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2023-24 SEC Conference Preview
The No Ceilings crew kicks off their Conference Preview round tables for the 2023-24 season with the loaded SEC.
The college basketball season is just around the corner, and the NBA season is off to a roaring start. While many of the rookies from the 2023 NBA Draft are making headlines, the 2023-2024 NCAA season will show prospect evaluators who might be joining this year’s rookies in determining the NBA’s future.
Before the college season gets underway, we simply had to gather the No Ceilings collective for a roundtable and discuss some of the top prospects and players who might be primed to break out and establish themselves on the draft scene. Today, we kick off our conference previews, starting with the SEC.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter groupthink. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Stephen: Justin Edwards is the top pick for me–and many–coming into this season. With a very mature game to go along with his 6’8” frame, Edwards is my top overall prospect—let alone the top player in the SEC.
Maxwell: Justin Edwards for me, too. He has instincts you can’t teach on defense, good athletic tools, and a fascinating shot-making portfolio.
Albert: Justin Edwards. I thought his jumper looked funky when I saw it in person at the Nike Hoops Summit, but his shots go in a lot, which is good. I’ll stop here because there’s more than enough above and below this.
Rucker: It’s Justin Edwards, folks. The Kentucky Wildcats are going to feature a plethora of exciting prospects for the 2024 NBA draft cycle, but Edwards will be the cream of the crop. At 6’8”, Edwards has a beautiful outside shot and looks to be a potential dangerous floor spacer. But if the preseason sample is anything to go off of, it looks like Edwards could be in for a big year when it comes to his role with this Wildcats team. There are some intriguing playmaking flashes and I’m still convinced that there’s a defensive monster just waiting to be unleashed.
Corey: Is there an echo in here? It’s Justin Edwards. 6’8” wings that can dribble, pass(?), shoot, and defend don’t grow on trees. Edwards is already comfortable thriving in an off-ball scoring role—knocking down spot-up shots, getting out in transition, and getting downhill off zooms, but what makes him so intriguing is the on-ball creation potential. Kentucky had a lot of mouths to feed so he may not have as many chances to show off the full bag as some of the other prospects in this class, but even the flashes at his size will be enough to keep him in Top 3 convos.
Metcalf: Justin Edwards. He doesn’t feel like a prototypical #1 prospect but the kid can flat-out play. He has a sweet jumper and is one of the best team defenders in high school that I’ve seen in recent years. It’d be pretty shocking if he completely flops.
Rowan: A late-season eruption can sometimes be fool’s gold, but Riley Kugel’s close to last season firmly cements him as the best SEC draft prospect in the class. He’s a smooth-scoring wing who can get his shot from anywhere, create for himself going downhill, and should benefit from a vastly improved supporting Gators cast.
Evan: I’m not as sold on him being the top prospect in the class as my comrades are, but I also have to go with Justin Edwards. He contributes to winning in a variety of ways, and he is only scratching the surface of what he could be as a scorer offensively. Wings who possess a malleable skillset and star potential to boot aren’t wise to bet against.
Nick: I’m almost obligated to add to the chorus here; Justin Edwards is the best draft prospect in the SEC. With his size on the wing and his creation ability, he’s the #1 prospect on many preseason boards for a reason.
2. Admittedly, one of the most satisfying parts of analyzing the draft is being able to look back and say “psh, about time you guys took notice of him. I’ve been hyping him up for ages.” Who is the prospect that you are irrationally high on?
Stephen: Josiah-Jordan James. I know that he has a lot “going against” him. He’s an older prospect. We’re very familiar with his skill set. He’s going to be on a very stacked roster. I just believe that a versatile defender like JJJ can find his way onto an NBA in some capacity.
Maxwell: It’s my guy Dalton Knecht at Tennessee. He’s what NBA teams are looking for in a modern wing: a genuinely great athlete who can score at all three levels. Knecht’s knockdown shooting off the catch and electric cutting paired with above-the-rim hops make him a wonderful complimentary player. He can break guys down off the dribble or straight-up blow by even higher-level athletes. He’ll need to show more defensively, but when I interviewed him over the summer, he told me that he’s going to Tennessee in part for that very reason. I think he’s going to have a big year and get drafted.
Albert: When Corey and I did the Elliot Cadeau breakdown a couple of months ago, Cameron Carr really jumped off the screen for me. He’s not the tallest wing in the world, but he’s got crazy long arms, and a crispy shooting stroke. I loved how aggressive he was with his shot and I even enjoyed some of his drives to the basket, even with his limited athleticism. The roster there at Tennessee, might make it tough for him to get a ton of shine, but you never know. I could see Carr potentially playing his way into a bigger share of minutes and shining as a floor-spacer.
Rucker: I’m starting to drink the Kool Aid when it comes to Tennessee freshman Cameron Carr. There’s a chance that Carr could develop into a potential sophomore breakout candidate next year, but he’s going to be one to keep a close eye on out of the gates. At 6’5”, 173 pounds, Carr is a bit thin-framed, but he can shoot the crap out of it. The NBA is always hunting for shooters with upside and Carr could become an intriguing option as he’s just starting to scratch the surface.
Corey: I absolutely love me some Adou Thiero. Thiero is a gadgety wing with NBA size and athleticism that plays like his hair is on fire. Thiero didn’t get much opportunity last year but he’s a late growth spurt guy that has transformed his body and looks like he’s ready for a potential breakout sophomore campaign doing the type of role player things that NBA teams love. The jumper is going to be the swing skill for Thiero, but if he shoots it with any consistency then watch out!
Metcalf: This is incredibly lame, but I honestly don’t think I have one this year. I really like Cameron Carr as a 3-and-D wing but on a Rick Barnes team and needing to get much stronger, I’m not entirely confident he’ll be a one-and-done.
Rowan: How much substance can one find from flash? That’s the integral question to Rob Dillingham, especially in the cluttered context of this year’s Kentucky team. To my eyes, there’s no other player with Dillingham's pop, pizzazz, and individual shot-creation chops, all of which are tools that should carry him into more draft conversations than many saw coming.
Evan: I’m not sure if he’s a 2024 guy, but incoming Alabama freshman Kris Parker has my attention. There seems to be little to no buzz surrounding the defending SEC champions heading into the year. Following a big roster turnover in the summer, Nate Oats’s squad doesn’t have any clear-cut top draft prospects for this draft cycle. However, I think Parker could end up being a pleasant surprise for many scouts this season. At 6’9”, 195 pounds, Parker has the positional size NBA evaluators covet and showcased some intriguing flashes as a jumbo shot creator. If he’s given the opportunity to play real minutes, don’t be surprised to see the Tallahassee, Florida native’s draft stock skyrocket. Keep your eyes on him.
Nick: He’s not as heralded as some of the elite freshmen in this conference, but I’m going to go with Josiah-Jordan James. His versatile game on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive end, will earn him some NBA attention, and he has the potential to stick around as a rotation piece for the right NBA squad.
3. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and they do not have equal probabilities. Which prospect do you like but think has the most likely chance of failing to meet expectations?
Stephen: Dropping this name has a very high likelihood to bite me in the you-know-what, but DJ Wagner is the type of prospect I struggle with projecting prior to seeing him on the floor at the collegiate level. It has become increasingly more difficult for traditionally-sized guards to succeed in the NBA–if they have draft capital invested into them.
Maxwell: I’m worried about Robert Dillingham. When he’s on, my goodness, it’s one of the most exciting things in hoops. That said, his balance as a playmaker isn’t there yet. At 6’2”, NBA teams are looking for more than an on-ball bucket-getter. Defensively, he’s far away and doesn’t have the physical tools to compensate for it. I hope he has an awesome year, because he’s a blast to watch when he’s cooking, but I think it’s going to take him some time to get ready for the next level.
Albert: I’m not a huge DJ Wagner fan. I actually think he may be a guy who shines in college and never really blossoms into a star on the next level. The bloodlines are good, and he can be fun to watch with his ability to get to the rim. I just don’t know if he’s as good of a shooter as people make him out to be, and I don’t know if he has enough in the tank to warrant taking a smaller guard in the top 10. I hope I’m wrong, but he’s just not the type of prospect I’ve historically been a big fan of.
Rucker: I’ll be the jerk here. It’s Kentucky freshman DJ Wagner for me. There’s no denying that DJ is a talented floor general, but there’s been some preseason “buzz” that he could turn into a Top 10 pick. I’m not there, as I still have too many questions surrounding his game going into the 2023-24 season. He’s in the right place to take his game to the next level. DJ will have to develop an in-between game and get some consistency with the three-point shot. If that can happen, then DJ could definitely start to climb up some boards.
Corey: I think it’s going to be Rob Dillingham. He is most certainly going to have fun moments. The 40-point explosion during UK’s free-flowing scrimmage was in fact very fun, but as a very small score-first guard, Dillingham represents a dying NBA archetype. The simple fact of the matter is that Dillingham has to have an otherworldly offensive season showing off nuclear scoring, shooting, AND playmaking to start to make up for the baseline level of defense that I have yet to see from him. If NBA teams can’t buy that he’s an offense in and of himself, he could fall off the radar completely.
Metcalf: I think Grant Nelson could be in for a rude awakening. He’s incredibly intriguing and should fit nicely in Alabama’s offense, but I think that leap in size, skill, and physicality could be a lot for him to adjust to.
Rowan: Piling onto the Kentucky train, Aaron Bradshaw is the next in a long line of five-star big men to grace the campus. Still, he’s just as likely to end up like Karl-Anthony Towns or Demarcus Cousins as he is Skal Labissiere or Damian Collins. A broken bone has already started Bradshaw’s tenure off on the wrong foot, but the real test will be once he gets back, as his skinny frame could get rocked by the powerful pivots of the SEC.
Evan: I genuinely hate to continue to rain on the parade of Kentucky fans, but I’ll take the entire incoming freshman trio of Aaron Bradshaw, DJ Wagner, and Rob Dillingham. Relative to where I’ve seen them mocked, I don’t see any of the three justifying being lottery selections by next June. I wouldn’t be surprised even if all of them end up returning to Lexington for an additional season.
Nick: I feel bad piling on, but I am also concerned about Rob Dillingham’s translation to the college game. He can put the ball in the basket at a remarkable rate, but I’m not sure he’ll bring enough to the table outside of that as an undersized guard with serious questions on the defensive end even beyond his relative lack of size.
4. The shiny new thing is always the most enticing to go after, but there is always a ton of value in older prospects. Based on their previous college seasons, which returning player are you most excited to watch and has the best NBA potential?
Stephen: I am excited about the Trevon Brazile revenge tour. Brazile was having himself a heck of a year with the Razorbacks last season before going down with an injury. In a class that is assumed to be wide open, I think Brazile has an opportunity to establish himself as a can’t-miss forward for any NBA team.
Maxwell: He’s new to the conference, but Walter Clayton Jr. is going into his junior season at Florida on a great trajectory. He was one of the best shooters in college basketball last year no matter how you split it—pulling up, off the catch, and at the charity stripe. Plus, he takes great care of the ball and can find open teammates. On defense, he’s a tremendous playmaker with a strong body. He’s exactly what a modern smaller guard should look like, and he can fit next to anybody.
Albert: It has to be Riley Kugel. Coming off an exciting freshman season, I want to see if Kugel can carry that momentum into his sophomore season. I love his explosiveness and hang time in the air, but I do believe his touch around the rim needs some work. I love his ability to play through contact and his cutting as well. Some of the two-man stuff he ran with Colin Castleton last season was really pretty to watch. I’d like to see Kugel work on his focus on the defensive side of the ball and explore some more passing as well.
Rucker: Definitely with Stephen on this one; it’s Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile for me. The RS-sophomore big man was starting to put things together last year, especially after some impressive games during the Maui Invitational. After an ACL injury ended his season early, Brazile will have plenty of attention from NBA scouts this year. Brazile has the tools that every NBA team is coveting in the modern NBA. He’s got good size and has shown the potential to develop into a respectable floor spacer. If the offense takes another step, as well as his versatility as a defender, Brazile will start to heat up once again in draft circles.
Corey: I’m riding high with Maxwell on the Dalton Knecht bandwagon. I remember trying to clip a prospect’s defensive tape last draft cycle and being unable to because Knecht was absolutely cooking him. Knecht is a real-deal shot-making wing with NBA size and athleticism who hasn’t gotten a ton of shine because he was playing in the Big Sky last season. He’s going to have the opportunity to be one of the focal points of what Tennessee is trying to do offensively and make a name for himself on a national stage. How he holds up defensively is going to be the question that needs answering, but flat out the kid can go.
Metcalf: Walter Clayton Jr for me as well. He had a tremendously fascinating season last year and is incredibly talented. Doing it at Iona is very different than at Florida on a nightly basis, though. If that consistency carries over while playing next to Riley Kugel, though, it shouldn’t be entirely shocking if he works his way into a top-40 pick.
Rowan: I’ve got a ticket to hop on the Trevon Brazile hype train too! Brazile’s early tape last year was fearsome and fun, but the context of the team around him might be even better than it was last year. Instead of Eric Musselman needing to give Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black touches, Brazile should be in line to soak up a greater share of possessions, where he can both shred rims on dunks and flash the rest of his growing offensive game.
Evan: I know Vanderbilt is not known for churning out consistent pro prospects, but I really like Colin Smith’s potential. The 6’8” sophomore forward can shoot the leather off the ball and is the prototype 3-and-D wing. Now as a staple of Jerry Stackhouse’s rotation, I’m hoping to see Smith elevate his game to the next level. If he can become a more impactful defender and showcase a bit more variety to his offensive game outside of his shooting ability—there’s a real path for Smith to make a splash during the 2024 draft cycle.
Nick: I’m fascinated to see how Riley Kugel looks in his sophomore season. He absolutely caught fire down the stretch of last season when he became the primary option on offense after Colin Castleton went down with an injury. Now that he is presumably the primary option on offense for the whole season, he could quickly cement himself as one of the top prospects in the class. He is primed to have a Jaden Ivey-esque leap from a fringe first round pick as a freshman to a potential Top 5 pick after a world-beating sophomore season.
5. Whether it’s Anthony Edwards dropping 37 points against Michigan State, or Austin Rivers ripping the heart out of UNC fans, or De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball, fans are provided with mesmerizing matchups and performances every season. Which matchup, whether team vs. team, player vs. player, or player vs. team, are you most looking forward to?
Stephen: I think the game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers on January 16th could be a great one! Florida has a deep rotation–filled with a number of potential NBA players, and so does Tennessee. Kugel, Clayton Jr., Knecht, Josiah-Jordan James, Will Richard, Cam Carr, Pullin, Handlogten, Dilione, Vescovi…it’s going to be awesome!
Maxwell: Let’s get crazy— Kentucky vs. Texas A&M. Kentucky has loads of high-upside prospects in Justin Edwards, DJ Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw, Ugonna Onyenso, Robert Dillingham, Jordan Burke, Adou Thierro, and Zvonimir Ivisic. Texas A&M might not have splashy draft names, but they have loads of talent, experience, and toughness. Wade Taylor, Tyrece Radford, Henry Coleman, and Julius Marble are going to want to make a statement. UIC transfer Jace Carter is another hard-nosed player, and he’s a real prospect if his shot gets going again. The two teams couldn’t be more different in terms of their makeup, and I’m excited to watch them clash.
Rucker: Florida Gators vs Kentucky Wildcats for me. All NBA scouts will be watching that one closely, especially to see what sophomore Riley Kugel can do against a talented Wildcats team. Do I smell a Playback stream in the future? I think so. See you there.
Corey: Give me Kentucky vs Tennessee! Kentucky is flush with high-level prospects but Tennessee has a roster full of intriguing prospects in their own right. I mentioned Knecht earlier, but Freddie Dilione and Cameron Carr are two young guys who really have my attention for the Vols. Tennessee is also known for their defensive physicality, so it’ll be a good test to see how the Kentucky guys respond. Ready for some checkerboard madness!
Metcalf: Kentucky vs Florida. Prospects galore.
Rowan: Florida vs Kentucky is hard to top, but a fascinating under-the-radar contest could be Alabama vs Arkansas. Both teams loaded up on transfer players and underrated freshmen more than one-and-done phenoms, zigging compared to their zagging, but it could become a quick proving ground for a prospect to rise up the rankings. Any of Trevon Brazile, Khalif Battle, Baye Fall, Rylan Griffen, Grant Nelson, Nick Pringle, or Jarin Stevenson could all find themselves in the spotlight after this matchup.
Albert: Give me Florida vs. Kentucky for all the reasons the guys listed above. I really want to see a shootout between Riley Kugel and Justin Edwards. Anything short of that is BORING.
Evan: I think Maxwell is onto something with this Texas A&M team, they’re damn good. Buzz Williams’s crew has a legitimate chance to win the conference this year, behind a stacked returning roster. All of the players Maxwell mentioned above, combined with Andersson Garcia and Solomon Washington, are intriguing potential NBA prospects. Give me their game against Florida on February 3. That matchup has everything you could want from a scouting and competition perspective.
Nick: Florida vs. Kentucky is the clear pick for me. Pitting Riley Kugel against Kentucky’s crew of uber-talented freshmen should be an explosive battle, and it will be up there among the best prospect-focused matchups in college basketball this season.