SEC Basketball Power Rankings heading into 2020-21 season
We didn’t have a chance to see how the SEC Tournament would have played out this past March. And, of course, the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled, as well.
But a new season is approaching. The 2020-21 campaign will tip off Wednesday — just in time for some Thanksgiving weekend tournaments.
It should be an interesting year for the SEC. There are no dominant teams — just 2 were ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 poll — but several squads could legitimately compete for a conference title. Also, the league should put plenty of teams in the 2021 March Madness field.
So, how do the 14 squads stack up against one another heading into this season? Here’s a look at our preseason power rankings:
Vanderbilt checks in at No. 14, but the Commodores are going to win some games this year. Not many, but they’ll catch a couple of foes by surprise. Scotty Pippen Jr. is a legitimate point guard. Issac McBride, a transfer from Kansas, and Maxwell Evans will split time alongside him in the backcourt.
The big X-factor is Notre Dame transfer guard/forward DJ Harvey. Harvey sat out last season, but he is talented enough to lead the Commodores in scoring. He averaged 10.7 points and 4.2 rebounds during the 2018-19 season for the Irish.
The ‘Dores’ success depends on Dylan Disu and Clevon Brown making big jumps in the post. They both have the talent needed to succeed in the SEC. Disu is a talented, athletic defender and has shown signs of having a solid shooting stroke. If he plays well, Vanderbilt won’t stay at No. 14 in these rankings all season.
Not having Aaron Nesmith and Saben Lee will hurt, but this program is (slowly) moving in the right direction under coach Jerry Stackhouse.
13. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent from last year. Obviously, Reggie Perry is gone to the NBA, and he was the co-SEC Player of the Year. Then, there’s Robert Woodard II, who was also receiving some late-first round buzz for the 2020 NBA Draft.
Beyond those 2 stars, though, the Bulldogs lost other talented players. Tyson Carter and Nick Weatherspoon also are gone. That’s roughly 57 points and 22.5 rebounds per game that coach Ben Howland has to replace. That won’t be easy at all.
This team should have a solid post presence with Abdul Ado, Tolu Smith and Alabama transfer Javian Davis in the rotation. The backcourt, though, is a different story. Iverson Molinar is going to have to step up in a huge way, and he’s going to have to do it alongside true freshmen Deivon Smith and Keondre Montgomery.
This has all the makings of a rebuilding year in Starkville.
Losing No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds to the NBA hurt. That’s 32 points and 12.6 rebounds per game that coach Tom Crean needs to replace. Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris and Donnell Gresham Jr. also are gone.
The Bulldogs bring in 3 transfers in P.J. Horne, Justin Kier and Andrew Garcia, but no one has the talent that Edwards and Hammonds had. Sahvir Wheeler is a nice point guard and Toumani Camara should continue to contribute, but this team went 16-16 (5-13 in the SEC) with Edwards and Hammonds last year.
I just don’t see how there are more wins to be found for Crean’s squad without any elite talent.
11. Ole Miss
I probably have the Rebels a bit higher than most, but it’s because I love Romello White’s game. The transfer forward from Arizona State gives the Rebels the best post presence they’ve had in years. He appeared in 30 games for the Sun Devils last year, starting 29. He averaged 10.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
It’s a shame Ole Miss no longer has Breein Tyree, because then I’d be even higher on this team. Unfortunately, point guard is the one spot the Rebels could use some help. Devontae Shuler is talented, but he’s going to have to carry more of the scoring load this season. He averaged 11.7 points per game last year, but he’s going to have to get that up to at least 15 points per game to keep the Rebels competitive.
I like the depth in the frontcourt behind White. KJ Buffen averaged a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game last year. Khadim Sy also played well in a starting role.
At the 3 spot, the Rebels have a solid option in Dimencio Vaughn, a graduate transfer from Rider. He averaged 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds last season. He’ll be a big-time key to the Ole Miss offense this year.
Ole Miss needs freshman Matthew Murrell — the highest-rated recruit in Ole Miss history — or CSU-Bakersfield transfer Jarkel Joiner to emerge alongside Shuler in the backcourt to be successful.
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I don’t think the Tigers will stay this low all season. I’m obviously high on 5-star freshman guard Sharife Cooper. Like Matthew Murrell at Ole Miss, Cooper is the highest-rated recruit in the history of Auburn basketball. Outside of that, though, the Tigers have a lot to replace.
The Tigers lost their top 6 scorers and rebounders from last season — Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Isaac Okoro, Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore. With 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, sophomore guard Devan Cambridge is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder.
He’ll likely start alongside Cooper in the backcourt, so it should be another year where a majority of the Auburn points come from the backcourt. Allen Flanigan also had some flashes last year, and he could start at the 3 position.
Freshman Dylan Cardwell and sophomore Babatunde Akingbola will battle for the starting 5 spot. The 4 spot could go to sophomore Jaylin Williams or freshman JT Thor. Coach Bruce Pearl has some options there. If things start to come together and Auburn figures out its rotations, this is a team that could be ready to surprise some people by the time conference play rolls around.
9. Texas A&M
The Aggies were one of the big surprises of the SEC last season, playing hard for coach Buzz Williams. Williams always manages to get the most out of his guys, but he’ll have to get past the losses of big man Josh Nebo and guard Wendell Mitchell this offseason.
Still, there’s reason for optimism in College Station. Savion Flagg, Jay Jay Chandler and Quenton Jackson will lead the backcourt, giving the Aggies talent and depth there. Emanuel Miller was solid as a freshman last year and will potentially start at the 4.
The key to this season will be graduate transfer big man Kevin Marfo out of Quinnipiac. Marfo averaged 10.2 points, 13.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season. He has the potential to be a game-changer in the mold of Nebo. He’s not as polished offensively, but he’s one of the nation’s top rebounders and defensive standouts.
I have no idea what to make of the Razorbacks this year. SEC co-Player of the Year Mason Jones is gone. So are Isaiah Joe, Jimmy Whitt and Adrio Bailey. Desi Sills is the top returning player, having averaged 10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game last season.
Behind Sills, the Hogs will rely on a number of transfers, as has been the case under coach Eric Musselman throughout his career. Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky), Justin Smith (Indiana), Vance Jackson Jr. (New Mexico), JD Notae (Jacksonville) and Connor Vanover (Cal) could all get significant playing time. A few will have to start.
How quickly Musselman figures out the rotation and builds team chemistry — no easy feat in this COVID-19 season — will go a long way toward showing how competitive the Hogs will be this year.
7. South Carolina
The Gamecocks have a ton of experience returning. AJ Lawson looks ready to take the next step toward becoming a star. Keyshawn Bryant was huge for this team last year. Ditto Jermaine Cousinard. Justin Minaya will play a bigger role while replacing Maik Kotsar.
But the biggest question involves Seventh Woods, a transfer from North Carolina who sat out last year who was a prep star in Columbia. He never really lived up to the hype with the Tar Heels, but maybe going home will help. If he can be a valuable sixth man or even work his way into a starting role, that will be huge for the Gamecocks.
This team has been tough in SEC play in recent years but seems to stumble a time or 2 during nonconference play. I don’t think the Gamecocks will end the season at No. 7 in these rankings, as they have the talent to be a top-5 team, but for now, I want to see if this team can get through nonconference play without an embarrassing loss.
As much experience as the Gamecocks have back, the Tigers have even more. The Tigers return their top 6 scorers from last season — Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Kobe Brown and Mitchell Smith. That doesn’t even include big man Jeremiah Tilmon, who was limited by injuries in 2019-20.
Torrence Watson should also take a step forward and grad transfer Drew Buggs will look to provide a spark off the bench. Oh, and the Tigers added a 7-3 freshman in Jordan Wilmore. That sort of depth and experience will play to Mizzou’s advantage this season.
If coach Cuonzo Martin can’t finish in the top half of the SEC and put together a winning league record, his seat will get much hotter in a hurry. The Tigers have the most experienced team in the SEC, and that has to count for something.
I’m higher on the Crimson Tide than most, but I love this team Nate Oats has in his second year. Yes, they lost a first-round NBA Draft pick in Kira Lewis Jr., but they replace him with former Villanova PG Jahvon Quinerly, who sat out last year as a transfer.
They also have Jaden Shackelford and John Petty alongside him in the backcourt. That’s 29.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game right there.
Yes, this will be a run-and-gun team under Oats, but Herb Jones, who likely will start at the 4, is one of the best defenders in the SEC. He was a first-team All-SEC defender last year, and that was the case even when he was playing with one hand. Yale grad transfer Jordan Bruner figures to start at the other forward position.
Oats also has a deep bench, with 4-star freshman Josh Primo as the headliner. Then, there’s the always-reliable Alex Reese ready to come off the bench in the post. Redshirt freshman forward Juwan Gary missed last season with an injury, but he should factor into the mix, as well.
Losing Skylar Mays hurts, as does the loss of Emmitt Williams to the NBA. But Javonte Smart returns to lead the offense. Meanwhile, Trendon Watford is a legitimate SEC Player of the Year candidate. Then there’s Darius Days, who will be counted on to take on more of a scoring role this year.
Coach Will Wade called freshman guard Cam Thomas “the real deal,” so it’s possible he starts alongside Smart in the backcourt. Then, there’s transfer big man Bryan Penn-Johnson out of Washington, a 7-footer who should be a force defensively.
The only question on this team is whether Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaquille O’Neal, will be eligible to play. He’s still waiting for the NCAA to make a ruling after he transferred from UCLA. If he can play, that’s a huge boost for the Tigers’ depth.
If all goes right for LSU, this team could challenge for an SEC title. If not, a finish in the middle of the standings isn’t out of the question.
Keyontae Johnson is the star of this team. He returns after posting a team-high 14.0 points per game last year. He also shot an impressive 38% from 3-point range. He’s versatile and comfortable running the court.
That bodes well for this season. I’m excited to see Mike White’s new up-tempo offense. Andrew Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga, and he’s a big loss, but it seems the Gators want to change from the style he brought. Tyree Appleby, a transfer from Cleveland State, is getting a lot of buzz as a potential Nembhard replacement.
Meanwhile, Scottie Lewis could take a step toward being an SEC Player of the Year candidate. The backcourt is loaded, with Appleby, Lewis, Tre Mann, Ques Glover and Noah Locke vying for playing time.
Alongside Johnson in the post, I really like Omar Payne. Every time I watched Florida play last year, he seemed to do a couple of things that stood out. I think he’s ready for a bigger role.
This team has the potential to be really fun, but if the Gators don’t live up to expectations (like last year), White could be on his way out of Gainesville this offseason.
The Vols have a lot to be excited about this season, as I have them just a tiny shade behind Kentucky in these preseason power rankings. Not only does coach Rick Barnes bring back SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons, he also has second-team All-SEC standout John Fulkerson back to man the post.
Then, there’s the recruiting class, which ranked No. 4 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC. It features 2 5-star players in guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. Barnes also has guys like Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi returning to the roster.
There’s a ton of depth in the backcourt, which could mean Barnes goes with a small-ball lineup that looks something like this:
- PG: Vescovi
- SG: Springer
- SF: James
- PF: Pons
- C: Fulkerson
In that situation, Johnson is the sixth man off the bench, and big man Uros Plavsic and transfer E.J. Anosike can provide some depth in the post.
The Vols, who are ranked No. 12 in the preseason Top 25, should rack up a ton of wins and challenge Kentucky every step of the way for the top spot in the SEC. Speaking of the Wildcats …
How crazy was Kentucky’s roster turnover this offseason? Well, literally only 1 player on the 2020-21 roster scored a point for Kentucky last year. His name is Keion Brooks Jr., and he scored 138 of the Wildcats’ 2,307 total points in 2019-20 (that’s just under 6% of Kentucky’s total, for those of us who aren’t math majors).
Now Brooks, a sophomore forward, will be counted on to take on more of a leadership role. However, he’ll have plenty of help, as the Wildcats bring in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke are 5-star players. Isaiah Jackson, Devin Askew, Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher are 4-star guys.
Then, there are transfers Jacob Toppin, a forward, and Davion Mintz, a guard. Both guys should get plenty of minutes off the bench.
But the reason I have Kentucky at No. 1, slightly ahead of Tennessee, is a guy named Olivier Sarr. The former Wake Forest big man had to wait a long time before the NCAA declared him eligible for 2020-21, but he’s been cleared. That’s huge for this team.
The Wildcats, who open the season ranked No. 10 nationally, have brought in transfer big men in recent years, including Reid Travis 2 years ago and Nate Sestina last year, but Sarr is the best of the bunch. If I were coach John Calipari, here’s how I’d have the starting lineup for Game 1 (backup in parenthesis):
- PG: Askew (Mintz)
- SG: Boston (Dontaie Allen)
- SF: Clarke (Fletcher)
- PF: Brooks (Toppin)
- C: Sarr (Jackson)
Calipari is going to have his hands full finding playing time for all these guys early in the season. Then, he’s going to have his hands full again when he has to try to tighten his rotation later in the year.
Those are good problems to have. I think this is the most talented Kentucky recruiting class since the one that had a guy named Anthony Davis in it. And we all know what the Wildcats did under Davis.