So what will SEC basketball do for an encore this season? The league finally enjoyed its breakthrough back in March when five teams made the 2017 NCAA Tournament, four won a game, three reached the Elite Eight and South Carolina (improbably) ran all the way to the Final Four.
There is plenty of new and returning talent across the conference, evidenced by this: ESPN’s early 2018 NBA mock draft has six SEC players going in the first round — and only two are from Kentucky. The league’s three projected top-10 picks are Missouri’s Michael Porter, Texas A&M’s Robert Williams and Alabama’s Collin Sexton.
To earn the national respect it craves, the SEC must be more than just Florida and Kentucky, one of which has won the regular-season or tournament title each of the last eight years, and there have been recent signs of progress toward that goal. Alas, the top of the 2017-18 league standings figure to look familiar.
In advance of SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day on Wednesday in Nashville, here’s my best preseason stab at a predicted order of finish and the All-SEC team:
2017-18 SEC Basketball Predicted Order
- Florida — The last time Kentucky had a team this young (2013-14), the Gators won the league, but both teams made the Final Four. It could happen again. Florida reached the Elite Eight in Year 2 under 2017 SEC Coach of the Year Mike White and returns key pieces KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza and John Egbunu.
- Kentucky — The Cats have the most talented team in the league (country?), but also the youngest team in the league (country?). There are eight former 5-star recruits and zero juniors or seniors on the roster. Kentucky could start five freshmen, meaning early stumbles, but the ceiling is the roof.
- Texas A&M — The Aggies might have the best frontcourt duo in the SEC with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, who passed on the NBA after last season and will probably be a lottery pick next summer. He’s the real deal down low.
- Alabama — Avery Johnson signed McDonald’s All-American Collin Sexton and will pair him in the backcourt with top-40 recruit John Petty (who spurned Kentucky), plus talented veterans Braxton Key (SEC All-Freshman last season) and Donta Hall (a projected draft pick).
- Vanderbilt — Seniors Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson return from a team that should’ve at least made the second round of the NCAA Tournament if not for an astounding blunder against Northwestern. Bryce Drew is a terrific coach who will keep building in Nashville.
- Auburn — Assuming the FBI investigation doesn’t wreck the program this season, these Tigers are finally ready to make a move under Bruce Pearl. He has his top four scorers back, led by Mustapha Heron on the outside and freak show Austin Wiley inside, plus talented newcomers like Chuma Okeke.
- Missouri — New coach Cuonzo Martin has given the Tigers a serious shot in the arm by signing the nation’s No. 4-ranked recruiting class (per 247Sports). That includes the 5-star Porter brothers; Michael might be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. But let’s not go crazy, as Mizzou went 27-68 the last three seasons.
- Arkansas — The Razorbacks’ tandem of Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford will be really fun to watch, but Moses Kingsley (and Dusty Hannahs for that matter) will be sorely missed from a team that almost made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
- Georgia — Yante Maten might be the SEC Player of the Year, but what else? J.J. Frazier scored 1,628 career points for the Bulldogs, and he’s gone. Mark Fox only reached one NCAA Tournament with Frazier.
- South Carolina — Please don’t kill us, Frank Martin, but you lost Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier to the NBA and Duane Notice to graduation after an unforgettable, unbelievable run to the 2017 Final Four. Those three players scored 57 percent of the Gamecocks’ points last season.
- Mississippi State — Ben Howland has the core of his top-10 2016 signing class back, along with second-team All-SEC pick Quinndary Weatherspoon, but we’re going to have to see the Bulldogs climb a few rungs on the league ladder to believe it.
- Tennessee — The Vols aren’t very big and don’t shoot it particularly well. Other than that, Rick Barnes has it rolling.
- Ole Miss — Maybe Andy should let Randy Kennedy coach this season. Deandre Burnett is a nice player, but Sebastian Saiz will be sorely missed.
- LSU — On the bright side, new coach Will Wade is recruiting well. That talent cannot get to Baton Rouge fast enough.
Kyle Tucker’s preseason All-SEC team
- PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
- SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
- SF Michael Porter, Missouri
- PF Robert Williams, Texas A&M
- C Austin Wiley, Auburn
- G Mustapha Heron, Auburn
- G KeVaughn Allen, Florida
- F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
- F Yante Maten, Georgia
- F Tyler Davis, Texas A&M