SEC hoops: Kentucky picked to win league

To no one’s surprise, Kentucky is the favorite to win the SEC men’s basketball championship, according to a media panel’s annual preseason vote announced Wednesday.

Kentucky received 21 first-place votes from the 27-person panel of regional and national media members, easily earning the first-place nod over runner-up Florida, which got five first-place votes. Tennessee, which received the other first-place vote, was picked third.

The rest of the league is forecast to finish this way, according to the poll: LSU fourth, Missouri fifth, Alabama sixth, Ole Miss seventh, Arkansas eighth, Texas A&M ninth, Vanderbilt 10th, Georgia 11th, South Carolina 12th, Mississippi State 13th and Auburn last.

Last season, Kentucky lost in its first game of the SEC tournament — and in the first round of the NIT. But that was before signing a celebrated recruiting class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans.

“I’m fine with it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of the high expectations for this season’s Wildcats. “Look, we’ve got a talented group of young kids who wanted to be there together.”

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said a characteristically strong Kentucky team is good for the league at large.

“I don’t think there’s any question … SEC basketball needs Kentucky to be Kentucky,” Kennedy said, “(in the same way that) SEC football needs Alabama to be Alabama, ACC basketball needs North Carolina to be North Carolina and Pac-12 basketball needs UCLA to be UCLA.”

Preseason All-SEC: Four Kentucky players, including three freshmen, were named to the media's preseason All-SEC teams. One of the freshmen, forward Julius Randle, was voted the preseason pick to be SEC player of the year.

Joining Randle on the preseason all-SEC first team: Alabama senior guard Trevor Releford, LSU junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III, Ole Miss senior guard Marshall Henderson and Tennessee senior guard Jordan McRae (from Midway, Ga.)

On the second team: Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, Florida senior center Patric Young, Kentucky sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky freshman guard Andrew Harrison, Kentucky freshman center Dakari Johnson, Missouri junior guard Jabari Brown, Tennessee senior forward Jeronne Maymon and Tennessee junior forward Jarnell Stokes.

Lady Bulldogs: The Georgia women's team is faced with replacing three players who moved on to the WNBA — Anne Marie Armstrong, Jasmine Hassell and Jasmine James.

Well, “replacing” isn’t the right word, according to coach Andy Landers.

“It’s not about replacing them. If I were trying to replace them, I’d probably be a wreck,” Landers said. “It’s about discovering new people who can help us do more of the same, and we have those kinds of people in the program. We’ve got to stay the course in terms of their development, and it’s been very good so far.”

The Lady Bulldogs were 28-7 (12-4 SEC) and reached the NCAA tournament’s “Elite Eight” last season. Two starters return: sophomores Shacobia Barbee and Tiaria Griffin. Two other returnees also have starting experience during their careers: senior Khaalidah Miller and junior Erika Ford.

“Last year we had those leaders,” Ford said, referring to Armstrong, Hassell and James. “So we just have to fill those shoes, and someone has to step up and be a leader this year.”