Some conferences have an obvious preseason favorite. For instance, in the Big East, it’s clearly Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats. In the Pac-12, it’s clearly Mick Cronin’s UCLA Bruins. But nothing seems quite as certain in the SEC, where at least four schools can reasonably be labeled the team to beat in the league.
It’s a total toss-up on paper.
The pick of our CBS Sports panel of writers is Alabama — but I personally voted for Arkansas. Then there’s Kentucky, which was the leading vote-getter in the official SEC Media Poll published earlier this month. And then there’s Tennessee, which is the highest-rated SEC team at both KenPom.com and BartTorvik.com. Another thing that suggests it should be a tight race is how I have those four schools ranked 10th (Arkansas), 12th (Alabama), 14th (Kentucky) and 20th (Tennessee) in the CBS Sports Preseason Top 25 And 1. In other words, in my mind at least, there’s not much separating the Razorbacks, Crimson Tide, Wildcats and Volunteers. So it should be a fun race in the SEC, where Alabama has a chance to win back-to-back regular-season league titles, Kentucky needs to bounce-back from a disastrous 2020-21 season, Arkansas is trying to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, and Tennessee is attempting to play in its fourth straight NCAA Tournament under Rick Barnes.
CBS Sports SEC Preseason Player of the Year
Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama
Quinerly is a great example of how sometimes it just takes time for five-star prospects to figure things out at this level. Sure, a handful each year are instant-stars like Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley were last season. But for others, like Quinerly, success doesn’t come quite as easily — evidence being how the five-star point guard from the Class of 2018 averaged just 3.2 points in 9.1 minutes per game as a freshman at Villanova. After that disappointing season, Quinerly transferred to Alabama, sat out a year per (old) NCAA transfer rules, then helped the Crimson Tide win the SEC regular-season title and SEC Tournament while averaging 12.9 points and 3.2 assists per game — and now he’s the favorite heading into his redshirt junior season to be the SEC Player of the Year.
CBS Sports SEC Preseason Coach of the Year
Eric Musselman, Arkansas
It didn’t take long for Musselman to return the Razorbacks to national relevance. After finishing tied for 10th in the SEC in his first season with the Hogs, Musselman guided the Razorbacks to a second-place finish last season before advancing to the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The deep run doubled as Arkansas’ first trip to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight since 1996. And based on how well Musselman navigated the transfer market per usual, nobody should be surprised if the Razorbacks are knocking on the door of the Final Four once again this season.
CBS Sports SEC Preseason Freshman of the Year
Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee
Chandler was the No. 1 point guard prospect in the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports, and is now somebody who projects as a one-and-done lottery pick despite being just 6-feet tall. The Memphis native won back-to-back Mr. Basketball awards in Tennessee at Briarcrest Christian School before transferring to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, where he earned McDonald’s All-American honors. He won state titles in high school and led his grassroots team to a Nike EYBL national championship. He’s a difference-making winner. And there’s a chance he’ll be Tennessee’s best player this season even though the Vols are returning talented veterans like Victor Bailey, John Fulkerson and Josiah-James Jordan.
CBS Sports SEC predicted order of finish
The consensus order as voted by our experts with how they voted below
Most Overrated Team
We voted Alabama first in the SEC but at least one computer isn’t as high on the Crimson Tide. KenPom has the reigning SEC champions projected as the fourth-best team in the league — though, it should be noted, that Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama are 13th, 15th, 17th and 19th at KenPom, point being not much separates the top four in this league.
Most Underrated Team
According to both KenPom and Torvik, the SEC’s most underrated team is Tennessee. We voted the Vols fourth — but they’re first in both computer rankings. That’s eye-opening and something that made me wonder whether I’m too low on the Vols even though I have them 20th in the CBS Sports Preseason Top 25 And 1.