Final grades for every SEC men’s basketball team
With Arkansas’ loss to Baylor in the Elite 8 on Monday night, the SEC men’s basketball season has officially come to an end.
The SEC had 6 teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Two (Mizzou, Tennessee) didn’t make it out of Round 1. Two more (LSU, Florida) fell in Round 2. Alabama lost to UCLA in overtime in the Sweet 16 and, finally, Arkansas lost in the Elite 8.
So, let’s take a quick look back at how each of the 14 SEC teams fared during the 2020-21 campaign.
Here’s each team’s final grade for this season:
In Nate Oats’ second year, the Crimson Tide took a huge leap forward. SEC regular-season champs? Check. SEC Tournament champs? Check. First Sweet 16 appearance since 2004? Check.
Yeah, the season came to an unsatisfying end, losing to UCLA in overtime on Sunday night, but only 1 team each year gets to end its season truly happy. The loss doesn’t overshadow anything the Tide accomplished this year.
And Oats figures to have plenty of talent back next year. Guys like Herb Jones and John Petty Jr. will probably head to the NBA. Alex Reese and Jordan Bruner might move on to the pro ranks, too.
But Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, Josh Primo and Keon Ellis could all come back to form a solid core for the Tide. And 5-star freshman JD Davison will be a big part of next year’s team.
It was a special year in Tuscaloosa, but with the way Oats is coaching, SEC titles and deep March Madness runs could become the norm.
All aboard the Muss Bus! Going from his first year to his second year, coach Eric Musselman lost stars like Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe. No problem. He reloaded, bringing in Moses Moody, Devo Davis and others as freshmen and adding key players like Justin Smith, Jalen Tate and JD Notae as transfers.
No one plays the transfer portal like Musselman, dating to his time at Nevada. Oh, and he can also coach a little bit!
The Hogs got hot in the second half of SEC play once Smith returned from an injury. They lost in the SEC Tournament semifinals, but they were the SEC team that made it the furthest in the NCAA Tournament, going to the Elite 8 before falling to 1-seed Baylor.
It was a great year for the Hogs, and Musselman has plenty of momentum heading into next season. Like Alabama, the future is bright for the Muss Bus.
This was a bit of a nightmare season for the Tigers. NCAA issues kept star point guard Sharife Cooper out until conference play. Then he was injured at the end of the season. In Cooper’s early-season absence, fellow freshman Justin Powell looked great. But then he suffered a concussion and never returned. He played exactly 0 games alongside Cooper. Oh, and then there was the whole self-imposed postseason ban thing.
Now, JT Thor is testing the NBA Draft waters. If he comes back, the Tigers will have something to build on next year. It’s going to be an interesting offseason at Auburn.
The Gators had to overcome so much. Losing Keyontae Johnson, the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, against Florida State in horrifying fashion had an impact on this squad.
But there were some good things, too. Tre Mann became a star. Colin Castleton had flashes of brilliance. The Gators won on the road against a tough West Virginia team.
However, as has become all too common with Mike White-coached teams, the Gators couldn’t handle success. After that aforementioned win at West Virginia, the Gators turned around and lost at home against a bad South Carolina team a few days later.
After beating 10-seed Virginia Tech in overtime in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament, the Gators lost 2 days later to 15-seed Oral Roberts. The inconsistency in recent years has been maddening.
Now, 4 Gators are in the transfer portal — Omar Payne, Noah Locke, Ques Glover and Osayi Osifo. Mann is heading to the NBA Draft. Castleton is testing the draft waters.
White will enter 2021-22 on the hot seat. If he can’t find some guys who can contribute right away via the transfer portal, next year could be his last in Gainesville.
In a word — meh. Georgia once again had plenty of talent, but barely managed to finish above .500 for the season. Sahvir Wheeler is one of the best point guards in the SEC. Toumani Camara looks like a future NBA player. KD Johnson was a fun freshman to watch. Justin Kier got hot at times.
Why does Tom Crean’s squad struggle so much to win? Well, defense plays a big part in that.
The Bulldogs were dead last in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 83.4 points per game in conference play. The offense didn’t make it easy on the defense, either, committing a league-high 16.5 turnovers per contest.
Georgia figures to be a player on the transfer market again this offseason, but if Crean can’t add some guys who can defend, 2021-22 will be another long year in Athens.
This was one of the worst seasons in the history of the Kentucky program. The Wildcats stumbled out of the gates, going 1-6 in nonconference play. They were at least respectable in SEC action, going 8-9 against league foes.
But this team showed its youth all year, failing to close out wins when leading down the stretch. It was not a good coaching job by John Calipari, and now the Wildcats seem to be shifting their entire philosophy.
After struggling mightily from 3-point range this past season, the Wildcats have already landed Davidson sharpshooter Kellan Grady from the transfer portal. They’ve also been linked to Auburn transfer Justin Powell, another strong 3-point shooter. We’ll see if Kentucky can prove this was a 1-year setback.
If this was only grading offensive performance, the Tigers would have an “A.” Cam Thomas was a special player, leading the SEC in scoring as a freshman. Trendon Watford and Javonte Smart took steps forward. Darius Days was a huge factor in the team’s success.
The Tigers came a tip-in away from beating Alabama for the SEC Tournament title. And they gave 1-seed Michigan a run for its money in Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament before falling.
But this isn’t just about offense, and the defense let down LSU time and time again. All too often, the Tigers couldn’t get stops in key situations. It hurt them dearly. Now, the 4 guys mentioned above are likely off to the NBA Draft, so coach Will Wade will have to reload on the fly.
Mississippi State: C+
The Bulldogs get a little boost because they made it to the NIT final before losing to Memphis. But this was another ho-hum season in Starkville. DJ Stewart Jr., Iverson Molinar and Tolu Smith were a fearsome trio, and Abdul Ado was a beast on the boards, but this team didn’t have any depth behind those guys.
This program just seems a bit stagnant under Ben Howland. We’ll see if anything major changes in 2021-22.
This Tiger team got off to a great start, going 7-0 in nonconference play. Their first 5 wins were against NCAA Tournament teams:
- Oral Roberts (Sweet 16)
- Oregon (Sweet 16)
- Wichita State (First 4)
- Liberty (Round 1)
- Illinois (Round 2)
That’s a pretty great résumé. Their other nonconference wins were against Bradley and TCU. They were also 1 of 2 teams to beat Alabama in SEC play and had a win over Arkansas.
By all accounts, this should have been a team that was much higher than a 9-seed entering the NCAA Tournament, but when you collapse down the stretch as the Tigers did, that’s what happens.
This was Cuonzo Martin’s best team during his 4 years at Mizzou and he didn’t make it past the SEC Tournament quarterfinals or win an NCAA Tournament game. That’s not great.
Now, the Tigers have had Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith and others enter the transfer portal. There are plenty of roster spots available for impact transfers to come and contribute right away. If Martin can’t build a winner, next year could be his last in Columbia.
Ole Miss: B-
The Rebels came on strong late, beating teams like Tennessee and Missouri (twice). They did it with elite defense, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they went into the NIT as a 1-seed and promptly lost to 4-seed Louisiana Tech.
If Devontae Shuler and Romello White don’t return next season, which I don’t think they will, this team will have to rebuild. But, they have 4-star PG Daeshun Ruffin coming in to usher in a new era of Rebel basketball. We’ll see if they can build off the momentum from the latter half of this past season.
South Carolina: D
The Gamecocks had multiple COVID-19 pauses this season, leading to the worst record of Frank Martin’s career (6-15 overall, 4-12 in SEC play). They lost 9 of their last 10 games, with the lone win coming against Georgia.
Now, Keyshawn Bryant is in the transfer portal. That would be a huge loss if he ends up leaving. And, Martin will enter next season on perhaps the hottest seat in the SEC.
The Vols entered the 2020-21 season as the preseason pick to win the SEC title. It was easy to see why. John Fulkerson and Yves Pons played like stars last year and both were coming back. Then, there were the 5-star freshmen — Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer — coming in to make the team even better.
Johnson and Springer played better as the season went on, but Pons and Fulkerson took major steps back from last year. That’s why the Vols only managed to go 18-9 overall and 10-7 in SEC play. That is a major disappointment based on preseason expectations.
The Vols also lost to 12-seed Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. So, yeah … not a great year on Rocky Top.
Texas A&M: Incomplete
Texas A&M missed the entire month of February with COVID-19 issues.
The. Entire. Month. Of. February.
When something like that happens, it’s impossible to get a good read on a team. Much like with South Carolina, the Aggies never really got a chance to build any momentum.
Emanuel Miller became a star, but outside of that, there wasn’t much to write home about in College Station. As rosters reshuffle this offseason, let’s hope coach Buzz Williams gets a little more time to work with next year’s squad.
You might think I’d have the Commodores lower on my list, considering they finished 9-16 overall and 3-13 in SEC play. But this was a fun team to watch. Jerry Stackhouse did a decent job with this team and Scotty Pippen Jr. was a star.
Losing Max Evans, DJ Harvey, Clevon Brown and others to the transfer portal hurts, but I’m bullish on what Stackhouse is doing in Nashville. I expect more than 3 wins for the Commodores in SEC play next year.