1. Kentucky: Kentucky certainly has the most talented roster in the country and should open the season as the top ranked team. Sophomore twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison return as fringe first round guards along with the athletic 7-foot junior Willie Cauley-Stein. Sophomore centers Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson are also former McDonald’s All-Americans who will be make for a giant frontcourt. With three returning centers, Alex Poythress could be an X-Factor as one of the few wing defenders on the roster. In true John Calipari fashion, the Wildcats also signed four five-stars in Trey Lyles, Karl Towns, Devin Booker, and Tyler Ulis. Towns possesses perhaps the most NBA upside as a skilled 6-foot-11 center who can stretch the floor. While last year’s top scorers Julius Randle and James Young left after a season for the NBA, there will be almost no drop off in talent with most of last year’s squad deciding to return. The most interesting aspect will come down to the lineups Calipari creates with the amount of versatility and talent available.
2. Florida: Last year’s roster featured a steady group of experienced seniors, but this season the Gators will look for some younger talent to excel in bigger roles. Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier enter their junior seasons as the primary scoring options. Sophomore and former five-star point guard Kasey Hill could be ready for a breakout season after earning reserve minutes behind Scottie Wilbekin last year. His former AAU teammate Chris Walker will also look to step up his play after starting his freshman season late due to academic issues. Transfers Jon Horford, Alex Murphy, and five-star freshman Devin Robinson will battle for the final starting spot, but there will be plenty of depth in the frontcourt. Highly regarded freshmen guards Chris Chiozza and Brandone Francis will also find minutes. This team may have trouble competing with Kentucky, but should be the favorite to finish behind the Wildcats.
3. Arkansas: Bobby Portis justified his high school hype with a freshman season in which he averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The future NBA power forward is a prospect to watch, but he’ll certainly receive plenty of help. Last year’s leading scorer, Rashad Madden, returns along with athletic wing Michael Qualls. The Razorbacks also add West Virginia transfer Keaton Miles, ESPN 100 four-star Anton Beard, and JUCO addition Jabril Durham at the point guard spot. Forward Alandise Harris will see an extended role this season as well. With the core of last year’s rotation returning, Arkansas should be dancing this season.
4. Alabama: This should be a completely new-look Alabama squad this season heavily reliant on a trio of transfers. Former Longwood forward Michael Kessens will be looked upon to help in the rebounding department while Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant will try to pick up the scoring load. Florida Gulf Coast transfer Christophe Varidel should add some shooting to compliment. As for the returners, Levi Randolph has steadily improved with each year and will look to cap his career with an NCAA Tournament berth. Retin Obasohan, Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale, and Rodney Cooper are also experienced returning players who will be essential to Alabama’s success. ESPN 100 recruits Justin Coleman and Riley Norris should add quality depth as well. With a mixture of new and experienced talent, Alabama will fight for an NCAA Tournament appearance.
5. Mississippi: Marshall Henderson’s 19 points per game have departed, but this season should give senior Jarvis Summers the chance to take over the team. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.3 points and 3.8 assists per game on 48.6% shooting last season and will become the primary option for the Rebels. JUCO transfer Terence Smith should some more scoring in the backcourt while fellow JUCO addition Stefan Moody was the former Sun Belt Freshman of the Year before academic issues led to his dismissal. Former Tennessee-Martin product Terence Smith should also compete for a starting role along with Tennessee State transfer M.J. Rhett, who averaged 10.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest last season. This is a talented roster, but with so many transfers, can the talent be molded together?
6. LSU: The Tigers will have one of the top frontcourts in the conference with sophomores Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin returning. Mickey averaged 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a freshman and will be an NBA draft prospect to monitor. Martin added 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest and will see an even bigger role this year. They lost Johnny O’Bryant to the NBA, but incoming 7-footer and ESPN 100 four-star recruit Elbert Robinson should take his place in the starting lineup. The backcourt will be in question as point guard Anthony Hickey transferred to Oklahoma State and two newcomers are expected to see major roles in the rotation. JUCO transfer Josh Gray already has Division I experience at Texas Tech and should be ready to take over a starting spot. Keith Hornsby, a transfer from UNC Asheville, averaged 15.0 points per game two seasons ago and should start alongside Gray. Freshman Jalyn Patterson could see time for added depth at the point guard position. If the guards perform at a high level, LSU could be dancing.
7. South Carolina: With Sindarius Thornwell returning from an impressive freshman season and Tyrone Johnson back from a right foot injury, South Carolina has a chance to qualify for its first NCAA Tournament since 2004. Along with Thornwell, sophomores Demetrius Henry and Duane Notice should be on pace for breakout years. Head coach Frank Martin could have this team playing much better with another year of improvement.
8. Georgia: One of the few SEC teams not relying on any transfers to make instant impacts, Georgia returns its top five scorers from last year’s squad and should have upperclassmen leading the way. Guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines each averaged over 13 points per game and will lead the Bulldogs once again. Marcus Thornton and Brandon Morris are another pair of returning starters while Nemanja Djurisic should have a solid season ahead.
9. Auburn: With recently hired Bruce Pearl taking over the head coaching position, the Tigers are trending up. Transfers K.C. Ross-Miller and Antoine Mason are two quality guards who will see major roles this season. Ross-Miller, from New Mexico State, averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 assists last season but had some attitude issues that led to his departure. Mason averaged 25.6 points per game at Niagara last year and was one of the top transfers on the market. JUCO forward Cinmeon Bowers should also join the starting lineup without any prior Auburn experience. K.T. Harrell will be the top returner after averaging 18.3 points per game last season while Tahj Shamsid-Deen will add depth to a quality backcourt. The Tigers will have strong guard play that compliments Pearl’s pressure defense, but the frontcourt will be the area of concern.
10. Tennessee: NBA draftees Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes led a huge roster turnover for new head coach Donnie Tyndall. Josh Richardson will be the top returner while Robert Hubbs will return after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. The point guard position will be the biggest question mark, but IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles will try to fill that role. Derek Reese should see an expanded role as well.
11. Texas A&M: Leading scorer Jamal Jones transferred this offseason and there will be some new faces for the Aggies this year. They’ll have plenty of new talent with four-star point guard Alex Robinson, SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and Houston transfer Danuel House. Jones can play the second semester even if he doesn’t receive a waiver but House is at risk for sitting out the entire year. Returning point guard Alex Caruso will remain the primary lead guard but a lot of the season will rely on those NCAA waivers.
12. Missouri: The Tigers will probably be faced with the most turnover in the conference. Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson left for the NBA, Earnest Ross graduated, and head coach Frank Haith left for Tulsa. Missouri will still have plenty of talent, however, with leading rebounder Johnathan Williams returning along with point guard Wes Clark, who will have a much bigger role as a sophomore. Baylor transfer Deuce Bello is an athletic freak who will be eligible this year while incoming four-stars JaKeenan Grant and Montaque Gill-Ceasar will be expected to see playing time. There’s an array of transfers to go with five freshmen, so building chemistry early on will be key.
13. Vanderbilt: Last year’s leading scorer Eric McClellan transferred to Gonzaga but the Commodores are hoping Cornell transfer Nolan Cressler will be allowed to play immediately. They also signed three point guards, led by ESPN 100 four-star Riley LaChance. Wade Baldwin and Shelton Mitchell will also compete for playing time. Sophomores Luke Kornet and Damian Jones will be expected to take steps forward as Kornet has reportedly added 10 pounds of muscle and Jones is a former four-star recruit. Center Josh Henderson also returns after tearing his ACL and MCL last season. There’s a fair amount of uncertainty with this team, but Vanderbilt could be a surprise.
14. Mississippi State: Leading scorer Craig Sword returns along with leading rebounder Gavin Ware. Nearly everyone from last year’s rotation will be back but the Bulldogs don’t add much more. After finishing last season with a 3-15 conference record, it may be another tough season for Mississippi State.
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