Who Will Win This Year’s SEC Basketball Championship?
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
Last year, it was Auburn that wound up as the SEC representative in the Final Four. Head coach Bruce Pearl lost his best player, Bryce Young, to the NBA but returns enough talent to be a contender once again. Florida became the destination of a well-sought after 6-10 talent in Kerry Blackshear Jr. and will be in the mix. Of course, Kentucky and another crop of five-star freshmen including Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney will be one of the favorites to win this year’s SEC title.
There are new coaches at Texas A&M (Buzz Williams), Alabama (Nate Oats), and Arkansas (Eric Musselman). Each one of them could start a major turnaround in Year 1. Tennessee enjoyed a banner season a year ago but lost a ton of talent. It should be an exciting race to the finish in 2019-20.
The Favorites Most college basketball predictions are convinced this year’s SEC race will come down to Kentucky and Florida. Head coach John Calipari has another crop of talented freshmen to add to Ashton Hagans. The one problem the Wildcats might have is on the inside, but Calipari does a great job of inspiring players like E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards.
The Gators became a favorite the moment graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. announced he was headed to Florida. The 6-10 Blackshear was one of the best players in the ACC at Virginia Tech a year ago. Head coach Mike White had a banner recruiting year and brought in two freshmen that should contribute immediately - Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann.
The Almost Favorites Pearl has done an outstanding job of building a winner at Auburn. With Brown and Jared Harper are gone, it’s hard to believe the Tigers would earn a return trip to the Final Four. But, expect the Tigers to contend for the SEC title. This will likely be Pearl’s best defensive team and J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty are talented enough to keep the Tigers in the fight.
The mess that included LSU head coach Will Wade appears to have been sorted out. Wade returns along with Javante Smart who both were mentioned in the NCAA-FBI investigation. With both returning, a cast of very good athletes, and freshman Trendon Watford upfront, the Tigers should be an upper-tier team in the SEC after winning the regular-season title a year ago.
The Surprise Not all that long ago, Nate Oats was a high school basketball coach just outside Detroit, Michigan. Now, he is the head coach at Alabama and he may very well turn the Tide around. He’s got sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. and 3-point shooter John Petty, but he’ll need to find a front line. Oats turned around the program at Buffalo and can do the same in Tuscaloosa.
The Flop Exactly one year after finishing second to LSU in the SEC, Tennessee could be headed for the bottom. Head coach Rick Barnes loses SEC Player of the Year Grant Grant Wiliams along with Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone. Barnes will have a pretty good freshman in Josiah-Jordan James, but his talent pool will be lacking in 2019-20. The 26-9 record from a year ago could be reversed this season.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.
His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.
When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.