It's mid-June, and while most of America has turned its attention to the College World Series or ahead to football - here at AT Online we never stop talking college hoops.
Which is why over the next six weeks, we are about to rip off our "Mid-Summer, Unofficial, Power Rankings" for all six of the major conferences.
Now to be clear, these power rankings are again unofficial, and stuff may change between now and the first games in November.
But with the NBA Draft deadline behind us, and most of the major transfer portal activity in the rear-view mirror, it's time to look at all these conferences and where they stand heading into the 2022-2023 season.
First up, the SEC: Which features a dynamic Arkansas team, a Kentucky program in turmoil and six new head coaches. Plus, a (somewhat) surprising No. 1.
Here is our ranking
(Also, for those who missed it, here is Aaron's Top 25 following the draft deadline)
1. Tennessee Volunteers
It's been a tough few months for Vols fans, most recently with their No. 1 ranked baseball team losing. and prior to that an upset of their highly-ranked basketball team in the Round of 32 to Michigan. So I can see where some might be skeptical of our ranking them No. 1 here. But, the Vols return a nice core of players that can take a big step forward, with the only significant loss off last year's team potential first round pick Kennedy Chandler. Santiago Vescovi should be the clear go to guy, in his fourth season in the program after taking a nice step forward, as one of the best players in the SEC last season. Rising sophomores Zakai Zeigler and Jonas Aidoo are also back and with bigger roles and more time to improve, a breakout could be in the works for both players. Rick Barnes hasn’t always been the best postseason coach, but he has now led Tennessee to each of the last four NCAA Tournaments, and their first ever SEC Tournament title which should not be taken for granted.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
After an NCAA Tournament loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter's in March, there is very little John Calipari can do to fix Kentucky fans' opinion on him, until the 2023 NCAA Tournament. But, it was a good start to get the defending National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe back, and he has a nice group of players around him. Kentucky is set to bring back Sahvir Wheeler, Jacob Toppin and Daimion Collins from last year's team, alongside a healthy CJ Fredrick, and a really good recruiting class, as usual. Toppin has been a really productive player for the last two seasons, despite not always being given a major role. That should change this season and Toppin is good enough to take that opportunity and use it to become a future pro. Even though the season ended in miserable fashion, Kentucky did recover nicely from a disastrous 2021 season, going 26-8 overall and finishing tied for second play in the SEC. With a lot of the same characters back alongside some reinforcements, there is no reason Kentucky shouldn’t be in a similar position in 2023.
3. Arkansas Razorbacks
As someone who jumped on the Eric Mussleman bandwagon during his Nevada days, it was evident that when Arkansas decided to bring him in, that it was a very good hire and he was better than most of the other candidates out there. However, not even the biggest Mussleman supporters could have envisioned just how successful Muss has been during his first three years in Fayetteville. After overachieving and sending two players to the NBA following the 2020 season, Arkansas had made the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. The other common theme with Arkansas during that stretch was that they didn’t necessarily start the season off well. In each of the last two seasons, Arkansas has taken off at the right time and rode that momentum all the way into the NCAA Tournament. This year Arkansas brings in the No. 2 recruiting class in college basketball, alongside a usual group of talented transfers. The freshman class is headlined by Nick Smith, Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh, all of whom were McDonald’s All Americans. Transfers Ricky Council IV and Trevon Brazil should also make an immediate impact for Mussleman’s most talented team since arriving in Fayetteville.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
After a frustrating 2022 season, Alabama should be right back in the thick of things at the top of the SEC in 2023. From afar, Alabama’s 2022 season doesn’t look all too bad considering they were ranked in the Top 25 for a majority of the season and got a #6 seed in March Madness. The disappointment comes from the fact that early in the season, Alabama beat two of the best teams in college basketball, Gonzaga and Houston and the Tide looked like one of the better teams in the sport. Instead, following the Houston victory, Alabama finished the season with an 11-12 record and a feeling of disappointment. In 2022-2023, Nate Oats has a ton of ball handlers at his disposal following the addition of Mark Sears from Ohio and the return of Nimari Burnett from injury. In addition, Alabama will bring in a very good freshman class headlined by Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley. It was apparent last year's Alabama team was much different than the 2021 SEC Championship team that had Herb Jones and John Petty. With some new faces and a ton of talent, Alabama should be in for a bounce back season.
5. Texas A&M Aggies
Following a disappointing start, Buzz Williams’ Aggies really turned things around in 2022, ending the regular season winning five out of sox games, and making it to the finals of the SEC Tournament and NIT. Texas A&M should return a majority of the core from last season, including Tyrece Radford, Henry Coleman and Wade Taylor IV. In 2022, the Aggies had 13 players play over 13 minutes per game. After losing some guys the opportunity should be better to take advantage of and breakout onto the scene. Taylor is a guy that fits into that category, averaging 8.2 points per game last season, in only 17.8 minutes per game as a true freshman. The Aggies also bring in quality transfers Dexter Dennis from Wichita State, Andersson Garcia from Mississippi State and Julius Marble from Michigan State, all of whom should be able to make an impact right away. Teams that end the season well with a ton of returning talent are always likely to make a jump into the following season. This is especially the case when they are well coached, and Buzz Williams is one of the more underrated coaches in the country. He is due to lead the Aggies on a big run.
6. Auburn Tigers
Bruce Pearl will have the difficult challenge of replacing the best frontcourt in college basketball, after losing both Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler to the NBA. Thankfully, Pearl has done a good job replacing those likely future first round picks, bringing in Morehead State transfer Johni Broome and Top 20 freshman big man Yohan Traore. One of the primary reasons why Auburn struggled towards the backend of last season was their inconsistent guard play. Despite the struggles, most of these guards will be back this season including Zep Jasper, Wendell Green Jr, Allen Flannigan and KD Johnson. With another year in the program for all four of these guys, that experience gained should lead to more consistency, especially playing for a coach as good as Pearl. At this time last year, Flannigan was projected as a likely NBA first round pick, but never seemed to get going after returning from an Achilles injury. If he can get back to that form from two years ago, alongside Green and Johnson making shots, this Auburn team will be dangerous as usual.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Although it never directly translated to consistent winning on the floor, Ben Howland did do a good job bringing talent to Starkville, which isn’t an easy task. Now, Chris Jans has the ability to coach up some of the players that Howland couldn’t get the most out of, and he deserves credit for bringing some of the Bulldogs top performers last year back to Starkville. Mississippi State will bring back a returning core headlined by Tolu Smith, Shakeel Moore and D.J Jeffries. Smith is one of the more underrated players in the SEC, averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season, in only 21 games played. In addition, Shakeel Moore is a winning player that can make shots, handle the ball and play good defense. He is the kind of player that any coach would be happy to have, based on how much he can do on the floor. During his days at New Mexico State, Jans coached teams were based on toughness and grit, which is exactly what Mississippi State needs. The majority of the early SEC rankings will not have the Bulldogs this high, however with a real coach like Jans that gets the most out of his players, and talented holdovers from last year's squad, the Bulldogs should be labeled as a sleeper.
8. Florida Gators
As someone who was down on the Todd Golden hire at first, the former San Francisco head coach did a great job bringing talent to Gainesville, this offseason. Florida added St. Bonaventure transfer Kyle Lofton, LSU transfer Alex Fudge, and Belmont transfer Will Richard, alongside returning talent Colin Castelton, Myreon Jones and Kowacie Reeves. Golden is someone who uses a lot of analytics and advanced numbers in his gameplans and coaching philosophy, which worked great at San Francisco, leading the Dons to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 this past season. The question is, will that work against some of the best coaches and most aggressive recruiters in college basketball who coach in the SEC? Golden has experience in the SEC, as he was an assistant under Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl from 2014-2016, which should come in handy. Mike White’s Florida teams made and advanced in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but every season Gator fans would find themselves asking for more, relative to their talent, which at the time was totally reasonable. A new innovative mind like Golden, should be a breath of fresh air in Gainesville.
9. LSU Tigers
Considering that LSU's entire team entered the transfer portal following the season (yes, literally all 11 players, plus two who went pro), LSU head coach Matt McMahon did a heck of a job re-shaping this roster. LSU will return Mwani Wilkinson and Justice Williams from last year's squad, while McMahon also added Justice Hill and KJ Williams, who were both vital contributors to his 2022 Murray State team that won the Ohio Valley Regular season and tournament title, finishing with an overall record of 31-3. The Tigers will also get back former Illinois guard and Top 40 recruit Adam Miller, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. LSU also brings in a dynamic freshman from the 2022 class in Tyrell Ward and NC State Transfer Cam Hayes, who at one point looked like he could be an impact player in the ACC. McMahon will have a lot of new players and it will take some time to find the proper lineup combinations, but the bottom line is, after the way the Will Wade era ended in Baton Rouge, the Tigers should be happy to be in this situation because it could have been way worse.
10. Ole Miss Rebels
After shattering expectations in his first year in Oxford, Kermit Davis has had a rough go of it as of late, missing each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. The disappointment isn’t directly because of the Rebels missing the tournament, but more of the fact that the team hasn’t played with the same energy and passion as they did during that first season. Last year Ole Miss had some moments, including a big home victory over Memphis, but could never build off that momentum, going 4-14 in the SEC and 13-18 overall. One of the few bright spots for Ole Miss in 2022 was the play of true freshman guard Daeshun Ruffin. One of the highest ranked recruits to come to Oxford in program history, Ruffin averaged 12.6 points and 3.4 assists per game, before missing the final nine games of the season with a knee injury. During those nine games Ole Miss went 1-8 and looked like a totally different team than earlier in the season. With impact players like Matthew Murrell and Jaemyn Brakefield returning alongside Ruffin, Ole Miss has the talent to be in for a bounce back year. However, the pressure will be on Kermit Davis if Ole Miss doesn’t break through.
11. Missouri Tigers
There is already more excitement and optimism around the Missouri Basketball Program with Dennis Gates in charge than any time last year under Cuonzo Martin. Missouri has added a ton of talent from the transfer portal, headlined by Missouri State transfer Isiaih Mosley. Mosley is a guy that you can give the ball to, and he will be able to score buckets for your team. The Columbia, Missouri native averaged 20.4 points per game last season, enroute to a first team all Missouri Valley selection. The Tigers also added Nick Honor from Clemson, who is a lead Guard that has played in the NCAA Tournament, alongside Noah Carter who was also one of the better players in the Missouri Valley last season. Gates also got Kobe Brown to return to Columbia, who is one of the more underrated players in college basketball. Brown led Missouri in points and rebounds per game last season, while finishing second in assists. Without Brown involved, Missouri had a difficult time scoring the ball last season and that should change with more playmakers.
For the first time in the Jerry Stackhouse era, there is finally some optimism heading into the season for Vanderbilt. In 2022, the Commodores finished over .500 for the first time since the 2017 season, with a 19-17 overall record, and will return a majority of the players from last year's squad. The big loss is Scottie Pippen Jr., who has averaged over 20 points per game in each of the last two seasons, scoring over 1500 total points during his three-year college career. Vanderbilt will have a healthy Liam Robbins, who only played in 15 games last season, with an ankle injury. The Commodores also have some young players on wing in Myles Stute and Tre Thomas, who showed nice flashes last year and could really shoot the basketball. Stute is the guy to watch, as he led the SEC in three-point shooting percentage last season, shooting 43.2% from downtown. The Commodores played well down the stretch last season, finishing with two wins in the SEC Tournament including over Alabama, and also made the NIT Tournament, winning two games in their first postseason berth since 2017.
13. Georgia Bulldogs
The Tom Crean era in Athens was a massive disappointment, and it’s not like the expectations were unreasonable. Crean’s best season at Georgia was in 2020, only going 16-16 overall, with the future No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on his roster in Anthony Edwards. Now former Florida head coach Mike White is in charge, and while his roster is already much better than anything Crean had, it is no guarantee that will translate to wins. White did get standout wing Kario Oquendo to return to school, after being one of the best players in the SEC last season. Oquendo averaged 15.2 points per game and showed flashes of being a future NBA player. In addition, Georgia brought in talented transfers Matthew Alexander- Moncrieffe from Oklahoma State, Jusuan Holt from Alabama and Frank Anselem from Syracuse. The issue is, White couldn’t break through with much more talented teams at Florida, and this roster isn’t anything close to White’s best at Florida. Out of all of the new hires in the SEC this past off-season, White was the one that made the least sense, considering his number of disappointing seasons at Florida.
14. South Carolina
For the first time since the 2011-2012 season, South Carolina basketball will be coached by someone else not named Frank Martin. Martin led the school to their first ever Final Four appearance in 2017 but failed to get the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament in any other year. Now, former Chattanooga Head Coach and Wisconsin assistant Lamonte Paris takes over and there is a lot of work to be done. Paris did a really good job with Chattanooga leading them to the SoCon Regular Season and tournament title in 2022, but the Gamecocks will lose each of their top six leading scorers from a season ago. Their highest returning scorer is Chico Carter Jr., who only averaged 4.2 points per game last season. The Gamecocks did bring in Power 6 transfers in Meechie Johnson from Ohio State and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk from Illinois, alongside dynamic scorer Hayden Brown from the Citadel, but it could be a rough go for Paris in his first year in Columbia.
Follow Zac Krull on Twitter @ZacKrull_
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