SEC basketball is not having a banner year. Currently, there are just two teams, Florida and Missouri, in the conference that feel comfortable about being included in the NCAA tournament.
However, with strong recruiting and teams benefiting from an added year of experience, the league should be better a year from now.
Here are early predictions on whether each SEC team will be better or worse in 2014.
Returning: Alabama returns all five starters from this year’s team, which is currently on the NCAA tournament bubble. Trevor Releford, the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, will be a senior, and he will lead an experienced squad that will not only have aspirations of making the NCAA tournament but making a big impact once it gets there.
Recruiting: Anthony Grant has two incoming big men in Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale. Both are top-100 players according to Rivals.com and could help on the glass, where the Crimson Tide have struggled this year. Alabama ranks No. 253 in defensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom.com.
Verdict: Alabama will be better next year and could make it to the second weekend of the tournament.
Returning: This year, there are no seniors on the roster. If everyone returns, Arkansas could have a very dangerous team next year. However, that is a big if. Point guard B.J. Young has been slipping on draft boards of late, but he could still be a first-round pick if he decides to leave Arkansas after his sophomore season. If Young does return, he and Marshawn Powell would be one of the better inside-out duos in college basketball next season.
Recruiting: Mike Anderson has done a nice job on the recruiting trail bringing in some frontcourt help in the class of 2013. Bobby Portis is the headliner of the class after he decided to stay in-state and play for the Razorbacks. He is 6’10” and really came on late in his high school career. Arkansas also signed 6’9” Moses Kingsley.
Verdict: With Young, Arkansas will definitely be better. Without Young, the Razorbacks should still be in good shape with a more experienced roster in Anderson’s third year on the job.
Returning: Tony Barbee will enter his fourth year on the job at Auburn next year, and he will be without two of his top three scorers this year in Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb. Chris Denson and Allen Payne will be seniors, and the Tigers will also get the services of Virginia transfer KT Harrell.
Recruiting: Barbee has a five-man recruiting class that has every position covered. Those five players should provide some help for the Tigers.
Verdict: At 9-19 and 3-12 in SEC play, it’s tough to envision Auburn being any worse next year. If the Tigers are, then that could spell trouble for Barbee.
Returning: Florida is a team dominated by juniors and seniors. The Gators will lose Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy to graduation, but Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather will all be seniors. They will be the core of next year’s team, and freshman Michael Frazier will play an increased role. The Gators will also get the services of Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith and South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris.
Recruiting: Billy Donovan has signed just two players for 2013, but they are really good players. Point guard Kasey Hill and power forward Chris Walker are both considered five star players, according to Rivals.com. They will provide immediate help for Florida.
Verdict: Florida is one of the best teams in the country this year, and the Gators return a lot next season. However, the safe bet is that Florida will not be running through the SEC like it has this year and will take a step back.
Returning: Vincent Williams graduates, but Georgia’s prospects for next year hinge on whether sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope decides to return. He is the only player who is averaging in double figures (17.6 points per game) on a team that is struggling mightily on the offensive end. No other player is averaging more than 7.9 points, and the team is shooting just 41.4 percent from the field.
Recruiting: Mark Fox has two backcourt commitments in J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker for his 2013 class. Parker has an impressive offer list and could provide some immediate help.
Verdict: If Caldwell-Pope comes back, Georgia could be better next year. If not, it will be a very long year, and the questions over Fox’s job status will increase.
Returning: Kentucky loses Julius Mays and then whoever else decides to enter the NBA draft out of the freshman class of Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer will be back to play important roles, whether that is as a starter or coming off the bench.
Recruiting: Kentucky has once again put together the best recruiting class in the country, and it could get better if Andrew Wiggins decides to play in Lexington. Regardless, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young and the rest of the currently constituted six-man class will make big impacts for John Calipari next season.
Verdict: Kentucky will be better next year and should compete for a national title.
Returning: LSU has a talented young roster that will return four of five starters next year, including big man Johnny O’Bryant III and point guard Anthony Hickey. O’Bryant has transformed into one of the better big men in the SEC in his second season, averaging 14 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Hickey is leading the league with 3.3 steals per game.
Recruiting: Johnny Jones has done an excellent job putting together the 2013 recruiting class, which is headlined by power forward Jarell Martin from Baton Rouge. Martin is 6’9”, 220 pounds and is ranked the No. 12 overall recruit in the class by Rivals.com. There are five other members of the class, including highly sought after point guard Tim Quarterman and post player Jordan Mickey.
Verdict: LSU will be better next year and could be an NCAA tournament team.
Returning: Ole Miss will get Marshall Henderson back for his senior year. Henderson is the leading scorer in the SEC at 19.7 points per game. However, the Rebels lose Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams, the team’s next three leading scorers. Those three will leave significant holes that need to be filled.
Recruiting: Andy Kennedy has a three-man recruiting class. Dwight Coleby is 6’9”, 220 pounds and will provide frontcourt help. Kennedy also signed a couple international players in 6’9” post player Sebastian Saiz and wing Janari Joesaar from Estonia.
Verdict: Ole Miss has won at least 20 games in six of Kennedy's seven seasons at the helm in Oxford, but the Rebels should take a step back in 2013-14.
Returning: Mississippi State will return all five starters next year, but it will return all five starters off a team that is arguably the worst in the power six conferences this year. The good news is that Craig Sword and Fred Thomas, two of the team’s three leading scorers, are only freshmen who should make jumps in their sophomore seasons.
Recruiting: Rick Ray has a four-man class for 2013, but no one stands out as a program changer. Junior college transfer Travis Daniels should provide some immediate help, and Ray is high on point guard Imara Ready.
Verdict: Ray is going to need some time to build up the program. The Bulldogs can’t get much worse than they are this year, but they won’t be any sort of threat in the SEC in the 2013-14 season.
Returning: Missouri will lose Laurence Bowers, Keion Bell and Alex Oriakhi to graduation, and point guard Phil Pressey is a junior who could opt to enter the NBA draft. If that happens, the Tigers will lose the player who makes them go, and Pressey would be difficult to replace. Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross are double digit scorers who will be back next year.
Recruiting: Frank Haith has a solid 2013 recruiting class on the way. There are three frontcourt players headed by Johnathan Williams III and junior college transfer Keanau Post who will provide depth down low. Haith also signed point guard Wesley Clark out of Michigan who could help out in case Pressey leaves.
Verdict: With or without Pressey, Missouri is going to have a hard time replacing its departing frontcourt players. The Tigers should be a tournament team, but they won’t have the potential of this year’s squad.
Returning: Frank Martin’s team has really struggled in his first year on the job, but he does have a couple players he can build around for next year. Bruce Ellington, assuming he still plays basketball his senior year instead of preparing for the NFL draft, and freshman Michael Carrera play with the kind of toughness Martin demands.
Recruiting: Martin’s objective in the near future will be to infuse as much talent into the program as possible. His 2013 class is a good start, and wing Sindarius Thornwell should step in and play a big role right away.
Verdict: South Carolina should be better in Martin’s second year, but if the Gamecocks finish in the top half of the league, that would be a surprise.
Returning: The only senior contributors on this year’s team are Kenny Hall and Skylar McBee. Next year, Tennessee should return its top three scorers in post player Jarnell Stokes (assuming he doesn’t enter this year’s NBA draft), point guard Trae Golden and Jordan McRae.
Recruiting: Shooting guard Robert Hubbs decided to stay in-state, and that was a big deal for Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. Hubbs is ranked the No. 15 recruit in the country, according to Rivals.com, and he is incredibly athletic. Martin also signed point guard Travon Landry and post player A.J. Davis.
Verdict: Tennessee is a bubble team this year, but the Vols should be safely in the field of 68 in 2014 if Stokes returns.
Returning: Texas A&M loses senior leading scorer Elston Turner after this year, and he will be tough to replace. The Aggies also will be without third-leading scorer Ray Turner. Next year, the team will belong to point guard Fabyon Harris. Underclassmen J’Mychal Reese, Kourtney Roberson and Alex Caruso will need to step up in Billy Kennedy’s third year. Antwan Space, a transfer from Florida State, also will be eligible next year.
Recruiting: Kennedy has a four-player class in 2013, but two of them, Ricky Seals-Jones and Derrick Griffin, are also football commits. Seals-Jones and Griffin both expressed their desire to play both in college but that is often easier said than done.
Verdict: Texas A&M will regress as it tries to replace Turner. The Aggies might be another year from competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Returning: Vanderbilt does not have a senior on the roster and returns everyone for the 2013-14 season. Kevin Stallings will need for his young team to develop over the offseason. Rod Odom will be a senior, and if he takes a step forward in production the way he did this season, that would be a great start.
Recruiting: Stallings is adding 6’9” post player Damian Jones next year. Jones was a late bloomer in high school and has good potential with a great motor.
Verdict: Vanderbilt will be better next year with a roster full of upperclassmen. The 'Dores should be a postseason team, whether that is squeezing into the Big Dance or playing in the NIT.