1. Kentucky Wildcats
2015-2016 Record: (27-9) (13-5)
If I told you a team lost 79% of its scoring, 75% of its assists, and 65% of its rebounding from the previous year, wouldn’t it seem like the following year they would plan to rebuild? Not in Lexington, they reload.
Coach Cal reeled in five of the top 27 recruits in the country. With the combination of freshman talent and veterans like Isaiah Briscoe, Isaac Humphries, and Derek Willis Kentucky is ranked in the top three for the sixth consecutive year.
Despite the success of the big man during the Cal era, his dribble-drive motion offense looks its best when the guards are athletic, and slashing to the hoop. Sorry, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, but the backcourt Cal assembled is the most athletic duo he has recruited. De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are both physical specimens. To put it in perspective, Fox has drawn comparisons to Wall, and Monk has a higher vertical jump than Russell Westbrook. Big Blue Nation lost their floor general Tyler Ulis and sharpshooter Jamal Murray, but they now have some freakish athletes to lead Cal’s offense.
The problem in Lexington last year was the lack of a low post presence, so Calipari went out and recruited a 6’10 260-pound beast with the nickname “Bam”. Expect Edrice “Bam” Adebayo to be a double-double machine. Wenyen Gabriel who adds low post depth can defend positions two through five.
The freshman will be the focal point of this team, but no team has ever won the championship solely on freshman talent. The Fab Five came close, but they were missing a veteran who would put them over the edge. Cal said the leader of this team will be Isaiah Briscoe, and expect him to be the glue guy and the key piece to decide how far this team goes in March. With the cats boasting a 3-man backcourt, Briscoe will lead them through the growing pains.
As it is with every Calipari coached team, shooting is the lone question mark. They have the talent to be a top defensive team in the country, but ask Wall, one bad shooting night and you can be bounced from the tournament.
Kentucky has the second-most talent in college basketball behind Duke’s loaded roster. The next best team in the SEC is not even ranked in the preseason poll. This team will struggle early with a tough non-conference schedule, but they will learn to coexist during conference play. The Wildcats claim the most talented roster in the conference by far, and in March they will be crowned SEC champions.
2. Florida Gators
2015-2016 Record: (21-15) (9-9)
Key Departures: Dorian Finney-Smith
There is a huge talent gap between Kentucky and the rest of the league, but Florida owns a combination of experience and talent that the rest of the SEC cannot match. Florida returns four of their five starters from last year’s team. The only loss being Dorian Finney-Smith who was the leader of Mike White’s squad.
Since Billy Donovan left, the Gators have been rebuilding and this is the first year under Mike White where they have expectations to make the tournament. I think this is the year former 5-star point guard Kasey Hill figures it out. He has struggled throughout his college career, specifically when it comes to shooting the ball, but he is too talented to not lead this team to the tournament. Devin Robinson, another player who has underachieved in his time in Gainesville will be more efficient on the perimeter and work his way to becoming a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
Florida faces a similar problem as Kentucky, they struggle with the outside shot and free throws. They finished 294 from behind the arc and 330 at the charity stripe. They have various big men such as John Egbunu and transfer Canyon Barry who can create for themselves down low. This creates trouble with spacing where guards can sag off the perimeter and pack the paint where Hill has been known to drive in to the trees and get off a low percentage shot instead of taking the open jumper. Devin Robinson has increased his percentage from three over the past two seasons so he could be the consistent perimeter threat the Gators need.
Mike White has seasoned talent this year, and will prove that he can return Florida back to contending in the SEC and making tournament appearances. White will be in contention for SEC coach of the year as he earns his first tournament bid.
3. Texas A&M Aggies
2015-2016 Record: (28-9) (13-5)
The SEC regular season champions from last year lose their starting point guard, and two leading scorers. But, the duo of DJ Hogg and Tyler Davis who are both potential NBA draft picks will lead this team to a tournament berth and a top-3 finish in the SEC.
Billy Kennedy is losing a lot of veteran leadership and talent, but expect the previous recruiting class to fill those roles. The Aggies consist of almost all freshman and sophomores, but pure talent will give them the edge over most of the SEC.
This Aggie team does not have the fire power it had last year with losses of both Jalen Jones and Danuel House, both the leading scorers from a year ago. They both took away from what would be Davis’ touches and Hogg’s minutes as both their stats will inflate this season.
The question for this team will be the point guard position. Billy Kennedy recruited a 4-star point guard in JJ Caldwell, but he was ruled ineligible due to being home-schooled. That leaves a major void at a position that was consistently manned by Alex Caruso. A&M has a graduate transfer from Lipscomb who averaged 15.9 PPG in JC Hampton who could propel this team with strong guard play.
A consistent, trustworthy backcourt is what can create a tourney run, look at Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier. The lack there of in College Station leads me to believe it will be tough for the Aggies to make another Sweet 16 appearance. Billy Kennedy has some holes in his roster he needs to figure out, but when six of your top players are 6’8 or taller you have a chance to contend in any conference.
4. Georgia Bulldogs
2015-2016 Record: (20-14) (10-8)
Georgia is going to surprise some people this year. Mark Fox is very underrated, as he does more with less almost every year. But, this time Mark Fox has talent.
Georgia finished within the top 50 in defensive efficiency and top 10 in block percentage. Their defensive consistency is not going to change, but is their offense going to produce points?
Georgia will have one of the best inside-out duo’s in college basketball in JJ Frazier, a lightning quick athlete, and Yante Maten a beast down low who has enough touch to step outside and hit a mid-range jumper. Both averaged 16+ PPG and both those averages figure to increase with the losses Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann.
The question with the Bulldogs is whether they are going to get key contributions from the bench. After Frazier and Maten, the next highest PPG from a returning player is Derek Ogbiede with 4.
I think Georgia can make the tournament behind the coaching of Mark Fox. But, for them to make a run at the SEC crown, they need contributions from players that are not named Frazier or Maten.
5. Vanderbilt Commodores
2015-2016 Record: (19-14) (11-7)
Last year was a year to forget for Commodores fans. They came into the year ranked in the top 25 and lost in the First Four despite all the talent they had.
They lost their coach and on top of that, their top two scorers to the NBA draft in guard Wade Baldwin and big man Damian Jones, but they replaced them with an explosive 4-star guard in Payton Willis and aggressive big man Clevon Brown.
What makes me nervous about Vanderbilt is their team is made up of inconsistent long range shooters. This will be the problem that new Head Coach Bryce Drew will have to figure out, how are they going to win when they aren’t shooting lights out from three? When they are hitting, they could beat anybody, but when they aren’t, they can lose to anybody. Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson are some of the best shooters in the country, but they are at their best in catch-and-shoot opportunities. The driving ability of Wade Baldwin created a lot of those opportunities.
The ability of Luke Kornet cannot go without accounting for, he is one of the most versatile players in the conference. Standing 7’1 with the ability to hit from three gives the Volunteers a weapon that no one in the SEC has. For him to be most effective he needs to be more of a low post presence. This will space the floor out for all the marksmen the Commodores have on their roster.
If Vanderbilt gets contribution from the post and can rebound effectively they could be a team that could make some noise and fight for a spot in the tournament.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
2015-2016 Record: (16-16) (9-9)
Key Departures: Anthlon Bell, Jabril Durham, Jimmy Whitt
To say the least, the losses of Rashad Madden, Michael Qualls, and Bobby Portis from the previous year were overwhelming. Arkansas dropped dramatically and finished 9th in the conference after finishing 2nd the year before.
The real question is, is Arkansas going to be able to win on the road? Last year they were 13-4 in Bud Walt Arena, and when they had to travel they were 3-12. If they want to be in the top tier in the SEC that needs to change quickly.
This time they only lost one major contributor in Athlon Bell, and have plenty of veteran leadership. The star of this team will be Moses Kingsley who is projected to be a first-round draft pick. He is a great rim protector where he averaged 2.4 BPG and finds his spots in the paint where he averaged 15.9 PPG.
The leading scorer from last year Dusty Hannahs is returning to form a great inside-out duo with Moses Kingsley. Outside of Hannahs and Kingsley, there is a lack of production returning from last year. Mike Anderson needs junior Anton Beard to step up in terms of production where he averaged 7.0 PPG over 20 minutes.
The lack of depth is concerning, and puts a lot of pressure on Hannahs and Kingsley to carry the team. With only one outside threat, teams are going to pack the lane and force them to beat them from deep. The production of two players can only take a team so far, and I don’t think this Arkansas team has enough around the two stars to make any moves in March.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide
2015-2016 Record: (18-15) (8-10)
Key Departures: Retin Obasohan, Arthur Edwards
Alabama got a slam dunk hire last year in former NBA champion Avery Johnson. I believe he is going to turn this program around, he just needs time to recruit and build his own team.
Alabama had one alpha-male in Retin Obasohan who averaged 17.6 PPG and behind that the next highest average was 10.8 PPG. Alabama relied too heavily on Obasohan last year and didn’t have too much depth behind him.
The same can be said this year, but Avery Johnson is hoping he found the man to fill Obasohan’s role. The No. 8 small forward in the country, Braxton Key can light up the scoreboard, but that is a lot to ask for a freshman. Braxton Key and senior forward Shannon Hale will need to learn to coexist if this team has any chance of having a successful season.
Corban Collins has a chance to make a name for himself after transferring from LSU then Morehead State and finally landing in Tuscaloosa where he shot 42.5% from 3 last year.
A 7th place finish for Alabama will be a successful season after a 10th place finish last year. This will show that they found their coach for the long-haul in Avery Johnson, who is currently in a good position with several top-recruits for the following year. Alabama will always be a football school, but at least they are showing signs of improvement.
8. South Carolina Gamecocks
2015-2016 Record: (25-9) (11-7)
Frank Martin’s team was the surprise of college basketball early in the year, but his team still did not make the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina currently holds the longest drought in the SEC for not making an appearance, which was 2004. His team started 15-0 before falling off in conference play. They might have started off hot due to playing lackluster teams in those 15 games but, still a step forward considering they have been pitiful the past five years.
Martin’s team has a chance to be competitive with all that they have returning. Former 5-star guard PJ Dozier has a chance to be one of the most improved players in college basketball. He did not get as many minutes last year, but this year expect him to run the show and lead the team in scoring. He is a potential first-round draft pick and has a lot to prove.
South Carolina will be a very guard oriented squad that can attack the lane at every angle. But, they only have one consistent perimeter threat, Duane Notice, to go along with no inside presence due to the loss of leading scorer Michael Carrera.
The Gamecocks will struggle in comparison to last year, but will finish in the middle of the SEC lead by strong guard play from P.J. Dozier.
9. Auburn Tigers
2015-2016 Record: (11-20) (5-13)
Bruce Pearl signed the first ever unanimous 5-star prospect to come to Auburn in their history, so it’s safe to say he is on the right track. Mustapha Heron is a must watch wing player who finishes with acrobatic finishes and has amazing leaping ability.
But, that doesn’t mean Auburn is going to have a winning record.
Auburn is going to be awful on the glass. They finished in the 200’s in each rebounding category and both of their top two rebounders from last year are not on the roster.
They also lost their leading scorer in Kareem Canty, but that void should be filled by Heron. TJ Dunans, a former JUCO transfer returns to the team after suffering a season-ending knee surgery. Dunans averaged 11.6 PPG which proves he is a capable scorer for Bruce Pearl’s team.
Mustapha Heron will single handedly win games for them, but when it gets to conference play how are you going to win when you can’t pull down a rebound?
10. Ole Miss Rebels
2015-2016 Record: (20-12) (10-8)
Andy Kennedy’s team’s success is going to rely on how transfers Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett perform. They have big shoes to fill considering they’re replacing the SEC leading scorer from last season, Stefan Moody.
The problem with Ole Miss over the past few seasons has not been on the offensive side of the ball though; they have struggled mightily in almost all defensive categories. They have not been ranked in top 100 in defensive efficiency once over the past three seasons, and not a single school who made the 2016 NCAA Tournament was ranked outside the top 100.
Andy Kennedy, it might be time to teach your team to play defense considering you don’t have a Stefan Moody or Marshall Henderson type player this year.
11. Mississippi State Bulldogs
2015-2016 Record: (14-17) (7-11)
Ben Howland has a young talented team, but they are still a year or two away from competing. They have back-to back top 25 recruiting classes, the Bulldogs are a team on the rise. Just not this year.
Howland recruited big man Abdulhakim Ado, a 6’11 235-pound center to address the glaring need in the post. But, his top recruit may have to sit out the entire year due to eligibility issues. This would be a huge blow to the Bulldogs in terms of staying competitive.
All the talent in Starkville is still very raw, they will progress throughout the season before being a potential dark horse in the SEC the following year.
12. LSU Tigers
2015-2016 Record: (19-14) (11-7)
If Jonny Jones can’t win with Ben Simmons, how is he supposed to make any strides this year?
LSU underachieves constantly, they had so much talent on the roster last year and failed to crack the NCAA Tournament. They were so embarrassed by it they didn’t even accept any postseason invitations. Ben Simmons was wasting a year in college anyway, the least Jonny Jones could have done is give him an opportunity to win.
LSU only hit 32% of their three point attempts, and they’re losing their best perimeter shooter, Keith Hornsby. Blakeney is known for his range, but will have to increase his percentages from last year to keep that notion true.
If Jonny Jones could only muster up 19 wins with last year’s team, then this year is going to be tough to watch for fans in Baton Rouge.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
2015-2016 Record: (15-19) (6-12)
Rick Barnes could not earn a commit from one player inside the top 150 recruits. His roster is a little short on talent.
The Volunteers need players to contribute alongside Hubbs or it is going to be a one-man show like last year where they could only put together 15 wins.
Rick Barnes is a few years away from having this team compete for any postseason bids.
14. Missouri Tigers
2015-2016 Record: (10-21) (3-15)
Since Kim Anderson has been hired as the head coach, Missouri has not excelled in any one facet of the game. They haven’t even been average in any category. They have been dreadful.
All the talent the Tigers had has transferred out since the hiring of Anderson which has resulted in a team that is very young, and not all that talented.
The one bright spot on the team from last year, is Kevin Puryear who averaged a team best 11.5 points. The best Missouri could pair with him is former 4-star Jordan Barnett who sat out last year due to transfer rules.
It isn’t a guessing game who is going to finish last in this conference. The Missouri Tigers are a mess.
SEC Top 5 Returning Prospects
1.) DJ Hogg – Sophomore (Texas A&M)
Coming off a season where he earned SEC All-Rookie honors, Hogg showed potential to be a solid rotation player in the NBA. Hogg took a backseat to leading scorer Danuel House and with him graduating Hogg figures to take over the main scoring role for the Aggies. Hogg is built like a typical NBA small forward, but his length is troublesome. Hogg hones a 6’9 wingspan and lacks a great deal of muscle. He is not going to blow anyone away with his quickness, but he is an impressive leaper that needs to becoming an explosive finisher around the basket. What makes Hogg an interesting prospect is his basketball IQ, he seems to always make sound decisions with the ball and know when to take over games. His jump-shot is fluid where he connected on 39% of catch and shoot opportunities as a sophomore. Despite an impressive shooting stroke, his shooting percentages from behind the arc and the charity stripe left something to be desired, but with his form and knack to set his feet expect those percentages to improve in his sophomore season. Hogg has a lot of room to improve on the defensive end of the court where his lack of quickness leads to smaller players blowing by him to the rim. Hogg has a great opportunity to become the star of this Aggies team and prove to NBA scouts his potential on both sides of the floor.
2.) PJ Dozier – Sophomore (South Carolina)
Dozier averaged only 19 minutes per game in his freshman season under coach Frank Martin, but his freakish athleticism combined with an ideal frame for a shooting guard projects well for an NBA roster. Dozier’s massive potential has been noticed since high school where he was a 5-star recruit out of South Carolina. With his athleticism, Dozier would benefit finishing around the rim where he has great body control. Last season Dozier seemed to settle for outside shots where 44% of his shots came outside the point and he connected on only 26% of those attempts. Dozier has nice form on his jump-shot and should shoot at a higher clip this season. Defenders typically did not respect his jumper so they chose to sag off him daring him to shoot which limited his ability to get in the paint. Dozier must increase his handle, but still showed success as a passer and playmaker in pick and roll situations. With all the promise Dozier showed on the offensive end of the floor, he showed glimpses of being a potential lock down defender on the perimeter. With his length and quickness at the 2 spot, Dozier rebounded the ball exceptionally well. With more playing time and playing a bigger role in his sophomore season, Dozier will have the opportunity to prove his offensive game can translate to the NBA.
3.) Moses Kingsley – Senior (Arkansas)
The athletic big man out of Nigeria draws so much attention from NBA scouts because of his size and motor. At 6’10 with a 7’2 wingspan, Kingsley is a great rim protector where he averaged 2.4 blocks per game in his junior season. Kingsley offensive game is exclusively inside where he thrives off hustle plays and is a beast on the offensive glass. He has improved every season and even holds the athleticism to challenge guards on the perimeter. Kingsley is not considered NBA ready and is projects as more of a project. If he fixes the hitch in his shot and improves his free throw percentage (63% last year) he will earn playing time in an NBA rotation.
4.) Luke Kornet – Senior (Vanderbilt)
Kornet is a big man with a plethora of post moves and can shoot from range (40% his sophomore season). Despite having a disappointing junior campaign, scouts believe Kornet can be a valuable talent due to his size and shooting touch. Luke Kornet is like a Brook Lopez where they rely on their offensive game and struggle when it comes to rebounding the basketball. He is exceptional in pick and pop situations, an area where the NBA recently has transitioned their style of play to. Kornet seems to struggle on the defensive end of the floor despite his massive frame. Players tend to easily get position deep in the post due to his lack of lower body strength and mediocre form in which he seems off balance. Kornet has shown glimpses of progress in previous seasons where his rebounding and block shot rate have both improved.
5.) Devin Robinson – Junior (Florida)
Robinson has excellent length (7’0 wingspan) and size for the small forward position. In his sophomore campaign, almost half of Robinson’s field goals came from beyond the arc in which he shot 34%. With his athleticism, Robinson would be more efficient from the floor if he would finish around the rim instead of settling for outside shots. Despite struggling in his freshman season, his has shown promise by improving his 3-point percentage and free throw percentage substantially. One category Robinson needs to improve drastically in is passing; his assist percentage was 4% which is poor even for a center. Robinson’s credentials project well to be a successful NBA player, if he proves to be a more well-rounded player for the Gators this season he will shoot up draft boards.