News flash from Music City. In its infinite wisdom, the media covering SEC basketball has crawled out on an extended limb and picked Kentucky to win the league in men’s basketball. Again.
Such was the early news nugget from the league’s one-day basketball media extravaganza — football gets a four-day media treatment — this year christened SEC Tipoff 2017 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, site of the league’s postseason tournament.
The real question was who would be picked second behind the Cats? That distinction went to Florida, followed by Texas A&M, Georgia and Arkansas, whose Moses Kingsley was chosen the pre-season SEC Player of the Year.
While coaches and two players from all 14 schools made the interview rounds on the arena’s concourse, the topic of the day was Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky, then everybody else.
“I think that’s perception more than reality,” said UK coach John Calipari during his Q&A session Wednesday.
Actually, that’s reality.
“Obviously,” said Mississippi State coach Ben Howland, “Kentucky is the cream of the crop and has been for a very long time.”
“John has done an unbelievable job of establishing a level of talent there and I think he’s underappreciated as a coach,” said Georgia Coach Mark Fox. “He’s a great recruiter, but he’s also a terrific X-and-O coach. His teams are great defensively. They run great stuff on offense. They don’t win just because they have great players.”
“Coach Cal has done a great job with his program,” said Alabama Coach Avery Johnson. “And while others may be envious or jealous, I’m not. I study him a lot.”
“Kentucky,” said Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, “is always going to be Kentucky.”
Ah, but can any of the league’s other 13 members come close to Kentucky this year? After all, for all the talk about improved recruiting and better scheduling and more high-profile coaches, the SEC earned the same number of NCAA Tournament bids in 2016 (three) as it did in 2015.
“We’ve got to get better at the top,” Pearl said. “There has to be some separation there.”
There is Florida, which returns a core group of upperclassmen led by seniors Kasey Hill and Justin Leon, plus juniors Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza and John Egbunu, plus sophomore KeVaughn Allen. Now add graduate transfer Canyon Barry, son of Rick Barry, who averaged 19.7 points per game at Charleston last season.
“If we’ve been picked second, obviously you all have put a lot of stock in experience on paper,” said Gators Coach Mike White. “I’m not upset about being picked second. I’m not sure I would have picked us second.”
“Tyler Davis at A&M, he’s going to be a monster,” said Howland. “I loved him last year.”
Then there’s Georgia, which returns first-teamer J.J. Frazier, the 5-foot-10 shooting guard and second-team pick Yante Maten, the 6-8 junior forward whom Howland called “the most underrated player in the entire conference.”
“We’ve got to get better,” said Fox on Wednesday. “Now that I’m pushing 50 we might be able to guard me, but that’s about it. We’ve got to get a lot better defensively.”
As for the league’s overall never-ending effort at a roundball revival, well that’s a work in progress.
“One of the ways to do it,” said Johnson, “is you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and recruit.”
Heaven knows, they’re trying. Mississippi State wound up sixth in Rivals’ Class of 2016 team recruiting rankings. An early look at 2017 shows Auburn at No. 2. Arkansas is 16th. Alabama is 17th. Texas A&M is 18th.
“I see a lot of what’s happening at some of the other schools,” Johnson said. “Obviously, you can’t mention names, but that have gotten verbal commitments. I like what I’m seeing around the landscape of our conference.”
For now, however, it’s Kentucky, then the rest.
SEC basketball preseason media poll
- 1. Kentucky
- 2. Florida
- 3. Texas A&M
- 4. Georgia
- 5. Arkansas
- 6. Vanderbilt
- 7. Alabama
- 8. South Carolina
- 9. Ole Miss
- 10. Mississippi State
- 11. Auburn
- 12. LSU
- 13. Tennessee
- 14. Missouri
SEC commitments for Class of 2017
Rivals Top 100
El Dorado, Ark.
Preseason All-SEC basketball as picked by media
First team All-SEC
- Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
- J.J. Frazier, Georgia
- Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
- De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
- Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
Second team All-SEC
- KeVaughn Allen, Florida
- Yante Maten, Georgia
- Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
- Malik Monk, Kentucky
- Antonio Blakeney, LSU
- Quinndary Weatherspoon, Miss State
- Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
SEC Player of the Year
- Moses Kingsley, Arkansas