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2016 SEC Basketball Preview

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How many teams can the SEC send to the NCAA Tournament?

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

As early as it may seem, SEC conference play will begin for some teams on January 2nd.  So far, the SEC has continued to be what it has been in recent history, which isn't an elite basketball conference, but is arguably one of the top five conferences in the nation.  A handful of teams have a good chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and most of the teams in the conference are at least contenders to get in the NIT.

Kentucky

As usual, this one isn't very controversial.  Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere are projected to go extremely high in the NBA draft, and Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress are proven players.  Making three point shots is one of Kentucky's biggest weaknesses.  While the SEC has a handful of teams that are capable of making the SEC tournament, Kentucky is by far the safest bet to make it.

Impressive Wins: Duke, Louisville, Arizona State

Bad Losses: none

Vanderbilt

This team hasn't played to their potential yet.  Damian Jones is one of the most talented post players in the SEC.  Like most Kevin Stallings teams, they shoot the ball well, especially from outside the three point line.  They have struggled some with rebounding and getting steals.  Vanderbilt should make the NCAA Tournament, but they will need to play better than they have so far.

Impressive Wins: none, the closest thing to an impressive thing is blowing out Wake Forest, who is a borderline top 100 team

Bad Losses: none

Florida

Florida made a good decision in hiring Michael White, and it is paying off so far.  Dorian Finney-Smith is their best player, and while they don't have several star players, they appear to be a deep team so far.

Impressive Wins: Richmond, mostly because they won by twenty points

Bad Losses: none

South Carolina

The most interesting storyline in the conference will be if South Carolina can capitalize on their 11-0 start.  They got off to a good start last year as well, and started off 1-7 in SEC play, which was partially due to the first half of their conference schedule being the much more difficult half.  The advanced ranking systems rank their team higher than they did this time last year, so this may be the year Frank Martin turns the basketball program around in Columbia.  However, their schedule has been extremely easy so far.

Impressive Wins: None of them are, but beating Tulsa at a neutral site was a decent win, and most of their games haven't been close

Bad Losses: they haven't lost

Texas A&M

The Aggies are an experienced team that has an outside chance of winning the regular season conference title, which isn't something many fans care about, but would be impressive.  They aren't very good at shooting free throws, but they are a very good passing team and shoot well when they aren't shooting free throws.  For now, I would rank them as the second best team in the conference.

Impressive Wins: Texas, Gonzaga, Baylor

Bad Losses: none

Georgia

Georgia has several returning starters from last year's team that went to the NCAA Tournament, including the underrated Yante Maten.  They have struggled so far on offense, but should play better in conference play than they have so far.  The other Bulldogs should be a borderline NCAA tournament team again this year.

Impressive Wins: you could make an argument for the Georgia Tech win

Bad Losses: Chattanooga, but for being the worst loss, it isn't that bad

Mississippi

Stefan Moody has shot the ball 212 times this season.  The second most shots another player has taken is 101.  It is entertaining to watch.  They are also one of the many teams to beat Rick Ray this season.

Impressive Wins: maybe Memphis? It was on the road.

Bad Losses: George Mason

LSU

Ben Simmons is entertaining, but so far they do not seem NCAA Tournament bound.  If they had kept the two post players that declared for the NBA draft, they would easily be in the NCAA Tournament.

Impressive Wins: none

Bad Losses: College of Charleston

Arkansas

Moses Kingsley is a beast.  They use their bench more than most teams.  However, they are already 6-5 with a competitive opponent coming up in Dayton, so they have a long way to go if they want to reach the NCAA tournament.

Impressive Wins: none

Bad Losses: Mercer isn't that bad, but it is the worst loss so far

Tennessee

Four of their five best players are seniors.  They are 7-5, and most of the teams they have lost to aren't bad.  However, they haven't beaten any good teams either.  It would take an extremely good conference record to get them in the NCAA Tournament.

Impressive Wins: none

Bad Losses: none

Alabama

According to Ken Pomeroy's rankings, Alabama has the 197th best offense and 35th best defense, which isn't very different from the teams that Anthony Grant had.  They are 8-3 with a few impressive wins, but the advanced ranking systems don't rate them very high.  With their decent start under first year coach Avery Johnson, they will be one of the more interesting teams to watch in the SEC.

Impressive Wins: Wichita State, Notre Dame

Bad Losses: none

Mississippi State

I didn't expect MSU to get in the NCAA Tournament since Gavin Ware is the only post player that would start for most other SEC teams.  However, with Malik Newman, Ware, and Craig Sword being healthy for the entire season, MSU would have enough talent to reach the NIT.  At 7-5, with the most impressive win being over Eastern Washington, getting to the NIT would be impressive.

Impressive Wins: none, but Texas Tech would have been one

Bad Losses: Southern, UMKC

Auburn

T.J. Dunans, who is Auburn's best player, was hurt in their loss against Harvard.  I'm not sure how long he will be out.  A few other new players such as Canty and Harris are important contributors for Auburn, but they are still probably going to finish in the bottom half of the conference.  Horace Spencer plays exceptional defense for a freshman.

Impressive Wins: none

Bad Losses: none

Missouri

Hiring a Division II coach as your head coach is not a good idea, even if he was 274-94 and is familiar with the recruiting area.  They did play a difficult out of conference schedule.

Impressive Wins: none

Bad Losses: none

Season Outlook

It is highly unlikely that there are any national championship contenders in the SEC this year.  It isn't impossible that Kentucky wins it all, but I don't see it happening this time.  All of the top half of the teams in the SEC are capable of getting in the NCAA tournament, and somewhere in between four and six teams should.  All of the teams in the bottom half are going to struggle to get to the NIT, and a few won't even come close to getting in.

Power Ranking

1. Kentucky

2. Texas A&M

3. Vanderbilt

4. South Carolina

5. Florida

6. Georgia

7. Mississippi

8. LSU

9. Tennessee

10. Arkansas

11. Alabama

12. Auburn

13. MSU

14. Missouri

Kentucky has the most talent, and Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have the best chance of beating them in the SEC.  Anyone in the top 7 could get in the NCAA.  The rest of the teams are going to have trouble getting in the NIT, with Alabama possibly being the exception due to their good start.  MSU could play better in conference play than they have so far, and maybe finish in the top ten.  Right now, MSU is fairly even with Auburn, but Auburn has more depth at forward and center and has played a little better so far.