One of the arguments that you hear frequently about Southeastern Conference basketball is that the league is improving (which it seems to be) and is “young.” So that’s the angle we will take with this week’s poll before the league race thunders into the home stretch.
1. Florida (1) — The Gators are led by a senior backcourt, including grad transfer Canyon Barry (who would be on my five-player All-SEC team). Kevaughn Allen, a sophomore, will make their transition — or an extended stay at the top — much easier for the Gators.
2. Kentucky (2) — You can’t really evaluate UK, because of its blueprint of building around one-and-done talent, in the same way you evaluate other SEC teams. This year, though, only Malik Monk and DeAaron Fox are NBA-ready. That means Bam Adebayo and Weyen Gabriel will either make bad decisions or be back next year, along with another crop of freshmen. It will be interesting to see how Calipari manages that roster with one basketball.
3. South Carolina (3) — There will be no way to replace Sindarius Thornwell, who should be the SEC Player of the Year. But there is P.J. Dozier, and Frank Martin is probably about to do at South Carolina what he did at Kansas State, meaning the Gamecocks will be a hard-nosed upper-division team on a yearly basis.
4. Arkansas (5) — The Razorbacks seem to have a reasonable amount of young talent but the question here is whether it will improve. Does Moses Kingsley seem better this year? Does Dusty Hannahs? Or do they seem like the same Arkansas team, perpetually recycled?
5. Tennessee (4) — UT wins this year’s award for exceeding its recruiting class “star” rankings by the widest margin. Grant Williams is just the sort of strong (if slightly undersized) forward that used to populate the SEC in droves, and will be a star in the future n
6. Georgia (6) — If Yante Maten leaves along with J.J. Frazier, it’s hard to get too excited about the 2017 Bulldogs.
7. Ole Miss (7) — The Rebels will miss Sebastian Saiz but some younger players are coming along as Andy Kennedy seems set to survive another year.
8. Vanderbilt (9) — The issue with figuring out whether Vandy will get any better is deciding if the Commodores are any good in the first place. How does a team blow out Arkansas, then turn around and get drubbed at Missouri (and move up a spot in the Power Poll in the process?) Replacing Luke Kornet’s unique skill set will be difficult in any event.
9. Auburn (8) — Auburn will have a very good roster around center Austin Wiley next year and those 23-point leads will be easier to protect. It’s taken time for Bruce Pearl, but patience seems to be paying off.
10. Alabama (11) — In part because of its grad transfers, UA is somewhat senior-heavy and will actually be “younger” next season. But Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key, Daniel Giddens and Donta Hall should be a solid young nucleus with the freshmen around them. Riley Norris, too, although he is a little older. Don’t be shocked to see Alabama add one grad transfer again.
11. Texas A&M (10) — Reviewing the roster makes it slightly easier to understand Texas A&M’s disappointing season. The Aggies are dominated by freshmen. The major question is whether forward Robert Williams will be one-and-done.
12. Mississippi State (12) — Statistically, the Bulldogs are the youngest team in college basketball — and it shows sometimes. Ben Howland will keep getting the talent and hoping the chemistry will follow.
13. Missouri (14) — First, kudos to Mizzou for managing to get out of the Power Poll basement. Second, since they’ve basically been committed to playing freshmen all year and they are improving, one has to think that will continue. This still isn’t a team with SEC-contender talent but at least there is a little more hope.
14. LSU (13) — The easiest thing to say about this sinking ship is throw everyone overboard. If that happened, though, it would be well worth the effort to toss a life preserver to sophomore center Duop Reath.