The 2020-2021 NCAA Basketball season may still be several months away, if it happens at all, but doesn’t it seem like the end of this past season was even longer ago? I remember being in Nashville, ready to watch Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, and that seems like it was years ago.
Regardless of what the upcoming season looks like – whether it starts around January 1st as was recently recommended by Rick Pitino, schools decide to play only conference games or other variations of an abbreviated schedule, or any of the other possibilities that have been lobbed out there over the last couple of months – there is no denying things very well may be different when college basketball does make its return. I am certainly not the one qualified enough to have an opinion on what the NCAA should, or will, do but there are several on-court questions that still need to be answered before games tip-off.
Before diving in the top unanswered questions surrounding SEC Basketball this offseason, let’s develop a bit of a timeline for some of the decisions that still need to be made.
The NBA has set its draft date for October 16th. Along with that, the early-entry deadline to declare for the draft has been pushed back to August 17th. For those players that do declare for the NBA Draft, they will now have until October 6th to decide whether to withdraw their name from consideration or stay in the draft. However, something that I haven’t seen many people talk about is the fact that the NCAA date for withdrawal from the NBA Draft remains August 3rd. Therefore, any player who was to take his name out of consideration between August 3rd and October 6th would not be able to return to school. This makes sense, seeing as how classes will be starting around that time anyway. So, for all intents and purposes, players currently testing the NBA Draft waters have until August 3rd to make their final decision.
Those dates impact several SEC players who are currently exploring their NBA options while maintaining their college eligibility. It also originally sent some shockwaves through the Big Blue Nation as Kentucky fans await news regarding Olivier Sarr. Though Sarr has since calmed any speculation that he may declare for the draft after being given more time (see his tweets about being on campus), the extended withdrawal date does throw an additional wrench into his eligibility decision.
A big part of Sarr’s plea to the NCAA was that with the timing of Danny Manning’s firing in late April from Wake Forest, it left him with less than 24 hours to make a decision on whether or not to declare for the draft (due to the original deadline for such a decision). It obviously remains to be seen whether or not Sarr will receive a waiver from the NCAA (more on that is coming later in this article), but the extension given to declare for the draft didn’t necessarily do him any favors.
After diving into the recruiting classes across the Southeastern Conference, looking at returning rosters, and seeing who in the conference still has to make their NBA Draft decisions, I came up with five primary questions (plus a few honorable mentions) that, when answered, will help shape the landscape of the SEC.
Feel free to drop your additional questions in the comments or on Twitter (@BRamseyKSR), and I will answer them there.
5. Will John Petty Return to Alabama?
Petty averaged 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in his junior season for the Crimson Tide. His 44% shooting from beyond the 3-point arc led the entire Southeastern Conference, and the Alabama star put his name in the draft back on March 25th while maintaining his eligibility. At 6’5” with a slight frame, Petty has the physical makings of a typical NBA shooting specialist. He is without a doubt one of the top shooters in the draft, but he has always been a high turnover player who lacks some on-ball defensive skills despite getting a lot of steals; a team-leading 1.8 per game last season.
Petty is currently No. 53 on ESPN’s best available list, which puts him in the late second round. Several other Big Boards and Mock Drafts have him anywhere from mid-to-late 2nd round to undrafted all-together.
The Crimson Tide finished 16-15, 8-10 in the SEC last season under first-year head coach Nate Oats. Oats did, however, establish his brand of basketball, leading Alabama to the 3rd highest scoring output in the country at 82 points per game. Petty was a big part of that with his stellar shooting, but the fact that he has never averaged more assists than turnovers in his three seasons in Tuscaloosa makes scouts question whether he will ever be more than “just” a shooter.
With McDonald’s All-American Jahvon Quinerly coming in to take over the Point Guard reigns, along with four-star guard Josh Primo and returning Sophomore Guard Jaden Shackleford in the backcourt, the Alabama offense is in good hands regardless of what Petty decides. However, with Herb Jones returning to school and the addition of Yale Graduate Transfer Jordan Bruner, the Crimson Tide could compete towards the top of the SEC and be a solid NCAA Tournament pick if Petty does decide to return school.
4. What does LSU’s Final Roster Look Like?
LSU finished 21-10 overall and 12-6 in the SEC a season ago. There is quite a bit to be excited about down in Baton Rouge, but there are just as many question marks entering the 2020-2021 campaign. The Tigers currently have three names still testing the NBA Draft waters, as Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, and Darius Days all have yet to make decisions. Although it was long expected that Coach Will Wade would add 5-Star center Moussa Cisse to his roster, it now looks like Cisse is expected to commit to Memphis (as of Sunday morning). Even without Cisse, Will Wade has put together the No. 6 recruiting class in the country, headlined by five-Star Guard Cameron Thomas.
2020 5? Moussa Cisse (@moussacisse224) has picked up four crystal ball predictions for @Memphis_MBB via @247Sports and are now listed as “Favorite.” Predictions now at nine for LSU and eleven for Memphis between @247Sports and @Rivals ?
— Heat Check Hoops (@HeatCheckHoops) July 5, 2020
With having to already replace veteran guard Skylar Mays, who graduated and is a projected mid-second round pick, the Tigers will have some holes in the backcourt if Javonte Smart leaves. However, neither Javonte Smart nor Darius Days show up on Mock Drafts that I have seen, so in theory, they “should” return to campus. Likewise, Trendon Watford is just No. 73 on ESPN’s Best Available list, which would leave him undrafted as well.
Despite all three Tigers most likely not getting picked, it is probably unlikely that all of them return. LSU currently has 14 players on scholarship. For those who aren’t aware, teams only get 13 scholarships, so something will have to give down in the bayou. LSU definitely has the most unanswered questions between the pending recruitment of a 5-Star big man and three total NBA Draft decisions to take care of, so what their final roster ends up being will definitely shift the power of the SEC.
3. Just How Good Will Tennessee Be?
Tennessee has gotten a lot of attention this offseason and deservedly so. Coach Rick Barnes locked in the No. 4 recruiting class in the country this season headlined by a pair of five-star guards in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. The only actual question mark when it comes to the Tennessee roster is the pending draft decision of Yves Pons. However, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year is already back on campus in Knoxville working out with the team so it seems as if he will return next season.
Along with All-SEC performer John Fulkerson and guard Santiago Vescovi, the return of Yves Pons would give the Volunteers arguably the best-returning roster in the conference. Therefore, despite more questions facing other teams, the question of just how good Tennessee will be carries a lot of weight because they are a legitimate SEC title contender.
Before the season was ended, Tennessee finished 17-14, 9-9 in the SEC. Assuming that Yves Pons does decide to stay in Knoxville, the Vols will feature one of the best-returning groups in the conference and will challenge Kentucky atop the league standings.
Coach Barnes has established himself on the recruiting trail already and has reeled in an elite class to go along with the returning players. Kentucky fans may not like to hear it, but if Olivier Sarr ends up being ineligible, don’t be surprised if you see the Volunteers at the top of preseason Southeastern Conference rankings.
2. Can Arkansas Succeed with 10 New Faces?
Typically, Kentucky is the only team that faces the kind of roster turnover that Arkansas will have this coming season. Second leading scorer Isaiah Joe is still exploring his NBA Draft options, but otherwise, only Desi Sills and Ethan Henderson will be returning to Fayetteville. Coach Eric Musselman led the Razorbacks to 20 wins in his first season, but will he be able to successfully replace guys like Mason Jones and Jimmy Whitt Jr.?
Even with all of the new faces on the roster, there certainly won’t be a lack of talent for Coach Musselman to play with. He secured the No. 8 recruiting class in the country with four 4-star signees. Moses Moody, a 6’6” Guard from Montverde Academy, and 6’0” Point Guard K.K. Robinson out of Oak Hill Academy, will both be relied upon to have an instant impact in the backcourt. Additionally, Arkansas will have a nice influx of veteran players as they have three immediately eligible Graduate Transfers on the roster. Justin Smith, a 6’7” Forward from Indiana, Vance Jackson, a 6’9” Forward from New Mexico, and 6’6” Guard Jalen Tate out of Northern Kentucky, have all been productive college players who should be ready to play right away.
The final three new faces are all transfers that sat out last season. High scoring Guard J.D. Notae averaged 15.5 points per game over his two seasons at Jacksonville and should look to score in Coach Musselman’s high-powered offense. Former three-star recruit Abayomi Iyiola – a 6’8” forward – was the leading scorer and rebounder at Stetson before deciding to join the Razorbacks last season and will provide some needed depth in the front court. Lastly, Arkansas will have 7’3” Center Connor Vanover eligible this season. Vanover averaged 7.5 points and three rebounds per game in his freshman season at California.
If Isaiah Joe returns to Fayetteville, then Arkansas should have a chance to compete with Kentucky and Tennessee at the very top of the SEC standings. Either way, this is a team with NCAA Tournament expectations that will look to use an influx of young talent and six high-profile transfers to fill the gaps left by graduation and exiting transfers.
1. Will Olivier Sarr be Eligible?
This one is pretty simple. After submitting the eligibility waiver paperwork soon after Sarr joined the Wildcats in May, everyone is waiting around to hear what the NCAA will decide. Even though the NCAA seems to be handing out immediate eligibility to just about anyone who has asked for it so far, Sarr still presents a little bit of a different situation. When Danny Manning was still the head coach at Wake Forest, he convinced his star big man to not enter his name in the NBA Draft and return for his senior season. However, Manning was then fired in late April and Sarr had less than 24 hours to decide whether or not to explore the Draft. Now that the deadline to enter the Draft has been reopened and extended to August 17th, will that take away his timing argument?
There isn’t much else to say about the Olivier Sarr situation, because trying to guess what the NCAA will do is always a fool’s errand. However, it is without a doubt the biggest question to be answered in the SEC because it is the difference between Kentucky being a legitimate National Championship contender or “just” trying to win the SEC and play into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Honorable Mention Questions
- Robert Woodard’s pending decision at Mississippi State (as a projected 1st Round pick, it is expected he will stay in the Draft).
- A.J. Lawson’s pending decision at South Carolina (he is expected to return).
- With Auburn’s leading returning scorer being Devan Cambridge at just 4.3 points per game, can Bruce Pearl work his magic once again?
- How good will Florida be? Andrew Nembhard decided to transfer to Gonzaga, but the return of Keyonte Johnson, Scottie Lewis and Noah Locke gives the Gators one of the best-returning groups in the conference.