While it might seem like the college basketball season ended just yesterday, it has in fact, been an astounding 85 days, nearly three full months, since the NCAA Tournament was cancelled.
Yet while the larger world has mostly come to a standstill, the college hoops world has simply kept rolling on. Players have declared for the draft. Transfers have hit the portal. A handful of kids have elected to commit and reclassify. All things considered, it has been a crazy few months in the college hoops world.
So with that, it seems like kind of a great time to do an updated, yet totally random early summer SEC power ranking.
Why is it “random.” Well, it’s because while we’re 85 days removed from the college hoops season, we are still another nearly two months away from the NBA withdrawal deadline. With the draft pushed back, the deadline has been extended as well, and yesterday we learned that players have until August 3rd to officially make their decisions. And with so many teams in the SEC (Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama) still waiting on draft decisions, this list could look a lot different come October or November.
Therefore, this is still totally random, and subject to change in the coming months.
But it’s never too early to do a random SEC power ranking, so let’s hit it:
The elite of the elite: Tennessee and Kentucky
Before we get to the roster of both teams, it’s probably worth noting that each school is waiting on a major decision. Tennessee is still trying to figure out whether they will get back arguably the most important player on next year’s roster, reigning SEC Player of the Year Yves Pons. He is currently in the middle of the draft process and doesn’t appear to be close to making a decision. Meanwhile, Kentucky is trying to figure out whether they will get Olivier Sarr eligible at all.
Therefore, rather than naming one definitive favorite right now (and pissing off an entire fan-base in the process) let’s just say that you could make a case for each as the SEC title favorite, depending on what happens between now and August 3rd. Here is a look at each roster:
Key Returnees: Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen
Key Departures: Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, Johnny Juzang (transfer)
Key Additions: Davion Mintz (grad transfer), Olivier Sarr (transfer), BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher
I put Kentucky first here for one simple reason. If Sarr gets eligible, the Wildcats will be loaded. If he plays, Kentucky will start the preseason ranked in everyone’s top five, and arguably have more long-term upside than anyone in college basketball. And they – as always – will be an absolute force come March.
For the purpose’s of this article, let’s assume Sarr does in fact get eligible. At that point you have depth and versatility in the backcourt with Davion Mintz and Devin Askew running the show, two legitimately elite wing scorers in BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke, and size and crazy athleticism up front with Isaiah Jackson and Sarr.
I'm not going to make any declarative statements in May, but if Olivier Sarr gets eligible at UK… MERCY. I just don't know how opposing teams will even be able to get to the rim with Terrence Clarke/BJ Boston on the wing, let along finish with Sarr/Isaiah Jackson at the rim https://t.co/7zs7Ns4uk0
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) May 16, 2020
As I’ve said before, should Sarr get eligible, this will arguably go down as John Calipari’s most athletic team, with the chance to be the best defensive one as well. I just don’t know how anyone is scoring at the rim over Sarr and Jackson, and that’s after they get by Boston, Clarke and Cam’Ron Fletcher on the wing. Good luck getting buckets on that group.
Still, it all rests on Sarr’s shoulders, or maybe more appropriately on a random decision coming down from the NCAA offices in Indianapolis.
Kentucky would still be good without Sarr. But they have the potential to be elite with him.
Key Returnees: Santiago Vescovi, Jon Fulkerson, Josiah Jordan-James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic, Davonte Gaines, Yves Pons (*Testing draft waters)
Key Departures: Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner, Jalen Johnson (transfer)
Key Additions: EJ Anisoke (grad transfer), Victor Bailey (transfer), Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Corey Walker
One of the things I love about college basketball, is that two programs can do things entirely differently and end up at the same place. As an example, John Calipari and Tony Bennett rarely even recruit the same players (with the weirdly notable exception of Sacha Killeya-Jones). But it hasn’t kept either Kentucky or Virginia from having crazy success the last decade.
I bring this up to say that there may be no better example of that this upcoming season than with Kentucky and Tennessee. While Kentucky has completely reloaded its roster and remains a contender, Tennessee is here largely based on the fact that they return pretty much everyone who played meaningful minutes late last season. John Fulkerson is back down low, Santiago Vescovi is back as a high-scoring guard, and ideally, Pons is back too, as the most versatile chess piece on the Vols roster. And they’re joined by the school’s best recruiting class of all-time, one that is ranked behind only Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina nationally according to 247 Sports. Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson both have the chance to be major competitors.
It will give Rick Barnes a loaded, deep and versatile roster. But like Kentucky with Sarr, so much of it hinges on whether Pons returns or not.
(Scroll to the bottom of my post to listen to my full interview of Rick Barnes from earlier in the spring, where he discusses the 2020-2021 Vols roster)
The next tier: Arkansas, LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M
To me, Kentucky and Tennessee have the potential to be 1 or 1A next season, with a very good second tier behind them. In terms of the exact ceiling, a lot will depend on who comes back, as three of these schools are waiting on NBA Draft decisions.
Key Returnees: Isaiah Joe (*testing the draft waters*), Desi Sills, Reggie Chaney, Ethan Henderson
Key Departures: Mason Jones, Adrio Bailey, Jimmy Whitt, Jeantal Cylla, Jalen Harris (transfer)
Key Additions: Vance Jackson (grad transfer), Jalen Tate (grad transfer), Conor Vanover (transfer), JD Notae (transfer), Moses Moody, KK Robinson, Jaylin Williams, Davonte Davis
It is only Eric Musselman’s second off-season at Arkansas, but the one thing that the SEC will learn quickly is that he waits for no man in recruiting. Musselman is arguably the most active coach in America in the transfer portal and has reloaded his roster with four different players who began their careers at other schools. What is being overlooked however, is that he has supplemented it with a Top 10 recruiting class nationally, which includes three players who ranked among the Top 100 nationally in high school.
What it now leads to now is, along with Kentucky, one of the most extreme roster turnarounds the SEC has seen in years. A team which only played six guys last year and didn’t start anyone above 6’6, now has depth, athleticism and most importantly, size.
In terms of the names to know, there are a few. Conor Vanover is a 7’3 center who began his career at Cal, before sitting out last season. The staff (including Musselman on my podcast) has raved about his ability to not only play down low, but stretch the floor as a three-point shooter. Vance Jackson is a big wing and former Top 50 recruit who has shown flashes in his two previous stops (UConn and New Mexico) but never fully put it together. In an offense where the staff puts the ball in the hands of their playmakers and lets them go to work (see Mason Jones last year), he has a chance to be a fringe All-SEC caliber player. The high school class will be led by Moses Moody, a Top 30 recruit, who chose Arkansas over Virginia and Michigan.
Still, like everyone else on this list, so much hinges on a stay or go decision. In Arkansas’s case it’s Isaiah Joe, a shooting guard who averaged 17 a game last season. When he was in the lineup, the Hogs were 19-6 and very much in the bubble picture. But when he went down with injury, they went just 1-5 and simply weren’t the same team.
The good news is, it feels as though Joe is leaning towards returning. Nothing is certain, but he is a guy who the Hogs simply couldn’t replace this late in the game if he decided to go pro.
Key Returnees: Trendon Watford (*testing the draft waters*), Darius Days (*testing the draft waters*), Javonte Smart (*testing the draft waters*), Charles Manning Jr., Aundre Hyatt, Courtese Cooper
Key Departures: Emmitt Williams, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor
Key Additions: Josh Leblanc (transfer) Shareef O’Neal (transfer), Cam Thomas, Eric Gaines, Jalen Cook, Mwani Wilkinson, Josh Gray, Bradley Ezewiro
When he’s not busy ducking Twitter bombs from Dickie V, Will Wade finds himself in the middle of an interesting, some might say “huge ass” off… season. The Tigers still have three players testing the draft waters – Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days – and their roster will look way different one way or the other depending on how those decisions go. They are also pursuing Moussa Cisse, a Top 10 prospect nationally who recently reclassified and will make a decision in the next few days. All signs point towards him officially becoming a Tiger by the end of the month.
Therefore, it seems kind of fruitless at this point to spend too much time breaking down LSU’s roster next season, since so much is still up in the air. All I’ll say is that whether any of the three return or not and whether LSU adds Cisse, the Tigers still have some interesting pieces, with two big-time transfers (Josh LeBlanc, from Georgetown and UCLA’s Shareef O’Neal) getting eligible at semester break, and a couple big time freshmen enrolling as well.
It’s worth noting that – as things stand – LSU currently has 14 players on the roster (the NCAA limit is 13) and that is before any commitment from Cisse.
So things will definitely change between now and the start of the season. But either way, LSU will have plenty of talent on the roster.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Returnees: John Petty (*testing the draft waters*), Herb Jones, Jaden Shackleford, Alex Reese, Javian Davis
Key Departures: Kira Lewis, Beetle Bolden, Jaylen Forbes (transfer)
Key Additions: Jordan Bruner (grad transfer), Jahvon Quinerly (transfer), Juwan Gary (redshirt), James Rojas (redshirt), Josh Primo, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Darius Miles, Keon Ellis
The one thing you want to do in your first year as a head coach is establish your brand as a program, and you can’t deny that Nate Oats did that in Tuscaloosa last season. While the win loss record wasn’t quite what he was hoping for, the Crimson Tide finished third in scoring nationally and led all of college basketball in three-point shot attempts.
Brand established. And now Oats has cleaned up on the recruiting trail because of it, bringing in a bunch of players who can play his preferred fast, three-point heavy attack.
It all starts at point guard where former McDonald’s All-American Jahvon Quinerly will get the keys to the offense from Kira Lewis. He will be joined by big-time freshman Josh Primo (another attacking guard) and Jordan Bruner. Oats has said that Bruner was their No. 1 target on the grad transfer market as a rim runner, who he believes fits their system perfectly. He’ll play alongside Herb Jones, another big who recently removed his name from the draft.
Speaking of the draft, the only holdup is John Petty. Last year he finally showed why he was once a Top 30 prospect coming out of high school, hitting over 44 percent from three-point land. He remains in the draft, but is also open to the possibility of returning for his senior year.
Texas A&M Aggies
Key Returnees: Savion Flagg, Quenton Jackson, Emmanuel Miller, Andre Gordon, Jay Jay Chandler, Cashius McNeilly
Key Departures: Josh Nebo, Wendell Mitchell
Key Additions: Kevin Marfo (grad transfer), Jaxson Robinson, Hassan Diarra
I’ll be the first to admit that on paper, this team doesn’t belong in this tier. But this is a 110 percent bet on Buzz Williams to figure out a way to get this team competitive this season.
For those it, Williams’ magic act in Year 1 was so damn incredible, even Penn & Teller would have been impressed (wait, are Penn & Teller still a thing?). Despite inheriting a team that went 6-12 in the SEC in 2019, and then losing his best player to transfer, the Aggies still finished a sort-of-incredible 10-8 in the league and tied for sixth-place. That is with what was likely the least talented roster in the entire league.
Well, fast-forward an off-season and most of A&M’s key pieces are back in 2021, and they added a recruiting class with a pair of Top 100 prospects.
If it was solely based on talent, I couldn’t possibly have A&M this high. But I believe in Buzz Williams.
Have no idea what the hell to make of this team tier: Auburn and Florida
Key Returnees: Devan Cambridge, Jamal Johnson, Allen Flanigan, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola
Key Departures: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy, Ben McLemore, Isaac Okoro
Key Additions: Sharife Cooper, JT Thor, Chris Moore, Dylan Cardwell, Justin Powell
I’m going to save us a whole bunch of words and just say this about Auburn: They lose their top six scorers off last year’s team, including a potential lottery pick (Isaac Okoro) and five others who played key roles on the 2019 Final Four team. Yes, the recruiting class is good, but if it was based solely on returning talent, I’d probably have Auburn in the bottom-half of the league standings.
But the reason I can’t put them there yet? Ummmmmmm, have ya met Bruce Pearl? Like Buzz Williams, the guy is a magician, leading Auburn to an SEC regular season and Final Four in the last three years. At… AUBURN! Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that there’s a small possibility they can add high school star Jonathan Kuminga by next season as well. The class of 2021 prospect is considering reclassifying and playing college hoops next season. So while the chances are small (I think it’s more likely he ends up in the G-League or with Texas Tech) he could in fact be on the Plains.
At the end of the day, I am in “wait and see mode” on Auburn. But I’m never, ever betting against Bruce Pearl.
Key Returnees: Keyontae Johnson, Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann (*testing the draft waters*), Noah Locke, Ques Glover, Omar Payne,
Key Departures: Kerry Blackshear, Andrew Nembhard (transfer),
Key Additions: Tyree Appleby (transfer), Samson Ruzhentsev, Niels Lane, Osayi Osifo
And then there is the opposite of Auburn and Bruce Pearl, Florida and Mike White. I like the talent. I just don’t trust the coach.
Yup, even after Andrew Nembhard’s surprising decision to transfer a few days ago, Florida still has the pieces of an NCAA Tournament team. Leading scorer Keyontae Johnson will be back, and Scottie Lewis (a former McDonald’s All-American) surprised many with his return. Noah Locke became a dynamic three-point threat late last season, and either Tre Mann (if he removes his name from the draft) or Ques Glover will handle the ball at the point guard spot. The staff has raved about Cleveland State transfer Tyree Appleby as well.
Still, this all rests on Mike White. Unlike some other coaches on this list, there are no built-in excuses. He has recruited well and had no major injuries. Yet despite that, each of the last two seasons his teams have largely underachieved from November until early February, only to make a run late and put themselves in the tournament picture.
As the SEC continues to get better around White (Buzz Williams, Oats and Musselman aren’t going anywhere, let alone Calipari, Pearl and Barnes) will he be able to keep up? Or get left behind?
The roster looks good but I need to see it: South Carolina, Missouri and Ole Miss
All three of the teams below return a ton of talent. I could see all three as potential tournament teams. But I’m in “wait and see” mode on each.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Key Returnees: AJ Lawson (*testing the draft waters*), Jermaine Couisnard, Keyshawn Bryant, Justin Minaya, Alanzo Frink, Jalyn McCreary, Trae Hannibal, TJ Moss
Key Departures: Maik Kotsar, Jair Bolden
Key Additions: Seventh Woods (transfer)
I’m not sure how many people would know this, but here are South Carolina’s finishes in the SEC over the last five years: Tied for third, tied for third, tied for 11th, tied for fourth and tied for sixth.
The reason no one would know that? Because South Carolina has made just one NCAA Tournament during that stretch, and despite finishing tied for fourth and tied for sixth the last two years, their records those seasons overall were 16-16 and 18-13. Meaning that this is a team that traditionally plays awful in November and December (last year they lost to both Stetson and Boston University) yet always finds a way to win games come SEC play.
Therefore, while on paper South Carolina could be a legit NCAA Tournament team, I just need to see it before I believe it. Mostly, I believe that they will end up in the top half of the SEC by season’s end. But really want to see if they can avoid some weird losses along the way.
Key Returnees: Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon (*testing the draft waters*), Javon Pickett, Kobe Brown, Mitchell Smith (*testing the draft waters*), Torrance Watson
Key Departures: Reed Niiko, Tray Jackson (transfer)
Key Additions: Drew Buggs (grad transfer), Ed Chang (transfer)
On the one hand, it’s hard to blame Cuonzo Martin for a lot of what has happened the last few years in Columbia. He recruited Michael Porter Jr. and got a grand total of three games out of him, recruited his brother Jontay who missed a second season to injury and saw two key players (Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith) miss a combined 21 games last year. It’s just hard to win with that many unforeseen issues popping up.
Still, this is a results based business and since Michael Porter left the school following the 2017-2018 season, the Tigers are a combined 30-33 and 12-24 in the SEC over that stretch.
That’s also what makes next year so interesting.
To the credit of the Tigers they played hard all last season for Martin, upset Auburn and – assuming Tilmon and Mitchell Smith return to school – will return 88 percent of their scoring next season. The team also brings in Drew Buggs, a point guard who averaged over five assists per game at Hawaii last season.
The talent is there in Columbia, and this year the team has the depth to survive an injury or two as well (assuming it’s not major).
Will that talent stay healthy and translate into wins? We’ll find out.
Ole Miss Rebels
Key Returnees: Devontae Shuler, Blake Hinson, KJ Buffen, Khadim Sy, Luis Rodriguez, Sammy Hunter, Austin Crowley
Key Departures: Breein Tyree, Bryce Williams (transfer)
Key Additions: Romello White (grad transfer), Dimencio Vaughn (grad transfer), Jarkiel Joiner (transfer), Matthew Murrell
If you’re looking for a potential surprise team in the SEC, it’s Ole Miss. While the Rebels lose leading scorer Breein Tyree off last year’s squad, they bring back four starters and add three transfers that Kermit Davis has raved about all off-season. That includes Romello White, a grad transfer who averaged nearly a double-double at Arizona State last season. He is probably one of the 4-5 best transfers in all of college basketball this off-season and brings much needed size and toughness to the program.
The only reason I’m just a little bit hesitant to put Ole Miss higher in these rankings is because this group hasn’t done it before. The Rebels are coming off a 15-17 season where they finished in 12th place in the SEC, and even struggled late in the 2019 season as well (despite making an NCAA Tournament).
Of every team in this grouping, I like the Rebels the most. But like all the others, I need to see it all unfold before I get too excited.
Sorry, but I just don’t see it: Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt
Key Returnees: Sahvir Wheeler, Toumani Camara, Tye Fagan, Christian Brown, Jaykwon Walton,
Key Departures: Anthony Edwards, Rayshaun Hammonds, Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, Donnell Gresham, Mike Peake (transfer)
Key Additions: PJ Horne (grad transfer), Justin Kier (grad transfer), Andrew Garcia (grad transfer), Mikal Starks, Jonathan Ned, KD Johnson
So last year, Georgia had the potential No. 1 pick in the draft on its roster and… proceeded to go 16-16 overall, 5-13 in play and finish 13th in the league.
Hmm, so what will Tom Crean have for an encore after he not only lost Anthony Edwards, but four of his top six scorers overall? My guess is not much, as the Dawgs have put a patchwork roster together this off-season that includes three grad transfers and three JUCO guys.
In the end, maybe Tom Crean will prove me wrong. But right now, I hope he wears a mask when he goes to pick up his paycheck every two weeks. Not just to protect himself and others around him (safety first!), but because he’s stealing money.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Key Returnees: Robert Woodard (*testing the draft waters*), Abdul Ado, DJ Stewart, Iverson Molinar
Key Departures: Reggie Perry, Nick Weatherspoon, Tyson Carter, Keyshawn Feazell (transfer), Prince Oduro (transfer), Elias King (transfer)
Key Additions: Jalen Johnson (grad transfer), Tolu Smith (transfer), Devion Smith
When Ben Howland got to Mississippi State there was real excitement about Bulldogs basketball for the first time in a long time. But a string of recruiting victories that included Quinndary Weatherspoon, Nick Weatherspoon, Reggie Perry, Malik Newman (remember him?) has appeared to dry up, leaving the Bulldogs with a roster that just doesn’t have very much talent.
Even in a best-case scenario Mississippi State loses its three leading scorers, and as time passes it’s looking more and more likely that their fourth, Robert Woodard will stay in the draft as well (he is projected as a second round pick). Abdul Ado returns with toughness around the rim and Iverson Molinar showed flashes last season as a freshman, so there are a few pieces, if not many.
Still, if this team was on the outer fringes of the NCAA Tournament bubble last year with Reggie Perry, I just can’t even begin to imagine where they will be without him.
Key Returnees: Scottie Pippen Jr., Maxwell Evans, Dylan Disu, Jordan Wright, Ejike Obinna
Key Departures: Aaron Nesmith, Saben Lee, Clevon Brown
Key Additions: DJ Harvey (transfer), Isaac McBride (transfer), Tyrin Lawrence
With a background as both a G-League head coach and NBA assistant, Jerry Stackhouse showed some real X’s and O’s chops in Year 1 at Vandy, which included a win over LSU (which was in first place in the league standings at that point). But in a league that includes John Calipari, Will Wade, Eric Musselman and other elite recruiters, the question was always whether Stackhouse would be able to recruit with the big boys. Or, like other coaches who’ve come from the NBA like Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing, would he even show interest?
The answer so far appears to be no. And the Commodores will again struggle because of it.
That’s because, on top a second-straight last place finish in the SEC, Vandy loses its two best players (Aaron Nesmith and Saben Lee) with no major recruiting wins to replace them. Scottie Pippen Jr. showed flashes as a freshman but remains an undersized point guard and Notre Dame transfer DJ Harvey should add some scoring punch. Dylan Disu is also a long term player to watch.
But other than that, there just isn’t much.
Vandy could get out of the cellar. But they won’t be far from it.