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

5 Intriguing Match Ups During SEC Play

SEC

For the past few years, the SEC has been owned by John Calipari and the revolving door of diaper dandies he brings in. Kentucky will be a major headline in the conference once again, but they will not be the only headline. The conference possesses the potential #1 pick, Michael Porter Jr, as well as South Carolina coming off their miraculous Final Four run. Five teams in conference were ranked in the top 25 recruiting classes for 2017, according to 247Sports. It should be a fun year in the SEC. Let’s look at five games of the most intriguing match-ups in conference play this year.

Kentucky at Missouri – Saturday, February 3rd

Following Missouri’s 2017 campaign where they won just three games against SEC opponents, Cuonzo Martin and his squad are ready to make a full 180 turnaround and compete with the best in the SEC. It is a completely revamped team. Mizzou welcomes the nation’s top recruit, Michael Porter Jr., two other Top 100 recruits, and Porter’s younger brother, Jontay. It’s easy to see why the Tigers believe they have the skill set to compete with anyone in the country. And on Feb. 3, they will have the perfect chance to prove their legitimacy when Kentucky comes to town.

John Calipari’s five SEC championships in the last eight years prove that having a brand new team year in and year out does not affect his success. This season however, might be his toughest rebuild since arriving at Kentucky in 2009. While he brings in another top five recruiting class, there is no veteran leadership that most team’s possessed in the past. With the possibility of seven or maybe even eight freshmen on the floor at the same time, this match-up will undoubtedly provide the electricity college basketball fans crave.

South Carolina at Florida – Tuesday, January 24th

After reaching the Final Four for the first time in school history, Frank Martin and the South Carolina Gamecocks plan to build on last year’s success. However, after losing Sindarius Thornwell, Justin McKie and Duane Notice, South Carolina’s young stars Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva have big shoes to fill. One of the most anticipated SEC games they will play this season is Jan. 24 when they travel to Gainesville to take on Florida. On the other hand, Florida is also considered to be a dangerous team this season, despite losing three key players from their 2016-17 squad. In addition to their top 15 recruiting class, Florida returns a number of players from last year, such as KeVaughn Allen and John Egbunu.

Both teams want to prove to that they can compete with the top of the SEC. Add in the revenge factor Florida will be seeking after falling short to South Carolina in last year’s Elite 8, and we are in for one hell of a game.

Vanderbilt at Florida – Saturday, December 30th

Speaking of revenge, Florida will they will also be seeking some against Vanderbilt when they host the Commodores on Dec. 30. Last season, Florida lost to Vanderbilt all three times they played each other. However, Vanderbilt only beat Florida by a combined 14 points in the three match-ups. Vanderbilt returns most of their team from last year including three major contributors in Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson. After losing to Vanderbiltboth times in the 15-16 season, twice in the regular season last year and once in the SEC Tournament, Gator fans are going to pack the house to help their team come out on top and prevent a sixth straight loss.

Kentucky at Arkansas – Tuesday, February 20th

This game is a must watch mainly because of the pure hatred Arkansas fans have for John Calipari and Kentucky. And the hatred only intensified after Malik Monk committed to Kentucky instead of Arkansas in 2016. However, last year, we missed out on a potential game for the ages when the only regular season match-up between the two teams occurred in Lexington instead of Fayetteville. Kentucky steamrolled the Razorbacks 97-71. Despite, Monk’s departure for the NBA, Arkansas fans have not forgotten, nor forgiven Calipari for stealing possibly the best basketball player to ever come out of Arkansas.

In addition, the Razorbacks return two of their best players from 2016 in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. They are expected to start an all senior starting lineup as opposed to Kentucky’s possible all freshman starting five. Arkansas will have significantly more experience than the young Wildcats, and the Arkansas crowd will surely not have any mercy on Kentucky’s freshmen. Basketball game aside, this match-up will be worth watching simply because Arkansas fans are absolute maniacs whenever Kentucky comes to town.

Missouri at Alabama – Wednesday, January 31st

Possibly the most interesting match-up in the SEC is when Missouri and Alabama go head to head. Avery Johnson has high expectations for Alabama this year after bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Highlighting this class is 5-star point guard Collin Sexton accompanied by high school standout, John Petty. An SEC match-up involving multiple 5-star recruits, and neither team being named Kentucky, is something that SEC fans are not used to. However, if both teams live up to their potential this season, this should be a top 25 match-up by the time they play on New Years Eve. It’s one that will at least have the attention of pro scouts.

 

There will undoubtedly be more than five must watch games this season in the SEC. These five just have a little added flare and story to them that adds a little more interest to it. All in all it should be one of the better years the SEC has seen. So buckle up, enjoy the ride, and hope college basketball season gets here soon.

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.