College basketball is just around the corner and to complement Cats Illustrated's extensive content previewing Kentucky's 2017-18 team, here's a big picture look at the entire Southeastern Conference.
The league is enjoying positive publicity for basketball and that's a rarity. But will that continue?
Key Returnees: Braxton Key, Dazon Ingram
Key Additions: Collin Sexton, John Petty
Key Losses: Corban Collins
2017 Outlook: Collin Sexton and John Petty are two of the biggest stars in recent Alabama history. They have the potential to be one of the best backcourts in the SEC in 2017. Look for both to average 15-plus points per game. Even though overshadowed by the addition of Sexton and Petty, you can't forget about Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram, two returning starters who averaged double digits last season. Look for Alabama to have four to five players scoring 10-plus ppg this season. They are an easy pick for a dark horse SEC championship contender.
Key Returnees: Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford, Anton Beard, Dustin Thomas
Key Additions: Daniel Gafford
Key Losses: Dusty Hannahs, Moses Kingsley
2017 Outlook: The 2016 SEC runner-up Razorbacks return six seniors from a team that almost knocked North Carolina out of the NCAA tournament last season. Anton Beard and Daryl Macon will lead the charge in 2017, but Arkansas will have to find players to replace the production lost when Hannahs and Kingsley graduation. Look for Beard to average double-digit points this year. Jaylen Barford is a dark horse for a breakout player in the SEC this season.
Key Returnees: Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley
Key Additions: Chuma Okeke, Davion Mitchell, DeSean Murray (Presbyterian)
Key Losses: T.J. Dunans, Ronnie Johnson
2017 Outlook: It will be hard to fully project how Auburn's season will go due to the fact that there's a huge grey cloud looming over them from the "pay-to-play" scandal. If they come out of the investigation unscathed, Auburn will have a very nice 1-2 punch of Heron and Wiley. Wiley played for the USA u19 team this past summer and was a monster on the block thanks to his wide body and strong build. Heron is a player that can go off on any given night. He is a gifted player scorer and it's not hard to imagine that he will once again average 15-plus points in 2017. The Tigers will also have former Presbyterian transfer DeSean Murray at their disposal this season. Murray averaged 20 points per game and was the Big South Conference's leading scorer in 2015 before sitting out last season due to transfer. Will Bruce Pearl be the Tigers' coach all season? If so, will he be able to keep the players focused? Only time will tell.
Key Returnees: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen
Key Additions: DeAundre Ballard, Chase Johnson, Michael Okauru, Isaiah Stokes, Egor Koulechov (Rice), Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech)
Key Losses: Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson, Canyon Barry
2017 Outlook: Florida loses three steady starters in Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry and Devin Robinson but Chris Chiozza and Kevaughn Allen are definitely talented enough to shoulder more of the load offensively. Allen is arguably the best returning player in the conference. After getting production from transfer Canyon Barry, Florida went to the well once again and added Egor Koulechov (Rice) and Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech) this offseason. Koulechov, who scored 18 points per game for the Owls last season, will fill the void at small forward left behind by Devin Robinson. Florida will once again look to win games the way they're accustomed to: Outside shooting and sound defense.
Key Returnees: Yante Maten, Juwan Parker
Key Additions: Rayshaun Hammonds
Key Losses: JJ Frazier
2017 Outlook: Replacing the high-scoring Frazier will be a stiff task for coach Mark Fox. The bulldog backcourt depth is thin, but returning big man Yante Maten can play inside and out. Maten will average close to 20 points a game this season, but for the bulldogs to contend, they will need scoring production from Juwan Parker and first year big man Rayshaun Hammonds.
Key Returnees: Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Hamidou Diallo (did not play)
Roster Additions: Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Richards, Nick Richards, Quade Green, Jemarl Baker.
Roster Losses: De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Michael Mulder
2017 Outlook: This will be Calipari's youngest team at Kentucky yet. Their roster is full of great athletes, but where will the outside shooting come from? Kevin Knox will likely be called upon to replace Malik Monk as the Wildcats' volume scorer. This team will be fun to watch in transition and will rely on their defense to win games. Kentucky's 2017 roster will remind people of some of Calipari's Memphis squads: long, fast and energetic athletes. Calipari will look for this team to play "positionless basketball," allowing multiple players to interchange positions with each other depending on matchups.
Key Returnees: Duop Reath, Brandon Sampson
Key Additions: Tremont Waters, Brandon Rachal
Key Losses: Antonio Blakeney
2017 Outlook: The Tigers were flat-out putrid in 2016. Following a 10-win season, 1st year head coach Will Wade will look to right the ship in Baton Rouge. He has help in doing that from standout freshman PG Tremont Waters, but this could still be a 2-3 year process to field a respectable team. Duop Reath will give the Tigers a decent inside threat to compliment Waters, Brandon Sampson and Skylar Mays.
Key Returnees: DeAndre Burnett, Terence Davis
Key Additions: Devonte Shuler, Markel Crawford (Memphis)
Key Losses: Sebastian Saiz
2017 Outlook: Andy Kennedy has his hands full this season, as Ole Miss might finally have a losing season for the first time since 2006. The Rebels, much like Mississippi State, are guard-heavy. They don't return a big man averaging more than half a point per contest. Without much length, it could get ugly for the Rebels this season. Memphis grad transfer Markel Crawford will be called upon to be the team's go-to scorer. Crawford is a 6'5" guard who brings efficient shooting to the table for Coach Kennedy (47% from the field). DeAndre Burnett and Terence Davis also give Ole Miss two other legitimate scoring threats.
Key Returnees: Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters
Key Additions: Nick Weatherspoon
Key Losses: I.J. Ready, Mario Kregler
2017 Outlook: Ben Howland has yet to get the ball rolling in Starkville, and you can expect more of the same in 2017. The Weatherspoon duo will try to get the Bulldogs to over .500 this season, but outside of those two there's not much that will scare you about this squad. Mississippi State is a guard-heavy team and doesn't really have a big man that gives them an inside threat. Maybe sophomore Aroc Holman (from Owensboro, KY) can give them steady big man production this season.
Key Returnees: Kevin Puryear, Terrence Phillips
Key Additions: Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter, Jeremiah Tilmon, Kassius Robertson (Cansius)
Key Losses: Russell Woods
2017 Outlook: Missouri will be the most interesting team in the SEC this season. Michael Porter Jr. is a top three player in the country. Porter is a physical freak, at 6'10", 215 he can shoot from anywhere on the court, handle the ball and rebound extremely well. Jontay, the younger of the Porter brothers, will also add some versatility to the roster and give the Tigers a legit 6'11 stretch four. Mizzou also added Cansius grad transfer Kassius Robertson over the offseason, giving the Tigers an outside shooting threat to offset the Porters. The tigers will be young, but they'll have the most talent on their roster in years. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers can gel and become a force and a threat to the Final Four, or if they will implode and be a bust under first year coach Cuonzo Martin.
Key Returnees: Chris Silva, Mail Kotsar
Key Additions: David Beatty, Felipe Haase, Frank Booker (Florida Atlantic)
Key Losses: Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier
2017 Outlook: Fresh off of a Final Four, the Gamecocks will be in rebuild mode in 2017. They lost their do-it-all senior Sindarius Thornwell to graduation and their big-time scoring threat PJ Dozier to the NBA Draft. For coach Frank Martin, Chris Silva will be the key to this season. Last year he was the Gamecocks high-energy guy but this year he will have to score more and demand the ball more on the offensive end. Mail Kotsar and Hassani Gravett will be a bigger focal point of the offense this season. The Gamecocks also added a grad transfer from FAU in outside shooting guard Frank Booker, who will compete for significant minutes.
Key Returnees: Grant Williams, Lamonte Turner, Admiral Schofield
Key Additions: Yves Pons, Chris Darrington (JuCo), James Daniel (Howard)
Key Losses: Robert Hubbs
2017 Outlook: It will be another tough year for Rick Barnes and company, especially after losing their leading scorer in Robert Hubbs. Like many of the other struggling teams in the SEC, the Vols lack size. There's not a player over 6'6" who plays meaningful minutes on the roster, and as a team that was 286th in the country last year in 3 point %, it's not like the lack of size means more shooting. It will be hard for the Vols to reach .500 this season. Juco transfer Chris Darrington and Howard grad transfer James Daniel will be called upon early and often to put points on the board for the Vols. James Daniel led the nation in points per game his junior year (27.1 ppg) and finished with 21 points per contest last season as well. Although he won't take the same number of shots at Tennessee, Daniel is a player that you must account for every night on the defensive end..
Key Returnees: Robert Williams, Tyler Davis, Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg
Key Additions: Savion Flagg, Duane Wilson (Marquette)
Key Losses: None.
2017 Outlook: No other SEC team can match the front court muscle of the Aggies. Robert Williams and Tyler Davis are one of the best 4/5 combos in college basketball this season. The Aggies return outside scorers Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg to compliment their stud big men. They also bring in Marquette transfer Duane Wilson to give them another solid rotation player on the perimeter. Look for the Aggies to finish near the top of the SEC stands and be a threat to make a run to the Sweet 16 come March.
Key Returnees: Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance
Key Additions: Saben Lee
Key Losses: Luke Kornet, Nolan Cressler
2017 Outlook: Expect much of the same from Vanderbilt as last season, about 20 wins and sneaking into the tournament as a 9-10 seed. Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis provide 2 steady outside threats for the Commodores offense, but Vanderbilt will need to find a big man to replace Luke Kornet's production.
Coach of the Year: John Calipari
Player of the Year: Michael Porter Jr.
Freshman of the Year: Michael Porter Jr.
NCAA Tournament Teams: 7 (Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama.
The SEC is on the slow, winding incline towards becoming a respectable basketball conference. Kentucky is always right there in the title mix, Florida is always solid and this year we could possibly see five teams in the top 25 at some point in the season. There's more star power being brought into the league by places other than Kentucky (Porter brothers, Sexton/Petty, Herron/Wiley) and the programs are bringing in better coaches (Howland, Martin, Wade, Barnes) but it will take a few years to get some of those programs back on track. The SEC could make a big splash this season since most people are expecting a down year from a lot of the national blue bloods.