The basketball season is underway, and there’s already been plenty of ups and downs for the SEC’s teams.
Here are our opening power rankings:
With a strong returning core led by Junior F KeVaughn Allen, Junior F Kevarrius Hayes and Senior G Chris Chiozza, Florida seems primed for a great season and ready avenge their Elite Eight heartbreaker to fellow SEC opponent South Carolina. Their first game wasn’t much of a test for this incredibly deep and experienced squad as they demolished Gardner-Webb. However, this game did prove to be a trial run for newcomers such as Rice transfer Egor Koulechov, who really stepped up and proved he can make an impact. In college basketball, experience is key and Florida has it so expect to hear their name called come March.
Losing caliber players of the likes of De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk is more than enough to ruin most any program, except Kentucky. A brand new starting five composed of all freshman is enough to rule out most programs in the country, except Kentucky. Led by a redshirt Freshman in Hamidou Diallo and true Freshman Kevin Knox, it will take a while for this young team to fully blend together and reach their full potential. After two relatively close games to Utah Valley and Vermont, Kentucky regrouped and played a phenomenal game against an experienced Kansas team, losing by just four points. Through this game they showed that they could compete with even the best, showing just how scary they can be when their freshman gain chemistry and experience.
3. Texas A&M
Even with prolific Sophomore F Robert Williams and ESPN top 100 recruit PG JJ Caldwell suspended for the first game of the season, the Aggies were able to completely annihilate #11 West Virginia in their season opener. This game was huge for the Aggies as they proved that they can perform even without Williams, getting great production from Junior C Tyler Davis who has been a big part of their offense the last two years and is primed to continue that into this season. A key for the Aggies is their size and experience as they return two of their top scorers and rebounders from last year in Davis and WIlliams and if they can build their offense through these big men they will be a major threat going forward.
The greatest move of Missouri basketball in perhaps their program’s history was the signing on of Michael Porter Sr. as an assistant coach. Not only is his experience a good addition for their new revamped coaching staff, but his signing came with commitments from his sons, Michael (#2 prospect in 2017) and Jontay (#25 prospect in 2017). The Porter brothers add an entirely different dimension to this Tigers team that finished a poor 8-24 last season. With this strong recruiting class, the sky’s the limit as they should easily finish with more than 8 wins as a tourney bid could be in store for this incredibly talented squad.
While not known for their basketball success, Alabama has still managed to compile a strong recruiting class led by 5-star recruit PG Collin Sexton who shined in his first college game, putting up 22 points in a win against Lipscomb. This big time scorer is exactly what Alabama needed to compete as they lacked a player who could single-handedly take over late in games last year. Sexton joins the top leading scorers from last season to make up what should be a team with a strong core and depth. Alabama has the pieces to compete with the top teams in the nation, and not just in football.
Despite getting out in the second round of last year’s tournament, Arkansas gave eventual national champion North Carolina a scare. A large chunk of that same core of players is back this year making them a team to watch for. Led by three guards in Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford and Anton Beard, the Razorbacks can spread the floor which can cause nightmares on defense. Through their first two games where they completely rolled through Bucknell and Samford, these three guards were their top scorers and if they can continue to run their offense through these guys, Arkansas should have their eyes set on yet another tournament bid.
7. South Carolina
After a cinderella-esque tournament run as a 7 seed into the Final Four, SEC player of the year and NCAA tournament hero Sindarius Thornwell graduated, leaving South Carolina without their best player over the last four years. While the ceiling may not be as high as it was last year for the Gamecocks, not all hope is lost. Forward Chris Silva, their top returning scorer and top returning rebounder, is back for his junior year and should continue to dominate the glass as he did the first two games putting up 10 rebounds in each game. This is a team with experience that knows how to win even against all odds as they showed last season, so don’t be too quick to count them out.
8. Mississippi State
Joining his older brother Quinndary, Freshman G Nick Weatherspoon (#36 in ESPN’s top 100) helps comprise a team that has both experience and fresh faces that can provide the spark that this team needs. Furthermore, since they lost one of their best players in Malik Newman to Kansas via transfer, Weatherspoon and the other guards such as Tyson Carter will need to step up and fill the hole that he left in their backcourt. In their first game, the Bulldogs rolled through a clearly inferior opponent in Alabama State, getting the production they need to be successful from their more experienced guys who they will need to rely on going forward.
Despite the fact that the Commodores lost arguably their best player from last season in Luke Kornet, they have retained three of their four highest scorers in Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson who were a major key to their success last year. After last season’s heartbreaking loss in the round of 64, the Commodores are hungry to dance once again. Even with an early loss to Belmont, it is hard to rule out them out just yet as they have received immense productions from their freshmen, particularly Saben Lee, and they have retained a strong core of players who feel like they have unfinished business after last season.
The biggest story coming out of Auburn this past year, all football activity excluded, was the major scandal that rocked the the college basketball world that ended with the placement of two support staff members on administrative leave and HC Bruce Pearl’s future in danger. However, even with the uncertainty brought on by the looming allegations, the Tigers started the season strong with a 28 point win over Norfolk State. Standout Freshman and leading scorer from last year Mustapha Heron is back for his sophomore year and is primed to lead a more experienced Auburn squad that is hopeful for its first tournament bid since 2003.
11. Ole Miss
Returning three of their five highest scorers from last year, Ole Miss has retained a strong set of players from last year’s 22-14 team. In their first two games, especially the second one, Ole MIss appeared to completely play down to their opponent, winning by just 10 against a truly bad opponent in Eastern Kentucky. However, last year this squad showed that it could play with almost every team as they beat South Carolina in the last game of the regular season before South Carolina made their cinderella run. Seeing that this very similar team found success last year, Ole Miss shouldn’t dwell on their very mild early season struggles.
Fourth highest scorer in the SEC last season F Yante Maten is back for his senior year and projects to lead this Bulldogs team in point, rebounds and blocks. Joining him is highly touted 4-star recruit F Rayshaun Hammond who should play a big role for the Bulldogs as well. These two guys are keys to their success and through the first two games they have stepped up, with Maten averaging 21.5 points and 13 rebounds, and Hammond averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds of his own. If these two guys can continue to attack the glass and score the ball, Georgia could make some noise and get their 13th tournament bid in school history.
Two years ago, James Daniel III led all of Division 1 in scoring with 27.1 points a game at Howard University. After an ankle injury last season, Daniel transferred to this Tennessee squad, desperately in need of a consistent scorer. While Daniel has struggled through the first two games, Tennessee has been able to win albeit against very subpar opponents, largely due to Junior F Admiral Schofield. Next Wednesday the 22nd, the Volunteers will have their first true test of the season against Purdue, and Schofield, Daniel and the entire Tennessee team will need to step up if they want a fighting chance at winning.
After landing 4-star recruit freshman phenom Tremont Waters after he originally committed to Georgetown, LSU gained a bit of confidence heading into the season. However, Waters joins a team that went just 2-16 in SEC play. Despite this, in their first game of the season, the Tigers were able to roll through Alcorn State, largely thanks to a 27-5-5 performance from Waters. While LSU may not have a huge chance at the tournament, they should be fun to watch and, if they play to their potential, play spoiler to the top-tier SEC schools later in the season.