Preseason Stock Report: Bear Market

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on October 26th, 2021

The 2020-21 season began with both Duke and Kentucky ranked in the top 10 and of course ended with both missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over 40 years. The final AP Poll of last season did not include 10 of the 25 teams that were ranked to begin the season. While polls only tell some of the on-court story, here are a few teams that I feel could have difficulties reaching their lofty preseason expectations.

Auburn: Bruce Pearl’s Auburn club enters the year at #21 in the AP Poll and as high as #9 on a pair of ballots. The Tigers are coming off a forgettable season outside of Sharife Cooper’s 12-game stretch, and they begin the season with Allen Flanigan (14.3 PPG last season) out for at least a month. With Cooper gone and Flanigan sidelined, that leaves just one of the team’s top six scorers from last year on the team and ready to start the season. Auburn does add some firepower in the form of Georgia transfer K.D. Johnson (13.5 PPG) and North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler (4.4 PPG), along with five-star freshman Jabari Smith. The question is whether Pearl put it all together? Additionally, how will a non-conference schedule that features just one true road game impact the Tigers’ readiness for road tests in a very strong SEC?

Bruce Pearl is Ready to Rumble Again (USA Today Images)

Baylor: Baylor begins the season ranked #8 in the nation. The defending champs bring back the talented Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer along with the toughness of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to a squad that adds senior guard James Akinjo and freshman Kendall Brown. The list of what is no longer in Waco, though, is long. Gone are Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital. That includes 61.8 percent of the scoring from last year’s team, two players from the all-conference first-team, three players from the league’s all-defensive team, a consensus first-team All-American, the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, and the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Can Scott Drew do what few champions have done recently and back up a National Championship with another year in the top 10?

Memphis: Entering the 2019-20 season, Memphis had the Rivals top-ranked recruiting class and a top 15 preseason ranking. James Wiseman went on to play just three games, Boogie Ellis’ play was up-and-down, and the Tigers finished the regular-season unranked. Penny Hardaway has proven that talented players want to play for him, but he has yet to show that he can build a cohesive system offensively to get the job done. The upcoming season will again be about balancing an immensely talented bunch into a team. There is no denying the talents of freshman Jalen Duren or Emoni Bates, but can Penny get everyone on board and focused on the goals of the team?

Tennessee: Tennessee of a season ago was an excellent defensive team that always could rely on Yves Pons being a factor on that end of the floor. Pons is gone, as are the team’s top two scorers from a season ago. Despite finishing unranked last season and coming off of a first-round exit to Oregon State in the Tournament, the Volunteers sit inside the top 20 and as high as #9 in preseason balloting. This is an experienced bunch that returns Victor Bailey Jr., Santiago Vescovi, John Fulkerson and Josiah-Jordan James. The Vols also add Auburn transfer Justin Powell, who averaged 11.7 points per game for the Tigers last season, although he scored just six points on 1-of-13 shooting in 54 minutes across his only two SEC appearances. Without Pons anchoring the defense, Tennessee will need to figure out the offensive woes that left the Volunteers with the ninth most efficient offense during league play.

Matthew Eisenberg (140 Posts)

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