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.
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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.

Find more about how our projection system works here, and read all of our 2016–17 preview content here.

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.

Josh Hart, Grayson Allen lead SI's player of the year projections

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

Washington's Markelle Fultz, Duke's Jayson Tatum lead top projected freshmen scorers

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

1

Kentucky

16–2

13–5

2

Florida

11–7

9–9

3

Texas A&M

11–7

13–5

4

Vanderbilt

10–8

11–7

5

Georgia

9–9

10–8

6

Arkansas

9–9

9–9

7

Ole Miss

9–9

10–8

8

Mississippi State

9–9

7–11

9

South Carolina

8–10

11–7

10

Auburn

8–10

5–13

11

Alabama

8–10

8–10

12

Tennessee

7–11

6–12

13

LSU

7–11

11–7

14

Missouri

4–14

3–15

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Malik Monk

Fr

SG

16.0

2.1

2.5

117.1

25%

77%

De'Aaron Fox

Fr

PG

12.9

1.7

3.9

117.6

21%

77%

Bam Adebayo

Fr

C

12.5

6.9

0.8

116.3

24%

63%

Derek Willis

Sr

PF

11.1

6.3

0.7

125.6

16%

68%

Isaiah Briscoe

So

PG

10.9

5.1

3.3

109.1

20%

80%

Wenyen Gabriel

Fr

PF

7.2

4.7

0.6

110.3

20%

45%

Isaac Humphries

So

C

5.0

5.4

0.4

109.9

15%

50%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Kevaughn Allen

So

SG

12.7

3.2

1.8

116.1

20%

72%

John Egbunu

Jr

C

11.6

6.8

0.6

112.5

22%

63%

Devin Robinson

Jr

SF

10.5

5.5

0.8

121.7

19%

60%

Canyon Barry

Sr

SG

10.0

3.4

1.0

104.7

23%

52%

Kasey Hill

Sr

PG

9.2

2.2

3.3

101.6

24%

56%

Justin Leon

Sr

PF

8.2

5.0

0.6

115.1

17%

55%

Chris Chiozza

Jr

PG

7.6

2.6

3.8

108.9

20%

59%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Tyler Davis

So

C

14.3

7.5

1.0

114.4

24%

70%

Admon Gilder

So

PG

13.1

3.9

3.1

113.1

19%

83%

D.J. Hogg

So

SF/PF

11.6

5.1

1.6

109.7

20%

73%

Tonny Trocha-Morelos

Jr

C

10.9

6.5

1.3

106.1

21%

68%

Eric Vila

Fr

SF

7.6

4.9

0.9

95.8

19%

58%

J.C. Hampton

Sr

PG/SG

6.1

1.6

1.6

99.8

21%

40%

Robert Williams

Fr

PF

4.8

3.0

0.4

105.1

17%

38%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Matthew Fisher-Davis

Jr

SF

12.7

4.3

1.6

120.4

17%

78%

Jeff Roberson

Jr

SF

12.3

6.5

1.7

122.8

19%

77%

Riley LaChance

Jr

CG

12.1

3.8

3.4

108.1

21%

84%

Luke Kornet

Sr

PF

10.0

6.5

1.5

109.5

22%

65%

Nolan Cressler

Sr

SG

8.1

3.1

1.1

104.0

24%

44%

Camron Justice

So

SG

7.4

2.7

0.9

103.9

19%

47%

Joe Toye

So

SF

6.6

3.2

0.7

104.0

21%

40%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

J.J. Frazier

Sr

PG

16.6

3.9

4.3

117.0

25%

82%

Yante Maten

Jr

PF/C

16.2

8.0

0.9

106.0

27%

76%

Tyree Crump

Fr

SG

9.7

3.2

1.7

101.4

19%

69%

Derek Ogbeide

So

PF

6.1

6.1

0.7

96.4

20%

50%

Jordan Harris

Fr

SG

5.7

1.1

0.9

100.3

18%

43%

Juwan Parker

Jr

SG

5.2

2.6

1.0

100.3

18%

43%

Mike Edwards

So

PF

3.5

3.6

0.4

91.7

15%

41%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Dusty Hannahs

Sr

SG

16.5

2.5

1.3

118.3

24%

68%

Moses Kingsley

Sr

PF

16.4

8.8

1.2

115.2

26%

74%

Anton Beard

Jr

PG

8.9

2.3

2.1

108.7

19%

60%

Jaylen Barford

Jr

PG

7.6

3.0

2.2

103.8

19%

56%

Daryl Macon

Jr

SG

7.6

2.8

1.2

103.8

19%

52%

Dustin Thomas

Jr

PF

6.9

3.5

0.7

105.8

20%

48%

Arlando Cook

Jr

PF

6.6

4.2

0.5

103.8

19%

45%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Deandre Burnett

Jr

SG

13.5

3.5

1.6

104.4

23%

72%

Cullen Neal

Sr

PG

11.7

3.9

3.7

98.9

23%

78%

Sebastian Saiz

Sr

C

11.5

7.9

0.7

114.8

21%

68%

Rasheed Brooks

Sr

SG

9.6

3.7

1.8

105.0

18%

71%

Marcanvis Hymon

Jr

SF

8.6

6.0

0.9

113.1

19%

59%

Justas Furmanavicius

Jr

SF

7.6

4.4

0.9

101.5

20%

52%

Nate Morris

Fr

PF

4.5

3.1

0.4

99.4

18%

34%

ben-howland-mississippi-state-sec-preview.jpg

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Quinndary Weatherspoon

So

SG

13.5

4.7

1.7

111.7

23%

73%

Tyson Carter

Fr

PG

9.7

4.1

3.3

102.6

19%

73%

I.J. Ready

Sr

PG

9.6

2.2

4.1

108.9

20%

73%

Mario Kegler

Fr

SF

8.7

4.2

1.2

105.2

20%

56%

Schnider Herard

Fr

C

7.4

4.4

0.7

103.1

19%

51%

Abdul Ado

Fr

C

6.2

3.9

0.5

102.6

19%

43%

Xavian Stapleton

So

SG

6.1

2.1

0.7

104.8

21%

35%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Sindarius Thornwell

Sr

PG/SG

14.3

5.3

3.7

111.3

22%

84%

Duane Notice

Sr

SG

12.2

2.9

3.0

117.7

19%

76%

P.J. Dozier

So

SG

10.3

4.2

2.5

95.8

25%

65%

Chris Silva

So

PF

10.2

7.3

0.6

107.5

22%

62%

Ran Tut

Jr

PF

7.0

4.8

0.5

102.6

19%

48%

Sedee Keita

Fr

PF

6.5

4.6

0.5

103.8

18%

48%

Hassani Gravett

So

PG

4.5

1.7

1.3

100.4

19%

34%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Bryce Brown

So

SG

10.5

2.4

1.0

105.9

20%

60%

Mustapha Heron

Fr

SG

9.8

3.6

1.5

109.3

22%

55%

Danjel Purifoy

Fr

SF

8.5

4.4

1.1

102.4

19%

58%

Ronnie Johnson

Sr

PG

8.5

2.2

2.5

105.9

23%

50%

T.J. Dunans

Sr

SG

8.1

2.3

2.0

100.1

23%

50%

T.J. Lang

Jr

SG

7.9

3.0

0.9

116.5

14%

62%

Horace Spencer

So

PF

7.8

6.0

0.7

98.1

22%

58%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Nick King

Jr

SF

10.6

7.2

1.1

105.4

24%

64%

Shannon Hale

Sr

PF

9.2

2.6

0.8

98.0

27%

48%

Dazon Ingram

So

PG

9.0

5.5

3.7

97.8

21%

76%

Riley Norris

Jr

SF

8.5

5.2

0.9

106.1

17%

70%

Corban Collins

Sr

PG

8.2

2.9

2.5

105.3

19%

60%

Ar'mond Davis

Jr

SG

6.2

2.9

1.1

98.6

20%

45%

Jimmie Taylor

Sr

PF

4.9

3.7

0.4

101.3

18%

42%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Detrick Mostella

Jr

SG

12.7

3.0

1.6

101.3

24%

68%

Robert Hubbs III

Sr

SG

12.1

4.2

1.3

113.7

21%

70%

Admiral Schofield

So

SF

11.6

5.9

1.4

111.8

20%

70%

Lamonte Turner

Fr

PG

9.2

1.8

3.5

103.5

18%

72%

Lew Evans

Sr

PF

8.5

5.2

0.9

102.0

23%

54%

Shembari Phillips

So

SG

7.3

2.5

1.3

99.5

20%

50%

Kwe Parker

Fr

SG

5.6

1.9

0.9

101.6

19%

40%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Antonio Blakeney

So

SG

14.8

3.9

1.4

115.4

21%

76%

Craig Victor II

Jr

PF

12.6

6.2

0.9

105.5

24%

67%

Brandon Sampson

So

SG

9.9

3.3

1.8

100.7

20%

67%

Branden Jenkins

So

SG

8.9

3.5

2.5

96.7

21%

63%

Duop Reath

So

PF

7.4

4.9

0.5

96.7

21%

48%

Jalyn Patterson

Jr

PG

6.3

1.8

1.8

110.6

14%

57%

Aaron Epps

Jr

PF

5.1

2.9

0.4

102.9

19%

33%

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.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Kevin Puryear

So

PF

13.6

6.1

0.7

101.3

24%

74%

K.J. Walton

So

SG

11.5

3.9

1.9

105.8

23%

71%

Terrence Phillips

So

PG

10.5

4.1

4.0

97.2

22%

80%

Jordan Geist

So

PG/SG

8.0

2.8

2.3

95.1

21%

60%

Jordan Barnett

Jr

SF

7.9

4.9

1.1

96.0

20%

34%

Mitchell Smith

Fr

PF

5.6

3.8

0.4

99.5

15%

51%

Cullen VanLeer

So

SG

5.5

1.9

1.0

97.2

17%

48%