SEC Basketball Power Rankings: Where teams stand heading into 2019-20 season
Believe it or not, basketball season starts tonight!
Yes, football is just hitting its stretch run, but there’s about to be some basketball action on courts around the Southeast, too. And this year, there are still plenty of teams that will challenge for spots in the NCAA Tournament.
As we prepare for the season to tip off, we’ll take a look at where each of the 14 SEC teams stands.
Starting at the bottom and working our way up, here’s our preseason power rankings:
This team went a historically bad 0-18 during SEC play last year, even with a guy like Simisola Shittu leading the way. Yes, losing Darius Garland hurt, but there’s no way a team like the 2018-19 Commodores should have gone winless in SEC play. They finished their season on a 20-game losing streak. Yikes.
This year, though, they have a new coach in Jerry Stackhouse. However, the incoming recruiting class isn’t nearly as good as last year’s. We’ll see what Scotty Pippen Jr. brings to the table.
Returning contributors include Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith, and Notre Dame transfer D.J. Harvey will be a big X factor for this team. Still, it’ll be tough for them to climb their way out of the SEC cellar. A couple of wins would be nice, though.
13. Texas A&M
The Aggies will enter Year 1 under coach Buzz Williams with plenty of returning experience. Three returning starters — Savion Flagg, TJ Starks and Wendell Mitchell — averaged double-digit points last season. Plus, Jay Jay Chandler returns to the backcourt.
Williams is bringing in a 7-man 2019 recruiting class, but they’re all 3-star guys, so it remains to be seen how much of an impact they’ll have this year. The Aggies will take their lumps this season, but with Mitchell, Mark French and Josh Nebo as the only seniors, building toward the future is the way to go.
12. Ole Miss
Coach Kermit Davis is bringing in 3 freshmen who are 6-9 or taller to try to get the Rebels some semblance of a post presence. Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler are still around to lead the offense from the backcourt, but the frontcourt needs some help.
Blake Hinson will have a bigger role, but that freshman class is going to have a lot of pressure on it. Losing Terence Davis weakens the group of guards, too.
This is our 3rd consecutive team entering Year 1 with a new coach. The Razorbacks parted ways with longtime coach Mike Anderson and brought in Eric Musselman from Nevada. Musselman has gone to work doing what he did at Nevada — playing the transfer market.
Jimmy Whitt and Jeantal Cylla are eligible to play right away (Connor Vanover is still waiting for an NCAA ruling), and it’ll be Emeka Obukwelu’s first year of eligibility after he sat out last year. They’ll join the rotation along with returning starters Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones, Adrio Bailey and Jalen Harris.
Still, even with that core of talent returning, this team is going to miss star big man Daniel Gafford both on offense and defense. Finding a presence in the paint will be something that defines Musselman’s first season in Fayetteville.
Cuonzo Martin has a young team, with only 1 senior — backup F Reed Nikko. Gone are Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear, but big man Jeremiah Tilmon remains.
This team has some talent, with Mark Smith, Xavier Pinson and Javon Pickett ready to step into bigger roles alongside Tilmon. Meanwhile, transfer G Dru Smith will show what he can do and Torrence Watson and Mitchell Smith also figure to get plenty of playing time.
How Martin manages this team’s rotation and minutes remains to be seen, but there is actually some depth and talent on the Tigers’ roster. They’ll be a team no one wants to play down the stretch.
Year 1 under new coach Nate Oats promises to be an interesting one, as Oats brings an up-tempo run-and-gun style to Tuscaloosa from Buffalo. Oats had a solid offseason, convincing several players (including talented guards Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty) to return to the team.
Then, he added transfer G James Bolden from West Virginia and former 5-star G Jahvon Quinerly from Villanova. We’re still waiting to hear from the NCAA on Quinerly’s status, but he’ll be a huge piece for this team this year or next.
Herbert Jones and Alex Reese will man a couple of frontcourt spots, and it will be interesting to see how 4-star freshmen Jaylen Forbes and Jaden Shackelford fit into the rotation. This team has a lot of potential.
How much of a difference can one player make? The Bulldogs lost talented big man Nic Claxton to the NBA after he shot up draft boards. But, they bring in the nation’s No. 2 overall 2019 recruit — 5-star G Anthony Edwards. Will he become a bona fide star?
He’ll have some help, as coach Tom Crean brought in the nation’s No. 10 recruiting class, featuring Edwards and 4 other 4-star players. Meanwhile, transfer Donnell Gresham Jr. figures to contribute and guys like Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris all have experience.
How quickly the kids are able to become major players will be what defines this season for Crean, since Edwards may only be around for one year.
7. South Carolina
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks were picked to finish 10th in the media poll. That seems disrespectful to a team that always manages to outperform expectations.
North Carolina transfer Seventh Woods will sit out this season, but the Gamecocks still have some talent returning to the court. AJ Lawson figures to be the team’s leader, and we’ll have to watch to see how Justin Minaya returns from an injury that cost him all but 5 games last year.
Meanwhile, Keyshawn Bryant and Maik Kotsar are back and ready to manage Chris Silva’s absence in the frontcourt. After finishing 11-7 in the SEC last year (good for 4th place), it’s never wise to count the Gamecocks out.
6. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs lost Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters, their top two scorers from last season. However, big man Reggie Perry is back and could be one of the biggest breakout players in the SEC this season. He averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last year, but he’ll need to do more for Ben Howland’s squad this time around.
He’ll have some help, too, as Tyson Carter is also back in the mix. He averaged 10.4 points in 2018-19. Nick Weatherspoon (Quinndary’s brother) should also be back in the lineup. He was suspended in February and missed the rest of the season, but Howland said earlier this offseason that he was going through workouts and was expected to be with the team. That would be a big boost.
Abdul Ado figures to get plenty of time in the post alongside Perry. From there, we’ll see how 4-star freshman F Elias King fits into the rotation. This team has talent, but it isn’t as deep as a year ago, and that might cause a bit of a slide.
The Tigers are fresh off an incredible Final Four run, but losing Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Chuma Okeke, Malik Dunbar and Horace Spencer is really going to hurt coach Bruce Pearl’s squad.
The cupboard isn’t empty, though. Samir Doughty, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy and J’Von McCormick were all contributors last year and played key parts. Add in 3 4-star recruits — Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams and Isaac Okoro — and this team is reloading, not rebuilding.
Now, it will likely still be a down year in that the Tigers probably won’t win the SEC Tournament or go on a Final Four run, but this is still a very dangerous, very talented team.
The Tigers had a great 2018-19 season, but lost key contributors Tremont Waters, Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. Coach Will Wade is lucky it wasn’t more, though, as guys like Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams opted to stick around.
Then, there’s the man everyone is excited to see — 5-star freshman F Trendon Watford, who Wade landed from Mountain Brook High School in Alabama. He could fill the role Reid had last year.
Losing Waters will hurt, as he was a playmaker and an experienced leader, but Mays has that experience, too, so we’ll see if he takes over as the guy for this squad.
Yes, losing Jordan Bone, Kyle Alexander, Admiral Schofield and two-time reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams will hurt Rick Barnes and the Vols, but the cupboard is far from bare. Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner former one of the better backcourt tandems in the SEC, and Yves Pons will be interesting to watch in a bigger role.
John Fulkerson should slide into one of the post spots, but one of the biggest storylines for this team is the continued wait to see if Arizona State transfer F Uros Plavsic will be eligible to play this year or not. The 7-footer would be a huge boost (literally) to the Vols’ interior presence. (UPDATE: His waiver appeal was denied.)
Another intriguing piece for Barnes is 5-star freshman G Josiah-Jordan James. He’ll be one of the key freshmen to watch in the SEC.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one — Kentucky’s season will hinge on how quickly a group of talented-but-inexperienced freshmen develops. OK, so that’s been the story for most of coach John Calipari’s teams.
However, one big boost is that PG Ashton Hagans is back for his sophomore season. He was named the co-Defensive Player of the Year for the SEC (along with LSU’s Tremont Waters) last year. That’s a great start, and along with Immanuel Quickley, there is a bit of experience in the backcourt. Add EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards in the post and Coach Cal actually has some guys who have been there before.
Still, 5-star freshmen Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks will be vital to the success of the Wildcats. We’ll also see what roles 4-star freshmen Johnny Juzang and Dontaie Allen can carve out for themselves.
Then, there’s the X factor — Bucknell transfer big man Nate Sestina. Can he fill the Reid Travis role for this team? There’s plenty of talent to go around, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Cal can make it jell into a team that can contend for a title.
They’re the No. 2 team in the preseason AP Poll, but I’ll wait to see how the freshmen play before moving this squad up in these rankings.
Mike White and the Gators won the Kerry Blackshear Jr. sweepstakes this offseason and will now enjoy having the former Virginia Tech star in town for his final year of college eligibility. Blackshear is a do-it-all big man who will be a huge piece of the Gators’ offense.
Meanwhile, White added a talented freshman class — including 5-star guards Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann. They’ll team up with sophomore PG Andrew Nembhard in the Florida backcourt. Add in the returns of Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke, and this could be the most-talented Florida team since the 2014 Final Four run.
Yes, this team will miss the contributions of Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen and others, but this has the potential to be a special season in Gainesville. The Gators haven’t won an SEC title since that 2014 season, when they won both the regular-season and tourney championships.
Florida is No. 6 team in the preseason AP Poll. We’ll soon find out if they can live up to their ranking. Kentucky was picked by media members to win the SEC title, but we’ll put the more-experienced Gators in the top spot until proven otherwise.