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Post-Free Agency SEC Power Rankings - Part 2

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Post-Free Agency SEC Power Rankings - Part 2

Last week, I dove into my bottom 7 teams in the SEC following the summer of transfers, an NBA draft, and so much more. This week, I will look at the top half of the league and how I’d rank the teams right now.

Enjoy and let me know where I went wrong!

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Florida
Florida forward Colin Castleton
Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports

#7 Florida Gators

Record Last Year: 15-10 (9-7 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 5th

Returning: Keyontae Johnson(16.0ppg), Colin Castleton(12.4ppg), Tyree Appleby(11.3ppg), Anthony Duruji(6.1ppg), Ques Glover(2.5ppg), Niels Lane(1.1ppg), and Jason Jitobah(0.9ppg).

Going Pro: Tre Mann(16.0ppg), Scottie Lewis(7.9ppg), and Samson Ruzhentsev(2.0ppg).

Transferring: Noah Locke to Louisville(10.6ppg), Omar Payne to Illinois(3.8ppg), Ques Glover to Samford(2.5ppg), and Osayi Osifo to Jacksonville(1.9ppg).

Newcomers: Myreon Jones(transfer from Penn State), Brandon McKissic(transfer from UMKC), Phlandrous Fleming(transfer from Charleston Southern), and C.J. Felder(transfer from Boston College).

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 will be better than 7th in the SEC. I guarantee it.

The return of Colin Castleton and Tyree Appleby is big. The transfer additions were very good for White.

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

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-St. Bonaventure at Louisiana State
LSU forward Darius Days
Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

#6 LSU Tigers

Record Last Year: 19-10 (11-6 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 3rd

Returning: Darius Days(11.6ppg), Mwani Wilkinson(3.6ppg), Josh LeBlanc(3.2ppg), Eric Gaines(2.5ppg), and Shareef O’Neal(2.8ppg).

Going Pro: Cam Thomas(23.0ppg), Trendon Watford(16.3ppg) and Javonte Smart(16.0ppg).

Transferring: Charles Manning Jr. to South Alabama(4.2ppg), Aundre Hyatt to Rutgers(4.2ppg), Jalen Cook to Tulane(3.1ppg), Josh Gray to South Carolina(0.8ppg), and Bryan Penn-Johnson to TBD(0.4ppg).

Newcomers: Tari Eason(transfer from Cincinnati), Seneca Knight(transfer from San Jose State), Xavier Pinson(transfer from Missouri), Adam Miller(transfer from Illinois), Alex Fudge(early enrollee, 4-Star #57 in 2020), Efton Reid(5-Star #24), Brandon Murray(4-Star #79), Jerrell Colbert(3-Star #127), and Bradley Ezewiro(3-Star #260).

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. Will Wade has done just that though.

Xavier Pinson being freed from Cuonzo Martin’s slow and boring offense will only let a player with his speed thrive. Adam Miller should have a larger role at LSU than he did at Illinois. Tari Eason will contribute.

There is 1 question for this LSU team though. What will your 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?

Will Wade hasn’t had a team 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 #6 spot for me.

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NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Auburn
Auburn wing Allen Flanigan
Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports

#5 Auburn Tigers

Record Last Year: 13-14 (7-11 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 10th

Returning: Allen Flanigan(14.3ppg), Jaylin Williams(10.9ppg), Devan Cambridge(8.9ppg), Dylan Cardwell(3.8ppg), Chris Moore(2.8ppg), and Babatunde Akingbola(1.9ppg).

Going Pro: Sharife Cooper(20.2ppg) and J.T. Thor(9.4ppg).

Transferring: Justin Powell to Tennessee(11.7ppg), Jamal Johnson to UAB(9.4ppg), Tyrell Jones to South Alabama(3.3ppg), and Javon Franklin to South Alabama(1.3ppg).

Newcomers: Zep Jasper(transfer from College of Charleston), Wendell Green(transfer from Eastern Kentucky), K.D. Johnson(transfer from Georgia), Walker Kessler(transfer from North Carolina), and Jabari Smith(5-Star #4).

Auburn had a down season last year, but it was one that left Auburn fans with a lot of what-ifs. Sharife Cooper was held out of several games with eligibility concerns. Justin Powell missed over half the season with an injury. Both players were great for the Tigers, but all the time they missed really hampered what Auburn was able to do.

Now Cooper is in the NBA and Powell transferred to Tennessee. JT Thor also was drafted and other contributors transferred out.

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.

Allen Flanigan is back after a breakout season last year.

I do worry about depth for Auburn, like I do with LSU, but Auburn’s ceiling is much higher. These Tigers should be dangerous!

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Syndication: The Tennessean
Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

#4 Tennessee Volunteers

Record Last Year: 18-9 (10-7 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 4th

Returning: Victor Bailey(10.9ppg), John Fulkerson(9.5ppg), Santiago Vescovi(8.7ppg), Josiah Jordan-James(8.0ppg), Olivier Nkamhoua(2.3ppg), and Uros Plavsic(1.1ppg).

Graduating: Yves Pons(8.7ppg)

Going Pro: Jaden Springer(12.5ppg) and Keon Johnson(11.3ppg).

Transferring: E.J. Anosike to Cal State Fullerton(1.7ppg), Davonte Gaines to George Mason(0.7ppg), Drew Pember to UNC Asheville(0.2ppg), and Corey Walker to USF(0.0ppg).

Newcomers: Justin Powell(transfer from Auburn), Kennedy Chandler(5-Star #6), Brandon Hatfield-Hatley(5-Star #23), Jonas Aidoo(4-Star #37), Jahmai Mashack(4-Star #58), Quentin Diboundje(3-Star #155), and Handje Tamba(reclassified from 2022).

Rick Barnes has done it again. The man just keeps bringing loads of talent to Tennessee. 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 becomes a trend.

Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson were both one-and-dones for UTK and Yves Pons looks to earn a roster spot in the NBA after his departure.

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 isn’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 basing off of recent years of under Barnes, I don’t know if we can bank on them being the champs so I will project then lower than they are on paper.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Maryland at Alabama
Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

#3 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record Last Year: 26-7 (16-2 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 1st

Returning: Jaden Shackelford(14.0ppg), Jahvon Quinerly(12.9ppg), Keon Ellis(5.5ppg), Juwan Gary(3.8ppg), James Rojas(2.9ppg), Darius Miles(2.2ppg), Keon Ambrose-Hylton(1.2ppg), Alex Tchikou(0.0ppg).

Graduating: John Petty Jr. (12.6ppg), Herbert Jones(11.2ppg), Jordan Bruner(5.4ppg), and Alex Reese(5.4ppg).

Going Pro: Josh Primo(8.1ppg)

Newcomers: Noah Gurley(transfer from Furman), Nimari Burnett(transfer from Texas Tech), and J.D. Davison(5-Star #10), Charles Bediako(4-Star #32), and Jusaun Holt(4-Star #83).

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 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 the top guys? 5-Star PG JD Davison will certainly help distribute and get others involved. Charles Bediako will need to be really, really good. Truthfully, where he goes, Alabama may go because the frontcourt isn’t a guarantee. He has plenty of talent of transitioning to college basketball is always more difficult for big men.

The Tide need to see a breakout year from Keon Ambrose-Hylton and Alex Tchikou. Tchikou missed all of last season with a torn achilles. He is a former top 40 recruit and has a lot of talent.

If Bediako is one and done good then Alabama can win the league.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Texas Tech at Arkansas
Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

#2 Arkansas Razorbacks

Record Last Year: 25-7 (13-4 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 2nd

Returning: J.D. Notae(12.8ppg), Devo Davis(8.5ppg), Connor Vanover(6.3ppg), Jaylin Williams(3.7ppg), and K.K. Robinson(2.6ppg).

Graduating: Justin Smith(13.6ppg) and Jalen Tate(11.0ppg).

Going Pro: Moses Moody(16.8ppg)

Transferring: Desi Sills to Arkansas State(7.5ppg), Vance Jackson to East Carolina(3.8ppg), Ethan Henderson to Texas A&M(1.2ppg), and Abayomi Iyiola to Hofstra(0.0ppg).

Newcomers: Au’Diese Toney(transfer from Pittsburgh), Trey Wade(transfer from Wichita State), Jaxson Robinson(transfer from Texas A&M), Stanley Umude(transfer from South Dakota), Chris Lykes(transfer from Miami), and Chance Moore(4-Star #92).

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 your Day 1 starting PG. His quickness and scoring ability will be fun to watch. Au’Diese Toney is extremely versatile. Stanley Umude could lead the team in scoring!

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 seasoning, Devo should be dangerous.

We saw Jaylin Williams grow up over the course of the 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 KK Robinson and JD 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 JD Notae can do when things are going his way, but we know what the bad games were like too. Arkansas needs consistency from JD. 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 special player.

With the veteran transfers and the returning core, Arkansas is the real deal.

Eric Musselman plays a huge part in this too. He finds a way to have his play to the best of their ability. Last year’s team, on paper, was not a top 10 team, but they were there at the end of the season.

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Syndication: The Tennessean
Kentucky guard Davion Mintz
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

#1 Kentucky Wildcats

Record Last Year: 9-16 (8-9 in SEC)
SEC Finish: 8th

Returning: Davion Mintz(11.5ppg), Keion Brooks(10.3ppg), Dontaie Allen(5.4ppg), Jacob Toppin(5.2ppg), and Lance Ware(2.0ppg).

Graduating: Olivier Sarr(10.8ppg)

Going Pro: B.J. Boston(11.5ppg), Terrence Clarke(9.6ppg), and Isaiah Jackson(8.4ppg).

Transferring: Devin Askew to Texas(6.5ppg) and Cam’Ron Fletcher to Florida State(1.7ppg).

Newcomers: C.J. Frederick(transfer from Iowa), Sahvir Wheeler(transfer from Georgia), Oscar Tshiebwe(transfer from West Virginia), Kellan Grady(transfer from Davidson), TyTy Washington(5-Star #12), Daimion Collins(5-Star #13), and Bryce Hopkins(4-Star #36).

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.

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

CJ 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. He will be a star under Call.

TyTy Washington brings more depth to the PG position after UK’s struggles to find just 1 consistent PG last season. Daimion Collins has crazy length and can jump out of the gym.

Some aren’t as high on Kentucky as I am. Truthfully, you can make an argument for any of the top 4 teams to win the league. I just like this team. Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks returning gives them experience and proven production. I like this Kentucky team a lot and they are my favorites to win the SEC…..for now.

If you missed part 1 of this series, check it out here to read up on my take on the bottom half of the SEC.

As always, thanks for reading!
For all things Arkansas Basketball, give me a follow on Twitter @BenBrandonHoops