Conference Preview season rolls at Making the Madness with the SEC, which is poised to be a terrific conference once again. This is a league that recently has had teams consistently throughout the Top-25, receiving high seeds but hasn’t quite gotten over the hump with a National Championship. This could be the year that changes as there are a plethora of legitimate title contenders at the top, as well as plenty of other teams to be excited about, so let’s dive in.
Yes, last season ended poorly for Kentucky but realistically that doesn’t matter this year as the Wildcats still have a loaded roster. Oscar Tshiebwe being back is the biggest reason for optimism, he won National Player of the year by rebounding every shot he possibly could, plus being a force inside with a developing offensive game. Sahvir Wheeler also returns, he is a high-assist passer and a pest defensively, which plays well with those as the veteran leaders.
The Wildcats have good freshmen as well, Cason Wallace brings in electricity to the defensive end paired with a good offensive game, while Chris Livingston is a wing with elite athleticism and a good jumper. Transfers, CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves will bring in some much-needed shooting at the guard spot. The Wildcats also have a depth of forwards, Jacob Toppin looks poised to start and be a consistent contributor, but the athleticism of Damion Collins should also be on full display. Lance Ware also looks to factor into the rotation.
Simply put, this Kentucky team has all the tools you could want in a National Championship-winning team. They have a good point guard, they’re going to be elite defensively, something that hasn’t been the case recently with Kentucky, plus they have the best player on the court. Make all the St. Peter’s jokes now while you can, call it what you will, this team gives off 2019 Virginia vibes, that being a team that takes a horrific loss and rebounds to win a National Championship. This very much looks like a year where John Calipari finally gets a second National title.
PG: Sahvir Wheeler
SG: Cason Wallace
SF: Antonio Reeves
PF: Jacob Toppin
C: Oscar Tshiebwe
Bench: Chris Livingston, CJ Fredrick, Damion Collins, Lance Ware
The Muss bus and Arkansas have made back-to-back Elite Eights, yet there is no season with more anticipation than this one for Arkansas as they bring in a terrific recruiting class. Nick Smith Jr is the player to watch, his ability to score the ball from all three levels translates anywhere, which likely puts him in a spot to be the best freshman in the sport. He has two fellow five-stars, Anthony Black brings in a high-level ball-handler and capable jump shooter all in a 6’7 frame. Meanwhile, Jordan Walsh rounds out the five-star freshmen, he brings explosive athleticism and a good jumper, which compliments the other two.
While a stud freshman class is great, experience will be key and Devo Davis will bring just that, his ball-handling, and defense at the guard spot will be key. The Razorbacks also hammered the transfer portal as usual. Jalen Graham projects to start at the five, being a bouncy athlete and good defender. Ricky Council IV brings in an athletic wing that can make jump shots while not being required to handle the ball. The front court will be rounded out with a competition for minutes, the Mitchell twins both are valuable pieces at the center spot but won’t play together, while Trevon Brazile will also look to factor in at the five spot.
This team on paper has a lot to like, Smith will take over as the go-to option early and often. Black and Walsh both play well off of Smith, while Devo Davis can fill a role as a defensive pest. Add in front-court depth and Musselman has himself a great team. The past has shown us that experience matters in March, that said, if anyone is going to buck the trend, it may as well be the team with the best prospect and an elite core around him.
PG: Devo Davis
SG: Nick Smith Jr
SF: Anthony Black
PF: Jordan Walsh
C: Jalen Graham
Bench: Ricky Council IV, Trevon Brazile, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell
While Tennessee is stuck with a stench about not advancing far enough in the NCAA Tournament, last season was a success in that they won the SEC Tournament and we’re playing like a Top-10 team all season. Now, Tennessee hopes to replicate the regular season success with a deep Tournament run thanks in part to a roster of returning pieces. Santiago Vescovi is the most notable of the bunch, providing the team with a three-point shooter and a go-to scorer. Josiah-Jordan James will bring in additional production scoring-wise on the wing while being a terrific defender. Zakai Ziegler will stabilize the point guard spot, being a terrific ball-handler, who can get to his spot, score, and be a good facilitator.
The Volunteers also have depth up front. Freshman Julian Phillips provides the Volunteers with an athletic, lengthy four-man, who projects to fill in as a modern-day four. Uros Plavsic brings in a strong frame, good rebounding skills, and a steady anchor at the five. Olivier Nkamhoua provides scoring upside at the five, while James Aidoo can provide another paint presence. The Volunteers should also expect Tyreke Key to be a good guard option that can space the floor in the rotation, while BJ Edwards should factor in for minutes as well.
This Tennessee team has a really good floor and at the very least, that will have them near the top of the SEC standings. If you believe in Phillips being a legitimate Top-10 freshman in the sport and if they can get the necessary improvements from Zakai Ziegler, that is where this team could go from good to great. The one thing that is of concern of course is Rick Barnes’ Tournament history, but if you ignore that, this team has all the makings of a team capable of making the first Final Four in Tennessee history.
PG: Zakai Ziegler
SG: Santiago Vescovi
SF: Josiah-Jordan James
PF: Julian Phillips
C: Uros Plavsic
Bench: Tyreke Key, Olivier Nkamhoua, James Aidoo, BJ Edwards
Coming off an SEC Championship, Bruce Pearl and Auburn will go through a re-tooling year with the loss of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler. Luckily for them, they return their backcourt so there is still a sense of continuity with this roster. KD Johnson is the engine of the roster, being a 6’0 energy machine, he can get to the rim, defend relentlessly and knock down shots. Allen Flanigan will start on the wing and provide some floor spacing, defense, and experience. Meanwhile, Zeb Jasper and Wendell Green will continue to be an interesting point guard combo, with Jasper providing a steady hand, with Green providing the team with a guy that can go 2-20 or 18-20 on any night.
Losing the defensive player of the year, Walker Kessler, is a significant loss but Johni Broome was a great replacement, he’s an excellent rim-running, post-up big, that makes his calling card blocking everything around the rim. Freshman Yohan Traore will provide some scoring around the rim as a freshman big man next to Broome. When one of those two goes out, Dylan Cardwell will provide this team with another athletic rim-running big, while Jaylin Williams will also provide depth to the front line. The Tigers will hope to get good mileage out of freshmen Chance Westry and Tre Donaldson, who will look to provide guard depth.
This team will play a style of basketball that will be fun to watch and fun to play for as well. Having the rim protection is not only big for this team defensively, butwill create opportunities on the other end. Ultimately, this team will be very fun to watch and win a lot of games. Minus unexpected improvements or a hot shooting stretch at the right time, the thing that will keep this team from making a deep Tournament run will be the lack of shooting. That said, an elite defense and good interior scoring game do give a pretty high floor, so expect at a minimum this team to be ranked all season long.
PG: Wendell Green Jr
SG: KD Johnson
SF: Allen Flanigan
PF: Yohan Traore
C: Johni Broome
Bench: Zeb Jasper, Dylan Cardwell, Jaylin Williams, Tre Donaldson, Chance Westry
5.Alabama Crimson Tide
Nate Oats has a system in place that works, unfortunately, last season just didn’t have the right pieces for it. That should change this year though, as the Tide has added more shooting to the roster to play a three-point reliant offense. Jahvon Quinerly is still the main piece at the guard spot because of his ability to score around the basket, albeit injury could delay his presence on the court. Mark Sears will also be key in the backcourt, he’s someone that can play both on and off the ball, score and maybe most importantly shoot efficiently from the perimeter. Dominick Welch will also provide shooting from the perimeter at the three in his lone season at Alabama.
Frontcourt-wise, Charles Bediako made major improvements throughout the season, being both a great shot-blocker and rebounder, which will help him secure a spot at the five. Freshman Brandon Miller should factor in the rotation, his athleticism and potential floor-spacing should fit right in. Noah Gurley will get minutes but they need him to shoot better this season than he did a year ago at the four spot. Alabama will also have a core of young guards to help them out, back from injury, Nimari Burnett will hope to finally show his five-star billing. Freshmen Rylan Griffen and Jaden Bradley will look to help play a role in the backcourt as freshmen to help add depth to this rotation.
The Crimson Tide had some nights where they were terrific, like when they beat Gonzaga, Baylor, and Houston, but having no elite shooters and playing a style that relied heavily upon the three didn’t lead to winning consistently. Adding Mark Sears and Dominick Welch will provide them with two more reliable shooters than they had a year ago. Add to that natural development and a good recruiting class and the upside is there for this team to win an SEC Championship, the question is whether they can maintain consistency throughout the season as the 2021 team did or if they are as inconsistent as they were a year ago.
PG: Jahvon Quinerly
SG: Mark Sears
SF: Dominick Welch
PF: Brandon Miller
C: Charles Bediako
Bench: Nimari Burnett, Noah Gurley, Rylan Griffen, Jaden Bradley
6.Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies come into this season with some high expectations for the first time in the Buzz Williams era. They were frankly robbed of an NCAA Tournament spot by the selection committee last year, but that will be quickly forgotten when they make the Tournament this year. This team returns quite a bit from last season’s team, headlined by Henry Coleman, who was one of the more reliable scorers and a double-double threat. Tyrece Radford will be a key piece, his long-distance range and scoring will both be on display. As will the defensive prowess of Dexter Dennis who transfers in from Wichita State with Tournament experience.
The Aggies have a good collection of depth going into this season and that is always a good thing. Wade Taylor IV provides a potential point guard option for this team and a viable scoring option. Andre Gordon will provide some valuable shooting to the rotation, while Manny Obaseki will hope to have a breakout season. Add to that rotation pickups like Julius Marble, who can play minutes at the five, as well as Erik Pratt and Andersson Garcia, and this Aggies team has plenty of depth to go around.
This Aggies team isn’t going to wow people offensively, much of their late-season success was a byproduct of their defense, which was elite down the stretch. Buzz Williams has taken a little longer than expected but last season’s late run is proof Texas A&M is heading in the right direction. Now it’s time to strike and not only get into the Dance but also maintain a Top 25 ranking throughout the season and win a couple of games in the Tournament as well.
PG: Wade Taylor IV
SG: Andre Gordon
SF: Tyrece Radford
PF: Dexter Dennis
C: Henry Coleman
Bench: Manny Obaseki, Julius Marble, Erik Pratt, Andersson Garcia
Out with the old, in with the young Todd Golden, and a revitalized approach to analytics-based basketball. Florida comes into this season with some expectations with key transfer additions and returning pieces, to pair with a major upgrade in coaching. Colin Castleton is the top player on this roster, his skill at scoring around the basket, rebounding, and shot-blocking will be on display as he will be one of the top bigs nationwide. Kyle Lofton will add in experience and a true point guard that makes everyone around him better.
While a great 1-5 punch is key, the Gators need good play from the rest of the roster for team success. Myreon Jones had proven to be a good three-point shooter but struggled a season ago. Belmont transfer Will Richard should fill in as a wing that can light it up from the perimeter while getting major minutes. CJ Felder and Kowacie Reeves provide program experience and will look to be key pieces at the forward position. Niels Lane and Trey Bonham will also provide guard depth for this Gators team.
This Florida team should be improved from a year ago, largely because of a solid point guard like Kyle Lofton plus a major upgrade in coaching. Outside of that, there’s not a major difference in talent from a year ago. That said, unlike Mike White, Golden will get the best of the roster and have this team in the NCAA Tournament in his first year at Florida.
PG: Kyle Lofton
SG: Myreon Jones
SF: Will Richard
PF: Kowacie Reeves
C: Colin Castleton
Bench: CJ Felder, Niels Lane, Alex Fudge, Trey Bonham
The Matt McMahon era at LSU starts with a feel of his previous team at Murray State and they will hope to replicate that by making the NCAA Tournament. McMahon brought over three of his top four scorers from Murray State, headlined by OVC Player of the year KJ Williams, who will come in and score inside and rebound with the best of them in the SEC. Justice Hill will be a key scorer and passer while taking the reigns at the point. The third of the former Racers, Trae Hannibal should be a spark plug off the bench like he was a year ago, being someone that can win a game when the offense gets stale.
The Tigers also have good returning pieces like Adam Miller, who projects to be the premier guard scorer for this roster. Cam Hayes should get some more run at LSU and be a good guard scorer. Mwani Wilkinson should fill in on the wing because he’s a good shooter and defender for this roster. Add to that a solid freshman class with Tyrell Ward projecting to get big minutes in his first year, while Jalen Reed and Shawn Phillips are good big men for the future of the program.
LSU should come into this season looking to compete in the SEC. With plenty of pieces from at-large teams like KJ Williams, Justice Hill, Adam Miller, and Mwanni Wilkinson, the roster is good enough to win in the SEC this year. It’s hard to know what the result of this season will be due to outside factors but at the very least LSU should be a middling SEC team that has a good chance to pull off some upsets and make the NCAA Tournament.
PG: Justice Hill
SG: Adam Miller
SF: Mwanni Wilkinson
PF: Tyrell Ward
C: KJ Williams
Bench: Trae Hannibal, Cam Hayes, Jalen Reed, Shawn Phillips
There is such a thing as winning the offseason and new head coach Dennis Gates did just that, landing plenty of sought-after transfers. Isiaih Mosley is the most notable add, being one of the premier scorers in College Basketball at Missouri State and doing it with remarkable efficiency is what made him a key addition, his game will translate in the SEC. For continuity, Kobe Brown will continue to be one of the Tigers’ top scorers and a solid defender this season. Then the question marks open up about who will get minutes.
D’Moi Hodge followed Gates from Cleveland State and is a low turnover guard lead guard. As did Tre Gomillion, who also was a productive passer while bringing more size at the guard spot. DeAndre Gholston will bring in some scoring pop for this roster. Nick Honor should help provide some additional stability at the guard spot. Noah Carter and Sean East will both factor into this rotation getting minutes. While Mohamed Diarra will round out the rotation providing some much-needed size to this roster.
This team has what everyone wants and that’s a star in Mosley, they also have plenty of pieces from lower conference teams that were productive playing down a level but this is the SEC, not the Horizon. There will be an adjustment period, at times this team will get overmatched but they also have enough talent to be dangerous as well. This team will win a few big games and compete near the middle of the SEC, and maybe Gates they break through for a Tournament appearance.
PG: D’Moi Hodge
SG: Tre Gomillion
SF: Isiaih Mosley
PF: Kobe Brown
C: Mohamed Diarra
Bench: DeAndre Gholston, Noah Carter, Nick Honor, Sean East
10.Ole Miss Rebels
Coming into this season, Kermit Davis has a little bit of pressure to win at Ole Miss given their previous season’s disappointment, luckily for them, they have some talent. Daeshun Ruffin is back and hopes to return to his pre-injury form of being a good passer and scorer after missing much of last season with a knee injury. Matthew Murrell will look to pick up upon a late-season success and develop into a go-to scorer for this team. Jaemyn Brakefield should be a good option at the four for this team.
The Rebels fill that starting rotation with two good transfer pieces, Theo Akwuba will fill in as a shot-blocking athletic center for this team. While Josh Mballa was one of the better scorers and rebounders in the MAC a season ago, which should help him fit in. Tye Fagan returns, providing additional guard depth and an ability to run the point at times. Add to that two freshmen who should get minutes in Malique Ewin and Amaree Abram and the pieces are there for Ole Miss to have some success.
This is a big season for Kermit Davis and Ole Miss, this is a season where he very much needs to at least make a move towards being an NCAA Tournament-level team, otherwise, the Rebels will look elsewhere. The problem is that I don’t think this team is good enough, sure a Murrell-Ruffin backcourt is solid and sure they have a solid front court but those likely aren’t enough, my guess is another missed NCAA Tournament and a changing of the guard at Head Coach.
PG: Daeshun Ruffin
SG: Matthew Murrell
SF: Josh Mballa
PF: Jaemyn Brakefield
C: Theo Akwuba
Bench: Tye Fagan, Malique Ewin, Amaree Abram, Myles Burns
11.South Carolina Gamecocks
Frank Martin did things at South Carolina that hadn’t been done but it was time for a change at head coach. Insert Lamont Paris, a man who rebuilt Chattanooga rather quickly and the match made sense. As does the match of having Five-Star forward GG Jackson reclassify and enroll early for this Gamecocks team. Jackson’s size and athleticism will make him a high pick in the draft and should allow him to flourish inside for this Gamecocks team. While also allowing Paris to hopefully use his potential success to recruit in the near future.
The roster is filled out with some interesting pieces like Meechie Johnson, who hopes to carve out a bigger role at the point than he got at Ohio State. Hayden Brown can fit in as another guard scoring option for this Gamecocks team, Jacobi Wright and Chico Carter return to South Carolina hoping to develop into better scorers for this roster. The Gamecocks also have a plethora of bigs around Jackson, Josh Gray provides legit rim protection at 7’0 tall, while Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk can add some size and mobility at the center spot.
While having a player as talented as GG Jackson is great, it really only gets you so far. Sure there are solid pieces but the shooting as a whole is poor and that will overcrowd the paint inside, which is an issue. While I wouldn’t expect this team to be terrible, it would be hard to imagine this team legitimately contending for an NCAA Tournament spot this season. That said, if Paris can get better pieces in the future, this could be a linchpin season for future success.
PG: Meechie Johnson
SG: Jacobi Wright
SF: Chico Carter
PF: Hayden Brown
C: GG Jackson
Bench: Ebrima Dibba, Josh Gray, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, Zachary Davis
12.Mississippi State Bulldogs
Welcome to the Chris Jans era at Mississippi State, an era that will look to be met with a return to winning in Starkville. While in year one, it’s hard to build a Tournament caliber roster, the pieces are there for this team to win games. Tolu Smith returns as a nice asset being an efficient interior scorer at the five to anchor the offense. DJ Jeffries will act as an athletic scoring option at the four, who can defend and occasionally shoot. While Shakeel Moore will be a veteran scoring option, who likely will take the reins at the point this year.
The Bulldogs fill out the rotation with a combination of up transfers that will have to adjust to the SEC. Dashawn Davis was a key contributor for an Oregon State team that won just 3 games, so he will hope to win a lot more this season. Eric Reed Jr and Jamel Horton both played down a level but should fill in somewhat nicely at Mississippi State. Will McNair played for Jans at New Mexico State and will get minutes as a backup center. Also look for Jans to use pieces like Cameron Matthews, Kimani Hamilton, and KeShawn Murphy as Jans does keep a deep bench.
This team has a pretty good frontcourt and that is pretty much how they have to win. Tolu Smith and DJ Jeffries are solid options up front but also aren’t elite players either, which is why this team will probably struggle for much of the season. The defense will be there, this Bulldogs team has plenty of talent on that end, but scoring will be rough at times. Even still, trust Jans to have this team at least competitive in the SEC and who knows maybe they will surprise people and make the NCAA Tournament.
PG: Shakeel Moore
SG: Dashawn Davis
SF: Eric Reed Jr
PF: DJ Jeffries
C: Tolu Smith
Bench: Jamel Horton, Will McNair, Cameron Matthews, KeShawn Murphy. Kimani Hamilton
Losing a program great like Scotty Pippen Jr after a year of not contending is not ideal and leaves Jerry Stackhouse in rebuild mode once again. That said, with some upside pieces and a good freshman class, maybe this Vandy team will do better than expected. Jordan Wright returns hoping to lead the team in scoring, his skill is attacking the rim and scoring. Myles Stute will act as the modern wing, he’s a decent enough defender but is one of the better three-point shooters in the SEC. Trey Thomas will have some guard leadership this year while hoping to break out offensively.
The Commodores turn to the young pieces to help those veteran pieces. Lee Dort is a highly coveted recruit who is athletic and will play significant minutes at the five. Noah Shelby hopes to provide the team with a good long-term option at the point. Colin Smith and Malik Dia will provide extra forward aid stepping in as freshmen. The Commodores also hope to get solid guard play from both Ezra Manjon and Tyrin Lawrence.
This Vanderbilt team is still far away from being in the NCAA Tournament this season. There are no legitimate stars like Scotty Pippen Jr and there are really no elite options as a whole offensively. This feels like a team of good fourth or fifth-best players but the problem is that doesn’t lead to winning. Maybe Wright or Stute can take the next step or Lee Dort can be a draftable player but without that, it’s going to be another disappointing year in Nashville.
PG: Noah Shelby
SG: Trey Thomas
SF: Myles Stute
PF: Jordan Wright
C: Lee Dort
Bench: Ezra Manjon, Tyrin Lawrence, Colin Smith, Malik Dia
Here we go, the final team in the SEC preview is the Georgia Bulldogs, staying in the bottom like last year when they went 1-17 in league play. The Bulldogs do change coaches by getting Florida’s Mike White, while adding plenty of transfers that look to play. Bradley transfer Terry Roberts projects to start at the point where he will be solid as a shooter and scorer. North Texas’ Mardrez McBride will fill a role as a good three-point threat at guard. They also return Kario Oquendo who led the team in scoring a year ago.
Braelen Bridges will fill the center role as a solid interior scoring threat. Continuing on their solid incoming transfer class, Jusaun Holt gives the Bulldogs a potential upside piece after he transferred from Alabama. Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe got squeezed out of the rotation at Oklahoma State but should find a bigger role here. The Bulldogs will hope to get internal improvements from Jaxon Etrer and Jabari Abdul-Rahim.
There are some good pieces on this team, sure, but at the end of the day, Georgia is still going to be a bottom-feeder. For starters, much of their roster is from low to mid-major levels and they also return four key players that were on last season’s team. Finally, this team is coached by Mike White, who consistently underachieved at Florida and while Georgia isn’t Florida, he’s simply not a good coach at this level. All of those make for one likely bottom-feeder in the SEC.
PG: Terry Roberts
SG: Mardrez McBride
SF: Kario Oquendo
PF: Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe
C: Braelen Bridges
Bench: Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Jusaun Holt, Jaxon Etter, Justin Hill
Player of the year: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
Freshman of the year: Nick Smith Jr, Arkansas
Newcomer of the year: Johni Broome, Auburn
Defensive Player of the year: Johni Broome, Auburn
Most Improved Player: Zakai Ziegler, Tennessee
Nick Smith Jr.