SEC Basketball 2017-18 Conference Preview

More seasons than not, the SEC is viewed as “Kentucky and then everyone else,” by those unfamiliar to the conference. Even when teams like Florida have been good, or McDonald’s All-Americans like Malik Newman have been in the conference, Kentucky has always been heads above the rest of the conference. That will remain true this season, but on a smaller level. The SEC will be very good this season, and have loads of talent all across the board.

Projected Finishes

  1. Kentucky – This Kentucky team has the talent in the freshman class that rivals Wall/Cousins/Bledsoe, Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist & Towns/Booker/Lyles. The issue is this Kentucky team has ZERO upperclassmen. The Wildcats have one returner who played significant minutes last season. That will cause some growing pains initially. Eventually, I expect the trio of Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green to run this team. Calipari is great at getting players to buy into their roles and Kentucky is littered with guys who serve specific roles.
  2. Florida – Nipping on the heels of the young Wildcats will be Mike White’s Florida Gators. The Gators return a back court of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza, who each serve different purposes on the floor. Allen led the team in scorring, while Chiozza is more defensive minded. The Gators also add two Top 100 recruits to a front court that brings back John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes.
  3. Texas A&M – The Aggies have my Player of the Year pick in Robert Williams. Williams impacts the game on both ends of the floor and I think will take a giant step forward this year. A&M gets back most of it’s production from last year. Joining Williams, Tyler Davis, DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder bring back a strong core from last season. Freshman JJ Caldwell and Savion Flagg only add to the depth of this team.
  4. Alabama – Alabama could be the third best team in the SEC, but uncertainty regarding Colin Sexton forces me to put them below A&M. Sexton is a tremendous and exciting player. If deemed eligible, he we be one of the best players in the conference. In addition, Alabama returns basically everyone from last year and is one of the more veteran teams in the conference. Add to the mix another Top 100 player in John Petty and Alabama will be good. A cleared Sexton will make them great.
  5. Missouri – Missouri is one of the most interesting teams in the country, let alone conference. Obviously they have Michael Porter Jr, potential #1 pick and the 1A/1B recruit in the country with Bagley. The challenge will be mixing a strong freshman class, which also includes Jeremiah Tillmon, Blake Harris and Johntay Porter, with returning players like Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips. The talent is there for Mizzou to compete, the question is will they?
  6. Arkansas – Arkansas showed everyone last year that they are a tough out. They’re chaotic defense causes fits for opponents, as Seton Hall learned, and UNC was lucky enough to escape. That defense will remain a constant this season. The Razorbacks also have a good tandem in Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford to lead the charge.
  7. Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt was an NCAA Tourny team last year, and should have won their first game if not for some late mishaps. The Commodores bring back a trio set on not making the same mistake twice. Seniors Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson will give Vandy strong leadership to compete in a tough SEC. And with the home court advantage they have, that’s all they can ask for.
  8. Auburn – This is an important year for Bruce Pearl and Auburn. For one, they have the FBI Investigation looming over them. Next, they have multiple players suspended indefinitely to start the season. Third, Auburn has under performed despite strong recruiting classes the past two years. Bruce Pearl has brought in five Top 100 recruits during his time as head coach, and he will bring in two more this season. This should add up to wins eventually, but it hasn’t yet.
  9. Mississippi State – Similar to Bruce Pearl and Auburn, Mississippi State returns a great 2016 recruiting class that featured four Top 100 recruits. Ben Howland has another Top 100 recruit in Nick Weatherspoon coming in. Add to this youthful mix, All-SEC second team Quindarry Weatherspoon and you should expect the Bulldogs to make a jump from last season.
  10. Ole Miss – Andy Kennedy sees his leading scorer return in Deandre Burnett. Burnett will get assistance on offense from Terence Davis, who averaged 15 points a game last year. Those two should be able to handle a the timely baskets, and Memphis transfer Markel Crawford should pitch in as well. Combined, these three should ease the pain of losing Sebastian Saiz.
  11. Georgia – The Bulldogs have one of the best players in the conference in Yante Maten. He’s a SEC Player of the Year candidate despite a Georgia being so lowly ranked. The problem is behind Yaten there isn’t much of anything. JJ Frazier is gone and unless someone else steps up, it’ll be a one man show in Athens.
  12. South Carolina – South Carolina’s run last year was nothing short of incredible. With Frank Martin inspiring on the sidelines, you can expect Carolina to compete on a nightly basis. The issue is the talent. The gamecocks lost a lot from last year’s Final Four club. Chris Silva is their most experienced returner but he was not a go to scorer on offense. There is a lot of opportunity for players to step up this year.
  13. LSU – Will Wade is turning LSU around, but he may need another year to really make an impact. Antonio Blakeney leaving hurts for this year, but LSU does have scorers coming back in Duop Reath and Brandon Sampson. Newcomers Tremont Waters (ESPN #34 recruit) and Randy Onwuasor (So. Utah transfer) will help as well, but LSU is a year away from making a significant jump in the conference.
  14. Tennessee – Tennessee returns two of its top four scorers, but combined they account for 20 points a game. Tennessee lacks size. Their three biggest players are a junior (Kyle Alexander) who averaged 3 points and 4 rebounds last year, and two freshman (Zach Kent and John Fulkerson). Struggle to score and lack of size does not bode well against the Kentuckys, Floridas and Texas A&Ms of the world.

Projected Awards

Player of the Year – Robert Williams (Texas A&M)

Maten and Porter Jr will be names tossed around for this award all year, but I’m going with Williams making a big jump in his second year. He passed on the NBA to return and better his draft stock. Dominating a on both ends in what is a much better SEC Conference will surely do that. His ability to block shots at a high rate, as well as bring in double-doubles nightly make him more than qualified to be POY.

Freshman of the Year –  Michael Porter Jr (Missouri)

Kevin Knox and Colin Sexton are going to be tremendous to watch. They are not Michael Porter Jr. The hybrid 3/4 will be dynamic for Missouri. This Tigers group is in need of a leading scorer, someone who can take over. Porter will be that guy and as the season goes on, he will get more and more sets run for him specifically to break down his defender and score.

Coach of the Year – Mike White (Florida)

Finishing behind Kentucky is no easy task, when A&M and Alabama are as good as they are this year. The difference between one and four is as minimal as its ever been in the SEC. I think White will have his Gator team behind Kentucky all season. I think he’ll cause fits defensively for the conference’s diaper dandies and have Florida marching into the tournament ready to make a run.

Projected All SEC Teams

First Team *

Robert Williams – Texas A&M

Yante Maten – Georgia

Michael Porter Jr – Missouri

Kevin Knox – Kentucky

Quindarry Weatherspoon – Mississippi State

Second Team

Colin Sexton – Alabama

Austin Wiley – Auburn

KeVaughn Allen – Florida

Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky

Matthew Fisher-Davis – Vanderbilt

*Pending Sexton’s eligibility, if cleared sooner than later, he will be First Team All-SEC

Potential Player Of The Year Candidates

College basketball is less than a month away. Excitement is beginning to grow as practice intensifies and opening season tip-off tournaments are on the horizon. With that, let’s look at five guys who could be talked about as National Player of the Year Candidates.

Miles Bridges – Michigan State

Bridges is considered the favorite by many to win NPOY after a somewhat surprising return for his sophomore season. Bridges put up a complete stat line last year for the Spartans. He averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks a game during his freshman campaign. That is crazy. With the arrival of Jaren Jackson, and a more experienced Michigan State team, Bridges might not have the same stat line this year, but he will undoubtedly be the straw that stirs the drink for Tom Izzo.

Jalen Brunson – Villanova

Brunson is my favorite to win National Player of the Year now that he is the focal point of Villanova’s offense. Brunson’s game expanded last year despite being overshadowed by Josh Hart. However, Brunson still led the team in scoring multiple times last season. He seemed to shine brightest against the top competition in the Big East, scoring 20+ points in games versus Butler (twice), Seton Hall and Creighton. Expect more scoring output from Brunson this season, and a better assist/turnover ratio in his junior year.

Michael Porter Jr – Missouri

Porter is an interesting candidate because he is sure to put up the numbers and is also an expected top two draft pick in next year’s draft. The question mark will be Missouri’s record. Players in years past like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz did not receive as much attention due to their team’s performance. Missouri’s record will better indicate if Porter is closer to Anthony Davis/Kevin Durant or Simmons/Fultz.

Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Trier should be a NPOY candidate with a full junior season under his belt. He was limited to just 18 games due to a suspension in the beginning of the season. Trier showed his best self when Sean Miller inserted him back into the starting line up, averaging just shy of 19 points per game in Arizona’s last 10 regular season games. DeAndre Ayton will receive a lot of publicity as a future lottery pick, but expect Trier to be the centerpiece of the Wildcat’s success.

Devonte’ Graham – Kansas

Kansas has a history of seeing seniors take giant leaps in production. Perry Ellis did it, so did Frank Mason. Expect Devonte’ Graham to be the next in line. Graham averaged 13 points and 4 assists per game last season playing a “third wheel” to Mason and Josh Jackson. Though his percentage was down, Graham was good for over 2.5 three-pointers a contest last year for KU. With Mason and Jackson gone, I expect Graham’s numbers to blow up as the senior leader of Bill Self’s squad.

Honorable Mentions:

Marvin Bagley/Grayson Allen – Each player should have strong seasons for Duke, but they will both take production away from each other in terms of NPOY recognition

Joel Berry – A lot of pieces depart from UNC’s National Championship team. Berry is the key returner who will be enemy number one on every opposing team’s scouting report.

Angel Delgado – Delgado is good for a double-double every time he’s on the court. The Pirates should have a strong year thanks to a great senior nucleus, and Delgado should lead the country in double-doubles. 

The Border War is Back…Kind Of

The Border War is back, sort of. It was announced today that Kansas and Missouri will play in an exhibition game on October 22nd at the Sprint Center. All money raised by the game will go towards supporting hurricane relief efforts. Many college basketball junkies know the rivalry that exists between the Jayhawks and Tigers. While this game’s first priority is to raise money, it will also give fans a taste of one of the best rivalries in college sports.

Kansas and Missouri first played each other on the hardwood back in 1907, but the Border War dates back even further. KU has the advantage, with a record of 172-96 against Mizzou. It’s been six years since the two programs have met however, due to Missouri moving out of the Big 12 Conference. For those that can remember, the last meeting between the two programs was epic. Kansas stormed back from a 19 point deficit at Phog Allen to top Missouri in overtime, 87-86. The outcome resulted in championship caliber celebrations and agony by each side. The win also gave Kansas their 8th straight conference championship.

“Playing Missouri does mean something. It means something to me.” -Kansas Coach, Bill Self

This exhibition game will not have the same allure as previous match-ups. The game does not count towards anyone’s record, and the goal is to raise money and not get anyone hurt before the real season begins. However, it’s tough to peg this as just another exhibition game. You have Kansas and their 13 straight Big 12 Championships. You have Missouri and their talented group of freshman, led by potential #1 pick Michael Porter Jr. And let’s not forget the rivalry and hatred that exists between the two states. Exhibition game or not, this game means something. The Sprint Center will be packed; it will be rowdy. Both fan bases will want a win whether it reflects on record or not.

There is everything to love about this game, and nothing to hate. Pre-Season All-Americans, a rich and storied rivalry, and above all, it’s for a great cause. College basketball may not tip off for another month, but we’re going to get an early look at two teams who have high expectations attached with them for this season. If all goes well, maybe we will see a non-conference, home and home develop out of this. Here’s to hoping.

Cuonzo Martin Creating Excitement In Missouri

In March, Cuonzo Martin stepped down from his coaching duties at the University of California. That same day he took the vacant position at the University of Missouri. From there all Martin has done is get the Mizzou faithful excited for the upcoming basketball season. First he hired Michael Porter Sr. to his staff, which all but insured his son, Michael Porter Jr., would choose Missouri after decommitting from Washington. With Porter on board for one year, Missouri fans could dream of a Michael Beasley scenario – a seemingly bona fide star destined for the NBA dominating the college level and leading his team to the NCAA tournament.

Martin followed up by inking another Top 100 recruit in Jeremiah Tillmon, who decommitted from Illinois after head coach John Groce was fired. Now Martin had two Top 50 recruits in hand. Fans could envision a Greg Oden & Michael Conley situation. A pair of young, one-and-done players leading their team to a National Championship Game.

Now, news broke that Jontay Porter, ESPN’s #11 Player in the Class of 2018, and younger brother of Michael, will reclassify and play with his brother this year in Columbia. This gives Mizzou a three-headed monster they could not have even imagined five months ago. In a weaker SEC conference, the trio alone can keep Missouri towards the bottom of the Top 25, and have them fighting with South Carolina for third place in the conference, behind Kentucky and Florida.

The Missouri ship has done a complete 180 degree turn and is sailing full steam into the college basketball season. Expectations and excitement have no doubt risen, but only time will tell how special this group can be. They do return their top three scorers from last season. But on a team that only managed eight wins last season, there is room for change all around. Only time will tell, but Cuonzo Martin has a special concoction brewing in Columbia right now.