Ranking the SEC Basketball Teams Last to First
With the college basketball season upon us it seems like a good time to roll out our pre-season SEC rankings. Last year the conference made a lot of noise in the NCAA tournament and this season should be a huge year for the league. Here is our prediction of how the standings will shake out by the end of the season.
14. South Carolina– The Gamecocks made their first Final Four in school history last season and Frank Martin has really turned the program around. Unfortunately they lost the majority of contributors from last season and did not add any elite freshman talent. On top of that the SEC looks to be the deepest it has ever been in basketball. They could surprise and finish a few spots higher but they are likely destined to be one of the teams playing on Wednesday night of the SEC tournament. The good news for their fans is that Martin will get the back to relevance quickly.
13. LSU-The Tigers had a terrible season last year but the bright side is that they fired Jonny Jones who was one of the worst coaches in the SEC. They hired Will Wade who is a very young coach that got his start at VCU. He does not have a lot to work with on this roster but he has made some big strides in the recruiting game. Tremont Waters is a freshman point guard that should be fun to watch on this team. Their upcoming recruiting class is currently ranked in the top 5 so it appears that Wade could get things turned around fast.
12. Ole Miss– The Rebels always seem to find a way to work themselves into being better than expected but usually come up short of the NCAA tournament. This year there looks to be 5 or 6 teams that will battle it out for the league’s final NCAA tournament bid. Ole Miss is in that group but they are likely to land another NIT appearance this year. Andy Kennedy has kept them respectable in his time there and that is more than many past coaches could do. Another year of not being either good or bad is what seems to await fans in Oxford. But hey at least you have a land shark as a mascot now…
11. Georgia– You could read the summary of Ole Miss and it basically applies to Georgia just the same. The main bright side for the Bulldogs is that Yante Maten withdrew from the NBA draft. He will give them one of the best big men in the league. The problem is that they have to replace JJ Frazier at point guard which will not be an easy task. They couldn’t get to the big dance with Frazier and Maten together so why would they be able to make it with just one of them now? Mark Fox is starting to feel some heat and this could be a make or break season for him.
10. Mississippi State– Ben Howland is in year three there and has not had the success that fans had hope thus far. This year should be a turning point for the Bulldogs who have a lot of young talent that should help them compete for an NCAA tournament bid. Teams 5 through 10 in these rankings are incredibly close and could fluctuate a great deal depending on how teams develop. The hope for this team is that they would jump into the top 7 or r teams in the league and it is a realistic hope. Bulldog fans have had to live in the cellar for several straight years now so this should be a nice change of scenery for them.
9. Tennessee– Most pre-season rankings do not have the Volunteers as high as I do but I think they will be a surprise team this year. Rick Barnes is in his third year and he had the team much more competitive last year than was expected. Much of that team returns this season and they should be on the bubble for a tournament bid by seasons end.
8. Arkansas– The Razorbacks made it to the NCAA tournament last year and almost upset North Carolina in the 2nd round. They lost two major players from that team in Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley but they return the rest of their roster. They should have enough talent and experience coming back to make another run at an NCAA tournament bid.
7. Vanderbilt– The Commodores made the big dance and nearly advanced past the first round last season before a late game mistake from Matthew Fisher-Davis. The team lost their top big man Luke Kornet but they have almost everyone else back including Fisher-Davis who wants a chance to redeem his error. Bryce Drew seems to have the program on the rise including being involved with some big time recruits. If he can reel in a couple of them and get to the NCAA tournament again the fans in Nashville will be giddy.
6. Missouri– After two straight years of being beyond terrible the Tigers will suddenly leap back into relevance. Cuonzo Martin was hired and quickly brought in a top recruiting class that includes Michael Porter who will be a top NBA draft pick. Despite only winning 2 games in the SEC last year there are actually some decent roster pieces returning from that team. If Martin can get the returning players to mesh with the blue chip recruits it should be a recipe for the NCAA tournament. If he can’t get it to work they should still be interesting to watch and win their share of games regardless.
5. Auburn– I am higher on this team than some of the national pundits but they have all the pieces to be an NCAA tournament team. The biggest thing that could derail this team is the ongoing FBI investigation. Assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested and has since been fired but that leaves a bit of a cloud over this team. I had this year penciled as the time that Bruce Pearl finally gets Auburn back to relevance and while I don’t feel quite as confident because of the FBI, I still think it will happen. Love him or hate him college basketball is more fun when Bruce Pearl matters and that should be the case this season. UPDATE: As I was in the middle of writing this article Auburn has suspended two of their best players indefinitely because of their connection with the FBI investigation. Assuming they are eligible by conference play I feel good about this ranking, if they aren’t then they would slide down to 11th or 12th.
4. Alabama– Avery Johnson has the Crimson Tide on the cusp of a break through season. He has a talented freshmen class coming in to go with a good core of returning talent. Alabama should make the NCAA tournament this season and the future looks bright with Johnson at the helm. Collin Sexton is a star point guard that will get a lot of attention this season as one of the more electric players in the league. I am a big fan of Avery Johnson and think this season will help put him on the map of up and coming coaches.
3. Florida– Mike White almost got the Gators to the Final Four last season but they were stopped by their fellow league mates in South Carolina. They lost some important pieces from that team but they still have a good core of returning players. On top of that they have some key transfers and recruits that should help keep the team in stride.
2. Texas A&M– The Aggies struggled last year with a very thin back court that could not keep up with their loaded front court. This year they have the same loaded front court with another year of experience and they now have the guards to make this a very good team. This team will be as good inside as any team in the country with the combo of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. They will challenge for the SEC crown and should have a very good season much like they did two years ago when they tied UK for the regular season title.
1. Kentucky– Yep the Wildcats are once again the team to beat in the SEC but this season will be anything but a cake walk for the young team. The league is so deep that I expect teams to lose on the road frequently which will make it hard to compile a lot of wins in league play. Last year the Cats went 16-2 in the conference and there is no way that they can match that record this year. The good thing is that they should not have to win that many to win the regular season title. I think 14 and possibly just 13 wins will get the job done for a team to win the regular season this year. The Cats are young and will take plenty of lumps this year but I think they have enough talent to win the league when all is said and done.
The SEC is deeper than I can ever remember which should make for a very fun season. The SEC tournament should also be as good as ever in terms of teams capable of making a run to the finals. The league should get a record 7 teams into the NCAA tournament this season and there is even a chance that they could get 8 if things break right. After years of ridicule from fans of rival leagues this should be a fun year for SEC fans.