We all know how dominant the SEC is in football. Just turn on ESPN at any point during the college football season and every analyst on every show just gushes about the "dominance" that the conference has on the rest of the world. But, what most people miss is how consistent the SEC is in terms of basketball, at least when it comes to the teams at the top. The SEC has had a Final Four participant in 5 of the last 9 seasons, including 2 last year. They have won three National Championships during that same span, something that no other conference has done. **Connecticut was in the American conference in 2014, not the Big East. Granted this conference is top loaded and lacks the dept of some of the other power conferences but when March comes around each year, the conference always seems to make noise and this year should be no different with the usual suspects sitting atop the conference but with a little more depth overall. The star power is there with the likes of Kentucky and Florida but teams like Georgia, South Carolina and Auburn could really sneak up on people this season.
2013-2014 Record: 29-11 (12-6)
The Wildcats are the clear cut favorites to win the conference again this season and they’re the prohibative avorites to cut down the nets come April. It should be just a matter of time before Vegas puts out a line on them going the entire season undefeated. For the 6th straight season, John Calipari and the Wildcats were able to bring in a Top 5 recruiting class to pair with what looks to be the most loaded roster top to bottom that fans have seen, arguably ever.
That National Championship game against Connecticut must have left a sour taste in the mouths of some of the players as the Harrison twins along with Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress all decided to forgo the NBA Draft this past June. All potential first round picks, they each decided they wanted one more crack at cutting down the nets come April.
Roster: As I mentioned above, this roster is one of the most talented I’ve ever seen from top to bottom. The frontcourt is loaded and features seven players that would start and be a star for any other team in the country. The group is anchored by Cauley-Stein whose defense and shot blocking ability around the rim is second to none in the conference. Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns is the best prospect of the bunch when it comes to an all-around game and will be this team’s go-to player in the post when a go-to basket is needed. Those two alone are enough to give other teams fits and we haven’t even talked about Trey Lyles, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee all of whom are going to be lottery picks when they decide to jump to the next level. The backcourt, much like the frontcourt is loaded as well. The Harrison twins are going to get the bulk of the attention but it might be the depth behind them that really helps this team come March. 5’9 Tyler Ulis is a difference maker for the Wildcats and his ability to create off the dribble and get his teammates easy shots will be a key for this team as they have lacked that type of play maker the last few seasons. Oh, and there’s 4 star freshman Devin Booker on the wing as well. Like I said, loaded.
Outlook: Kentucky are the prohibitive favorites to win the SEC again this season and have the talent, depth and experience to do it. Where most Wildcat teams in recent memory have had a glaring hole or weakness that seemed to hinder them at key points during the season, this team doesn’t really have one. They are National Title favorites and anything less will be a huge disappointment for this group.
Key Player: What’s different about this team from last year is the fact that they have a quality point guard outside of Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis, to handle the pressure of opposing waterbugs. You will remember the title game when they had no answer for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright with their pressure defense. Ulis is extremely mature and quick and should be able to tackle any difficulties that the team runs into in terms of small, quick guards.
2013-2014 Record: 36-3 (18-0)
Roster: The last few seasons the Gators have been known as an experienced senior led group. This year’s team will look a lot different as they only have one senior, Horford, on the roster and he is in his first year with the program. The roster will be incorporating quite a few new faces that will be playing key roles for a team with some pretty lofty expectations. Joining Horford will be Duke transfer Alex Murphy and a trio of talented freshman that should keep the Gators on track for yet another NCAAT appearance. Sophomore Chris Walker, who saw some action late last season after sitting out the first half due to ineligibility, is another player that Billy Donovan will have to incorporate into the rotation along with junior transfer Eli Carter who came over from Rutgers last year but had to take a medical red shirt and only played in a couple of games last season. Needless to say, this team is going to have to learn and gel on the fly as they try and find their groove with so many new faces. Michael Frazier is the best shooter in the SEC and will be relied up heavily along with combo forward Dorian Finney-Smith to be the go-to players for this group.
Outlook: The Gators will undoubtedly take a step back this season, just how big of a step back depends a lot on how quickly the freshman and transfers can get acclimated to Billy Donovan’s system. It will be difficult for this team to be as good defensively this season due to the fact that there are no Patric Young’s or Scottie Wilbekin’s on this roster but they will be fun to watch offensively. Kasey Hill is a much more gifted PG offensively that this team has had in recent years and it will be his role on this team to get guys involved and in spots to be effective. They aren’t as talented as Kentucky overall but they can definitely compete with them on any given night. They likely won’t go undefeated in conference again this season but they will be playing basketball late into March again. Mark it down.
Key Player: Chris Walker is the most talented player on this roster and would have likely been a first round pick if it weren’t for his suspension at the beginning of last season. He struggled to find his role on that senior led Gator team from a season ago and it showed with his inconsistent play. He’s extremely athletic and is a great finisher around the rim but he doesn’t always look like he’s giving 100% on the floor. He’s long enough to play in the post but needs to add bulk. The Gators will need him to be a relentless rebounder, get out on the break and run with the guards and add some post moves to his game. If he can become the player he was hyped to be out of high school then this team will really be scary. He is suspended for the first two games of the regular season but should be inserted in the starting lineup by game number three.
2013-2014 Record: 20-14 (9-9)
Roster: This is the most talented team that the Tigers have had since their Final Four team back in 2006. That seems almost blasphemous to say now that O’Bryant, Stringer and Coleman are gone but that’s exactly what Johnny Jones has built down in Baton Rouge. He brought in a top 15 recruiting class last season and added to that this season with another solid recruiting class. Jarrell Martin is going to be a star. He’s an unbelievable scorer and will get more opportunities in the post this season. He and Jordan Mickey will form a very formidable frontcourt that as a one-two punch that is as talented, from an offensive standpoint, as any team in the conference. Freshman Josh Gray is lightening quick and can get any shot he wants on the floor and Hornsby is an underrated two guard that can shoot the lights out. The biggest concern for Coach Jones will be the lack of depth on the wing. He has a plethora of talented bigs at his disposal but lacks impact players at the guard/wing positions. They are talented but thin across the board and can’t afford any injuries to key players.
Outlook: The Tigers under-performed for much of last season and while they are clearly a tier behind the top two programs in this conference, they should be good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament this season. Martin and Mikey are the real deal and should carry this team for much of the season. They are a player or two away from competing for a conference title but they will be better than most expect.
Key Player: Martin is going to get most of the hype and press but it is Mickey that will be the x-factor for this team. He will be asked to play on the wing at times this season, which as stated above, will be this team’s Achilles heel. He is a guy who can do a little bit of everything and has the ability to be a point forward of sorts as his game has evolved into a guy who can handle the ball a little here and there. He was a double digit scorer during his freshman campaign and should see those numbers rise quite a bit as he’ll be option 1b on a team that should put up a lot of points most nights. Martin has to continue to improve and progress while also staying out of foul trouble and on the floor as much as possible.
2013-2014 Record: 22-12 (10-8)
Roster: The Razorbacks return virtually every impact player from a season ago. They added a couple of lead guards to go with a big and versatile front line and should have enough talent to keep them in contention for an SEC Championship were Kentucky and/or Florida slip up. Michael Qualls, Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley all return for a team that was, in a word, competitive last season. Portis, Kingsley and JaCorey Williams are featured on a frontline that should be one of the most improved in the country with Portis being a potential All-SEC candidate. Qualls and senior Rashad Madden should provide enough scoring on the perimeter for this team to be balanced and a player in the conference. Madden still hasn’t lived up to the potential he had coming out of high school but he improved tremendously from his sophomore to junior seasons and should again have another solid season for this Arkansas team.
Outlook: It has been a struggle at times for Head Coach Mike Anderson since coming over from Missouri four seasons ago but he finally has a roster full of "his guys" and he looks to be in a great position to lead his team to their first NCAA Tournament birth during his tenure. Like LSU, this team has a long way to go before they can compete with the likes of Kentucky and Florida but they will be players in the conference landscape this season.
Key Player: Bobby Portis has to become "the guy" for this team. He is extremely skilled and has the size and length to play both power forward and center. He is a relentless shot blocker and rebounder and has an all-around offensive game. He can score in the low post, get out in transition and step out and hid a mid-range jump shot if need be. He’s still a little skinny to bang in the post be he’s gained some weight since getting to college and he’ll need to continue to develop his body to be successful at the next level.
2013-2014 Record: 20-14 (12-6)
Key Departures: Donte Williams
Key Additions: Yante Maten
Roster: Like most other teams in the SEC, the Bulldogs are consistently trying to play catchup with the rest of the country in terms of recruiting and building a roster. With an ACC school right down the road and no current history in terms of being relevant on the college basketball scene, the roster for Georgia is exactly what most people would think…vanilla. They have some so-so players in Kenny Gaines, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic but that’s about it and none of those guys are really going to strike fear in the hearts of an opposing coach. But nonetheless, Mark Fox’s group has improved the last few seasons and when most thought a huge step back was coming after losing lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team actually showed signs of improvement. They return every player of note from a team that finished six games above .500 in the SEC a season ago.
Outlook: No one mistake’s the Bulldogs as being a basketball school but some of the fans are starting to tire of not making the Tournament and finishing toward the bottom of the SEC year after year. Fox had a decent season in a down SEC last year but he will need to follow that up with another good season in conference and more than likely a Tournament birth or his seat will be hot come this Summer. This team has what it takes in terms of talent to get back to the Tournament but they lack that star power that really helps down the stretch and in crunch time of big games.
Key Player: Nemanja Djurisic is the best player in the SEC that no one has ever or will ever hear of. He’s a senior who has been a mainstay in the Dawg’s lineup since the day he arrived on campus. He’s got good size overall but is more suited for the PF spot which he hasn’t be able to play as much due to the size issues that plague the Dawg’s roster. He’s improved in each of his first three seasons in Athens and it is expected that he will take on more of a scoring role this season.
2013-2014 Record: 14-16 (6-12)
Roster: Let’s be honest, Auburn has a few gifted scores on the perimeter and little else. KT Harrell along with Ross-Miller and Mason will create a three headed monster similar to what Villanova had a few years back in terms of quality guard play. They can all three score in bunches and Pearl will have to go small most of the time if he wants to be effective. The tallest guy on the roster is only 6’8 and with some of the size of other teams in the conference that just isn’t going to cut it. This is definitely a rebuilding job at Auburn but they should still win a few games this year with the talented guards on the roster.
Outlook: Ranking Auburn as the 6th best team in the SEC is a testament to 1) how good of a coach Bruce Pearl is, 2) how important guard play is in college basketball and 3) how unimpressive the SEC really is when you get outside of the top 3 or 4 teams. I never like to count Bruce Pear, thus their placement here, but he’s got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
Key Player: Bruce Pearl technically isn’t a player but he is still the key for this team and program for this season and going forward. He’s gotten the best out of his players and teams at every stop and has won at every stop during his coaching tenure. He took Tennessee to places they had never been and had it not been for his hiding the truth about certain things that went on there, Pearl and that program would have never skipped a beat. But he’s back in the SEC now with a chance at redemption after a few years with ESPN. He kept his face on TV and it will likely help in his recruiting. The cupboard was bare when he got here but he’s already made noise in landing a few highly regarded transfers to help bridge the gap until his recruiting prowess kicks in.
2013-2014 Record: 23-12 (9-9)
Roster: This roster would have looked a lot better had Brown and Clarkson not split early for the NBA. But as it stands, this is going to be a young team with potential and a lot of room to grow over these next two years or so. This team will be led by it’s underclassmen as they look to rebound from what was a disappointing season in 2013-2014. Wes Clark and Jonathan Williams III are the two returning starters with the most experience and the two will be a focal point along with Baylor transfer Deuce Bello and freshman Gill-Caesar and the currently suspended Gant. The roster has some talent, albeit young talent, but they lack depth and anything by way of a post presence.
Outlook: The 2014-2015 outlook is bleak for Tiger fans as this team will struggle against good competition and will ultimately get owned in the paint most nights by bigger, longer and more physical teams. A post player or two in this upcoming draft class would be nice for this team moving forward but it is doubtful that this team gets back to the Tournament this year.
Key Player: Bello was a highly touted guy coming out of high school. He was the #53 prospect according to Rivals and was one of the most athletic guys in the entire class. But things never worked out for him in Waco as he never could seem to find his groove with guys like Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip in front of him. He’ll get more of an opportunity on this team behind some younger guys and could play the "super sub" role off the bench which he is more suited for. If he can regain some of his confidence and consistently play like the guy we saw flashes of at Baylor then this team could be a player sooner rather than later.
8. South Carolina
2013-2014 Record: 14-20 (5-13)
Roster: Frank Martin has this program headed in the right direction, the problem is that they just don’t have enough horses yet to compete with the big boys in this conference. Sindarious Thornwell, Michael Carrera and Demetrious Henry are all solid building blocks for the next few years and the two freshman coming in should be impact players early on for the Gamecocks but they are still a dynamic point guard and a defensive minded post player away from having a roster that resembles a Tournament team. Like most other teams in this conference outside of Florida and Kentucky, South Carolina lacks size off the bench and depends on one or two guys to play a lot of minutes in the frontcourt. Recruiting basketball player at a place like Columbia is going to prove more difficult than it was in Manhattan and the ability to do so will be pivotal to Martin and this program’s success over the next few seasons.
Outlook: Teams 5-12 in the conference and really interchangeable and when it is all said and done, there shouldn’t be many games separating the bunch. I’m probably underrating the Gamecock’s since they have the star power that some of the team’s ahead of them lack with Thornwell but I just can’t get over their lack of size and ability to rebound the ball against other team’s in this league. Foul trouble to either Henry or center Laimonas Chatkevicius in any game could doom this team. I would this team the darkhorse honors as they could be a lot better than they look on paper.
Key Player: Watch this team once or twice and you can see that Thornwell is the best player on the court in maroon and white. He’s extremely talented and has a developing game. He needs to work on his shooting touch but he’s extremely skilled when attacking the basket and finishing in space. He has nice size for the two spot and should put up solid numbers this year and be in consideration for an All-SEC selection.
2013-2014 Record: 24-13 (11-7)
Roster: Get ready Vols fans, this will be the weakest team overall that you’ve had in the last decade or so. Do-it-all guy Jordan McRae is gone. So too are Stokes and Maymon two of the better rebounders for their size in the country last season. Woodson will step in as one of those wide bodies to take up space in the lane and there’s still the potential upside of Robert Hubbs and quality wing Josh Richardson but after those three, there’s not much left for new Head Coach Donnie Tyndall, who has issues of his own due to an ongoing NCAA investigation stemming from his time at Southern Miss. Hubbs is the real deal and should really get a chance to shine this season due to a lack of talent in front of him but rest assured that teams will key in on him defensively so the springy sophomore will have his work cut out for him. Woodson has a wide body and uses it well when rebounding but he is still extremely raw on both sides of the ball and lacks any type of offensive game that would afford him the opportunity to be a go-to guy.
Outlook: With a lack of big time talent along with the NCAA investigations into the new coach, this is going to be a long season for Tennessee fans. Josh Richardson will likely need to score 20-25 a night for this team to win many games and he’s capable of doing that occasionally but not on a consistent basis. The NIT would be a good goal for this group as they are in a transition/rebuilding mode of sorts that could continue for a while if the coaching situation doesn’t work itself out soon.
Key Player: Richardson should lead this team in scoring and Hubbs will get his as well but it is Dominic Woodson that will have to play big for this team to have any shot at competing on a nightly basis. He’s still raw and is prone to foul trouble due to his lack of lateral quickness and poor footwork but he’s getting better and has two things that you can’t teach. Size and strength. He’s an above average rebound which should give him plenty of scoring opportunities off of put backs but he’ll need to shoot free throws at a higher percentage than his small sample size suggests if he wants to get consistent touches in the post.
10. Ole Miss
2013-2014 Record: 19-14 (9-9)
Roster: Ole Miss has never really had a loaded roster in terms of Top 100 players but somehow they seem to always be right in the mix come March. Some of that had to do with the spark plug that was Henderson. He’s moved on now and that’s probably addition by subtraction for the program and it’s boosters as his act had worn thin with those close to the program. But there’s no doubt what he helped them do on the floor and without him the Rebels will take a major step back this season. Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White are back but there’s little else to work with for Head Coach Andy Kennedy who could be on the hot seat if this season goes as bad as some expect.
Outlook: As mentioned above, this team’s talent level isn’t on par with any of the team’s ahead of them on this list. Even an NIT berth seems like a stretch for this team that will do extremely well to get to .500 in the conference and that could be aiming too high.
Key Player: Jarvis Summers has some talent and he’ll be this team’s leading scorer. He’ll have to carry this team most nights along with his buddy LaDarius White. Summers really stepped up his game last season playing alongside Henderson. He likely won’t get as many open looks as he did a season ago as teams will key in on him more so he’ll have to adjust his game accordingly and learn to get other teammates involved as his 3.7 assist per game average won’t be enough this season.
11. Texas A&M
2013-2014 Record: 18-16 (8-10)
Roster: Right now this team isn’t going to be very good but in two years this could be a team that competes with Kentucky and Florida for top dog. Antwan Space, Alex Caruso and Robinson will form a solid three man tandem for the Aggies this season. Space can score from anywhere on the floor, Caruso really took a big step forward last season and Robinson is an attacking point guard with improving range. Had Reese not transferred this team would look a lot tougher but as it stands they are a mediocre team with their sights set on next season as they have one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in.
Outlook: The team that you’ll see for the first half of the season will be completely different than the one you’ll see in the second half. Robinson is going to be a star over the next few years and as soon as he gets his feet wet he’s going to be that big of a difference maker for this team. They’ll likely struggle early on and will suffer some tough early losses in conference play which will set them back but Aggies fans should think big picture as they watch this team struggle for the early part of the season.
Key Player: As mentioned above, Robinson is the team’s most talented player and will show as much early on but it is Antwan Space that will lead this team in scoring due to his versatility. The former Florida State player didn’t live up to expectations last season but looks poised to take a huge step forward this season.
2013-2014 Record: 13-19 (7-11)
Roster: Head Coach Anthony Grant started out strong during his tenure with the Tide but things have gone down hill recently and last season was one of his worst in Tuscaloosa. With the departures of Trevor Lacey and Devonta Pollard along with Releford’s graduation, the Tide will again have a tough road in the SEC again this year. They still have some talent on the roster in Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper and Shannon Hale but they haven’t been able to be consistent and get it all together with virtually that same group the last few seasons. Tarrant comes over from Tulane where he was a double digit per game scorer and Coleman is a nice piece that will help soften the blow of lowing Releford but there are just too many question marks, especially on the interior, for this team to be ranked any higher than this.
Outlook: Grant’s probably got the hottest seat in the SEC and if he has another season like the last one, he’ll likely be gone after this year. As I mentioned above, teams 5-12 are virtually interchangeable in my eyes so this team has the ability to jump quite a few spots if they can get some consistency and can stay healthy on the wing. This looks like an NIT squad if I’ve ever seen one and they are probably better than their ranking but with the way they’ve played the last few seasons, with more talent, there’s virtually no reason to expect that they’ll be any better this season.
Key Player: Someone is going to have to replace Releford’s scoring. Ricky Tarrant is just the guy to do that. He’s a volume scorer and needs a lot of shots and was inefficient in his two years at Tulane. He’s surrounded by better talent than he had there so hopefully he’ll pick his spots more with the Tide and hopefully his shooting percentages will go up because of it.
2013-2014 Record: 15-16 (7-11)
Roster: Graduations, suspensions, transfers and ineligibility have left this Commodores roster depleted. A couple of lost recruiting classes have Kevin Stallings’ bunch at the bottom of the SEC with little hope of getting to the top anytime in near future. On the bright side, the current recruiting class has some talent, especially in the backcourt as Mitchell and Baldwin will complement each other well and will have time to develop their games without having any expectations with regards to team wins and losses. Damian Jones has some upside as well and will be a nice player in the post for the Commodores.
Outlook: Vandy fans should keep their eyes focused on the development on the court this season and not worry too much about the score at the end of the game. Mitchell and Baldwin will be around for a couple of years. They are the future and it is their development as a tandem, especially with their upside defensively, that people should focus on. They’ll struggle to win 12 games this season.
Key Player: Damian Jones won’t get as much love as the two freshman guards but he’s going to be a key player for this team over the next three seasons. He’s a solid post player with good footwork and nice touch on the offensive end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead this team in scoring and push for All-SEC honors in some form.
14. Mississippi State
2013-2014 Record: 14-19 (3-15)
Key Departures: None
Key Additions: Demetrius Houston, Maurice Dunlap
Roster: Rick Ray inherited the worst roster in the SEC when he took over three seasons ago. Three years later and the roster is still one of the worst in the SEC. Rick Stansbury left this program in shambles after he decided to cut bait a few years back. Ray had one nice class that brought in the likes of Gavin Ware and Craig Sword but he hasn’t been able to capitalize on that class as the last two haven’t really brought in any players of note. Sword is injured and won’t be back until likely December which really hurts this team in the early going. Ware is a solid scorer and a nice piece but he nor Sword are going to take this team anywhere by themselves.
Outlook: The ranking says it all.
Key Player: Ware has really improved during his first two seasons with the Aggies and he’s going to be the focal point of the offense this season. He’s got a solid mid-range game as well as some post moves to go along with it. He’s a bit undersized to play the center position but he uses his body well and always seems to get good position to rebound the basketball.
Top 5 Prospects:
1. Karl-Anthony Towns 7-0 C Kentucky Fr. — Towns has a skill set that is extremely rare for an 18 year old possessing both length and athleticism as a center, along with a tremendous feel for the game and passing ability. the fact that he is also showing signs of being a shot blocker with his length makes him the top prospect in the SEC and maybe the prospect with the most all around potential in the country.
2. Bobby Portis 6-10 PF Arkansas So. — Portis over every other prospect on UK aside from Towns is probably debatable. Portis is currently slated as a top 10 pick and it will take some development for him to maintian that projection. He’s got very good full court speed and a developing offensive game with touch.
3. Willie Cauley-Stein 7-0 225 C Kentucky Jr. — The fact that it has taken WCS until his junior year to figure things out is a bit concerning. However, sometimes bigmen take longer. He’s an elite level athlete for a 7 footer and shows potential as a rim protector and ally oop dunker, if nothing else. His offensive game has been slow to develop but the platoon system should help to mask some of his deficiencies and a title should showcase all of his attributes.
4. Trey Lyles 6-9 250 PF Kentucky Fr. — Lyles is probably a year away from truly being a dominant player but shows a very solid understanding of the game and smoothness. If Kentucky wins it all, as they appear to have an excellent chance to, the floodgates may open for someone like Lyles to jump after just one season and still be a top 10 pick. A tremendous 7-foot-2 wingspan makes up for some of his lack of elite athleticism.
5. Marcus Lee — Lee is probably a risky selection at 5 with other choices such as Chris Walker, Dakari Johnson, and Andrew Harrison, but he is a player we feel has a great deal of potential. He’s an upside guy as he still lacks strength and remains raw from a skill stand point. But there aren’t many 6-10 players in the college game that can match the combination of length and run jump athleticism that he possesses. If he gains confidence, it will be difficult to keep him out of the first round this season.
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