The last couple of seasons were a rebirth of basketball in the SEC. Its stable of coaches improved and recruiting with it. Schools are also investing in their staffs and facilities. It’s reached a point where you struggle to find fragile links. While there was some turnover this offseason, adding coaches like Buzz Williams, Eric Musselman, Nate Oats, and Jerry Stackhouse diversifies the mix. Along the way, the margin between the best and worst shrunk.
Rosters across the league also underwent more churn than usual this spring, creating relative parity. In KenPom’s initial rankings, nine SEC teams sit between spots No. 38 and 70. They are separated by a slim efficiency margin of 4.83. Translated, a game on a neutral floor between the fifth-best team and the 13th-best teams would be decided by five points.
That’s not only a demonstration of the league’s improvement but also hints at a degree of unpredictability each night. Let’s jump in.
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: This might be the deepest group of guards John Calipari has had at Kentucky, but with a woefully thin frontcourt, it’s all going to come down to how well his terrific group of guards can play. Watch for breakout years from Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey.
No. 2: Florida Gators
My Projection: 23-8 (13-5 in Conference) | KenPom: 20-9 (11-7 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 44.45%
- Returning %Min: 51.91%
Quick take: All the elements are there for the Gators to go on a run: blue-chip freshmen, Young talent, improving sophomores and depth all over the place. It’s on coach Mike White to put it all together, but adding big man Kerry Blackshear, Jr. will help a lot.
No. 3: Tennessee Volunteers
My Projection: 21-10 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 20-10 (11-7 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 29.43%
- Returning %Min: 38.33%
Quick take: Four starters moved on, including Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, and the biggest question is whether Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner can keep the Vols towards the top of the league. Their guard play should be as good as anyone in the league.
Read the preview: At Tennessee, bet on culture winning out in a transition year
No. 4: LSU Tigers
My Projection: 21-10 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 19-12 (10-8 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 53.46%
- Returning %Min: 59.41%
Quick take: Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays anchor the backcourt, and Will Wade has returns enough top-end talent to make LSU a contender again. Trendon Watford is a vital piece in the frontcourt, but after the freshman, depth is a potential concern.
No. 5: Alabama Crimson Tide
My Projection: 21-10 (11-7 in Conference) | KenPom: 14-15 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 48.82%
- Returning %Min: 51.95%
Quick take: Anything is possible with a guard like Kira Lewis Jr. manning the point, while coach Nate Oats has the chops and talent — John Petty, James Bolden and Jaden Shackelford — to turn the tempo up on the Tide’s offense.
Read the preview: Alabama plays a wild card to turn the Tide on a stagnant program
No. 6: Missouri Tigers
My Projection: 19-11 (10-8 in Conference) | KenPom: 19-11 (10-8 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 62.33%
- Returning %Min: 63.92%
Quick take: Coach Cuonzo Martin is rooting for good health. If the Tigers avoid a catastrophic injury, it has a versatile set of guards, a potential floor general in Dru Smith and a proven big in Jeremiah Tilmon to make a dent in league play.
No. 7: Auburn Tigers
My Projection: 20-11 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 20-10 (10-8 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 25.97%
- Returning %Min: 37.46%
Quick take: Hopes are still high on the Plains, but the Tigers still face a daunting task in replacing Jordan Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke. Is this the year when Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley live up to potential? Will Isaac Okoro be an instant impact player as a freshman? Can Samir Doughty ramp up his output?
Read the preview: Bruce Pearl tries to ride the wave of Auburn’s first Final Four
No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks
My Projection: 19-11 (9-9 in Conference) | KenPom: 19-12 (9-9 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 49.41%
- Returning %Min: 71.30%
Quick take: With a large group of returning players, new coach Eric Musselman has a lot to work with — except much of a front court. Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones, Jimmy Whitt and Jalen Harris should provide an offensive spark, but Reggie Chaney and Jeantal Cylla make for an undersized frontline.
No. 9: Mississippi State Bulldogs
My Projection: 18-13 (8-10 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-12 (9-9 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 58.09%
- Returning %Min: 56.00%
Quick take: It’s easy to fall in love with someone as talented as Reggie Perry, but guard play will dictate the Bulldogs’ fortunes. Tyson Carter is no longer a super-sub, and Nick Weatherspoon will need to find a measure of consistency after sitting out the first 10 games of the season. After Robert Woodard, State’s rotation gets murky.
No. 10: Ole Miss Rebels
My Projection: 18-13 (8-10 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-13 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 56.27%
- Returning %Min: 57.25%
Quick take: Ole Miss is no stranger to being underestimated. No doubt, Breein Tyree, Devontae Shuler and Blake Hinson are an excellent trio, but the pecking order is up in the air after that. If Kermit Davis finds solutions, the Rebels won’t have any trouble making this pick look silly.
Read the preview: With Breein Tyree the Rebels have a shot each and every game
No. 11: Georgia Bulldogs
My Projection: 18-13 (7-11 in Conference) | KenPom: 16-13 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 46.08%
- Returning %Min: 51.85%
Quick take: Anthony Edwards is good enough to lift Georgia most nights, but the rest of the roster is split between underwhelming veterans and freshmen who need seasoning. That’s before you consider coach Tom Crean has struggled getting youth-laden teams to defend and value the ball. The Bulldogs figure to be fun team to watch, though.
Read the preview: Anthony Edwards is going to be the star of the show in Athens
No. 12: South Carolina Gamecocks
My Projection: 16-14 (7-11 in Conference) | KenPom: 17-13 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 40.32%
- Returning %Min: 44.11%
Quick take: Yes, doubting Frank Martin is risky. The Gamecocks coach has a habit of coaxing teams to finish higher than projected, and he has an intriguing duo in guards A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant. We know South Carolina will defend, but Martin’s chief task is to finish higher than 90th in offensive efficiency.
No. 13 Texas A&M Aggies
My Projection: 12-17 (4-14 in Conference) | KenPom: 16-12 (8-10 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 72.56%
- Returning %Min: 65.36%
Quick take: The Aggies possess some talent but are in need of buy-in. If Buzz Williams can get that, the Aggies won’t finish near the SEC’s basement.
No. 14: Vanderbilt Commodores
My Projection: 11-19 (2-16 in Conference) | KenPom: 11-20 (3-15 in Conference)
- Returning OV%: 54.32%
- Returning %Min: 52.03%
Quick take: Hiring Jerry Stackhouse was a bold choice, but he will need some time to upgrade a roster that’s short on playmakers.
Who You Should Watch
Point Guard | A.J. Lawson (South Carolina), Breein Tyree (Ole Miss), Lamonte Turner (Tennessee), Javonte Smart (LSU), Kira Lewis, Jr (Alabama), Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Tyson Carter (Mississippi State)
Combo Guard | Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt), Anthony Edwards (Georgia), Isaiah Joe (Arkansas), Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky), Tyson Carter (Mississippi State), Josiah-Jordan James (Tennessee), Devontae Shuler (Ole Miss), Dru Smith (Missouri), Immanuel Quickley (Kentucky)
Wing | Keyshawn Bryant (South Carolina), Savion Flagg (Texas A&M), Mark Smith (Missouri), Kahlil Whitney (Kentucky), Jordan Bowden (Tennessee), Isaac Okoro (Auburn), John Petty (Alabama), Skylar Mays (LSU)
Combo Forward | Rayshaun Hammonds (Georgia), Blake Hinson (Ole Miss),
Post | Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Jeremiah Tilmon (Missouri), Trendon Watford (LSU), Kerry Blackshear, Jr (Florida), E.J. Montgomery (Kentucky), Austin Wiley (Auburn)
SEC Player of the Year | Kerry Blackshear, Jr.
Post | 6-10, Senior | Florida
I feel almost boring making this pick. We’ve often defied convention in our selection for this award, but precedent is also important. It says the SEC’s Player of the Year will almost always be found on a contender. No, that team doesn’t need to win the conference, but they tend to be on a squad that finishes in the top four. While Breein Tyree and Anthony Edwards are going to stuff staff sheets, Blackshear is equally productive and elevates Florida to a potential Final Four team.
Blackshear can run the offense through the high post or low block, and he’s just as capable of a facilitator as he is a scorer. His value should be felt early and often at a position that’s been a sticking point since coach Mike White arrived in Gainesville. Maybe this is a safe pick, but I feel like it’s the most realistic.
All-SEC First Team
- Breein Tyree | Point Guard, 6-2, Senior | Ole Miss
- Anthony Edwards | Wing, 6-5, Freshman | Georgia
- Javonte Smart | Combo Guard, 6-4, Sophomore | LSU
- Reggie Perry | Combo Forward, 6-10, Sophomore | Mississippi State
All-SEC Second Team
- Jeremiah Tilmon | Post, 6-10, Junior | Missouri
- Andrew Nembhard | Point Guard, 6-3, Sophomore | Florida
- Kira Lewis Jr. | Combo Guard, 6-3, Sophomore | Alabama
- Trendon Watford | Post, 6-9, Freshman | LSU
- Tyrese Maxey | Combo Guard, 6-3, Freshman | Kentucky
All-SEC Honorable Mentions
Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Lamonte Turner (Tennessee), Isaiah Joe (Arkansas), Samir Doughty (Auburn), A.J. Lawson (South Carolina), Savion Flagg (Texas A&M), Mark Smith (Missouri), Skylar Mays (LSU), Immanuel Quickley (Kentucky), Jordan Bowden (Tennessee)
SEC Coach of the Year
Cuonzo Martin | Missouri
Coming from a Missouri blog, this might sound rich. But we expect Missouri to be pretty good this year. If Missouri meets our expectations by finishing sixth, they’ll have finished seven spots higher than the SEC media’s forecast. Pull that off, and Martin will fit the profile a coach who gets the nod for this honor.
Sometimes, Coach of the Year goes to John Calipari if he goes undefeated, but last year it went to Kermit Davis. Nobody expected Ole Miss to be an NCAA tournament team, but Davis took a slightly underrated roster to the big dance. Outside of Missouri’s program, fan base, and local media, little is expected of the Tigers. Landing a spot in the field of 68 means Martin should be considered the top choice.
Outside of Martin, Mike White could merit consideration if Florida meets expectations. Or one of the newer hires makes a surprise run to the top of the standings, they’d also deserve a look. But with the meager outside projections for his Missouri roster, we’re going with Cuonzo Martin.
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.