SEC preview: Malik Monk should lead Kentucky to another league title
- Malik Monk—our projected freshman and player of the year in the SEC—should lead Kentucky comfortably to a conference crown this season.
Sports Illustrated’s 2016–17 preview is guided by data from our College Basketball Projection System, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Luke Winn and Jeremy Fuchs. We project teams on a player-by-player, lineup-based level and then simulate the season 10,000 times to generate our 1–351 national rankings and conference forecasts.
These are the model’s projections for the SEC, including individual awards, the teams’ order of finish and (advanced and raw) stats for the top seven players in each school’s rotation.
The Big Picture
No surprise here at the top: Kentucky, led by an outstanding stable of freshman prospects, is our projected No. 1 team. And there’s a familiar face in the second spot too, as Florida makes its return to the SEC’s elite in Year 2 of the Mike White era. As with previous years of SEC basketball, there may be only four NCAA tournament qualifiers from a league of 14 teams. SEC basketball fever isn’t quite here yet, but there’s hope for the future.
Player of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky
The Wildcats’ third-highest-rated recruit (and the nation’s ninth), according to the Ratings Services Consensus Index, projects as the SEC’s best player overall thanks in part to an expected sizable role in Kentucky’s offense. Some of the explosive backcourt playmaker’s toughest competition for the award will come from a pair of his classmates in Lexington, but as the central offensive piece on the league’s best team—and a top-flight national title contender—Monk gets the nod for the hardware.
Newcomer of the Year: Monk, Kentucky
So . . . how about that Malik Monk? Not only does he project as the conference’s best player—he’s also new, setting him up for a second superlative. Aside from John Calipari’s other superfrosh, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox, Monk’s challengers for this title will likely be the league’s newly eligible transfers, chiefly projected Alabama leading scorer Nick King (a forward who transferred from Memphis) or Ole Miss guards Deandre Burnett (Miami) and Cullen Neal (New Mexico), who project as the Rebels’ top two scorers.
All-Conference Team & Sixth Man
PG: J.J. Frazier, Georgia
SG: Malik Monk, Kentucky
PF: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
PF: Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
PF: Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
6th man: PG: De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Projected Order of Finish
(Projected conference record in parentheses. The tiebreaker for teams with identical records is their standing in SI’s 1–351 national rankings, which will be revealed in early November.)
|Conference Rank||Team||Proj. Conf. Record||’15-16 Conf. Record|
The Skinny on Each Team
1. Kentucky (16–2)
As usual, when it comes to pedigree, few can compare to Kentucky’s stable of studs. Among the Wildcats’ 11 scholarship players, only three were not top-60 RSCI recruits. One of those was senior forward Derek Willis, a three-star prospect who projects to repeat as Kentucky’s most efficient player this season in his limited offensive role. After ranking as the nation’s best in 2014–15, the Wildcats’ defense sagged to 32nd in efficiency last season. It projects to return to the top five this season, bringing the team’s title hopes with it.
2. Florida (11–7)
Mike White’s second season in Gainesville should see the Gators return to the SEC”s top half—and the NCAA tournament—despite losing leading scorer Dorian Finney-Smith to graduation. Part of that slack will be picked up by graduate transfer Canyon Barry (son of Hall of Famer Rick) and increased usage for forward Devin Robinson, the team’s most efficient option last season.
3. Texas A&M (11–7)
Conference player of the year candidate Tyler Davis will get help from fellow sophomores Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, top-100 recruits who project as double-digit scorers in their first season as starters. More concerning may be replacing the now-graduated Anthony Collins, Alex Caruso and Danuel House from a top-10 defense.
4. Vanderbilt (10–8)
Despite the departure of two NBA first-rounders, new coach Bryce Drew could return the Commodores to the NCAA tourney fringe if smooth-shooting Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson take well to their increased roles. A key X-factor will be the health of 7-footer Luke Kornet after off-season foot surgery.
5. Georgia (9–9)
The Bulldogs have a young trio of rim protectors in junior Yante Maten (7.0% block percentage last season) and sophomores Derek Ogbeide (6.1%) and Mike Edwards (3.5%), who helped them rank seventh nationally in the category last season. Undersized senior guard JJ Frazier is a projected All-SEC first-teamer, but Georgia lacks the complementary offense to make a tourney return.
6. Arkansas (9–9)
A fleet of transfers—forward Dustin Thomas from Colorado and ex-jucos Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, and Arlando Cook—will fill out the Razorbacks’ rotation, but none project as true difference-makers. Arkansas will also have to replace the marksmanship of Anthlon Bell, who shot 44.1% from three last year on 6.3 attempts per game.
7. Ole Miss (9–9)
Burnett and Neal’s arrivals from Miami and New Mexico, respectively, give the Rebels a pair of gunners to replace Stefan Moody, but neither projects as Moody’s heir in terms of efficiency. Coach Andy Kennedy has also said he is expecting an increased shooting range from forward Sebastian Saiz, a standout rebounder and double-double threat who played part of last season with a detached retina.
8. Mississippi State (9–9)
Senior point guard I.J. Ready is the only upperclassman on the Bulldogs’ roster, which features six freshmen. A projected modest improvement in coach Ben Howland’s second season depends on the readiness of those half-dozen recruits, who all rank between Nos. 48 and 100 in the RSCI. Hometown hero Tyson Carter, who starred on the team’s preseason tour of Italy, projects to make the biggest immediate impact.
9. South Carolina (8–10)
After last season’s undefeated run into January, SI’s system forecasts a step back for the Gamecocks. Their highest share of offense is projected to go to 6' 6" sophomore wing P.J. Dozier, who posted an offensive rating of just 78.9 last season in a high-volume, medium-minutes role. Even a large bump in efficiency could leave Dozier lacking.
10. Auburn (8–10)
Last season’s dismal finish—12 losses in 14 games—does not portend well for the Tigers, but there are reasons for longer-term hope. Forward Danjel Purifoy (now eligible after redshirting last year due to ACT issues) and top-20 guard Mustapha Heron are promising freshmen who will be afforded ample court time to grow.
11. Alabama (8–10)
Year 2 of the Avery Johnson administration will feature heavy dosages of Nick King, a former top-50 recruit who averaged 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds at Memphis in 2014–15. One place Johnson’s team could most readily improve its efficiency is the line: the Tide shot a paltry 64.3% on free throws last season.
12. Tennessee (7–11)
Eight new players will suit up in Knoxville this season, but the results project to be similar to last season, with the Volunteers near the SEC’s bottom. To avoid that, Rick Barnes will have to find some outside scoring from the newbies: Shembari Phillips is the only returnee to shoot better than 30.3% from outside.
|Robert Hubbs III||Sr||SG||12.1||4.2||1.3||113.7||21%||70%|
13. LSU (7–11)
If Tigers fans thought their year with Ben Simmons was a disappointment, the post-Simmons hangover could be even harder to stomach. LSU projects to have the SEC’s third-worst defense, which is actually only one spot lower than a year ago.
|Craig Victor II||Jr||PF||12.6||6.2||0.9||105.5||24%||67%|
14. Missouri (4–14)
A quartet of sophomores (one of which, Jordan Geist, is new as a juco transfer) will lead Kim Anderson’s rebuild and try to win their first Division I game away from Mizzou Arena. They’ll get a boost in December when 6' 7" forward Jordan Barnett, a transfer from Texas, becomes eligible.