Teams listed in projected order of finish:
What to watch: Even by John Calipari-era standards, this Wildcats team is extremely young and lacks experience. Still, there’s plenty of talent, with eight freshmen, including six five-star recruits, joining a roster without a junior or senior scholarship player.
Bottom line: Kentucky will again be the favorite to win the league, but this season could be unique in that Kentucky might experience more growing pains than usual as Calipari figures out how this team should play and which lineup combinations work best.
What to watch: The Gators look to build on an Elite Eight appearance after adding a top 20 recruiting class and two transfers in guard Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech) and guard Egor Koulechov (Rice).
Bottom line: The Gators have an impressive collection of talent heading into Year 3 of the Mike White era, led by junior guard KeVaughn Allen. Look for Florida to be contend with Kentucky for the league’s best record and to be a dangerous team in March.
What to watch: Sophomore forward Robert Williams (11.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and junior center Tyler Davis (14.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) give the Aggies arguably the best interior in the league and one of the best frontcourts in the country. The roster is talented and balanced, which should give coach Billy Kennedy the chance to once again compete with Kentucky for the league crown.
Bottom line: The Aggies program should return to Sweet 16 form of two seasons ago instead of the 16-win look of last season. The timing is right for a good run in March and more consistency moving forward. Williams could leave for the NBA after this season, but there’s only one senior on the roster and a strong freshman class joining the program.
What to watch: Guards Collin Sexton and John Petty highlight one of the best freshman classes in the country. However, Sexton has not yet been cleared to play less than a week before the season starts. In his third year, coach Avery Johnson should have the Crimson Tide in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.
Bottom line: Expectations should be higher for Alabama. Simply making the tournament won’t be enough. Alabama has enough talent to compete for a top spot in the conference and win at least a game or two in the tournament.
What to watch: Bruce Pearl enters his fourth season with his best roster yet at Auburn, including sophomores Austin Wiley (8.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Mustapha Heron (15.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Daniel Purifoy (11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Jared Harper (11.4 ppg, 3.0 apg). How much will Auburn’s involvement in the FBI investigation into college basketball distract and disrupt what Pearl has assembled? Wiley and Purifoy are suspended indefinitely and their status for this season is uncertain.
Bottom line: Auburn appeared on track to be an NCAA tournament team in September, but the NCAA scandal brought forth by an FBI investigation implicated the program before preseason practice began. The Tigers have the talent, but where will this program be when the smoke of the scandal clears?
What to watch: Coach Bryce Drew had a stellar first season in Nashville, leading the Commodores to the NCAA tournament and reeling in a strong recruiting class. Vanderbilt returns three double-digit senior scorers: guard Matthew Fisher-Davis (13.9 ppg), forward Jeff Roberson (10.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg), guard Riley LaChance (10.5 ppg, 3.9 apg).
Bottom line: Drew appears to be constructing a perennial contender for NCAA tournament bids at Vanderbilt. Expect another strong season and maybe a win or two in March.
What to watch: Coach Cuonzo Martin made Missouri nationally relevant in a hurry by signing one of the best 2017 classes in the country, featuring Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 player in the class.
Bottom line: The Tigers were terrible at the tail end of Kim Anderson’s tenure, but Martin can finally put the lingering effects of the violations committed years ago by former coach Frank Haith to rest with a strong season. Look for Missouri to make the tournament and for Porter Jr. to make them a must-watch team all season.
What to watch: Senior forward Yante Maten (18.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is one of the best players in the conference and an underrated player nationally. His production will help fill the void left by the diminutive guard and big-shot maker J.J. Frazier.
Bottom line: Four consecutive winning seasons under Mark Fox perhaps has changed the culture of the program, but it’s time for Georgia to start winning games that matter. The Bulldogs haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in Fox’s eight seasons and are 1-25 against AP Top 25 teams since 2012.
What to watch: Daryl Macon (13.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Jaylen Barford (12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) give coach Mike Anderson two of the most experienced guards in the conference. The question: Who will step up in the frontcourt?
Bottom line: The Razorbacks likely could return to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2007-08. But there are many questions to answer, mainly how much the newcomers can contribute at the forward positions, before determining how high the ceiling is this season.
What to watch: Coach Andy Kennedy enters his 11th season at Ole Miss with an interesting roster, a combination of experienced players, featuring guards Deandre Burnett (16.5 ppg) and Terence Davis (14.9 ppg) and seven newcomers (three freshmen, four players already with college experience).
Bottom line: The Rebels must replace mainstay forward Sebastian Saiz, but there’s enough for Kennedy to work with for a run to the NCAA tournament.
What to watch: Guards Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and Duane Notice are gone from the team that made a stunning run to the Final Four last season. That means junior forward Chris Silva (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) must take the next step in his development as a leader and production on the court.
Bottom line: South Carolina had an epic March to remember in 2017, but coach Frank Martin has a rebuild job to deal with this season amid expectations that come with tournament success. A return to the tournament is asking a lot, but the Gamecocks have shown they’re up to surprising people.
What to watch: Two seasons with Ben Howland at the helm hasn’t produced many moments to remember. The Bulldogs, led by junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (16.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg), have more talent than in past seasons, but the rest of the SEC is better, too.
Bottom line: The Bulldogs have work to do, on the recruiting trail and in development of young players, before they can be considered a legit contender to reach the NCAA tournament.
What to watch: The Volunteers will build around sophomore forward Grant Williams (12.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and four other returning players who averaged at least seven points per game last season.
Bottom line: Is there enough talent and pieces for coach Rick Barnes to work with and reach the NCAA tournament in his second season in Knoxville? The National Invitation Tournament seems the more likely destination, but Barnes has steadily made Tennessee a much tougher out for conference foes.
What to watch: Will Wade took over the program in the offseason after five mostly disappointing seasons and no NCAA tournament victories under the direction of Johnny Jones.
Bottom line: Wade must establish a winning culture and recruit, recruit, recruit. Landing four-star prospect Tremont Waters late in the 2017 process was a good start. There’s still plenty of building and recruiting left to do, as the Tigers are a couple seasons away from contending for postseason bids.