SEC Hoops discussion: Who's hot, who's not, and where it's all going in 2021
It’s 2021, and we’re still talking hoops. Joe Cox and Adam Spencer had a roundtable chat to bring you up to speed on SEC basketball, because, you know, it just matters more.
1. So, new year, new Kentucky? Is there any hope for this team and how much do they have to do in SEC play just to make the NCAA Tournament, much less to be an actual factor in it?
Adam: I’m choosing to be encouraged by Saturday’s win at Mississippi State. No, it wasn’t pretty, and no, I don’t think Mississippi State will be a top-10 team in the SEC this year, but a road win is a road win. Why John Calipari wasn’t playing Dontaie Allen more is a question that must be answered, because Allen was incredible against the Bulldogs with his 23 points and 5 rebounds. I still think this team has a ton of work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats don’t finish in the top 4 of the league, forget about it. It’s still possible, though!
Joe: It’s very much possible. But the kicker is that Calipari hates the SEC Tournament, even though it could matter more for Kentucky than ever before. I would say your point about top 4 is pretty solid … but maybe they’re 5th and play into the league final or something weird like that. The best news for Kentucky is that none of those losses were bad losses — Notre Dame might be the worst one. Still, a nice 13-5 or better SEC mark would go a long way. Can Allen make that many shots? He probably could stand some help, and if Olivier Sarr quietly makes noise, all the better.
2. On the other hand, Missouri, as you (Adam) accurately forecast, is off to a booming start? Can they keep this up, or are they going to be last year’s Arkansas, and start out brilliant but then fade in league play? Speaking of which, is Arkansas going to be last year’s Arkansas? Or is this fun-and-gun stuff legitimate?
Adam: It was a wild first week of SEC play for Mizzou. A blowout loss at home against Tennessee and a blowout win at Arkansas. I’m still not sure what to make of that. I was going to say that it just goes to show how elite Tennessee is, but then the Vols went and lost a home game against Tennessee. So, basically, I have no idea what to do with the top teams in the SEC. Just go ahead and enter a shrug emoji here, because the top of the league is a toss-up right now.
Joe: I saw an RPI site that had Mizzou No. 1 in the nation. After the UT loss. So who knows. Meanwhile, I love this Arkansas team and feel like they’re going to win a few more games than they should just based on how different their style of play is. Sure, they’ve played a lot of games against Nowheresville State, but being atop the SEC in scoring margin impresses me. As does Moses Moody, who is an absolute must-watch. But more on that later …
3. Who else is looming under the SEC radar, now that Mizzou has been discovered?
Joe: I’m not sure Florida was under the radar, but after the horrifying deal with Keyontae Johnson, I admit that I kind of wrote them off. Not so fast.
Adam: I think Auburn is going to be tougher than people think. Yes, the Tigers are 0-2 with losses to Arkansas and Texas A&M during league play thus far, but the talented young freshmen are going to adjust to the differences in SEC play vs. nonconference action. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers lose to anyone on their schedule, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them beat whoever they’re playing. As with many Bruce Pearl teams, it all comes down to whether the 3-pointers are falling.
Joe: Justin Powell is somebody I’d heard about for years, and Pearl is doing a great job getting the most out of that guy. Obviously, Alabama gets some credit for starting out strong. I still like LSU as well, but we’ll see about that.
4. With the conference season ahead of us, who makes All-SEC if we get a mulligan on that front?
Adam: Oh boy, it’s way too early to be making All-SEC predictions! But, what the heck, let’s give it a go anyway. I think my 5 first-team guys would be LSU’s Cam Thomas, Tennessee’s John Fulkerson, Arkansas’ Moses Moody, Mississippi State’s DJ Stewart Jr. and LSU’s Trendon Watford. There are other deserving guys, for sure, but those 5 have been incredible thus far in 2020-21.
Joe: It was definitely too early before the season. Brandon Boston doesn’t age well as a choice, Keyontae Johnson is gone for the year, and … well, plenty more. You didn’t mention Scotty Pippen Jr., who will score as many points as he wants for Vandy. Sahvir Wheeler at Georgia kind of slipped under the radar at point guard, but he’s leading the league in assists by a wide margin. And Justin Powell has been a stud — albeit an inconsistent shooting stud — for Auburn. If this were a video game, I’d take our current All-SEC guys and crush the preseason picks by 30.
5. How many SEC teams will end up in the NCAA Tournament?
Adam: I have no idea. Is that a good enough answer? No? OK, let’s go with a hopeful number. I’m going to say 7, which seems like a lot. But, I think Mizzou and Tennessee are basically locks at this point. I think LSU, Arkansas and Florida have the talent to get there. That’s 5. I like 2 out of these 3 schools — Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia. That’s optimistic, but not impossible.
Joe: I’m with you that Mizzou and UT are in, barring something unimaginable. Arkansas and LSU will be there, but I’ll take Florida and either Kentucky or Alabama to finish it up. I’ll take 6, just because of the Rodney Dangerfield situation of the SEC. Speaking of which …
6. As a league, how does the SEC stack up this season?
Adam: Well, it’s not the Big Ten, that’s for sure. But I think this season is interesting when it comes to ranking conferences nationally. The B1G is the obvious No. 1 conference, followed quickly by the Big 12. After that, it’s anyone’s guess who is in the No. 3 spot. Why couldn’t it be the SEC? It’s a down year for the ACC, the Pac-12 is the Pac-12 and the Big East hasn’t been as good as usual. There’s no reason the SEC couldn’t be in contention for the No. 3 spot, as far as conferences go.
Joe: Hot take, not only can the SEC be the No. 3 conference — it IS. No way that Mizzou or UT wouldn’t roll the ACC right now. Usually, the ACC argument with the SEC is the top-to-bottom quality of the league. But we have teams like Auburn and Alabama that could beat a top-15 team on a given day (one just did). The bottom of the SEC isn’t very far down anymore, and I’m not sure the ACC can say that with a straight face. Pac-12, nah. Big East, what, is this 1994 or something? This will make it even more upsetting when 2 sub-.500 ACC teams somehow sneak into the Tournament while somebody good from the SEC gets jobbed.