Back in October and November, Team Speed Kills published its 2016-17 SEC basketball preview series. Seven of us ranked the teams 1 through 14, I took the averages, and then I wrote about 2,500 words or so about each team.
I’m sure if you went back and read through all of them with a fine-toothed comb, you’ll find some things that I was horribly wrong about. And yes, there were some teams we overestimated (hello, Texas A&M!) or underestimated (Tennessee faded at the end, but they were better than 13th.)
So how did we do?
There’s really no question that this is the best team in the SEC; on a national level, it’s a question of how good the Wildcats will be. If everything comes together, of course, this is a potential national title team; but, of course, the vagaries of a single-elimination tournament could mean a (relatively) early exit. This should be a top ten team, but you might want to hold off on those national championship tattoos.
We pretty much nailed Kentucky. The Wildcats did, in fact, win the SEC, as we picked them to do -- they also, however, are not the odds-on favorite to win their elusive ninth national title.
And that’s why Florida is the easiest pick for second in the conference, because while there might be a bit less upside than a team like Texas A&M, it’s really hard to imagine a scenario where the bottom just falls out on this team. This isn’t to say that there are no question marks, but compared to some other teams — even some teams that will probably contend for a NCAA Tournament bid — the question marks are relatively small. There just aren’t too many obvious holes on this team, even if it’s not too clear just how good the star players are.
We were correct, in one sense: TSK picked Florida to finish second, and they did finish second. On the other hand, it also feels like we really did undersell the Gators in the preseason. We thought there would be a pretty big gap between them and Kentucky; instead, Florida will probably get a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament and beat Kentucky by 22 at home.
It’s easy to see how this season could end in the NCAA Tournament, but the floor for this team is awfully low: The Aggies are probably an injury or two away from total disaster. In a lot of ways, this team reminds me of Vanderbilt from last year (for both good and bad), and we saw how that ended. So while the pick for now is third, that almost feels like a best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is pretty bad.
Personally, I was a bit less optimistic about Texas A&M entering this season: I thought the Aggies would finish more like seventh, and I also pretty much nailed why they would flop. But it’s not exactly a good look that we picked them to finish third. Of course, it seemed like most people were picking them to stay around the top 25 this season, so it’s not as though we were alone in this.
Vanderbilt probably won’t win 77 percent of its conference games this year (that would equate to a 14-4 record), but the pieces are there for the Commodores to contend for a NCAA Tournament bid in Drew’s first year. The starting five — likely consisting of LaChance, Fisher-Davis, Toye, Roberson, and Kornet — could be pretty solid, particularly if LaChance returns to his freshman year form and Toye lives up to his potential.
They waited until the last couple of weeks of the season, but Vanderbilt is, in fact, contending for a NCAA Tournament bid. We picked them fourth and they finished in a tie for fifth — and really, that difference was more a result of us underestimating someone else (more on that in a minute.) So I’ll call this one a hit.
Mark Fox’s teams aren’t flashy, but they’ve won 33 SEC games in the last three years and now Georgia not only returns two All-SEC players, but also a slew of promising underclassmen. They also bring back Juwan Parker after missing the last year and a half. It’s not clear where the scoring will come from outside of Frazier and Maten, but you know Georgia will play defense. What’s not to like here?
Well, we picked Georgia to finish fifth, and while they finished eighth — that was only a game below the fifth-place team. Still, Georgia never really found anyone to shoulder the scoring load alongside Yante Maten and JJ Frazier. And that turned out to do them in.
With nine upperclassmen on the roster, this is the SEC’s most experienced team, so there are no excuses if this isn’t one of the league’s better teams. If all the newcomers jell and Anderson can get some contributions off the bench -- and particularly, if the Razorbacks can force turnovers at the level they’re used to — this is an NCAA Tournament team, and possibly even a challenger for the SEC title. If it doesn’t work, Kingsley and Hannahs by themselves should mean a finish in the top half of the conference and an NIT bid. The experience alone means that this team should have a pretty high floor.
We probably should have seen this coming, but I guess some of us weren’t sold on the Razorbacks. But we did pick them to finish sixth in the conference, so it’s not like we didn’t see any upside here... we just didn’t pull the trigger on them jumping up and finishing in a tie for third.
So how does this team rank 7th in the SEC according to TSK’s contributors? Well, the biggest issue is that while Alabama has some talent, there are relatively few proven contributors. Dreaming on talent, Alabama could be one of the top three teams in the SEC and make the NCAA Tournament, but there are too few proven parts and too many newcomers to assume anything. There’s upside here but everything will have to come together — or, with a difficult nonconference schedule, the season could effectively be over by the end of December.
That said, finishing in the middle of the SEC and making the NIT seems like a worst-case scenario for this team.
Yeah, this is pretty much correct. Alabama basically defined the SEC’s middle class in 2016-17.
And that’s too big of a question mark for my tastes. South Carolina’s guard play is good enough to get the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament, but the thin and inexperienced frontcourt will probably hold them back. This looks like a team that will finish around .500 in the SEC and make the NIT, but not do much more than that.
To be fair, South Carolina does have a thin and inexperienced frontcourt. It just turned out that their guard play was good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament even with that thin and inexperienced frontcourt, because Sindarius Thornwell put up an SEC Player of the Year-type season and PJ Dozier lived up to his promise. Sometimes, teams hit their best-case scenario.
Ben Howland has upgraded the talent level pretty quickly at Mississippi State. Following a top-25 recruiting class in 2015, Howland signed a top-10 recruiting class in 2016. But these aren’t one-and-dones. Mississippi State will have some nights where they look like a contender, and they’ll have nights where nothing is working. It comes with the territory when you have a team with eight freshmen, three sophomores, and only one senior — however talented all those underclassmen might be.
Yeah. Pretty much. That said, we did pick them to finish ninth, and they’re actually 12th. But I was a bit less high on Mississippi State than that, and I thought my assessment was basically correct.
Ole Miss came in 10th in the poll of seven TSK contributors, with a high of 5th and a low of 12th. That sounds about right: Andy Kennedy consistently finishes right around the middle of the SEC, but this year’s roster is lacking in a lot of ways. The frontcourt does have a couple of nice pieces in Saiz and Hymon, but one of these is foul-prone and the depth behind them could be an issue. On the other hand, there’s almost nothing proven in the backcourt: The guards are either young and inexperienced, or they’re experienced but have been underwhelming.
I was pretty much wrong about this one, making the mistake of putting too much stock in the fact that Andy Kennedy had a roster composed mostly of gum and scotch tape and forgetting that Andy Kennedy consistently squeezes upper-division SEC teams out of rosters composed mostly of gum and scotch tape. Never underestimate the power of Andy Kennedy.
It’s easy to write off the Tigers: they went 19-14 and missed the postseason last year; they lost Ben Simmons, Tim Quarterman, and Keith Hornsby off that team, and the newcomers aren’t all that highly rated. Could this be a Ewing Theory situation? It fits the criteria: star player (Ben Simmons) gets an inordinate amount of media attention, team doesn’t accomplish anything with him, and then he’s gone and the media and fans are writing the team off.
So make the case for LSU: Blakeney could be an All-SEC player averaging 20 points per game; Victor, now that he’s not competing with a star player who plays the same position, shines in his new role; Jalyn Patterson takes over at the point and reverts to being the steady hand he was during his freshman year; Duop Reath, or one of the holdovers in the paint, provides shot blocking and solidifies the defense. Maybe one of the freshmen (Mays? Hayward?) steps up in a big way to provide another scoring option.
I cannot believe I ever wrote this. Let’s all just forget about that. As for our prediction that they’d finish 11th, well, we were obviously overestimating them.
There are still some question marks here, particularly up front (and especially if Spencer can’t stay on the floor due to foul trouble), but the roster in 2016-17 is almost night-and-day different from the last couple of years or at any point under Tony Barbee. There aren’t any guys who frankly have no business playing in the SEC, there aren’t really any guys who are projected to be playing a bigger role than they should, and there aren’t any weird, inexplicable holes on the depth chart that will become sore spots if there’s a spate of injuries.
Well, Auburn still finished 11th in the SEC, but they posted their first winning season since 2008-09 and improved from 189th to 79th in KenPom. So while we were mostly correct in picking them to finish 12th, I was also correct in my assessment that they’d be improved.
But that’s going to be a multi-year process. What effectively amounted to lost recruiting classes in 2013 and 2014 are going to really start affecting the program now, and Barnes’ decision to play for 2018 and 2019 means that this year could feature an ugly record and, possibly, a last-place finish in the SEC. Yeah, there are other teams whose short-term situations aren’t really much better (if they’re better at all) than Tennessee’s, but other than Missouri almost nobody else is relying on a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores who weren’t all that heavily recruited. If Hubbs and/or Mostella can start to live up to their potential, Tennessee might be able to put up something close to a .500 record in conference play, but even then they’re still going to be relying on youngsters for a lot of production.
Hubbs played well, and Tennessee’s recruiting class might have been underrated. It turns out that Rick Barnes knows what he’s doing. Carry on.
Not only was Missouri picked 14th in a poll of seven TSK contributors, but it was nearly unanimous: Only one contributor picked them higher than that, and that person picked them 13th. With all of that said, you can start to see some potential here if you squint hard. Terrence Phillips could be a good SEC lead guard, Kevin Puryear is a solid low-post scorer (albeit one who’s limited defensively). K.J. Walton has some upside, and if either Cullen VanLeer or Frankie Hughes can hit some jump shots, Missouri could manage to pull out a few wins.
Alas, it turned out that VanLeer and Hughes would not hit jump shots. We picked Missouri 14th, and the only reason they finished in a tie for 13th was because LSU tanked.