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College Basketball 2014-15: SEC Predictions and Awards

John Calipari

John Calipari

Depth is considered the strength of SEC football. Not so in SEC basketball.

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Kentucky and Florida are the clear giants in this league while everyone else is just trying to claw their way into that second tier. The Wildcats and Gators finished last season in the Final Four, but Kentucky didn’t look the part of a title contender until the SEC Tournament.

There were signs of the rest of the SEC pulling out of its doldrums, though. Tennessee went 11-7 in the league but advanced from the First Four to the Sweet 16. Arkansas swept the season series with Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina both defeated the Wildcats at home, and Georgia finished 12-6 in the league.

The question is if any of those programs can maintain that momentum. LSU and Arkansas are under pressure to end NCAA Tournament droughts while Tennessee will be in a rebuilding year under first-year coach Donnie Tyndall.

Aside from Kentucky and Florida, though, the main storyline in the SEC may be the return of Bruce Pearl. He’s taking over one of the toughest jobs in the conference at Auburn, and progress is sure to be slow in Year One. But he’s a proven winner in this league. Sooner rather than later, he could have the Tigers in rare position to challenge for an NCAA bid.

Previews of every SEC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.

SEC 2014-15 Preseason Picks

1. Kentucky (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA champion

The return of the Harrison twins and the arrival of another elite recruiting class makes Kentucky the easy choice in the SEC.

2. Florida (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight

Michael Frazier II, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are the next wave of Gator stars.

3. Arkansas (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

There’s no excuse for this Arkansas team not to make the NCAA Tournament. Mike Anderson has the right pieces in place. 

4. LSU (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

Johnny Jones has stocked his roster with high-level talent; it’s now time to breakthrough with an NCAA Tournament bid.

5. Georgia

Postseason projection: NIT

The Dawgs boast one of the league’s top backcourts but remain very thin on the front line.

6. Texas A&M

Postseason projection: NIT

The Billy Kennedy era has not gone as planned, but the Aggies have a roster that’s could enough to flirt with an NCAA Tournament bid.

7. Ole Miss

Postseason projection: NIT

Sideshow Marshall has moved on — which might not be a bad thing. The Rebels will lean on Jarvis Summers and some quality young bigs.

8. Alabama

Postseason projection: NIT

Guards Levi Randolph and Ricky Tarrant (transfer from Tulane) and forward Shannon Hale form a solid nucleus in Tuscaloosa. 

9. Missouri

Frank Haith bolted for the more secure waters of Tulsa — and left new Mizzou boss Kim Anderson with a rebuilding project.

10. Vanderbilt

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Kevin Stallings will surround talented big man Damian Jones with three freshmen on the perimeter. 

11. Tennessee

Donnie Tyndall’s rebuilt roster will be strong on the perimeter but woefully thin in the paint.

12. Auburn

Bruce Pearl’s first Auburn team will feature two of the league’s best scorers — KT Harrell and Niagara transfer Antoine Mason.

13. South Carolina

Sindarius Thornwell is a top-level talent, but the Gamecocks still lack the talent to make a big move in the SEC.

14. Mississippi State

Rick Ray continues to recruit well, but this program is at least a year way from thinking about the postseason. 

2014 SEC Superlatives

Player of the Year: Jordan Mickey, LSU

LSU expects Mickey to take a more active role in the offense with Johnny O’Bryant III gone. He’s already a defensive force, joining Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in LSU’s 100-block club.

Best Defensive Player: Josh Richardson, Tennessee

Richardson will go from being a lockdown defender on a Sweet 16 team to the focal point of the team. He’s the Vols’ only returning starter and the only player who has scored more than 10 points in a league game.

Most Underrated Player: Josh Gray, LSU

Gray won’t be the most highly touted new face in the league or even the most highly touted transfer. But he will be the point guard of a potential NCAA Tournament team. Arriving from Texas Tech via junior college, Gray takes over for Anthony Hickey after averaging 33.8 points per game in JUCO.

Newcomer of the Year: Karl Towns, Kentucky

Kentucky will have a crowd in the frontcourt, but Towns is a likely pick to be a regular. The 6-11 forward is a potential top-five draft pick who can do a little bit of everything.

Top Coach: John Calipari (full SEC coach rankings)

First-Team All-SEC

G Michael Frazier II, Florida

G Charles Mann, Georgia

G Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

F Jordan Mickey, LSU

F Bobby Portis, Arkansas

Second-Team All-SEC

G Aaron Harrison, Kentucky

F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida

F Chris Walker, Florida

C Karl Towns, Kentucky

C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Third-Team All-SEC

G Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

G Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

G Josh Richardson, Tennessee

F Jarell Martin, LSU

F Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky