Kentucky edges Florida for the top spot
There’s never a shortage of storylines when it comes to the SEC coaching fraternity — but the drama is usually reserved for the gridiron.
The Will Wade saga took center stage. Here is the quick version: LSU’s basketball coach was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a financial offer to a recruit. Wade was suspended for the final regular-season game (an SEC title-clinching win over Vanderbilt) and the entire postseason. So surely Wade was fired? Nope. He’s back and will be expected to contend again — thanks to another banner recruiting class.
Later in the spring, it appeared that Rick Barnes, fresh off another outstanding season at Tennessee, was ready to bolt for UCLA in a move that seemed like a strange cultural fit for the 65-year-old coach from North Carolina. In the end, Barnes elected to stay in Knoxville, but it had to sting the Vols fans just a bit that their beloved coach would even consider a move at this point of his career.
Tom Crean made headlines when he ripped his team after a Georgia loss to Ole Miss in February. The passive-aggressive coach blamed himself for the team’s plight “because I’m the one who decided to keep these guys,” rather than running them off after he took the job. Got it, coach!
As usual, there was some turnover following the season. Billy Kennedy was the first to go, dismissed at Texas A&M after leading the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament only two times in eight seasons. Then, in a four-day period in late March, Bryce Drew (Vanderbilt), Avery Johnson (Alabama) and Mike Anderson (Arkansas) were each relieved of their duties. To no one’s surprise, Buzz Williams, a Texas native and former A&M assistant, is the new boss in College Station. Vanderbilt made a surprising move, hiring Jerry Stackhouse away from the NBA to replace Drew. The other two jobs were filled with more conventional names — Nate Oats (from Buffalo) at Alabama and Eric Musselman (from Nevada) at Arkansas.
(And surely you noticed that we had 350-plus words on coaching drama and didn’t mention John Calipari once!)
John Calipari’s club will blend in a few veterans (point guard Ashton Hagans and big men Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery) with another star-studded rookie class to form the SEC’s most talented roster.
The Gators became legitimate national contenders when forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. announced that Florida — not Kentucky or Tennessee — would be the destination for his final season in college.
Freshman forward Trendon Watford will team with sophomore guard Javonte Smart to give the Tigers one of the league’s most feared inside-outside duos.
Bruce Pearl’s team still has plenty of talent, but the Tigers need some leaders to emerge to replace Jared Harper and Bryce Brown.
New coach Nate Oats inherits a team that has underachieved in recent years. Kira Lewis Jr. could emerge as one of the nation’s top point guards.
Few teams nationally lost three players as important to their team’s success as Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield.
7. OLE MISS
Senior guard Breein Tyree is one of the SEC’s most exciting players. The arrival of junior college transfer Khadim Sy should bolster the Rebels’ frontcourt.
8. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Forward Reggie Perry was very good as a freshman. He will be great as a sophomore for a team that’s eager to return to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.
Cuonzo Martin will rely on big man Jeremiah Tillmon up front and the Smiths — Dru (Evansville transfer) and Mark (a junior) — to score from the perimeter.
Anthony Edwards, the highest-ranked incoming player in the SEC, will be a star. Tom Crean will need others to step up for this team to make the NCAAs.
Eric Musselman is the new boss in Fayetteville, and he takes over a team loaded with shooters — though the Hogs will no doubt miss Daniel Gafford’s presence in the paint.
12. SOUTH CAROLINA
Frank Martin is 41–31 in the SEC over the last five seasons but has only one NCAA Tournament to show for it — the run to the Final Four in 2017. Replacing Chris Silva is the top priority in 2019-20.
13. TEXAS A&M
Buzz Williams will build a consistent winner at Texas A&M, but his first season could be a struggle.
Jerry Stackhouse will lean on sophomore swingman Aaron Nesmith, a legitimate NBA prospect, in his first season in Nashville.
Player of the Year: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida
Best Defensive Player: Ashton Hagans, Kentucky
Most Underrated Player: Skylar Mays, LSU
Newcomer of the Year: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida
Kerry Blackshear Jr., Sr., F, Florida
Anthony Edwards, Fr., G, Georgia
Andrew Nembhard, So., G, Florida
Kira Lewis Jr., So., G, Alabama
Reggie Perry, So., F, Mississippi State
Ashton Hagans, So., G, Kentucky
Isaiah Joe, So., G, Arkansas
Scottie Lewis, Fr., G, Florida
Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G, Kentucky
Breein Tyree, Sr., G, Ole Miss
Josiah-Jordan James, Fr., G, Tennessee
A.J. Lawson, So., G, South Carolina
Skylar Mays, Sr., G, LSU
Aaron Nesmith, So., G, Vanderbilt
Javonte Smart, So, G, LSU