2015-16 NCAAB Previews – SEC
Despite Kentucky losing seven players to the NBA Draft, Kentucky remains the favorite to repeat as SEC Champs. They bring back just two players who played significant minutes plus Alex Poythress who will be returning from a knee injury. Of course, John Calipari has a new group of freshmen set to take over the program. But who is next in line the SEC? There are a handful of high quality basketball teams in this conference and there will be a few more finding their way into the NCAA Tournament.
So as good as last year’s Kentucky team was, they didn’t win the National Championship as everyone remembers. Although Calipari insisted all season long that it wasn’t National Championship or bust, no one really believed that. Once again, the Wildcats should be right in the mix for the National Title. The difference this year is that they aren’t necessarily expected to win it.
With the group of players that Calipari had last season, everyone – and rightfully so – expected the Wildcats to win the whole thing. That isn’t the case this year. While they are expected to be right in the mix with the top teams in the country, they aren’t the favorite to win it all. This could take some pressure off of them – making the Wildcats even more dangerous.
Despite all of the pressure last season, Kentucky didn’t falter. They didn’t lose until the Final Four to a very talented and disciplined Wisconsin team. So with pressure removed and the leadership of Poythress returning, Kentucky is poised to be one of the best teams in the country once again.
While the pressure will be off and they still have the talent, they won’t be near the level of last year’s team. At least from the start they won’t. There will be some growing pains for Calipari’s bunch as they welcome freshmen Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Briscoe to join Poythress and Marcus Lee and Tyler Ulis.
But these are some really good basketball players. And the platoon system will be gone. Those are the eight that will see the floor and those are the guys that will try to take this team to yet another SEC title. But, there will be some teams with something to say abut that.
Despite losing Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, LSU brings back a core of solid scorers and welcomes freshman phenom Ben Simmons. Simmons is the top ranked freshman in the country and should live up to the expectations. They’ll also get Antonio Blakeney who decommitted from Louisville just shortly after giving a verbal commitment. LSU will also get Arizona transfer Craig Victor at the end of the first semester.
This group should build upon last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance. Simmons will be a stud and should join the Kentucky players who have followed the one-and-done path. He should have an instant impact and by the time conference play gets going, he’ll have adapted to the college game.
This will be a fun team to watch as they should put up a ton of points. They could match up interestingly with Kentucky as they have a handful of guys that can score the ball. The discipline and inexperience of these kids could be what holds them back.
Talent alone though should have this team in the top 25 throughout the season and presenting an outside challenge to Kentucky to win the regular season conference title.
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies finished tied for third in the SEC last season and welcome a strong recruiting class this season. They will return their top three scorers Danuel House, Jalen Jones, and Alex Caruso along with freshmen DJ Hogg, Admon Gilder, Elijah Thomas, and Tyler Davis. All four were highly recruited and gave the Aggies one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
They’ll also get Kobie Eubanks after the first semester whom will be a big addition to their depth. The depth of scoring options could only become a problem if they can’t share the ball but the offensive production shouldn’t be lacking for the Aggies.
The question for these other teams in the SEC last season wasn’t about competing with Kentucky; it was about getting to the NCAA Tournament and hoping they could pick up some wins. This is a little bit of a different year. Sure, Kentucky is loaded up but teams like the Aggies will have something to say about it.
Billy Kennedy’s team might be one more year away from it but if the freshmen develop quickly and the team meshes well, the Aggies could surprise a lot of people.
After Kentucky, LSU, and Texas A&M, there are some teams that could compete for NCAA Tournament spots. Vanderbilt is one of those teams. They likely won’t present a real threat to take the SEC Title but they’ll pick up their fair share of conference wins.
The Commodores will welcome back six of their top seven scorers from last season. Vanderbilt sports a frontline of depth that includes three 7-footers.. THREE. While height doesn’t always translate to talent at this level, that type of length cannot be ignored. Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, and Josh Henderson could provide some issues for some of these other guard heavy teams in the SEC.
If those big three can develop a formidable inside presence, teams will have a very difficult time scoring in the paint and grabbing those second chance points. While Vanderbilt isn’t the type of team to go light up the scoreboard, their defense could disrupt the flow of other teams and help them win a decent string of games.
Despite losing some of their key frontcourt players, the Georgia Bulldogs could have the backcourt to keep themselves relevant. After an NCAA Tournament appearance, Mark Fox’s team will look to build on that success.
Georgia lost forwards Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic who gave them 23.2 points and 12.5 rebounds per game between the two of them. The hope is that freshman Derek Ogbeide will be able to step in and make up for some of the losses.
The addition of Ogbeide and a few other freshmen could have the Bulldogs facing some growing pains early on. The returning members of the backcourt could ease that process though. Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann both have the ability to be the team’s go-to scorer. J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker should add some depth for the Bulldogs that will need to use the experience and depth of their guards to compete in the SEC.
With Kentucky and the other challengers leading the top of the conference, a reasonable expectation for Georgia is to be in a similar spot to last year – right around the bubble. If the frontcourt losses can’t be replaced, the Bulldogs could find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble after being on the right side last year
Remaining Teams Odds
• Kentucky -135
• LSU +250
• Texas A&M +500
• Vanderbilt +750
• Georgia +750
• Ole Miss +1000
• Mississippi State +1000
• Auburn +1500
• South Carolina +1500
• Florida +2000
• Alabama +2000
• Missouri +5000
• Tennessee +5000
• Arkansas +5000
SEC Conference Prediction
Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite but Calipari’s squads have struggled from time to time to replace a big group of departing players. They should be right in the mix at the top of the rankings by the end of the season. But, LSU and Texas A&M should be right there too. The safe bet is Kentucky at -135 but it might not be worth the premium. There are enough talented teams in the conference that the Wildcats could lose some games. Texas A&M at +500 is a pick with a ton of value as their depth of talent – particularly in the frontcourt – will win them a lot of games.
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