The offseason creates a near-impenetrable feeling of good vibes around every program, but once the season tips off, all breaks loose. The SEC is no different, and each program has a chance to break out, or break down.
Ceiling– Mark Sears will emerge as a top 3 point guard in the SEC, while Nick Pringle steps up to create a lethal frontcourt combo with North Dakota State transfer Grant Nelson. Rylan Griffen will break out and win SEC 6th man of year, and freshman Jarin Stevenson is able to slide into the 4 or 5 spot without noticeable dropoff any time Nelson or Pringle gets into foul trouble. The Tide can’t replace Brandon Miller with one player, but Aaron Estrada will almost replicate his scoring with 15 PPG over the course of the season. Freshman Sam Walters can shoot the ball despite his 6’10 height, and excels in the Nate Oats’s scheme. The lack of experience doesn’t noticeably affect the Tide, and freshman Sam Walters steps up in a big way (from the three-point line) as a high-quality shooter. The Tide finish atop the SEC for the third time in four years and make the Elite Eight, something they couldn’t do last year.
Floor– The Tide can’t replicate the offensive prowess they had last season, and the losses of star freshmen Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney hurt on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The defensive end in particular is a huge issue, and the Crimson Tide give up 75+ points against any above-average offense they face up against. The losses of all 3 assistant coaches stunts development of a roster that’s already almost completely new to Tuscaloosa. Rylan Griffen’s shooting efficiency woes continue, and Grant Nelson’s game, as it turns out, doesn’t translate to the SEC. Pringle and WVU transfer Mo Wague consistently find themselves in foul trouble and the only reliable offense is found with Sears and Estrada in the backcourt. Having 5 freshmen ends up hurting the Tide as it takes time to develop and be ready, while Alabama finishes 8-10 in the SEC, gets a 9 seed in the Big Dance, and loses in the first round. The Tide can’t create an encore after a historic season last year.
Ceiling- Arkansas’s transfer portal additions work to perfection, and the Razorback backcourt rivals UNC, UNM, and others as the best group of guards in the nation. Davonte Davis continues his hot steak from last year, and Tramon Mark is a perfect fit for a physical Musselman team. El Ellis, as it turns out, just needed a change of scenery, and he combines with Mark, Davis, and Temple transfer Khalif Battle to form a 4-headed monster in the backcourt. Trevon Brazile is back to full strength, and he picks up right where he left off, earning a first team All-SEC nod and leading the team in points and rebounds. Two transfers that didn’t get the media attention the guards did, forwards Jeremiah Davenport and Chandler Lawson, provide crucial depth in the frontcourt behind Brazile and Makhi Mitchell. This year, the Hogs can shoot from the perimeter, opening up an entirely new threat on the court. An Eric Musselman team with a penchant for floor spacing? Look out, SEC. The Muss Bus starts rolling and doesn’t stop until it leaves Glendale with a championship.
Floor- Iron doesn’t sharpen iron in the backcourt room, as the Muss Bus struggles to find the best rotation and usage for his guards. El Ellis, as it turns out, still turns the ball over at an alarmingly high rate while struggling to transition to SEC defenses. Khalif Battle also has issues with his game translating to the big leagues from the AAC, while Davonte Davis cools off compared to how he finished last season. Tramon Mark is used as a defensive stopper but struggles on offense after having to pick up Ellis’s slack. Brazile isn’t fully healthy coming off his injury, and he takes a step back relative to his start last season. The backcourt, thought to be one of the nation’s best, struggles to gel and, just like last season, can’t make shots from the perimeter. The lackluster offense spills over into defensive effort, and in a deeper SEC, that’s no bueno. This is actually really similar to last year’s 1-5 mark from Dec. 28 to Jan. 18, where they lost to LSU and Vanderbilt in that span. Arkansas stumbles, and ends up sneaking into the tournament as a 10 seed, where they beat a good mid-major before bowing out to Creighton in the Round of 32.
Ceiling- It turns out Bruce Pearl was right. The Tigers needed change and they got it with 5-star Aden Holloway and FIU transfer Denver Jones. The backcourt woes are a thing of the past as Jones and Holloway both shoot 36.5% or better from deep. Holloway plays his way into the top 5 of the NBA draft class and the two combine for 28.0+ PPG between the two of them. Johni Broome wins SEC player of the year from the post, and Auburn, for the first time since the Final Four run, looks like a complete basketball team. Dylan Cardwell is finally given important minutes and he plays the role that Walker Kessler had in 2021-22. The most underrated player on the Plains, Jaylin Williams, averages 12 PPG to give the Tigers 4 double-digit scorers for the year. Auburn enters the tournament as a red-hot 3 seed and advances to the Elite Eight, and Bruce Pearl signs a lifetime contract extension.
Floor- The team can’t shoot from three for the third consecutive season, but they keep shooting it to no avail. Freshman point guard Aden Holloway isn’t ready for the physicality of high-major college basketball and struggles to defend and create space on the offensive end. Denver Jones’s outside shooting doesn’t translate against SEC defenses which allows Johni Broome to be the focus of double-teams from the Tigers’ opponents. They can’t stop shooting themselves in the feet with foul trouble for the third year in a row and continue to send opponents to the line and lose close games. The transfer class brought in isn’t on the level of the rotational pieces that transferred out in the offseason and roster depth becomes unquestionably shaky.
Pearl can’t find the right way to use Dylan Cardwell despite his defensive prowess and offensive efficiency, leaving the talented center on the bench for spells at a time. Pearl doesn’t make any lineup changes or rotational tweaks despite a rough 7-5 non-conference record, and the team stumbles to a 6-12 record in-conference for Auburn’s first losing season since 2020-2021. Pearl is forced to hit the portal harder next year, and the Auburn faithful get hit with a gut punch.
Ceiling- Todd Golden is secretly a genius, and it turns out every transfer was just what the Gators needed. Florida benefits from an embarrassment of riches in the backcourt, with the impending Riley Kugel breakout gelling well with the additions of Zyon Pullin and Walter Clayton Jr.. Will Richard wins SEC sixth man of the year after putting up 12 PPG off the bench, while Tyrese Samuel and Micah Handlogten play their respective roles to the best of their abilities, becoming the Gainesville Glue Guys. Freshman Alex Condon is a revelation, and fills the void of losing Yale transfer EJ Jarvis while playing valuable minutes. Florida’s offense takes off in Golden’s year two, and America starts to wonder why they weren’t ranked to begin the season. Riley Kugel goes in the first round, but not before the Gators reach the Sweet Sixteen after staying hot at the right time. Golden is golden heading into year 3.
Floor- Losing Colin Castleton stings a bit too much. The transfer pieces aren’t bad, but don’t represent an upgrade over last year’s roster when accounting for the loss of Castleton. Kugel plays well, but doesn’t have the pro-potential breakout many pegged him to have. Handlogten cannot get used to the frontcourt talent of the SEC, and he gets into constant foul trouble while not providing much on the offensive end. Pullin and Clayton Jr. have growing pains after making the move from low-major to SEC, and Will Richard is the recipient of an unfortunate cold streak. The depth is a huge issue, especially with Handlogten fouling out consistently. The Gators play 7-8 deep and can’t finish games out in the SEC. Despite the talent, the offense doesn’t ever hit full stride and the defense is a liability. The Gators flirt with .500 again and Golden lands firmly on the hot seat after a 16-16 record.
Ceiling- Mike White’s sneakily great transfer class combines with a great freshmen class and returning players to create one of the deepest rotations in the conference. Noah Thomasson remains the scoring threat he was at Niagara, while the two RJs (Melendez and Sunahara) provide guard length and great defense off the bench. With point guards Justin Hill and Silas Demary Jr. at the helm, Jabri Abdur-Rahim is a beneficiary of excellent distribution and floor spacing, hitting over 40% from deep and becoming a much-needed marksman for the Dawgs. The duo of Jalen DeLoach and Russel Tchewa is one of the best defensive frontcourts in the SEC, and it pairs well with an high-ceiling, high-scoring offense. Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe and Frank Anselem-Ibe provide excellent frontcourt depth, while freshmen Blue Cain, Mari Jordan, and Dylan James join Demary Jr. in playing SEC-level basketball to form one of the best freshman classes in recent Bulldog history. Mike White makes the tournament as an 8-seed in his second year while giving 1-seeded UConn a scare in the second round, and the city of Athens starts to care about basketball season
Floor- Georgia feels the loss of Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo in the backcourt when Justin Hill fails to progress and Noah Thomasson can’t make the jump from the MAAC to the SEC, forcing freshmen Demary Jr. and Jordan to have to play extended minutes before they’re ready. The frontcourt additions of DeLoach and Tchewa still hold their own defensively, but can’t pick up the slack on offense, leading Georgia to finish below 70 PPG for the third straight season. The bench rotation struggles as well, as the Bulldogs struggle to adjust to a very deep SEC, falling to the SEC cellar again and ending up with a worse record than White’s first year. Mike White experiences a decommit from the class of 2024 mid-season, and he’s faced with questions from the Bulldog faithful, although less questions than maybe he should after the football team wins their 3rd straight title, keeping the overlapping basketball fan base content.
Ceiling- Kentucky’s paper tiger actually looks good on the court. The three-freshmen starting lineup works out, and Justin Edwards finds himself in both the SEC player of the year and the no. 1 draft pick race. D.J. Wagner proves to be a SEC-caliber starting point guard, and Aaron Bradshaw occasionally makes the Kentucky fanbase forget about losing Oscar. (No player besides Zion or maybe Zach Edey could best Oscar’s last two years in the Blue.) Two more freshmen, Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham provide valuable roles off the bench, with Dillingham splitting point guard duties with Wagner. Ugonna Onyenso breaks out as a sophomore and turns into Kentucky’s best interior defender, while international signing Zvonimir Ivisic is cleared sometime early in the season. All the while, Antonio Reeves is thankful for staying in Lexington, as he leads Kentucky in scoring and provides veteran leadership along with WVU transfer Tre Mitchell, who pairs well with Bradshaw and Onyenso. Kentucky (finally!) reaches the second weekend for the first time since the days of Tyler Herro, the Wildcats reach the Elite Eight, and somehow a small section of Wildcat fans still call for Coach Cal to go.
Floor- The entire basketball program falls apart and Rupp Arena is demolished in mid-February. According to some Kentucky message board posters, this is actually going to happen, complete with the firing of John Calipari after a close loss to Gonzaga moves the Wildcats to an unacceptable 19-4 on the year. The remaining games are ruled as forfeits.
In all actuality, there is a possibility that this hastily put-together roster doesn’t gel. We saw Kentucky lose to South Carolina at home last year even with Cason Wallace and Oscar Tshiebwe in the lineup. Kentucky doesn’t have those players anymore, of course, and it turns out the freshmen class of 2023 really is a down year for recruits. Edwards plays well enough, but not up to the expectations of the Wildcat fan base. Ivisic spends the year on the bench after not receiving word on eligibility from the NCAA for the entire season. Wagner and Dillingham struggle at point, unlike Wallace last year, and Kentucky’s offense struggles as a result. Tre Mitchell struggles to adjust to a new system while the rest of the frontcourt deals with injury and Aaron Bradshaw is outmatched against a bevy of ultra-talented SEC centers. All the Calipari to (insert any Texas school with enough oil money boosters) tweets and texts start up again, and this time the Wildcats don’t have the experience or ability to turn around their season like they did last year. Kentucky pulls a 2022-23 North Carolina and flirts with a tournament bid before rejecting a bid from the NIT. Things get ultra spicy in Lexington and Coach Cal walks away to a school that will love him unconditionally. The Wildcats replace him with Kenny Payne. (The last sentence is a joke. Kentucky actually hires Tom Crean instead.)
Ceiling- Despite losing Jalen Cook, freshman Mike Williams II steps up in a major way, earning the starting point guard role and keeping it. Sophomore Tyrell Ward breaks out as well, tripling his scoring output from last season to double-digits. Forwards Mwani Wilkinson and Daimion Collins finally unlock their potential, and a Matt McMahon coaching masterclass leads the Tigers to the NCAA bubble before an eventual NIT bid.
Floor- With the absence of Jalen Cook, the team lacks a true point guard. The offense struggles and the mid-major transfers struggle to adjust. The holdovers from last year don’t improve in the second year of McMahon’s scheme, and the offense slows to a crawl. It’s essentially a lost season in Baton Rouge as the Tigers look to a more positive 2024-25 season by December.
Ceiling- The question at point guard is answered by Saint Peter’s transfer Jaylen Murray, who holds down the fort well enough. Matthew Murrell shows why he’s one of the best scorers in the SEC, and notches a career-high 16 PPG for the Rebels this year. The frontcourt, with Jaemyn Brakefield and Jamarion Sharp, is sharp. Guard TJ Caldwell has himself a breakout season, and Allen Flanigan, after following his father to Oxford, is invaluable for the Rebels. Mississippi turns a winning record into an NIT bid and a NIT semifinal bid. Oxford is satisfied.
Floor- The denied waiver of Murray severely limits this team’s ceiling and leaves a giant question mark at the point guard position. The team shuffles between (Jaylen) Murray, Austin Nunez, and TJ Caldwell at point, but never finds a groove. Murrell and Brakefield continue to mostly play well, but are the primary gameplan from opposing defenses, and the rest of the team struggles to step up. Cisse’s lack of a waiver means Jamarion Sharp playing 20+ MPG as an SEC center, and while he’s good on the defensive side, the frontcourt in general struggles to score. The team’s lack of depth is evident without Murray and Cisse, and the Rebels find themselves in the cellar (again).
Ceiling- Tolu Smith and KeShawn Murphy return to a team that bent, but didn’t break in their absences. Once the two do come back, the Bulldogs start a hot streak. Getting Smith back creates floor spacing, and the additions of Andrew Taylor, Josh Hubbard, and Trey Fort actually provide suitable perimeter shooting to aid an extremely efficient defense. The Bulldogs’ defense, led by Cameron Matthews, D.J. Jeffries, Dashawn Davis, and Shakeel Moore, stop anyone that comes their way, while scoring just enough points to win. Smith is integral to the Bulldogs, who make the SEC tournament final before losing to Tennessee. The conference schedule successes earn them a 6-seed, where the Bulldogs make the Sweet Sixteen before losing a nail-biter to a tough 2-seed.
Floor- The same team that shot a 26.6 3PT% last year doesn’t take a step forward and finishes below 30% from deep again because the team is built entirely around defensive stoppers. Smith and Murphy come back after Christmas, but aren’t fully 100%. In their absence, the Bulldogs fell apart. They lose games to Nicholls, Murray State, and get blown out by Tulane. The now-deep SEC is able to find enough cracks in the State defense to exploit the Bulldogs, and the offense isn’t consistent or efficient enough to carry the Bulldogs to 20 wins again. The offense, again, is historically bad from the perimeter, and it’s painful to watch. The Bulldogs don’t make the tournament, and nor are they close. Chris Jans will have to reload and focus on building an offense in the offseason.
Ceiling- Missouri shoots the lights out in Dennis Gates’s second year in Columbia. Curt Lewis, Caleb Grill, Nick Honor, John Tonje, Tamar Bates, and Jesus Carrelero Martin can all hit threes on command, and their skills combine with Gates’s scheme to produce an offensive powerhouse. This team is this year’s Alabama. The promised depth is real, and the veteran leadership pays dividends in March. Glue guys like Honor and Sean East II provide sparks on both sides of the floor, while the freshman class is better than expected. The frosh trio ends up playing valuable minutes. The media wonders where this team came from. The answer is Dennis Gates, always. Missouri wins the championship, a few years ahead of schedule.
Floor- The loss of first-round Kobe Brown hurts Mizzou more than expected. Noah Carter doesn’t take a second step forward, and the addition of Caleb Grill does more harm than good. Missouri just doesn’t have the top-end talent that other SEC schools have, and the transfer class does not adjust to the Power 6 schedule as well as they could. The Tigers don’t have the type of defensive stopper like Hodge last year, nor an ice-in-the-veins clutch player like Deandre Gholston. Missouri misses out on the tournament, a true casualty of the newfound depth of the SEC.
Ceiling- The incoming transfer class perfectly finds the roles that Lamont Paris envisioned when signing them. The Gamecocks finally have SEC size and depth, and they’re competitive in the SEC while beating Clemson and Virginia Tech in the non-conference schedule. Meechie Johnson blossoms into an All-SEC performer with much-needed floor spacing provided from Minnesota transfer Ta’Lon Cooper. Frontcourt additions B.J. Mack and Stephen Clark finally add size to the Gamecocks’ roster, and Vanderbilt transfer Myles Stute heats up at the right time to assist the Gamecocks’ first above-average offense as a team since the 2017 Final Four run. Zachary Davis and Jacobi Wright provide immediate backcourt depth off the bench, and Josh Gray leads the SEC in offensive rebounding percentage. The veteran-led Gamecocks win the games they have to and sneak into the tournament through the First Four before getting beat by another bubble team.
Floor- The ‘Cocks don’t have any more shock victories like the Clemson and Kentucky wins in their system. They lose the games they’re supposed to lose and sprinkle in some questionable performances against low-majors in the non-conference schedule. Despite the experience of the transfer class, it still takes weeks for them to adjust to the SEC, and by then, the hole is too big to dig out of in Columbia. The offense doesn’t click, despite the potential for doing so. Defensively, the team is strong down low but gives up a concerning amount of threes. The Gamecocks record their 2nd straight losing season.
Ceiling- This is the year Rick Barnes finally puts it all together, and while it’s not his deepest or most talented Vol roster yet, it’s the one best built for winning. The veteran quintet of Zakai Zeigler, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, and transfer Dalton Knecht finally produce a consistent, dangerous Tennessee offense. Zeigler is fully healthy following his knee injury, and it shows on the court as he averages 6+ APG. The frontcourt, led by Tobe Awaka and Jonas Aidoo, is the cornerstone of an elite defense. The starting 5 as a whole becomes the best defensive core in the country, and the Vols resemble Houston’s squad last year, with bench help from Jahmai Mashack and Jordan Gainey. Vescovi shows out in his final college season, and he heats up from behind the arc. Per usual, the defense carries the Vols, but this time the offense heats up too. The Vols win the title with Rick Barnes, who retires on top of the world.
Floor- Zakai Zeigler is not 100% as he returns from a knee injury suffered last season. And such, the offense struggles with the defense having to carry the burden of success. The high-floor team struggles to reach their ceiling, and the frontcourt struggles to score on offense. Tennessee loses games by scores of 49-52 and 55-60, and Knoxville wonders if it’s all déjà vu from last year. Tennessee makes the tournament as a 5 seed before getting bounced in the first round by a gritty UNCW squad.
Ceiling- Julius Marble returns after the first week of the season. The Aggies are at full strength as they continue their foul-drawing, stout-defense, Taylor-led team modus operandi into the 2023-24 season. The Aggies get to the line, and this year they make their threes. Wade Taylor IV shows why he’s the best player in the SEC, scoring and distributing at an even higher pace than last year. His backcourt partner Tyrece Radford joins forces for an elite 1-2 punch, and UIC transfer Jace Carter slides right into Dexter Dennis’s slasher role like a square peg into a square hole. Henry Coleman III resembles his sophomore form moreso than last year’s edition, and he teams up to form a formidable frontcourt duo with Julius Marble (once Marble returns) for the second year in a row. The bench rotation is exceedingly impressive, with Solomon Washington, Manny Obaseki, Andersson Garcia, Eli Lawrence, Wildens Leveque, and Hayden Hefner finding their roles and excelling in the program. Washington and Leveque are defensive stoppers, while Obaseki’s untapped potential gets tapped, resulting in consideration for the SEC 6th man of the year award. This team finds its stride at the right time and avoids the landmines on the schedule unlike last year. Perimeter shooting improves, and the Aggies win the SEC. That’s not all, though, as, at the right place and the right time, Texas A&M goes on a magical March run and cuts down the nets.
Floor- The Julius Marble situation never clears up and the Aggies are left rotating Henry Coleman III, Andersson Garcia, Solomon Washington, and Wildens Leveque at the 5, taking away continuity at the 4 and putting the offense in a tougher spot, forcing Radford and Taylor IV to carry more of the offensive burden. The perimeter shooting is an issue once again, as the Aggies can’t improve on their 32.6% mark from last season. While the team continues to get to the line, the poor shooting turns the offense one-dimensional, and a good defense isn’t enough to counter a middling offense at times. Shock results like last year’s losses to Murray State and Colorado happen again this year, this time to Depaul and Prairie View A&M. The team is good enough to make the tournament after going .500 in SEC games, but they get blown out by a Big Ten team that was on the bubble heading into March. College Station’s best team since the Kennedy administration (Andy) goes home disappointed.
Ceiling- The returning duo of Tyrin Lawrence and Ezra Manjon meshes well with the relatively young roster, and the offense has no trouble scoring. Notre Dame transfer Ven-Allen Lubin breaks out in his sophomore season, filling in a huge need in the Vandy frontcourt. Other transfers Evan Taylor and Tasos Kamateros provide not just veteran leadership but also a threat from the perimeter shooting the ball. Sophomore Colin Smith breaks out and forms one of the better frontcourt combos in the SEC with Lubin. Other rotational pieces shine, and the Ezra Manjon to Paul Lewis connection is pure gold. A young roster improves throughout the season due to the leadership of Stackhouse and his 4 upperclassmen, while Lawrence and Manjon take the ‘Dores to the Big Dance for the first time since 2017. Nashville rejoices, while the football stadium remains under construction.
Floor- Vanderbilt’s inexperience shows, as Manjon and Lawrence can’t perform the Herculean task of carrying a roster built of just 4 upperclassmen and 9 sophomores and freshmen. A regression is nigh as growing pains hit from the ‘Dores, and they suffer a losing season in Stackhouse’s 5th year at the helm. The transfer pieces have to adjust to the SEC just like the underclassmen, and the offense doesn’t start clicking until weeks into the season. The young roster just isn’t yet ready for the trials and tribulations of an SEC schedule, and it shows as the season progresses. There isn’t a late-season surge, and the Commodores feel disappointed as expectations lower in Nashville. Stackhouse leaves on his own accord to become the next head coach of the Charlotte Hornets.