The end of 2022 nears, and today begins conference play in the SEC. The conference is poised to be one of the more competitive conferences, at least at the top. Despite having six teams make the NCAA Tournament a season ago with four teams earning top-16 overall seeds, the SEC struggled in the dance.
Its regular season and conference champions, Auburn and Tennessee, fell in the Round-of-32 while six-seeds Alabama and LSU fell in the first round, and, of course, Kentucky’s loss to Saint Peter’s will never be forgotten. It was Eric Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks who shined brightest for the SEC, advancing to the Elite Eight, beating top seed Gonzaga in the process, before ultimately falling to Duke.
As for this season, many teams are returning prominent contributors to their successes of a season ago and are already reaping the benefits from another year of experience, other teams have completely revamped but are set to make noise, and six programs: Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, and South Carolina, are all ushering in new regimes under new coaches.
For the top end teams, this is going to be as physical and competitive as any conference in the country, but the closer towards the bottom you go, the bottom almost falls out. It’s been a brutal non-conference start for most of those middle-of-the-pack teams. Florida fell flat in a tough non-con slate. Ole Miss and Texas A&M racked up some embarrassing losses to low-major programs while Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina find themselves gasping for air already. With that being said, let’s get into a breakdown of all 14 squads in the Southeastern Conference.
Coach: Rick Barnes
2022 record: 10-2
NET Ranking: 3
Old Faces (returning contributors): Santiago Vescovi (Sr.), Jonas Aidoo (So.), Zakai Zeigler (So.), Olivier Nkamhoua (Sr.), Jahmai Mashack (So.), Josiah-Jordan James (Sr.), Uroš Plavšić (Sr.)
New Faces (contributors): BJ Edwards (Fr.), Julian Phillips (Fr.), Tobe Awaka (Fr.)
Old Face, New Place (transfers): Tyreke Key (Grad.) from Indiana State
Best Wins (KenPom): 5 Kansas | 64-50 (N), 22 Maryland | 56-53 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 48.7 eFG% (232), 19.9 TO% (243), 38.3 Off Reb% (1), 38.3% FTA/FGA (45)
Def. 4 Factors: 37.1 eFG% (1), 26.5 TO% (3), 28.3 Off Reb% (168), 32.8% FTA/FGA (229)
KenPom Projection: 14-4
Tennessee is coming into the 2022-23 season having won the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1979, and their quest in building off of that into a regular season title this season is largely fueled by their experience and dominating defense.
Tennessee’s loss of freshman phenom Kennedy Chandler was countered by adding forward Julian Phillips, a five-star, top 15 freshman in the 2022 class. Phillips thus far this season has been the Vols’ leading scorer on what’s otherwise been an offensively hindered bunch.
Tyreke Key, a graduate transfer from Indiana State, has proven to help this team’s much needed guard depth. Key missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and while he’s been shaking off the rust early this season, he’s given Vols fans a glimpse at what he could be as a scoring threat.
The Vols get back four of their top five scorers from a season ago, and getting back Vescovi and especially Josiah-Jordan James make this team more than just a contender to win the SEC.
Offensively, it has been a struggle thus far, and those struggles seem to compound into the same stretches of scoreless droughts that we’ve become accustomed to seeing. While getting everyone healthy at once has also been a task, that’s no excuse for a team that primarily scores from three or around the rim to be struggling so mightily in those areas. There isn’t a go-to guy on this roster, and unless Triple J ascends into that or Phillips comes on as he gains confidence, I do worry about this end of the court.
Surprisingly, on a team with so much veteran contribution, freshman Jalen Phillips has been the steady hand as James has missed five games while Vescovi has missed a pair. Guard play has been inconsistent as Zeigler adjusts to a starting role and Key gets his footing under him both at a power conference level while just getting back on the floor again.
I expect the three point woes to work themselves out as Tennessee moves away from Barclays and ballrooms and back into the confines of collegiate gyms, especially their own.
Defensively, this may be the best unit Rick Barnes has had in his time in Knoxville. Thus far, Tennessee ranks first in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency rating and first in 3-point percentage against at 20.1%. They also rank second among power conference schools in defensive turnover percentage at 26.5%, and third in steal percentage at 15.7%, and the teams above them have not played anywhere near the schedule the Vols have. They were a great defensive team last year, but this year, that side of the ball may just be what breaks down Rick Barnes’ invisible glass ceiling into the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Tennessee’s bench players provide the defensive suffocation this team predicates itself on. Jonas Aidoo and Jahmai Mashack’s growing number of minutes from a season ago are a big need from this team. Aidoo is this team’s only true rim protector, and Mashack may be this team’s best pure on-ball defender, and that’s saying something when this team has Zakai Zeigler.
While the offensive woes will likely work themselves out due to the challenging and unique environments, I don’t think they’ll see that on the defensive end as much. They create turnovers and contest shots better than most anyone else in the country, and they’re able to assert their will physically at all positions. I expect this to be a big season on Rocky Top.
Coach: John Calipari
2022 record: 8-3
NET Ranking: 32
Old Faces (returning contributors): Oscar Tshiebwe (Sr.), Jacob Toppin (Jr.), Sahvir Wheeler (Sr.), CJ Fredrick (Sr.), Daimion Collins (So.), Lance Ware (Jr.)
New Faces (contributors): Cason Wallace (Fr.), Chris Livingston (Fr.), Ugonna Onyeso (Fr.), Adou Thiero (Fr.)
Old Face, New Place (transfers): Antonio Reeves (Sr.) from Illinois State
Best Wins (KenPom): 48 Michigan | 73-69 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 52.7 eFG% (78), 17.5 TO% (90), 37.6 Off. Reb% (12), 28.8% FTA/FGA (225)
Def. 4 Factors: 45.4 eFG% (36), 19.4 TO% (147), 27.0 Off Reb% (111), 25.1% FTA/FGA (62)
KenPom Projection: 12-6
Kentucky’s 2021-22 season ended with a loss to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament and a loss to 15-seed Saint Peter’s in the NCAA Tournament. This most recent tournament defeat continues a now six year stretch of no Final Fours, and Kentucky hasn’t won a tournament game since the 2018-19 season. For a coach and a program that ran college basketball during the early 2010’s, this is incredibly uncharacteristic.
With a plethora of contributors from last season’s squad returning for another go and a top four ranking to begin the season, it was safe to say they were out to avenge that loss, but it’s not exactly been that. They’ve lost all three of their premiere games against Michigan State, a down (comparatively) Gonzaga team, and UCLA.
Wooden Award winner Oscar Tshiebwe is back for his senior season. NIL is doing wonders in Lexington, and he rightfully deserves it. After dealing with a nagging knee injury that cost him a couple games early on, his recent return to the lineup has provided Kentucky a much needed boost heading towards the new year.
No one hits the transfer portal quite like Cal, and this season, five of this team’s top six scorers are all, at one point, transfers. Tshiebwe from West Virginia, Toppin from Rhode Island, Wheeler from Georgia, and Fredrick from Iowa have all been plucked out of the portal in recent years, but it’s newcomer Antonio Reeves from Illinois State that has been able to extend the defense as the team’s best three point shooter, making 48.2 percent of his treys. Reeves has reached double figures in eight of Kentucky’s nine games, and since he cracked the starting lineup, he’s averaging 14.8 points per game on 52.4 percent from three.
If Kentucky wants to make the leap, a lot of that rides on getting more from Jacob Toppin moving into SEC play. A lot more is on his plate this year, going from under 20 minutes per game as a bench player a season ago to averaging nearly 30 as a starter. He has a 20-point double-double in 21 minutes against North Florida, but he’s also gone missing in Kentucky’s lone two losses this season against Michigan State and Gonzaga. Any level of offensive consistency out of him is a major boost for this team.
As always, it wouldn’t be a Calipari team without impact freshmen. Sahvir Wheeler continues to be this team’s point guard, but it seems as if Cason Wallace has been given a bit more of the reins lately. He’s been Kentucky’s most efficient scorer early in the season as his 61.5 effective field goal percentage ranks just outside the top 100 in the country. The combo guard not only has been UK’s best shooter, knocking down 50% of his threes, but he’s a very gifted defender as well. This team runs smoother when Wallace runs the offense.
Speaking of good defenders, fellow freshman Chris Livingston out of Akron, Ohio, provides an immediate spark off the bench. His shot will come as he gains more confidence, but his impact on the defensive side of the ball has been immediately felt.
This feels like a make or break year for Kentucky. They’re returning so much talent that it’s almost imperative that they’re successful, yet they haven’t shown the juice. Their
It’s been a weird down period in the Calipari era. They recruit, of course they do, but since he signed that “lifetime” contract, the drop-off has been noticeable to Kentucky’s expectations. They’ll get immediately tested in SEC play in the new year, going to Alabama and Tennessee just a week apart.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Coach: Nate Oats
2022 record: 10-2
NET Ranking: 8
Old Faces: Charles Bediako (So.), Jahvon Quinerly (Sr.), Noah Gurley (Sr.)
New Faces: Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney, Jaden Bradley, Rylan Griffen
Old Face, New Place: Mark Sears (Jr.) from Ohio, Nimari Burnett (So.) from Texas Tech
Best Wins (KenPom): 44 Sparty | 81-70 (N), @ 1 Houston | 71-65, 20 N. Carolina | 103-101 (N), 27 Memphis 91-88
Off. Four Factors: 51.7 eFG% (114), 21.9 TO% (322), 37.3 Off Reb% (14), 41.2% FTA/FGA (23)
Def. Four Factors: 43.1 eFG% (15), 15.7 TO% (328), 26.0 Off Reb% (89), 29.7% FTA/FGA (150)
KenPom Projection: 12-6
Much like Kentucky, Alabama is looking to put last season deep in a forgotten vault after capping off a roller coaster of a season with a 14-point defeat against 11-seed Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament. Nate Oats seems to have this version of his team trending in the right direction thus far. They play exactly how Nate Oats teams have played for as long as he’s been a coach. His patented heavy three-point volume offense is finally matched by better defense this year, making this team a more uptempo and efficient three-and-D team than last year’s squad, and it’s largely been sparked by the newcomers.
Brandon Miller is looking like the best freshman in the country. Standing at 6-foot-9, he’s become as dynamic and unguardable as any player in America. He’s averaging 20.1 points per game, the high mark for all freshmen in Division-I, while shooting over 45% from three. Though he struggled in Alabama’s win over Houston, he’s responded with 24 points against Memphis and 36 against Gonzaga. His length greatly helps him defensively as well.
Transfers Mark Sears and Nimari Burnett have helped this team in different ways. Sears is this team’s second leading scorer while Burnett provides necessary off-ball guard depth.
Among the other freshmen, Jaden Bradley and Noah Clowney have made impacts in different areas. Bradley has helped alleviate the lesser play of Jahvon Quinerly as he works his way back from injury. He has been efficient from the field as well as a good facilitator. As for Clowney, he’s nearly averaging a double-double. He’s been a glass cleaner defensively, and having he, Bediako, and Miller on the court at once gives them three players 6-foot-9 or taller that teams have to defend.
Speaking of Charles Bediako, the Canadian sophomore has been terrific inside for the Tide, ranking in the top 60 in the country in block rate while being a top 25 rebounder on the offensive glass. He excels in areas that compliment this team’s style perfectly on both ends. Blocks get one of the fastest tempo teams in the country out in transition while offensive rebounds reload shooters along the outside for a team that shoots the second-most threes among power conference teams.
If this team has an achilles heel this season, it will revolve around turnovers. They turn the ball over more than any other power conference school, and in turn, they don’t force a lot of turnovers on the defensive end. While the latter is less concerning just due to their style of play, averaging nearly 17 turnovers per game is still a cause for concern early on.
Nate Oats made a pointed effort to shoot better and, more so, play better defense. He publicly loathed the effort of last year’s team, and they ranked in the bottom 50 in three-point percentage. This year, they’ve played one of the toughest schedules thus far, but they’re shooting much better from deep this season, and their defensive metrics are matching the noticeable uptick in effort. Oats recruited an excellent class and hit the portal hard to help build this team, and he’s reaping its benefits heading into SEC play.
Coach: Eric Musselman
2022 Record: 11-1
NET Ranking: 10
Old Faces: Jalen Graham (Sr.), Davante Davis (Jr.), Kamani Johnson (Sr.)
New Faces: Nick Smith, Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh, Joseph Pinion, Barry Dunning, Derrian Ford
Old Face, New Place: Ricky Council IV (Wichita St.), Trevon Brazile (Missouri), Jalen Graham (Arizona St.), Makhi Mitchell (Rhode Island)
Best Wins (KenPom): 26 SDSU | 78-74 (N), 33 Oklahoma | 88-78 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 53.8 eFG% (53), 17.4 TO% (83), 28.1 Off Reb% (201), 40.0% FTA/FGA (31)
Def. 4 Factors: 45.9 eFG% (42), 25.6 TO% (9), 23.2 Off Reb% (25), 33.2% FTA/FGA (237)
KenPom Projection: 12-6
Through eight games, Arkansas looked to be one of the top three teams in the country, but in the first half of their game against UNC Greensboro, worst case scenario struck when Trevon Brazile tore his ACL. Brazile had been averaging 13.3 points per game with three 20-point outings, and he had been leading the team in rebounding. Since then, the injury bug has continued to bite the Razorbacks.
Musselman had his hands full putting a team together for this season. With extreme roster turnover from last season, the Muss Bus rolled hot on the recruiting trail and in the portal and did a tremendous job building this season’s roster.
Thus far without Brazile, Arkansas rallied to win their last three, but their depth is going to be tested heading into SEC play. Without Brazile, a lot of Arkansas’ versatility takes a big hit, but now it becomes about seeing who steps up.
Keep eyes on Jalen Graham. The fourth year, 6-foot-9 forward out of Phoenix has had weird usage this season, but in the four games he’s logged over 10 minutes of action, he’s averaging 10.8 points per game on 73.1% from the field. He doesn’t quite have the versatility of Brazile, but his length will be of great use against a rather tall SEC.
Ricky Council IV has proven to be a terrific addition through the portal, leading the Hogs in scoring at 18.3 points per game. Freshman Nick Smith had played well, but he’s out indefinitely as Arkansas manages a knee issue he has.
Health willing, even without Brazile, this is as dangerous a team as Musselman has had in Fayetteville. A 2022 Auburn-esque run through the SEC seems plausible with this squad.
THE FRINGE CONTENDER
Coach: Bruce Pearl
2022 Record: 10-2
NET Ranking: 27
Old Faces: Wendell Green (Jr.), KD Johnson (Jr.), Allen Flanigan (Sr.), Jaylin Williams (Sr.), Chris Moore (Jr.), Dylan Cardwell (Jr.), Zep Jasper (Sr.)
New Faces: Chance Westry, Tre Donaldson, Yohan Traore
Old Face, New Place: Johni Broome (Morehead St.)
Best Wins (KenPom): 45 Northwestern | 43-42 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 50.1 eFG% (171), 20.1 TO% (255), 37.0 Off. Reb% (16), 38.7% FTA/FGA (42)
Def. 4 Factors: 42.9 eFG% (14), 20.8 TO% (74), 31.3 Off. Reb% (268), 32.0% FTA/FGA (214)
KenPom Projection: 11-7
The 2022 edition of Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers won’t look terribly different from last year’s team, but it will be minus their two best players from a season ago. Gone are Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, and that squarely puts more of the offensive workload onto the shoulders of Wendell Green and KD Johnson.
Insert Johni Broome. The Morehead State transfer stands at 6-foot-10 and was the OVC’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, and alongside Jaylin Williams, they have alleviated some of that pressure off the guards thus far and given Auburn a more balanced offensive attack.
Both Williams and Broome are vital scoring pieces in this weird chess board for Auburn. Both are bigger bodies averaging double figures, and Williams’ ability to score wherever on the court with a 6-foot-8, 230 pound frame makes him the ultimate X-factor for this offense.
Back to those guards. Auburn are the reigning regular season SEC champions, but they slide into the fringe contenders category because of their erratic guard play. We saw a handful of times last season when this team’s guard play on the offensive end lost them games. They shoot a lot, but when shots aren’t falling, that doesn’t change their approach. KD Johnson had ten games a season ago where he attempted 9-plus field goals and shot under 40% from the field. Wendell Green had nine such games.
Defensively, Auburn is still good, especially in the backcourt, but they don’t have Jabari Smith’s ridiculous combination of backcourt defensive abilities warped into a 6-foot-10 frame, and they lack a Walker Kessler inside turning away 20% of the shots he sees. They’re still creating a lot of turnovers, but if that defense can’t lead to subsequent offense, it gets wasted.
Auburn’s two losses thus far have been to a good Memphis team and USC, a fringe top-50 squad. Green and Johnson combined for 8-of-24 against Memphis, including 1-of-11 from three, and 0-for-9 from the field against USC, albeit Green was trying to play on a bad ankle.
Should Auburn seek the same success of a season ago, Allen Flanigan reaching the level he was at pre-achilles injury would be the reason why. However, if Auburn can’t find a way to get more out of their bench depth, especially Yohan Traore, while continuing to spread the rock on offense, it could be a bit of a down year for them. Their defense will keep them in games, and it’s hard to imagine them losing many home games, but struggling to score will bite any good team.
‘The Disruptors’ are the two teams that probably won’t win the SEC regular season crown but will likely play a hand in deciding who else doesn’t either. Those teams are Mississippi State and Missouri. This area is usually where you find the “low ceiling, high floor” teams who wind up making the field of 68 in March due to a few big wins in conference play or make deep runs in their conference tournaments.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Coach: Chris Jans
2022 Record: 11-1
NET Ranking: 26
Old Faces: Tolu Smith (Sr.), Shakeel Moore (Jr.), DJ Jeffries (Sr.), Cameron Matthews (Jr.),
New Faces: KeShawn Murphy, Shawn Jones, Kimani Hamilton
Old Face, New Place: Tyler Stevenson (So. Miss), Dashawn Davis (Oregon St.), Will McNair (NM St.), Eric Reed (SE Missouri St.), Jamel Horton (Sr.)
Best Wins (KenPom): 27 Marquette | 58-55 (N), 50 Utah | 52-49 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 48.3 eFG% (244), 19.2 TO% (195), 38.2 Off. Reb% (6), 29.6% FTA/FGA (207)
Def. 4 Factors: 41.9 eFG% (9), 24.3 TO% (20), 27.7 Off. Reb% (142), 19.1% FTA/FGA (6)
KenPom Projection: 10-8
When Mississippi State decided to move on from Ben Howland despite marginal success, it was met with some raised eyebrows. Who could they possibly go get that could raise this program’s floor? Enter Chris Jans.
Jans was the head coach at New Mexico State in the ever-flailing WAC and won 110 games across the last four full seasons with them, including three tournament appearances and a first round victory over UConn in last year’s tournament. Jans also coached at Bowling Green prior to New Mexico State before getting terminated.
Speaking about Jans just on the court, he’s a defensive minded coach, and that’s evident with this Mississippi State squad that has surprised everyone early on, getting out to an 11-1 start and cracking the Top-25 poll.
The Bulldogs lost two of their best players from a season ago in Iverson Molinar and Garrison Brooks, but they were able to add a lot of depth through the portal that bolstered what this team’s identity will be. This team is also returning four upperclassmen who have seamlessly woven into the fabric of what Jans wants to do.
They play slow and create a lot of long possessions for opposing offenses, defending for the entire 30-seconds, and generating a lot of bad shots and steals late in the shot clock. They rank top 30 in three-point percentage against, block rate, and steal rate.
The worry about this team is on the offensive end. They shoot the three poorly, don’t convert their free throws, and if it’s not Tolu Smith or Dashawn Davis, this team struggles to efficiently score. This team reminds me a lot of Iowa State last season. Their elite defense raises the floor and will likely allow them to pull off a few big wins in conference play to bolster their tournament résumé, but their offensive struggles shrinks their ceiling, leading to losses to teams they should beat, such as Drake, who ended State’s 11-0 unbeaten start.
This team is either going to hover around .500 in SEC play with a few big wins over the Tennessee’s, Kentucky’s, Alabama’s, and Arkansas’s of the conference, or they’re going to bottom out. It likely will be that extreme.
Coach: Dennis Gates
2022 Record: 11-1
NET Ranking: 40
Old Faces: Kobe Brown (Sr.), Ronnie DeGray (Jr.), Kaleb Brown (So.)
New Faces: Aidan Shaw
Old Face, New Place: Isiaih Mosley (Missouri St.), DeAndre Gholston (Milwaukee), D’Moi Hodge (Cleveland St.), Noah Carter (Northern Iowa), Sean East (Bradley), Tre Gomillion (Cleveland St.), Nick Honor (Clemson),
Best Wins (KenPom): 31 Illinois | 93-71 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 59.0 eFG% (2), 16.9 TO% (61), 31.5 Off. Reb% (100), 25.9% FTA/FGA (295)
Def. 4 Factors: 51.3 eFG% (217), 26.5 TO% (4), 35.7 Off. Reb% (347), 31.9% FTA/FGA (212)
KenPom Projection: 9-9
Well...who saw this start coming?
Missouri is off to a hot start under new coach Dennis Gates, and they capped off their non-conference schedule with an unexpected beatdown against Illinois, 93-71. Prior to the Illinois game, the very obvious take on this team was that they haven’t beaten anyone, and that’s fair. Prior to the Illinois win, Mizzou had just one win against a KenPom top 75 team against UCF, but that changed against Illinois in a hurry. Now with SEC play upcoming, Missouri opens at home against Kentucky, hoping to build off a whirlwind of momentum behind them.
Dennis Gates came over from Cleveland State, and with him came D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion. Gates was a longtime assistant under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, helping build a consistent ACC contender there.
Missouri lost nine players via the portal following the coaching change from Cuonzo Martin to Gates, most notably Trevon Brazile to Arkansas. However, senior stretch four Kobe Brown is back following second-team all SEC honors and is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per game. He’s gone from a 23.6% three point shooter over his first three years at Missouri to 44.4% from deep this season, a major development not just in his game, but in the team’s overall shift of style.
Missouri has completely revamped their brand of offense under Gates. Last year, Missouri lived inside the three point arc largely because they had to. Just 32.6% of their shots came from behind the arc, and oof...were they bad at making them (they ranked 355th in 3PT%). That has changed so much it’ll give you whiplash. With Gates at the helm and a full roster revamp, that’s done a 180. From one of the slower teams in the country a season ago, Missouri is top 25 in tempo, and 76.9% of Missouri’s shots are coming at the rim or behind the arc, fully buying into the ‘threes > twos unless they’re high percentage’ style of play, and this team shoots the three really well. It’s a totally different team in every facet.
D’Moi Hodge perfectly encapsulates this style. He’s shooting just shy of eight threes per game, making them at a 42.4% clip. In fact, of the four Tigers shooting at least three threes per game, three of them are shooting north of 37%.
Will Missouri be humbled a bit going from a relatively weak non-conference schedule to the grueling SEC? Definitely. However, the expectations for this team have shifted. Their depth is going to be tested all conference season long, but walking into Mizzou Arena is going to be a tough day of work for even the best of teams this season.
The ‘Bubble Boys’ of the SEC, for lack of a better term, are the two teams who sit in the 60-85 NET range that will need strong wins in conference play to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament, whether it’s because they struggled in their non-conference opportunities to bolster their résumé (Florida), or because their record may be inflated due to poor competition and lack of quality wins (LSU). The middle of the pack in the SEC had a brutal non-con showing, and the likelihood this conference gets more than six teams in the field right now is low.
Coach: Todd Golden
2022 Record: 7-5
NET Ranking: 65
Old Faces: Colin Castleton (Sr.), Kowacie Reeves (So.), Myreon Jones (Sr.), Jason Jitoboh (Sr.), CJ Felder (Sr.)
New Faces: Riley Kugel
Old Face, New Place: Trey Bonham (VMI), Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure), Alex Fudge (LSU), Will Richard (Belmont)
Best Wins (KenPom): @ 150 Florida St. | 76-67
Off. 4 Factors: 51.2 eFG% (132), 16.0 TO% (27), 25.4 Off. Reb% (274), 33.8% FTA/FGA (105)
Def. 4 Factors: 47.2 eFG% (87), 18.6 TO% (191), 23.5 Off. Reb% (31), 27.8% FTA/FGA (113)
KenPom Projection: 9-9
After Mike White left Gainesville for Athens, Florida found themselves in the driver’s seat to land San Francisco head coach Todd Golden. Golden led the Dons to the NCAA Tournament, breaking a 24 year drought. Now he takes over for a Florida program that has become a bit stagnant and needs a spark to re-light the fuse.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, Florida had reached the Elite Eight four times in the previous seven seasons, once advancing to the Final Four. Since then, Florida has been bounced in the Round-of-32 in all three of their tournament appearances and hasn’t been seeded higher than sixth.
Colin Castleton is back for his senior season, leading the Gators in scoring, averaging 15.8 points per game to go with 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Golden’s biggest breakthrough so far with Castleton has been in the pick-and-roll game. Castleton is very good when he’s moving through space and has excelled in that role so far this year.
Kowacie Reeves has made a nice leap in his sophomore season as Florida’s best wing player, averaging 9.9 points per game while shooting 43.2% from beyond the arc.
The transfer portal was where Bolden spent much of his time, and he grabbed some necessary experienced talent to build this season’s roster. Thus far, Trey Bonham and Will Richard have provided the biggest boosts offensively. Richard was a major get for Florida and is averaging 10.7 points per game while knocking down 45.9% of his threes. Bonham has become this team’s point guard moving through their non-conference schedule, and since taking over as the starter, he’s averaging 13.5 points per game while shooting 41.5% from deep.
Elsewhere, Florida is going to need more from transfer Kyle Lofton if they want to have success in SEC play. He has occasionally flashed the scoring ability that led to 1600 points at St. Bonaventure, but he’s no-showed a few of Florida’s biggest non-conference games while playing significant minutes.
Before the season Florida was seen as a team with a chance to make noise in the SEC. That all feels up in the air following a disappointing non-conference performance. Defensively, it’s been very up and down, and though they played their best defensive game against Oklahoma last week, their offense disappeared down the stretch as a once double-digit lead evaporated. Castleton is clearly the guy who captains this team’s production, but consistency from their guards will steer their ship, and if they aren’t able to get that in a league with very quick, physical guards, it could be a long first conference season for Todd Golden and co.
Coach: Matt McMahon
2022 Record: 11-1
NET Ranking: 81
Old Faces: Justice Williams (So.), Mwani Wilkinson (Jr.)
New Faces: Jalen Reed, Tyrell Ward
Old Face, New Place: KJ Williams (Murray St.), Adam Miller (Illinois), Justice Hill (Murray St.), Trae Hannibal (Murray St.), Cam Hayes (NC St.), Derek Fountain (Miss. St.), Kendal Coleman (Northwestern St.)
Best Wins (KenPom): 83 Wake Forest | 72-70 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 53.1 eFG% (68), 18.9 TO% (172), 30.7 Off. Reb% (131), 33.4% FTA/FGA (113)
Def. 4 Factors: 47.7 eFG% (101), 21.9 TO% (53), 27.4 Off. Reb% (123), 27.0% FTA/FGA (95)
KenPom Projection: 6-12
Another newbie to the Southeastern Conference, Matt McMahon has taken over the helm in Baton Rogue as, at long last, the Will Wade era is over. While LSU sits at 11-1 heading into conference play, it comes with a pretty big caveat. They’ve played one team inside the NET top 80, and it was a two point loss on a neutral court to Kansas State, 61-59, thus why they sit here and not higher up.
With McMahon becoming the next Murray State coach to take a bigger level job, LSU brought in a trio of Racers alongside him. 6-foot-10 big man KJ Williams is the primary name of that group as he leads the Tigers in scoring (19.3) and rebounding (8.3) while being one of the more efficient scorers in the country thus far.
Offensively, this team has a lot of production to replace. Virtually the entire team hit the portal from a season ago after the firing of Wade, but it appears that McMahon has done a solid job putting together a team capable of scoring. We already touched on Williams, but Adam Miller has become a notable offensive contributor, one that, if he can provide consistent buckets, could make LSU that bubble caliber team. Miller started white hot, averaging 16.9 points per game over LSU’s first eight games, shooting 39.7% from three before shooting 9-of-45 over the next four games. Him regrouping and being closer to that player from the first eight games is integral for this team.
LSU has a chance to blossom as the season progresses as their insane roster revamp has led to seven transfers playing significant minutes, leaving them a season’s worth of time to figure out how to gel. I’m not a strong believer in this team’s defense. They don’t generate the rate of turnovers you’d expect considering they’ve faced just two offenses in the top 125 in adjusted offensive efficiency rating, and they’re not close to prolific enough offensively to counteract it. This feels like a growing year for an LSU program trying to get back on the straight and narrow.
THE LOST BOYS
Here lay the souls of the damned already. It would take a miraculous, herculean effort for the remainder of these teams to rebound and build themselves into a strong SEC competitor and to be a tournament hopeful.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Coach: Buzz Williams
2022 Record: 7-5
NET Ranking: 104
Old Faces: Wade Taylor (So.), Tyrece Radford (Sr.), Henry Coleman (Jr.), Manny Obaseki (So.), Hayden Hefner (Jr.), Andre Gordon (Sr.)
New Faces: Solomon Washington
Old Face, New Place: Julius Marble (Michigan St.), Khalen Robinson (Arkansas), Dexter Dennis (Wichita St.), Andersson Garcia (Miss. St.)
Best Wins (KenPom): @ 122 DePaul | 82-66
Off. 4 Factors: 49.9 eFG% (178), 18.2 TO% (130), 35.9 Off. Reb% (23), 47.1% FTA/FGA (8)
Def. 4 Factors: 49.5 eFG% (159), 22.8 TO% (34), 30.2 Off. Reb% (228), 42.2% FTA/FGA (336)
KenPom Projection: 7-11
I may be getting ahead of myself, but I never saw the promise surrounding this team that some SEC media did coming into the year, and coming off a brutal non-conference schedule that saw them fail to win a game against a top-100 team, including losses to Murray State and Wofford, I’m out. This team has been a collective disappointment starting at the top, and they won’t burn me again.
Buzz has some interesting pieces, but this team just isn’t set for the gauntlet they’re set to endure in SEC play this time around. They’ll serve as a vulture against the worse teams beneath them, but outside of that, this team doesn’t score or defend well enough to pick off those top tier teams in the conference.
Wade Taylor is a hooper, though. The sophomore point guard has gone from a complimentary sixth man who ran the offense that wound up starting at the end of the season as a freshman to the straw that stirs the drink this year. He’s locked in from three which has been a big step in his growth, going from a 28% shooter to 37.3%, his assist rate is up, and his turnover rate is down as a starter. Taylor excels at drawing contact and getting to the line, something this team overall does very well.
A season ago, A&M should have made the field of 68, but their biggest drawback from reaching the tournament was they scheduled incredibly soft in the non-con and couldn’t get enough done in conference play despite reaching the SEC Tournament final. This season, it was much of the same, but instead of going 11-2 in their non-con with one top 40 win, they went 7-5 with none. They have a very big mountain to climb and will likely need 11 wins in SEC play to make it.
OLE MISS REBELS
Coach: Kermit Davis Jr.
2022 Record: 8-4
NET Ranking: 91
Old Faces: Daeshun Ruffin (So.), Matthew Murrell (Jr.), James White (So.), Jaemyn Brakefield (Jr.), Robert Allen (Sr.), Tye Fagan (Sr.)
New Faces: Amaree Abram, TJ Caldwell, Malique Ewin
Old Face, New Place: Josh Mballa (Buffalo), Myles Burns (Loyola New Orleans), Theo Akwuba (Louisiana), Jayveous McKinnis (Sr.)
Best Wins (KenPom): vs. 41 FAU | 80-67
Off. 4 Factors: 49.5 eFG% (199), 19.7 TO% (231), 38.1 Off. Reb% (7), 30.6% FTA/FGA (178)
Def. 4 Factors: 45.9 eFG% (43), 20.6 TO% (79), 30.4 Off. Reb% (240), 23.9% FTA/FGA (42)
KenPom Projection: 8-10
This is year five for Kermit Davis Jr, and for all intents and purposes, this is a make or break season for him. This program hasn’t reached a tournament since Davis’ first season there in 2019, and it’s been a trio of disappointing finishes since then.
A season ago, Ole Miss was playing in a lot of close games in SEC play, but they were losing many of them en route to a 4-14 finish in the conference. Davis had been doing what Andy Kennedy wasn’t able to, and that’s recruit. Daeshun Ruffin and Matthew Murrell were top 50 grabs from their respective classes, and both Amaree Abram and Malique Ewin were fringe top 100 freshmen this season.
This team should be a lot better on paper this season than last, but losing games to North Alabama don’t solidify that to any degree. Daeshun Ruffin is easing his way back into things after a knee injury took almost all of last season from him. Once he gets back into the full swing of things, this team could be primed to knock off some names in the conference.
For this team, I say look at the bigger picture. North Alabama is a really bad loss, but this team is much closer to the version that beat a very good FAU team and lost by four to a very underrated Oklahoma squad. They’ve not been great offensively but have been solid and opportunistic on defense. If a team is going to break out of the ‘The Lost Boys’, it just might be Ole Miss, and not because I think they will, but because they have to.
Coach: Mike White
2022 Record: 9-3
NET Ranking: 131
Old Faces: Kario Oquendo (Jr.), Braelen Bridges (Sr.), Jabri Abdur-Rahim (Jr.), Jailyn Ingram (Sr.), Jaxon Etter (Sr.)
New Faces: KyeRon Lindsay
Old Face, New Place: Terry Roberts (Bradley), Justin Hill (Longwood), Mardrez McBride (North Texas), Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (Oklahoma St.), Frank Anselem (Syracuse), Jusaun Holt (Alabama)
Best Wins (KenPom): 103 Notre Dame | 77-62 (N)
Off. 4 Factors: 49.4 eFG% (205), 21.7 TO% (313), 36.2 Off. Reb% (21), 34.9% FTA/FGA (80)
Def. 4 Factors: 46.7 eFG% (73), 19.4 TO% (151), 25.4 Off. Reb% (67), 23.1% FTA/FGA (31)
KenPom Projection: 6-12
When Mike White left Florida for Georgia, it felt like a slam dunk for the Bulldogs. Coming off the Tom Crean era that was a major disappointment, Mike White feels someone who can come in and immediately instill a level of competency and competitiveness to a program that’s desperately needed it for years. Sure, White underachieved by Florida’s standards, but those aren’t the standards at Georgia.
With Crean out and White in, Georgia lost seven players to the portal, and frankly, it’s probably in the program’s best interest that it shook out that way. It let White bring in transfers of his own to run his style of play, and it’s already paid dividends.
Terry Roberts and Justin Hill have provided some sturdiness at guard while senior guard Kario Oquendo has provided efficient scoring from deep, a big improvement for him from last season.
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe has been a very solid transfer, shooting a healthy 73.3% from the field, almost exclusively in the paint, and his 15 points against Notre Dame on 100% shooting led the way for Georgia’s best win.
As for conference play, expectations are rightfully tempered. This is year one for a coach who had modest success at a much better program. Mike White is going to turn this around slowly but surely, he’s a good coach, but it likely won’t be overnight and definitely not this season, but the wheels are definitely kicking into motion.
Coach: Jerry Stackhouse
2022 Record: 6-6
NET Ranking: 147
Old Faces: Liam Robbins (Sr.), Jordan Wright (Sr.), Tyrin Lawrence (Jr.), Myles Stute (Jr.), Trey Thomas (Jr.), Quentin Millora-Brown (Sr.)
New Faces: Colin Smith, Malik Dia, Lee Dort, Paul Lewis, Noah Shelby
Old Face, New Place: Ezra Manjon (UC Davis), Emmanuel Ansong (Green Bay)
Best Wins (KenPom): vs. 69 Pittsburgh | 75-74
Off. 4 Factors: 49.5 eFG% (200), 19.4 TO% (209), 30.3 Off. Reb% (145), 28.4% FTA/FGA (237)
Def. 4 Factors: 47.8 eFG% (105), 16.7 TO% (300), 26.3 Off. Reb% (98), 32.0% FTA/FGA (215)
KenPom Projection: 5-13
With Vanderbilt returning six key contributors from a season that saw their first top 70 KenPom finish since 2017, bigger things were expected from this team despite losing Scottie Pippen Jr. However, a 6-6 non-conference start with the SEC gauntlet staring them down leaves little hope that this team can come close to replicating their success of a season ago.
The seat is warming for Jerry Stackhouse, and though he brought in a trio of four-star freshmen this season (Smith, Shelby, Dort), their impact thus far has been somewhat limited. Colin Smith is averaging double-digit minutes as a bench three-and-D option, but the three hasn’t been there, nor have minutes for the other freshmen.
Seven-footer Liam Robbins is healthy and playing well, and Stackhouse is riding with his upperclassmen, understandably so, but this team needs something fresh to break its early season’s stagnation and potentially keep Stackhouse off the hot seat.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Coach: Lamont Paris
2022 Record: 6-6
NET Ranking: 273
Old Faces: Chico Carter (Sr.), Jacobi Wright (So.), Josh Gray (Jr.), Ford Cooper (Sr.)
New Faces: GG Jackson, Daniel Hankins-Sanford, Zachary Davis
Old Face, New Place: Hayden Brown (The Citadel), Meechie Johnson (Ohio St.), Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (Illinois)
Best Wins (KenPom): vs. 61 Clemson | 60-58
Off. 4 Factors: 46.5 eFG% (297), 19.7 TO% (226), 34.8 Off. Reb% (32), 25.2% FTA/FGA (306)
Def. 4 Factors: 52.7 eFG% (261), 16.6 TO% (301), 28.2 Off. Reb% (163), 23.9 FTA/FGA (44)
KenPom Projection: 3-15
South Carolina is pretty clearly the worst team in the SEC. They were blown out by Colorado State by 32, lost to Furman by 19, George Washington is ranked 224 in KenPom and they lost to them by 24.
They’re bad, and that’s with lottery pick GG Jackson on the roster. I don’t think this team is on 2012 Utah Watch (2012 Utah finished 302 in KenPom and is the only school in a power conference to finish in the 300s), but they’re going to be flirting with the 250s.