We are approaching 100 days until the beginning of the college basketball season. Assuming the COVID-19 pandemic sees trends in the right direction, we all should be screaming at refs, callings the Hogs, and seeing the magic of Bud Walton Arena at work.
Here I’ll give my SEC Projections as the teams stand today(July 30). With over 100 days until the season, there can still be a lot of roster attrition. Players are still considering their professional options, transfers still happen, and injuries in the preseason. With that said, here is how I see the SEC playing out.
The Volunteers return their core. Santiago Vescovi, John Fulkerson, and Josiah Jordan-James. Yves Pons is considering his options in the NBA, but if he returns, this Tennessee team could be special. Rick Barnes brings in #4 recruiting class with 3 Top 100 recruits. They also add Sacred Heart grad transfer E.J. Anosike who averaged 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last year. The Vols had an elite year with Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield in 2018-19. This year’s team has the same potential.
Kentucky is doing what they do best. Reloading. Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and Tyrese Maxey are all gone. John Calipari brings 6 players in the Top 60 for the #1 recruiting class in 2020. Creighton grad transfer Davion Mintz, Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, and Rhode Island transfer Jacob Toppin also join the Cats. Sarr could receive a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately. That may determine how good this Kentucky can be.
LSU loses Marlon Taylor and Skylar Mays. Mays was a steady in that program for 4 years. Will Wade has the #6 class in the country with a 6 man class including . The Tigers expect Darius Days and Javonte Smart back, but Trendon Watford could go pro. What decisions those players make could determine the outcome of LSU’s season. I think they are an NCAA team either way, but how deep of a run can they make with Watford?
Eric Musselman’s first recruiting class looks to make an instant impact. Arkansas brings in 4 in-state players to give them the #8 class in the country. Moses Moody and K.K. Robinson expect to have some instant impact. Gutsy guard Desi Sills is as motivated as ever for his junior year. Musselman is known as a wizard in the transfer portal. He brings in 3 graduate transfers and 2 sit-out transfers that will be eligible this season. Justin Smith, Vance Jackson, Conner Vanover, and J.D. Notae all will make a huge impact. The big question mark is Isaiah Joe. Will he stay or will he go? If Joe does leave, I would drop Arkansas 1 or 2 spots.
Nate Oats, like Eric Musselman, has a talented squad in year 2. Oats had the #12 class and used the transfer portal as well. John Petty is expected to return after entering his name in the NBA draft. Jaden Shackelford, Alex Reese, Petty, and Herb Jones will lead the Tide. Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly and Yale grad transfer Jordan Bruner should give instant impact. Alabama has struggled on the defensive end for several years now. Last year’s team gave up 79 points per game. If they can defend, this should be a very good team.
Mike White’s seat is pretty hot. Given the talent he has had in Gainesville, the results have been underwhelming. In 4 of his 5 seasons at Florida, the Gators have lost 13 or more games. That is not the standard that Billy Donavan built. They do return some talent this year despite losing Andrew Nembhard transferring to Gonzaga. Tre Mann, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, and Scottie Lewis is a strong core. White brings in the #38 class with 4-Star Samson Ruzhentsev highlighting the group. Forward Anthony Duruji and Guard Tyree Appleby are both eligible this season after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. Both players averaged double figures at their previous schools. Florida has plenty of talent, but will White run an offense that can score? That will be the key for the Gators.
The Tigers are losing the top 6 scores from last year’s team. The leading returning scorer is Devon Cambridge who averaged 4.2 points per game last year. They will be one of the youngest teams in the country this season. Bruce Pearl did a great job reloading as they have the #9 recruiting class. 5-star PG Sharife Cooper is a star and will be from the get-go. The difference between Auburn and the other teams who brought in top talent in the SEC is that Auburn doesn’t have much coming back. There will a lot on the shoulders of some inexperienced players, but don’t count out Bruce Pearl. He is a winner and has a strong culture in place at Auburn. I think the Tigers make the NCAA Tournament.
8. Texas A&M
Buzz Williams had a strange season in year 1 at Texas A&M. T.J. Starks, their best player, left the team in the middle of the season. Plus, the Aggies had some abysmal losses early in the season. Williams worked his magic and A&M won 10 games in the SEC. All things considered, he did an incredible job with that team. The Aggies bring in the #19 class while bringing back Savion Flagg and Quenton Jackson. Buzz will coach them up and have a competitive team this year.
Cuonzo Martin is returning everyone this season. The Tigers went 15-16 while sustaining major injuries last year. 3 point specialist Mark Smith and starting big man Jeremiah Tilmon missed 21 games combined. Missouri is widely viewed as the sleeper team this season. Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson are back and should be improved. I expect Kobe Brown to make a big jump as well. Look out for Missouri in 2020-21.
10. South Carolina
The 2020-21 Gamecocks will be a strange team for Frank Martin. Maik Kotsar is gone. Chris Silva is in the NBA. Despite that, Martin has not recruited much size to replace those guys right away. SC has a 2 man class ranked #93 with a 6-8 PF and a 6-10 C, but it is hard to imagine them contributing immediately. Martin will have to play small ball. That’s what makes this SC team really weird for Martin. He’s had Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar, Felipe Haase, and Laimonas Chatkevicious in previous years. A.J. Lawson, Keyshawn Bryant, and Jermaine Cousinard will be consistent at the guard spots. This team is a question mark, but Frank Martin always finds a way when conference play begins.
11. Ole Miss
Breein Tyree carried the load for Ole Miss last year. He single-handedly won some games for the Rebels. The surprise departure was Blake Hinson who had a solid 2 years in Oxford. Devontae Shuler and K.J. Buffen are the leading returning scorers. Kermit Davis did well in the transfer portal with the acquisition of Romello White(10.2 points and 8.8 rebounds), Dimencio Vaughn(14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds), and Jarkel Joiner(13.2 points). Davis was also able to get the #38 recruit Matthew Murrell. He should have an instant impact. The question mark with this team is like last year’s squad. Where is the depth? Can the Rebels get consistency from 8 players every night?
12. Mississippi State
Mississippi State had as much roster turnover of anyone in the country. Between graduation, the NBA draft, and transfers, MSU lost 8 scholarship players. They bring in the #36 class highlighted by #60 Deivon Smith. The leading returning scorer is D.J. Stewart. Iverson Molinar and Senior big man Abdul Ado bring back experience as well. Grad Transfer Jalen Johnson(15.5 points) will have an immediate impact. Offense could be a real struggle with this group. Ben Howland’s seat could get a little warm after this season.
Georgia is replacing 7 scholarship players off of a team that won 16 games. Future #1 draft pick Anthony Edwards is long gone, but the biggest blow may be losing Rayshaun Hammonds. Many were surprised by his move to professional basketball. Tom Crean’s time in Athens has been underwhelming thus far. Fans will get restless if there is no major improvement in year 3. Sahvir Wheeler and Toumani Camara will have a lot on their shoulder this year as sophomores. Tom Crean did bring in 2 grad transfers who will provide experience and instance impact on this very young team. Justin Kier(9.4 points) and Andrew Garcia(13.4 points). This could be a long season in Athens.
Vanderbilt is a mess and that may be putting it kindly. Bryce Drew had an abysmal few years and recovery really hasn’t even begun yet. The Commodores had terrible luck with Aaron Nesmith’s injury last year. He and Saban Lee are NBA bound. As a freshman, Scotty Pippen Jr. was a stud for Vandy. He is the centerpiece for Jerry Stackhouse to build around and get this program out of the depths. Clevon Brown and Dylan Disu bring back experience to the backcourt. Notre Dame transfer D.J. Harvey should add scoring and Rice transfer Quentin Milora-Brown will help in the paint. Vanderbilt winning 5-7 SEC games would be a massive step in the right direction.