The past eight months have been unpredictable for college basketball. But even in a pandemic, college hoops couldn’t stay gone too long.
After weeks of attempting to pencil in games for the 2020-21 season, the Southeastern Conference finally released schedules for its 14 teams Nov. 6. With a number of five-star recruits committing to play in the conference and transfers moving left and right, the SEC seems primed for some great basketball this year.
Some teams ended up well off leading into this season, while others hardly made a peep during the past eight months. The Missourian dives deep into how the 14 SEC teams did in the offseason.
Notable additions: Jahvon Quinerly, Alex Tchikou, Juwan Gary, Josh Primo
Key addition: Jahvon Quinerly.
Quinerly was a McDonald’s All-American back in 2018. When things fell apart with his initial commitment to Arizona, he chose Villanova, which seemed like a good fit at the time. But the five-star hardly received the playing time he would have liked and chose to take his talents to the Southeastern Conference last year. After sitting out this past season, Quinerly will get a real chance to lead this Alabama team to success.
With the gaping hole Kira Lewis Jr. left behind as the team’s scoring and assist leader, Quinerly will be able to do what he does best: be a lead guard. The crafty New Jersey product will likely be one of the team’s go-to scoring options and will definitely be its floor general with his shifty handle and creativity as a playmaker.
Key departure: Kira Lewis Jr.
To no surprise, Lewis declared for the 2020 NBA Draft following a monster sophomore season. He was selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the 13th pick Wednesday night, leaving behind 18.5 points per game, 5.2 assists per game and some big shoes to fill. He’s been Alabama’s pride and joy over the past two seasons, and the Crimson Tide can only hope that one of their young guards can continue the team’s recent trend of elite backcourt talents like Lewis and Collin Sexton.
Notable additions: Moses Moody, Justin Smith, Vance Jackson Jr., Khalen Robinson
Key addition: Moses Moody.
Moody carries some weight with him on campus, as his No. 45 overall ranking by ESPN makes him Arkansas’ highest-ranked recruit since Bobby Portis in 2013. But the bright lights are nothing new for the Arkansas native, who has spent the past two seasons on the biggest prep stage possible. Moody played for national powerhouse Montverde Academy, squaring off against some of the best talent in the nation and playing alongside highly-touted recruits Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes.
Moody plays an efficient game. He’s a scary jump shooter, shooting 60.1% from the field and 46.9% from deep last season. He isn’t the shiftiest player, but he can create for himself off the dribble, shoot from deep and even put his head down and get to the rim. He also brings some defensive ability. Don’t be surprised to see him play big minutes this season.
Key departure: Mason Jones.
Jones simply did it all, finishing the year as the Razorbacks’ leader in scoring, rebounding and assists. Jones was picked up by the Houston Rockets following the NBA Draft, a move that was in the cards after he posted an impressive 22 points per game last season. Jones and former Hickman guard Jimmy Whitt combined for 36 points per game, which is a lot of ground to cover if the Razorbacks want to remain competitive.
Notable additions: Sharife Cooper, JT Thor, Justin Powell, Dylan Cardwell
Key addition: Sharife Cooper.
Cooper is the highest-ranked recruit ever to attend Auburn (20th in ESPN’s Top 100). He is a shifty and crafty guard with a great feel for the game. He has a small frame (6-foot-1), which may hurt him on defense, but it’s a fair tradeoff considering all that he offers on the offensive end.
Cooper is a great point guard who poses a legitimate threat as a playmaker and a knack for getting to spots on the floor, and he can score from anywhere on the court. The Tigers lost each of their top six scorers from last season, meaning the time is now for a transcendent guard to emerge from the fold for Auburn. There may not be a more qualified player than Cooper.
Key departure: Isaac Okoro.
After all the noise he made during his stellar freshman season, Okoro couldn’t help but declare for the NBA Draft. The defensive specialist was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the fifth pick. As Okoro steps away, his high school teammate Cooper plans to be the face of the new-look Tigers.
Notable additions: Samson Ruzhentsev, Tyree Appleby, Colin Castleton, Anthony Duruji
Key addition: Colin Castleton.
Though Samson Ruzhentsev is appealing, Florida’s team is flooded with wings. Castleton, meanwhile, stands out as one of the Gators’ few big men who will likely play meaningful minutes. He was a finalist for Florida’s Mr. Basketball award in 2018 and spent the past two seasons at Michigan.
The 6-11 junior averaged just under eight minutes per game for the Wolverines last season, but can play big minutes with Omar Payne as the only quality big on the roster to challenge him. It’s possible that the two can share the floor, with Castleton sliding to the four spot thanks to his deep range. He’s no Kerry Blackshear Jr. around the rim, but he has room to build and possesses a long frame that’ll help his stock.
Key departure: Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The Gators’ big man will be missed. Though the Virginia Tech graduate transfer only spent one season in Gainesville, he left his mark. Blackshear was Florida’s second-leading scorer and was a commanding presence inside. His 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game will be difficult to replace. Payne will look to fill that gap as he enters his sophomore season.
Notable additions: K.D. Johnson, P.J. Horne, Josh Taylor
Key addition: K.D. Johnson.
Johnson is a gritty, stocky “in your face” guard with a chip on his shoulder. Ranked 73rd overall by ESPN this past year, the 6-1 point guard was one of the best prospects in Georgia. He’s animated, full of emotion and leaves everything he has on the floor. He’s built similarly to Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe, and there are a bunch of similarities in their games. Johnson has the potential to be a lead guard for the Bulldogs for several years.
Key departure: Anthony Edwards.
This may be the most predictable departure yet, but yes, Georgia’s leading scorer and the first overall selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA Draft was a pivotal loss. Edwards was the highest-ranked commit Georgia ever had, and that kind of talent only presents itself every so often. His 19 points per game will have to be found elsewhere. Though the Bulldogs didn’t have the most success with him, they’ll definitely miss him.
Notable additions: Brandon Boston Jr., Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Olivier Sarr, Isaiah Jackson
Key addition: Brandon Boston Jr.
Boston was one of the top high school talents last season, ranked seventh in the nation by ESPN. He has an NBA-level offensive package entering the season with Kentucky. The 6-6 wing is a nightmare to guard.
Boston has pro moves, ridiculous range and can score at a high clip. It would be difficult to find a player his age who can create a shot off the dribble like he can while still possessing such great touch. Coach John Calipari must make use of Boston’s talent as much as he can, because more likely than not, Boston is headed for the NBA Draft when this season is over.
Key departure: Tyrese Maxey.
Maxey had a great freshman season before finding his way to the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Draft. His 14 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game were huge contributions, not to mention his solid defense. But the Wildcats shouldn’t miss Maxey too much as they bring in one of their better recruiting classes in recent memory.
Notable Additions: Cam Thomas, Shareef O’Neal, Mwani Wilkinson, Eric Gaines, Bryan Penn-Johnson
Key addition: Cam Thomas.
If Thomas can’t do anything else, he can score. The five-star prospect formed an identity as a prolific scorer early in high school, lighting up the Nike EYBL summer after summer. Thomas spent his final two high school seasons at the illustrious Oak Hill Academy, where he became the program’s all-time leading scorer with more than 2,000 career points.
The 6-4 guard averaged 31.5 points, six rebounds and 3.4 assists per game last season. With a plethora of stepbacks, hesitations and everything in between, Thomas will immediately be one of the hardest players to guard in the SEC. He’ll fit right in next to veteran guard Javonte Smart, making for an interesting backcourt in Baton Rouge.
Key departure: Skylar Mays.
Mays was a significant part of the program over the last several years. The Atlanta Hawks recognized that, snagging him with the 50th pick in the NBA Draft. Mays was at his best in his senior season, posting 16.7 points, five boards and 3.2 assists per game. A scoring average that high is never easy to replace, but the odds that Thomas can seamlessly fill his role are high.
Notable additions: Matthew Murrell, Romello White, Robert Allen, Dimencio Vaughn
Key addition: Matthew Murrell.
The four-star recruit is Ole Miss’ highest-ranked recruit ever. He spent last season in Florida at prep powerhouse IMG Academy alongside other top-ranked recruits. Murrell has seen plenty of high-level competition in the last year alone, so competing in the SEC against so many highly-touted freshmen shouldn’t be too big of a deal for him.
The 6-4 guard isn’t the flashiest player, but he’s solid in everything he does. He doesn’t try to play outside of his role and can play fairly well off of the ball. He should complement senior guard Devontae Shuler nicely.
Key departure: Breein Tyree.
Devontae Shuler is the closest thing the Rebels have to a player like Tyree. Tyree was a seasoned guard who could live in the pick-and-roll, receive constant dribble handoffs, create for himself, run the offense and pull up from deep with confidence.
Shuler didn’t find himself outside the arc as much as Tyree, but that may have just come with being the second option. He’s still a solid shooter from deep and attempts enough threes. Between Shuler and Murrell, Ole Miss will have to find a way to make up the nearly 20 points per game Tyree walked away with.
Notable additions: Deivon Smith, Javian Davis-Fleming
Key addition: Deivon Smith.
Smith is another hard-nosed Georgia guard with ridiculous bounce. The 6-foot guard is one of the most explosive in his class. Smith excels at getting downhill and finds many of his points around the rim, especially in transition. His outside shot could use work, but the four-star prospect led his high school team to a 30-2 record last season and can likely lead the Bulldogs’ offense for years to come.
Key departure: Reggie Perry.
Perry was selected by the Brooklyn Nets with the 57th pick in the NBA Draft. He was the established leader for the Bulldogs last season, averaging a 17-point double-double on the season. His production for someone of his size and strength will be hard to replace, but the Bulldogs can hope that 6-9 Alabama transfer Javian Davis-Fleming can have a remotely similar inside presence.
Notable additions: Jordan Wilmore, Drew Buggs
Key addition: Jordan Wilmore.
Drew Buggs is a talented playmaker, but he adds to a long list of Missouri guards that is frankly too long to read at this point. Wilmore is a simple and easy plug inside that will help the Tigers for years to come.
Senior center Jeremiah Tilmon has pledged to improve his rebounding and his motor in order to make it to the next level. If he lacks in either area this year, coach Cuonzo Martin can simply plug in the 7-3 Wilmore, who should command the boards and have block parties around the rim. Wilmore is still raw, but his size will do a lot of the work for him at this level while he develops an offensive package.
Key departure: Tray Jackson.
Jackson hardly cracked eight minutes per game last season and transferred to Seton Hall shortly after the season ended. Though he wasn’t too productive, he’s an outstanding athlete. Perhaps Missouri’s guard-heavy system just wasn’t the right fit.
Notable additions: Seventh Woods
Key addition: Seventh Woods.
Four-star center Patrick Iriel was originally on this list, but his decision to leave the team Oct. 28 complicated things for the Gamecocks. As for Seventh Woods, there is no telling what South Carolina will get from him.
As a high school phenom, Woods entered college playing for North Carolina. His high school stardom didn’t translate, and by his junior year he averaged 2.5 points in 10.8 minutes a game. The Tar Heels had several guards ahead of Woods in the rotation, which doesn’t seem to be the case with the Gamecocks. Only time will tell whether Woods will be productive as a redshirt senior.
Key departure: Maik Kotsar.
The senior big man was a huge part of South Carolina’s frontcourt, posting 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in his final season. Iriel would have been a great fit to replace Kotsar’s 6-11 frame. Sophomore Wildens Leveque will likely have to fill that role now, likely pairing with Alonzo Frink in the Gamecocks’ frontcourt.
Notable additions: Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Corey Walker, E.J. Anosike, Malachi Wideman
Key addition: Jaden Springer.
Springer is Tennessee’s highest-ranked recruit since Tobias Harris back in 2010, coming in as the 16th-ranked prospect in the ESPN Top 100. The 6-4 freshman played at IMG Academy alongside Matthew Murrell. He has played in big games and thrives under pressure.
Springer is willing to take the final shot. He can score from all three levels but is really efficient inside the 3-point arc. He’s explosive and won’t hesitate to meet his defender at the rim, willing to take on the challenge of harassing the ball handler on the other end. There’s plenty of talk of Springer being one-and-done, and it’s not surprising. But before he is truly ready for the NBA, he must show some consistency shooting from deep for the Vols.
Key departure: Jordan Bowden.
Bowden was a polished leader and potent scorer. His 13.7 points and four rebounds per game paired with his veteran leadership are hard to come by, but the Vols have what may be their best recruiting class in a long time. If Springer doesn’t completely replace Bowden, somebody will. Though Tennessee is likely sad to see Bowden go, the program may be in the best shape it’s been in since the Grant Williams era.
Notable additions: Hassan Diarra, Jax Robinson, Kevin Marfo
Key addition: Hassan Diarra.
Diarra is a good-sized combo guard who can run the offense or play off the ball. He spent a lot of time in the pick-and-roll in the EYBL, getting downhill to finish with finesse and dishing the ball out fairly well. He can spot up from deep, but he didn’t shoot too many threes off the dribble, specializing more in the mid-range shot. An overall solid guard, Diarra can provide some key contributions for the Aggies over several years.
Key departure: Josh Nebo.
Nebo was a special kind of enforcer. The Aggies’ leading scorer was the type to mean-mug you and sacrifice his body for any given play. The senior forward’s inside presence and tenacity will be tough to replace. Texas A&M has a few similarly-sized big men, but there’s no telling if any of them can make a similar impact this season.
Notable additions: Issac McBride, Myles Stute
Key addition: Issac McBride.
Vanderbilt’s offseason would have received a D if not for the arrival of Kansas transfer Issac McBride in May. McBride was the Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year back in 2019, but there was little room in the Jayhawks’ talented rotation for the three-star guard as a freshman. McBride will see plenty of time now as he joins what is easily the worst program in the SEC.
Key departure: Saben Lee.
Lee was talented and spent the latter half of his Commodores career as an unsung hero. There hasn’t been much of anything to celebrate over the last several years within the program, but even following his 38th overall selection by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Draft, Lee still hasn’t quite gotten the credit he deserves.
Lee was available for all of Vanderbilt’s 32 games last year but only started 17 of them, still managing to average 18.6 points and 4.2 assists per outing. As much as coach Jerry Stackhouse might not want to admit it, that kind of production doesn’t come out of thin air. The program should miss Lee.