As the SEC rules college football, the question remains: What happened to this league as a basketball conference?
The SEC produced at least five NCAA Tournament teams every season from 1997-2008, but the league matched that only once since then. The expanded SEC produced only three NCAA Tournament teams last season, and Ole Miss needed to win the league tournament to erase any doubt.
Just about anywhere besides Lexington and Gainesville has a basketball program that’s seen better days. Florida, a two-time national champion when the SEC was in a position of strength, has reached the NCAA regional final the last three seasons.
And despite a loss in the NIT, Kentucky fans have been optimistic for 2013-14 since it became clear last season just wasn’t working out.
Kentucky landed the top recruiting class in history with six of the top 15 players who are already being loaded up with national championship expectations.
For the sake of SEC perception, it couldn’t hurt if Kentucky delivers on those projections.
SEC Predicted order of finish
All-SEC First Team
G Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
G Jordan McRae, Tennessee
F Johnny O’Bryant, LSU
F Julius Randle, Kentucky
C Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
All-SEC Second Team
G Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
G Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
G Trevor Releford, Alabama
F Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
C Patric Young, Florida
All-SEC Third Team
G Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
G Michael Frazier, Florida
G Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
F Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
1. KENTUCKY (team preview)
Arguably the best recruiting class in history will have the Cats in the national title hunt.
2. FLORIDA (team preview)
NCAA Elite Eight
Transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina) bolster the Gators’ roster.
NCAA round of 32
Vols will need a big contribution from transfer Antonio Barton and a healthy season from Jeronne Maymon.
4. LSU (team preview)
NCAA round of 64
An influx of high-level talent will join Johnny O’Bryant on what should be one of the league’s most-improved teams.
5. MISSOURI (team preview)
NCAA round of 64
Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown will key the Tigers’ perimeter attack.
With one NCAA invite in four years, pressure is starting to mount on Anthony Grant.
Hogs lost their two best players (B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell) but the roster still stocked with talent.
8. OLE MISS
Key losses in the frontcourt will be tough to overcome — even if Marshall Henderson behaves.
9. TEXAS A&M
Aggies will be balanced, but replacing Elston Turner’s scoring will be a huge issue.
10. SOUTH CAROLINA
Frank Martin continues his slow rebuild in Columbia. The Gamecocks will be painfully young in ’13-14.
Losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a crushing blow to the Georgia program.
Brutal offseason saw the Dores lose two starters (Kedren Johnson and Kevin Bright) and a key reserve (Sheldon Jeter).
13. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Rick Ray is recruiting the Bulldogs out of the abyss, but it will take some time.
Tony Barbee’s tenure at Auburn has not gone well. Too much roster turnover and not enough talent.
Player of the Year:
Julius Randle, Kentucky
It may be tough for one player to stand above the fray in Kentucky’s unprecedented recruiting class, but Randle has the ability to do so. He’s a 6-9 power forward who’s impressive as an athlete and has drawn comparisons to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for his competitiveness.
Best Defensive Player:
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Marshall Henderson isn’t the only SEC guard in his coach’s doghouse. Wilbekin remains “partially suspended” for a violation of team rules, but when he plays, he’s the top perimeter defender on the best defensive team in the league.
Most Underrated Player:
Shavon Coleman, LSU
Coleman will round out an top-notch frontcourt for LSU. The 6-5 wing averaged 5.9 rebounds last season for the Tigers. He’s a key glue guy for a team looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Newcomer of the Year:
Julius Randle, Kentucky (complete look at
Andrew Wiggins was the No. 1 prospect in the country and only added to his legend by holding out until the spring to make his college on decision. Randle, though, was right there as one of the top prospects in the country.
John Calipari, Kentucky (full
Tony Barbee, Auburn (full list of