October 25, 2023
2023-24 SEC preview
Top transfers, recruiting only make SEC more dangerous
Last season, an SEC team took home all the glory, just not the one that everyone expected. On April 1, Kim Mulkey’s second-ever LSU squad took home the hardware after Dawn Staley’s powerhouse South Carolina fell to Iowa in the Final Four.
After the SEC made up half of last year’s Final Four and a quarter of the Sweet Sixteen, the conference has only grown more dominant, with some of the nation’s best transfers and programs on the rise.
Here’s my prediction for how the rankings will shake out this season (*This list is slightly different from my official SEC media ballot, updated based on my observations at SEC Media Day):
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
- Mississippi State
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The SEC media mostly agreed with my predictions, ranking the SEC teams in this order: LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.
And as the season kicks off on Nov. 6, here’s what you need to know about each team:
2022-23 record: 20-11 overall, 9-7 SEC
Transfer madness (all transfers can be found here):
- In: Meg Newman (Arizona State), Jessica Timmons (NC State), Del’Janae Wiliams (Indiana St)
- Out: Ryan Cobbins, Khyla Wade-Warren, Myra Gordon, JaMya Mingo-Young
Last season, Alabama returned all five starters, which is a stark contrast to this year’s five overall returners. But at SEC Media Day, Head Coach Kristy Curry denied any allegations of rebuilding: “I don’t think we ever rebuild. Our goal at Alabama is to always to reload.”
According to ESPN, Bama signed the No. 14 recruiting class in the country, headlined by forward Essence Cody and two other top 100 recruits. They also return Sarah Ashlee Barker, a consistent and versatile key to the team, and more burgeoning stars. Curry is a skilled coach who brings teams together impressively well, and their additions have added much-needed size, coupled with an existing fast-paced, three-point philosophy. Curry only has eleven on her roster, which could be a problem if plagued with injury.
Alabama could be a top program in another league, but the road ahead may be treacherous compared to their competition.
2022-23 record: 24-13 overall, 7-9 SEC
- In: None
- Out: Rylee Langerman, Ashlyn Sage, Erynn Barnum
When asked what type of team he’d have this season, coach Mike Neighbors, honest as ever, admitted he had no idea. And that accurately depicts Arkansas: total transition or a tournament lock, and his players were similarly split on their season expectations. In the offseason, Arkansas lost leading scorer Erynn Barnum and key locker room staple Rylee Langerman. Peculiarly, Arkansas didn’t bring anyone in from the portal, making them the only team in the SEC without a transfer.
Neighbors retained stars Saylor Poffenberger, Makayla Daniels, and Samara Spencer, along with the return of Sasha Goforth and the No. 17 transfer class, headlined by Taliah Scott. Sophomore Poffenberger, who initially committed to UConn, is bound to have a breakout season. Daniels is playing with a chip on her shoulder, it being her final year, and Goforth was a key member of their 2021-22 season. Although just a freshman, Scott was ranked No. 11 in her class nationally and has veteran support all around her.
Neighbors described this as the deepest team he’s had in his seven years in Fayetteville, and Daniels calls it the most energetic she’s seen in her five years. Arkansas missed March Madness by just millimeters last season, which Daniels described as a huge motivator. The team may also rally around long-time leader Daniels to go out with a bang. But they could also flounder like last year, starting conference play hot, declining midseason, and never really coming back up for air.
2022-23 record: 16-15 overall, 5-11 SEC
- In: Kionna Gaines (Clemson), JaMya Mingo-Young (Alabama), Taylen Collins (Oklahoma State)
- Out: Mya Pratcher, Jakayla Johnson, Romi Levy, Kharyssa Richardson, Sania Wells, Aicha Coulibaly
According to coach Johnnie Harris, this year’s team is post-rebuild. Harris saw last season’s young team as transitional but feels like they’ve now grown into a mature, serious team. However, it’s undeniable Auburn has lost a lot. Their main superstar, Aicha Coulibaly, left for Texas A&M, along with a slew of their other top producers. They have a few key players remaining, like Honesty Scott-Grayson, and a couple of important transfers, but in a conference like the SEC, it’ll be tough for that to be enough.
If this year will be significantly different from last year, it’s because they’ve added some depth, size, and age they desperately needed. Auburn players clearly adore Harris’ warm, family-oriented environment, but it’s unclear if the team has what it takes on the court this year.
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2022-23 record: 19-15 overall, 5-11 SEC
- In: Eriny Kindred (Texas A&M), Kenza Salgues (Miami)
- Out: Myka Perry, Taliyah Wyche, Jordyn Merritt, Tatyana Wyche, KK Deans, Nina Rickards
Most Gators fans and even team members would probably look back at last season as disappointing: an up-and-coming SEC squad that only won five conference games after a bout of injury. Although most of their season was disappointing, the light on the horizon was a WNIT quarterfinals run that built the team’s confidence and ability to string together wins, according to coach Kelly Rae Finley.
But even after leaving on a high note, the team lost six to the portal, including their top two scorers, KK Deans and Nina Rickards, and other key players. And despite losing six, the portal also didn’t prove fruitful on the inbound. The bright side is that the team will get Zippy Broughton back from injury and Aliyah Matharu after sitting for a year, creating a complete backcourt with real upside. Otherwise, WBCA Junior College Player of the Year Alexia Dizeko is an exciting addition. On the coaching side, the team brought on 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard as the Director of Player Personnel, hopefully bringing some excitement and motivation to the team. And although there’s some hope for the new faces, it’s unclear if it’ll be enough, especially after losing most of their size.
Rae Finley continues to be one of the most promising faces in the conference, but the team will need to channel some of that WNIT confidence, build defense, and mesh quickly to find success.
2022-23 record: 22-12 overall, 9-7 SEC
Javyn Nicholson may have said it best: “I don’t feel like Georgia, since I’ve been here, has ever gotten enough credit.” Although they may have seven SEC titles in program history, many have recently overlooked Georgia. After a few final-minute errors brought them down to Iowa in the second round of March Madness, Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson (Coach Abe) bid adieu to six seniors, many she had known since their high school days recruiting them to UCF and then migrating to Georgia. Among them were Diamond Battles, the team’s leading scorer. Offensive production is by far the biggest concern for the Bulldogs, who struggled to get points on the board last year and have now lost four out of five of last year’s leading scorers.
And although Georgia lost their senior core, they managed to be the only team in the SEC not to lose anyone to the portal. The team’s leader this year is fifth-year Nicholson, who came to Athens as a freshman, growing into her own as a leader on and off the court. Nicholson exemplifies exactly what Abe’s teams are all about: the “dog mentality.” Grittiness, a defensive mind, and a scrappy heart are the keys to this team, and although they’ve undeniably lost a lot of talent, it’s tough to count them out with Abe at the helm, knowing last year’s impressive rebirth from chaos.
2022-23 record: 12-19 overall, 2-14 SEC
- In: Brooklynn Miles (Tennessee)
- Out: Tionna Herron, Kennedy Cambridge, Jada Walker
Two words: Maddie Scherr. Last season, Kentucky didn’t have much success, finally finding momentum in March at the SEC Tournament, largely thanks to Scherr. Scherr, who transferred from Oregon last year, took some time to warm up, but according to coach Kyra Elzy has emerged this summer as the team leader. Scherr is an incredibly skilled, competitive long guard bound for a breakout season. Ajae Petty, who was voted MVP of the summer by her team, also has an exciting upside. However, outside these two, the season may be a challenge.
Jada Walker was a huge transfer loss, and although Elzy is bullish on her two freshmen and transfer, she described them as early in their development. Elzy and Kentucky have a knack for a successful SEC Tournament, and the players at Media Day described a huge mindset shift among the team. Still, expectations are relatively low for the rest of the season.
2022-23 record: 34-2 overall, 15-1 SEC
In the last two years, Kim Mulkey has perhaps proved herself the best recruiter in college basketball. After signing 2022’s top transfer, All-American Angel Reese, she’s done it again by getting this year’s top two transfers in the country: Aneesah Morrow and Hailey Van Lith. And if that wasn’t enough, she also signed the top recruiting class in the nation, four stars led by Mikaylah Williams (No. 2 in class) and Aalyah Del Rosario (No. 7). Plenty of people question how all these players, known as some of the most competitive in the country, will fit in one locker room. However, Mulkey seems to be an expert on balancing teams, something she repeatedly prided herself on last year. And her team seems ready to take on the challenge.
“I feel like everybody’s going to have to sacrifice something. Whatever it takes to win,” Reese explained about her stats. “One of us is going to have a double-double each night.”
And beyond the flashy new additions, LSU returns a burgeoning core, especially in its young base. Sophomore Flau’jae Johnson came back to school early to get extra training time and to mesh with the freshman. Sa’Myah Smith turned down a USA Basketball invite to stay on campus all season, where, according to Mulkey, she was glued to the weight room. The place that might need more time is the point guard position: Mulkey told reporters at Media Day she plans to play Van Lith at the one and has spent the offseason getting her there. Nothing is guaranteed, especially in the SEC, but LSU’s depth and talent make it hard to imagine them not being a serious contender.
2022-23 record: 25-9 overall, 11-5 SEC
- In: Kennedy Todd Williams (UNC), Kharyssa Richardson (Auburn), KK Deans (Florida)
- Out: Destiny Salary, Jordan Berry
Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s (Coach Yo) Mississippi trajectory is one of the best in basketball: from 0-16 in SEC play, to WNIT runners-up, to the first round of March Madness, and finally, last year’s second-round upset of No. 1 Stanford to bring the program to it’s first Sweet 16 in years. And by that logic, one would assume Coach Yo’s squad would make a deep run in the tournament this year, and her offseason trajectory backs that up.
After graduating their starting backcourt, SEC First-Team guard Angel Baker and SEC veteran Myah Taylor, Coach Yo secured three portal additions that only elevate what they lost. KK Deans (Yo dubbed her a “mini version” of herself) brings much-needed outside scoring and offensive tenacity to the point guard spot, and 6-foot guard Kennedy Todd Williams will only add to that offensive production after ranking second in scoring at UNC last season. Mississippi became known for their tenacious defense but struggled last year to score, so these additions will be crucial to their success. Mississippi also boasts a top-30 recruiting class in the country, bringing in five freshmen.
And although the offense will flow better, their defensive anchor, Madison Scott, is bound for a breakout year. The lanky forward spent the summer globetrotting, playing 3×3 with USA Basketball, returning to Oxford more physical, quicker, and confident to shoot. Snudda Collins and Scott have spent the last four years growing into their current leadership roles and keeping this upward trajectory front of mind for the whole team. It feels like there’s a lot of pressure for this team to continue their magical run, illustrated by their highest preseason ranking since the 1990s. There are bound to be some growing pains with eight new faces, but it feels like Coach Yo’s positioned them nicely for an impressive season battling for a top spot in the SEC and beyond.
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2022-23 record: 22-11 overall, 9-7 SEC
- In: Lauren Park-Lane (Seton Hall), Darrione Rogers (DePaul), Erynn Barnum (Arkansas)
- Out: Denae Carter, Charlotte Kohl, Mia Moore, Alasia Hayes, Aislynn Hayes, Aniya Palmer
This offseason, Mississippi State lost 10 players, the most of any team in the SEC. And although the optics of that might not sound great, in reality, the team’s exodus (six transfers, four seniors) may have been a blessing in disguise. Their losses made way for three of the top 25 players in the portal and a top 25 recruiting class. Beyond the talent they picked up, they also retained crucial members, including Jessika Carter.
Head Coach Sam Purcell and Carter said at Media Day they were confident the 6’5 center would find her way back to Starkville, but the rest of us, her teammates included, were unsure. “The crazy thing is I didn’t know she was coming back until the world knew she was,” senior guard Jerkaila Jordan described. “After she said she was coming back… we were throwing her a party.” Carter, who earned a preseason Second Team SEC nod, is bound to be one of the conference’s most dominant players in the paint and has grown tremendously in the last two years.
The Bulldogs have undeniably lost some talent, but their additions, particularly their scoring in Barnum and point guard prowess in Park-Lane will add a whole new dimension. However, two of their transfers come from outside the SEC, and the freshman will always need time. There’s bound to be a slow trajectory to solid success, but compared to the preseason chaos of last season as Purcell arrived as a first-time head coach, this season should be calmer.
2022-23 record: 18-14 overall, 6-10 SEC
- In: Angelique Ngalakulondi (UMass), Abby Feit (Evansville)
- Out: Sara-Rose Smith, Katlyn Gilbert, Jayla Kelly, Lauren Hansen
After securing home-grown sharp shooter Hayley Frank for a fifth year and bringing on an exciting freshman class, including No. 1 recruit in the state Grace Slaughter, coach Robin Pingeton called this offseason the best offseason she’s had in a long time. Pingeton has spent her time creatively recruiting, securing mid-major portal additions, experienced international players, and what they’re known for: born and bred Missouri talent.
But it’s unclear if that’ll be enough after a disappointing last season and key players transferring or graduating. Half of Mizzou’s players are underclassmen, and this season might be more of a transition, learning year than a serious contender. However, Missouri athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois told multiple outlets her expectations are for the team to make the NCAA tournament, which they haven’t done since four back-to-back trips from 2016-19. Pingeton said at Media Day she doesn’t feel pressure from the statement but is focused on ensuring her athletes get better year to year.
2022-23 record: 36-1 overall, 16-0 SEC
- In: Te-Hina Paopao (Oregon), Sakima Walker (JuCo, Rutgers)
- Out: Talaysia Cooper
Most teams in the country would revel in a No. 6 preseason AP ranking, but for South Carolina, it’s quite a downgrade from their consistent years of No. 1 dominance. However, the Gamecocks aren’t sweating it. “We’re in a position where we’re not the hunted, we’re hunting. That’s not a bad place to be,” Head Coach Dawn Staley told reporters at Media Day.
After losing seven seniors to graduation and the WNBA, last year’s South Carolina bench, the best in the county, will take center stage. Kamilla Cardoso’s college career, coming off a 2023 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup championship and MVP representing Brazil, is likely to crescendo alongside her longtime teammate and point guard Raven Johnson this season. The two’s chemistry is undeniable, and with Bree Hall growing into her own on and off the court, they still have a solid, experienced core. In addition, Staley secured one of the best transfers in the country with Te-Hina Paopao, and Staley is confident Johnson and she will play off each other well.
And even though this team is not ranked number one, they are far from a flop, as exhibited by their 45-point win over Rutgers in Sunday’s exhibition match. They have the second-best freshman class in the country, highlighted by hometown hero MiLaysia Fulwiley, who’s on the road to being a generational talent. And although they lack some experience, no one should be surprised if a highly disciplined Staley team makes a deep postseason.
2022-23 record: 25-12 overall, 13-3 SEC
- In: Destinee Wells (Belmont), Avery Strickland (Pitt), Jewel Spear (Wake Forest), Talaysia Cooper (South Carolina, not playing)
- Out: Justine Pissott, Marta Suárez, Brooklynn Miles
Tennessee is bound for greatness this year. After Rickea Jackson announced she’d be taking a fifth year at Rocky Top, the world awaited an exciting year. And although star player Jordan Horston left the SEC for the WNBA, Jackson is in good hands alongside 6’6 center Tamari Key, who’s slowly coming back from illness, and a slew of transfers that rival LSU’s class. The most important being Jewel Spear, who led the ACC in scoring last season, and Destinee Wells, who lit up Belmont and almost single-handedly knocked Tennessee out of the NCAA tournament in 2022.
Head Coach Kellie Harper scheduled one of the most brutal schedules in basketball last season, leading to a rocky start that took the Vols all season to break out of. This year, Harper says that chemistry is one of her team’s greatest strengths. And although they didn’t back down from a challenging schedule, including non-conference matches against Team USA and Indiana, Tennessee feels like it’s in a better place than last year, especially considering their rising talent in juniors Jillian Hollingshead and Sara Puckett.
Tennessee is bound to have some tough losses, especially considering the unknown of Key’s return and the slow process back. Additionally, there are defensive unknowns after losing top guard rebounders like Horston and Jasmine Franklin. Still, ultimately, Tennessee seems to be in a better place than it was last year.
2022-23 record: 9-20 overall, 2-14 SEC
- In: Kyndall Hunter (Texas), Lauren Ware (Arizona), Endiya Rogers (Oregon), Aicha Coulibaly (Auburn)
- Out: Eriny Kindred, Mya Petticord
Mark my words: Texas A&M is going to have the biggest change in standings this year from any team in the SEC. After winning just two regular season SEC games last season, then-freshman Janiah Barker told The Next she would never have a season like that again. And her coach, Joni Taylor, agreed this offseason. Having already signed the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation, Taylor filled out her new team with some of the best transfers in the game.
Taylor’s young team gained point guard and sharpshooter Endiya Rogers from Oregon, SEC-veteran Aicha Coulibaly from Auburn, 6’5 Lauren Ware from Arizona, and cross-state Kyndall Hunter from UT (Hunter is currently out with an Achilles injury). Alongside the burgeoning Barker, who was one of two 19-year-olds on this summer’s USA AmeriCup team, and scoring sophomore Sydney Bowles, this team will be unrecognizable. And considering the number of reps Taylor’s young players got in 2022-23, this season’s sophomores will be head and shoulders above other young players in the country.
Ultimately, the Aggies lost almost nothing and gained an exponential amount of talent, leaving me mystified by their eighth-place ranking by SEC media.
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2022-23 record: 12-19 overall, 2-14 SEC
- In: Jordyn Oliver (Duke), Justine Pissott (Tennessee)
- Out: Yaubryon Chambers, Demi Washington
This is coach Shea Ralph’s third year at the helm, and this program is definitely still growing into a competitive SEC opponent. They lost leading scorer Ciaja Harbinson to graduation but gained Jordyn Cambridge after a year away due to injury. Cambridge is a locker room staple and averaged 10.7 in her last season. Ralph also managed to retain Sacha Washington, a junior who averaged 11.1 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. In an era as rife with transfer as we’re in, keeping 6’2 Washington is a big feat. In addition, transfers Jordyn Oliver and Justine Pissott are both players from highly acclaimed, storied programs who will get the minutes to show what they’re worth.
Vanderbilt might not be competing for a championship this year, but they have solid talent, and last year, their leading scorer was an unexpected mid-major player, proving anyone could step up this year. But now that they’re healthier than last season, they have more room for growth and could find themselves winning some significant games.
The SEC is the conference to beat, so we’ll see how these teams stack up against each other, but also in comparison to the country.