Kentucky has ruled SEC basketball for the better part of its existence, and has one each of the past three SEC Tournament championships. However with the Wildcats facing massive rebuilding and the rest of the conference looking stronger than it potentially ever has, it is fair to ask. Is this the year Kentucky gets dethroned from as SEC kings?
2017 SEC Basketball Preview
Will Wade has a bright future ahead of him at LSU, as his recruiting class for 2018 is potentially a program changer. Unfortunately, this season looks to be a brutal one for the Tigers. LSU has an exciting freshman point guard in Tremont Waters, who de-committed from Georgetown to go there, but not much else. Still, Wade has something special brewing in Louisiana.
Fresh off an incredible run to the Final Four last March, there is not much light shining for South Carolina basketball this season. Losing both Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier damages the Gamecocks almost to the point of no return. The primary players returning from last season’s team are Hassani Gravett, Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar. Outside of that Frank Martin will have to rely on two new transfers to handle the bulk of the scoring duties. Kory Holden from Delaware and Wesley Meyers from Maine are the primary hope for success in Columbia.
The talent is certainly there for Mississippi Sate this season, there’s no doubt about that. Lamar Peters is certainly a first round pick and could even be a lottery pick in next year’s draft. Quinndary Weatherspoon returns for his junior season and will be paired by his own brother, highly touted freshman Nick Weatherspoon. Expect a massive amount of small ball in Starkville this year, and it could possibly work. Now, can Ben Howland make anything of the talent he has after years of failing to do so prior?
It looked like it was gonna be a highly promising year for Bruce Pearl and Auburn this year. Then the month of October came along. Auburn was one of the schools named in the infamous scandal that got assistant coach Chuck Person fired. Once it looked like the smoke was clearing from that, two of the team’s best players in Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy are now suspended indefinitely with no indication of when they’ll be able to play again. As a result, Auburn dropped their opening exhibition to Barry University. In a short amount of time, Auburn went from potential SEC sleeper to the program now in shambles.
Ole Miss had a decent season last year, finishing 5th in the conference at 22-14. They lose Sebastian Saiz, who averaged a double-double and grabbed 29% of the team’s rebounds when he was on the floor, but return two dynamic scorers in Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis. Alex Kennedy is a solid coach and should have this Rebels team in the thick of the SEC.
The loss of JJ Frazier hurts the Bulldogs, but Georgia does bring back the SEC Preseason Player of the Year and one of college basketball’s best down low scorers Yante Maten. What gives Georgia upside is the fact that along with Maten, they’re bringing back quite literally everyone else that served a major role in last year’s team. They also bring in a greatly talented freshman in Rayshaun Hammonds to pair with Maten down low.
The Commodores lose stretch-center Luke Kornet to the NBA, but have two potential break out players in Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance. Forward Jeff Roberson returns as well, giving Vanderbilt three players that averaged double-digit scoring numbers last year. This team made it to the NCAA tournament last year when many thought they’d be a conference bottom dweller. Now they look to reach even higher.
The Razorbacks were a high powered team last season and made some noise in the NCAA Tournament, nearly beating the eventual National Champions North Carolina. Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs both are gone which is a blow, but Arkansas brings back their second and third leading scorers Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford. They were a struggling defensive team a season ago, with some of their offense gone Arkansas will need a good amount of improvement in that area this year.
The obvious: Mizzou debatably has the best player in college basketball with freshman Michael Porter Jr. The problem is, the SEC has seen this before.
This Missouri team has similar hype to the LSU team that had a generational talent in Ben Simmons, and that is to be expected. These Tigers do have a bit more depth than that LSU team that flopped so hard with Simmons and Antonio Blakeney. New head coach Cuonzo Martin comes in with a crop of freshman including Michael and his brother Johntay Porter, along with Jeremiah Tilmon. Mizzou also brings back Jordan Barnett, Terrence Phillips, Kevin Puryear and a Canisius transfer in Kassius Robertson. The sky is the limit for Mizzou, they just have a long way to go to reach it.
Avery Johnson is building something really special in Tuscaloosa, and this team he has now is just the beginning of it. Collin Sexton is arguably the best freshman recruit Alabama has ever had, and John Petty helps complete arguably their best recruiting class in program history. They join an SEC Player of the Year candidate in Braxton Key who was tremendous last year. More than anything, they have depth. Dazon Ingram and Riley Norris are reliable and experienced perimeter players. Down low are two beasts in Donta Hall and Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens. Similar to Missouri, the sky is the limit for the Rolling Tide to have their best season in a long time.
The Aggie’s this year have the luxury of what is arguably the best front-court in college basketball. SEC Defensive Player of the Year Robert Williams returns ready to dominate every matchup he faces down low, and Tyler Davis alongside him makes for an almost impenetrable force around the rim. Perimeter play is going to be huge for A&M. When JJ Caldwell serves his five game suspension he will join DJ Hogg and Marquette Transfer Duane Wilson in Texas A&M’s back-court, a unit that simply has to succeed for this team to be where they need to be.
Simply put, never doubt Mike White. After last season’s team made a run to the Elite Eight, this year’s group should be the best in the post-Billy Donavan era. A likely defensive juggernaut of a team, leading scorer KeVaughn Allen returns along with now starting point guard Chris Chiozza who hit that incredible game winner in the NCAA Tournament against Wisconsin. Forwards Kevarrius Hayes and John Egbunu will look to be forces down low, and Rice transfer Egor Koulechov looks to provide additional scoring. This is a top ten team in the entire nation, and pose the biggest threat to take the SEC crown from Kentucky.
This year, John Calipari faces his biggest challenge as Kentucky’s head coach. The Wildcats bring back less than 10% of the team’s scoring and rebounding from a season ago, a mass majority of that coming in the form of sophomore Wenyen Gabriel. The freshman talent is immense as it always is, but with so much inexperience it may take more than a full season to see this roster peak.
The anomaly that is incoming freshman Hamidou Diallo looks to bring leadership to the team, Kevin Knox will look to be the primary scorer, guys like PJ Washington and Shai Alexander will looks to bring versatility. Importantly, point guard Quade Green and center Nick Richards will bring toughness and grit. Along with a deep bench and an injured Jarred Vanderbilt waiting to return to the scene, the pieces certainly fit for Kentucky. The main question is how bad will the growing pains be, and will the team chemistry eventually be good enough to retain their SEC title for a fourth year in a row and more importantly compete in March.
All-SEC Preseason Team:
G: KeVaughn Allen, Florida
G: Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
F: Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
F: Yante Maten, Georgia (POY)
F: Robert Williams, Texas A&M
2017-2018 SEC Player of the Year
What Yante Maten does as a scorer and will do as a scorer this year in the SEC will be unmatched by anyone in the conference. A ferocious and efficient down low prescience and surprisingly great three-point shooter as well as a great rounder, Maten will be asked to do just about everything for Georgia this year thus the numbers will be quite outrageous. As long as the Bulldogs remain competitive in the conference, Maten should the clear winner of the award this season. It would be Georgia’s first since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope won it in 2012-2013, and would be the third overall Bulldog to win it joining the great Dominique Wilkins.