Hello, everyone. I hope you're enjoying the holiday. It's raining here in Austin, TX today. This makes my dogs very happy. Anything that keeps the fireworks to a minimum tonight is appreciated.
I thought it would be fun to write a post with some early SEC predictions for the 18-19 season. There is still the possibility of some roster changes before we reach the end of the summer, but, for the most part, rosters are intact for next season. Once again the league looks like it will be formidable on the heels of a historic season in which the league sent a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Unlike last season I believe the league this season will be a little more top heavy. As good as it was a season ago, it's important to remember that only two teams (Kentucky, Texas A&M) out of the eight advanced to the second weekend of the tournament.
Before I post those predictions, let's review a couple of noteworthy items around the program.
1] Avery Johnson has his first commitment for the 2019 class. Today, Diante Smith, a 6'6, 195 lb forward from Fort Walton Beach, FL, announced his commitment to Alabama on Twitter.
Smith is currently rated as a 3-star prospect at 247. His primary recruiter was Coach Rosemond. Last season, Smith averaged 17.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.3 bpg and 2.3 spg. His shooting averages were impressive - 56% FG and 41% 3PT.
2] Alabama's top target in the 2020 class could be 5-star guard Brandon Boston from Norcross, GA. Boston recently was in Tuscaloosa for an unofficial visit. Boston fits the profile of the types of guards Avery wants to recruit: tall, lengthy (Boston is 6'6) guards that can play multiple spots on the floor.
3] 4-star guard Kira Lewis was on campus on June 25th for an unofficial visit. Alabama is still considered the favorite for Lewis, but it should be noted that Lewis will play for the Hoop City Basketball Club AAU traveling team this summer. Trendon Watford will also be playing for that team. Why is this potentially significant for Bama basketball? Hoop City is based in Memphis. It was also formerly known by another name, M33M, named after Mike Miller, who is now an assistant coach at Memphis. I said it in the last post, and I'll say it again: what once looked like a powerhouse class for Alabama, with three of the top recruits in the state at the top of that class, now looks much less secure.
4] 4-star guard Jaykwon Walton is part of that 2019 in-state group of players that Avery is hoping to recruit to Alabama, but Georgia and new head coach Tom Crean appear to be making a push for Walton. Georgia recently picked up a crystal ball pick from 247 after Walton took an unofficial visit to Athens. As important as the 2019 class is to the future of the Alabama program under Avery, this recruiting period is going to be as tough as we've seen in many years. This is partly where a coaching staff earn their salaries. As if the games aren't nerve-wracking enough, am I right?
Hit the break for those SEC predictions I mentioned hours ago (and with this, Msmilie let slip how much procrastination occurs during the writing of a post)
1. Kentucky - What a surprise. In addition to PJ Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards all returning, Calipari welcomes in the 2nd ranked class in 2018, and also adds elite 5-star Ashton Hagans (reclassifying from 2019) and grad transfer Reid Travis from Stanford (he only averaged 19.5 ppg and 8.7 rpg last season). The rich get richer in Lexington.
2. Mississippi State - Ben Howland returns his top six scorers from a 25-win team. He also adds the fourth best recruiting class per 247 (I think that class is better than fourth). At the very least, this team, barring injuries or drama, should make the NCAA Tournament. Prior to Hagans and Travis coming to Kentucky, I had State as my favorite in the league.
3. Tennessee - The Vols also return their top six scorers from a 26-win team. Grant Williams will likely be the preseason SEC Player of the Year. Rick Barnes seemed like he was burned out in his last few years here in Austin so I was skeptical of what he would do in Knoxville. Once again, I was wrong: Barnes has done some of the best coaching of his career in Knoxville, and has done it with rosters that are not loaded with NBA talent as they were in previous stops (there may be a lesson somewhere in there).
4. Auburn - Bruce Pearl must have nine lives. He looked dead in the water last season, but instead emerged with a five year contract extension. I don't care for Pearl, but as long as he's at Auburn the Tigers will be a problem to deal with. In his fourth season, Auburn won a conference title. The Tigers also return enough talent to be a contender in 18-19 as well.
5. Florida - The decision by Jalen Hudson to return to school may have been the most important for any team in the league aside from Texas A&M (more on them later). Hudson is primed for a huge senior season, and the Gators also return veteran players in KeVaughn Allen, Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes. As good as those guys are, I do believe that it will be the development of a talented group of freshmen and sophomores that will ultimately determine just how good this Florida team can be.
6. Alabama - I'm going to be optimistic and predict that this roster will grow and be more balanced without Collin Sexton. Of all the teams in the league, Alabama may be the one that is the toughest to predict. The talent is there on the roster, but it's impossible to say for sure that this team will have the necessary team chemistry to win the necessary amount of games to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season. The keys to the season in my opinion are that Tevin Mack must be an impact guy, returning players have to take another step, and Jared Butler may be the x-factor at point guard.
7. LSU - The Tigers will likely be picked higher by others due to the fact that they return Tremont Waters (in my opinion, the second best freshman in the league last season behind Collin) and add the 3rd ranked recruiting class in the country. I'm being cautious with this team for two reasons: 1] it's still a team dependent on freshmen and sophomores and 2] For all of his success, Will Wade has never had a roster this talented and, perhaps, egocentric. This team will likely be one of the more fascinating to watch in the league.
8. Missouri - Jontay Porter's return to school was big, but the Tigers did lose their top two players from last season (Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett) so I'd be surprised if they don't take a minor step back, at least.
9. Ole Miss - I loved the decision to hire Kermit Davis. His work at Middle Tennessee was impressive, and I suspect he'll do well at Ole Miss. I think he has a chance to get off to a good start because there is talent on that Ole Miss roster despite the win/loss record from a season ago. Terence Davis is an All-SEC type of player, and Breein Tyree and Bruce Stevens also return. If Kermit can get these guys to play together, the Rebels should be okay.
10. Texas A&M - If Tyler Davis had returned for his senior year, I'd have the Aggies higher. As a result, his decision to stay in the draft was perhaps the biggest impact on any team in the league, particularly when you add Robert Williams and DJ Hogg to the list of departed players. TJ Starks has star power, and Admon Gilder is an experienced and steady player. Beyond those two, there's a lot of question marks.
11. Arkansas - The Razorbacks are going from one of the most experienced teams in the league to one of the most inexperienced. While Daniel Gafford's decision to return was important for this team, so much youth in what looks like a tough league on paper suggests the Razorbacks will take a step back in 18-19. The x-factor of course is Mike Anderson's system, which appears to run itself regardless of experience.
12. Vanderbilt - The 17-18 season was not a memorable one for the Dores, but Bryce Drew did bring in the 3rd ranked class in the league. That upgrade in talent suggests Vanderbilt is trending in the right direction, but it will be a team heavily dependent on youth in a tough league.
13. South Carolina - Chris Silva should be one of the top players in this league, but is the talent around him good enough to lift this Gamecock program into the upper reaches of the league? I'm not convinced so I'll take the safe route and put the Gamecocks here.
14. Georgia - Kudos to Georgia for making an aggressive hire in Tom Crean, a coach with a Final Four and multiple Big Ten titles on his resume. Unfortunately, Yante Maten is gone, and I'm unsure what this team will look like without Maten's presence on the floor. In a conference loaded from top to bottom with player and coaching talent, I don't know where else I can comfortably put Georgia, despite my respect for Crean's coaching ability.