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As the season kicks off, the SEC still has some work to do to restore itself amongst the elite leagues

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Steps have been taken, and the league is getting closer but you’re probably only looking at a 3-5 bid league this season

SEC Preview

The 2016-17 Basketball season is upon us. I know, I can hardly contain my excitement.

Vandy takes on Marquette in Milwaukee for a tough first opener. Georgia heads to Clemson for the only other Power 5 matchup to open season play in the SEC. Other games catch the eye tonight as potential tough matchups: La Tech v South Carolina, UT-Chat v Tennessee, Florida Gulf Coast v Florida and North Florida v Auburn. LSU gets their start on Saturday and Missouri gets their start Sunday, which means everyone will have played by Sunday night.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Texas A&M Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

With so much coaching turnover the past few years the SEC coaching carousel has stabilized a bit. They replaced only one coach this past offseason when Kevin Stallings moved on from Vanderbilt to Pitt, and the Commodores moved swiftly to hire Bryce Drew. Most of the seats are pretty cool as the league has made more of an effort to reestablish themselves as a quality basketball league again. And while I feel the league is certainly headed in the right direction, I still think they’re a year away from being where they want.

There are probably seven teams with realistic hopes of making the NCAA tournament this year, and probably a few more who can at least be thinking about it but are more likely destined to dream of any post season play. If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to put money on four teams, and would be hesitant about the next three. Let’s get into the rankings:

1. Kentucky WILDCATS

PREVIEW: Kentucky loads up on talented freshmen again
the Masses Projected Record 16.3 - 1.7

%min %pts %ov
LOST 68.8% 2nd 75.9% 1st 75.4% 1st
RETURNING 31.2% 13th 24.1% 14th 24.6% 14th
INCOMING Conf Rank 1st Nat'l Rank 2 247 Avg 99.54
My Ranking 1st
My Projected Record 15 - 3

My Take: Wow. Another year and another celebrated recruiting class which will propel the Wildcats to a top 10 ranking and to the NCAA tournament. It is beginning to get a tad old, but the Wildcats will be challenged by a few teams this year, yet not enough to wrestle the SEC from the grasp of Calipari.

2. Texas A&M AGGIES

PREVIEW: Texas A&M has a very high ceiling and a potentially low floor
the Masses Projected Record 12.3 - 5.7

%min %pts %ov
LOST 55.5% 10th 56.1% 4th 67.8% 5th
RETURNING 44.5% 5th 43.9% 11th 32.2% 10th
INCOMING Conf Rank 3rd Nat'l Rank 18 247 Avg 88.56
My Ranking 7th
My Projected Record 10 - 8

My Take: I've got serious concerns about the Aggies guard depth but they do have excellent top line talent and will be a threat to finish near the top of the league. Watch out for Tyler Davis as he is a legitimate break out candidate.

3. Florida GATORS

PREVIEW: Florida had returning depth and a challenging schedule
the Masses Projected Record 12 - 6

%min %pts %ov
LOST 24.4% 14th 24.1% 14th 22.1% 14th
RETURNING 75.6% 1st 75.9% 1st 77.2% 1st
INCOMING Conf Rank 11th Nat'l Rank 59 247 Avg 88.06
My Ranking 2nd
My Projected Record 12 - 6

My Take: Everyone seems to think the Gators are close to being back to where they were a few years ago. They may still be limited offensively but the depth and athleticism shows they can be dominant defensively.

4. Vanderbilt COMMODORES

PREVIEW: A new coach means a new outlook at Vanderbilt for the first time in a long time
the Masses Projected Record 9.4 - 8.6

%min %pts %ov
LOST 36.4% 12th 42.7% 11th 48.4% 10th
RETURNING 63.6% 3rd 57.3% 4th 51.6% 5th
INCOMING Conf Rank 14th Nat'l Rank 67 247 Avg 91.23
My Ranking 5th
My Projected Record 10 - 8

My Take: The Commodores are going through a big change with a new coach, and new coaches tend to either start hot or sink a bit. So I think Vandy could either be in for a tournament bid or a disappointing season. In the end I think Bryce Drew is the right hire either way.

5. Arkansas RAZORBACKS

PREVIEW: Arkansas has the athletes Mike Anderson likes to make the Fastest 40 work
the Masses Projected Record 9 - 9

%min %pts %ov
LOST 52.5% 5th 42.1% 12th 44.6% 11th
RETURNING 47.5% 10th 57.9% 3rd 55.4% 4th
INCOMING Conf Rank 5th Nat'l Rank 30 247 Avg 88.32
My Ranking 3rd
My Projected Record 11 - 7

My Take: Mike Anderson is on record as being quietly confident in his squad. The Hogs return Moses Kinsley and Dusty Hannahs with a host of top level Junior College talent. It could be a much happier season in Fayetteville than last season as the Razorbacks should return to NCAA tournament competition.

6. Auburn TIGERS

PREVIEW: A rough start hasn’t slowed the excitement at Auburn for the Bruce Pearl era
the Masses Projected Record 8.8 - 9.2

%min %pts %ov
LOST 49.9% 8th 57.9% 6th 62.3% 7th
RETURNING 50.1% 7th 42.1% 9th 37.7% 8th
INCOMING Conf Rank 4th Nat'l Rank 25 247 Avg 93.73
My Ranking 11th
My Projected Record 7 - 11

My Take: The Bruce Pearl party continues for SEC voters but I think the Tigers are still a season away from being a good team. They'll be tough and much more fun to watch than the last few seasons, but they're going to be young and inconsistent.

7. South Carolina GAMECOCKS

PREVIEW: A lack of interior depth could be South Carolina’s undoing
the Masses Projected Record 8.7 - 9.3

%min %pts %ov
LOST 44.2% 11th 47.8% 10th 33.8% 12th
RETURNING 55.8% 4th 52.2% 5th 66.2% 3rd
INCOMING Conf Rank 12th Nat'l Rank 63 247 Avg 79.98
My Ranking 6th
My Projected Record 10 - 8

My Take: Excellent guard play may not be enough to make up for the lack of interior depth for the Gamecocks. With P.J. Dozier and Sindarius Thornwell they'll be a tough out but it likely won't be enough to get USC over the hump and back to the NCAA's.

8. Mississippi State BULLDOGS

PREVIEW: Mississippi State has youth in droves and enough talent to surprise
the Masses Projected Record 8.4 - 9.6

%min %pts %ov
LOST 69.0% 1st 70.4% 2nd 61.2% 8th
RETURNING 31.0% 14th 29.6% 13th 38.8% 7th
INCOMING Conf Rank 2nd Nat'l Rank 10 247 Avg 94.06
My Ranking 12th
My Projected Record 6 - 12

My Take: The Bulldogs will be young young young but there a lot of talent. If Ben Howland can get these guys ready they can make a run, just unsure if it will be enough. Perhaps next year is the target for the breakthrough.

9. Georgia BULLDOGS

PREVIEW: #9 Georgia Hoops will lean heavily on JJ Frazier and Yante Maten
the Masses Projected Record 8.3 - 9.7

%min %pts %ov
LOST 28.6% 13th 33.5% 13th 30.4% 13th
RETURNING 71.4% 2nd 66.5% 2nd 69.6% 2nd
INCOMING Conf Rank 6th Nat'l Rank 35 247 Avg 91.38
My Ranking 4th
My Projected Record 11 - 7

My Take: I was surprised by the lack of faith in Mark Fox as the Bulldogs return J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten who are certified stars in the league. If the secondary players can find some footing and provide the support the Bulldogs are a dangerous team.

10. Alabama CRIMSON TIDE

PREVIEW: Alabama looks to make some in hoops noise this year
the Masses Projected Record 8 - 10

%min %pts %ov
LOST 51.7% 7th 58.1% 10th 72.2% 2nd
RETURNING 48.3% 8th 41.9% 10th 27.8% 13th
INCOMING Conf Rank 8th Nat'l Rank 49 247 Avg 94.82
My Ranking 10th
My Projected Record 8 - 10

My Take: I like Avery's team and I'm also still skeptical. He's just got an awful lot of similar players and not enough proven scoring to make me think this team is ready. But the way he's recruiting it certainly won't take long to make BAMA a contender.

11. Ole Miss REBELS

PREVIEW: Underestimate Ole Miss at your own peril
the Masses Projected Record 7.3 - 10.7

%min %pts %ov
LOST 59.7% 3rd 63.2% 3rd 70.1% 3rd
RETURNING 40.3% 12th 63.2% 12th 29.9% 12th
INCOMING Conf Rank 10th Nat'l Rank 58 247 Avg 86.93
My Ranking 8th
My Projected Record 9 - 9

My Take: People always underestimate Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss but I'm certainly not. I don't think this is a great team but the Rebels will be solid and their schedule is favorable enough to get them in position for a post-season look.

12. LSU TIGERS

PREVIEW: Johnny Jones and LSU try to rebound after a disappointing season
the Masses Projected Record 6.6 - 11.4

%min %pts %ov
LOST 48.2% 10th 55.2% 8th 67.8% 4th
RETURNING 51.8% 8th 44.8% 10th 32.2% 11th
INCOMING Conf Rank 9th Nat'l Rank 50 247 Avg 87.05
My Ranking 9th
My Projected Record 9 - 9

My Take: The lack of faith in Johnny Jones is distinct with this ranking. I don't think LSU will be this bad because there is still some good talent and Craig Victor and Antonio Blakeney should be ready for breakout roles. It's just a matter of whether or not Jones can get them to be more consistent.

13. Tennessee VOLUNTEERS

PREVIEW: Youthful Tennessee will get a good look at its basketball future in 2016-17
the Masses Projected Record 6.1 - 11.9

%min %pts %ov
LOST 54.9% 4th 57.3% 7th 65.5% 6th
RETURNING 45.1% 11th 42.7% 9th 34.5% 9th
INCOMING Conf Rank 7th Nat'l Rank 48 247 Avg 84.89
My Ranking 13th
My Projected Record 5 - 13

My Take: The Vols revamped their roster under a new coach and are very young. I figure they'll have trouble scoring at times but you'll also see the path Barnes wants to take this program begin to take shape.

14. Missouri TIGERS

PREVIEW: Missouri Basketball looks to change momentum
the Masses Projected Record 4.7 - 13.3

%min %pts %ov
LOST 52.4% 6th 54.1% 9th 51.3% 9th
RETURNING 47.6% 10th 45.9% 7th 48.7% 6th
INCOMING Conf Rank 13th Nat'l Rank 65 247 Avg 86.29
My Ranking 14th
My Projected Record 4 - 14

My Take: The youth movement has fully taken over a roster that has won 6 conference games in two years. Missouri will need to win more than that to keep Kim Anderson's vision moving forward.


Now for some completely meaningless preseason awards!

SEC Player of the Year | Yante Maten

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The forward from Georgia should be one of the most reliable post players in the nation this season. Maten has the perfect mix of soft touch coupled with excellent footwork, and he’s added an extended shooting range to his repertoire which just makes him more dangerous. This might be a bit of a surprise pick, but Georgia is a team I’m expecting a lot out of, and one of the reasons is Maten.

ALL SEC FIRST TEAM

  • J.J. Frazier | Georgia
  • Malik Monk | Kentucky
  • Sindarius Thornwell | South Carolina
  • Moses Kingsley | Arkansas

ALL SEC SECOND TEAM

  • De’Aaron Fox | Kentucky
  • Kevaughn Allen | Florida
  • Antonio Blakeney | LSU
  • Devin Robinson | Florida
  • Tyler Davis | Texas A&M

ALL SEC HONORABLE MENTION

Bam Adebayo - Kentucky, P.J. Dozier - South Carolina, John Egbunu - Florida, Matthew Fisher-Davis - Vanderbilt, Dusty Hannahs - Arkansas, Mustapha Heron - Auburn, D.J. Hogg - Texas A&M, Sebastian Saiz - Ole Miss, Craig Victor - LSU, Quinndary Weatherspoon - Mississippi State

ALL SEC NEWCOMERS

  • Malik Monk | Kentucky
  • De’Aaron Fox | Kentucky
  • Jaylen Barford | Arkansas
  • Mustapha Heron | Auburn
  • Bam Adebayo | Kentucky

OTHER NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

Canyon Barry - Florida, Ar’Mond Davis - Alabama, Wenyen Gabriel - Kentucky, J.C. Hampton - Texas A&M, Jared Harper - Auburn, Schneider Herard - Mississippi State, Mario Kegler - Mississippi State, Braxton Key - Alabama, Darryl Macon - Arkansas, Cullen Neal - Ole Miss

SEC COACH OF THE YEAR

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Arkansas Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Anderson | Arkansas

After so much turmoil heading into the 2015-16 season, things have been pretty quiet for the Razorbacks and Mike Anderson has quietly put together the kind of team he can make some noise with. I think many are writing off the Razorbacks a little bit but I think they’ve got the talent to make a run at both Florida and Kentucky if they can get some breaks. Anderson needs to keep this team motivated and hungry and win some road games, but ultimately he needs them back in the NCAA tournament.