SEC Conference Reset: Does Texas A&M have the horses to outpace Kentucky?

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy, and what is left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at SEC.


Picking a midseason Player of the Year for the SEC is not easy this season. Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg have been the best players for a balanced Texas A&M team that is probably the favorite to win the league. Kevin Knox has been Kentucky’s best player, but he hasn’t necessarily been good enough to be the favorite for this award. Collin Sexton is probably the biggest name in the conference, but he’s also playing on an Alabama team that seems about as likely to miss the NCAA tournament as they are to play their way in.

So what does that mean?

We’re going with Yante Maten with the award, at least for now. Maten is not a name that is going to ring out nationally but over the course of the last three and a half years, he’s quietly put together one of the best careers of any big man in college basketball. This year, he’s averaging career-highs of 20.2 points and 9.3 boards for a Georgia team that is, surprisingly enough, in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth. Consider this a lifetime achievement award if nothing else, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned it this year.


  • YANTE MATEN, Georgia
  • COLLIN SEXTON, Alabama: Sexton is the most explosive guard in college basketball this season, a dynamic athlete with a competitive edge that borders on the insane. He’s got a shot to play his way into a spot on an all-american team this season.
  • JALEN BARFORD, Arkansas: The senior guard has been the best player for an Arkansas team that has their sights set on the NCAA tournament this season. He’s the third-leading scorer in the conference.
  • KEVIN KNOX, Kentucky: Knox may not be as good as the star of Kentucky teams in past years, but he’s actually been better than some – including me – expected. He’s functioned quite well as a Kentucky’s go-to guy in a season they badly needed one.
  • TYLER DAVIS, Texas A&M: Picking an Aggie for this list is tough but I’m leaning Davis here. He’s their anchor and, for my money, their best player. Or maybe I have an affinity for land warriors in the post with jump hooks.


  • NCAA: Texas A&M, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn
  • NIT: Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Ole Miss
Yante Maten (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


1. KENTUCKY IS NOT AS GOOD AS WE THOUGHT THEY WOULD BE DEFENSIVELY: Coming into the season, the big question with the Wildcats was on the offensive end of the floor. Would they be able to score the ball consistently? Would they be able to shoot the ball from three consistently? Would they be able to score in the half court? It’s still early in the season and Kentucky has not exactly played a murderer’s row this season, but the early returns have been largely positive.


Where Kentucky has struggled is on the defensive end of the floor, which is not exactly what we expected. Kentucky has struggled to contain penetration. They’ve allowed too many open threes. They aren’t rebounding the way that a team with their size and athleticism should be rebounding, especially on the defensive end of the floor. In Kentucky’s last two games – which were the only games they’ve played against high-major competition since Nov. 14th – they’ve allowed 1.14 points-per-possessions to Virginia Tech and UCLA two borderline tournament teams. John Calipari has the pieces to be better on that end than they have been, and they’ll need to be better if they are going to make a run in the tournament.

2. TEXAS A&M’S POINT GUARD ISSUES WERE SOLVED BUT A NAME WE DIDN’T EXPECT: One of the reasons that Texas A&M was not considered a top 15 team entering the season was that there was no clarity in their back court. Who would play the point this season? True freshman Jay Jay Chandler? Redshirt freshman JJ Caldwell? Off guard Admon Gilder?

As it turns out, the answer was fairly simple: Duane Wilson. Wilson had been a good but not great point guard for Marquette for the first two years of his career before falling out of favor last season. A grad transfer, Wilson was immediately eligible this year and slid directly into the starting role for the Aggies. He’s averaging 12.3 points and 4.6 assists on the season and has been as big of a reason as anyone that the Aggies look like the favorite to win the league.

3. FLORIDA … NOT WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE: The Gators were the hottest team in the country for the first two weeks of the season, as all four of the talented guards on their roster caught fire at the same time. The nation fell in love with them. Obviously. Teams that run like they run and shoot like they shot are pure entertainment.

But it was a mirage. When the threes stopped falling Florida stopped winning. They’re now sitting at 8-4 on the season and ranked fifth in the SEC on KenPom with an offense that’s fallen out of the top 40 in adjusted efficiency. They’re still dangerous when those shots are going down, but those shots are not always going down these days.


1. WHO IS ACTUALLY THE BEST TEAM IN THE CONFERENCE?: That’s a question that is more difficult to answer with the SEC than just about any other league in the country. Part of that is because it seems like there are people that have some trouble buying into the idea that Texas A&M could very well be a Final Four team this season – something about football schools in football leagues always trips people up.

But then there is the fact that the most talented team in the conference – Kentucky – is still going through the kind of growing pains you’d expect out of a team that is made up of freshmen and sophomores. The bottom fell out of Florida. Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn. Do you trust any of those teams to win the league?

For a neutral, that’s a good thing. The SEC is deep, it’s competitive and it is going to be fun as hell for the next three months.

2. HOW MANY TEAMS CAN THE LEAGUE PUT IN THE BIG DANCE?: Speaking of how deep the league is this year …

There are two things going in the SEC’s favor this season:

  1. There are power conferences that are unquestionably “worse” this year. The Pac-12 looks like it will be lucky to get five teams into the Big Dance this season. The Big Ten is in that same boat. The WCC and the Mountain West look like they’ll top out at three – maaaaybe four – bids. The rest of the mid-majors around the country look like they are going to have to be auto-bid or bust. There are 68 spots in the Big Dance, and someone has to fill them. It may be SEC teams because …
  2. … there really aren’t all that many gimmes this year. Everyone in the league is ranked in the top 85 on KenPom, and while there are a couple teams that are outliers in the RPI’s formula right now, that is sure to normalize as they start playing league games. There are also plenty of quality wins available at the top of the league, meaning that someone like, say, Georgia, who is probably on the outside of the NCAA tournament as of today, has a chance to play their way onto the right side of the bubble by beating some of the higher-ranked teams.

My best guess? Seven SEC teams end up in the tournament at the end of the day.

3. SO IS MICHAEL PORTER JR. MAKING A COMEBACK?: Porter suffered a fracture in his back early on this season and it was supposed to keep him out for the season. That may not actually be the case. It started after the surgery, in late November, when Porter said on his Instagram story that “whoever said it was going to take 3-4 months to recover lied.” Then an orthopedic surgeon that has treated professional athletes said that he thinks that Porter can return sometime in January. Only time will tell what the truth is.

Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


1. TEXAS A&M WINS THE LEAGUE: I picked the Aggies to do it in the preseason and I’m going to pick them to do it now. I think that they are the best defensive team in the league, and so long as D.J. Hoog keeps shooting the way that he’s been shooting and Duane Wilson keeps point guarding the way he’s been point guarding, and I think they can get to a Final Four.

2. TENNESSEE’S START IS ANYTHING BUT A FLUKE: Tennessee is legit. They defend. They play hard. They have an all-league player in Grant Williams. Jordan Bowden is developing into a go-to scorer on the perimeter – and shooting 61.9 percent from three! – while Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone have made the point guard spot work. The Vols don’t play pretty and they aren’t going to draw all that much attention from the guys that only care about the future pros on someone’s roster, but the bottom-line is this: this team is going to win a lot of games this year.

3. KENTUCKY MAKES THE DEEPEST TOURNAMENT RUN OF ANYONE IN THE LEAGUE: I still think that the Wildcats have a ways to go before they reach their ceiling, especially on the defensive end of the floor. But I also think that their ceiling is higher than the ceiling of anyone else in the conference. If – when – they get their, they have the horses to make a run to the Final Four in a year where everyone outside of Villanova and Michigan State has some pretty significant flaws.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”