Photo credits: Sports Illustrated
Tennessee is returning athleticism, size, and scoring, in addition to one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the country. E.J. Anosike is a solid grad transfer addition from Sacred Heart, and will provide versatility and depth to the roster. If Yves Pons returns to school, look for Tennessee to win the conference.
Projected Starters: Vescovi, Springer, Johnson, Pons, Fulkerson
In typical Kentucky/John Calipari fashion, the Wildcats signed the top recruiting class in the country. Six freshmen will be joining the roster, two of them ranked in the top ten, and three transfers. These six recruits are tasked with replacing Kentucky’s top six scorers from a season ago. If this were any other coach, Kentucky might be a few spots lower, even with these recruits, but I will never bet against a John Calipari coached team, no matter how young they are.
Projected Starters: Askew, Boston, Clarke, Brooks, Jackson
The Razorbacks have a completely revamped roster. Ten new players will suit up for Arkansas this season. Chemistry is a looming question mark, but talent and depth are as present on this roster as any in the conference. Coach Musselman has so many options to utilize with the amount of talent, size, and skillsets on roster.
Projected Starters: Tate, Joe, Moody, Smith, Jackson
LSU will return the most talent in the conference if Trendon Watford comes back to school. That would have them returning their second-through-sixth leading scorers to go along with a top-ten recruiting class. One has to imagine Cameron Thomas starts as soon as he steps on campus, and Mwani Wilkinson and Eric Gaines could push for starting roles, as well. At the very least they will be key rotational pieces. The NCAA investigation looms large over the program currently, which could be a crucial distraction for a team with postseason expectations.
This roster will not have the talent typical of a Florida team. Their recruiting class is average for the program’s standards and they lose Kerry Blackshear and Andrew Nembhard. There will be inexperience filling the void left by both players. Either a sophomore or JUCO signee Osayi Osifo will have to replace Blackshear, leaving Tre Mann or Tyree Appleby to fill Nembhard’s vacancy. There are question marks in and outside of the starting five and plenty of unproven talent. Samson Ruzhentsev could potentially push for a starting position, as well. This is a make-or-break year for Mike White at Florida.
Projected Starters: Osifu, Duruji, Johnson, Locke, Appleby
Alabama is a hard team to predict because of the uncertainty surrounding John Petty. If he does return, the Tide should move a spot or two up this list. If not, the roster still possesses plenty of talent, both proven and unproven. Jahvon Quinerly will make an immediate impact after having to sit out a year. Jordan Bruner, one of the most highly sought-after grad-transfers, will also be crucial to the team’s success. If freshmen Josh Primo and Keon Ambrose-Hylton can make provide scoring immediately, Alabama will be a team that can shock some teams and potentially push themselves up the list.
Projected Starters: Quinerly, Shackelford, Primo, Bruner, Reese.
7. Texas A&M
A team similar to Alabama in that they could find themselves closer to the top of this list. The Aggies lose two of their top three scorers from last year, but have a great coach in Buzz Williams and a couple of recruits who look to start right away. Hassan Diarra and Jaxson Robinson looks to shore up the Aggie backcourt for the next few years. Grad-transfer Kevin Marfo will add experience, scoring, and rebounding to the frontcourt, where the Aggies are thin. The starters will have a decent amount of talent, but the bench will be completely unproven and only moderately talented.
Projected Starters: Marfo, Flagg, Jackson, Robinson, Diarra
8. Ole Miss
Head Coach Kermit Davis won SEC Coach of the Year his first year in the league two years ago. The Rebels took a step backwards last year, though, going 15-17 (6-12). They lose two key contributors in Breein Tyree and Blake Hinson, but also return four main rotational pieces, including Devontae Shuler and KJ Buffen. The two major recruiting wins that will elevate the roster are freshman guard Matthew Murrell and graduate transfer Romello White.
Projected Starters: Sy, White, Buffen, Shuler, Murrell
9. South Carolina
As fellow sportswriter Blake Lovell so perfectly said, “Why am I putting a Frank Martin team this low?” In four of the last five seasons, Frank Martin has led his teams to 10+ conference wins. Finishing ninth would be below that number, but it’s hard to see them place ahead of the teams in front of them on this list. They lost two starters and scoring leaders in Maik Kotsar and Jair Bolden, but everyone else is back. The Gamecocks added nice size in the recruiting class, but not a whole lot of talent compared to the rest of the league. Because of their experience and playing for Coach Martin, the South Carolina backcourt might be the most ferocious in the conference.
Projected Starters: Leveque, Minaya, Bryant, Lawson, Couisnard
10. Mississippi State
Mississippi State added six new players over the offseason, five freshmen and a grad-transfer. Jalen Johnson and Deivon Smith look to be the only two to make an immediate impact. Ben Howland’s team lost their two top scorers on a team that only had seven main contributors. Their main rotation will be experienced, but there will not be a great deal of talent from top-to-bottom after losing Reggie Perry, Nick Weatherspoon, Robert Woodard, and Tyson Carter. Their productivity won’t be matched or replaced, and the Bulldogs will be lacking size, as well.
Projected Starters: Ado, Oduro, Johnson, Stewart, Smith
It feels so bizarre placing Auburn this low. This isn’t the Bruce Pearl Auburn Tigers from 2015, but it also isn’t the same team Pearl had the previous two seasons. Auburn lost five of its six leading scorers and have no real answer to replacing that productivity. Sharife Cooper and JT Thor are major additions who will aid in replacing so much scoring and minutes, but outside of those two, no other freshmen even come close. The players already on roster are complete question marks. The leading returning scorer is Devan Cambridge, who averaged 4.2 points and 13.2 minutes per game as a true freshman.
Projected Starters: Thor, Moore, Cambridge, Flanigan, Cooper
On paper, Georgia should be much-improved. They added eight new players to the roster: four freshmen, three transfers, and one JUCO. They lose five of their top seven scorers from a 16-16 team, and could potentially have an entirely new starting five. Their bench is even slightly talented with players that started a few games last season and show some promise and scoring ability. One has to remember who is coaching the Bulldogs, though.
Projected Starters: Johnson, Kier, Garcia, Horne, McMillan
Cuonzo Martin enters his fourth season as head coach of the Tigers in danger of a third-consecutive losing season. His tenure has been marred by bad lack, with injuries to program-changing players, similar to Vanderbilt. They don’t lose much in the way of production, but they didn’t add much, either. Grad-transfer Drew Buggs will be a decent backup point guard, and Jordan Wilmore might see some playing time because of his height, but there is not much returning that should give Missouri fans much hope.
Projected Starters: Mark Smith, Pinson, Dru Smith, Brown, Tilmon
It will be a rough second season for Jerry Stackhouse. Not as rough as his first year, though. The Commodores lost their top three scorers to the NBA Draft and transfer, and have limited production to replace them. Scotty Pippen, jr. stepped up last season as a true freshman, but the incoming freshman class doesn’t look to be too much help. On top of that, Kansas transfer Isaac McBride has not yet received a waiver of eligibility.
Projected Starters: Pippen, Evans, Disu, Wright, Obinna