5. Ole Miss (2013-14 season: 19-14, 9-9)
How Last Season Ended: The Rebels lost a game that came down to the wire in the SEC quarterfinals. Georgia thankfully ending the media-blitzed career of Marshall Henderson. Ole Miss was unable to make an NCAA Tournament run last season due to the realization that Henderson was not one of the Rebels' five best players in either season in Oxford.
Best Returning Player: Senior Guard Jarvis Summers is an outstanding shooter who can do a little bit of everything. He led the team in assists last season and can play either guard position as needed. With Henderson out of the mix, Summers has a chance to lead the SEC in scoring.
Best Newcomer: Senior forward M.J. Rhett is a 6'9, 240-pound transfer from Tennessee State. He will be the most crucial piece for the Rebels this season as he brings their only real threat down low and will be matched up with many larger players in SEC play.
Coach Status: Andy Kennedy (170-100, 9th season) sold his soul to ride the Marshall Henderson roller coaster and got an SEC Tournament Championship out of it in 2013. This season, he returns a team deep at guard and thin everywhere else. The Rebels will be challenged with a lack of height, but there depth and experience mixed with pressure defense should keep them ahead of a league starving for point guards. If not, the Rebels could be in free fall in a hurry.
Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: Ole Miss has already slipped up against a weak pre-conference schedule. There only reasonable test comes on December 7 when they travel to Oregon (4 PM ET, FS1).
4. Arkansas (2013-14 season: 22-12, 10-8)
How Last Season Ended: Arkansas won 8 of 9 games late in SEC play in what appeared to be a season bound for the NCAA Tournament. However, they crashed to the earth with consecutive losses at Alabama to end season and South Carolina to open the SEC Tournament. The lost at Cal in an uninspiring second-round NIT performance.
Best Returning Player: Sophomore forward Bobby Portis (6'11, 242) is a first-round NBA talent who has few limitations to his game when giving full effort. He can cause havoc on both ends of the floor and is a perfect fit for Anderson's full-court attack.
Best Newcomer: Junior Jabril Durham transferred from Long Beach State and could be the steady presence a talented team needs to reach its potential. If Durham can capably run the offense, Arkansas has enough weapons for a deep run in March.
Coach Status: Mike Anderson (59-39, 4th season) made a Sweet Sixteen run in his second season at UAB and an Elite 8 run in his third season at Missouri. Razorback fans are hoping season four in Fayetteville will be special, but Anderson has failed to make the NCAA Tournament in his first three seasons.
Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: Razorback have two good games early to help them reach their potential as they travel to SMU on November 25 (7:30 PM ET, ESPNews) and Iowa State on December 4 (9 PM, ESPN 2).
3. Florida (2013-14 season: 36-3, 18-0)
How Last Season Ended: A 30-game win streak with a senior-laden team ended against National Champion UConn in the Final Four. A season-ending knee injury to Devon Walker further damages the inexperience left in the wake of departing seniors.
Best Returning Player: Juniors Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier II are the best returning players from last season and team leaders, but sophomore forward Chris Walker holds the keys to Florida contending. A first-round NBA talent, Walker will have to grow into a dominant two-way presence inside at the conclusion of his two-game suspension to open the season.
Best Newcomer: Freshman forward Devin Robinson is a wiry player at 6'8 and something below 200 pounds, but he is an elite athlete who could be a nightmare matchup coming off the bench. When Robinson is paired with Walker, Florida will have the most dynamic athletes in the post together since Horford and Noah. Time will tell if they develop the basketball skill to translate their athleticism to the court.
Coach Status: Billy Donovan (451-169, 19th season) was amazingly on the hot seat the season before winning back-to-back NCAA Championships. Now he is as good a coach as there is in all of basketball. The former Providence guard is ironically best at developing smart, athletic post players and doing so in 2014-15 will be key to the Gators staying above all the SEC teams south of the Bluegrass.
Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: Friday, December 5 at Kansas (9 PM ET, ESPN). Mark you calendars accordingly.
1b. Kentucky "B" Team (2013-14 season:
How Last Season Ended: With a lot of guys winning a lot of games in high school. The Wildcats are so loaded that they would be ranked in top 10 if you removed their entire starting lineup from the roster.
Best Returning Player: Junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein is 7'0, 240 pounds and listed as a forward despite being a top-10 NBA Center prospect. He is a limited player on offense, but a dynamic defender from the cup to the key. He will anchor the Kentucky defense and be a leader for the young bigs.
Best Newcomer: Freshman point guard Tyler Ulis is small (5'9, 155), but he is the best distributor of the basketball Kentucky will have had in the past 3 seasons. He will lead the second unit of the Kentucky attack, but is already the best pure point guard on the team.
Coach Status: See Below.
Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: See below.
1a. Kentucky "A" Team (2013-14 season:
How Last Season Ended: A long, restless season of bluegrass fans being mostly mad turned into Madness in March. Kentucky made a surprising run to the NCAA title game and got an additional boost when only Julius Randle and James Young departed for the NBA.
Best Returning Player: Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison stepped up in the NCAA Tournament and knocked down 3 clutch shots during the Wildcat run. The less touted twin is a plus defender and will be counted upon to be more consistent from the perimeter in his second season playing for Big Blue.
Best Newcomer: Freshman forward Karl Towns is another monster (6'11, 250) who brings a range of skills offensively, but needs to be tougher in the post. His ceiling is terrifying for opponents if he is able to put all his tools together on both ends of the floor.
Coach Status: John Calipari turned in one of his worst regular season coaching jobs filled with excuses in 2013-14, but masterfully navigated the last month with a young team. He admitted to taking a different approach late in the season and if carried into this season, he will be favored to win his second national title. Talk of an undefeated season will likely die somewhere outside of Rupp Arena, but it should not change the expectations for March.
Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: Tuesday, November 18 versus Kansas (9:00 PM ET, ESPN).