Note: All rankings of recruits mentioned below come from the winter edition of PrepStar's Recruiters Handbook.
1. MISSISSIPPI STATE (26-4 in 2003-04, 12-2 in the SEC) -- The Bulldogs lose two senior starters (all-conference Timmy Bowers (6-2) and Branden Vincent (6-8), plus little-used reserve Lincoln Smith (6-9). They return an excellent nucleus of three starters in 6-9 Lawrence Roberts (the 2004 SEC Player of the Year), 6-4 Winsome Frazier, and 6-4 Shane Power. Gary Ervin (5-11) is a promising guard who should take over the point in his sophomore year. The fifth starter may be 7-0 Marcus Campbell, and 7-1 Wesley Morgan, 6-9 Piotr Stelmach, and 6-3 Dietric Slater all have some experience and should provide solid help. 6-8 Charles Rhodes (#51), 6-8 Jerrell Houston (#164), and 5-9 JUCO Jarnall Edmonson are three potentially significant newcomers. Mississippi State will continue to have an excellent team but will get a strong challenge for supremacy in the West from Alabama.
2. ALABAMA (20-12, 8-8) -- The Tide came on with a rush at the season's end. Although four seniors must be replaced (6-0 starting point guard Antoine Pettway, 6-2 Demetrius Smith, 3-point specialist 6-4 Emmett Thomas, and little-used 6-7 Reggie Rambo), four starters return. They are 6-6 Kennedy Winston, 6-3 Earnest Shelton, 6-7 Chuck Davis, and 6-11 Jermareo Davidson. The first three of this foursome scored most of the team's points. Add in 6-8 Evan Brock, and the Tide will just need depth to be a powerful contender. A pair of redshirted freshmen (6-11 Shawn Taylor, 6-9 Akini Atkins) figure to provide a lot of help. 6-2 Ronald Steele (#76), 6-4 Glen Miles (#92), and 6-4 Albert Weber (#106) are expected to be solid newcomers, and 6-9 Walter Sharpe (#197) may also come on board. Finding a point guard will be the critical factor in Bama's success next season.
3. LSU (18-11, 8-8) -- The Tigers finished up the season in train-wreck fashion after losing All-SEC Jaime Lloreda to an injury. He is gone for good, but LSU was a young team and Lloreda was the only significant loss. 6-8 Brandon Bass is the man around whom the new team will be built, and three other starters return (6-5 Antonio Hudson, 6-2 Xavier Whipple, 6-9 Regis Koundjia). Tack Minor (5-11) has great potential at point guard if Coach John Brady ever finds a way to slow him down a little. Darrell Lazare and Ross Neltner (both 6-8) got some needed experience after Lloreda's departure. The most intriguing newcomer is 6-10 Glen Davis (#18), a McDonald's All-American, who must lose some of his ponderous 330 lbs., but should start. Another significant newcomer is 6-6 Garrett Temple (#121). Putting these pieces together into a solid team will be a challenge, but there is some impressive material there to work with.
4. ARKANSAS (12-16, 4-12) -- The Razorbacks were the youngest team in the conference last year and should be much improved after losing only little-used Charles Tatum and Jamar Blackmon. 6-4 Jonathan Modica and 6-7 Ronnie Brewer are two good men around which next year's team can be built. Add in 6-1 Eric Ferguson, 6-4 Kendrick Davis, 6-10 Vincent Hunter, 6-5 Olu Famutimi, and 6-8 Billy Pharis, and there should be improvement even without taking newcomers into account. There will be several important freshmen, however. If 6-9 Al Jefferson (#3) doesn't go straight to the NBA this summer after leaving high school, the McDonald's All-American will step right into the starting lineup, and probably be an immediate star. 6-11 Steven Hill (#73), Charles Thomas (#74), 6-9 Darian Townes (#86), and 6-6 Marcus Monk (#120) should give Arkansas a substantial boost even if Jefferson defects. Arkansas definitely seems to be on the way up.
5. AUBURN (14-14, 5-11) -- The Tigers will have a new coach, still unnamed as of this writing. It is always difficult to know what the immediate effect of a coaching change will be, but the known losses to graduation are 6-10 Kyle Davis, and reserves 6-0 Chris Lollar and 6-8 Rodney Tucker. The main men are back including 6-7 powerhouse Marco Killingsworth, 6-8 Brandon Robinson, 6-3 Nathan Watson, and 6-5 Lewis Monroe, all starters. Add in outside jump-shooting specialist 6-3 Ian Young, 6-5 Ronnie LeMelle, 6-6 Quinnel Brown, 6-9 Dwayne Curtis, and 5-11 Troy Gaines, and there will be a lot of experienced players on the 2004-2005 team. 6-2 Toney Douglas (#141) and 6-3 Frank Tolbert (unranked) are the only newcomers in sight.
6. OLE MISS (13-15, 5-11) -- The Rebels went through a tough season and lost by far their two best players, 6-8 all-conference selection Justin Reed and 6-7 Aaron Harper. Nearly everyone else may return, but no one else was very productive. The best of the lot are 6-2 Todd Abernethy, 6-0 Justin Johnson, and 6-7 wide-body Tommie Eddie. Others returning are 6-7 Kendrick Fox, 6-2 Ed Glass, 6-3 Bam Doyne, 6-7 Chris Rhodes, 6-8 Lonnie Jackson, 5-9 Calvadas Nunnery, and 6-7 Jarvelle Scott. The departure of Reed and Harper, who so completely dominated last year's team, should allow some of this crew to develop. 6-3 Bobby Clark (#160), 6-8 Jeremy Parnell (unranked) and 6-5 Brandon Patterson (unranked) will arrive as incoming freshmen. Ole Miss appears destined to replace Arkansas in the SEC West cellar.
Next: a look at the SEC East.