As college basketball addicts count down the days to the start of the college basketball season, the window for preseason content is shutting. This past off-season in college basketball was probably the most exciting that I have seen in a while. All starting with the new transfer rule, thousands of players put their names in the transfer portal. It was interesting from the beginning, but when several top players went in, it gave people things to talk about.
Some teams have had a better off-season than others, which leads to the point of this article. Looking at recruiting classes, transfer portal pick-ups, and overall roster construction, I had a tough time picking between the Big Ten or the SEC. In a toss-up fashion, the SEC has enough talent within the league to be the most exciting to watch next season, here is why I ended up taking the SEC over the Big Ten.
Kentucky Will Bounce Back in 2022
The Wildcats were surprisingly below average in 2020-21, finishing with an overall record of 9-16 (8-9). That being good for eighth in the conference, 2021-22 should be a bright spot for head coach John Calipari. After struggling to shoot the ball last year, Calipari jumped into the transfer portal to grab some outside presence.
With Cal having a great recruiting history, he lands two shooters from outside of the SEC. One being Davidson’s Kellan Grady, who nearly shot 40% from deep on nearly seven attempts per game. If landing one shooter isn’t enough, Calipari also grabs Iowa’s CJ Fredrick from the portal as well. Fredrick is a spot-up shooter, when it goes up it is most likely going in. Kentucky also got the SEC’s best passer in Sahvir Wheeler who transferred in from Georgia.
The offense was a struggle for the Wildcats last season, and the focus was on that specifically this off-season. Not only did John Calipari make a splash in the transfer portal, but he also brings in a top-10 recruiting class to Lexington. Highlighting their 2021 class is five stars TyTy Washington, and Daimion Collins. As well as four-star, Bryce Hopkins.
Kentucky ranked 220th in offensive rating last season. I do not think it will be a problem this year.
Eric Musselman has Arkansas Sniffing a Championship
What we were able to see from the Razorbacks last season is a lot of what you will see again this year. Even though Moses Moody and Jalen Smith left for the NBA, Arkansas has the talent to fill those shoes. Just like John Calipari did, Eric Musselman made a statement in the transfer portal. The new transfer ruling gave coaches plenty of options when it comes to players.
Musselman went guard-heavy in the portal, grabbing four guards who will all make an impact for the Razorbacks. Stanley Umude and Chris Lykes are just a couple of players that you will see at Arkansas. Last season with Miami, Lykes averaged 15.5 points per game, while shooting over 45% from deep. Stanley Umude is a physical guard who is transferring over from South Dakota. He brings in just as much offensive talent that you could ask for, as well as being able to rebound with his 6’6″ frame.
I can talk all day about the potential of this Razorback team given the recent success and very promising future with Eric Musselman running things in Fayetteville. The coaching staff will have room to play around with different line-ups and sets with the versatile group that they have. Arkansas will be one of the most exciting teams to watch around the country.
Tennessee Loads Up on Young Talent
The Vols ended last season with a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the always dreaded 12-5 match-up. This year is going to look much different. With last year’s early exit in the rear-view mirror, Rick Barnes is looking to chase the top spot in the SEC once again.
Tennessee brings in an outstanding 2021 class that holds seven recruits. Kennedy Chandler and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield highlight the prospects as five-stars. Not only does the recruiting class for the Volunteers give them a look at taking back the top of the SEC, but the return of Victor Bailey Jr and John Fulkerson also gives the team a boost with experience. Victor Jr and Fulkerson were two of the top-four scorers on Tennessee last season.
Mississippi State, Auburn are Both Sleepers
Talking about the teams above takes away from touching on the great summers that Mississippi State and Auburn had, especially in the transfer portal. It seems like the trend in the SEC is to take advantage of the new transfer rule, which is the reason why the SEC is going to be so much fun to watch this season.
Starting with Mississippi State, the Bulldogs ended up finishing the 2020-21 season in ninth place in the SEC. Head coach Ben Howland is looking to make a jump this season with the new additions from the transfer portal. Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts is one of the players that lands in Starkville, looking for a fresh start outside of the Michigan State program. Some of the other transfers include NC State’s Shakeel Moore, North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks, and Memphis’ DJ Jeffries. This Bulldog roster can sneak its way into the top half of the conference in 2022.
Next is the Auburn Tigers. When it comes to college basketball season, never count out Bruce Pearl. Losing two of your three top scorers from a season ago is always a tough pill to swallow. Auburn easily fills those gaps and more with its additions from inside the transfer portal. Pearl brings in K.D. Johnson from Georgia, Wendell Green from EKU, and Zep Jasper from Charleston to help with the departures of Sharife Cooper and Justin Powell.
One of the biggest impacts on the team is not going to come from the back-court. North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler will be the biggest impact coming in. The Tigers are in strong need of a presence down on the block, and Kessler can give them just that. The 7’1″ sophomore showed his length and agility late in the season, which will transfer to Auburn in 2021-22.
LSU, Alabama Will Be at the Top Again
Just like Arkansas and Tennessee, Alabama and LSU are both going to have loaded rosters to where there should be no doubt that they will finish in the top-five of the conference. Will Wade did a nice job on the recruiting trail, not only getting high-end high school talent but getting that same talent in the transfer portal. Highlighting the Tiger recruiting class is five-star Efton Reid. Out of the transfer portal, Illinois transfer Adam Miller and Missouri’s Xavier Pinson gives the Tigers experience in the back-court, as well as Miller giving the team tournament experience alongside returning player Darius Days.
Alabama took a hit with the news that Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett is going to be out for the season with a knee injury. Even with the injury to Burnett, who was hoping for a jump this season, Alabama will not be hurting. Nate Oats returns his top two scorers from a season ago, Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly. Not only that, Alabama has a top-15 recruiting class coming in, highlighted by 5-star JD Davison.
Both of these teams are going to be fun to watch, especially since there is a standard that these will be two of the best teams in the conference, both are going to have the same type of season as last year.
The SEC seems to be one of the places that the transfers flocked to. This is what will make the conference so fun to watch this season. A lot of coaches within the SEC took advantage of the new transfer rule that led over 1,800 players to put their names into the portal. There are a good five or so teams that will be in consideration for a chance at the SEC regular-season title. Seven teams that I can name now are Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn, and Mississippi State.
The conference is locked and loaded and ready for a college basketball season like no other.
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