Early SEC power rankings: Florida to challenge Kentucky; 7 NCAA bids possible

With college basketball is in the middle of its offseason, we're addressing what has happened in the seven major conferences since early April. We wrap up our series with a succinct analysis of the SEC. 

The SEC did well for itself last season, putting five teams into the NCAA Tournament play. South Carolina's history-making Final Four appearance (the school had never won two games in a single NCAA Tournament, let alone four) wound up being the biggest news in the conference. 

Kentucky played its way to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual champion North Carolina on Luke Maye's memorable jumper.

In the ensuing months, Kentucky has made most of the news out of the SEC, but as we start looking at 2017-18, bear in mind that teams below the Wildcats in the standings are bulking up. 

Biggest names returning

While there are no Kentucky players on the list, the Cats have a key "returner" in Hamidou Diallo, who was enrolled last spring but never played. As for those listed, two had memorable moments in last season's NCAA Tournament. Chiozza hit that running winner to boost Florida into the Elite Eight at Madison Square Garden. Fisher-Davis's foul gaffe against Northwestern cost Vandy a chance to make the second round. Maten is an unheralded force who draws big-time respect from SEC coaches.

Impact players leaving


Kentucky faces its its biggest roster turnover in the John Calipari era, with seven players earning minutes gone to NBA or departed via graduation. Kentucky never has been as young as it will be next season, according to its athletic department. Fox and Monk comprised a dynamic backcourt, and arguably Calipari's best. Losing Thornwell (SEC player of the year) and Dozier could send South Carolina reeling. 

Coaching changes 

Cuonzo Martin, Missouri: Moved on after three years at Cal, looking to revive a program aching for relevance in the SEC. The 45-year-old Martin coached three seasons at Tennessee, taking the Vols to the Sweet 16 in 2014, before going to Berkeley. Since landing in Columbia, Martin has landed four prospects, led by Michael Porter Jr., potentially the No. 1 in the 2018 NBA Draft

Will Wade, LSU: Wade honed his craft at Chattanooga for two seasons before replacing Shaka Smart at VCU in 2015. Now the 34-year-old owns a 91-45 career record and, similar to Martin at Mizzou, has made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail

Three biggest SEC offseason headlines

  1. Hamidou Diallo stays at Kentucky instead of staying in draft: Betting on himself by bypassing a chance to be a first-round pick, he becomes must-see in Lexington. Coaches say he's one of the most athletic recruits they've seen. Has the potential to lead Kentucky in scoring and could have a shot at being an All-American. 
  2. Mizzou adds key pieces; NCAA Tournament possible: Martin took on a whole new set of expectations when Washington fired Lorenzo Romar. With Romar gone, Porter opted out of his commitment to the Huskies (Porter's father -- an assistant for Romar and previously an assistant for Missouri's women's team -- was hired by Martin). The Tigers also brought in four-star Jeremiah Tilmon and are waiting to find out if Porter's younger brother will reclassify and play in 2017-18 with the Tigers. 
  3. Calipari loses out on gold while coaching U19 Team USA: Team USA had not lost a game in FIBA play since 2011 until earlier this month. If the United States loses in a world basketball setting, it's a headline. With Calipari coaching a team that lost to Canada, it was magnified.
michaelporterjr4.jpg
Michael Porter Jr. will be asked to do what Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz couldn't: carry a sagging program to the NCAAs. USATSI
SEC offseason power rankings
1
With Wenyen Gabriel -- who earned only spot minutes -- the only returning rotation player, here comes the top-rated Class of 2017: P.J. Washington, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green and Nick Richards. They join Diallo. Those pieces figure to fit, with Green's play at the point the key. Kentucky will be crazy talented and fascinating. Biggest question is a familiar one: Will the Cats be effective from the 3-point line?
2
The Gators came within a few possessions of making it to the Final Four in Mike White's second season. Because Allen, Chiozza and John Egbunu return, Florida will compete with Kentucky.
3
Few teams will match A&M's low-post duo of Robert Williams and Tyler Davis. On the wing, D.J. Hogg will try to make the leap and become a 3-point threat. The Aggies could be a second-weekend NCAA tourney threat.
4
There is a significant dip to reach Arkansas. But this team almost beat Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, and -- with six seniors -- the Hogs are a safe bet to dance again.
5
Collin Sexton was a bolt-from-the-blue five-star point guard prospect. While entering college as a relative unknown nationally, Sexton could be among the country's more entertaining players and work himself into the first round of the NBA Draft.
6
Vandy reached the NCAAs last season as a 9 seed. With much of the roster returning, the Commodores could better last season's 19 wins. Fisher-Davis figures to atone for his tournament mishap.
7
Porter will get the attention, but Terrence Phillips' point-guard play will be pivotal if the Tigers are to become next season's UCLA. The Bruins more than doubled their win total -- going from 15 to 31 -- from 2015-16 to 2016-17. Mizzou has a shot to do something similar.
8
With Maten (18.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), a top-50 lock for CBS Sports' annual list of the country's top 100 (and one) players, Georgia has a shot at reaching the NCAAs. Losing J.J. Frazier hurts, though.
9
The Tigers could be a lot of fun, thanks to Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley. Entering his fourth season year at Auburn without an NCAA appearance, Bruce Pearl could show some results.
10
The Gamecocks return two of five starters (Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar) from that Final Four team. Hassani Gravett is a breakout candidate. Frank Martin's team is a long shot for an NCAA bid.
11
Weatherspoon is underrated, largely because Mississippi State is still waiting to kick into gear under Ben Howland.
12
Ole Miss has won at least 19 games every season since 2008-09 and has not had a losing season since 2005-06, but Andy Kennedy's group could lack the size and defense to finish much higher.
13
Rick Barnes' team is a mystery because it lacks a discernable leader. Sophomores Grant Williams and Lamonte Turner figure to be important.
14
The Tigers landed promising freshman Tremont Waters, but this program needs two seasons to build itself into a top-half team.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. This is his 10th season reporting on college basketball for CBS. He also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories