Years of investing in coaching hires paid off last season as the SEC got a record number of teams into the NCAA tournament. The depth of the league showed as Alabama even got in with an in-league record of just 8-10, and eight teams made the tournament which is indeed a big step in the right direction. But the elite teams seemed to be lacking as only two of the eight made the second weekend, and none made it past the Sweet 16.
The difference this year needs to be moving one or two teams into the one or two seed land instead of occupying a mass of the middle seed six through nine which they did a year ago.
The recipe within the league might make for the right mix as Kentucky looks far better, and Auburn and Tennessee both bring back a healthy dose of crucial cogs from teams who split the conference championship last year. On top of a few other teams poised to take another step like Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and LSU, plus teams returning enough talent to make a move like Florida and Alabama, the SEC is stacked with plenty of opportunities throughout the league for NCAA quality wins.
No. 1: Kentucky Wildcats
My Projection: 25-6 (14-4 in Conference) | KenPom: 24-7 (13-5 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 31.21%
- Returning %Min: 33.12%
Quick take: The Wildcats combine another elite recruiting class with veterans like graduate transfer Reid Travis and returners Nick Richards, Quade Green, and P.J. Washington. This combination is when John Calipari usually excels. There are questions about how he’ll use his 10-deep lineup, but Kentucky has a team with national championship talent.
No. 2: Tennessee Volunteers
My Projection: 24-7 (13-5 in Conference) | KenPom: 22-8 (12-6 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 83.89%
- Returning %Min: 87.24%
Quick take: The co-champions last season return everyone but one reserve guard. Tennessee plays and fights for each other, and while the SEC is better, the Vols should be at or near the top of the league again.
Read the preview: The Tennessee rebuild is complete
No. 3: Auburn Tigers
My Projection: 26-8 (13-5 in Conference) | KenPom: 21-8 (13-5 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 68.49%
- Returning %Min: 65.72%
Quick take: While the Tigers should still be elite, enough questions are surrounding their makeup to envision a possible step back this season.
Read the preview: Auburn won big last year and expectations have been raised
No. 4: Mississippi State Bulldogs
My Projection: 23-7 (12-6 in Conference) | KenPom: 21-9 11-7 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 90.06%
- Returning %Min: 83.38%
Quick take: After years of building, it’s time Ben Howland’s breakout in Starkville, or there should be legitimate questions as to whether it’s going to happen or not.
Read the preview: Mississippi State is the breakout team in the SEC
No. 5: LSU Tigers
My Projection: 21-9 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-12 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 68.67%
- Returning %Min: 52.06%
Quick take: Tremont Waters is special, and now Will Wade has upgraded the talent around his star guard. If the Tigers get some shooting, they should be a really tough team to beat.
Read the preview: Will Wade and Tremont Waters have the LSU Tigers ahead of schedule
No. 6: Alabama Crimson Tide
My Projection: 20-10 (10-8 in Conference) | KenPom: 15-14 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 62.55%
- Returning %Min: 77.11%
Quick take: It will be no small feat for Alabama to replace the production of Collin Sexton, but Avery Johnson has an elite roster that is a year older. If they can get some point guard production the Crimson Tide can move up the rankings.
Read the preview: Alabama’s life after Collin Sexton might be better than expected
No. 7: Florida Gators
My Projection: 18-12 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 19-10 (11-7 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 51.65%
- Returning %Min: 69.03%
Quick take: I’m more skeptical on Florida than most because I’m just not sure what they get from anyone not named Jalen Hudson or Kevaughn Allen.
Read the preview: Gators have a deep and talented group of guards
No. 8: Missouri Tigers
My Projection: 18-10 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-11 (9-9 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 52.92%
- Returning %Min: 58.08%
Quick take: This might be a little high considering the Tigers lost Jontay Porter for the season, but Cuonzo Martin showed he can put out a gritty team after the loss of a top player last season.
No. 9: Vanderbilt Commodores
My Projection: 18-13 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 16-15 (7-11 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 33.52%
- Returning %Min: 40.64%
Quick take: Vandy has the talent and roster to exceed these expectations and will go as far as Darius Garland can take them, which might be the NCAA tournament.
Read the preview: Vanderbilt’s roster has been fully restocked with Bryce Drew recruits
No. 10: South Carolina Gamecocks
My Projection: 13-17 (6-12 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-13 (9-9 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 61.17%
- Returning %Min: 66.29%
Quick take: Aside from Chris Silva, I’m not sure South Carolina has enough to make an impact in the league race really. However, Frank Martin and his crew should have enough grit and fight to make it respectable.
Read the preview: South Carolina is locked into it’s second rebuilt under Frank Martin
No. 11: Georgia Bulldogs
My Projection: 15-14 (6-12 in Conference) | KenPom: 12-17 (5-13 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 66.87%
- Returning %Min: 68.93%
Quick take: The Bulldogs have one of the most interesting storylines with a new coach taking over a roster that basically only lost Yante Maten. Can Tom Crean inject some life?
Read the preview: Tom Crean tries to jumpstart Georgia
No. 12 Arkansas Razorbacks
My Projection: 15-16 (5-13 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-14 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 12.38%
- Returning %Min: 19.55%
Quick take: Daniel Gafford returns to a roster that lost everyone else of substance and replaced them with freshman. Expect a dip in Fayetteville.
Read the preview: The Razorbacks have Daniel Gafford and a bunch of youth
No. 13: Ole Miss Rebels
My Projection: 13-18 (5-13 in Conference) | KenPom: 13-17 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 54.80%
- Returning %Min: 53.38%
Quick take: There should be a level of dead-cat bounce from Ole Miss, as they grossly underachieved in comparison to the talent on the roster a year ago. While it’s not great, I’d expect them to be at least competent.
Read the preview: Ole Miss will try to piece their program back together with a new coach
No. 14 Texas A&M Aggiess
My Projection: 12-19 (4-14 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-14 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 35.83%
- Returning %Min: 38.03%
Quick take: Going small is likely the only solution for A&M this season, and the guard play might be good enough for the Aggies to climb out of the basement.
Read the preview: Texas A&M faces a season of uncertainty
Who You Should Watch
Point Guard | Darius Garland (Vanderbilt), Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Jared Harper (Auburn), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), T.J. Starks (Texas A&M), Lamonte Turner (Tennessee), Tremont Waters (LSU)
Combo Guard | KeVaughn Allen (Florida), Bryce Brown (Auburn), Tyree Crump (Georgia), Admon Gilder (Texas A&M), Saben Lee (Vanderbilt), Nick Weatherspoon (Mississippi State)
Wing | Terence Davis (Ole Miss), Tyler Herro (Kentucky), Savion Flagg (Texas A&M), Jalen Hudson (Florida), Keldon Johnson (Kentucky), Tevin Mack (Alabama), John Petty (Alabama), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State)
Combo Forward | Rayshaun Hammonds (Georgia), Aric Holman (Mississippi State), E.J. Montgomery (Kentucky), Chuma Okeke (Auburn), Kevin Puryear (Missouri), Admiral Schofield (Tennessee), Grant Williams (Tennessee)
Post | Daniel Gafford (Arkansas), Donte Hall (Alabama), Anfernee McLemore (Auburn), Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Nazreon Reid (LSU), Reid Travis (Kentucky), Simisola Shittu (Vanderbilt), Chris Silva (South Carolina), Jeremiah Tilmon (Missouri), P.J. Washington (Kentucky)
SEC Player of the Year | Quinndary Weatherspoon
WING | 6’5 | SENIOR
I’m taking a stab on this one because there are a few different ways this can play out. The safe pick would be last year’s pick in Grant Williams. And Williams could win again, but I’m taking the best player on a team with the capability of breaking through this year. Weatherspoon has been a stalwart for the Bulldogs since his freshman season, and while he’s not going to torch the nets from deep his arsenal and ability to score in multiple ways Since his freshman season, Weatherspoon has averaged 14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. While his shooting can improve, he’s offset that slight inefficiency with his knack for getting to the foul line and cashing in chances. Even a slight improvement in his shooting percentages — he shot 31.3 percent from 3-point range last season — would be a boon and leave State’s chemistry undisturbed and produce an offense that’ll be difficult to contain.
All-SEC First Team
- Grant Williams | POST - 6’7 - JUNIOR | Tennessee
- Jalen Hudson | WING - 6’5 - SENIOR | Florida
- Tremont Waters | POINT GUARD - 5’10 - SOPHOMORE | LSU
- Bryce Brown | COMBO GUARD - 6’3 - SENIOR | Auburn
All-SEC Second Team
- Reid Travis | POST - 6’8 - SENIOR | Kentucky
- Jared Harper | POINT GUARD - 5’11 - JUNIOR | Auburn
- Admiral Schofield | COMBO FORWARD - 6’5 - SENIOR | Tennessee
- Tevin Mack | WING - 6’6 - JUNIOR | Alabama
- Tyler Herro | WING - 6’5 - FRESHMAN | Kentucky
All-SEC Honorable Mentions
KeVaughn Allen (Florida), Darius Garland (Vanderbilt), Rayshaun Hammonds (Georgia), John Petty (Alabama), Chris Silva (South Carolina), T.J. Starks (Texas A&M), Nick Weatherspoon (Mississippi State)
SEC Coach of the Year
Rick Barnes - TENNESSEE
I’m not sure the job Rick Barnes did last season can be overstated because even positive outlooks on the UT season saw them maybe moving into the soft middle of the league and not winning it. It’s because of this I’m going to give Barnes the awards again this season. The selection for this award is rarely about who did the best job under the circumstances but often just the coach whose team won the league or finished in the top two. Barnes earned it last year, and if UT is among the top two finishers this year, he’ll warrant the award again.
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.
* - 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.