The wait is almost over. Almost. Half the year has dragged on without college basketball, and our appetite for hoops is enormous.
Today, we feast on the SEC.
Best player: KeVaughn Allen, Florida
Last season, Allen took the all-important step from “inconsistent, flash-in-the-pan freshman” to “consistent point-getter” by improving his game in a scorer’s most important category: shooting. His field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage all saw sizable bumps while he took one and a half more shots per game.
By the time Allen and the Gators had found their stride during conference play, Allen’s true shooting percentage was up to a gaudy 65.6 percent, a huge leap from his freshman year mark of 53.9 percent.
And he’s not just a one-tool player: Allen’s defensive rating improved by four points per 100 minutes, thanks in large part to a very good team defensive effort, including a stellar 96.5 defensive rating in conference play.
This season, one can then extrapolate, is primed to be Allen’s breakout campaign. With another offseason of coaching and work under his belt, and an Elite 8 run under his belt, Allen can be the go-to man for the Gators every night. He scores inside and out, and when he gets to the rim and gets fouled, he’s shot 86 percent from the line for his career. Allen is an all-around threat, and a fun player to watch.
Best team: Kentucky
It’s become a rite of passage at this point: the SEC goes through Lexington, and that’s just the way it works. John Calipari has put together a blue and white behemoth, and this season is no different despite only returning one impact player from last season’s 32-win outfit.
The two big reasons?
1. Hamidou Diallo, a sophomore for the Wildcats who sat out last season and should be the team’s leading scorer, will play this season. Diallo, a shooting guard, is known for his startling athleticism, which allows him to blow by defenders and finish off thundering dunks. He’ll be a lot of fun to watch this year.
2. The Wildcats’ latest freshman class has lots of potential. Featuring point guard Quade Green (more on him later), 6-7 stretch forward P.J. Washington, and more. If they can live up to their collective billing, Kentucky’s freshmen can lead Calipari’s squad to some impressive showings this season.
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As long as Kentucky can find one or two guys able to consistently knock down three-pointers, basically a requirement in 2017, the Wildcats should keep the rest of the SEC at bay all season long because of the sheer talent they’ll have at every position.
Sleeper team: Texas A&M
Counter to today’s common wisdom, the Aggies will probably spend this upcoming season trying to win in the paint rather than from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Robert Williams and junior center Tyler Davis combine for 164 inches, 507 pounds, and 26 points and 15.2 rebounds per game. Texas A&M should run a twin-towers situation down low all season long; with the size and skill level of Williams and Davis, opposing teams will likely be able to shut down one but not both big men on any given night.
If the Aggies can develop one or two consistent three-point threats during the season — maybe junior D.J. Hogg, or newcomer Duane Wilson, who shot 35.5 percent from deep with Marquette two years ago — this could be a tough inside-out team to guard.
Freshman to watch: Quade Green, Kentucky
There are so many names to pick from the Wildcats’ freshman crop, so this category could’ve gone any number of ways, but Green will likely see plenty of work at the helm of John Calipari’s offense.
A 6-foot-1 point guard from Philadelphia, Green may be slightly undersized — his frame brings to mind former Kentucky star Eric Bledsoe — but he makes up for it with his talent. He has the ball control of a seasoned guard, and the playmaking ability to find his teammates while still converting his own opportunities when they arise.
What is a successful season for Quade Green?— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) October 13, 2017
Win every championship pic.twitter.com/mSq6bfOSJ0
The best part about his game is that he doesn’t force things when they don’t come to him, a quality Calipari should appreciate when his freshman guard is running the floor.
Green might not make the most flashy plays of any freshman this season, but he’ll have his thumbprint all over Kentucky’s offense.