All we heard last year about the SEC was about the Renaissance that was occurring in this football-centric conference. However, it never quite materialized. And after spending last season trying to live up to the hype surrounding Kentucky, Ben Simmons, and several high-profile coaching hires, the SEC enters the 2016-17 campaign as one of the weakest and most disjointed leagues in the country.
Here are Doc's Sports 2016-17Southeastern Conference college basketball predictions (with projected odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: Kentucky (-300)
Well, you know the drill: Kentucky lost everybody and added everybody. The Wildcats suffered their annual exodus of guys to the NBA. But they restocked with one of the nation's best recruiting classes and have their new bumper crop of one-and-done guys. I am always a big fan of cohesion over talent. And Kentucky has had some teams flop in the regular season in recent years (although more have had success than not) because guys never got comfortable playing together. Kentucky lost the best backcourt in the country, and unlike past seasons they really don't have those one or two veterans to lean on this year. It is going to be impossible to make any money on this group because Kentucky is one of the most public teams in the country. But I'm just going to defer to Coach Cal and his track record of dominating the SEC.
The Challenger: Florida (+1200)
It isn't the Florida of Billy Donovan but the Gators are starting to get back some of their bite. Mike White looks like he knows what he's doing and has some talent to build around. Florida's biggest issue will be replacing Dorian Finney-Smith, who did absolutely everything for this team last year. But the hope is that some guys that were young and full of potential now step forward as veterans and elevate this team back to the NCAA Tournament. Kasey Hill is woefully overrated, but is a senior three-year starter. Juniors John Egbunu and Devin Robinson are athletic freaks that could really break out. And a key will be the play of grad transfer Canyon Berry, son of Rick Berry. His shooting touch would make a world of difference for a team that was No. 242 in the country in field goal percentage and No. 290 in 3-point shooting.
The Dark Horse: Arkansas (+400)
There is actually a great chance that a non-Kentucky team could win the SEC this year. But it is next to impossible to know who that team could be. I present Arkansas. The Razorbacks are still one of the worst road teams in the country while also enjoying one of the best home court advantages in the nation. Mike Anderson's full-court, all-pressure style is fun to watch but has yielded minimal results. But Arkansas has a lot of athletes that could help them return to the NCAA Tournament this season after a miss last year. Moses Kingsley is an absolutely beast in the post and will average a double-double. Dusty Hannah is one of the top three-point shooters in the country and will provide the air cover. Anderson also roped in two of the best junior college players in the country, Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, and if either (or both) can adjust quickly to the step up in competition then this team could be in business. This team could challenge for the title or finish in 12th place. Welcome to the SEC.
The X-Factor: Georgia (+800)
Wen I first started this preview I had Georgia as "The Disappointment". But the fact is that there are going to be so many disappointing teams in the SEC this year that eventually someone has to be a contender. Mark Fox is an excellent coach that has had to compete with limited talent in Athens. And the talent that does roll through always seems to make absurd decisions about leaving early. This year Fox will lean on J.J. Frazier, a lightning-quick three-year starter, and Yante Maten, who erupted last season in his sophomore campaign. But that's really all we know about the Bulldogs. Everyone else is either a freshman, sophomore, or little-used reserve. The Bulldogs play a methodical brand of hoops, so Fox doesn't need a deep bench. But as good as they are, I have a lot of doubts about how far Frazier and Maten can carry this squad.
The Disappointment: Texas A&M (+650)
Graduation decimated the Aggies this offseason. Departed fifth-year senior forwards Danuel House and Jalen Jones combined for more than half of A&M's offense last year. Seniors Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins did the lion's share of the ball handling, and that quartet logged most of the minutes for last year's Sweet 16 squad. A&M has some nice young pieces to build around, starting with power forward Tyler Davis. Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, fellow sophomores, should be ready to break through and take advantage of their newfound freedom and opportunity. But that's really it. Billy Kennedy has one senior and one junior on the roster. That's all. The rest is made up of young, unproven players that will be jostling for time and opportunities. I think they are going to take a serious step back after last season's outstanding group, and it will take a while for the Aggies to find themselves.
Vanderbilt (+2000) - Kevin Stallings is out and Bryce Drew is in as leader of the Vandy program. The Commodores lost two NBA Draft picks from a team that struggled to get over .500 last year and barely made the NCAA Tournament. Drew does inherit a quality inside-out duo with slick center Luke Kornet and super shooter Matthew Fisher-Davis. But it will be on the new coach to tap into the potential of guys like Joe Toye, Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance. Maybe a new voice is what these guys needed. Or maybe Drew will need to clean house and bring in his own guys. But this cupboard isn't bare.
Mississippi (+1500)- Andy Kennedy has an excellent system in place, and his plug-and-play approach will be tested again this winter. Ole Miss lost the league's best scorer, Stefan Moody, and has just two starters back from last year's surprising 20-win team. Kennedy has done a solid job of developing versatile big men. And this year the onus is on Sebastian Saiz to lead the way for a young, raw frontcourt. Two transfers, Cullen Neal (New Mexico) and Deandre Burnett (Miami), will provide a talent infusion in the backcourt and help make up for the loss of Moody. And they will have to gel with the remaining holdovers, many of whom are juniors and seniors that haven't seen much action, to form a cohesive unit. There will be growing pains. But the Rebels have three guys they can lean on to make a big shot.
Mississippi State (+3000) - Ben Howland is doing serious work on the recruiting trail. Now it is a matter of getting that to translate to wins on the court. Mississippi State went 14-17 last year and lost three of their four best players, including the disappointing transfer of star freshman Malik Newman. Howland retained Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready, two starters last year that are looking to step forward in their sophomore seasons. Howland also added one of the best freshman classes in school history, featuring four Top 100 recruits. The kids are all going to play. And in a league with no dominant, experienced team there's nothing to stop these guys from finding early success.
LSU (+5000) - I'm actually looking to buy low with the Tigers. Everyone has written off this team after their massive flop last season. Ben Simmons wasn't enough in a league that was as good as it had been this decade. But so what? Last year's Tigers had all kinds of issues, including injuries. They could take a step forward thanks to a lack of pressure or expectations. Antonio Blakeney, the less-regarded player in last year's freshman class, looks like a keeper. And Craig Victor gives Johnny Jones a solid building block in the post. That's a good start. But the key will come down to Jones being able to coax something out of a five-man junior class that has essentially been full of bystanders the past two seasons.
South Carolina (+300) - Last year was supposed to be The Year for South Carolina. But the Gamecocks were an NCAA Tournament snub despite a 24-8 regular season mark. Getting over that lingering disappointment will be almost as difficult as overcoming the loss of talent in the frontcourt for Frank Martin's club. USC lost its three best frontcourt players but welcomes back three guards - Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier - with a lot of ability.
Auburn (+1500) - Bruce Pearl is a year or two away from really having things cooking in Auburn. Pearl nabbed two Top 100 recruits for this season and currently has the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation waiting for him next year. In the meantime, Pearl has a rag tag group of misfits that he might be able to piece into something useful this season. Bryce Brown, T.J. Dunans and T.J. Lang are all athletic players capable of double-digit scoring averages. Transfers LaRon Smith (shot blocking) and Ronnie Johnson (distribution) both have specific qualities to be utilized, along with their experience. There are the previously-mentioned freshmen, which includes a potential program-changer in Mustapha Heron. Pearl has the athletes for his preferred frenetic style of play. What he doesn't have is size, and that will catch up with this team. They only have one guy on the roster taller than 6-8 and no one 6-10 or larger.
Tennessee (+2000) - The Volunteers went only 15-19 last year. But I'll be damned if Rick Barnes didn't do one of the best coaching jobs in the SEC. Barnes turned Kevin Punter into an all-SEC player and fielded a super-competitive team against one of the toughest schedules in the country. Barnes is a horrible bench coach but a great recruiter. So it was bizarre to watch him work his magic and keep the Vols competitive all season long. Unfortunately, this year's Vols team is even worse than last year's. And Barnes doesn't have Punter (or Armani Moore) to lean on. This team is going to get worse before Barnes can bring in enough talent to get them back on track.
Alabama (+2000) - Considering the weak roster he inherited, I think Avery Johnson did a great job in his first season at the helm down in Tuscaloosa. Johnson will attempt to take another step forward this year. But he is still in that awkward in-between stage where he doesn't have his own recruits in his system and he's still trying to make things work with holdovers from the previous regime. Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor have the makings of a very good frontcourt, if they can stay healthy. And Riley Norris and Dazon Ingram are intriguing. But Johnson needs to find a backcourt, and there aren't a ton of optionsfor him.
Missouri (+10000) - These guys are a train wreck. Kim Anderson has gone 19-44 in his two years in Columbia, and this could honestly be his worst team yet. Five of their top seven scorers from last year's 10-21 group flew the coop. I see exactly zero impact transfers or freshmen ready to pick up the slack.
Projected SEC Standings:
6. Texas A&M
8. Mississippi State
9. South Carolina
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unmatched streak of 10 straight winning nonconference seasons and 10 straight winning regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked $16,800 last year alone and $28,900 over the past three seasons. Robert has raked in a remarkable $68,200 in the last 10 years with his nonconference picks (November and December) alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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