SEC basketball season preview
SEC Bubble Watch
By Bracket Dom – @BracketDom – Nov 09, 2021 – Bracketometry.com
The 2021-22 season begins today, and with it, a loaded slate of SEC teams get their non-conference schedules underway. Before the games tip off, it seemed fitting to break down each team’s relative tournament chances. Granted, a preseason bubble watch may seem silly, each team is 0-0 and on paper has as good of a chance as any at making the field, but speculating is half the fun! That being said, let’s start by taking a look at the top of the conference first.
SHOULD be in
Kentucky enters the 2021-22 season as the preseason SEC favorites. What? They went 9-16 last season. Fair, but this is not last year’s Kentucky. Calipari crushed it in the transfer portal, landing an impact trio of Tshiebwe, Wheeler and Fredrick. Those three, plus the addition of star recruit TyTy Washington, should turn Kentucky back into the national force they’re expected to be. While the Wildcats may not be at the very top of the list when it comes to cutting down the nets in New Orleans, they aren’t too far behind, and should easily make the field.
Bama is coming off one of the best basketball seasons their school has had in a WHILE. Regular season and postseason SEC champions, as well as an Elite 8 run, and there’s no reason to suggest that they can’t pick up where they left off. Sure, they’re losing a lot of talent, Kira Lewis, John Petty and Herb Jones all went pro, (and ALL 3 signed for the Pelicans?! What?) but Shackelford and Quinerly return, add them with electric freshman J.D. Davison and Bama shouldn’t lose a step. Expect the tide to again roll into the field.
Tennessee was a strange team last season, at times they looked elite, and at other times they didn’t even look like they belonged in the field. What caused this inconsistency? Probably the lack of a true floor general. Freshman Kennedy Chandler should change that, and with the returning talent of Vescovi and Bailey Jr., plus multiple top-50 recruits, Tennessee should be just as good this season as they were last season, and hopefully far more consistent as well. The Volunteers should be a sinch for a bid.
Moses Moody and Justin Smith are gone, so will Arkansas take a step back? Maybe. Muss seems intent on that not happening however, as he’s been busy in the transfer portal, getting a diverse set of players from all across the nation. All of Arkansas’ talent isn’t gone either, Davis, Williams and Notae will all look to take the next step in their careers as well after being major contributors to last year’s team. The Razorbacks may fall short of being a national title contender this season, but they should be very good, and a team that solidly makes the field of 68.
The last SEC team that should be solidly in the field may come as a surprise, but yes, it’s Auburn. While the Tigers weren’t very relevant in 2020, they come into 2021 with star freshman forward Jabari Smith, a #1 NBA pick candidate, and 5-star transfer Walker Kessler from North Carolina. With those two, Auburn may have the best 1-2 punch in the conference; the Tigers should be comfortably in the field, and if their depth can play well behind them, they could go deep into March as well.
“On the bubble”
The Gators should likely be on the right side of the bubble this season. They may not have the elite talent to contend for an SEC Championship, but they do bring back one of the best centers in the SEC in Colin Castleton, and surround him with enough talent to hold their own vs. the top teams in the conference. There is also the possibility that Keyontae Johnson gets cleared to rejoin the team as well. If he were to return and play at the level he was at last season, the Gators would instantly jump into the “should be in” group.
LSU may not even have a chance at the field if any of their allegations finally result in a postseason ban, as it did with Oklahoma State, but assuming one doesn’t come down then LSU should have a team fully capable of making the NCAA Tournament. Outside of returning big man Efton Reid, the Tigers will be relying on a lot of transfer talent. If they take a while to mesh, then they may spend the season a lot closer to the bubble than they would like, but ultimately expect to see the Tigers on the right side of the cut line come March. A lack of defense however may keep them from a chance to compete for an SEC Championship.
Sitting squarely on the projected bubble is Mississippi State. Like LSU, they bring in a lot of talent via the transfer portal. Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts should provide instant offense, and they also bring in former ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks from North Carolina. If the incoming talent can fit with the returning pieces of Molinar and Smith, the Bulldogs should have just enough to squeak out a bid.
Probably fitting that the two teams projected closest to the bubble are the two Mississippi schools. Ole Miss fell just short of the field last season, and they bring back much more of their roster than some of the schools projected ahead of them. Can freshman Daeshun Ruffin and a group of transfers come in and get this roster onto the right side of the bubble? It’ll be close, but the Rebels have the talent to do it.
Out of the field
The first team projected off the bubble is Missouri, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of exceeding expectations, given that they have an almost entirely new roster of freshmen and transfers. Kobe Brown is their only returning starter, so the Tigers are hard to project. If this young team can gel out of the gate though, watch out for Missouri to be a potential sleeper in the SEC.
South Carolina doesn’t have a tournament team on paper, but that doesn’t mean Frank Martin can’t get this group to overachieve as he’s done in the past. Returning players like Keyshawn Bryant and Jermaine Cousinard are insanely talented, and if they can get their streaky play to a more consistent level, then the Gamecocks overachieving isn’t a stretch.
Vanderbilt is still a long way from their heyday, but the team is at least finally tending away from being the bottom dwellers of the SEC. Scotty Pippen Jr. returning is a major boost for the Commodores, as well as underrated forward Jordan Wright also coming back. Add those to Minnesota transfer Liam Robbins who should fit the team nicely, and Vanderbilt may have a respectable NIT level season.
A&M has a lot of roster turnover from last season, given that last year’s team wasn’t great, that may not necessarily be a bad thing, but the Aggies seemingly aren’t bringing in enough new talent to get Buzz William’s program back on track. They do bring in Duke transfer Henry Coleman though, and although he was a disappointment at Duke, he has the talent to be a building block in turning A&M around.
Most of these write ups focused on the positive aspects of the teams, but for Georgia, there isn’t much of that. Tom Crean’s Bulldogs look in shambles after their key returning starter P.J. Horne went down for the season. The rest of their roster is made up of mostly underwhelming transfers and JUCO players. Hopefully they can surprise and make this writeup seem foolish come March, but that seems like a big ask.