Don’t worry, the football onslaught is coming.

After a few Fourth of July firecrackers, SEC Media Days will be upon us and the entire college sports world will be awash in 900 hot takes on Alabama’s depth at defensive end or possible Bret Bielema baby names.

Before the levee breaks though, SEC basketball had one last media call earlier this week, summing up the summer and proving again that optimism for the 2017-18 season is higher, league-wide, than it has been in a decade. Whether there is any validity to reports that Kentucky coach John Calipari is sniffing around Manhattan and the Knicks’ vacant presidency remains to be seen. Calipari is linked to most big NBA openings just as somebody somewhere (can you say Tom Arnold?) is sure to link Nick Saban to every NFL vacancy.

Even in the unlikely event Calipari leaves Lexington, he will still leave a treasure trove of talent for next year — and he isn’t the only one. With the 2017 NBA draft behind us, the 2018 NBA mock drafts have arrived with a vengeance as far as the SEC is concerned. One of the best (at nbadraft.net) has seven of the first 14 picks coming from SEC schools, including a projected No. 1, Michael Porter from Missouri. You can throw Ben Simmons at me, but Porter appears to be a talent that could elevate Missouri into NCAA Tournament contention.

This is now the part of our program where diehard Alabama fans will want to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “La! La! La!” at the top of their lungs if they don’t want to know that incoming Alabama guard Colin Sexton is projected No. 6 overall to the Timberwolves. But, as Calipari said on the SEC teleconference last Monday, “if you don’t want one-and-dones, it’s simple. Don’t recruit those guys.” Avery Johnson is squarely in the “recruit them if you can” camp.

Amazingly, there is even a non-freshman on the list — Texas A&M forward Robert Williams, who surprised many observers by choosing a second season in College Station and making the Aggies an NCAA hopeful as well, if their guard play improves.

It’s not just Missouri and Texas A&M that hope to improve after disappointing seasons. LSU has a new coach and a decent roster. Auburn has recruited well. Only Mississippi State seems to be having a frustrating offseason, capped by the unexpected transfer of big man Mario Kegler.

As an example, here is Auburn’s Bruce Pearl on the Tigers’ excitement over sophomore center Austin Wiley.

“Austin was 17 (as a midseason transfer last year) when he got to Auburn, and he’s going up against guys that are 20, 21 or 22, but you could tell it was there,” Pearl said. “He wasn’t going to dominate in the SEC against older players like he was able to dominate guys his own age.

“But Austin was the most physical player at Team USA camp (earlier this month),” Pearl said. “I think that the fact that his motor always runs were two things that showed up to (Calipari) and that coaching staff. He’s much more explosive. He’s always been fast, but now he’s utilizing that speed to his advantage. I think the other thing to keep in mind is when Austin is at the trials, he’s going against other U-19 players; he’s going to physically stand out.”

That’s the key. If the SEC teams that struggled a year ago improve as expected, they will no longer be a drag on the league’s RPI. A rising Tide, which is expected in Tuscaloosa, will help raise all boats. But so will rising Tigers, and Aggies, and the continued success of the Kentuckys and Floridas, and whichever team becomes this year’s South Carolina, as well.

 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225

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