedive out of the NCAA's down the stretch was an especially painful example. Can the fans who want BK gone truly enjoy success this year? Can we get a true home court advantage for the first time since the Mark Turgeon era? If the team gets rolling and the crowds follow, we could have something special on our hands.
My Ranking 2nd
My Projected Record 14 - 4

My Take: Billy Kennedy has everything you could want on a roster at this point, particularly at a school like A&M where basketball doesn't dominate the headlines. He's got experience with Jalen Jones, Alex Caruso and Danuel House, and he's a supremely talented crop of freshmen led by D.J. Hogg. If everything comes together A&M has a sure fire top 25 team and a challenger for Kentucky at the top of the conference.

4. Vanderbilt COMMODORES

PREVIEW: Vanderbilt is ready to continue the momentum it created last season
the Masses Projected Record 11.7 - 6.3

%min %pts
LOST 20.9% 14th 18.3% 14th
RETURNING 79.1% 1st 81.7% 1st
INCOMING Conf Rank 10th

Tom Stephenson from, is trying to contain his excitement:
The only potential weaknesses I’m seeing with this team are perimeter defense and the lack of a wing who can score off the dribble, but the latter is something that can be hidden in Stallings’ offense and the former can be covered by the post defense (to some degree.) I’m just really trying to contain my excitement over what might be Vandy’s best team since 1993.
My Ranking 3rd
My Projected Record 13 - 5

My Take: There isn't much to not like about the Commodores at this stage. They have a group of young players that played exceptionally well down the stretch of the season last year, they're all a year older, and they could be even better. The fact that they're anchored by Damian Jones, a possible lottery pick, makes them even tougher. The only concern might be depth, but their freshmen class is pretty solid, and I like Vandy to exceed the expectations of the masses.

5. Georgia BULLDOGS

PREVIEW: Georgia will rely on guard play, maturation of young bigs to be successful
the Masses Projected Record 10.1 - 7.9

%min %pts
LOST 36.4% 8th 40.2% 9th
RETURNING 63.6 7th 59.8% 6th
INCOMING Conf Rank 11th

Mr. Sanchez from, thinks Georgia needs big play from a big man:
I think this team can do big things but has a razor thin margin for error. Maten has to be the man inside. Mann has to rebound well against bigger match ups. Gaines needs to return to the go to, 18 ppg type scorer we saw in SEC play as a sophomore. And we need Edwards and Ogbeide to be immediate rotation options with our failure to land a graduate transfer big man to pair with Maten last spring.
My Ranking 4th
My Projected Record 12 - 6

My Take: Ten wins should be about the minimum for the Bulldogs as long as they stay healthy. Mark Fox has fully established his program, and the Bulldogs are tough, physical and make you play their game. As long as Gaines, Mann and J.J. Frazier are healthy, Georgia has a shot. The big question is whether or not Yante Maten can replace the departed and valued big men from last season. Either way, they'll be a tough team to play.

6. Mississippi State BULLDOGS

PREVIEW: Ben Howland has brought excitement and Malik Newman to Starkville. Is that enough?
the Masses Projected Record 9.7 - 8.3

%min %pts
LOST 31.3% 11th 24.9% 12th
RETURNING 68.6% 4th 75.1% 3rd
INCOMING Conf Rank 5th

Reid Coker from, likes what is happening in Starkville:
Overall I think State should be much improved from last season. They should be able to ride those talented guards and pick up several unexpected wins. In a scrimmage last week against UAB, MSU rode Sword’s 23 points to knock off the Blazers by 21. That’s a UAB team that returns several starters after a NCAA tournament berth. I know it’s a meaningless scrimmage, but the most telling fact is that Newman didn’t even play. Assuming Newman and Sword stay healthy, Howland’s squad has a chance to surprise some teams in year one.
My Ranking 8th
My Projected Record 9 - 9

My Take: I'm as high as anyone on the job that Ben Howland has done to this point, but I was a little surprised to see State this highly ranked at the end of it, even in my own rankings. Malik Newman is a big get, and Craig Sword has always been tough, but I'm not sure there is enough to vault them into the top half of the conference. They'll certainly need some breaks, and have to win in some places they haven't won in years, but there's a chance they could nearly get to 12 wins. I mean, I thought my 9 win projection was optimistic.

7. Florida GATORS

PREVIEW: Mike White inherits a talented, potentially inconsistent Florida Gators squad
the Masses Projected Record 8.4 - 9.6

%min %pts
LOST 47.0% 5th 49.4% 7th
RETURNING 53.0% 10th 50.5% 8th
INCOMING Conf Rank 6th

Andrew Spivey from, wants to see the team play before making any judgments:
The biggest thing heading into the season is that there are just a ton of question marks on this team. There are several good players, but how will they react to a new coach and a new system? Those are questions that only games and time will give us answers to, but so far the reaction is that practice has been great to White and his new coaching staff..
My Ranking 7th
My Projected Record 10 - 8

My Take: If there is a team that is flying under the radar with the potential to upset everything we're predicting it's Mike White's Florida Gators. The Gators are talented, deep, and they've got a young exciting coach at the helm. Things could go great, or they could blow up. That's probably why everybody has them picked to be about .500.

8. Ole Miss REBELS

PREVIEW: Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss always surprise, but have a tall task and a tough schedule this year
the Masses Projected Record 8.0 - 10.0

%min %pts
LOST 59.1% 3rd 58.2% 4th
RETURNING 40.9% 12th 41.7% 11th
INCOMING Conf Rank 13th

Michael Borkey from, thinks Ole Miss just needs somebody to step up as a scorer:
Overall, this team lacks in physicality and size down low but is very athletic across the board. Ole Miss will use their athleticism as an advantage and play a very fast-paced brand of basketball. However, their current lack of a second scorer (that could change depending on how the newcomers adjust to this level of basketball) and lack of depth down low might cause problem for the Rebels especially after they enter conference play. Much to the frustration of Ole Miss fans, I expect this team to win a few games they probably shouldn’t and lose some games they probably shouldn’t. An Andy Kennedy team will never be bad, but I do think this is a transition year for the Rebels which will likely end in an NIT berth..
My Ranking 9th
My Projected Record 7 - 11

My Take: Andy Kennedy has built up enough equity that you expect Ole Miss to at least be pretty good. I'm not in love with the roster, and while they've got athleticism, they don't have any proven scoring past Stefan Moody, and have never been good enough defensively to make up the difference. Still, at worst I think they'll win 6-7 games, and mess up somebody's post season plans.

9. Auburn TIGERS

PREVIEW: Bruce Pearl might have one more season of rockiness while rebuilding Auburn
the Masses Projected Record 7.9 - 11.1

%min %pts
LOST 55.3% 4th 64.8% 3rd
RETURNING 44.6% 11th 35.1% 12th
INCOMING Conf Rank 4th

Tuco from, sees a lot of different ways the season could play out:
Auburn this year may be maddeningly inconsistent. I’m not sure if we have more than 8-9 guys who can play ball on an SEC level and several of them are battling injuries. If the preseason games have been any indication, we’re going to score some points and hope to hold on. We’re averaging 106.5 points per game but had to beat D-II Indianapolis in overtime. Auburn is a team that belongs in that 6-10 range in the SEC. If they stay healthy and Danjel gets cleared to play by the NCAA Clearinghouse, this is a team that could finish with 10-12 conference wins and play postseason basketball. If things break bad, we could win only 5-7 conference games.
My Ranking 13th
My Projected Record 4 - 14

My Take: SEC fans really like them some Bruce Pearl. I think Pearl will have Auburn rocking and rolling very soon, but I find it really difficult to see them finishing this high in the SEC with the roster they have. The young players are reason to be excited, but I'm learned that young players need time, unless they're Karl Anthony Towns, who isn't on this roster. The depth isn't good as well, I think this roster just needs another season to situate, and then the impact of Pearl will star to show.

10. South Carolina GAMECOCKS

PREVIEW: Mixture of experience and talent could push South Carolina towards a big season
the Masses Projected Record 6.7 - 11.3

%min %pts
LOST 22.3% 13th 21.3% 13th
RETURNING 77.7% 2nd 78.7% 2nd
INCOMING Conf Rank 7th

ChickenHoops from, thinks the Gamecocks might finally be where Frank Martin wants them:
Carolina still needs one more scorer on the offensive end, or alternatively, needs to figure out floor spacing issues that persist when two post players clog the lane and prevent the rest of the guys from getting to the rim. But they can figure that out. With a very soft out-of-conference schedule and a favorable draw in the SEC, it won’t take much improvement for the Gamecocks to put up the kind of record that looks like an NCAA team. If they can take a step forward from last year’s team, they could be as good as the second-best team in the SEC.
My Ranking 5th
My Projected Record 11 - 7

My Take: Maybe I'm the only one, but I think the Gamecocks are going to be good. They were so close last year, they lost so little, and they're adding a McDonalds All American. So I fully expect South Carolina to be a borderline NCAA tournament team this year. They may not get over that hump, but I think that speaks more to the depth of the SEC at this point. But they'll be in the conversation.

11. Arkansas RAZORBACKS

PREVIEW: Mike Anderson and Arkansas start to rebuild after a wild offseason of exits
the Masses Projected Record 6.0 - 12.0

%min %pts
LOST 63.4% 2nd 71.9% 2nd
RETURNING 36.6% 13th 28.1% 13th
INCOMING Conf Rank 14th

Doc Harper from, is pretty sure things will get better after this year:
Overall, if the team can avoid the Wednesday night games of the SEC Tournament (the bottom four teams) I think most people will be reasonably satisfied since recruiting seems to be going well at the moment. Arkansas has commitments from three of the top juco players in the country, and we have a chance with Malik Monk, so there will be much more anticipation for 2017 than this season.
My Ranking 14th
My Projected Record 3 - 15

My Take: I can see the Razorbacks winning 6 games, but I think that's the ceiling. The three wins I projected seems a bit low, but that's the effects of losing everyone, and one of your top returners being suspended until he gets tried for forgery. Needless to say it was a forgettable offseason for Arkansas, but their recruiting class is reason enough to expect Mike Anderson to get the Hogs back on the horse.

12. Alabama CRIMSON TIDE

PREVIEW: As Avery Johnson takes over, Crimson Tide fans might have to wait
the Masses Projected Record 5.7 - 12.3

%min %pts
LOST 41.1% 6th 51.0% 6th
RETURNING 58.8% 9th 48.9% 9th
INCOMING Conf Rank 8th

BamaBrave4 from, is just excited about watching offensive progress:
The Crimson Tide will probably be a very up-and-down team this season, as they will be a young bunch adjusting to a completely different style of basketball. As such, they will likely get blown out a few times, but they will also pull off some big wins when things are clicking. Alabama fans will be satisfied with any type of improvement offensively, and it looks like Johnson will be able to succeed in that regard. The Tide will likely finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, in the same tier as Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, and South Carolina, but ahead of some of the conference’s lesser teams.
My Ranking 12th
My Projected Record 5 - 13

My Take: When Bama ran off Anthony Grant, he left behind a pretty rough looking roster. That's reason enough to think it could be a long season in Tuscaloosa. But Avery Johnson didn't waste time as he's got some big time recruits coming into the program next year. It's just going to take until next year for the Tide to be relevant, but at least they'll play an interesting style of basketball this year.

13. Tennessee VOLUNTEERS

PREVIEW: The Tennessee Volunteers have a long road up, but a steady hand at the helm
the Masses Projected Record 5.7 - 12.3

%min %pts
LOST 29.8% 12th 32.5% 11th
RETURNING 70.2% 3rd 67.5% 4th
INCOMING Conf Rank 12th

Charlie Burris from, thinks brighter days are ahead:
Vol fans are basically just going to have to grin and bear it this year because even a seemingly good coach like Rick Barnes can’t make players more inherently talented. A .500 record is going to be an accomplishment in 2015 but maybe UT can steal a few games that they’re not supposed to. My best-case scenario is for Tennessee for them to be that team that top-tier teams should beat, but you know you’re going to get a close game out them. Just keep games close, be respectable, and come back next year when Rick Barnes has a had a full recruiting cycle to work with.
My Ranking 11th
My Projected Record 6 - 12

My Take: The main complaint about Rick Barnes at Texas was that he'd grown complacent and didn't have the competitive edge that he once held when he was going to the NCAA tournament every year at Texas. It will be interesting to see if Barnes can prove his doubters wrong as he's got a big task of turning around a program that's run through a lot of coaches in a short period of time.

14. Missouri TIGERS

PREVIEW: Missouri embarks on Kim Andersons second season with hope that things are going to get better
the Masses Projected Record 4.7 - 13.3

%min %pts
LOST 35.1% 9th 55.2% 5th
RETURNING 64.8% 6th 44.7% 10th
INCOMING Conf Rank 9th

Chris Bohkay from, is just happy basketball is back:
Maybe it's because I've been brainwashed by Kim Anderson, what with those big googly eyes he's got (when not covering them with a hand in despair)? Again, could be. Whatever the cause, I'm looking forward to watching what Mizzou does this year because, if you believe everyone, Mizzou is going to be a special kind of awful, again! Last year the Tigers were terrible and this year they're gonna be worse, just ask everyone. And even with my prediction of them only beating 5 teams (too many some would say) I feel good, almost at peace about this season. I bet this is what people feel like right before death, a calmness. Hopefully the season doesn't feel like death though, not again.
My Ranking 11th
My Projected Record 7 - 11

My Take: Covering Missouri more than any other team might lead me to think there is more reason for optimism than the rest of the conference. But when there is continuity and some young players that were asked to grow up last year, you have to think that things, at least, can't get worse. I think you'll see progress from the Tigers, but I don't see them winning much more than I have projected.

SEC Player of the Year
Ben Simmons

Freshman | Forward | LSU

There are several contenders for this award, and it won't be easy for him to get, but Ben Simmons is probably the most talented and well-rounded player in the SEC. There's a distinct possibility that he's the best player in the country as well. Simmons was the second ranked player in SBNation's top 100, and was on numerous All-American teams in the preseason. If he lives up to his billing, he's good enough to overcome my questions about Johnny Jones ability to coach, and get LSU into the NCAA tournament and beyond.

Photo Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

ALL SEC First Team

Tyler Ulis
Kenny Gaines
Skal Labissiere
Damian Jones

ALL SEC Second Team

Malik Newman Mississippi State
Stefan Moody Ole Miss
Jamal Murray Kentucky
Danuel House Texas A&M
Dorian Finney-Smith Florida

ALL SEC Honorable Mention

Alex Caruso - Texas A&M, Wade Baldwin IV - Vanderbilt, Jalen Jones - Texas A&M, Riley LaChance - Vanderbilt, Charles Mann - Georgia, Yante Maten - Georgia, Alex Poythress - Kentucky, Tim Quarterman - LSU, Devin Robinson - Florida, Sindarius Thornwell - South Carolina,

ALL SEC Newcomers

Ben Simmons LSU
Malik Newman Mississippi State
Jamal Murray Kentucky
Skal Labissiere Kentucky
Perry Dozier South Carolina
Other Newcomers to Watch

Kevaughn Allen - Florida, Antonio Blakeney - LSU, Isaiah Briscoe - Kentucky, Kareem Canty - Auburn, Tyler Davis - Texas A&M, Sam Finley - Ole Miss, D.J. Hogg - Texas A&M, Danjel Purifoy - Auburn, K.J. Walton - Missouri, Jimmy Whitt - Arkansas

SEC Coach of the Year
Kevin Stallings


With the way the season ended last year you would think that Vanderbilt would be a shoe in for a top 3 or 4 finish in the SEC and a trip to the NCAA tournament, but it will still be a really impressive job of recapturing momentum after a couple really difficult seasons in Nashville, and taking a team of mostl sophomores into a strong season. But I fully expect Vandy to be a very good team, and that will be a testament to Kevin Stallings. He's been at Vanderbilt for a LONG time, now he'll get recognized for one of his best coaching performances over the course of several years by turning around a severely downward trend to get the Commodores back in contention for an SEC title.

Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

About the preview: Each SBNation site was asked for one representative to submit a Game-by-Game pick of the upcoming SEC season to get a different look than if we just asked them to submit a ranking by team, or a prediction for their record. It yielded some interesting results as you can see.


GP: Games Played
%min: Percentage of team minutes played that were available
%poss: Percentage of usage, when a player is the cause of the end of possession (turnover or shot)
%points: Percentage of points scored vs team points
%rbds: Percentage of rebounds vs team rebounds
eFG%: Field Goal percentage with added weight of 50% for three point shots made
%3pm: Percentage of 3-point makes to team 3-point makes
ORtg: Average points scored per 100 possessions (if the player was responsible for each possession)

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