By Kevin Sweeney
There are more question marks in the SEC than there is in any Power 5 conference. Perennial favorites Kentucky should be loaded once again, but after them, there isn’t a single team who I would consider an NCAA Tournament lock. As with every season, the cream will rise to the top, but it is difficult to prognosticate which teams will be the “cream” in the SEC this season. It should be interesting to watch the upper-tier teams jockey for position near the top of the conference, with an NCAA Tournament bid the ultimate goal.
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Ole Miss
- Mississippi State
Champions: Kentucky- “We don’t rebuild, we reload” has become the mantra of the John Calipari era in Lexington, and it appears that the Wildcats have reloaded once again for the 2016-17 season. Losing large portions of the roster each season to the NBA ranks has become the norm for Kentucky, with blue-chip recruits flocking to the Bluegrass State only to leave one year later as first round picks. Another ridiculously talented freshman class has arrived at Kentucky, with the hopes of bringing the Wildcats to their 3rd Final Four in 4 seasons. FIVE 5-star recruits, including 3 of the top 10 players in ESPN’s recruiting rankings, along with returning contributors Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis, will be tasked with replacing the production of the team’s 3 leading scorers from last season in Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, and Alex Poythress. De’Aaron Fox will likely start at point guard, while wing Malik Monk should contribute moments like this:
In the frontcourt, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, and Sacha Killeya-Jones each provide unique skillsets that will allow the Wildcats to adapt to the team they are facing. While freshmen are certainly no sure thing, Coach Calipari has demonstrated his ability to get the best out of his players time and time again.
Dark Horse: Arkansas- The Razorbacks have 2 all-league caliber players in guard Dustys Hannahs and center Moses Kingsley, who could be a first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The question for Arkansas is the rest of the roster. Just 3 other players from last season’s team remain, and they combined to average just 15.2 points per game last season. The rise of a 3rd scoring option will be necessary if the Razorbacks want to compete for an SEC title. Maybe that guy is Anton Beard, a former SEC All-Freshman team selection who didn’t take the next step last season. Or perhaps it is one of the 3 highly-touted JUCO transfers entering the program this season. That group of JUCO transfers is made up of the #1,3, and 6th ranked JUCO players entering Division I. The potential is high, and if that trio meshes well with Beard, Hannahs, and Kingsley, the Razorbacks could have something special brewing.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Moses Kingsley-Arkansas
- F: Yante Maten-Georgia
- G: Antonio Blakeney-LSU
- G: J.J. Frazier-Georgia
- G: De’Aaron Fox-Kentucky
Player of the Year: J.J. Frazier- I’m not sure which stat about J.J. Frazier is more impressive: being the leading returning scorer in the SEC or averaging 4.6 rebounds per game despite being just 5-10 and 155 pounds. Frazier is a tough-minded natural scorer who is the main reason I picked the Bulldogs to finish second in the SEC. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter who made 39% of his tries last season, as well as a steadying force at the point guard position, with a 2.7 assist-to-turnover rate that was 3rd-highest in the SEC last season. For the Dawgs to have a big season, Frazier must have a player-of-the-year-caliber season.
Newcomer of the Year: De’Aaron Fox- The aforementioned Kentucky recruiting class might be the best in college basketball, and Fox is the crown jewel. The speedy point guard will immediately fill much of Tyler Ulis’ role from last season as a distributor and scorer. Fox plays the game with a ton of confidence, something that should immediately make him a fan favorite in Lexington. The one question will be his jump shot. Fox has a smooth lefty stroke, but wasn’t a knockdown shooter in high school or AAU games. If he can knock down 3’s consistently, it will open up the floor for his lighting-quick drives to the basket and could make him a SEC Player of the Year candidate.