At the end of this season, the SEC could send two or three teams to the national semifinals. That's a common theme for the league's football titans. But the basketball product hasn't been this rich in the SEC in years.
Just two years ago, the SEC had three NCAA tournament berths, the third time in four years only three league representatives had received invitations on Selection Sunday. With the power at the top and the depth throughout the conference this season, the SEC could set a postseason record for berths and send multiple squads to Minneapolis for the Final Four.
1. Kentucky Wildcats: John Calipari hasn't fielded a team this deep since the 2014-15 squad, which started the season 38-0 before losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four. During the team's exhibition tour over the summer, Keldon Johnson, the most promising component of the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, looked like a star and Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis stabilized the rotation by coming off the bench and contributing. The Wildcats are flashy, and they're the team to beat in the SEC.
2. Tennessee Volunteers: The return of Admiral Schofield, who withdrew from the NBA draft prior to the deadline for players who hoped to maintain their collegiate eligibility, solidified the league's most potent one-two punch. Schofield and Grant Williams, the reigning SEC player of the year, will steer a program with four players who made at least 38 percent of their 3-point attempts last season and the key elements of last season's top-10 defense.
3. Auburn Tigers: Austin Wiley (8.8 PPG, 1.3 BPG in 2016-17) and Danjel Purifoy (11.5 PPG in 2016-17), who were both suspended last season due to their alleged ties to the FBI's corruption investigation, will return this season, although Purifoy will also miss 30 percent of this season as part of his suspension. But the duo's return tempered any concerns about the transfers of Mustapha Heron and Desean Murray because the Tigers possess the depth to win another SEC crown and make a run to the Final Four.
4. LSU Tigers: Will Wade's team suffered a tragic loss when Wayde Sims, who averaged 5.6 PPG in 2017-18 and anticipated a larger role for the upcoming season, was shot and killed last month. The Tigers will move forward with heavy hearts. But Tremont Waters (15.9 PPG, 6.0 APG) will lead a group with a top-10 recruiting class and a pair of big standouts, Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams and five-star freshman Naz Reid, in the most promising season since Ben Simmons' lone season in Baton Rouge.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs: Ben Howland's run to the NIT semifinals showcased a promising roster that returned every key piece from the 2017-18 squad and added Reggie Perry, a 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American. Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Aric Holman comprise one of the nation's most talented quartets. The Bulldogs should return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
6. Florida Gators: Michael White lost a collection of veterans from last season's team. But the return of Jalen Hudson (15.5 PPG, 40.4 percent from the 3-point line) and arrival of a top-20 recruiting class filled with elite guards like four-star freshman Andrew Nembhard ensures a limited drop-off. White will have multiple big wings who can shoot. That should allow him to play small-ball without fear of surrendering a major disadvantage on defense.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide: There was more buzz about Collin Sexton's departure after an amazing freshman season than the respectable group that returns to Tuscaloosa. John Petty is a year older and ready to accept a role as the go-to playmaker for the program, while Tevin Mack, who led Texas in scoring before transferring after the 2016-17 season, could secure all-SEC honors. Donta Hall hopes to build on the 2.0 blocks per game he picked up last season.
8. Missouri Tigers: Michael Porter Jr. missed the bulk of last season due to a back injury and Cuonzo Martin still managed to snap a five-year postseason drought by reaching the NCAA tournament. How? Jontay Porter (9.9 PPG, 1.7 BPG, 36 percent from the 3-point line) molded himself into an NBA prospect. He'll play next to Jeremiah Tilmon (8.2 PPG) and Kevin Puryear (8.6 PPG) on a team that lost top scorers Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett.
9. Vanderbilt Commodores: The three seniors (Jeff Roberson, Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis) from a squad that finished 12-20 and failed to reach the postseason a year after securing an NCAA tournament berth in Bryce Drew's first season have left. But five-star freshman guard Darius Garland, Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, joins five-star power forward Simi Shittu in a top-10 recruiting class. If Drew can clean up one of the worst defenses in America with his young talent, the Commodores could achieve a remarkable turnaround.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks: The SEC is a league that could send eight or nine teams to the NCAA tournament in 2018-19. But this is where a significant drop-off could begin, as the Razorbacks welcome more than a half-dozen newcomers after losing the key pieces from last season's NCAA tournament team. Daniel Gafford (11.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.2 BPG) could play his way into a first-round slot in the NBA draft but a postseason run for his team seems unlikely.
11. Texas A&M Aggies: Billy Kennedy had an experienced roster and first-round pick Robert Williams but also an abundance of off-court drama last season. That didn't stop Kennedy's team from making the Sweet 16. But Williams and the other critical players on that roster are gone, leaving Admon Gilder and TJ Starks to make an attempt to keep this squad from the bottom of the league's standings.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks: Brian Bowen Jr. transferred to South Carolina but left to play pro ball in Australia after being ruled ineligible for the upcoming season. But the former five-star recruit would not have saved a program that's still searching for a catalyst like Sindarius Thornwell, the former SEC player of the year who led the team to the Final Four in 2017. Chris Silva, co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, could put together another first team all-SEC performance after averaging 14.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 1.4 BPG last season.
13. Georgia Bulldogs: Tom Crean seems to be the right leader for a Georgia program that will need some time to find its footing and assemble the talent necessary to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. At Indiana, Crean weathered difficult years before identifying and helping Victor Oladipo become a Wooden Award candidate. He'll try to get the most out of William Jackson II (8.4 PPG) in his first season with a program that failed to tally enough meaningful wins under Mark Fox.
14. Ole Miss Rebels: At Middle Tennessee, Kermit Davis won at least 24 games in five of the previous six seasons, a stretch that also included three NCAA tournament appearances and an upset of Michigan State two years ago. The 12-win team he now commands after joining the program following Andy Kennedy's dismissal will present a great challenge to a coach accustomed to consistency. He'll need Terence Davis (13.8 PPG) and Breein Tyree (10.8 PPG) to excel.