We are just three days away from college basketball!!! It has been a long, long road since those fateful days in March when the conference tournaments started to get canceled before the plug was ultimately pulled on March Madness all together.
Now, per the latest Jon Rothstein update, we have 88% of college basketball teams up and running while the others quarantine for 14 days due to Coronavirus concerns. It has become a cliche, but this is definitely a fluid situation as the season begins and programs are just going day-by-day trying to stay healthy.
Nine SEC basketball programs will tip-off their respective seasons on Wednesday evening. It was supposed to be 10, but we found out this afternoon that Florida will have to postpone the beginning of its season due to Coronavirus concerns.
Since I am much more of a basketball coach than an epidemiologist I am going to leave all of those issues to people smarter than I and just stick to talking hoops. So, let’s survey the Southeastern Conference and take a look at 10 players (not on Kentucky’s roster) that you should make a point of watching this season.
1. John Petty Jr. (Alabama)
A Preseason First Team All-SEC selection after earning Second Team honors a season ago, John Petty Jr. is back for his senior year at Alabama. Petty Jr. has scored 1,137 points in his career and has connected on an insane 234 3-pointers. Last year he shot 44% from deep. There will be stiff competition for SEC Player of the Year this season but Petty Jr. is probably my pick for preseason favorite along with Florida’s Keyontae Johnson.
Regardless of who ends up being the Player of the Year, John Petty Jr. will be the most exciting player in the SEC this season. He is a threat to score at all times due to his outside shooting prowess and is never shy about squeezing them off. The Crimson Tide are going to be good this season, but just how good they become will have a lot to do with whether or not Petty Jr. becomes a true All-American candidate. He is worth the price of admission (or, for this season, some time on your television screen) so make sure you tune in.
2. Trendon Watford (LSU)
Truth be told, I do not like giving LSU any publicity. Any chance I get I ask the question: “why does Will Wade still have a job as a college basketball coach?” However, there is no denying he has a very talented squad this season and they are led by Sophomore Trendon Watford.
At 6’9″ and 240 pounds Watford has the combination of size and skill that makes him a matchup nightmare. Last season he averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting a very impressive 48.9% from the field. That is some high-level efficiency for a Freshman. I expect Watford to be the best player on a team that will be competing at the top of the SEC this season.
3. John Fulkerson (Tennessee)
Love him or hate him, John Fulkerson is kind of fun to watch. The floppy hair and girl’s headband make him an easy target for ridicule, but the dude is a really good basketball player. Fulkerson burst onto the SEC scene last season averaging 13.7 points and 5.9 rebounds on his way to earning Second Team All-SEC honors.
Tennessee is getting a lot of preseason hype including being picked as the favorite’s to win the league. If Fulkerson can play at or above the level he played last season it’ll be really tough to beat the Volunteers. He plays with a lot of passion and emotion and is worth watching anytime the Vols are on television.
4. Keyontae Johnson (Florida)
Keyontae Johnson is my preseason pick to win SEC Player of the Year so it may seem odd to put him down at number four on this list. However, to put it bluntly, Mike White’s teams just haven’t been all that fun to watch in the last couple of years. At 6’5″ and 229 pounds Johnson is an undersized Forward who can bulldoze you on the way to the rim. He makes 3’s at a very good percentage but is definitely at his best as a driver.
Johnson averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds last season before deciding to return for his Junior season down in Gainesville. His style of play isn’t a flashy one, but the guy is effective and extremely efficient. If you appreciate good basketball, you will appreciate watching Keyontae Johnson play.
5. A.J. Lawson (South Carolina)
A.J. Lawson probably isn’t one of the first guys that come to mind when you think about the best players in the Southeastern Conference but he probably should be. The 6’6″ and 177 pound Guard has averaged 13.4 points per game during both his Freshman and Sophomore seasons. at South Carolina. He is a bucket-getter in the truest sense of the word. He isn’t the most efficient but he is always thinking about scoring and is very good at it. I expect Lawson to take a bit of a leap this year and be one of the Top 5 scorers in the SEC.
6. Sharife Cooper (Auburn)
This is admittedly a bit of a personal pick, but I am telling you, you will enjoy watching this little guy play. Cooper is listed at 6’1″ and 180 pounds but those both seem VERY overstated after you see him. He is was a consensus 5-star, Top 20 prospect and the highest-rated player ever signed by Auburn.
Coach Bruce Pearl has a lot of offensive production to replace from last season and his new lightning bug Point Guard is going to have the keys to the car from Day One. Coach Pearl’s teams are always fun to watch no matter what, and Sharife Cooper will make sure they don’t miss a beat this season.
7. Yves Pons (Tennessee)
I know this is a lot of Tennessee love, but they do have fun players. The 6’6″ and 215-pound Senior appears to be chiseled from granite and is definitely the most exciting defensive player to watch in the conference. Pons blocked 2.4 shots per game last season on his way to earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC.
8. Romello White (Ole Miss)
If physicality is your thing, then look no further than Romello White at Ole Miss; he is a grown man. At 6’8″ and 235 pounds he was ranked as one of the top graduate transfers on the market coming from Arizona State. White averaged 10.2 points and 8.8 rebounds as a Junior last year for the Sun Devils. Watching guys bust heads in the paint isn’t always the most exciting, but you better bring your hard hat when matched up with this guy. He will make a huge impact right away in Oxford.
9. Javonte Smart (LSU)
It will be interesting to see how the shots get distributed this season for LSU. Trendon Watford is probably the team’s best player but Freshman Cameron Thomas will expect (and earn) a lot of shots and Darius Days is yet another returning double-figure scorer. I went with Smart here though because, somewhat like A.J. Lawson, this is a guy that eats, sleeps, and breathes scoring the basketball. Smart averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists last season for the Tigers.
10. Scottie Lewis (Florida)
It probably should be illegal to have two Florida players on this list, but I don’t think it would be sufficient without Scottie Lewis. Many were surprised when he announced that he would return to Gainesville for his Sophomore season. Lewis is a freakishly athletic wing that will ride high exceptions on both ends of the floor for the Gators. He is an elite two-way player that should make a big leap this season and find his way into the lottery of the 2021 NBA Draft.