Things will be back to normal in the SEC this season. That is to say that the Kentucky Wildcats are the class of the league and everyone else will give chase.
The talent in Lexington is head and shoulders above the rest of the SEC. No one can predict whether John Calipari’s phenoms will jell or not, but on paper the Cats are the real deal. Florida is coming off an Elite Eight appearance and is a legit Top 5 team. There are lots of new faces for the Gators as well, but they are talented and deep enough to give the Cats a run.
The next tier of teams includes Tennessee and LSU. Both have all the pieces in place to make the NCAA tournament, but will be hard pressed to challenge Kentucky and Florida for the SEC title. Alabama has the looks of a Bubble team once again. The rest of the league is battling for spots in the NIT or is in rebuilding mode.
Here are a few compelling storylines to follow this season.
- · Marshall Henderson – Since an offseason brush with authorities, all has been quiet from the enigmatic Ole Miss guard. Can he be focused enough to be an all-league player?
- · Kentucky’s talented freshman class – How will John Calipari manage all these egos?
- · Florida’s roster in limbo – Scottie Wilbekin’s offseason suspension, Chris Walker’s eligibility and Eli Carter’s recently approved waiver will have big impact on Gator’s success.
Predicted Finish in (Roughly) 140 Characters
1. Kentucky - Talent will not be the question in Lexington. The issues will be leadership, chemistry and how quickly the young Cats can buy into their roles for John Calipari. A title run a la 2012 is not out of the question.
2. Florida - Gators lose top three scorers but don’t sleep on them. Patric Young is back in the middle the roster is loaded with talented young perimeter players and transfers.
3. Tennessee - Great 1-2 punch with Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae. Cuonzo Martin also added Memphis transfer Antonio Barton and gets Jeronne Maymon back from injury.
4. LSU - Tigers return four of five double-digit scorers from last year and add McDonald’s All-American Jarell Martin.
5. Alabama - The Tide return the core of last year’s team but will miss Trevor Lacy, who transferred to NC State. Will need to score some points to go along with trademark D to get off the bubble.
6. Ole Miss - Without Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway, who will rebound all of Marshall Henderson’s misses?
7. Missouri - Tigers were second in the SEC last season in scoring but lost four double-digit scorers. Will count on a couple transfers to step up along with Jabari Brown.
8. Arkansas - Razorbacks have a couple talented young bigs in Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley, but they won’t be a factor in league race this year.
9. South Carolina - Frank Martin took over a rebuilding job and hasn’t yet put together the kind of talent he needs to win big in Columbia.
10. Texas A&M - Coach Billy Kennedy looks to replace Elston Turner, who did it all for the Aggies last year.
11. Georgia - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the Dogs’ only double-figure scorer last season. Who will step up in his absence?
12. Mississippi State - Talented young nucleus grew up fast last season. Veteran guard Jalen Steele’s decision not to come back for his senior year and Wendell Lewis’ reported dismissal leaves the Bulldogs short.
13. Vanderbilt - Commodores made strides late last season during a rebuilding year but lost three key players in the offseason, including leading scorer Kedren Johnson.
14. Auburn - Tony Barbee hasn’t gotten much momentum going during his tenure at Auburn. He needs to surprise some people this year if he wants to stay on The Plains.
Guard-Jordan McRae, Tennessee - lengthy guard can score in a variety of ways
Guard-Trevor Releford, Alabama - floor general would love to get the Crimson Tide off the Bubble in 2014
Guard-Andrew Harrison, Kentucky - point guard will be called on to distribute the ball and keep the rest of the talented Cats happy
Guard-Aaron Harrison, Kentucky - could be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft along with his twin brother
Forward-Johnny O’Bryant, LSU - talented big man had 15 double-doubles last season
Forward-Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee - talented big does serious damage in the paint
Forward-Julius Randle, Kentucky - another projected lottery pick for the Wildcats, Randle is a beast in the paint and will give the Cats toughness
Center-Patric Young, Florida - Gator big man was All-Defensive team as a junior
Most Outstanding Player - Jordan McRae, Tennessee. Possibly the most versatile player in the league. Played four positions last year and is a matchup nightmare for opponents.
Coach of the Year – John Calipari, Kentucky. Coach Cal finds a way to get his uber-talented squad to buy in and elevates his god-like status in the Bluegrass.
Rookie of the Year - Could be any of Kentucky’s freshman class. I’m going to go out on a limb and, despite all the Randle talk, say Aaron Harrison.
Superlatives. Now Discuss.
Best Clutch Shooter - Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss. No matter how many misses he has throughout the game, he’s not afraid to take the big shots late.
Best Handle - Anthony Hickey, LSU. Not your classic ball-on-a-string handler, but Hickey is a blur in the open floor and sported better than 2:1 assist:TO ratio last season.
Best Rebounder - Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee. Ran down over four offensive rebounds per game in 2012-13.
Most Underrated Player - Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky. Was unheralded most of last season and with all the talk of the incoming class, people forget how valuable he is to the Cats defensively.
Team You Don’t Want to Play in February - Arkansas. The Razorbacks won’t be a threat to win the league this year, but Fayetteville is always a tough trip. Hogs will play spoiler to someone along the way.
Best Homecourt Advantage - Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt. Crazy things happen in that place. Talent may be down this year for the Commodores, but they will no doubt win a couple home games they aren’t supposed to win.
Best Facilities - Mizzou Arena, Missouri. In today’s arms race that is college athletics, every program is getting upgrades. Mizzou Arena is among the newest and nicest.
Top Three Impact Transfers
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida - one of the top rookies in the ACC at Virginia Tech in 2011-12
Eli Carter, Florida - former Rutgers guard can play immediately
Antonio Barton, Tennessee - former Memphis wing taking advantage of the 5th year transfer rule
NCAA – Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Alabama
NIT – Ole Miss, Missouri
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