CBB Review previews SEC basketball heading into the 2023-24 season.
SEC basketball projected standings
1. Texas A&M Aggies
For the first time in a while, the Aggies are the class of the SEC. Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford, Henry Coleman III, and Julius Marble all return as starters from the team that went 15-3 in conference games last year. Solomon Washington, Manny Obaseki, and Andersson Garcia all return to play pivotal bench roles, while Buzz Williams brought in two transfers, Jace Carter and Eli Lawrence, that will provide immediate impacts for the Aggies.
While they weren’t the best from the perimeter on offense last year (32.6 3P%), the Aggies drew fouls constantly, getting to the line early and often and making the most free throws in the country. The two best on the roster at drawing fouls return, (Taylor IV and Radford), and Manny Obaseki, the Aggies’ best perimeter shooter, is back to full health after battling injuries last year. Half of the Aggies’ top 20 outside shooting performances last year came after late January, including wins over Vanderbilt, LSU, and Arkansas, in which Texas A&M shot 50.0% or better from behind the arc.
Can the Aggies win a title with average shooting from deep? In the bigger picture, the fact that that’s even a valid question is cause for celebration in College Station, but these Aggies aren’t satisfied with just being able to win it all, they want to go do it. They’re the nation’s best at getting to the line, their defense is sneakily good, (just a few bad games away from a top 30 defense last year and 27th in KenPom’s preseason defensive efficiency) and they should be improved from the perimeter this year. While the SEC is plenty deep this year, the Aggies are the best of the bunch.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Muss Bus keeps making stops and letting players on and off as it nears its destination. Despite losing Nick Smith Jr., Jordan Walsh, Anthony Black, Ricky Council IV, Mahkel Mitchell, Kamani Johnson, and others, the Muss Bus picked up what seemed like half of the guards in the transfer portal with Khalif Battle (Temple), Tramon Mark (Houston), Jeremiah Davenport (Cincinnati), and El Ellis (Louisville) all joining the Hogs this year, along with forward transfers Denijay Harris (Southern Miss) and Chandler Lawson (Memphis).
The freshman class is excellent, with center Baye Fall and guard Layden Blocker joining the fold, both 4-stars. The most crucial players on the roster for Arkansas, however, are the ones they already had. Forward Trevon Brazile will return from a torn ACL, while guard Davonte Davis will more than likely parlay his hot streak at the end of last season into this year. Makhi Mitchell, who played well in Brazile’s absence given the circumstances, also returns, as does high-ceiling Jalen Graham.
While the Razorbacks struggled at times in conference games last year as they dealt with major injuries, they should be healthy to start the year, which is good news for Eric Musselman and bad news for the rest of the SEC. They’ll be a pest defensively, as their starting five (likely Mark, Davis, Battle, Brazile, and Mitchell) all stand at 6’4 or taller. Mark especially, coming over from Houston and Kelvin Sampson’s system, should help fill the defensive void left by lottery pick Anthony Black.
Last year, the Hogs never really seemed to have tangible momentum after the 2023 calendar year rolled around, even though they beat Kansas in the NCAA tournament and made their third straight Sweet Sixteen. This year, though, the team is so different that it’s irresponsible to compare the two. It’s like apples to oranges but in the same fruit bowl. The trio of Mark, Davis, and Battle should be amongst the best backcourt combos in the conference, while Davenport, Blocker, and Ellis will all be serviceable backups, Blocker especially. While Mitchell and Brazile have two polar opposite styles of game, they fit well in the frontcourt together, and Brazile is a spacing dream on offense. If either gets into foul trouble, Graham and Fall have the talent to slide right into the rotation.
Overall, it’s just good to see this team fully healthy after last season’s injury woes. Losing 3 NBA draft picks in one offseason is never a good thing, but the Muss Bus has reloaded, and it’s hard to imagine a better backcourt in the SEC. This is a deep team, and while there’s always going to be some unknowns when a roster undergoes such heavy turnover, this squad is experienced and is more of a sure thing than some SEC teams that had almost no turnover. The Hogs really only struggled in one major statistical category last year, that being shot from the perimeter and free throw line and Musselman more than addressed that in the offseason. Look for the streak of three consecutive Sweet 16s to move up to four after this season.
3. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee’s squad this year is a classic Rick Barnes team. They’re veteran-led (Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi) with elite defensive stoppers (Tobe Awaka, Jonas Aidoo, Jahmai Mashack). Though Julian Phillips is off to the NBA, Tyreke Key is out of eligibility, and Olivier Nkamhoua transferred to Michigan, this roster is in a better place than it was in March. Star PG Zakai Zeigler should be healthy by the second or third week of the season after coming off a torn ACL last year, which will provide a massive boost to both the Vols’ offense and defense.
Rick Barnes originally brought in three transfers, Northern Colorado guard Dalton Knecht, USC-Upstate guard Jordan Gainey, and Harvard transfer Chris Ledlum, but Ledlum decommitted and ended up at St. John’s instead. However, the duo of Knecht and Gainey will be very valuable to an area that Tennessee struggled with at times last year: offense. The Vols’ defense carried them to a Sweet Sixteen appearance last year (no. 1 in KenPom defensive efficiency) but their Zeigler-less offense held them back from what was a very open Final Four opportunity.
This year, the aforementioned trio of Zeigler, James, and Vescovi will return to their starting roles, while the duo of Awaka and Aidoo will be an upgrade at the 5 spot over Uros Plavsic. Knecht will likely start, and Mashack, Gainey, and a handful of freshmen, including 247Sports No. 54 recruit Cameron Carr, will come off the bench. Per usual, the defense will be exceptional, even from rotational players, while the transfer portal additions add a bit of spice to the offense. Until Zeigler gets to full strength, it’ll be difficult to fully judge the team, but for now, this is another defensive stalwart with some familiar questions on the offensive end that the Vols hope to answer once Zeigler gets back. This is the best defense in the conference, and the offense will still be top six in the conference, at worst.
4. Missouri Tigers
Never doubt Dennis Gates. The media made that mistake last year, placing the Tigers 11th in the SEC media poll, 3 spots behind LSU. Mizzou finished 4th. LSU finished 14th. While Kobe Brown, D’Moi Hodge, and Deandre Gholston all departed, several key players returned (Nick Honor, Sean East II, and Noah Carter) and Gates worked his magic in the transfer portal. He brought in John Tonje from Colorado State, Connor Vanover from Oral Roberts, Tamar Bates from Indiana, Jesus Carralero Martin from Campbell, and Curt Lewis from John A. Logan, while also signing two four-stars in Trent Pierce and Jordan Butler, brother of John.
The Tigers greatly exceeded expectations in Gates’s first year in Columbia, and he’s one of the most underrated coaches in the sport. Currently, the Tigers have the No. 1 recruiting class in the class of 2024, so it’s not out of the question that Mizzou could end up even higher on this list next season. This year, the Tigers should have a very interesting starting lineup. Nick Honor, who is one of the possible starting point guard options along with Sean East II, will share the court with Connor Vanover, who is 19 inches taller than Honor. The 7-5 center transferred over from Oral Roberts, and he can also shoot the three-ball if necessary. That’s not the only interesting tidbit of information about the starting lineup. Regardless of who starts between Honor and East II, assuming Caleb Grill earns the starting bid on the off-ball guard spot over sharpshooter JUCO transfer Curt Lewis, the entire starting lineup will be 5th-year players, making it one of the oldest starting fives in the country.
The team isn’t extremely top-heavy, but the top seven players on the roster are more than likely to play significant minutes, that being the starting five of Honor/East, Grill/Lewis, Tonje, Carter, and Vanover, and the 2 that come off the bench out of the Honor/East and Grill/Lewis battles. That’s not to suggest this team isn’t deep, as players like Jesus Carralero Martin, Kaleb Brown, and Tamar Bates, along with the freshmen, are certainly talented, but it’s rather a suggestion that the team is not as decimated by departures as the media tends to think. (Mizzou was picked 9th this year, so they have not quite learned their lesson yet about not doubting Dennis Gates.)
This team is a lineup full of shooters, which works perfectly with Dennis Gates’s offensive philosophy. Last year’s team was great, but this year’s team is more in the mold of a Gates team. The Tigers will surprise and earn a second consecutive double-bye in the SEC tournament.
5. Kentucky Wildcats
Coach Cal’s group this year is a very difficult team to project. After assembling almost an entirely new roster over the offseason, Kentucky naturally has a very high ceiling and a very low floor. Freshmen will likely occupy 60% of the starting lineup, as DJ Wagner, Justin Edwards, and Aaron Bradshaw are all one-and-done candidates. The Wildcats didn’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen last year, and they haven’t since Tyler Herro was a Wildcat, so there’s pressure and just a bit of heat under Coach Cal’s seat. (For what it’s worth, I think it’s dumb that Kentucky fans would even consider the move.)
Luckily for Coach Cal, Antonio Reeves made the decision to come back, as did Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso. Reeves will likely be the best guard on the Wildcats’ roster, (Edwards will be on the wing as a forward), and West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell will team up with Bradshaw in the frontcourt. Freshmen Reed Sheppard, Zvonimir Ivisic, Rob Dillingham, Joey Hart, and Jordan Burks will play rotational roles, while Thiero and Onyenso will do the same. (Though Onyenso could be poised for a breakout, as his underlying metrics are very favorable.)
With so many underclassmen on the roster, especially in a down year recruiting cycle, it’s hard to project the Wildcats are among the top three in the league, even with the talent of Edwards and Bradshaw. Getting Reeves back really helps, but this roster, more than likely, will end up with depth concerns. Getting more than half of the roster to adjust to SEC basketball in one offseason is a tall task, and though Cal has literally already done that before, it doesn’t work with every recruiting class, and the “Cal to *insert school with massive athletics budget*” Twitter chants could start back up again this winter. Or Kentucky could make the Elite Eight. Nobody knows, which is why 5th seems reasonable for this squad.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama almost had a dream season last year, going 31-6 but getting bounced in the Sweet 16 by San Diego State. After the departures of almost every impact player from that squad, where do Nate Oats and the Crimson Tide go from here? Brandon Miller is gone, Noah Clowney and Charles Bediako are gone. Only 3 players are back from last year, and despite Nate Oats’s best attempts, this roster just isn’t as good as last year.
There are positives for Oats, though, as Mark Sears returns. Sears is one of the most underrated point guards in the conference, and he’ll provide valuable veteran leadership in his second season with the Tide. Aaron Estrada (see transfer of the year, below) will team up with Sears to provide a better 1-2 backcourt punch than the Tide had last year. The issues only arise on the wings and frontcourt, mostly with depth. Rylan Griffen needs to improve his shooting and shot selection if he wants a starting role, while seven players on the roster haven’t yet played at the Power 6 level, including five freshmen. Jarin Stevenson is one, though, and he should be an immediate contributor as a rookie. The two starters in the frontcourt will likely be NDSU transfer Grant Nelson and Nick Pringle, both of whom are efficient scorers inside the arc but not a threat from outside.
The Tide hopefully won’t inject themselves with off-the-court issues this year, which was partly to blame for the Sweet Sixteen derailment, but they’ll need to rely on freshman and low-level transfers to place at the top of the league, which is always risky in the SEC. This team has potential, and they’ve won the league two of the past three years. Don’t bet against the Tide, but right now, don’t bet on them either.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Can the Bulldogs shoot? They couldn’t do it last year, (a D-1 low of 26.6% from deep) and there are legitimate questions about the offense again this year, especially with Tolu Smith and KeShawn Murphy injured until the SEC basketball schedule starts. Chris Jans brought in transfers Andrew Taylor and Trey Fort to try and alleviate the perimeter struggles, and freshman Josh Hubbard will help too. Regardless of the offense, however, the defense will assuredly be stout. The veteran-laden lineup of Dashawn Davis, Shakeel Moore, D.J. Jeffries, Cameron Matthews, and Tolu Smith, at least once Smith returns, might be the best defensive unit in the SEC.
Add in transfers Jimmy Bell Jr. and Jaquan Scott, and this defense is a contender for best in the region. The questions on offense though, will persist, likely until Tolu Smith returns from injury and perhaps even after. This was a historically bad shooting team last year, and words don’t do the due justice that numbers can. 363rd in the nation in perimeter shooting. How bad is that? This year, there are only 362 teams in all of Division I. So they cannot possibly do worse than last season. But, even if the shots don’t fall again, neither will the shots of the Bulldogs’ opponents. This defense is legit, folks, and no SEC basketball team will want to face this squad once Tolu Smith and KeShawn Murphy return from injury.
Overall, though, the injury to Smith is really concerning. He’s the heartbeat of the team, and losing him won’t just hurt in the time that he’s gone, but also once he’s back. The lineups will have to adjust mid-season, and there could be some adjustment pains. Once he gets back, however, this team is formidable, and they might make the tournament’s Round of 64 this year, provided they don’t collapse in the absence of Smith.
8. Auburn Tigers
Is this the year the Auburn’s backcourt doesn’t hold them back? Bruce Pearl brought in FIU transfer Denver Jones and 5-star freshman Aden Holloway after low efficiencies from Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson stagnated the Auburn offense last season. He also brought in multiple lower-level transfers, a roster move that he hasn’t pulled out of his arsenal as a coach yet. Last year’s team was maddeningly inconsistent as the season rolled along, going 5-10 over their last 15 games. They return CBB Review SEC-First Teamer Johni Broome in the frontcourt, who is one of the most underrated post presences in the nation, along with the uber-efficient Dylan Cardwell. Jaylin Williams returns, and along with the aforementioned frontcourt pieces and backcourt additions, will form a nice core.
Losing Allen Flanigan to Ole Miss is tough, but Chris Moore and JUCO transfer Addarin Scott should step up, along with fellow JUCO transfer Chad Baker-Mazara, who spent time at SDSU. Just like the past few years, this team’s fortunes will come down to whether or not they can shoot from deep. If they can’t but keep trying to do so, there’s no sense in projecting Auburn to improve. If they do end up being able to shoot the ball well, there is a much higher ceiling for the Tigers. They’ll have to prove that, however.
This team could end up 10th in the conference, or as high as 4th. It’s up to the backcourt and Bruce Pearl. They’ll need to get the ball in the basket, and he’ll need to manage his rotational minutes better, plus tinker with the lineups if the team starts to slump. It’s all a choice.
9. Florida Gators
How do the Gators replace Colin Castleton, who’s off to L.A on a two-way contract? Entering Todd Golden’s second year, there are questions, but his roster has some of the answers. Sophomore guard Riley Kugel is poised for a breakout, if he hasn’t already, and transfers Walter Clayton Jr. and Zyon Pullin will be immediate contributors. Will Richard returns as well, and he’s part of the 4-headed-guard attack of Kugel, Clayton Jr., Pullin, and, of course, Richard. The problems lie in the frontcourt, where, despite the incoming transfers of Tyrese Samuel and Micah Handlogten, there are serious depth concerns.
Even after last year’s team had their first losing record since the Donovan era, it’s hard to say if this year’s team is any better. Losing a talent like Castleton stings, and while having four really good guards is nice, having a balanced roster is even better. It will be interesting to see how Golden tinkers with the lineup throughout the year in order to get the most out of his team. He had success at San Francisco, and the general consensus is that he’s the right man for the job at Florida, but he really has to start proving it. Now.
There’s a slight gap right now between the top eight teams and the bottom six, and even though it cannot be overstated how talented Clayton Jr. and Kugel are, they will have to play really well to offset the losses the Gators had in the offseason, especially with limited depth past Pullin and Richard. (Although sophomore guard Denzel Aberdeen is worth taking a look at.)
10. Georgia Bulldogs
It’s the Mike White effect. Florida lets him go after seven winning seasons and six tournament wins, and the Gators suffer their first losing season since Billy Donovan’s last year at the helm while Mike White improved the Bulldogs’ win total by 10 games in Athens. After beating Auburn, Kentucky, and Mississippi State, White’s Dawgs ended up 16-16 following a 6-26 record in Tom Crean’s last year. They’ve improved this season, too.
Despite losing Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo, the Bulldogs brought in both a solid transfer portal and a freshman class. In the portal, White grabbed Jalen DeLoach (VCU), RJ Melendez (Illinois), RJ Sunahara (Nova Southeastern), Noah Thomasson (Niagara), and Russel Tchewa (South Florida). The freshman class was just as good, and 247Sports rated it as the no. 15 class in 2023. One name to watch from the class of four 4-stars (Blue Cain, Silas Demary Jr., Mari Jordan, and Dylan James) is Silas Demary Jr. The backcourt situation at Georgia is fluid, and there’s more than ample opportunity for Demary to grab valuable rotational minutes as a freshman. He could very well be starting by mid-season.
White’s got some returning talent, too, as guards Justin Hill and Jabri Abdur-Rahim and forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe could all end up starting. Abdur-Rahim in particular is an excellent shooter from behind the arc. Overall, this team is much improved from last year’s squad, even with the departures of Oquendo and Roberts. Despite a deeper SEC, the Bulldogs could very well end up with a winning record in conference games this season.
11. Vanderbilt Commodores
The return of Tyrin Lawrence saves the ‘Dores from a spot in the cellar, but the transfer portal attrition was worrisome, to say the least. Losing Jordan Wright, Myles Stute, Trey Thomas, Malik Dia, Noah Shelby, and Quentin Millora-Brown all to the portal put Jerry Stackhouse in a really tough situation in the offseason, and while he responded by signing Evan Taylor (Lehigh), Ven-Allen Lubin (Notre Dame), and Tasos Kameteros (South Dakota) from the portal, the ‘Dores have a very young team this year. Of the 14 players with realistic shots at playing time, just 4 are juniors or older, and there’s a possibility that the entire bench is made up of just sophomores and freshmen.
This will be Jerry Stackhouse’s biggest challenge yet as the Vandy headman, as he’s working with a depleted roster compared to last year. Luckily for him, he does return point guard Ezra Manjon, one of the top guards in the conference. His veteran presence and consistency should anchor (pun intended) the ‘Dores on offense, at least. Ven-Allen Lubin, the Notre Dame forward transfer, is also a huge get for Vandy, and he’ll surprise many this season. Tyrin Lawrence, however, is the MVP of this team, and he single-handedly willed Vanderbilt to victory in a few wins last year. He scored 20+ points in six different games, including against Alabama, Kentucky, and Michigan. The Vanderbilt starting backcourt duo is top five in the conference.
Stackhouse likely won’t be on the hot seat even if the Commodores finish last in the conference. He’s a good coach, and this is a near-impossible roster situation. The ‘Dores do still have the talent to play well against good teams and surprise some of the best teams in the conference, but this roster is more built for 2024 or 2025.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina was picked 14th in the SEC basketball media poll, but in reality, they picked up enough solid pieces in the portal to avoid the cellar in Lamont Paris’s second year. Transfer Ta’Lon Cooper will provide much-needed spacing on the offensive end, and Cooper’s arrival means a better opportunity for guard Meechie Johnson to showcase his talents at the off-ball guard spot. GG Jackson brought some excitement to Columbia, but even after his departure to the NBA, the Gamecocks are in a better place personnel-wise than they were last year. Now with the size to no longer have to play 6-5 Hayden Brown at PF, key returning pieces (Johnson, Jacobi Wright, Josh Gray) will gel with the no. 37 transfer portal class (Myles Stute, B.J. Mack, Cooper, Stephen Clark) and three solid freshmen (Collin Murray-Boyles, Arden Conyers, Morris Ugusuk) as the Gamecocks continue to improve under Lamont Paris.
The Gamecocks had trouble shooting inside the arc (45.8 2PT%) and from the line, (66.1 FT%) though they made the 5th-most threes in the SEC at a 32.3% clip. Size was really the Gamecocks’ biggest issue last year, as they were extremely limited in the frontcourt, save for Jackson and Gray. They weren’t particularly good in any stat category, besides offensive rebounding, which Gray contributed at a rate of 2.7 per game. In SEC games, he averaged 5.8 PPG and 7.9 RPG, and though frontcourt pieces Clark and Mack transferred in, he could be poised for a breakout year.
Paris brought in precisely the right players for the Gamecocks this year, and the talent discrepancy compared to the rest of the league is not nearly as large as it was last year. He’s bringing his brand of basketball to Columbia, and it will eventually pay dividends. While it may not be at the pace that Gamecock fans want, it’s forward progress. This year, he’s done enough to keep the ‘Cocks out of the basement.
13. Ole Miss Rebels
Chris Beard is objectively a very good coach and objectively a very bad person. The fortunes of his Ole Miss basketball team are a bit murkier. If waivers from the NCAA were granted for Brandon Murray and Moussa Cisse, this team would be a bit higher in the rankings, but that doesn’t look likely. Instead, they’ll have major depth concerns. Saint Peter’s transfer Jaylen Murray or Arizona State transfer Austin Nunez will likely have to battle it out for the starting point guard spot, but the Rebels have a good contingency plan for the center position if Cisse doesn’t play: 7-5 Jamarion Sharp from Western Kentucky, an elite rim protector that averaged 4.1 BPG last season. Freshman 4-star Rashaud Marshall could contribute early as well.
Sophomore guard TJ Caldwell could take the next step this season after averaging 4.7 PPG as a freshman, especially in the absence of Murray. The two other returnees from the roster, Matthew Murrell and Jaemyn Brakefield, are the two MVPs of the team and are integral to the hopes of the Rebels in Chris Beard’s first season. The duo combined for over 25 PPG last season, while Murrell was the king of the backcourt and Brakefield the king of the frontcourt, roles that they will reprise again this year. Beard hired Wes Flanigan to his staff, which proved to be a shrewd move, as his son Allen transferred in from Auburn after averaging 10.1 PPG last year.
Ultimately, a lot of talent transferred out after the firing of Kermit Davis and the hiring of Chris Beard, notably Amaree Abram and Daeshun Ruffin, two guards that would’ve alleviated Beard’s now crucial problem: the absence of an above-average point guard in the SEC. Murray and Cisse being presumably waiver-less means Ole Miss is likely cellar-bound and depth-challenged. Beard was hired in spite of a very well-documented display of violence against his fiancée last year, and the athletic department must’ve decided that winning basketball was worth the public and moral backlash. Guess what? Winning basketball is still a long ways away in Oxford.
14. LSU Tigers
LSU occupied this spot last season after a 2-16 conference mark in Matt McMahon’s first season at the helm, and they might do so again, though that’s less of an indictment on McMahon and more of a spotlight on how deep the conference has become. Bringing in Jalen Cook back to the Bayou was a great get, as was the commitment of Jordan Wright, a high-IQ veteran leader from Vanderbilt. Replacing KJ Williams (17.9 PPG) won’t be easy, though, and there’s still uncertainty regarding Cook’s waiver status for eligibility.
The Tigers didn’t shoot the ball well last season, (41.0 FG%) and they’ll need to make significant strides offensively to remain competitive in the SEC. The additions of Wright and Will Baker, from Nevada, help in that aspect, as does guard transfer Carlos Stewart (Santa Clara), especially if Cook is deemed ineligible. Derek Fountain returning is great news for the Bayou Bengals, and he’ll be part of one of the most underrated frontcourts in the conference with Will Baker. Sophomores Tyrell Ward and Jalen Reed are in line for more of a role after averaging around 15 MPG each, and Ward could grab a starting spot as well. Guard Trae Hannibal, who is in his 5th year of college basketball after starting at South Carolina in 2019, is a viable 6th man.
While this team improved by a solid measure in the offseason, they still have depth concerns and lost their three top scorers from a team that went 2-16 in conference games. With other teams bringing in just as much or more talent in the offseason, LSU is the cellar pick this year in the SEC. No hard feelings, of course.
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball Player of the Year
Wade Taylor IV, Texas A&M
Taylor is the best player in the conference at just 6 feet tall. Almost doubling his PPG to 16.3 last year after scoring 8.2 his freshman year, he’s excellent at scoring from every level and can distribute with the best as well. His best trait might be getting to the line, as he placed 3rd in the conference in FTA last year, and will likely lead the conference in that category this year. He’s the heartbeat of the best team in the SEC, and while that shouldn’t be the one criterion for selecting a conference player of the year, it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty more reasons as to why he’s the class of the conference.
His assist percentage and steal percentage were both sky-high last year, and his box plus/minus of 10.0 was top 20 in the entire country. He fits perfectly into Buzz Williams’s system, and there’s a very good chance he gets drafted next year, despite his height. If it weren’t for Brandon Miller, there would’ve been serious consideration for SEC Player of the Year votes last season for Taylor IV.
This year, Texas A&M has a fantastic supporting cast around him, and he’ll elevate the games of all his teammates. There’s no denying the impact Taylor IV has, and he’s a matchup nightmare on offense and defense. Consider the following: 18.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, and a 1 seed in the SEC tournament.
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball Coach of the Year
Buzz Williams, Texas A&M
Williams shared this award with Jerry Stackhouse last year, and there’s a good chance he’ll win it outright this year once the Aggies win the SEC regular season title. Ever since getting to College Station, he’s improved the Aggies year by year, culminating in his best team yet in 2023-24. He cares about his team, he plays by the rules, and he’s a Texas guy through and through. At this point, Texas A&M should just find a way to transfer the rest of Jimbo Fisher’s contract into Williams’s bank account.
This year, his squad has the 2nd-most returning production in college basketball even after going 15-3 in conference games last year. While the rest of the conference undergoes various stages of turnover this offseason, the Aggies have the advantage of roster continuity heading into the start of this year, partially due to the Aggie roster buying into the vision that Williams has for this team.
There are a few areas of concern for the Aggies, just like every other team, it’s easy to trust Williams to make the needed adjustments to get the most out of his team and players. Though the SEC media has anointed Tennessee as the favorites in the conference ahead of Texas A&M, the Aggies are the best team in the conference, and under the direction of Williams, they’re only headed up.
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball Freshman of the Year
Justin Edwards, Kentucky
This year’s freshman class might be considered a down year by NBA scouts, but Edwards is an exception. Coach Cal brought in the nation’s top recruiting class, according to 247Sports, but Edwards is the best of the bunch by a solid margin. Listed as a 6-8, 203 guard, he still might be suited best as a SF in the college game. He’s a creative shot-maker who can exploit mismatches on offense from his first day on campus.
I’m partial to him because he’s also left-handed, but there’s a legitimate reason to suggest Edwards is the best player in this freshman class over players such as Isaiah Collier and Edwards’s own teammate Aaron Bradshaw. In terms of pro-readiness, Edwards is there already. He’s a classic Calipari one-and-done, and the best pro product coming out of Lexington since SGA, though Cason Wallace will be very good in the NBA. Coming into an offseason in which almost the entire roster left, Edwards’s arrival on campus was much-needed. He’ll be one of the top 5-10 players in the conference right away, which is pretty crazy to think about considering the depth of the SEC this season.
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball Transfer of the Year
Aaron Estrada, Alabama
Aaron Estrada is a certified bucket. There’s no denying that. And while plenty of other high-profile transfers now call the SEC home, none will slide into their respective roles better than Estrada coming from Hofstra. His game translates easily, and he’s got 16 career games of 25+ points, not including a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double against Arkansas his junior year. The Pride won that game, too.
The 6-3 guard averaged 20.2 PPG on 36.8%/47.8%/80.9% splits last year for Hofstra, and he was named the CAA player of the year for the second year in a row. He’s improved as a defender every year he’s been in college, (he spent time at St. Peter’s and Oregon before Hofstra) and fits both Nate Oats’s scheme and Mark Sears’s game style. With a massive roster exodus from the Crimson Tide, there’s plenty of opportunity to fill the shoes in Tuscaloosa, and Estrada will do his best.
There are pockets of concern, as his APG rate went down last season while his TOPG rate increased to 3.1. Overall, however, getting Estrada into one of the fastest tempos in the country should be a fun watch, and his production won’t decrease much, even coming from the CAA to the SEC. If Alabama wants a chance of coming close to last season’s record, it starts with Estrada, who immediately becomes one of the best players on the Tide.
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball First Team
- G: Wade Taylor IV, Texas A&M
- G: Santiago Vescovi, Tennessee
- G: Tyrin Lawrence, Vanderbilt
- F: Johni Broome, Auburn
- F: Tolu Smith, Mississippi State*
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball Second Team
- G: Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee
- G: Davonte Davis, Arkansas
- G: Riley Kugel, Florida
- G/F: Justin Edwards, Kentucky
- F: Trevon Brazile, Arkansas
CBB Review Preseason SEC Basketball All-Freshman Team
- G: Aden Holloway, Auburn
- G: Silas Demary Jr., Georgia
- G: DJ Wagner, Kentucky
- G/F: Justin Edwards, Kentucky
- C: Baye Fall, Arkansas