The 2020-21 college basketball season is upon us, and it's clear the voters in the AP Top 25 poll don't think too highly of the SEC.
The preseason rankings saw just two SEC schools, Kentucky and Tennessee, listed in the top 25, the lowest of all the major conferences in the country.
Given the young talent in the conference this season, it's likely there will be more than just a pair of programs in the rankings come March. Here's a deeper look at the SEC in the third installment of our six-part college basketball preview.
Five players averaged more than six points per contest last year for Kentucky. All five are now gone to the NBA. That would be a crippling amount of turnover for most programs, but it's become an annual occurrence for the pro basketball factory that John Calipari runs.
Kentucky reloaded with a packed recruiting class, led by five-stars B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, and Devin Askew. Boston is the top prize, expected to go from star freshman to lottery pick in one season. Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr adds a veteran presence to the frontcourt after averaging 13.9 points and nine rebounds with the Demon Deacons. It might take a while for the Wildcats to come together, but don't be shocked if they're standing in the Final Four.
It's hard to believe it's been seven years since Florida won the SEC regular-season title, but that's the Gators' reality as they enter 2020-21. Coach Mike White faced a tall task in replacing Billy Donovan, and while Florida has been strong under his watch, it hasn't made the big leap to title contender in recent years.
White has star forward Keyontae Johnson back, and the versatile forward should challenge for conference Player of the Year after averaging 14 points and 7.1 rebounds in 2019-20. If last year's electric freshman Scottie Lewis takes the next step, there's absolutely no reason Florida can't challenge Tennessee and Kentucky for the SEC crown.
There are four coaches in the conference entering their second season with a program - Arkansas' Eric Musselman, Texas A&M's Buzz Williams, Alabama's Nate Oats, and Vanderbilt's Jerry Stackhouse - but it's the Crimson Tide that is set to rise in 2020-21.
Oats' program lost Kira Lewis Jr. to the NBA but returns four of their top-six scorers led by John Petty Jr. Alabama also added Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly to a lineup that loves to get up and down the court. The Crimson Tide ranked third in the country with 82 points per game last season as Oats brought a highly entertaining form of basketball to Tuscaloosa. Alabama might not be the conference's strongest defensive squad, but few teams can keep up with this emerging outfit on the scoreboard.
Not only is Watford arguably the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year, but the sophomore could easily lead LSU to conference-title contention. Watford certainly impressed in his first season with the Tigers, pouring in 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in just over 30 minutes of action per game. One can expect that production to rise in Will Wade's system, especially with top-scorer Skyler Mays leaving for the NBA. With Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama likely implementing a balanced scoring attack, it'll probably come down to Florida's Johnson and Watford for the Player of the Year race.
Rick Barnes had Tennessee rolling before last season with a 57-15 record in the previous two years and a run to the Sweet 16 in 2019. That changed in the 2019-20 campaign when the Volunteers posted a 17-14 mark, including a 9-9 finish in conference play.
Tennessee's season is off to a rough start. An outbreak within the program, including a positive test by Barnes, has forced the Volunteers out of the Jimmy V Classic against No. 1 Gonzaga. Once Tennessee gets rolling, however, they are positioned to make a run with four of their top-five scorers returning this season. Barnes also added a highly-touted recruiting class led by five-star prospects Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. That mix of veterans and young talent should get Tennessee back in the national picture for a run in March.