Yahoo released their updated preseason basketball top 25 today, and to no one’s surprise Kentucky landed at number two. Just once I would like to see someone put us at 1 with UNC at 2, if not solely to have bragging rights when we beat them in Rupp this year. But no, it seems as though UNC, Kentucky, Ohio State are glued to the 1, 2, and 3 rankings this off season. However, Jason King joins a number of other writers in predicting a strong season for the SEC, by placing four schools in the top 15 (and 5 in the top 25.)
Here’s how it shook out:
2. Kentucky — Unlike the past two years, the latest version of the Wildcats has a decent amount of experience to blend with its youth. Terrence Jones was one of the top two players on last year’s Final Four squad while Darius Miller and Doron Lamb played key roles, as well. The biggest stars, however, will probably be a pair of freshmen. Forward Anthony Davis and point guard Marquis Teague are both projected to be top 10 picks in next summer’s NBA draft.
6. Vanderbilt — The Commodores in the Final Four? Hey … stranger things have happened. Kevin Stallings returns every key player from one of the SEC’s most solid teams last season. John Jenkins is a future first-round draft pick and Festus Ezeli and Jeffrey Taylor are both battle-tested veterans. Give Stallings credit for turning Vanderbilt into one of the league’s top teams.
10. Florida — Will the Gators have the best backcourt in the country? Perhaps. Returning starters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton will have to share time with high-scoring Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario and all-everything freshman Brad Beal. The problem is that Florida is thin and inexperienced down low with Erik Murphy and talented-but-raw Patric Young. Don’t be surprised if Billy Donovan occasionally uses a four-guard lineup.
15. Alabama — The Crimson Tide went 25-12 overall and 12-4 in the SEC last season but failed to make the NCAA tournament. Still, Anthony Grant’s program has a ton of momentum after finishing second in the NIT. Forwards JyMychal Green and Tony Mitchell return along with point guard Trevor Releford. The threesome combined to average 41.7 points last season.
23. Mississippi State — If Renardo Sidney gets his life back together — and gets in shape — the Bulldogs will have one of the most-talented teams in the SEC. Sidney and UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie will man the frontcourt while underrated senior Dee Bost is back at point guard. Freshman wing Rodney Hood is a five-star prospect that is expected to start immediately.
While it’s great to see conference praise, I have to say I’m at least not sold on Vanderbilt yet. Last year, after the umpteenth loss in the first round of the tournament, I made a promise to never pick Vanderbilt to win anything ever again. Despite having all their players back, they are also the same players that lost to Richmond. I’m sure they’ll be great at home in their terrible gym, and John Jenkins will likely go off against Kentucky like veteran guards tend to do, but at the end of the season there’s no way you’ll catch me penciling them in to the Final Four.
At the very least though, with UNC, Louisville and Kansas all ranked as well, strength of schedule certainly won’t be a problem for the Wildcats this year.