Some conferences have an obvious preseason favorite. For instance, in the Villanova Wildcats. In the Pac-12, it's clearly Mick Cronin's UCLA Bruins. But nothing seems quite as certain in the SEC, where at least four schools can reasonably be labeled the team to beat in the league., it's clearly Jay Wright's
It's a total toss-up on paper.
The pick of our CBS Sports panel of writers is Alabama — but I personally voted for Arkansas. Then there's Kentucky, which was the leading vote-getter in the official SEC Media Poll published earlier this month. And then there's Tennessee, which is the highest-rated SEC team at both KenPom.com and BartTorvik.com. Another thing that suggests it should be a tight race is how I have those four schools ranked 10th (Arkansas), 12th (Alabama), 14th (Kentucky) and 20th (Tennessee) in the . In other words, in my mind at least, there's not much separating the Razorbacks, Crimson Tide, Wildcats and Volunteers. So it should be a fun race in the SEC, where Alabama has a chance to win back-to-back regular-season league titles, Kentucky needs to bounce-back from a disastrous 2020-21 season, Arkansas is trying to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, and Tennessee is attempting to play in its fourth straight NCAA Tournament under Rick Barnes.
CBS Sports SEC Preseason Player of the Year
Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama
Quinerly is a great example of how sometimes it just takes time for five-star prospects to figure things out at this level. Sure, a handful each year are instant-stars like Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley were last season. But for others, like Quinerly, success doesn't come quite as easily -- evidence being how the five-star point guard from the Class of 2018 averaged just 3.2 points in 9.1 minutes per game as a freshman at Villanova. After that disappointing season, Quinerly transferred to Alabama, sat out a year per (old) NCAA transfer rules, then helped the Crimson Tide win the SEC regular-season title and SEC Tournament while averaging 12.9 points and 3.2 assists per game -- and now he's the favorite heading into his redshirt junior season to be the SEC Player of the Year.
CBS Sports SEC Preseason Coach of the Year
Eric Musselman, Arkansas
It didn't take long for Musselman to return the Razorbacks to national relevance. After finishing tied for 10th in the SEC in his first season with the Hogs, Musselman guided the Razorbacks to a second-place finish last season before advancing to the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The deep run doubled as Arkansas' first trip to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight since 1996. And based on how well Musselman navigated the transfer market per usual, nobody should be surprised if the Razorbacks are knocking on the door of the Final Four once again this season.
CBS Sports SEC Preseason Freshman of the Year
Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee
Chandler was the No. 1 point guard prospect in the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports, and is now somebody who projects as a one-and-done lottery pick despite being just 6-feet tall. The Memphis native won back-to-back Mr. Basketball awards in Tennessee at Briarcrest Christian School before transferring to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, where he earned McDonald's All-American honors. He won state titles in high school and led his grassroots team to a Nike EYBL national championship. He's a difference-making winner. And there's a chance he'll be Tennessee's best player this season even though the Vols are returning talented veterans like Victor Bailey, John Fulkerson and Josiah-James Jordan.
CBS Sports SEC predicted order of finish
The consensus order as voted by our experts with how they voted below
|The Crimson Tide won the SEC by two games last season, then won the SEC Tournament by defeating Mississippi State, Tennessee and LSU (in that order). Now the top two scorers from that team are back — namely Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, the latter of whom was voted the CBS Sports Preseason SEC Player of the Year after averaging 12.9 points, 3.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds as a redshirt sophomore. Nate Oats enrolled a top-15 recruiting class highlighted by five-star point guard JD Davison and four-star center Charles Bediako, both of whom started in Alabama's charity exhibition win over Louisiana. The addition of Furman transfer Noah Gurley is another upgrade to the roster that should give Oats a real chance to become the first coach to win back-to-back outright SEC titles since Billy Donovan did it at Florida in 2013 and 2014.|
|The Razorbacks lost four of the top six scorers from last season's team that made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament — most notably SEC Freshman of the Year Moses Moody, who was a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. But there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Arkansas given how Eric Musselman once again added quality pieces via the the transfer portal. At least three transfers are expected to start for the Razorbacks — among them Chris Lykes, who averaged 15.4 points at Miami two seasons ago. The 5-7 guard only played two games last season because of an ankle injury -- but he's healthy now and expected to play a big role in the backcourt beside Davonte Davis and fellow transfer Stanley Umude, the latter of whom is a 6-6 wing who averaged 21.6 points and 7.0 rebounds last season at South Dakota. Au'Diese Toney is the third transfer who will likely start for the Razorbacks. He averaged 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 16 games at Pitt last season. So, yeah, there will be a lot of new faces contributing at Arkansas this season — but the results should be similar and cause Bud Walton Arena to be one of college basketball's best environments.|
|The Wildcats were a disaster last season and arguably the biggest disappointment in the sport. They started ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 poll — but finished a surprisingly bad 9-16. They had no quality point guards and not enough reliable shooters, which is why they had a turnover rate that ranked 217th nationally and a 3-point percentage that ranked 172nd. So what did John Calipari do? He responded by enrolling multiple point guards and multiple shooters. He added Sahvir Wheeler, a point guard who transferred from Georgia after averaging 14.0 points and a conference-best 7.4 assists last season. He added TyTy Washington, a five-star point guard who projects as a one-and-done lottery pick. He added Kellan Grady, a 6-5 combo guard who averaged at least 17.0 points in four straight years at Davidson and shot 38.2% from beyond the arc last season. He added C.J. Frederick, a shooting guard who transferred from Iowa after shooting 47.4% from 3-point range last season. Combine those four newcomers with West Virginia transfer Oscar Tschiebwe and returnees Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks, and Calipari clearly has the pieces for a big bounce-back season that could culminate with his first trip to the Final Four since 2015.|
|The Vols return four of the top seven scorers from a team that earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament — namely Victor Bailey, John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James, the last of whom is a former five-star prospect who averaged 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds last season. So there's a solid nucleus in place for the arrival of Kennedy Chandler, the five-star point guard who projects as a likely one-and-done lottery pick. If those five players comprise the starting lineup, that's a really nice starting lineup that would allow Justin Powell and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield to come off the bench. Powell is a transfer from Auburn who averaged 11.7 points in 10 games last season before suffering what amounted to a season-ending concussion. Huntley-Hatfield is a five-star forward who will provide immediate frontcourt depth for Tennessee, which is positioned to make its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance under Rick Barnes.|
|The Tigers were a disappointing 13-14 last season, which broke a three-year string of at least 25 victories and top-four finishes in the SEC. But Bruce Pearl has remade his roster in part by adding two former five-star prospects to his frontcourt. One of them is Jabari Smith, a 6-10 power forward who was a consensus top-10 prospect in the Class of 2021. The other is Walker Kessler, a 7-1 center who was a consensus top-25 prospect in the Class of 2020. Kessler got caught in a numbers game at North Carolina and played just 8.8 minutes per contest last season. But when he played at least 20 minutes, he averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds, which suggests he can produce when given an opportunity. An Achilles injury is expected to keep Allen Flanigan sidelined until mid-December; that's obviously not ideal. But assuming the 6-6 wing returns on schedule, the Tigers should be a team good enough to advance in the NCAA Tournament.|
|The Gators are returning two double-digit scorers from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament — namely Colin Castleton, a transfer from Michigan who averaged 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds last season, and Tyree Appleby, a 6-1 guard who averaged 11.3 points and 3.3 assists. They'll be joined by two impactful transfers in Phlandrous Fleming (Charleston Southern) and Myreon Jones (Penn State), the latter of whom is a 6-5 guard who averaged 15.3 points for the Nittany Lions last season while making 39.5% of his 3-point attempts. So Mike White appears to have a roster good enough for Florida to try to make what would be its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. But, for what it's worth, Jerry Palm does not have the Gators in his preseason bracket despite a projected sixth-place finish here.|
|Most of the good pieces from LSU's team that advanced to the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament are gone, leaving Darius Days as the only returning player on the roster who averaged more than 4.2 points last season. But the Tigers still have a chance to compete for a trip to a third straight NCAA Tournament considering Will Wade added at least two interesting players — one from the high school ranks, the other via the transfer portal. Efton Reid is a five-star freshman who should start in the middle while Xavier Pinson is a transfer from Missouri who averaged 13.6 points last season. That gives Wade a quality top-three. But when Illinois transfer Adam Miller suffered a season-ending knee injury last month, things got more difficult. So the Tigers might need to be better than the sum of their parts to actually secure a place in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.|
|The Bulldogs are returning three of the top five scorers from a team that played in the NIT title game — most notably Iverson Molinar, who is the second-leading returning scorer in the SEC after averaging 16.6 points last season. Tolu Smith is another returning double-digit scorer. So Ben Howland has some productive players back to combine with a cast of newcomers fresh out of the transfer portal. The best of the group is Garrison Brooks, a 6-9 forward who averaged 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds two seasons ago at North Carolina before having (relatively speaking) a disappointing year last season. He'll obviously start along with fellow transfer D.J. Jeffries, a 6-7 wing who averaged 9.9 points and 5.1 rebounds at Memphis last season. It should be noted that Smith and Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts are both expected to be sidelined until the end of the month with injuries. But assuming each is back on time, and additional injuries don't derail things, Howland's seventh season at Mississippi State should be his best.|
|Ole Miss isn't projected by most to make the NCAA Tournament — but Kermit Davis has a roster that's good enough to maybe get there. Jarkel Joiner is back after averaging 12.0 points and 2.6 rebounds last season. He'll be joined by a group of newcomers highlighted by the Rebels' first McDonald's All-American signee in school history (Daeshawn Ruffin) and a former five-star recruit who transferred back to his home state of Mississippi following one season at Duke (Jaemyn Brakefield). That's a talented core that should allow the Rebels to be better offensively and a threat to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in a four-year span.|
|The Aggies lost nine players to the transfer portal after last season but still return two of their top four scorers in Quenton Jackson and Andre Gordon. So Buzz Williams isn't necessarily starting his third season at Texas A&M from scratch. Those are two pretty good pieces that'll be joined by a group of newcomers headlined by Marcus Williams, the reigning Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year who averaged 14.8 points and 4.3 assists last season at Wyoming. Other notable additions are Duke transfer Henry Coleman and Manny Obaseki, the latter of whom is a consensus top-35 prospect in the Class of 2021. From top to bottom, it's an overhauled roster that provides some hope. If everything clicks — or, at least, if the Aggies are better offensively — Texas A&M could finish in the top half of the SEC and become the third different school Williams has taken to the NCAA Tournament.|
|Scotty Pippen Jr. is the SEC's leading returning scorer after averaging 20.8 points last season while shooting 35.8% from 3-point range and 85.0% from the free-throw line. He'll likely post similar numbers this season. So the question is whether there's enough other good pieces around him to allow the Commodores to finish better than 13th in the SEC for the first time under Jerry Stackhouse. The answer might be determined by the impact of transfers Liam Robbins (Minnesota) and Rodney Chatman (Dayton), the latter of whom started every game two years ago for a Dayton team that finished 29-2 and would've been a No. 1 seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament if there would've been a 2020 NCAA Tournament.|
|Cuonzo Martin guided the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years last season — but getting back there will be difficult given how much Missouri lost. Six players entered the transfer portal this offseason, which created a situation where the Tigers are returning just one player who averaged more than 6.2 points. There are some talented newcomers on the roster — among them Dajuan Gordon, who averaged 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds as a sophomore at Kansas State. But what the Tigers lost exceeds what they brought in. So the most likely scenario has Missouri finishing 10th-or-worse in the SEC for the third time in a four-year span.|
|Frank Martin's nine years at South Carolina include a trip to the 2017 Final Four, which represented the first time the program has ever advanced past the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. That was an amazing accomplishment. But the former Big 12 Coach of the Year is just 32-37 in SEC games in the past four years — and he's now finished 11th-or-worse in the SEC in five of his nine seasons, including last season when the Gamecocks posted a 4-11 league record and finished 12th in the conference standings. Two double-digit scorers from that team are back — namely Keyshawn Bryant and Jermaine Couisnard. So the Gamecocks should be better. But they might need to exceed the expectations to ensure Martin returns for an 11th season next year.|
|The Bulldogs lost the top six scorers from last season's team to the transfer portal — among them Sahvir Wheeler, K.D. Johnson and Toumani Camara, three double-digit scorers who relocated to Kentucky, Auburn and Dayton, respectively. That means Tom Crean is basically starting from scratch in his fourth year in Athens, and that's why the Bulldogs are expected to finish last in the SEC. Previously, Crean took Marquette to the NCAA Tournament in his third season in charge and Indiana to the NCAA Tournament in his fourth. So unless the Bulldogs wildly overachieve this season, this will be the first time in his career that the former C-USA and Big Ten Coach of the Year will have gone four straight years without making the NCAA Tournament.|
Most Overrated Team
We voted Alabama first in the SEC but at least one computer isn't as high on the Crimson Tide. KenPom has the reigning SEC champions projected as the fourth-best team in the league -- though, it should be noted, that Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama are 13th, 15th, 17th and 19th at KenPom, point being not much separates the top four in this league.
Most Underrated Team
According to both KenPom and Torvik, the SEC's most underrated team is Tennessee. We voted the Vols fourth -- but they're first in both computer rankings. That's eye-opening and something that made me wonder whether I'm too low on the Vols even though I have them 20th in the CBS Sports Preseason Top 25 And 1.