The top SEC MBB storylines heading into Media Day
PowerMizzou will head to Birmingham, Ala. for the SEC men's basketball Media Day set to take place Wednesday. Here are the top storylines of the conference as the season approaches:
Is Kentucky back on top?
After a three-year stretch without an NCAA tournament win (one caused by Covid, two caused by poor play), the Wildcats appear to be ready to compete for the national title again. They return 6-foot-9 senior center and reigning consensus National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and All-SEC Second Team point guard Sahvir Wheeler along with a pair of high-level athletes in senior and sophomore forwards Jacob Toppin and Daimion Collins.
Head coach John Calipari unsurprisingly brought in another stellar freshman class, adding a pair of top-15 recruits in 6-foot-4 guard Cason Wallace and 6-foot-6 wing Chris Livingston. CJ Fredrick, a career 46.6% shooter from deep who transferred from Iowa in 2021, will also finally get to make his debut for Kentucky after missing all of last season with a hamstring injury.
It all adds up to a roster talented enough to make a deep run in the postseason. The team will need to perform much better than the past two seasons to live up to its potential.
What can Arkansas accomplish with a star-studded class of newcomers?
Following back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Eric Musselman might have his team on the cusp of something more.
Though the Razorbacks head coach returns just two players from last year’s squad, he replenished the roster by signing six top-150 recruits, rated as the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. The group is headlined by 6-foot-5 lead guard Nick Smith, a consensus top-3 player in his class, but top-25 wings Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh may be called upon for roles in the starting lineup right away.
Musselman also turned to the transfer portal to fill in the remaining gaps. Former Missouri forward Trevon Brazile and former Wichita State guard Ricky Council IV figure to see major minutes in Arkansas. Arizona State forward Jalen Graham and Rhode Island twin bigs Makhi and Makhel Mitchell will get playing time, too.
With just one returning starter in junior guard Davonte Davis, Musselman’s biggest challenge will be getting all of the new faces to mesh together. If he can, the Hogs could earn their first conference championship in over 20 years.
Who else could contend for an SEC crown?
Last season, Alabama was sixth in the country in 3-point attempts per game and 303rd in 3-point percentage. That can’t be the case again if the Crimson Tide want to be at the top of the league. Nate Oats will lean on incoming freshman guard Jaden Bradley and forward Brandon Miller, a pair of transfer guards in Mark Sears from Ohio and Nimari Burnett from Texas Tech, and expect more out of returning sophomore post Charles Bediako. Senior guard Jahvon Quinerly, recovering from an ACL tear, is expected to be ready to play sometime in December.
Auburn could defend its regular season championship, returning its starting backcourt of Wendell Green and KD Johnson. Bruce Pearl also brings in highly-rated freshman wing Chance Westry and forward Yohan Traore along with Morehead State transfer big man Johni Broome. The Tigers will need players to step up on both ends of the court without Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler around this season.
Tennessee has to replace Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson, but Rick Barnes brings back several veteran players, including a trio of starting guards in Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler. Senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua will get his shot in the starting lineup after backing up Fulkerson last year. Returning senior center Uros Plavsic will be an important piece in the frontcourt as well. With the wealth of experience, the Volunteers can afford to bring five-star freshman forward Julian Phillips along at a leisurely pace.
Florida looms as a darkhorse with All-SEC big man Colin Castleton serving as a tentpole for a slew of transfers to operate around, such as St. Bonaventure guard Kyle Lofton, Belmont guard Will Richard and LSU forward Alex Fudge. Bringing the Gators back to prominence in his first season at the helm will be a tall order for Todd Golden, though.
How will Texas A&M build off its NIT run?
The Aggies proved their mettle after getting snubbed from the NCAA tournament, finishing as runner-ups in the NIT. The goal this year will be to get over the hump and earn a ticket to the big dance.
Buzz Williams gets four of his starters back in junior forward Henry Coleman, senior guard Tyrece Radford and sophomore guards Wade Taylor and Manny Obaseki. He also added two-time AAC Defensive Player of the Year Dexter Dennis, Michigan State post Justin Marble and Arkansas guard KK Robinson.
If Texas A&M picks up where it left off last season, it could be a threat to the rest of the league..
Can GG Jackson keep South Carolina out of the SEC’s basement?
Jackson was originally committed to North Carolina and had a chance to be rated as the Class of 2024’s No. 1 recruit. Instead, the Columbia, S.C. native chose to stay home, reclassifying to play this season and signing with the Gamecocks.
The 6-foot-9 forward will be asked to do everything for his team, as the rest of South Carolina’s roster isn’t at Jackson’s caliber. He’s also likely a one-and-done prospect — in his most recent mock draft, Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report had Jackson going with the ninth overall pick.
Still, Jackson could provide a promising start for Lamont Paris’ tenure as the Gamecocks’ head coach.
Which first-year head coaches can make an immediate impression?
In addition to Golden and Paris, four other head coaches are stepping into their first year with a new team: Mike White at Georgia, Matt McMahon at LSU, Chris Jans at Mississippi State and Dennis Gates at Missouri.
The group will be fighting an uphill battle in attempting to guide their respective programs to an NCAA tournament berth in their inaugural season, especially with a large amount of roster turnover. But there could be an opportunity for one or two to creep into the top half of the conference.
Each coach will hope to get off on the right foot in Year 1.
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