Out of the quarantine and election fog steps yours truly with a glimmer of light in his eye in the hopes that a college basketball season will happen. While roughly 15% of the college basketball programs in D1 are shut down due to Covid-related issues, college basketball is moving forward. Fortunately, Alabama will be one those teams kicking off the season tonight. Who knows what the season looks like from week to week though. My opinion is it would have been better to go to a conference only schedule in a bubble somewhere, but what it is is what it is.
I have hung up my hat where it concerns writing about this program on a regular basis here. However, Bobby has been kind enough to leave the light on for me and so I'd like to post my predictions for the SEC (assuming conditions allow a full conference slate).
1. Kentucky - The Cats are even younger than normal, but John Calipari remains one of the safer bets in this league. Expect this young team to struggle at times, but Cal will likely figure things out by late January.
2. Florida - Talent and experience will not be an issue for the Gators, but can Mike White coach an overachiever for a change? The Gators likely would have made the tournament last season if it happened, which would have been their fourth straight under White. But Florida has faded somewhat in the national consciousness, and White is one bad season away from feeling some serious heat from the fanbase. Due to Covid issues, the Gators season debut is December 2.
3. Tennessee - The popular pick to win the league, and probably the smart pick. The Vols return most of their best players from last season, plus add Barnes' best recruiting class yet. But I like to go out on a limb so I'll pick them here. Due to Covid issues, Tennessee's season is delayed until December 12.
4. Alabama - Honestly, I believe that if everything clicks for our guys, they can win the league this season. The depth is there to do it. The biggest question is can our guys guard anybody? Defense was the biggest issue last season as Alabama finished 10th in the league in defensive efficiency. This team can shoot as many threes as they want to, and it won't matter if they don't guard.
5. Ole Miss - I'm drinking some of the Rebel kool-aid as they return some key guys while also having success on the transfer market. That said, they are a tough team to figure; they could finish here or 10th. I believe Kermit Davis is a good coach so I expect them to bounce back after a 13th-place finish last season. Due to Covid issues (are you sensing a pattern here?), the Rebels are delayed until December 12
6. LSU - The Tigers have the talent to win the league. They also have an NCAA investigation hanging over their heads. If you've been paying attention to what happened to Alabama and Auburn, it does appear that all programs caught under the FBI investigation are or will be facing varying degrees of penalties. Because Will Wade was a blabbermouth on a phone conversation that was being tapped by the feds, LSU will likely be one of the programs hit hardest. With the future job status of the coaches and the eligibility of players up in the air, all happening during a pandemic which has upset normalcy in the sport, how can this team not be distracted?
7. South Carolina - For people like myself that make predictions, the Gamecocks are like gnats on a camping trip. You predict they'll finish 12, they finish 8; you predict they'll finish 10, they finish 6; you predict they'll...well, you get the idea. Like gnats, very annoying. So expect them to finish somewhere between 3-5 based on this prediction.
8. Missouri - The Tigers will have the most experienced team in the league. If they can avoid the injuries that have decimated them the last three seasons, they should be very competitive.
9. Arkansas - I love Muss. Long-time readers will remember I was floating his name for head coach in Tuscaloosa after the end of the Grant era. If Arkansas finishes higher, I won't be shocked. But they did lose their best two players early to the draft. Muss responded by restocking the roster with transfers, which has been a successful MO for him. I feel a little better about the teams in front of the Hawgs, but I'd take Muss as a coach over all but two (maybe three) of the coaches of the teams I've predicted ahead of Arkansas.
10. Texas A&M - Readers will also remember my respect for Buzz. He made quite the splash in his first season in College Station, taking a team that had no business finishing above 12th and leading them to a 7th place finish (five of their ten conference wins were on the road). But they also lost Josh Nebo, a player that I thought was one of the most important players to their team in the league. The kind you don't miss until he's gone (think Herb last season playing with one hand or missing games altogether). The future is very bright with Buzz on the bench, but this could be a temporary step back as he builds the program.
11. Auburn - I was struggling with Auburn's placement on this list a few days ago. But then the school announced a postseason ban for this season. And then news began to surface that the player that could be Auburn's best player this season was exploring overseas options due to worries about his eligibility. So yeah, I feel better about this prediction.
12. Mississippi State - Ben Howland's tenure in Starkville has been a mixed bag, to put it nicely. I wouldn't be shocked if both parties are fine with moving in different directions as soon as this spring. With this team, Howland has some guys returning that could take another step, but this roster (with all due respect to Bama transfer Javian Davis) doesn't jump off the page at me. If they finish higher than this, props to Ben Howland.
13. Georgia - They're probably better off without Anthony Edwards, but I don't sense much positive momentum in Athens right now. Fortunately for Tom Crean, there is no more apathetic fanbase when it comes to basketball in the SEC than Georgia.
14. Vanderbilt - My gut feeling is that Vandy will finish higher than this. Between what they have coming back, plus a few new players, they could take a step forward this season. But my brain isn't ready to go out on a limb for a program that has won only nine conference games in the last three seasons.
Once again, thanks to Bobby for leaving the light on. It's great to see this lil' ol' blog continue its steady progression. Let's hope for the best this basketball season. Lord knows we could use a little escape these days. Take care, and Roll Tide!