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SEC Basketball Early Projection

Andrew Wiggins is expected to make his college decision on Tuesday afternoon. Assuming the announcement is not leaked on Monday, I plan to post an updated Top 25 around 7pm ET on Tuesday evening. Even if Wiggins commits to Kentucky, the numbers below will not change substantially. The Wildcats are already projected as the No. 1 team in the nation and Kentucky is deep enough that another elite recruit won’t dramatically change the team’s outlook.

But this week I wanted to focus on the SEC because two other key decisions have already happened. First, Florida added Rutgers transfer Eli Carter. Second, it was announced that Tennessee guard Trae Golden will not return next year. With that news, here is how my lineup-based model projects the SEC standings to shake out next year:

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

Last Off

Last Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Kentucky

15

3

123.6

92.5

110.3

95.4

9

44%

42%

Florida

15

3

115.7

87.2

117.2

83.5

7

54%

51%

Alabama

11

7

106.0

89.2

102.5

89.7

6

70%

72%

Tennessee

11

7

109.2

93.5

108.3

97.7

4

60%

64%

LSU

10

8

110.9

96.4

104.7

97.9

4

75%

76%

Vanderbilt

10

8

105.5

92.2

101.8

93.8

4

100%

100%

Arkansas

10

8

110.3

96.6

105.4

95.1

3

65%

55%

Mississippi

8

10

106.6

96.8

111.6

93.3

1

58%

60%

Missouri

8

10

106.8

97.0

114.5

93.9

3

39%

37%

Auburn

7

11

104.5

98.7

96.8

100.2

2

50%

47%

Texas A&M

6

12

101.2

96.2

103.1

96.8

3

63%

60%

S. Carolina

6

12

104.8

100.2

98.8

104.4

3

45%

50%

Georgia

5

13

99.4

96.5

101.2

94.9

0

57%

58%

Mississippi St.

4

14

94.3

95.3

89.9

99.5

0

96%

97%

For a list of column definitions, click here.

Kentucky: Even if Kentucky is young, I completely agree with the model’s conclusion that this is the No. 1 team in the nation. The roster is full of instant impact Top 20 recruits, and even if a few don’t pan out, there is so much depth that it won’t matter. Probably the only place where Kentucky doesn’t have great depth is the back-court, so only an injury or poor play by Andrew or Aaron Harrison could derail the team’s season.

But let’s not get carried away with the undefeated talk either. Even if SEC basketball is in a down period, there are enough quality teams and differences in styles of play that the odds still favor the Wildcats tripping up a few times in conference play.

Florida: There seems to be a clear consensus that Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan St. are the top three teams in the nation. But this week Florida added Rutger’s transfer Eli Carter. And while there is no guarantee that Carter should be eligible immediately, if the Arsalan Kazemi situation is any indication, I think there is a good chance Carter will be eligible to play next season. After the mistreatment of players at Rutgers, I think the NCAA will be hesitant to turn down a waiver request. And since Eli Carter gives the Gators another perimeter scorer (one of the team’s only question-markets), the model now likes them to jump ahead of Louisville for third nationally.

And looking at the roster, I cannot help but agree. Florida goes two deep at basically every position. There is basically no downside risk for this roster. Is Scottie Wilbekin or Top 10 recruit Kasey Hill the better PG. It doesn’t matter, they can play together. Should they be joined by hot-shooting Michael Frazier or Eli Carter? And what about the front-court? Will Top 20 recruit Chris Walker and South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris be able to earn playing time with Patrick Young and Will Yeguete coming back? And Casey Prather and Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith are plenty good too. Honestly, who is the weakest player in that 10-man rotation? All 10 of those guys are SEC-caliber starters. Is it any wonder why DeVon Walker and Cody Larson transferred out? They weren’t even going to have a chance to play this year.

Alabama: Alabama point-guard Trevor Releford remains a true star and Levi Randolph is still becoming one. But the biggest improvement should be in the front-court. With former #22 recruit Devonta Pollard becoming a sophomore, I expect a big jump in his efficiency. It will help that Pollard will be joined in the front-court by Top 100 recruits Jimmy Taylor and Shannon Hale. The team also adds a JUCO transfer Algie Key. Combine that talent with Anthony Grant’s ability to teach defense and you have a solid NCAA tournament team. Before Trevor Lacey transferred, I had Alabama in the preseason Top 25.

Tennessee: This week Tennessee lost PG Trae Golden. While the university cannot issue a formal statement, it is likely he is leaving because of academic issues. Cuonzo Martin went on the offensive with reporters and tried to claim that his team’s expectations shouldn’t slip without Golden. But that is ludicrous. Golden had an ORtg of 110 and 107 the last two seasons and that kind of veteran offensive efficiency at the PG spot is very hard to replace. The team is now projected to start unranked freshman point-guard Darius Thompson and I project Thompson to have an ORtg of 97. No matter what Cuonzo Martin says, freshmen simply make more turnovers and mistakes. Overall, Tennessee’s offensive projection drops from 115 to 109 thanks to Golden’s departure. Like Alabama, Tennessee fell out of my preseason Top 25.

LSU: Second year head coach Johnny Jones has upgraded the quality of recruiting with Top 100 players Jarrell Martin, Jordan Mickey, and Tim Quarterman joining the fold. He has also added JUCO transfer John Odo to provide size in the paint, just in case Mickey and Martin aren’t ready to lead from day one. And that added talent should help high volume shooter and high potential forward Johnny O’Bryant improve his efficiency. With Anthony Hickey returning to man the PG slot and Andre Stringer knocking down threes, LSU has a solid rotation on paper. But LSU is still a bubble team. And with all those new players playing major minutes, expect some puzzling losses at times this season.

Vanderbilt: A year after losing everyone to graduation, Vanderbilt returns their entire rotation. The team also adds Top 100 recruit Damian Jones and Tulsa transfer Eric McCllelan. With some normal player development, Vanderbilt will be better. But Kedren Johnson is the only player who looks like he might be a star.

Arkansas: With Hunter Mickelson transferring and Marshawn Powell and BJ Young declaring for the draft, it sure feels like Arkansas is headed in the wrong direction. And with Young departing, the team has a glaring need at PG. Arkansas made a play for Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers but Seagers chose Auburn. Probably the only thing that could make Razorbacks fans feel worse than losing three key players unexpectedly was losing out on a player to Auburn. Still, if you are expecting Arkansas to fall off the map, the recruiting class will probably stop that from happening. Bobby Portis is an instant impact recruit in the post, and Moses Kingsley will provide some key minutes as well. Houston transfer Alandise Harris will also chip in this season. And Mike Anderson is a solid coach. But the recent string of departures is disheartening.

Ole Miss: The back-court of Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers is back but the other three starters are gone. And without a slew of elite recruits (either new or incumbent on the roster), replacing those missing players will be difficult. In the front court, the return of DeMarco Cox may help, but he is the kind of player that never shoots the basketball unless wide-open, and coming off an injury he certainly does not project as a big-time scorer. The same can be said for Aaron Jones who was also rather passive last season. And that means unranked freshmen recruits like Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz will play more than Andy Kennedy would probably like.

Last season was head coach Andy Kennedy’s best defensive season of his career. But Murphy Holloway, the team’s best ball thief, and Reginald Buckner, the team’s best shot-blocker, are gone. And unless they can duplicate that kind of defensive performance, they probably won’t have enough offense to make the NCAA tournament. Aaron Jones was a solid shot-blocker in limited minutes last season, so another strong defensive season is possible, but certainly not probable.

Missouri: While Missouri can put together a pretty solid rotation of 7 players, the team will struggle to replace so many star players. PG Wes Clark is a Top 100 recruit and he will start from Day 1, but he is no Phil Pressey. Johnathan Williams is another Top 100 recruit and JUCO transfer Keanau Post was a Top 10 JUCO player. But neither projects at Laurence Bowers or Alex Oriakhi’s level. Perhaps the only player who can match last year’s quality is Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson who can probably match what Keion Bell brought to the team last year. But if Missouri is going to have any chance of matching last year, they are going to need one of the three returning players to step up their game. And while Earnest Ross and Tony Criswell will be nice pieces, the player most likely to break out is Jabari Brown. Brown was a Top 20 recruit out of high school, and joined the team mid-season last year. With a full fall of games under his belt, perhaps Brown can reach that next level. But his development won’t make up for what the team loses. And given Frank Haith’s struggles at teaching defense, the tournament seems unlikely.

Auburn: I’m assuming Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers will get a waiver to play right away. Seagers and Virginia transfer KT Harrell will join Chris Denson and Jordan Price to form a passable SEC back-court. But the lack of talent in the front-court will keep this team near the bottom of the SEC.

Texas A&M: PG Fabyon Harris and forward Kourtney Roberson are fantastic players. But the rest of the roster is hideously inefficient. Normally I’d talk about how former Top 100 recruits Alex Caruso and J-Mychal Reese are poised for a breakout sophomore season. But after they posted ORtgs of 88 and 83 last year, it would take a minor miracle for them to become dependable players next season. And Florida St. transfer Antwan Space looked ill-equipped to play major college ball in his short time at that school too.

South Carolina:  My model still loves what Frank Martin did at Kansas St. He was a consistent winner, and other than his first season, he did it without a roster full of elite talent.  This Post & Courier story about the night SC’s Brenton Williams scored 38 points summed up Martin’s views perfectly. “My whole thing is, I don’t care what your talent level is. That’s irrelevant to me. I don’t care if you have 96 stars. I don’t care if somebody rated you a 99… I watch guys play 50 times over a course of a year, including summer basketball, and I still don’t know if they’re good enough. How people can watch somebody play three times and determine whether they’re a three-star, four-star, I don’t get that. I don’t care how many stars you’ve got. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your talent level is. Bring some positive energy every day.” Martin inherited a rag-tag bunch of players that went 2-14 the previous year and believed he could win with that group because he had done it before. But last year a coach who had never had a defensive performance outside the top 50, suddenly coached a team to the 228th best defense in the nation. His team was hard-nosed and physical as always, committing fouls at a record pace. But unlike most seasons, that didn’t translate to a hard-nosed two-point defense. Instead of fouling to stop lay-ups, South Carolina fouled and allowed lay-ups. 

The real problem was the lack of size and depth in the front-court. Michael Carrera was an under-sized rebounding machine (much like Colorado St.’s Pierce Hornung), but he wasn’t the type of guy who could anchor the defense. It hurt the team that Carlton Geathers was injured. It also hurt that RJ Slawson could never live up to Frank Martin’s high expectations. (I wasn’t even remotely shocked to see that Slawson transferred this off-season) But that meant the focus had to be on freshmen front-court players, and they weren’t ready.

Bruce Ellington (when he returns from football), Sindarius Thornwell (the top 100 recruit), Ty Johnson (the mid-season Villanova transfer who struggled mightily for Jay Wright), and Brenton Williams (efficient but as Martin put it “he might be slower than me”) all provide something. And ideally Carrera could play more minutes at small-forward (at least defensively). But the 5 other players competing for time in the front-court have nearly equivalently low expectations. And that means no matter what Frank Martin has accomplished in the past, the turnaround will take time.

Georgia: When Georgia hired Mark Fox, I thought he was a great hire. But with Gerald Robinson graduating and Ketavious Caldwell-Pope leaving in the draft, there is literally nothing left. There are no Top 100 recruits left on the roster. There are no obvious stars.

Mississippi St.: Everyone is back. But last year’s team was so horrible that even with substantial improvement on offense and defense, this is still by far the worst team in the SEC.

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