SEC Offseason Report: Power Rankings and Burning Questions for 2019-20
As the midpoint of college basketball’s offseason approaches, it’s time to check in on every major conference. Every team in the country has questions at this point of the summer, some more pressing than others. So in addition to power ranking each league, we’ll be asking some burning questions about the conference that won’t be answered until tip-off. With the AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12 all down, we saved the best for last: the SEC.
SEC Summer Power Rankings
1. Kentucky: The Wildcats’ weaknesses (namely, outside shooting and proven production up front) may not look much different from the 2018–19 team’s, but there’s just too much talent coming in to knock them off their preseason pedestal.
2. Florida: With five-stars Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann coming in and Andrew Nembhard back for a sophomore year, the Gators already looked like they had enough firepower to beat anyone else in the league on a given night. Then they won the Kerry Blackshear Jr. graduate transfer sweepstakes and became a conceivable Final Four contender.
3. LSU: The defending regular season champs weathered the Will Wade-induced storm that was last spring and came out the other end with five of their top eight scorers from last year intact.
4. Auburn: Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke’s early departures for the NBA draft will sting, but don’t expect March’s magical Final Four trip to alter Bruce Pearl’s message. Samir Doughty should be the new leader of the Tigers’ bombs-away offense.
5. Alabama: Nate Oats is off to a sensational start in Tuscaloosa, having sold transfer portal testers Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty on his up-tempo offense and welcomed in former five-star prize Jahvon Quinerly, who is applying for an immediate eligibility waiver after a turbulent year at Villanova.
6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will start a new year with the same number of Weatherspoons they finished last season with: Quinndary is off to the NBA, and his younger brother Nick is back with the chance to redeem himself for a suspension that ended his season in February. He and rising sophomore forward Reggie Perry will carry the load in Starkville.
7. Tennessee: The core of last season’s Sweet 16 team is gone, and it will be up to senior guards Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden (and coach Rick Barnes, too) to head off a letdown and prove the Vols are still willing to scrap with anyone.
8. Ole Miss: Kermit Davis’s debut season was a sweeping success even in light of the Rebels’ late spring fade, and he will have the SEC’s leading returning scorer in Breein Tyree at his disposal for year two.
9. Georgia: Five-star shooting guard Anthony Edwards is the most exciting player to come through Athens in a long time. Even if the Bulldogs devolve into a one-man band, they should be able to improve upon the three wins they registered after New Year’s Day last season.
10. Arkansas: Just like he did at Nevada, new head coach Eric Musselman is loading up on transfers, with four already in the fold in his first offseason on the job. That strategy may not prove as sustainable in a high-major league as it was in the Mountain West.
11. South Carolina: Remember when the Gamecocks earned the fourth seed (and the final double-bye) in the SEC tournament simply by winning every game they were supposed to? Wild times. Frank Martin’s job is about to get a lot tougher without do-everything forward Chris Silva.
12. Texas A&M: Luring Buzz Williams away from a top-25 Virginia Tech team and back to his home state was a coup, and the return of leading scorer and rebounder Savion Flagg was good news, but the Aggies aren’t the league’s safest bet to make a big leap forward in year one under a new head coach.
13. Missouri: The Tigers have the size and depth to pose some matchup problems, but there are a lot of unknowns on a team pieced together with youngsters and newcomers around junior center Jeremiah Tilmon. If Cuonzo Martin stays in Columbia beyond this season, it’ll be the longest tenure of his head coaching career. Each of his first three jobs ended after three years.
14. Vanderbilt: Jerry Stackhouse will not suffer the no-shows the Commodores turned in down the stretch of their historic 0–18 conference play showing. But beyond leading returning scorers Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith, it’s hard to find many players on this roster who could start for any other SEC team right away.
How good will Kerry Blackshear Jr. make Florida?
Accurately described as “the biggest known quantity on the [player movement] market” by SI’s Dan Greene, Blackshear has been dropped into a conference where there just aren’t many players like him after the departure of productive interior forces like Daniel Gafford, Chris Silva and Grant Williams (and yes, we’re aware those are examples from all across the skill-set spectrum). After giving the rest of the ACC chronic headaches, he should provide a game-changing level of production for the Gators, who landed safely in the bottom half of most of the league’s offensive leaderboards. If none of Kentucky’s big men show significant growth early on this fall, you can go ahead and nudge Florida up a rung on the above power rankings before league play starts.
What's the ceiling for Nate Oats's Alabama debut?
The Avery Johnson-era Crimson Tide could beat or get beat by anybody on any given night, and that roller coaster grew tiresome in Tuscaloosa. Enter Oats, who picked up where Bobby Hurley left off at Buffalo and fielded a high-flying team that could have ventured much deeper in the tournament if it had not drawn the eventual runner-up in the round of 32. Setting aside the great unknown that is Quinerly’s ceiling (should he be eligible), Lewis and Petty are two electrifying scorers, and the players set to fill in around them can approximate the Bulls’ amorphous offense until Oats establishes proof of concept and starts recruiting to his system. In the meantime, there’s plenty of reason to be exciting about this winter in Tuscaloosa.
Should LSU brace for ripple effects from the Will Wade saga?
Arizona stuck with Sean Miller through a tumultuous 2017–18 season, then went into the tank last year after a significant talent drain and a recruiting class that couldn’t make an instant impact, even in a down Pac-12. The outlook seems to be a little rosier in Baton Rouge. The Tigers’ draft departure list could have been a lot longer, and the versatile backcourt powered by local kids Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays could be one of the league’s best. Wade has also kept the blue-chip recruits coming, beating out Memphis, Alabama and more for power forward Trendon Watford. The NCAA is still sniffing around, but LSU’s Sweet 16 run proved it can produce on-court results amid off-court intrigue.
Will Kentucky's new five-star arsenal fit together?
The Wildcats’ opening-night pantsing at the hands of Duke dramatically altered how outsiders viewed their 2018–19 season. Kentucky handled its business against non-tournament teams with less drama than usual (losing only to Alabama on the road), and while it takes a lot of projection to get fired up about the return of big men Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery, scrappy guard Ashton Hagans could be in for a special season as a sophomore. His defensive work ethic should free up combo guard Tyrese Maxey and wings Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang to focus on playmaking. This group may get the nation’s attention a little earlier than last year’s Elite Eight squad did.
Will Anthony Edwards be the next No. 1 pick to miss the tournament?
Zion Williamson snapped a three-year streak of No. 1 overall picks who had been non-factors in the previous March. (Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz missed the tournament altogether, and Deandre Ayton’s Arizona team was bounced by Buffalo in the first round. Anthony Edwards has the talent to hear his name called first next June, but Nic Claxton’s decision to stay in the NBA draft pool left a group of upperclassmen that accounted for just 29.3% of the starts from Tom Crean’s first team coming back for 2019–20. That sounds like the recipe for some five-star hero-ball, a hit-or-miss way to win enough games to get the committee’s attention. Edwards & Co. get an early-season showcase at the Maui Invitational, where Michigan State looms in the second round.
Will Vanderbilt win a conference game?
O.K., maybe the window has passed to pile on the Commodores, who entered the season with two five-star freshmen and were booed off their home court late in their winless free fall through SEC play. (Then again, maybe it hasn’t. Going 0–18 against anyone is hard to do.) But let’s use this question as an entry point into the depth of the league, which was impressive last year and should be even better this year. Kentucky and Florida can do more than dream of a Final Four trip. Auburn and Alabama are going to have solid Top 25 cases. Defending conference champ LSU is probably going to be slept on until it’s too late again after losing Tremont Waters and Naz Reid to the pros. The league’s bottom half is now stocked with sought-after head coaches, a decorated group in which Jerry Stackhouse, who was considered to be a rising-star NBA assistant, sticks out as the lone greenhorn. If Vanderbilt does make it out of the basement, it will have earned it, because no one in this league is treading water.