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Sky's View: SEC Basketball Pre-Season Picks

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Sky's View SEC Men's Basketball Preseason Picks

The 2021-2022 NCAA basketball season is almost upon us. Following a unique season with no fans in the stands, with traditional powers struggling, this season looks to be back to business as usual.

Last year the SEC sent six teams to the big dance. (2) Alabama, (3) Arkansas, (5) Tennessee, (7) Florida, (8) LSU, and (9) Missouri. How many teams will represent the SEC this year in the NCAA? The league has regrouped, teams have revamped and bolstered their rosters with incoming freshman, but also tapped into the transfer portal to load up on upperclassmen.

The SEC has five teams in the pre-season AP poll, led by our Kentucky Wildcats who come in at #10. Followed by (14)Alabama, (16) Arkansas, (18) Tennessee, and (22) Auburn. It looks like the league may be loaded at the top again, but some of those teams in the middle of the pack are looking to make their mark.

So let's get into it and break down the teams and where they stand in my preseason picks.

1. KENTUCKY

Head Coach: John Calapari (13th Season)

2020-2021 Record: 9-16 (8-9)

Conference Finish: 8th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

It was a highly improbable season for the 2021 Cats. They had returners, they had the five-star freshmen Wildcat fans have become accustomed to under John Calapari. Somehow the team just never clicked. Calapari claimed in the offseason that it was "unacceptable". So he went out and made some changes, not only in personnel but on the side line as well.

He went and poached Orlando Antigua and his running mate Chin Coleman from Illinois. It was a much needed upgrade for the Cats. This will be Antigua's second run with coach Cal. Coleman with his powerful persona and ties to the Chicago recruiting scene, along with Antigua's proven track record are a major get for the Wildcats.

Cal didn't stop there though, he attacked the transfer market like he attacks pasta at an all you can eat buffet. He just kept going back for seconds, then thirds, and even fourths. He brought in instant offense in the form of three point shooters Kellan Grady(Grad transfer) and C.J Frederick(redshirt junior). Found a distributor in Sahvir Wheeler(Junior), then set the foundation for it all with Oscar Tshiebwe(junior).

Never satisfied though Cal still managed to bring in three notable freshmen. Five Star do it all guard Ty ty Washington, along with versatile forward Daimion Collins, and in my opinion underrated guard/forward Bryce Hopkins.

All this to go along with returners Dontaie Allen(So)Jacob Toppin(jr),Keion Brooks(jr),Lance Ware(so) and sixth year guard Davion Mintz.

Calapari went and addressed all the shortcomings of the 2021 team. He got guards who can get to the rim. He has shooters all over the floor. The perceived weakness for this current team might be on the defensive side of the ball. They are loaded up offensively. Cal has said he may go with a four guard line up. He has promised fans an up-tempo, fast paced offense.

Cal's biggest problem may be finding playing time for all the bodies he has. I think Cat's fans will quickly put the 2021 season behind them when this team gets it all going. If the defense can match the output of the expected offense of this team, then they have all the pieces not only to win the SEC but to put together a run in the tournament. Rupp arena will be rocking again this year after sitting empty this past season, so opponents beware!

2. TENNESSEE

Head Coach: Rick Barnes (7th Season)

2020-2021 Record: 18-9 (10-7)

Conference Finish: 4th

NCAA Tournament: 5 Seed

I know, I know people are going to think I have Tennessee to high. Rick Barnes is a coach who can get the job done. Tennessee has the talent to be this high. Stacked may be a bit strong, but it is not far from it. How Sr. John Fulkerson is not on the preseason All SEC teams is beyond me? Then you add returners Victor Bailey Jr., Josiah-Jordan James, and Santiago Vescovi. What about Auburn transfer Justin Powell? Just to make it more interesting Barnes added five-star PG Kennedy Chandler, and reclassified five-star PF Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, along with talented four-star recruit Jonas Aidoo.

Tennessee has all of the pieces to be a contender, and they will be in the hunt to challenge Kentucky for the SEC title. Could this be the Tennessee group that makes the teams first Final Four in school history? Rick Barnes is one of the best Coaches around and with all this talent I expect Tennessee to be in the mix.

3. ARKANSAS

Head Coach: Eric Musselman (3rd season)

2020-2021 Record: 25-7 (13-4 )

Conference Finish: 2nd

NCAA Tournament: 3 Seed

Arkansas was one of the best teams in the SEC last season, and head coach Eric Musselman intends to keep them there. They reached the Elite Eight and the Razorbacks believe a Final Four isn’t out of the question this time around.

They bring in transfers Stanley Umude from South Dakota, Au’Diese Tony from Pitt, and Chris Lykes from Miami (FL). These additions will add to the already-potent attack at Musselman's disposal, including KK Robinson, Davonte Davis, and JD Notae.

This Arkansas team will run the floor and shoot the three. They present a challenge to every team they play. I expect them to challenge Kentucky and Tennessee for the top spot in the SEC.

4. MISSISSPPI STATE

Head coach: Ben Howland (7th season)

2020-2021 record: 18-15 (8-10 )

Conference finish: 9th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

This should be a much better Mississppi State team from a season ago. Ben Howland went aggressively into the transfer portal and picked up Rocket Watts (Michigan State), Shakeel Moore (NC State), Garrison Brooks (North Carolina), and D.J. Jeffries (Memphis). All of whom should be immediate impact players for the Bulldogs. One of if not the best transfer recruiting classes in all of the NCAA. This will add depth to returners Iverson Molinar(1st Team Pre-season All SEC), Jalen Johnson, and Abdul Ado

I think this Bulldog team is ready to take a step forward, they could be the surprise team in the SEC this year. They are loaded with talent, if they can play together they are going to be a tough out.

5. ALABAMA

Head coach: Nate Oates (3rd season)

2020-2021 record: 26-7 (16-2 )

Conference finish: 1st

NCAA Tournament: 2 Seed

Nate Oates and Alabama caught everyone by surprise last season and vaulted to the top of the SEC. They will have their eyes on a repeat. Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly will return and are supported by incoming five-star recruit JD Davison and four-star big man Charles Bediako.

Alabama lived by the three last year and shot opponents out of the gym. Shackelford and Quinerly are All SEC level players. I don't see anyone on the roster to fill the shoes of John Petty jr. Alabama will be among the top teams this year but I think reality sets in, and they finish fifth. They will make the NCAA and could win a game or two depending on the seeding.

6. AUBURN

Head coach: Bruce Pearl (8th season)

2020-2021 record: 13-14 (7-11)

Conference finish: 11th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

The Tigers struggled last year, and did not make the NCAA tournament. I think that changes this year with the addition of five-star recruit Jabari Smith, North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler, and Georgia transfer K.D. Johnson.

Bruce Pearl's teams always play hard. They utilize the three point shot and play aggressive in your face defense. The talent is there for Pearl to mold this team into a NCAA team and to get ten plus wins in the SEC.

7. LSU

Head coach: Will Wade (5th season)

2020-2021 record: 19-10 (11-6 in SEC)

Conference finish: 3rd

NCAA Tournament: 8 Seed

LSU figures to be solid again. Coach Will wade will rely heavily on All SEC forward Darius Days to lead this team. They added Tari Eason (Cincinnati) and Adam Miller (Illinois), who are expected to make an immediate impact. Five-star recruit Afton Reid should see significant playing time as well.

This Tiger's team is not as potent as some of the recent squads. I expect them to be competitive but I don't see them challenging the elite of the league this year. They could surprise me and move up, but I have them in the traffic jam that is the middle of the SEC race.

8. FLORIDA

Head coach: Mike White (7th season)

2020-2021 record: 15-10 (9-7)

Conference finish: 5th

NCAA Tournament: 7 Seed

Florida returners Colin Castleton, along with Keyontae Johnson and Tyree Appleby will form the core of this team. They add Myreon Jones who transferred in from Penn State, and four-star recruit Kowacie Reeves.

The Gators have a deep lineup and Mike White will coach them up. They could make some noise in the SEC. I can't see them as contenders right now. The middle of the pack is where I have them.

9. MISSISSIPPI (Ole Miss)

Head coach: Kermit Davis (4th season)

2020-2021 record: 16-12 (10-8)

Conference finish: 6th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

This Rebels team is tough to place. On one hand I think they could end up being one of the better teams in the league. Then on the other I have them at 9th. In the end I don't think they have the firepower to contend with the better teams at the top of this list. They could be a sleeper though?

Jarkel Joiner will be the primary returner. They added four-star recruit Daeshun Ruffin along with transfers Jaemyn Brakefield (Duke) and Nysier Brooks (Miami (FL), both of whom could make an impact this year.

10. MISSOURI

Head coach: Cuonzo Martin (5th season)

2020-2021 record: 16-10 (8-8)

Conference finish: 7th

NCAA Tournament: 9 Seed

The depth of the SEC is going to make it hard for Cuonzo Martin's squad to make a decent run this year. The Tigers made the NCAA last year but I just don't see it happening again this year.

They will have returners Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett and recruited DuJuan Gordon (Kansas) and Ronnie DeGray III (UMass). Just don't see enough firepower on this team to be a serious competitor.

11. TEXAS A&M

Head coach: Buzz Williams (3rd season)

2020-2021 record: 8-10 (2-8)

Conference finish: 13th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

I have seen Buzz Williams squad listed as a potential sleeper team to keep an eye on this year in the SEC. I just don't see it. I think they will be improved over last year, but nothing more.

A lot is being made over Duke transfer Henry Coleman III, and I agree he should make and immediate impact. Just not enough though to make a run and contend with the depth in this league. A&M will probably pick up an upset win or two though, they are solid enough to be competitive on any given night.

12. VANDERBILT

Head coach: Jerry Stackhouse (3rd season)

2020-2021 record: 9-16 (3-13)

Conference finish: 14th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

Scottie Pippen Jr is arguably the most valuable player in the SEC. His talent and ability to control a game is going to give opponents fits. Vandy will win some games this year just based on the potential star quality talent of Pippen Jr. He will have some help from Minnesota transfer Liam Robbins and four-star recruit Shane Dezonie.

I see a Vanderbilt team who will be competitive in almost every game they play. Just not enough around Pippen Jr. to make any real noise.

13. SOUTH CAROLINA

Head coach: Frank Martin (10th season)

2020-2021 record: 6-15 (4-12)

Conference finish: 12th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

This will be another competitive Frank Martin team. The Gamecocks have the ability to win some games. They will play with that Frank Martin toughness as always.

Transfers leaving cost South Carolina this offseason. Pretty much decimated their frontcourt. Not to mention the loss of A.J Lawson to the pros. Jermaine Couisnard and Keyshawn Bryant will be the top returners. This Gamecock team will end up on the bottom half of the standings in the SEC

14. GEORGIA

Head coach: Tom Crean (4th season)

2020-2021 record: 14-12 (7-11)

Conference finish: 10th

NCAA Tournament: No Dance

This Georgia team just does not have the players to be competitive in the SEC. The loss of Savhir Wheeler and K.D. Johnson to transfer certainly did not help the cause.

Georgia is going to have a hard time winning games. They did add Aaron Cook (Gonzaga) as well as Jailyn Ingram (FAU) and Jabri Abdur-Rahim (Virginia) to give them some hope. Tom Crean will have to work some kind of magic to make this team competitive.

CONCLUSIONS:

Well there you have it. My predictions for the order of finish for the SEC. Without a single official game minute logged yet. I do not expect many to agree with my picks, but then that is the fun of it right. So tell me what you think, let me know why I am wrong. Make your case and we will debate it.

I think the SEC will get five teams to the dance this year. Would not surprise me to manage six bids again though

I think Kentucky is once again the top of the SEC. Back where we are used to being. This team at least on paper and from the small sample size we have seen, they are much improved. Back to a more typical Cal team, even though they are not overloaded with five-star freshman. It is a different type of team building but looks like a common result. I think the SEC is Kentucky's to lose. They will be challenged, but still I think they come out on top. I am expecting this UK team to end up a two to four seed for the tournament. Lot to happen between now and then.

OTHER PICKS:

REGULAR SEASON CHAMPION: KENTUCKY

SEC TOURNAMENT CHAMPION: MISSISSIPPI STATE

NCAA TOURNAMENT BIDS: KENTUCKY, ARKANSAS, MISSISSIPPI STATE, TENNESSEE, ALABAMA, AUBURN