SEC Basketball: Way Too Early Look at 2011-12 SEC Power Rankings
Now that the season is officially over, it's never too early to begin looking forward towards the next season. The SEC expects to continue its growth as the majority of teams expect to be in similar position or better.
The process is quite complicated as it is still unknown how everyone will move. Who's going pro and returning? Who might transfer in or out? Who will be a recruiting gem, and who will be the bust? And player development is always a big deal.
Although it is just about impossible to predict, let's go ahead and look forward to the future.
(NOTE: With talks of a lockout and many players thinking of returning, I will assume for now that everyone who is not a senior or already announced is coming back).
Finish: 29-9, Final Four & SEC Tournament Champs
Leaving Players: Josh Harrellson
Recruiting: 1st on Rivals
Breakdown: With the NBA lockout a true possibility, can Kentucky hold on to their freshmen? Also how will they replace Josh Harrelson?
If Kentucky wants to win another SEC title and make another deep NCAA tournament run, these are the questions they must answer. If they can find a replacement for Harrellson, they should be just fine.
With another No. 1 recruiting class, Kentucky will have the talent as usual. If Coach Cal can hold on to some or all of their talented freshmen, there will be no question to who the preseason SEC champ is.
Finish: 23-11, NCAA Tournament Second Round
Leaving Players: Chris Meriwether, Joe Duffy
Recruiting: 29th on Rivals
Breakdown: Vanderbilt is one of the few teams with very little questions going into the offseason. The only two seniors averaged just over five minutes a game combined.
Vandy returns their whole core to a team that played very well at times this past year. John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor lead a team that should be competitive not only at the SEC level, but also on a national stage. Vandy should be a top 20 team and with some luck could easily crack the top 10.
The big question remains: Can Vandy win in the postseason?
Finish: 25-12, NIT Championship Game
Leaving Players: Senario Hillman, Chris Hines, Charvez Davis, Justin Luquire
Recruiting: 5th on Rivals
Breakdown: Alabama was one the top teams in conference during SEC play and little should change with the "Big Three" of Releford, Mitchell and Green returning.
Coach Grant has turned this into a defensive powerhouse, and the young core should only get better. Avoiding early season stumbles is the key to an NCAA tournament appearance this season.
A really good recruiting class and the return of some injured players will also help. Questions include finding any threat from three-point range and a big man to help out Green down low. If Bama can find another big man to replace Hines, they could also be a top 10 team.
Finish: 29-8, NCAA Elite 8
Leaving Players: Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin
Recruiting: 24th on Rivals
Breakdown: Florida finally got back to the type of team they were three years ago. Winning the regular-season title in the SEC was just the beginning to a deep tournament run.
The losses of their seniors really hurts this team, but Florida will not see a drop off like after the 2007 National Championship. They do return some key players in Boynton, Young, Murphy and Walker that can help this team.
Also as Billy Donovan is still the coach, they will be in good shape. They will likely be a top 20 team and could swell to a top 10 team with some good offseason work.
Leaving Players: Jemal Farmer, Marcus Britt, Delvon Johnson
Recruiting: 7th on Rivals
Breakdown: Arkansas does lose Britt and Johnson but return their best players in Clarke and Powell.
Arkansas is a team with good capabilities and with Anderson coming in Arkansas could once again be a legitimate threat in the SEC. Throw in the top-notch recruiting class, and Arkansas could be in for a very good year.
The major question is can they live up to their capabilities and can Anderson make his system work in year one. They are the only team in the top five that I could see falling down too far if everything does not fall into place correctly.
6. Mississippi State
Leaving Players: Ravern Johnson, Riley Benock, Kodi Augustus
Recruiting: 12th on Rivals
Breakdown: This is where the SEC gets very clogged.
Mississippi State is a team that had tournament talent this past season, but so much turmoil caused them to stumble. Bost, Sidney and Bailey should provide a solid base, if they can avoid the same issues that plagued their season in 2011.
This is a program with talent and a recent past of success. Can they reach that level again is a big question but not impossible.
7. Ole Miss
Finish: 20-14, NIT First Round
Leaving Players: Chris Warren, Zach Graham
Breakdown: Ole Miss is an interesting team that could jump both Tennessee and Mississippi State or fall off alot.They do have some good talent, but losing your star guards really kills this team moving forward.
Terrance Henry, Dundrecous Nelson and Reginald Buckner should provide a solid core, but there just is not that one guy to go to in clutch situations. Like I said, if they develop they could easily move up some or they might be stuck in mediocrity all year.
Finish: 21-12, NCAA Second Round
Leaving Players: Chris Barnes, Jeremy Price, Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins
Recruiting: 25rd on Rivals
Breakdown: Now that Leslie and Thompkins have declared for the draft (though Leslie has no agent yet), Georgia is in for a rough year. Along with the loss of the two seniors, Georgia will be a skeleton of this years team going into next year.
Unlike Kentucky, Georgia does not have three straight No. 1 recruiting classes. They do have a solid group, but can they produce so early? Georgia could have the largest drop off of any team, but Fox is a good coach, and if they play well, I would not be shocked.
Finish: 19-15, NCAA Second Round
Leaving Players: Melvin Goins, Michael Hubert, Steven Pearl, Josh Bone, John Fields, Brian Williams
Breakdown: Tennessee is a program that has more NCAA troubles right now than most schools have ever had. Not to mention that they lose as much as any program in the conference.
They do return their top three scorers, and Hopson and Harris can both be really good. The depth that the seniors provide was important though and will be missed.
The biggest loss, of course, came with the firing of Bruce Pearl. One the most successful coaches in Tennessee history, Pearl changed the men's basketball culture. That loss will be felt, and the NCAA still has to hand down punishment as well.
This team struggled down the stretch and, even if eligible, could struggle to make any real push towards the NCAA tournament.
Leaving Players: None
Breakdown: Auburn loses absolutely nobody, but how much talent is there actually returning? This team had less talent than everyone else in the conference last year and should be a little better, but expecting anything more than six wins in conference is pushing it.
The 29th class in the country will not send this team shooting up the list any time soon either.
11. South Carolina
Leaving Players: Johndre Jefferson, Sam Muldrow
Breakdown: South Carolina was the deepest team in the SEC with 11 players averaging nine minutes of playing time. Problem was there was not a whole lot of talent to use that depth.
Playing in the SEC East, South Carolina looked good early but started to stumble and then collapsed. Bruce Ellington provides next year's star power, but South Carolina is just not built to sustain a run in the SEC.
Leaving Players: None
Breakdown: LSU also loses nobody. Like Auburn, they don't have enough talent to really threaten anybody. Unlike Auburn, they got worse as the year went on.
They managed only three SEC wins this past year, and it's very likely they will have similar results next year unless something incredible happens.
Also their one of only three teams without a ranked recruiting class.
The SEC is getting better and the top should be as good next year as it has been in a couple of years. Balance should also be much better though the East will still be better than the West.
Seven teams could challenge for NCAA bids, and two more will be looking for at least NIT bids.
Recruiting for the SEC this season is off the charts with nine teams in the Rivals top 30. Most teams will get some needed depth and talent.
Trevor Lacey is the only major recruit remaining who could pick an SEC team.
He is a 5-star guard from Huntsville, AL and is down to five including Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky in the SEC. Most believe he will chose between Kentucky and Alabama, and the decisions of current KY players could heavily factory in.
Update: He chose Alabama over Auburn, Kentucky, and Kansas on May 17.