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The 2017-18 SEC Basketball Preview

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This year is the year the SEC needs to break out. After spending money on coaching upgrades throughout the league, it’s likely we start seeing the payoffs.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Arkansas Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The term SEC Basketball Fever has been used in jest for several years running now. Normally, it’s when one of the middling teams in the league falls to a low-major opponent on their home court in front of a few thousand fans, we’d all sit back and laugh and point and tweet out the hashtag: #SECBasketballFever. Catch it.

This year we may not be able to use the same phrase, at least in jest. Because for the last few years the SEC and its schools have been reinvesting in basketball. Gone are underachieving coaches hired on the cheap and in their place a veritable who’s who in college (and even NBA) coaching. Ben Howland, Avery Johnson, Bryce Drew, Cuonzo Martin, Mike White, Rick Barnes and Will Wade have all been hired in the last few years as upgrades, and all have improved their respective teams.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention Bruce Pearl. While Pearl immediately started recruiting better after arriving Auburn, the sting of losing assistant coach Chuck Person to an FBI scandal and losing key pieces in forward Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy is deep. Meanwhile, his boss, embattled Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, is stepping down by the end of the year. The amount of turmoil surrounding Pearl, who was a risky hire after running afoul of the NCAA at Tennessee, makes it murky to project whether he'll back next season.

My other emerging question mark is Alabama. Right now they are without Braxton Key (injury) and Collin Sexton (eligibility), and we just don’t know when either will be back. If they return during conference play, I’ll feel confident in the pick, but without Sexton and Key, the Tide aren’t going to threaten for tops in the league.

Still, without Auburn or Alabama as a potential NCAA teams, the league has 10 or so squads who can legitimately contend for a bid. So things are certainly looking up for most of the league. Let’s get to the rankings.

Kentucky WILDCATS #1

My Projection: 24-7 (14-4 in Conference) | KenPom: 25-6 (14-4 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 5.13%
  • Returning %Min: 11.67%

Quick take: Another young and talented team, but this version of the Wildcats seems to be missing that one guy capable of taking over games. Still, a roster full of future NBA players should be enough to win the league.

READ THE PREVIEW: Kentucky reloads again, but will they be able to hold off the rest of an improved league?

Texas A&M AGGIES #2

My Projection: 21-10 (12-6 in Conference) | KenPom: 20-10 (12-6 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 81.60%
  • Returning %Min: 73.37%

Quick take: The best frontcourt in the conference with Tyler Davis, Robert Williams, and D.J. Hogg resides in College Station. The big question for the Aggies is what happens at point guard, and that’s a question that went unanswered a year ago.

READ THE PREVIEW: The Aggies might have the deepest frontcourt in the SEC, but what about their backcourt?

Florida GATORS #3

My Projection: 23-8 (12-6 in Conference) | KenPom: 22-7 (12-6 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 47.59%
  • Returning %Min: 48.23%

Quick take: The Gators have some questions to answer about their frontcourt, but they might have the best backcourt in the league with Chris Chiozza and Kevaughn Allen. Add in the acumen of Mike White and there's a reason to think UF could win more games than the talent on the roster would project.

READ THE PREVIEW: Trust Mike White and his experienced backcourt to be the difference for the Gators

Missouri TIGERS #4

My Projection: 21-9 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 13-16 (5-13 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 75.59%
  • Returning %Min: 67.69%

Quick take: Fourth probably seems a bit high for now. But in a conference where we may have to learn tiebreaker rules, any finish between fourth and ninth is reasonable. Michael Porter Jr. will be the best player in the league, but the rest of the Tigers future depends on how the supporting cast around him functions.

READ THE PREVIEW: Can Cuonzo Martin and Michael Porter Jr. lead Mizzou to the promised land?

Alabama CRIMSON TIDE #5

My Projection: 22-9 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 20-11 (11-7 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 77.92%
  • Returning %Min: 67.64%

Quick take: Recruiting is paying off. (OK, that may be a bit too on the nose.) The Tide have a fully stocked and talented roster, and that's taking into account the fact they're without elite point guard Collin Sexton for an indefinite period. If the Tide can defend as they have the last few years under Avery Johnson, the offensive improvement should be enough to contend for an SEC title.

READ THE PREVIEW: Alabama has the talent to challenge for an SEC title. In hoops!

Vanderbilt COMMODORES #6

My Projection: 22-9 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 18-12 (9-9 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 72.23%
  • Returning %Min: 71.61%

Quick take: Vandy has the experience you want and expectations to meet it, but there’s a glaring hole in the middle of their lineup where Luke Kornet used to be. But if they get solid contributions inside, they’ll contend with everyone in the league.

READ THE PREVIEW: Vanderbilt has experience and depth at guard which should be enough to cover up questions in the post

Ole Miss REBELS #7

My Projection: 19-12 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 18-12 (9-9 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 61.49%
  • Returning %Min: 59.08%

Quick take: One of these days we’re going to start expecting more from the Rebels. Coach Andy Kennedy's roster is studded with a quartet of exceptional guards, meaning any production from their post players makes the Rebels a bigger threat than people expect.

READ THE PREVIEW: Perennially underrated Ole Miss begins hoops season underrated

Auburn TIGERS #8

My Projection: 19-10 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 18-11 (9-9 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 64.69%
  • Returning %Min: 67.11%

Quick take: If Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy aren’t playing, the expectations for Auburn's season are going to dip, but there’s still some decent talent on the roster. Mustapha Heron can’t do it alone, but the more looming question will be whether the Tigers can consistently get stops on the defensive end.

READ THE PREVIEW: Big questions surround the Auburn basketball program, but this roster is talented

Mississippi State BULLDOGS #9

My Projection: 20-11 (8-10 in Conference) | KenPom: 19-12 (8-10 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 68.08%
  • Returning %Min: 68.92%

Quick take: Quinndary Weatherspoon needs help. If the Bulldogs supply it, Ben Howland's club is going to be a tough out each night in this conference and contend for the NCAA tournament bubble.

READ THE PREVIEW: Mississippi State is a dangerous team if it can figure out how to win close games

Arkansas RAZORBACKS #10

My Projection: 19-11 (8-10 in Conference) | KenPom: 16-13 (8-10 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 63.86%
  • Returning %Min: 62.63%

Quick take: It’s hard not to love the talented guards in Darryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, but the Razorbacks don’t have the usual depth, and their frontcourt is largely unproven. Until reliable options emerge down low, this is a tough club to read.

READ THE PREVIEW: Can an experienced backcourt help Arkansas overcome front court questions?

Tennessee VOLUNTEERS #11

My Projection: 13-16 (7-11 in Conference) | KenPom: 15-13 (9-9 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 61.21%
  • Returning %Min: 58.66%

Quick take: I like what Rick Barnes is doing, but this feels like he’s still a year away from breaking through. UT has good young players, but they aren’t overwhelmed with talent. Still, expect the Vols to make each SEC game into a dogfight.

READ THE PREVIEW: The Vols are trending upward, but reliable depth may be an issue

Georgia BULLDOGS #12

My Projection: 13-16 (6-12 in Conference) | KenPom: 15-13 (8-10 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 61.96%
  • Returning %Min: 76.33%

Quick take: Yante Maten is a tremendous player, but he needs support. At this point, it's unclear whether the roster coach Mark Fox has cobbled together can give it to him. The big question: who among a slew of young, talented guards will break out?

READ THE PREVIEW: Georgia will need young guards to take pressure off Yante Maten

South Carolina GAMECOCKS #13

My Projection: 13-17 (5-13 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-12 (8-10 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 19.19%
  • Returning %Min: 33.09%

Quick take: South Carolina lost a ton of production after a miraculous Final Four run. Not only did they lose 80 percent of their offensive production, but their entire starting backcourt departed. This is a rebuilding year for Frank Martin, but Carolina fans should have patience and faith that Martin won’t take long to turn it around.

READ THE PREVIEW: A Final Four hangover may be in store for Frank Martin and South Carolina

LSU TIGERS #14

My Projection: 13-16 (3-15 in Conference) | KenPom: 12-16 (5-13 in Conference)

  • Returning OV%: 54.90%
  • Returning %Min: 57.76%

Quick take: The first season is going to be a struggle as Will Wade looks to remake the disaster of a program Johnny Jones left behind. But he should start to make some strides into conference play and into the offseason when reinforcements arrive.

READ THE PREVIEW: A bright future for LSU and Will Wade is likely going to be delayed for at least a year

Who You Should Watch:

Point Guard: Collin Sexton (Alabama), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Lamar Peters (MSU), Jordan Bone (Tennessee), Quade Green (Kentucky)

Combo Guard: Kevaughn Allen (Florida), Riley LaChance (Vanderbilt), Daryl Macon (Arkansas), Admon Gilder (Texas A&M), Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss), Kory Holden (South Carolina), Dazon Ingram (Alabama)

Wing: Quinndary Weatherspoon (MSU), Mustapha Heron (Auburn), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Matthew Fisher-Davis (Vanderbilt), Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky), Jordan Barnett (Missouri), Terence Davis (Ole Miss)

Combo Forward: Michael Porter Jr (Missouri), Kevin Knox (Kentucky), Braxton Key (Alabama), D.J. Hogg (Texas A&M), Jeff Roberson (Vanderbilt)

Post: Yante Maten (Georgia), Robert Williams (Texas A&M), P.J. Washington (Kentucky), Tyler Davis (Texas A&M), Grant Williams (Tennessee)

SEC Player of the Year | Michael Porter Jr

COMBO FORWARD | 6’10 | FRESHMAN

Everything that has been said about Michael Porter Jr. is true. The Golden Boy from Columbia, Missouri, joins his hometown team to link up with his dad, his brother and his two sisters, who play on the women's team. Porter is a do-it-all player who can hit shots from any level at any angle and the resurgence of the Mizzou basketball program hinges on his ability to do it often.

All-SEC First Team

  • Yante Maten | POST - 6’8 - SENIOR | Georgia
  • Kevaughn Allen | COMBO GUARD - 6’2 - JUNIOR | Florida
  • Tyler Davis | POST - 6’10 - JUNIOR | Texas A&M
  • Quinndary Weatherspoon | WING - 6’4 - JUNIOR | Mississippi State

All-SEC Second Team

  • Darryl Macon | COMBO GUARD - 6’3 - SENIOR | Arkansas
  • Robert Williams | POST - 6’10 - SOPHOMORE | Texas A&M
  • P.J. Washington | POST - 6’7 - FRESHMAN | Kentucky
  • Mustapha Heron | WING - 6’5 - SOPHOMORE | Auburn
  • Kevin Knox | COMBO FORWARD - 6’9 - FRESHMAN | Kentucky

All-SEC Honorable Mentions

Collin Sexton* (Alabama), Braxton Key (Alabama), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Matthew Fisher-Davis (Vanderbilt), Riley LaChance (Vanderbilt), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), D.J. Hogg (Texas A&M), Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky), Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss), Terence Davis (Ole Miss)

SEC Coach of the Year | Mike White - FLORIDA

Based upon my own projections, if the Gators end up 12-6, I think White warrants the award. He did win last year, so a repeat might be unlikely. However, I’m not in love with what’s on the Gators roster, and because of the limits of that talent, White is going to have to whip his guys up on a regular basis. Other top candidates could be Cuonzo Martin, Avery Johnson or Andy Kennedy.

About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.

GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.