Last season the SEC had a successful season. They sent two teams to the NIT and seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The conference also sent one team to the Final Four for the first time since 2017. That team was none other than Sir Charles Barkley’s beloved Auburn Tigers. The Tigers were a questionable foul call away from reaching the National Title game but fell to eventual Champions Virginia 63-62. The regular season was won by LSU as they won their first conference title since 2009. This season who can be the next Auburn and make a run to the final four?
Top half of the league
The LSU Tigers won the SEC regular-season title for the first time since 2009. This season was a surprise as the previous LSU went just 18-15 and missed the NCAA Tournament. They were led by guard Tremont Waters who averaged 15.3 points per game along with 5.8 assists. The Tigers made a run to the sweet 16 before being ousted by Michigan State 80-63. The Tigers return five starters as well as securing the 32nd ranked recruiting class led by Trendon Watford. The Bayou Bengals will look to return to the dance for the second straight season. LSU comes into the season ranked 22nd.
The Vols made a run to the tournament led by head coach Rick Barnes. Led by eventual NBA players Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Grant Williams Tennesse made it to the Sweet 16 where they were defeated by Purdue in overtime 99-94. The Vols won 31 games which were the most since 2008. While Tennessee did lose three players to the NBA they return key players and secured the 31st ranked recruiting class. This class will feature Josiah Jordan James who will look to fuel the Tennessee attack. They will be younger but look for Tennessee to make a third consecutive trip to the big dance.
The Cats under coach John Calipari returned to the tournament for the sixth straight season. In what has become the norm Kentucky featured a mostly freshman starting five. Tyler Herro evolved into a star talent as the Miami Heat would select him in the first round. A young team that found its stride the Cats advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Auburn 77-71 in overtime. In comes, the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class poised to make a big impact. Kentucky is almost a lock to get to the tournament.
They enter the season ranked second overall and took down top-ranked Michigan State in the Champions Classic 67-62 at Madison Square Garden.
Fresh off the team’s first-ever Final Four appearance the Tigers are back looking to finish the job. After an amazing run that saw Auburn take down North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas the Tigers fell one point shy of the title game. However, head coach Bruce Pearl has done wonders for this program in the five years he’s been there. Auburn won 30 games for the first time in school history. They bring in the nation’s 20th ranked recruiting class led by Isaac Okoro. The team enters the season ranked 24th and opened the season November 5th at home with a 83-74 win over Georgia Southern.
The Gamecocks had a weird season, to say the least. They went 11-7 in the conference including a 5-1 start. But overall the team went just 16-16 which canceled any hopes of getting to the tournament. Carolina will look to rebound this season under sixth-year coach Frank Martin. With a strong recruiting class and veteran players led by A.J. Lawson, the Gamecocks will look to find their way back into the tournament.
The Bulldogs turned in a great season finished 23-11 and making the NCAA tournament. However, they were upset by 12 seed Liberty in the first round 80-76. In what will be a top-heavy SEC the Bulldogs will look to be that surprise team in the conference. Despite losing three players from last year’s team the Bulldogs have a host of solid returning players. Led by Nick Weatherspoon who is suspended for the first 10 games of the season but will return to start the Bulldogs will look to make a second consecutive trip to the big dance.
Ole Miss returned to the tournament for the first time since 2015 last year. They were however blown out by Oklahoma in the first round 95-72. Despite the set back this season was a step in the right direction for the Rebels. They saw an eight-win increase from the previous season. Kermit Davis returns for his second season after winning SEC Coach of the year. A Veteran team that will be led by Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler the Rebels will look to make a second consecutive trip to the tournament.
Bottom half of the league
The Gators finished last season 20-16 however they were able to make it to the NCAA tournament. They defeated Nevada in the first round before losing to Michigan in the second round. This season the Gators enter the season ranked number six and have Final Four aspirations. Head Coach Mike White has a balanced team that should easily exceed last season.
Led by Kerry Blackshear Jr and Andrew Nembhard the Gators will look to take over the SEC. They opened with a 74-59 victory over North Florida on November 5th.
Last season the Tide wen 18-16 and just 8-10 in conference. They were invited to the NIT Tournament where they lost in the first round to Norfolk State.Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough as fourth-year Head Coach Avery Johnson was fired. The team made just one tournament appearance during his tenure. Everyone is waiting for the Tide to make that leap and that should happen as Nate Oats comes in. Oats led the Buffalo Bulls to several successful seasons including a 32 win season last year. A very balanced roster led by Kira Lewis this is a team that could exceed expectations and make some noise in the SEC.
The Razorbacks finished tied for ninth place with Alabama with an identical 18-16 (8-10) record. Arkansas made it to the NIT where they were defeated in the second round by Indiana. The team is going in a new direction as Mike Anderson was fired after eight seasons. In comes new head coach Eric Musselman who comes over from Nevada. The team lost star player Daniel Gafford to the NBA but there is still a lot of young talent on the roster. Isaiah Joe was selected to the Pre-Season 2nd team All-SEC team. While this is expected to be an average season look for the Razorbacks to make it back to the dance within the next few seasons.
The Aggies were coming off a great season the year before as they had reached the sweet 16. However, they suffered through a down season going just 14-16 and missing out on postseason play. Another team moving on from their coach Billy Kennedy was fired after eight seasons. Injuries and losing four of five starters certainly didn’t do him any favors. Entering this season Buzz Williams will take over after four seasons at Virginia Tech. Savion Flagg, T.J Starks, Jay Jay Chandler, and Josh Nebo will all be returning. A young team the Aggies will look to surprise people and return to postseason play.
The Tigers struggled to find success last season as they finished 15-17 (5-13). Head coach Cuonzo Martin enters his third season and will look to get Mizzou to the tournament for the second time under his tenure. The expectations are not high for Missouri however they could potentially excel. Mark Smith looks to lead the Tigers in his second year with the program. He averaged 11.3 points per game last year for the Tigers.
The Bulldogs are in rebuild mode. Second-year head coach Tom Crean is looking to get Georgia back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. Georgia went just 11-21 (2-16) last season. This year the Bulldogs are led by five-star recruit and NBA hopeful in Anthony Edwards. The Dawgs pulled in the nation’s number 10 recruiting class and don’t be surprised if they make a run to the tournament this year.
Looking at Vanderbilt really nothing went right for them last season. They were the first SEC team to go winless in conference play sine 1954 and the first team ever to go 18 games without a conference win in a season. Things got even worse when Darius Garland who was the best player to ever sign with Vanderbilt injured his knee early in the season and missed the rest of the year. On top of that Byrce Drew was fired. With Garland gone the good news is that there is nowhere to go but up for Vandy. New coach Jerry Stackhouse is looking to get this team back on track. Led by Aaron Nesmith the Commodores are looking to tack on a few more wins this season.
Players to watch
- Kira Lewis Jr – Alabama
- Anthony Edwards – Georgia
- Kerry Blackshear – Florida
- Isaiah Joe – Arkansas
- Aaron Nesmith – Vanderbilt
- Tyrese Maxey – Kentucky
- Savion Flagg – Texas A&M
- Ole Miss
- Mississippi State
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
The SEC this season could very easily see between 8-10 teams reach the tournament. With a lot of star talent throughout the conference, it will be very competitive. In addition, look for Georgia and Ole Miss to potentially be sleeper teams that could excel. Furthermore, both Kentucky and Florida begin the season in the top six and have their eyes set on the Final Four.