1. Kentucky Wildcats
2017-2018 Record: 24-10
After Kentucky’s first week performances against Duke and Southern Illinois, it was tough to put them in the number one spot. Duke not only beat Kentucky, they humiliated them and made Big Blue Nation reconsider all expectations for this season. But, there is no reason to panic as the Big Blue Nation likes to do. This team will be fine. Yes, even after watching them struggle to put away Southern Illinois, I am convinced they are still going to be the team to beat in the SEC. Three times Coach Cal has had a nice mix of veteran leadership and freshman talent and they resulted in a 35-3 record, a 38-2 record with a national championship, and a 38-1 record and a final four berth. The Cats return PJ Washington, Quade Green, Nick Richards and even bring in one of the most important transfers of the season, Reid Travis. And the freshman class Calipari brought in is ranked second behind the Blue Devils. The progression of the freshman talent will be key, which is what drove the previous Calipari teams that saw great success. Despite players like Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller, and Willie Cauley-Stein bringing veteran leadership—there were three freshman who resulted in three No. 1 picks leading those teams (Wall, Davis, and Towns). Do the Cats have a potential number one pick? Not even close. They may not have a first round pick. But, the depth, talent, and experience should get the Cats to atop the SEC and back to the team we saw in the Bahamas over the summer. Once again, Big Blue Nation: Relax.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
2017-2018 Record: 25-8
Tennessee essentially returns every key piece from a team that finished tied for first in the SEC regular season. Add on a year of experience, and I can’t imagine them declining. The SEC will be stocked with talent this year, but defense is vital. Tennessee finished top-10 in the country last year in defense and I imagine them replicating that. Also, it is tough to go against a team who has Grant Williams who is my pick for SEC Player of the Year. He is a man on the block. Make sure to tune in to see Kentucky and Tennessee go at it, more important Grant Williams and Reid Travis. I don’t see many teams stopping the combination of Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams. Through three games Williams is averaging 22 points and 8 boards a game while shooting 57% from downtown. Sounds like a potential SEC Player of the Year to me. Tennessee was a surprise team last year and took the SEC by storm as most experts predicted them to finish amongst the worst in the league. Now that they are on other team’s radars, especially with that No. 5 ranking, we’ll see how they handle the pressure. But expect Williams and Schofield to lead this team so they don’t take a step back from last year.
3. Auburn Tigers
2017-2018 Record: 25-7
Auburn took the SEC by storm last year as they tied Tennessee for the SEC regular season title. But, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers wouldn’t have been such a surprise, had it not been at a time of such controversy. Auburn and Pearl were involved in the FBI investigation and lost Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley for the year. This year they get both of them back. A team that was atop the SEC gets two key pieces back in their rotation. On the other hand the lose Mustapha Heron to transfer. Heron averaged 16.4 points per game which led the Tigers last year. Auburn was successful last year due to being able to move the ball so effectively in their pace and space offense and that will most likely change this year with Wiley in the rotation. And two games in Chuma Okeke is almost averaging a 20-10 stat line. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown will be able to operate on the perimeter, but playing inside-out will be a very different philosophy from last year. I think they are capable of playing this way, especially if Okeke continues to play the way he is. He has been able to stretch the floor by shooting 75% from beyond the arc (6-8 in two games) and add the outside shooting from Harper and Brown and this team is a tough matchup all around. Auburn will be a dangerous team once again this season, don’t be surprised to see them finish even higher in the rankings.
4. LSU Tigers
2017-2018 Record: 17-14
Auburn and Tennessee both made the jump to the top of the SEC, so why can’t LSU? I believe they’re being wildly overlooked coming into the season. Tremont Waters is a guy who will be in contention to land on All-American teams and be in the running for SEC player of the year. I would imagine the race will come down to either him or Grant Williams. Waters was a star last year, he was just overshadowed by other freshman and obviously the lack of team success. Add in consensus five star recruits Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams and this team is dangerous. They have experience, talent, and they are a well-coached team. No more underachievement due to Johnny Jones’ struggles, I expect Will Wade to get the most out of his talent and definitely make the NCAA tournament. Unlike Jones who could not reach the postseason with NBA star Ben Simmons on his roster. LSU is trending up and their ceiling is very high depending on the impact both freshman Reid and Williams have. Reid is a player NBA scouts love. He’s 6’10 240 lbs. and is currently shooting 43% from deep. energy and it makes you question how far this team can go come March. No one in the SEC is going to want to head into Baton Rouge to see this team like they did last year. Expect big things from Will Wade’s Tigers this season.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs
2017-2018 Record: 22-11
It’s hard not to be sold on Mississippi State this year. They return Quinndary Weatherspoon and his brother Nick Weatherspoon who were two of the top three leading scorers for the Bulldogs last year. Quinndary is up to 21.5 points per game this year already with brother Nick averaging 14.5. Don’t forget Lamar Peters and Reggie Perry either. Mississippi State will be tough this year, and has the roster to finish top three in the conference in almost any other year. The SEC is strong this year and you will see that come tournament time, and expect Ben Howland’s team to be ranked highly heading into the big dance. This team finished in the semi-finals in the NIT tournament last year, but I expect them to officially get out of Ben Howland’s rebuild mode as they try to make noise in the tourney.
6. Florida Gators
2017-2018 Record: 20-12
After starting the season last year looking like the best team in the country before their collapse against Duke, the Gators were definitely disappointing. They seemed like a runaway to win the SEC, but ended up finishing third. And after losing their senior point guard and leader Chris Chiozza, it is tough to imagine them finishing amongst the top 5. They replace Chiozza with 5-star point guard Andrew Nembhard, but those are big shoes for a freshman to fill. Mike White returns key pieces such as Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen. Most years in the SEC, this roster would probably be destined for a run at a league title. But, once again, the SEC is deeper and more talented this year. They have plenty of experience, and I have more than enough faith in Mike White to have his team excel heading into March. Anything less than a top-3 finish for Florida in the SEC seems like a down year. They have been consistently competitive and it has resulted in great success, so if this is considered a down year for the Gators, it just shows the success of the program lately. They will make the tournament, and don’t be surprised if they make a run. Having experience during March Madness is always a plus, and having a dynamic 5-star, albeit young, floor general is always a good sign also.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide
2017-2018 Record: 19-15
Let’s not act like Alabama was anything special last year as they finished towards the bottom of the league. But, they were so exciting to watch because of Collin Sexton. People are writing them off considering they lost such an electric point guard to the NBA, but their roster remains strong enough to finish amongst the top half of the league. They return John Petty a former 5-star shooting guard, Herb Jones, and bring in Texas transfer Tevin Mack. And why would anyone bet against Avery Johnson? Don’t expect them to do anything special this season, and anticipate them being a fringe NCAA tournament team. But, taking a massive step back with the loss of Collin Sexton is hard to see. Petty is a high level player and they have more than enough talent to have a nice season and potentially make the tournament.
8. Vanderbilt Commodores
2017-2018 Record: 12-20
The good news is this team can’t get much worse than last year. 12-20 and a second-to-last place finish in the SEC. They bring in two 5-star prospects in Darius Garland and Simi Shittu. Expect Garland to be one of the best scorers in the country, not just the SEC. He’s that special. And Shittu will be a load on the block as he’s already averaging a double-double. The problem with this team? Extremely young and little depth. It’ll be fun to watch the progression of Garland and Shittu, but there are so many missing pieces on this team that they’ll only be able to carry them so far.
9. Missouri Tigers
Talk about bad luck when it comes to the Porter brothers. Jontay Porter tore his ACL and will be out for the entire season. I expected him to have a big year along with Cuonzo Martn’s team making some noise in the SEC. They return big time players such as Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryear, but who will occupy the lead guard spot? It’s a shame to see Porter go down with an injury, he means so much to this team with his top-10 potential. In other words, another year where Cuonzo Martin thinks to himself what could’ve been if he had a healthy Porter brother to run out there. Should Porter leave as some feel he may, Cuanzo will have little to show for two possible lottery pick brothers.
10 Georgia Bulldogs
2017-2018 Record: 18-15
I actually believe Tom Crean will turn this program into something very competitive. He turned Indiana around, and I believe he will turn the Bulldogs around. Crean has no sanctions to deal with this time around so expect quicker results. He is in rebuild mode but senior William Jackson and big man Derek Ogbeide will have solid years. The loss of Yante Maten is huge and I don’t expect them to find a replacement for his production, but to be honest, not finishing dead last would be a positive for Tom Crean’s first year. And I think he does even better than that with this ranking.
11. Texas A&M Aggies
2017-2018 Record: 20-12
This will be a tough year for Billy Kennedy’s squad. After losing Robert Williams and DJ Hogg, it was expected. The Aggies won’t be a tournament team this season, and it will most definitely be a transition year.
12. Arkansas Razorbacks
2017-2018 Record: 23-11
Arkansas would be dead last if it wasn’t for the return of Daniel Gafford who is a potential top-20 pick. But, Arkansas has to replace eight players on their roster. This will be a down year for the Razorbacks as they rebuild. Hopefully Gafford’s draft stock doesn’t plummet from being on a team in rebuild mode.
13. South Carolina Gamecocks
2017-2018 Season: 17-16
Chris Silva is one of the top bigmen in the SEC. But who else does this team have to go to? We just don’t have those answers yet. The only reason to consider them quite a bit higher is because of Frank Martin and the potential of Silva to carry this team on the defensive end. Four starters are back so they do have experience, but offensively there are so many questions. After a loss to Stony Brook the other day, there is definitely reason to worry. Frank Martin will have his team playing defense, do not doubt that. But, there are a lot of question marks surrounding this team that limits them from contending for an SEC title, yet alone a finish amongst the top half of the league.
14. Ole Miss Rebels
2017-2018 Record: 12-20
Ole Miss finished last year, and expect them to finish last again. They are in full rebuild mode with Andy Kennedy out and Kermit Davis in. Ole Miss is a tough place to win, and Andy Kennedy was a staple of consistency while being there. He just never competed for the top spot, but it is tough to expect him to in Oxford. Kermit Davis has been a part of Cinderella stories before, but don’t expect that as early as this year.