Last year, the SEC earned five bids to the NCAA tournament, and a team (South Carolina) made the Final Four, beating another conference opponent (Florida) in the Elite Eight to make the trip.
Kentucky was a possession away from making half of the Final Four SEC-flavored, as the Wildcats fell to eventual national champion North Carolina.
Arkansas played those Tar Heels off their feet the weekend prior before narrowly falling, and Vanderbilt was a bonehead decision by Matthew Fisher-Davis away from beating Northwestern.
Now the rumor is that the SEC could get six or dare I say, even SEVEN teams into the Big Dance in 2017-18.
Upgraded rosters, plus upgrades in coaches=improved league.Here’s my look at how it will transpire:
Gators were a few possessions away from the Final Four a year ago, and return North Little Rock’s own Kevaughn Allen and other key pieces. Mike White has proven he’s more than capable of handling the keys he was handed by Billy Donovan.
Normally, the easiest thing to do is just put the Cats No. 1 because of John Calipari’s track record, sort of like Nick Saban and Alabama. I think the increased youth and lack of enough returning experience means they will drop a few more than usual.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies are very good, and Robert Williams might be the most athletic player in the conference other than Michael Porter, Jr., who we’ll get to in a minute. Billy Kennedy is a very solid coach and has made College Station a very tough place to play.
Media picked Arkansas sixth in the preseason, and don’t think for a second that the players won't remember that “disrespect” as they try and get back to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. They have the guard play and the resources to do it.
Lot of uncertainty around the program right now, but talent-wise, Bruce Pearl’s crew is as good as it can be. The FBI may have other ideas, and their defense is certainly still a question mark. Still, the Tigers will be able to put up points against anybody.
Avery Johnson’s unit figures to be much improved, and the recruits he has brought in may pay immediate dividends. They play hard-nosed and physical, and will give teams in this league fits because of that.
7. Mississippi State
It’s time for Ben Howland to show something in Starkville. His track record at Pittsburgh and UCLA suggested that he’d win big, and with the talent he has brought in, he should be able to get his team in at least tourney conversation this season.
Other folks are way high on Missouri, and while I feel the Tigers will be much more talented, it’s still the same program that has won 17 games the past two years and a batch of really good recruits isn’t just going to flip a switch and make the tournament in one year.
Bryce Drew’s teams will always have good guard play and shoot the ball at an impressive clip, but he’s going to have to figure out how to hold onto leads and play smart with the basketball, especially in late-game situations.
This is a make-or-break year for Mark Fox. We say that every year, but this is put up or shut up time. He needs to dance to keep his job, and Yante Maten, if he can stay healthy, will try his damnedest to make that happen.
11. South Carolina
Hard for me to pick the Gamecocks this low after the surprise trip to the final weekend a year ago, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to replace all the talent they’re losing and not take a serious step back. Frank Martin should at least get NIT out of this bunch.
12. Ole Miss
Don’t really have a concrete reason for picking the Rebels this low, I just don’t have any justification for picking them any higher either. Andy Kennedy has built up enough goodwill in Oxford to survive NIT or even no postseason.
Seems really low, yet there really isn’t anything positive to think about the Volunteers in 2017-18. Rick Barnes is a coach whose best days are behind him and with the improved league, it’s going to be hard to rack up wins.
Picking them last just because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of talent on the roster yet, but Will Wade should be able to salvage at least something in year one and maybe make something happen by year three.