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Presenting: The 2018-19 SEC Basketball Preview!

The preview you didn’t realize you needed!

Kentucky v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2017-18 season was a rousing success for the SEC. No, the National Champion doesn’t reside there, and no team made the Final Four. But it’s hard not to look at what happened last season and think that it was a failure. A boatload of teams made the NCAA Tournament. There were high-profile players galore. Teams made tremendous strides forward. The conference looked pretty damn good from top to bottom, and considering the last few years, that’s something to take pride in.

There was only one team last year that finished out of the Top 100 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings: the Ole Miss Rebels. The only other team to finish outside the Top 80 were the Vanderbilt Commodores, and they have an elite crop of freshmen coming in who’ll look to change that this season. Every other team finished no worse than 80th, with 11 of the 14 teams ranked somewhere between 13-65. 10 of those 11 made some kind of postseason tournament, with nine of them going dancing.

Let’s take a gander at what’s to come this season.

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THE CONTENDERS

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Kansas State v Kentucky Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

It’s Kentucky. Like, okay. I understand they finished in fourth place a season ago. But that was John Calipari’s most inexperienced team in forever. The 2018-19 Wildcats have a bit more under their belts this time around. They are not so freshman heavy this time around. Quite the opposite. There are as many freshmen on scholarship (5) as there are sophomores and one grad transfer (5). That transfer is former Stanford Cardinal star, Reid Travis. Travis joins UK as a huge piece down low to help out PJ Washington, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. Given that he’s averaged almost 15 and 8 in his career, you should expect Travis to be a big reason why this team succeeds this season.

Also, per the usual, Kentucky has a slew of talented guards. The experience comes from Quade Green and Jemarl Baker. And then there are the freshmen. Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans are a powerful 1-2 punch for ballhandlers. Keldon Johnson is superb, too, Tyler Herro’s here, too. You’re gonna wanna watch him. Herro can score like no other and it’s likely that he goes off on more than one occasion this season.

The rest of the top of this league will be tough again this year. But again… it’s Kentucky. Like, we’ve done this so many times. Last season was an outlier.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

So, okay. Let’s take a different approach to this then. Sure. Last season, this Kentucky team had no problem playing great defense. Offensively? This team struggled. It wasn’t so much that they were bad. But they certainly weren’t lights out either. While their Adjusted Offensive Efficiency was 24th in the country, many of their statistics came closer to slightly above average. Can that change with this new group? It’s not like UK has shown better in recent years on the offensive side of things.

We talked about Reid Travis before, but then we look at Richards and Washington. Washington was solid enough on the boards but his offensive game definitely leaves room for growth. He got to the free throw line a whole lot, but a mark of 60.6 percent wouldn’t cut it. You don’t need to go too deeply into the record books to see how free throw shooting has typically been an issue for Kentucky teams. Richards, meanwhile, was more a role player last year. But with depth being sort of an “issue” for this team, he’s going to have to take a big step forward for this team to be good.

And of course… sometimes it takes time for freshmen to gel. Cal leans heavily on this and most of the time it does go his way. But they’ve got a BIG test out of the gate in the Duke Blue Devils. They’ve also got the North Carolina Tar Heels in December. Will they pass those tests? Time is gonna tell. But maybe the fact that they aren’t king of the castle anymore in the SEC has an effect, and maybe, for the second straight year, they don’t take the crown in the SEC.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Tusculum v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

Remember when Rick Barnes was at Texas and he was a really good coach year in and year out but they let him leave anyway? Well, he’s still a really good coach!

Not to mention, the Volunteers return nearly everyone from last year’s 26-win team, including SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and Second Team All-SEC forward Admiral Schofield. Where Kentucky relies on one-and-dones and swapping out pieces every year, Barnes and the Vols are high on continuity, and despite last year’s crushing loss to Loyola-Chicago in the round of 32, there’s no reason to believe Tennessee can’t make a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps win a very talented SEC.

They have as good of a chance as any team in the conference, as they have a phenomenal roster and a marvelous coach.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Five of their nine losses last year were by five points or fewer. Do they have someone who can take over late in games when they’re trailing and keep them close enough to win?

Their defensive rebounding percentage was nearly three percent lower than national average in 2017-18, which is something the Vols need to get under control this season.

AUBURN TIGERS

Clemson v Auburn Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Why You Should Believe In Them

Continuity is the name of the game for the Auburn Tigers. Auburn brings back over 63 percent of the points they got last season and when you combine that with Daniel Purifoy, who missed all of last season, there’s a lot to like about this team. Experience has proven to be a huge factor over the years in college hoops and this Auburn team fits that trend very handsomely.

Their draw also helps them out pretty well, too. Among the expected best in the conference, they only have to play Kentucky on the road. Elsewhere, they will host Florida in their only meeting and host Tennessee in their lone, meeting too. They will also play host to Mizzou later on in the season, too. So their toughest games will be played at Auburn Arena with just one exception. Given the fact that they only had one home loss last year? Yeah. That might be a huge factor.

Also, they’ll have Anfernee McLemore back. WIthout him, the Tigers slipped up big time a season ago. They lost the game in which he fell to injury and then went on to go 3-4 down the stretch, including a first round knockout in the SEC Tournament and a Round of 32 exit in the NCAA Tournament. With him around as an X-Factor, Auburn could again rise to prominence.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

What will this team look like without Mustapha Heron? Heron transferred up to St. John’s in the offseason. He was one of the most productive players for the Tigers in the last two seasons. In fact, he was their leading scorer last year with 526 total points. They have plenty of options, as we just mentioned, but Heron was an excellent piece for them. Bruce Pearl has his pick of the litter, but there’s no telling how the team will look without him around.

Plus, while Auburn was very good last year… they didn’t do anything exceptionally, either. They played fast but their eFG% was fairly average. They couldn’t score inside and their 3-point percentage was fairly average, too. They took care of the basketball and did the little things well. But all that amounted to was little to no postseason success. McLemore’s injury hit them hard, yes. But it’s not like they weren’t without talent around them. That talent needs to show up, and last year’s run down the stretch may leave you to sour them a bit.

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KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

FLORIDA GATORS

St. Bonaventure v Florida Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

It’s true that the Florida Gators is going to be without the likes of Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov. But besides that? The Gators return almost everybody else from a 21-win team a season ago. Mike White has proven himself to be a quality coach and the Gators will pack a punch this season. Jalen Hudson figures to be the man along with fellow seniors KeVaughn Allen and Kevarrius Hayes. 3-point specialist Keith Stone is back after putting up gaudy numbers last season from the outside.

The Gators also have an outstanding recruiting class coming into the fold, led by Montverde Academy point guard Andrew Nembhard. Nembhard is a five-star recruit who will no doubt get plenty of action this season. Keyontae Johnson of Oak Hill Academy and Noah Locke of the McDonough School up in Maryland are four-star hoopers who join Nembhard as newcomers this season, giving White plenty of depth. Florida’s won at least 20 games in all but one season since the 1998-99 campaign. You wanna doubt ‘em? Do it at your own risk.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Chiozza’s contributions were immeasurable and the Gators may be absent somebody who can do the things Cheese was able to do now. They couldn’t score from inside last year and there’s little reason, right now, to believe that that’s going to change. Their offense is solid but not spectacular and may find themselves having trouble against the elite in the SEC for that reason. Not to mention their perimeter defense was closer to average once again last season under White.

The team’s depth on the wing and down low is also pretty thin. It’s true that they still have Hayes and Gorjok Gak but they’ll be putting their trust in some relative unknowns after that. If they get into foul trouble, they could find themselves susceptible to some serious damage in the paint this season. That could wind up being a tough hill to climb if they aren’t careful.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

Mississippi State v Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, TX - FEBRUARY 24: Quinndary Weatherspoon #11 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs drives with the basketball during their game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Reed Arena on February 24, 2016 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

It’s about that time, right? Most of a roster that won 25 games last season is back and ready to make a strong push to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 seasons. The Weatherspoons are here still, and Quinndary Weatherspoon is among the best of the bunch in the SEC. He averaged 14.4 & 6 last season and did so as the lead man for the Bulldogs. You should probably expect him to try and go out with a bang in his senior year.

Nick Weatherspoon meanwhile is still around after averaging double figures as a freshman. He shot the ball very well for someone getting his first licks of college basketball and should see some upward progression if all goes well. Aric Holeman, a senior like Quinndary, is back, too, meaning three of Mississippi State’s top returning scorers are all around. Continuity usually leads to success in college hoops and Mississippi State has it where they need to this season.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

It’s true that Mississippi State was a 25-win team a season ago. But their inability to beat the elite teams in the conference seems to leave lots left to be desired. The highest-ranked KenPom team they beat from the SEC was the Texas A&M Aggies. Granted, that was a great win for them, as it came on the road at College Station. But they lost to Tennessee twice, to Florida, to Auburn and to Kentucky. You have to beat the big boys, and throughout Ben Howland’s tenure in Starkville they’ve failed to do that. Why should you believe that’s going to change now?

The team also was awful at shooting the 3-ball last year. They went down from their marks they had the previous season. Given the fact that they don’t really have anybody on the team who’s bound to take a leap this season, their perimeter scoring will be a huge deficiency again this season. Why take a shot on a team that can only really succeed at making 2’s?

SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

South Carolina v Gonzaga Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

Frank Martin is a very good coach! That’s pretty evident by now. Chris Silva is back and Georgetown transfer Tre Campbell should add a great point guard dynamic to the roster. They have chances to pick up big wins early on in the season, facing Providence, Michigan, and Virginia in non-conference play. Those three games should go a long way in telling us what the Gamecocks will be this year.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

They still haven’t really recovered from losing Sindarius Thornwell to graduation. It’s pretty easy to see why, as he did pretty much everything en route to South Carolina’s Final Four run a couple years ago, but his absence was felt on both sides of the ball last season, and will likely continue to be felt in a very crowded SEC.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Texas A&M v Michigan Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

Admon Gilder and TJ Starks are still there! They combined to average 22 points per game last season and that number should get even higher this year.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Robert Williams, Tyler Davis, and DJ Hogg are all gone. It’s possible that no SEC team lost more talent than the Aggies.

LSU TIGERS

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Why Should You Believe In Them?

I mean, have you SEEN that recruiting class? LSU put together one hell of a group in 2018. Naz Reid, Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams, Darius Days and Aundre Hyatt are all likely to make significant impacts in their freshmen seasons. Especially Reid, who will challenge for the SEC’s Freshman of the Year award, without a doubt in this writer’s mind.

Tremont Waters is here too and played outstandingly as a freshman. Can you expect a jump in his sophomore year? It’s probably pretty likely! A backcourt of Waters and Javonte Smart will be pretty stellar if Smart can have his game translate to the next level. They will also have the services of a few JUCO transfers who should be able to give some veteran experience to this team. And Will Wade can also coach his ass off, so this team has a chance to make a leap this year.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Youth and experience is volatile as hell and LSU will likely go through some growing pains. Their SEC slate is also pretty unforgiving. They have to go to Bud Walton, Mizzou Arena, Reed Arena, Rupp and the O’Dome at some point or another. How will their youngsters react to that? Their nonconference slate gives them a shot to give them confidence, but again: Relying on youngsters is tough. Very tough. LSU didn’t set the world on fire defensively last season, either, and having to rely on five scholarship freshmen to try and change that is a tough ask for anybody.

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Why Should You Believe In Them?

Sure, Collin Sexton is gone. He was great, but Avery Johnson and the Crimson Tide bring back a lot of other talent. Notably: Donta Hall, John Petty, and Dazon Ingram. The three of them combined for 30.5 points per game last season, and Hall was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team at the end of the year. The Tide also bring in the conference’s sixth-best recruiting class, anchored by point guard Kira Lewis, who should be a suitable replacement for Sexton.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Sexton did so much for them and was such a gifted scorer and shooter. While the rest of the roster is still talented, it remains to be seen if anyone on the team has the late game takeover/closer ability that Sexton had.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

Butler v Arkansas Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

Arkansas is typically a pretty good bet to make the NCAA Tournament. After all, they’ve been in three of the last four tourneys. So let’s give Mike Anderson some much-needed praise okay? Daniel Gafford will look to build off of a very good freshman season. Given the state of the roster, it’s very likely that he’s going to be the lead guy for this team this year. And depending on who you ask, Gafford could be the kind of guy who wills Arkansas to a couple of big wins this season.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Simply put, the Razorbacks lost a lot from last season. And what’s more is they are REALLY thin on experience this year. Adrio Bailey is the only player on scholarship who’s older than a sophomore. That’s not what you really want. They saw a couple transfers gut their roster and they will have to rely on youth this season. That could turn this into a year where Arkansas is more likely to be NIT good than NCAA Tournament good.

MISSOURI TIGERS

SEC Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Why Should You Believe In Them?

Last year was the first time Mizzou basketball was fun or relevant in nearly a half-decade, and that was a lot of fun! Cuonzo Martin is a fun guy and the fanbase is rabid and cares again. Jeremiah Tilmon is back for another year (and hopefully fewer fouls) and Mark Smith transfers over from Illinois. Everything is good and nothing is wrong!

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Well… I wasn’t entirely transparent up there. Mizzou made the NCAA Tournament last season but they’re now without Michael Porter Jr (though in fairness, they were without him for most of last year), leading scorers Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett graduated, and projected lottery Jontay Porter tore his ACL and MCL in a secret scrimmage. No matter what happens, Mizzou is forever MIzzou.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Georgia vs Vanderbilt Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Why Should You Believe In Them?

For almost the same reasons that LSU is where they’re at: Hope in the youth. Simi Shittu and Darius Garland are two fantastic freshman who should make an impact from the first day they hit the court. Between those two five-stars, it’s like you forget they also have four-star Aaron Nesmith, as well. Notre Dame Fighting Irish transfer Matt Ryan is in the mix this year too, and he has the chance to be a productive player for Bryce Drew’s Commodores. He, Cleveon Brown, Yanni Wetzell and Joseph Toye will be the veterans that they rely on this season and should hopefully see rises in production.

Saben Lee will be back again after a very productive first season. He averaged 10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season and was one of the better freshmen around. You should likely see another good season out of him this time around.

Why Shouldn’t You Believe In Them?

Well… last season was pretty porous even with Jeff Roberson, Riley LaChance AND Matthew Fisher-Davis around. Now all of them are gone, and while Saben Lee is there, the next-leading returning scorer is the aforementioned Toye who averaged just 5.7 points per game. They’ll have to lean on unknowns and their youngsters, and that doesn’t play for everybody. As they say… your mileage may vary.

THE LONGSHOTS

OLE MISS REBELS

Kermit Davis will have a roster that will have experience to their credit. Terence Davis, Breein Tyree and Bruce Stevens will be around, giving the Rebels three of their top scorers from a season ago. But from there, there is a lot of mystery and a lot of players who will have to take on expanded roles this season. It will be a long road up for a team that went 12-20 a season ago.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

This is the Tom Crean Show! Crean won’t have quite a great roster at his disposal and not a lot of productivity around. William Jackson II and Derek Ogbeide are around again but neither averaged more than 8.4 points per game. The Dawgs were primarily led by Yante Maten’s presence (as seen by his 19.3 points per game last season… the best by almost 11 points on the team). With Maten gone, UGA will likely struggle a bit this season.