Florida Gators No. 2 in Sports Illustrated SEC Offseason Power Rankings

Zach Goodall

As the offseason tugs along and we inch towards a preseason overcast with doubt across all college sports, the least we can do is project what each season could look like. 

With that being said, Sports Illustrated has begun to release its Power 5 men's basketball power rankings, broken down by conference. The Florida Gators check in at No. 2 in the SEC following a disappointing No. 5 regular-season finish (19-12, 11-7 SEC) after the 2019-20 season was cut short amidst the coronavirus pandemic - not surprisingly behind the Kentucky Wildcats.

Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo offered his insight for Florida's projection, enthused by returning talents, forward Keyontae Johnson and wing Scottie Lewis, among others.

Keeping Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson for another year was a major coup for Mike White, and the Gators should be able to build on last year’s 11–7 conference mark. Someone will have to step up at point guard, preferably Tre Mann, who had a slightly disappointing freshman season but should get the first crack at replacing Andrew Nembhard. Transfers Tyree Appleby and Anthony Duruji should step into the rotation, and the Gators should be sound defensively again. If a go-to scorer emerges from the group, Florida should have a real shot to win the league. To be fair, we said that last year.

Florida entered the 2019-20 season ranked No. 6 nationally in the AP Top 25, only to finish unranked. While the Gators namely lost Nembhard, as he transferred to Gonzaga, and forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. (graduation), Johnson emerged during his sophomore campaign and looks to take the next step in his game, while Lewis should receive more scoring opportunities as the Gators look to play fast. 

Below, you can find the entire SI SEC summer power rankings, as well as answers to some burning questions regarding the league.

1. Kentucky

2. Florida

3. Tennessee

4. LSU

5. Arkansas

6. Alabama

7. South Carolina

8. Mississippi

9. Auburn

10. Missouri

11. Texas A&M

12. Mississippi State

13. Georgia

14. Vanderbilt

Is there an elite team in this conference?

Kentucky and Florida form a clear-cut top-two at this point in time, and it’s far too early to say anything conclusive, but neither team completely sparks your fancy as a full-blown title contender on paper. Kentucky rolls out a brand-new team and Florida will be banking on player development after the fortuitous returns of Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis. It’s important to note that if the start to the season is delayed as COVID-19 continues to impact the return of sports, there may actually be added valuable development time if players are able to remain on campus. Conversely, teams’ capacity to practice together could be impacted negatively. There’s too much we don’t know. But this could be a weird year for SEC basketball on whole.

Do Kentucky’s pieces fit?

John Calipari reeled in yet another big-time recruiting class, but it’s been a while since he dealt with this type of roster turnover, and his two most promising freshmen—B.J. Boston and Terrence Clarke—are both scorers used to having the ball in their hands. Much was made of adding grad transfers Davion Mintz and Olivier Sarr, but it’s not like either player was dominant at his previous stop, and both have more to prove. If Devin Askew hits the ground running, his playmaking could do a lot for this group. The other freshmen—Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher—are further off from making serious contributions. At a glance, it’s unclear what this will look like, beyond Boston and Clarke taking turns hoisting jumpers. But it’s also hard to see this group totally falling flat.

Can Tennessee make a leap?

There’s a real case for the Vols as a sneaky SEC contender, particularly if the aforementioned Yves Pons returns. Tennessee dealt with the departures of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield and managed a 9–9 mark in conference play last season. Santiago Vescovi and John Fulkerson should be entrenched in the lineup. Keon Johnson could immediately be the best perimeter defender in the conference, and Jaden Springer will help with shot-creation. Josiah-Jordan James has breakout potential. But, like the rest of the conference, there’s a lot of meshing that has to take place first.

Who’s leaving for the NBA?

A handful of key players are still undecided as the Aug. 3 NCAA deadline approaches, most notably Isaiah Joe (Arkansas), John Petty (Alabama), Pons (Tennessee) and the LSU trio of Trendon Watford, Darius Days and Javonte Smart. All those players would ostensibly be difference-makers for their respective teams, and all four of those teams have tournament hopes and are in line for a top-half finish. We’ll have a better feel for what the conference really looks like a week from now.

Is this a six-team league?

It’s hard to pick out a team with real sleeper potential beyond the top six, with apologies to Auburn, which has earned the benefit of the doubt, but is also facing arguably the most difficult retooling job in the conference. South Carolina and Ole Miss figure to border on relevance. But most of the league feels interchangeable at this point, which leaves opportunity, but also could point to some general mediocrity. And if this ends up being a shortened, conference-only season, résumé building as a bubble-type team might pose a challenge.