Whether Southeastern Conference basketball will be better than ever in 2018-19 remains to be seen. But voting for a preseason all-league team and predicting an order of finish seems harder than ever. That suggests high quality and highly competitive basketball.
There’s an unusual number of returning veterans, especially so in this era of one-and-done players. Plus at programs in addition to Kentucky, there’s a liberal sprinkling of incoming freshmen who were either McDonald’s All-Americans or five-star prospects or both.
Kentucky alone nominated nine players for preseason All-SEC consideration. And a plausible case can be made for each player being on an All-SEC watch list. That’s Quade Green, Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, Reid Travis and PJ Washington.
Alas, there’s only five spots.
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Here’s my ballot:
Order of finish: 1. Kentucky; 2. Tennessee; 3. Mississippi State; 4. Auburn; 5. Missouri; 6. Florida; 7. Vanderbilt; 8. LSU; 9. Alabama; 10. South Carolina; 11. Texas A&M; 12. Georgia; 13. Arkansas; 14. Ole Miss.
Comment: No team should be deeper than Kentucky. And as we’ve already heard again and again, there’s the important component of veteran steadiness this season to go with the customary freshman flash. Of course, this has been the case in UK’s best seasons of late. And from what we saw in the Bahamas, these UK players will compete rather than simply play.
Last season’s co-champions, Tennessee and Auburn, return many players. So does Mississippi State, which won 25 games last season and advanced to the NIT semifinals.
Mississippi State adding three highly touted freshmen (Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard and D.J. Stewart) and Auburn losing Mustapha Heron moved up the former and dropped the latter one spot on the ballot.
As for the rest of the standings, indecision reigned. No fewer than five times the deck was reshuffled. Tennessee’s rise from being picked 13th to co-champs last season makes a voter appreciate the concept of the secret ballot.
All-SEC: Counting the nine from UK, a whopping 20 players crossed my mind. A bias toward spreading the wealth made a 16-player tie for the fifth spot tempting.
My picks (in alphabetical order) were Daniel Gafford, Arkansas; Jared Harper, Auburn; Chris Silva, South Carolina; Reid Travis, Kentucky; Grant Williams, Tennessee.
Comment: Also in alphabetical order, apologies go to Aric Holman (Mississippi State), Jalen Hudson (Florida), Jontay Porter (Missouri), Kevin Puryear (Missouri), Admiral Schofield (Tennessee), Tremont Waters (LSU), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State), Austin Wiley (Auburn) and depending how the season plays out, probably more than one of the other players nominated by UK.
Player of the Year: Grant Williams, Tennessee.
Comment: No player seems preeminent in talent and presence. A great number of players seem capable of being first among equals. Williams was Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season. Presumably, he will figure even more prominently in opponents’ game plans. But veteran teammates should give him room to operate and a good chance for re-election.
The SEC will announce the results of all-league balloting this coming week.
Vive la difference
A Media Day question prompted laughter from Reid Travis: How did UK’s formal meeting with reporters on Thursday to officially tip off the season compare to Stanford’s Media Day?
“It’s different,” Travis said before laughing. “It’s different.”
Stanford’s Media Day “obviously” drew less attention, Travis said, not that he was complaining about UK Media Day’s packed house.
“The stage is a lot bigger . . . ,” he said of Kentucky basketball. “Me, I like it. I’m trying to soak it all up, and have fun with it.”
Keldon Johnson has two older brothers: Kyle, 24, and Kaleb, 22. He also has a younger sister, Kristyn.
Detect a pattern? Each name begins with the letter “K.” Father Chris Johnson credited his wife, Rochelle, with setting the pattern.
“Our oldest, we named him Kyle and we just rolled on from Kyle,” the Johnson family patriarch said.
Kaleb Johnson will be a senior wing on Georgetown’s team this season. He averaged 7.9 points last season. Lindy’s called him “a swingman who is good off the dribble and backboards.” Street & Smith’s said he made 54.2 percent of his shots last season.
Last week’s note about beer and wine being available at concession stands during this coming season’s NCAA Tournament did not brighten reader Joyce Herndon’s mood.
“Now, we can add many more drunk drivers to the streets after basketball,” she wrote in an email. “Congratulations to the ones who enjoy the revenue from this. That’s what it’s all about. Sad.
“MADD keep fighting.”
A retiree and grandmother, Herndon said she was not opposed to social drinking. However, “I feel this whole year I have read one article after another about alcohol sales needed/wanted, especially at events,” she wrote. “Revenue, revenue is a key word in these articles. I realize alcohol is going to get into events whether it’s sold there or not. I’ve watched whiskey bottles passed around under legs for years at football games. I saw young men stuffing beer bottles in their pants around their bellies and covering with shirts before entering a game a couple of weeks ago. It happens.”
The alcohol-related death of a 4-year-old after a Kentucky football game haunts Herndon, who wrote, “I’ve just been torn for that toddler that died and his family and the ruined life of the young man who made a serious bad choice that dreadful day.”
‘Basketball and brews’
Pending approval from Virginia’s department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the University of Richmond will start selling beer at the Robins Center during basketball games this season.
“It’s something we’ve been considering for a bit, and we already have policies and procedures in place to regulate alcohol sales on campus,” associate director of athletic public relations Jason Vida wrote in an email.
Richmond’s campus includes a restaurant that serves beer.
“Also, we do multiple ‘Basketball and Brews’ events each season that include pregame beer tasting and are very popular,” Vida wrote. “So it seemed like a natural fit.”
Richmond will cut off beer sales with 10 minutes left in the second half. The school will also increase staff to verify IDs and issue wristbands that will be required to purchase beer, Vida wrote in an email.
People apparently like lists. Sports Illustrated’s website, SI.com, has been previewing the upcoming season in the form of lists. Here are a few highlights:
Top 10 Preseason Player of the Year candidates: North Carolina forward Luke Maye is at No. 1. No doubt fans recall he made the shot that eliminated Kentucky from the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Two Duke players — R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson — are on the list. Reid Travis is among players who were considered.
Top 10 rivalries: Duke-North Carolina is No. 1. UK-Louisville is No. 2 and UK-Indiana is No. 9. UK-Indiana? SI.com called the last regular-season game an “absolute instant classic.” That’s the December 2011 game that Christian Watford won with a shot at the buzzer. “We’re all hoping this rivalry can continue again in some form, sometime soon,” SI.com wrote.
Top 10 toughest arenas: Rupp Arena is No. 3. The top two are Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse. The honorable mentions included Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena and Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym.
Sports and politics
Sports and politics can be a combustible combination. But that’s how UK bills an upcoming appearance by Bill Bradley.
Bradley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and former All-American for Princeton, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Senator, will appear at UK on Tuesday. The topic of his talk: “Sports, Politics and Public Policy: What Happens When They Intersect?”
This is timely. As a senator from New Jersey in 1992, Bradley sponsored legislation that effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states. He has said that betting can reduce athletes to human roulette chips.
In May, the Supreme Court struck down the law, which opens the possibility of legal gambling on college games.
Bradley’s 90-minute appearance will include his talk, a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session. It will be in the Worsham Cinema at the Gatton Student Center beginning at 3:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.
To Keldon Johnson. He turned 19 on Thursday. . . . To Mike Ballenger. He turned 56 on Thursday. . . . To Matt Scherbenske. He turns 31 on Sunday (today). . . . To Todd Ziegler. He turns 53 on Tuesday. . . . To Tony Cooper. He turns 47 on Wednesday.