Say this for an interesting SEC offseason: The league lost one of its two best coaches to the NBA and the coaching lineup as a whole improved.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is now coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving the Gators in a rebuilding situation under new coach Mike White. Facing White will not only be a Kentucky team ready to contend for a national title and resurgent teams at Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, but also two first-year coaches who have Final Fours on their résumés.
A handful of SEC schools have been tasked with improving their basketball product in recent years, and they’ve responded with key coaching hires. Mississippi State jettisoned Rick Ray and replaced him with former UCLA coach Ben Howland. Tennessee hired a new coach out of necessity stemming from NCAA issues but brought in longtime Texas coach Rick Barnes. Alabama hired a former NBA coach of the year in Avery Johnson. And two years ago, Bruce Pearl made his return to the league at Auburn.
Oh, and LSU adds the consensus No. 1 freshman to the mix.
In 2014 and 2013, the SEC produced only three NCAA Tournament teams in each field. After producing five NCAA teams and a team in the Final Four for the second consecutive season, the SEC promises to be a deeper league in the coming years.
All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Player of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU
Best Defensive Player: Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
Most Underrated Player: Craig Sword, Mississippi State
Newcomer of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU
Top Coach: John Calipari, Kentucky (full list)
Teams in the National Top 25: No. 1 Kentucky, No. 15 Vanderbilt, No. 25 Texas A&M
All-SEC First Team
G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
G Stefan Moody, Ole Miss
F Ben Simmons, LSU
C Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
All-SEC Second Team
G Malik Newman, Mississippi State
G Danuel House, Texas A&M
G Kenny Gaines, Georgia
F Alex Poythress, Kentucky
F Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn
All-SEC Third Team
G Riley LaChance, Vanderbilt
G Charles Mann, Georgia
G Tim Quarterman, LSU
F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
F Alex Caruso, Texas A&M
1. Kentucky: The Wildcats are back in the top spot nationally with a five-man class that includes elite big man Skal Labissiere.
2. LSU: No. 1-ranked prospect Ben Simmons and fellow five-star Antonio Blakeney lead the nation’s No. 3-ranked class.
3. Texas A&M: A quartet of top-100 ranked prospects give the Aggies a top-10 class.
4. Auburn: Bruce Pearl landed a top-20 class led by athletic forwards Horace Spencer and Danjel Purifoy.
5. Mississippi State: New coach Ben Howland has a top-20 class, including top-10 prospect Malik Newman.
6. Florida: The Gators have a top-25 class that includes four four-star prospects.
7. South Carolina: Five-star guard Perry Dozier headlines Gamecocks’ class.
8. Alabama: New coach Avery Johnson has a five-man class that is led by four-star wing scorer Kobie Eubanks.
9. Missouri: Kim Anderson has six recruits in the fold. Four-star point guard K.J. Walton is the highest ranked of the bunch.
10. Vanderbilt: Athletic center Djery Baptiste leads a diverse four-man class.
11. Georgia: Mark Fox convinced William Jackson to stay in Athens as the top recruit in a four-man class.
12. Ole Miss: Guard Donte Fitzpatrick out of Memphis leads a four-man class.
13. Tennessee: New coach Rick Barnes has every position covered in the Volunteers’ five-man recruiting class.
14. Arkansas: Four-star combo guard Jimmy Whitt is the Hogs’ only recruit.