In 2013-14, Kentucky will try to pull off a rare college basketball feat by going from national champion to NIT, then back to national champion. As our league-by-league snapshots continue into the SEC, we take a look at the teams who might make things difficult for the Wildcats next season.
Florida should continue to be a challenger for Kentucky with a veteran team boosted by a handful of transfers and high-level freshmen. Beyond that, the question in the SEC is depth after another lackluster season. Unexpected departures during the offseason may make Tennessee and Alabama bubble teams again. And personnel losses at Ole Miss and Missouri mean a return to the Tournament is not guaranteed.
The college basketball calendar is getting moved up with Midnight Madness shifting from mid-October into September. The look ahead to the 2013-14 season has also been moved up as Athlon starts to take stock for the upcoming year in college basketball.
Here’s a quick look at the SEC and early rankings for 2013-14.
Other conference snapshots:
Big 12 (June 6)
Pac-12 (June 11)
Mountain West, A-10, MVC and others (June 13)
2013-14 CONFERENCE SNAPSHOT: SEC
1. KENTUCKY (21-12, 12-6, NIT first round)
Key players gone: Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Nerlens Noel
Top returners: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer
New faces: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle, James Young (all freshmen)
The Wildcats will be back in national title contention thanks to a recruiting class that includes six of the top 15 prospects in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Kentucky missed out on consensus top prospect Andrew Wiggins and still finished with the nation’s top signing class. The Wildcats now have nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. Even if last season went awry, John Calipari has proven he can win a title with freshmen of this caliber. The question, especially after last season, will be leadership and the contribution of the veterans.
Related: Kentucky, Florida claim top recruiting classes since 2000
2. FLORIDA (29-8, 14-4, NCAA Elite Eight)
Key players gone: Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario
Top returners: Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguette, Patric Young
New faces: Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech transfer), Damontre Harris (South Carolina transfer), Kasey Hill (freshman), Chris Walker (freshman)
Florida will look to get over the Elite Eight hump with one of the deepest teams in the league. Young and Wilbekin are back, and Yeguette expects to be healthy after offseason knee surgery. Much will depend on the newcomers. Hill is one of the top point guard recruits to come to Florida under Billy Donovan. Finney-Smith, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, was one of the top freshmen in the ACC at Virginia Tech, averaging 6.3 points and seven rebounds. With Chris Walker, Florida will have one of the top front lines in the country. Guard Eli Carter transferred from Rutgers and could receive a waiver to play immediately after the player mistreatment scandal in Piscataway.
3. TENNESSEE (20-13, 11-7, NIT first round)
Key players gone: Trae Golden, Kenny Hall, Skyler McBee
Top returners: Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Josh Richardson, Jarnell Stokes
New faces: Robert Hubbs, Darius Thompson (freshmen)
Cuonzo Martin has to wonder what Tennessee would look like with a full roster. In his first season, Stokes wasn’t eligible until midseason. In his second, Maymon missed the entire season following knee surgery. Martin’s third season will start without his point guard Golden, who abruptly left the program. Stokes is a rising star, and Maymon is healthy. But the point will be manned by a freshman in Thompson.
4. ALABAMA (23-13, 12-6, NIT quarterfinals)
Key players gone: Moussa Gueye, Trevor Lacey, Andrew Steele
Top returners: Rodney Cooper, Nick Jacobs, Retin Obasohan, Devonta Pollard, Levi Randolph, Trevor Releford
New faces: Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale (freshmen)
With the core of last year’s team returning, Alabama hopes to reach the NCAA Tournament after finishing the past two seasons on the bubble. Five of the top six starters expect to return, but the only loss there will be a big one. Lacey, who averaged 11.3 points and 3.2 assists last season, surprised Anthony Grant with his intentions to transfer.
5. LSU (19-12, 9-9)
Key players gone: Charles Carmouche
Top returners: Shavon Coleman, Anthony Hickey, Malik Morgan, Johnny O’Bryant III, Andre Stringer
New faces: Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey, Tim Quarterman (all freshmen)
LSU returns three players who averaged double figures in scoring last season with Carmouche the only notable departure. The Tigers add the nation's fifth-ranked signing class, led by forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. This could be a comeback season for LSU in Johnny Jones’ second year.
Related: Grading the notable coaching hires for 2013-14
6. MISSOURI (23-11, 11-7, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Keion Bell, Laurence Bowers, Alex Oriakhi, Phil Pressey, Negus Webster-Chan
Top returners: Jabari Brown, Tony Criswell, Stefan Jankovic, Earnest Ross
New faces: Wesley Clark (freshman), Jordan Clarkson (transfer from Tulsa), Johnathan Williams III (freshman)
Pressey’s perhaps ill-advised jump to the NBA Draft leaves Missouri with just one starter returning in Jabari Brown. Clarkson, who averaged 16.5 points at Tulsa in 2011-12, adds to a glut of 6-5 guards with Brown and Earnest Ross. The Tigers will need role players Stefan Jankovic and Tony Criswall to step into bigger roles in the frontcourt.
7. OLE MISS (27-9, 12-6, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Reginald Buckner, Murphy Holloway, Nick Williams
Top returners: Marshall Henderson, Aaron Jones, Derrick Millinghaus, Jarvis Summers, LaDarius White
Henderson’s return means the Rebels have a chance at reaching the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in more than a decade. But Ole Miss lost a good chunk of the supporting cast (Buckner and Holloway). It’s going to take more than Henderson chucking 3-pointers for Ole Miss to duplicate 2012-13. Jarvis Summers (9.1 ppg) is the only other returning player who averaged more than 6.4 points per game.
8. ARKANSAS (19-13, 10-8)
Key players gone: Hunter Mickelson, Marshawn Powell, B.J. Young
Top returners: Coty Clarke, Fred Gulley, Kikko Haydar, Rashad Madden, Michael Qualls, Rickey Scott, Madracus Wade
New faces: Alandise Harris (transfer from Houston), Moses Kingsley (freshman), Bobby Portis (freshman)
For a team that didn’t have a senior last season, Arkansas managed to lose a lot for 2013-14. Powell and Young declared for the NBA Draft, and Mickelson transferred to Kansas. Only two players -- Clarke and Wade -- averaged more than five points per game and 20 minutes.
9. VANDERBILT (16-17, 8-10)
Key players gone: Sheldon Jeter
Top returners: Kevin Bright, Kyle Fuller, Josh Henderson, Kedren Johnson, Rod Odom, Dai-Jon Parker
New faces: Damian Jones (freshman), Eric McClellan (transfer from Tulsa)
A rebuilding year in 2012-13 means almost everyone returns for the Commodores, but Vanderbilt is still looking for go-to players. Hopes are high for McClellan, who averaged 8.5 points as a freshman at Tulsa.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: Big Ten
10. TEXAS A&M (18-15, 7-11)
Key players gone: Elston Turner, Ray Turner
Top returners: Alex Caruso, Fabyon Harris, J-Mychal Reese, Kourtney Roberson, Andrew Young
New faces: Antwan Space (transfer from Florida State)
Elston Turner (17.5 ppg) and Ray Turner (9.2 ppg) will be tough to replace as the Aggies try to rebuild around Harris. Reese and Caruso were highly touted recruits who struggled as freshmen. Space was a top-100 recruit but seldom used in his only season at Florida State.
11. GEORGIA (15-17, 9-9)
Key players gone: Sherrard Brantley, John Florveus, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Vincent Williams
Top returners: Nemanja Djrisic, Kenny Gaines, Brandon Morris, Marcus Thornton, Donte Williams
New faces: Cameron Forte (junior college transfer)
Caldwell-Pope either led Georgia in scoring or tied for the team lead in all but three games last season. It’s going to be tough for Georgia to overcome that kind of loss, but the bulk of the roster will be sophomores and juniors. This could be a key year for Mark Fox.
12. SOUTH CAROLINA (14-18, 4-14)
Key players gone: Lakeem Jackson, LaShay Page, Shane Phillips, Brian Richardson, R.J. Slawson, Eric Smith
Top returners: Michael Carrera, Bruce Ellington, Mindaugas Kacinas, Brenton Williams
New faces: Ty Johnson (transfer from Villanova), Demetrius Henry (freshman), Sindarius Thornwell (freshman)
The rebuilding job at South Carolina is going to take a while. Not shockingly, the Gamecocks lost some depth due to transfers over the last two seasons. But Frank Martin also added a highly touted freshman guard in Sindarius Thornwell. Carolina will have to wait on Johnson to be eligible after the first semester and Ellington to join the team after football season. This is not a roster ready to be competitive in the SEC.
13. AUBURN (9-23, 3-15)
Key players gone: Rob Chubb, Noel Johnson, Frankie Sullivan, Josh Wallace
Top returners: Chris Denson, Ashauhn Dixon-Tatum, Shaquille Johnson, Allen Payne, Jordan Price
New faces: KT Harrell (transfer from Virginia)
The Tigers lose the inside-out duo of Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb, two of the top three scorers from last season. Returning guard Chris Denson averaged 11.9 points per game in fewer than 25 minutes.
14. MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-22, 4-14)
Key players gone: Wendell Lewis
Top returners: Trivante Bloodman, Colin Borchert, Roquez Johnson, Jalen Steele, Craig Sword, Fred Thomas
New faces: Travis Daniels, Fallou Ndoye, Imara Ready, De’Runnya Wilson (freshmen)
Mississippi State had the SEC’s thinnest roster last season, and it showed. At least the Bulldogs returns almost everyone from last season’s team and add a four-man signing class to boost depth. There’s still a long way to go in Starkville.