David Cloninger

Cloninger’s preseason men’s picks

Duane Notice and the Gamecocks were picked seventh in the preseason SEC media poll.
Duane Notice and the Gamecocks were picked seventh in the preseason SEC media poll. mbergen@thestate.com

Another year, another predicted Kentucky championship. Really starting to wonder why the SEC doesn’t send a 13-space ballot for the preseason, since No. 1 is going to be taken.

It’s not a knock, it’s a nod. Kentucky is that good, past, present and future. There may be a Florida or LSU or Arkansas to occasionally knock them off the preseason heap, but the tradition and the talent wearing blue will never change. John Calipari has the simplest, most effective and truthful recruiting pitch in the country – want to be in the NBA next year, come play for me.

The Wildcats are going to be stunningly talented (again) and challenge for the national championship (again). Whether or not Skal Labissiere gets cleared (spoiler alert: he will), Kentucky’s going to win its share of games. As we’ve seen in March, we don’t know if that will result in the big trophy but the Wildcats will certainly be in position to get it.

(On a side note as a question I can’t answer – is Kentucky so good that a 38-1 season is considered disappointing? My mind can’t comprehend that.)

The picks look to be around the same range as I predicted. Vanderbilt, I and a lot of others think, will see the result of a young team gelling late last year. Damian Jones is the best big man in the league and Riley LaChance is going to become the SEC’s version of That Guy From Duke You Hate.

My picks:



Texas A&M



Mississippi State

Ole Miss

South Carolina







Preseason All-SEC

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Ben Simmons, LSU

Stefan Moody, Ole Miss

Skal Labissiere, Kentucky

Danuel House, Texas A&M

Preseason SEC Player of the Year

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Again, the SEC’s system is not to break ties in pre- or postseason voting, so we have six members on a first and second basketball team. The ballot didn’t say to vote by position, so I went with the best five.

I certainly think that freshmen Labissiere and Ben Simmons will be two of the finest players in the league (along with Mississippi State’s Malik Newman). As a personal preference, I don’t vote freshmen for preseason player of the year because they haven’t been proven yet. It’s not like the award means anything anyway but even if they’re the No. 1 recruit in the country, it’s hard to dominate going against players who have played 30-game seasons and are already keying on the opponent’s best talent. Some have done it, but this year, especially with Labissiere’s still-unresolved eligibility issues, I think the non-freshman approach is wise.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC