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Basketball Season Primer + Predictions

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Arkansas Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

SEASON PRIMER + PREDICTIONS

Friends, we’ve made it! The College Basketball season is among us. It truly is the most wonderful time of year. Full arenas are back and I couldn’t be more excited. What makes college basketball so special are the atmospheres around the country. Passionate fans for their schools and young men playing with that same level of passion.

Now time for predictions: Game-game picks on Arkansas and the entire SEC. Let’s do this!

2021-22 Arkansas Basketball Schedule and Predictions

Nov. 09 – Mercer Jan. 15 – @ LSU
Nov. 13 – Gardner-Webb Jan. 18 – South Carolina
Nov. 17 – Northern Iowa Jan. 22 – Texas A&M
Nov. 22 – Kansas St.* Jan. 26 – @ Ole Miss
Nov. 23 – Cincinnati/Illinois* Jan. 29 – West Virginia
Nov. 28 – Penn Feb. 02 – @ Georgia
Dec. 01 – Central Arkansas Feb. 05 – Mississippi St.
Dec. 04 – Little Rock Feb. 08 – Auburn
Dec. 07 – Charlotte Feb. 12 – @ Alabama
Dec. 11 – Oklahoma# Feb. 15 – @ Missouri
Dec. 18 – Hofstra^ Feb. 19 – Tennessee
Dec. 21 – Elon Feb. 22 – @ Florida
Dec. 29 – @ Mississippi St. Feb. 26 – Kentucky
Jan. 04 – Vanderbilt Mar. 02 – LSU
Jan. 08 – @ Texas A&M Mar. 05 – @ Tennessee
Jan. 12 – Missouri

*= Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, MO
#= in Tulsa, OK
^= in Little Rock, AR

Wins: Mercer, Gardner-Webb, Northern Iowa, Kansas St., Penn, Central Arkansas, Little Rock, Charlotte, Oklahoma, Hofstra, Elon, @ Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, @ Texas A&M, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M, @ Ole Miss, West Virginia, @ Georgia, Mississippi St., Auburn, @ Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU

Losses: Illinois, @ LSU, @ Alabama, @ Florida, @ Tennessee

Record: 26-5 (14-4)

SEC Preview and Predictions

I spent the time and predicted every SEC game this season. These predictions are using those records and the tiebreakers were factored in. I also broke down the SEC into tiers. Sometimes the schedule is kinder to some, but mean to others. For example, I think LSU is probably better than Mississippi State, but the Tigers got an extremely difficult SEC to start. They could start 1-6 in SEC play. Meanwhile, Florida’s schedule is very favorable as they only face Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State once each. All of those are home games except Tennessee. There’s definitely a wider gap between Auburn and Florida than 1 game, but the schedule works out that way sometimes.

Tier 1 – Best of the Best

#1 Kentucky (15-3 in SEC)

The worst season in DECADES for Kentucky is long gone. Fans want to just erase it from history. I don’t blame them. Like always, Kentucky had a ton of raw ability, but they really struggled. The team wasn’t put together well and it showed. The point guard play was atrocious last year.

Now Cal has dove head first into the transfer portal seas like he never has before to couple with his 3 top recruits.

C.J. Frederick is a sharpshooter and will be among the best in the SEC. Sahvir Wheeler is a glitch. The former Georgia PG runs by everyone. I’m interested how he looks in a more facilitating role at UK. Oscar Tshiebwe will dominate the post. Teams will do their best to get him on the perimeter defensively, but he will be a handful for everyone in the league. Kellen Grady is the guy though. He’s versatile and should be a star under Cal.

Early reports are freshman TyTy Washington is ready for the bright lights now. It will be interesting to see how Cal uses Wheeler and Washington. Daimion Collins has crazy length and can jump out of the gym.

I just like this team. Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks returning gives them experience and proven production. The mix of returning experience, proven producers from the portal, and a star-studded freshman class is why I have them as the SEC Champs.

#2 Alabama (14-4 in SEC)

Alabama is back. Nate Oats has really built something in Tuscaloosa. The Tide lose some foundational players. Fan favorites. The hearts and souls of the last year’s SEC regular season championship team. So now they must find new identity and leadership.

This shouldn’t be a problem with Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly returning. Both were fantastic last year, but how good can they be when they are the top guys? 5-Star PG JD Davison will certainly help distribute and get others involved. Charles Bediako will be depended on early. Keon Ellis will be the breakout player for the Tide. He’s the real deal. Noah Gurley, transfer from Furman, should also have an impact.

#3 Arkansas (14-4 in SEC)

Last season, Eric Musselman had the benefit of a great freshman class and a strong transfer class. This season, the Hogs bring in just 1 freshman and a load of transfers.

Chris Lykes is a glitch. His quickness and scoring ability will be fun to watch. Au’Diese Toney is extremely versatile. He will rebound with the same intensity as Moses Moody did last year as he takes over the Small Forward spot. South Dakota transfer Stanley Umude could lead the team in scoring. He can put it in the cup from all 3 levels.

But the key to this Arkansas team will be the returning guys. Because those players are the key, there is plenty of reason to be high on the Hogs this year. Devo Davis went from not playing at all in November to the most important player on the court during the Elite 8 run. After an offseason of development, Devo should be dangerous.

We saw Jaylin Williams grow up over the course of last season. Now word out of summer practice is that he has toned up his body and is a confident leader. Arkansas needs him to be great! Then there is K.K. Robinson and J.D. Notae. Robinson was a top 40 recruit and missed most of the season with a foot injury. His shooting and creating for others will be big off the bench.

We know what J.D. Notae can do when things are going his way, but we know what the bad games were like too. Arkansas needs consistency from J.D. His shot selection will drive you mad, but some games the shots fall. If he can reign in his shot selection then he can be a First Team All-SEC guy.

Another key to a successful Arkansas season will be building chemistry. Musselman is accustomed to building chemistry with a lot of newcomers. Arkansas fans should feel confident.

Tier 2 – Contenders

#4 Tennessee (13-5 in SEC)

Rick Barnes has done it again. The man just keeps bringing loads of talent to Knoxville. The Volunteers do not have a ton of tradition in basketball, but they have arguably the best arena in the SEC and a rabid fanbase.

The issue lies that Tennessee has underperformed for the talent they have had. Sure, the NCAA Tournament can be a crap shoot, but after several years of underperforming for the talent that you have then it can become a trend.

John Fulkerson is taking advantage of his COVID year and his valuable experience and leadership will be huge for this team.

What Tennessee brings in is extremely impressive. Kennedy Chandler may be the best point guard prospect in the 2022 class. Justin Powell was really good at Auburn last year while playing a role he wasn’t suited for. He will be a sharpshooter for the Vols. Brandon Hatfield-Hatley and Jonas Aidoo will be depended on early and often. The front court depth isn’t there so the freshman will need to be good. At guard and wing, the Vols are as good as anyone in the league. Chandler, Powell, Victor Bailey, Santiago Vescovi, and Josiah Jordan-James. That’s a loaded group.

Tennessee could be good enough to win the SEC, but based off of recent years under Barnes, I don’t know if we can bank on them being the champs.

#5 Auburn (13-5 in SEC)

Bruce Pearl hasn’t skipped a beat though. He was great in the portal and is bringing in a future 1st round pick in Jabari Smith.

KD Johnson from Georgia will bring SEC experience and instant scoring ability. Wendell Green arrives on campus as the projected starting point guard. He’s an undersized PG like Sharife Cooper and averaged 5.0 assists per game in his 1 season at Eastern Kentucky. He can shoot the 3, but was very inefficient from 2. Adjusting to the size and speed of the SEC will be difficult, but I have no doubt he can be a creator for the Tigers.

Former 5-Star Walker Kessler joins the squad as a transfer from North Carolina. The fit was not great in Chapel Hill, but he should thrive at Auburn.

Allen Flanigan is back after a breakout season last year, but sustained an injury this summer that will keep him out until December. This team has the talent to make it through non-conference play virtually unscathed, but Auburn will need Flanigan to be 100% when he comes back for SEC play. He’s the most important player on this team.

Tier 3 – Good, Not Great

#6 Florida (12-6 in SEC)

Ahhhh the Florida Gators. What a weird ride it has been under Mike White. The man always has talent, but can they finally put things together and meet expectations? What has Mike White really done?

The Gators had an incredible run to the Elite 8 back in 2017, but Florida has had double digit losses in 5 of the 6 years under White’s leadership. That isn’t the Florida we’ve known over the 21st century. Some fans have been loud about that too.

Historically, Florida is not a great basketball program outside of Billy Donavan. Yet, their brand is strong. They should be better.

And this could be the year, but it all may hinge on one thing. Will Keyontae Johnson be cleared to play? Johnson is an outstanding basketball player. He is the heart and soul of this team. What happened last season was tragic. As far as we know, he has not been cleared to play. If he is cleared, Florida can be better than 6th in the SEC.

The return of Colin Castleton and Tyree Appleby is huge. The transfer additions were very good for White also. Myreon Jones from Penn St. can really shoot it. Brandon McKissic, C.J. Felder, and Phlandrous Fleming bring a ton of experience. Top 60 freshman Kowacie Reeves is ready to contribute too.

It’s clear…Florida has the pieces, but will they get it done?

#7 LSU (10-8 in SEC)

LSU, like Ole Miss, is a tough team to project in 2021-22. You love to see Darius Days back. He was so important to their success last season. If Days had a bad game then LSU would lose often times. The Tigers had all that talent in the starting lineup, but you could almost pin every loss on a rough game from Days. He’s a great player and will carry an even heavier load this year.

Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, and Cam Thomas are off to professional basketball. So there is plenty to replace in Baton Rouge.

Xavier Pinson being freed from Cuonzo Martin’s slow and boring offense will only let a player with his speed thrive. Illinois transfer Adam Miller would have been a huge piece for this team, but he suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago that will keep him sidelined in 2021-22. Tari Eason from Cincinnati will be a key piece. 5-Star Efton Reid will be relied on early.

There is 1 question for this LSU team though. What will the depth look like?

Last year’s LSU squad really struggled with depth also. They couldn’t get any scoring from the bench. Mwani Wilkinson and Eric Gaines had flashes of greatness. They both bring energy and athleticism, but how much will they improve? Because with Miller’s injury they will need those guys to step up.

Will Wade hasn’t had a team at LSU with so little coming back. The depth issues and not knowing how well Wade can bring a new bunch together keeps them in the #7 spot for me.

#8 Mississippi St. (10-8 in SEC)

2020-21 was a forgetful year for MSU, but they were losing a lot from the year before. Sure they made the NIT Championship game, but it was still an underwhelming season. Now they look to build off of that postseason run and around some key pieces.

Leading scorer Iverson Molinar returns and Tolu Smith, who broke out last season, are both back for another year.

Where Ben Howland won in huge ways was in the transfer portal! Rocket Watts from Michigan State, Garrison Brooks from North Carolina, D.J. Jeffries from Memphis, and Shakeel Moore from North Carolina St. Every one of those players should be key rotation pieces or starters.

There’s zero question that Ben Howland has raised the floor of the MSU program, but it is safe to say that the Bulldog fans are ready to see the ceiling. MSU had 3 straight seasons of 20+ wins from 2017-18 to 2019-20, but only 1 trip to the NCAA Tournament with it(thanks, COVID). But even in their one trip, they were upset by 12-seeded Liberty in the 1st round.

I really like this team, but the SEC will be an absolute bloodbath this year. Because of that, MSU will likely be fighting for a spot on the bubble!

Tier 4 – The Forgotten

#9 Ole Miss (7-11 in SEC)

Ole Miss is one of the harder teams to figure out this offseason. I like the pieces they have added. I like the core players returning, but how good can they be?

Hometown kid Jarkel Joiner is back. Luis Rodriguez had good sophomore campaign and they’ll look for him to take the next step. Matthew Murrell is a former top 50 player who is ready to contribute. They added Tye Fagan from Georgia, Jaemyn Brakefield from Duke, and Nysier Brooks from Miami. All 3 can make contributions this year. Plus, they have top 50 incoming freshman Daeshun Ruffin.

Depth will definitely be a concern. Kermit Davis needs a good run this year. I would understand if they made an NIT trip, but fans already were getting impatient with him after some head scratching losses last year. And yet they still finished 6th in the SEC.

Take care of business at home. Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. Be competitive with the big dogs. Build momentum.

#10 Vanderbilt (6-12 in SEC)

I am bit higher than most on Vanderbilt. 10th isn’t saying a whole lot, but I thought Vanderbilt made some progress last year. Star Scotty Pippen missed 3 games and Dylan Disu missed 8 games. They would have finished higher with a healthy Disu. They lost 5 games by 4 points or less. They were close to being much better.

But Disu is off to Texas to play for Chris Beard near his hometown. Losing Disu really hurts. I think could have taken a much bigger step this year with him.

Jordan Wright is set to take a step up after a solid sophomore year. Rodney Chatman and Liam Robbins will be expected to contribute. Look out for freshman Shane Dezonie too.

What Vanderbilt cannot afford to do is lose non-conference games at home to lesser opponents. They’ve done it for 5 straight years. We all know how wild Memorial Gym can be, but when you push the fans away before you really need them then you are in for a long season.

Look to see Vanderbilt gain a little consistency and defend home court in non-conference play. Fans will come back and help them in SEC play. Scotty Pippen is too good to have him play in front of empty seats.

#11 Missouri (4-14 in SEC)

If you have a heart, you feel for Cuonzo Martin. His entire tenure at Missouri has been marred by things totally out of his control. The injuries to Michael Porter Jr. and then his brother, Jontay Porter, the following season really ruined what could have been special seasons for Missouri.

In 2019-20, the Tigers had a bit of a down year, but missed sharpshooter Mark Smith and productive big man Jeremiah Tilmon. 2020-21 was the year that everything was supposed to come together. Then the pandemic happened. Obviously, every team was effected by the weird season of college basketball. Mizzou Arena is a place that can get rocking when cheering for a good team, but that didn’t happen. As a result, Missouri underperformed. They finished .500 in the SEC and 7th overall.

So now Missouri begins a total reset. Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett return, but that’s all. Martin will have to rely on mid-major players transferring up to make a transition to arguably the best conference in college basketball next year. Amari Davis from Green Bay can really score it. Jarron Coleman from Ball St. was solid in the MAC. Ronnie DeGray had SEC offers during his recruitment. So there are some pieces to build around and Cuonzo can coach. Not a great recruiter, but the man can coach. I just don’t like the overall talent level here and that’s why I see it being a real struggle in 2021-22 for Missouri.

#12 Texas A&M (4-14 in SEC)

The first 2 years of the Buzz Williams era has been underwhelming. Very underwhelming. A&M went entire month last season without playing a basketball game. They couldn’t kick COVID. It was odd. Either way, what another forgettable year for A&M, but that is a part of rebuilding.

Now in year 3, Buzz has some talent coming in. Duke transfer Henry Coleman III should play right away. Wyoming transfer Marcus Williams will contribute. Quenton Jackson is a great shooter and is back for another year. Andre Gordon is a pesky guard who will need to take a step up in contribution. High 4-Star Manny Obaseki joins the fold.

A&M really lacks depth especially in the frontcourt. Buzz really needs to make some head way this season. It’s year 3 already! What really hurt A&M was St. Joseph’s Jordan Hall. He was on the way to College Station after he committed while in the transfer portal. Hall was also testing the NBA waters. Once he decided to return to college, he also decided to return to St. Joseph’s. Had Hall stayed with his commitment to A&M, the Aggies could have been in play for a Bubble Bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Tier 5 – FIRE EVERYBODY

#13 South Carolina (3-15 in SEC)

2020-21 was the season everyone thought would do Frank Martin in, but alas, he is back again. In fact, he received a contract extension, but with a lower buyout. The Gamecocks really struggled and the defense was worse than that last year. Martin’s teams at SC have been known for a lot of size, but they have gone to a small ball of sorts. The added pace brought a ton of 3PA, but SC ranked near the bottom of NCAA in 3P%. Not exactly a recipe for success to be terrible at shooting the ball, but wanting to do more of it.

A.J. Lawson is off to the NBA, but the Gamecocks return Keyshawn Bryant and Jermaine Couisnard. Both are more than serviceable in this league, but what is around them is uninspiring. James Reese from North Texas and Erik Stevenson from Washington bring a lot of experience.

With this roster it’s like Martin has totally abandoned any sort of post presence. Another long season in Columbia should be expected. A season like that would mark 10 seasons with just 1 NCAA tournament appearance in the Martin era.

#14 Georgia (1-17 in SEC)

I’ll put it plainly…The seat could not be any hotter for Tom Crean. Fans were already upset with how 2019-20 went, but then last season lit a new fire. In 2019-20, Georgia had the future #1 overall pick in Anthony Edwards and future G-Leaguer RayShaun Hammonds on the roster, but only mustered up a 16-16 record.

Last season wasn’t any better, but at least there was a core of players to build upon for Tom Crean. Sahvir Wheeler was one of the most exciting players to watch in the SEC and even recorded a triple-double last year. Toumani Camara was as good of a 4 as there was in the SEC. KD Johnson could score from anywhere on the floor. But one problem….They all transferred away. Actually, Georgia’s top 6 scorers all transferred away. Fans were sick of Tom Crean before, but this offseason has rendered them rabid.

The one contributor that stuck around and was due for a leadership role was P.J. Horne. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season even started. The hits just keep coming for Crean.

There’s no way around it. This team will be bad. Crean added Aaron Cook from Gonzaga, Jabri Abdur-Rahim from Virginia, Jailyn Ingram from Florida Atlantic, and others. The hard truth is the incoming transfers never established themselves at consistent contributors at their previous schools and the high school guys don’t project to add much as freshmen.

It will be a long season in Athens that will likely lead to another coaching search. Georgia fans deserve better.