As the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season draws closer, ESPN.com’s panel of professionals is predicting the order of finish for the nation’s prime conferences. We’ve currently looked at the mid-majors, American, Pac-12, Big East, and Big Ten. Now our concentrate turns to the SEC.
Anyone nonetheless believing the SEC is only a football conference hasn’t been paying consideration to the preseason hype in men’s hoops. The similar 5 teams are ranked in the prime 20 in each the AP poll and at KenPom: Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn and Alabama.
The final time you saw John Calipari’s Wildcats, they suffered a shocking upset in overtime at the hands of No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the round of 64. Now reigning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe is returning, along with adequate veterans (Sahvir Wheeler, Jacob Toppin), prime recruits (Chris Livingston, Cason Wallace) and important transfers (CJ Fredrick from Iowa and Antonio Reeves from Illinois State) to make the Wildcats a common Final Four choose after once more.
Then once more, they will have their function reduce out for it in a deep SEC. Arkansas probably has the league’s prime NBA draft choose in 5-star recruit Nick Smith Jr., although Tennessee returns a number of veterans from a group with 1 of the finest defenses in the nation final season.
All of the above teams are hungry, mainly because Alabama (2021) and Auburn (2022) have won the final two SEC titles outright. Let’s tip off 2022-23.
Myron Medcalf: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
Jeff Borzello: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
John Gasaway: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
Joe Lunardi: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
Medcalf: Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
Borzello: Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
Gasaway: Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
Lunardi: Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
Lunardi: If I had to bet a mortgage payment now, without having seeing a minute of any game, Kentucky would be my choose for the national championship. The Wildcats have the Player of the Year favourite along with other confirmed veterans. They also have the usual quick contributors coming in (but not also numerous so as to need a lengthy acclimation period). And, of course, they have the “chip on their shoulder” issue primarily based on final season’s ignominious NCAA tournament exit.
Gasaway: Start with the truth that Kentucky is the initial men’s group in 40 years to have a returning Wooden Award winner. That’s a superior jumping-off point for any rotation, and Tshiebwe projects to wreak havoc on the SEC after once more with his rebounding and putbacks. One query will be outdoors shooting. Calipari’s incoming transfers, Fredrick and Reeves, are anticipated to support there, and they had much better — returning Wildcats produced just 20 3s final year.
Borzello: I feel the Wildcats will be in the Final Four and national championship conversation come March — even though they had been also in that mix final season, prior to some late-season struggles and in the end, of course, the shocking upset at the hands of the Peacocks. But Tshiebwe is a game-changer on the interior and Wheeler is 1 of the finest point guards in the nation. Above all, I feel Toppin’s functionality will be important. He was a standout on the team’s preseason trip to the Bahamas, with a mix of length, explosiveness and inside-outdoors scoring capacity unmatched by any individual else on the roster. If he hits his possible.
Medcalf: I feel Calipari understands the stakes about this season and will do all the things in his energy to attain the Final Four. I also feel Tshiebwe will capture an additional Wooden Award and stick to Ralph Sampson as the only two-time winner. And he has adequate of a supporting cast to get the Wildcats back to exactly where their fan base believes they belong each year. But I’m nonetheless concerned about their three-point shooting. Kentucky hasn’t hit additional than 36% of its three-pointers given that 2016. Three of the previous 4 national champions all topped 39%. Does Kentucky have the shooters to win it all? We’ll locate out.
Arkansas is stacked with 3 prime-15 freshmen, like projected prime 5 draft choose Nick Smith Jr. How a lot of a challenge does this present to Eric Musselman, who previously utilized transfer-heavy rosters to attain back-to-back Elite Eights?
Complete highlights from our exhibition win more than Rogers State pic.twitter.com/9DovTRVP6j
— #ten Arkansas Razorbacks Men’s Basketball 🐗 (@RazorbackMBB) October 25, 2022
Gasaway: Musselman’s been the maestro of transfers all the way back to his days at Nevada. Now he’ll have to muddle by way of with elite recruits. Poor Musselman! No, really. Arkansas will be fascinating to watch. This roster, like transfers Ricky Council IV (Wichita State) and Trevon Brazile (Missouri), is each very talented and (virtually) all new. It reminds 1 a bit of Kentucky rosters of yore, when Calipari was churning by way of 1-and-dones. If Musselman gets the level of D that final year’s band of veterans played, this group seriously will be particular.
Borzello: Impact transfers are distinct from 5-star recruits, specifically when all 3 — Smith Jr., Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh — are projected initial-round picks. But Musselman has been in a position to mix and match all sorts of rosters, and I feel he’ll locate a way with this ultra-talented group as nicely. Brazile could possibly be the breakout player on this group. The Missouri transfer completed final season on a tear and has been earmarked for large points in the frontcourt this season. Aside from chemistry, the factor to watch early on in Fayetteville will be three-point shooting. Who on this roster can regularly make shots?
Medcalf: I imply, Auburn had a bunch of talented young players, like Jabari Smith Jr. final season, and looked like it had Final Four plans till it ran into that miraculous Miami squad. I could see the similar for Arkansas, and a doable Elite Eight repeat. But it will likely take additional time for this group to figure it out than it did final season. And that is fine. As other folks have pointed out, the presence of Council IV and Brazile will support. It’s vital to note also that not all prime ten NBA prospects are produced equal. But, all the things that is been mentioned to date about Nick Smith Jr. suggests that he’s the true deal and capable of top this group on a run.
Lunardi: The most vital factor to keep in mind is that it barely matters how the Razorbacks appear in November, or even December. The college season is so (also?) a lot longer now that there is lots of time for many versions of a group to emerge. Given the youth, Arkansas could be a sliver overrated as we commence the year, but ultimately underseeded come Selection Sunday. That did not cease the Hogs in either of the previous two NCAA tourneys — or Nevada beneath Musselman in 2018.
Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee all performed nicely final season, but have also lost considerable talent. Are any of them positioned to vie for the SEC championship this season?
Santiago Vescovi talks about his participation in Tennessee’s “VOLeaders” system this summer time and finding to travel to distinct nations for neighborhood service.
Medcalf: He’s reached the NCAA tournament in 4 consecutive seasons. He’s won at least 26 games in 3 of these 4 seasons. His name is Rick Barnes, 1 of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. That’s why it has to be Tennessee. Who would be shocked if the Vols won the league crown? Not me. Santiago Vescovi is 1 of 5 seniors on this roster, and Barnes also has Julian Phillips, a prime-15 recruit. He wins with teams that are constructed like this 1, and I suspect he will win with this crew, also.
Gasaway: I’m selecting Tennessee also. No group from the prime tier of final season’s standings is returning as numerous possession minutes as the Volunteers. This rotation appears like it hits the sweet spot for blending practical experience (Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Zakai Zeigler, Olivier Nkamhoua) and new talent (Phillips, Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key). I will not be at all shocked if Tennessee finishes the season ranked No. 1 nationally for adjusted defense at KenPom. Plus, the rubber band impact could favor a group that completed dead final in SEC play final year for two-point accuracy.
Borzello: I also have Tennessee picked the highest of that trio getting into the season, even though I nonetheless think the Vols are a step behind Kentucky and Arkansas for the championship. Barnes’ group was playing extremely nicely down the stretch final season, seeking each bit of a Final Four contender, and brings back a number of important pieces from that group. If Phillips can supply some dynamism on the offensive finish, the Vols could possibly have the scoring vital to make a run.
One additional factor: I feel Alabama could possibly have the highest ceiling of this trio — if all the things falls proper for the Crimson Tide. That contains Jahvon Quinerly coming back healthful, Nimari Burnett regaining his higher college type, elite freshman Brandon Miller living up to the hype and the other newcomers creating an effect.
Lunardi: I never feel Tennessee will win the SEC in 2022-23, but the Vols completely can. They had been only a game off the pace final season, and return lots of practical experience. The true situation in Knoxville is to transfer typical-season results to the NCAA tournament, exactly where Tennessee has come up a superior bit brief of projections in its 4 trips beneath Barnes.
Who or what are we not speaking practically adequate about across the SEC?
Texas A&M protects its homecourt with a large win more than Oregon, sending the Aggies to the subsequent round of the NIT.
Borzello: I feel it is worth noting the total uncertainty across most of the league getting into the season. Sure, college basketball is itself an uncertain sport to predict — but throw six coaching modifications into the mix, and that is what we face with the SEC. Matt McMahon (LSU), Lamont Paris (South Carolina), Todd Golden (Florida), Chris Jans (Mississippi State), Dennis Gates (Missouri) and Mike White (Georgia) are all taking more than at new jobs, and only 1 of them (White) has practical experience as a higher-key head coach. How does McMahon do with pretty much an totally new roster? What really should the expectations for South Carolina be with a initial-round choose (G.G. Jackson) on its roster? Can Golden’s brand of basketball translate to Gainesville?
Gasaway: Texas A&M was the only Division I group ranked in the prime 40 nationally for strength of record (SOR) final March that did not hear its name referred to as on Selection Sunday. The Aggies had been robbed, possibly mainly because they recorded SEC tournament wins more than Florida, Auburn and Arkansas at the 11th hour when the committee was facing its deadline. Now Buzz Williams is bringing back Henry Coleman III, Tyrece Radford, Wade Taylor IV, Manny Obaseki and Andre Gordon. A&M will or at least really should be on a mission.
Lunardi: All due respect, Texas A&M wasn’t robbed of something final March (and this from the guy who had the Aggies as his “final group in”). Every game counts, so any truthful evaluation of the 2021-22 season will have to also contain A&M’s eight-game SEC losing streak and “we told you so” nonconference schedule. This year’s nonleague slate is a tiny bit much better, but not so a lot that we can be certain the Aggies had been seriously paying consideration to what hurt them the most. This was an situation for years in the SEC — extended given that solved, but apparently the memo never ever produced it to College Station.
Medcalf: I imply, we have not seriously talked about G.G. Jackson, who decommitted from North Carolina, reclassified into the class of 2022 and committed to South Carolina this summer time. This is the new NIL planet. A prime-ten recruit can be swayed by his personal ambitions and the possible payoff for attending a college that lacks the pedigree of the powerhouse applications that wanted him. I never feel Jackson only went to South Carolina due to NIL. But if the Tar Heels can drop a prime player to a rival like this, it can occur to any individual in this new era. Also, I’m excited to see how Lamont Paris makes use of the NBA prospect in the initial season on campus for each of them.
SEC 2022-23 conference champion predictions