Despite losing five out of their top six rotational players, Kentucky will not only the favorite in the SEC, but one of the favorites to win a national title with a preseason Top 10 ranking. John Calipari reloaded with top prospects Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones, who could all be one-and-done players like several players in the class before them.
But who are the favorites after the Wildcats? Most likely Florida and Tennessee, which should come as no surprise as both of these teams were tournament teams last year as well. However, the Gators and the Vols have done a stellar job recruiting and filling in gaps and last season's weaknesses. Coach Billy Donovan and Florida has added one of the top frontcourt players in the freshmen class in Patric Young, a 6'9", 235-pound defensive presence with a developing offensive game. He has great athleticism and NBA size, and has been called the best defensive forward/center in the incoming class. Next to him in the frontcourt will be lengthy Vernon Macklin, a player who came into his own late last season. The backcourt features the versatile Chandler Parsons, who can score from anywhere on the court and he showed it last season winning two games for the Gators with full-court heaves. Another guard is Kenny Boyton, a prolific scorer who struggled to kick-off his first-year campaign, but pulled it together late.
Tennessee loses a veteran presence at center in the inside-outside threat, Wayne Chism, but adds a similar player in forward Tobias Harris. Alongside Harris is talented, albeit inconsistent guard, Scotty Hopson. He is a tremendous athlete who scored his big-time ability last season, but only at times. His outside shot didn't fall on a game-to-game basis, limiting his effectiveness on the offensive end, but Coach Bruce Pearl has Hopson in the gym everyday this summer working on his game.
A dark horse to overcome Tennessee and challenge Florida and Kentucky at the tops of the conference is perennial SEC cellar dweller, Georgia. The Bulldogs feature one of the top big men in the country in Trey Thompkins. Alongside Thompkins is one of the best athletes in the entire nation at the shooting guard position, Travis Leslie. Leslie has good size, strength and excels as a slasher, but struggles as a perimeter shooter. Under Coach Mark Fox's supervision, Leslie is player with tremendous dedication, spending the offseason working on his shooting from 15-feet and out.
Mississippi State could surprise as well, but will not be able to contend with the likes of the Wildcats and the Gators. Their success depends on quite a few developments, starting with guard Dee Bost's petition to return to school after staying in the 2010 NBA Draft past the deadline. However, the team does have another strong NBA prospect in their backcourt in lengthy Ravern Johnson, the team's leading returning scorer. The second key to the Bulldog's success is the play of their frontcourt; they have an abundance of talent, even with the departure of Jarvis Varnado, the NCAA's all-time leading shot blocker. Starting with the untapped, yet highly touted John Riek and Renardo Sidney. Riek was originally the number one ranked center in the 2008 signing class, but played himself into only 11 games last season, averaging 3.5 minutes. However, playing time is something Renardo Sidney has yet to see as his eligibility still remains up in the air according to the latest NCAA sources; Sidney was one of the top two forwards, along with Derrick Favors, in the 2009 freshman class. Without Riek and Sidney contributing, the team has Romero Osby and Kodi Augustus, two 6'8" forwards who have played extremely well to date and have one more season under their belt. Will the guard play hold up to get the big men the ball in scoring opportunities? Will the big men even be on the court to get these opportunities?