Assessing the challengers to Kentucky in the SEC in 2018-19

Last season, the SEC proved it's far more than a football league. This season, the conference should continue to progress and move forward. Here are some of the top questions about the league.

Here are five questions for the SEC:

1. What impact will Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy make for Auburn?

Wiley and Purifoy return to the lineup after missing all of last season following their alleged connections to the FBI investigation that led to the arrest and dismissal of former assistant Chuck Person. (Purifoy will be suspended for 30 percent of the 2018-19 campaign, per the terms of his restored eligibility). They'll join a Tigers squad that will boast Bryce Brown, an SEC Player of the Year contender, and multiple players who helped Auburn win a slice of the SEC regular-season title last year.

Mustapha Heron transferred to St. John's, but the inside-outside combination of Wiley, a 6-foot-11 big man who averaged 8.8 PPG and 1.3 BPG in 2016-17, and Purifoy, an athletic forward who averaged 11.5 PPG and made 37 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, should help Auburn maintain its status as an SEC contender.

2. How important is Reid Travis' arrival in Kentucky?

John Calipari's Kentucky teams have always possessed the talent to compete with any program in the country. What he's lacked at times is a reliable, veteran leader. That's why Travis (19.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG last year), an All-Pac 12 first-teamer at Stanford last season, matters.

He's a tenacious, disciplined senior who can help these young players stay focused. He's also a force in the paint, strengthening a frontcourt already featuring NBA prospects like sophomores PJ Washington and Nick Richards and five-star freshman E.J. Montgomery.

3. Why is LSU the most dangerous team in the league?

Will Wade recently told CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein that this year's LSU squad is the "best roster that I've been associated with since I've been in college basketball." Wade brings in the No. 5 recruiting class, backed by five-star forward Nazreon Reid, giving the Tigers enough talent to make a run to the NCAA tournament and challenge any team at the top of the league.

Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays, first and third, respectively, in scoring last season, anchor this talented team that should be recognized as a contender. Wade's roster also has a collection of big athletes to complement a premier backcourt. The Tigers are capable of making a lot of noise in the SEC and beyond.

4. Who could make a Tennessee-like run to the crown?

Last season, Tennessee was picked to finish 13th in the SEC's preseason poll. The Vols finished the year as co-champions of the league, an effort led by Admiral Schofield (13.9 PPG, 40 percent from 3-point line) and SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams (15.2 PPG), who both return.

The SEC has multiple contenders who could exceed expectations this season, too. Vanderbilt's Darius Garland, a top-20 player in the 2018 class, has encouraged the hype around the Commodores, who replaced their top-three scorers with a top-10 recruiting class.

Jalen Hudson and Florida could use a small-ball approach to climb into the top-tier. Tevin Mack, who averaged 14.8 PPG for Texas in 2016-17, makes Alabama an intriguing program. Missouri reached the NCAA tournament last season after losing top-prospect Michael Porter Jr. Could the Tigers surprise the field again?

5. How will Kermit Davis and Tom Crean fare in their first years in the league?

Both Davis and Crean will probably finish at the bottom of the standings. They'll face similar hurdles at Ole Miss and Georgia, respectively, as they attempt to reshape the image of two football-dominant schools that failed to consistently excel under Andy Kennedy and Mark Fox.

The good news for both coaches is that expectations are low, as they should be. Their goals this season should be to promote their brands, coaching styles and programs to help them build for the future.

Five players to watch

1. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

The five-star wing is explosive and efficient. John Calipari could employ a multitude of lineups with his talent pool, but Johnson will be a factor in all of them.

2. Jontay Porter, Missouri

While his brother Michael Porter Jr. was sidelined for most of the season, Jontay, played a significant role in Missouri's unlikely run to the postseason. He withdrew from the NBA draft but could play his way into the first round if he can improve upon last season (9.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 36 percent from 3-point line).

3. Aric Holman, Mississippi State

MSU returned the nucleus of a squad that reached the NIT semifinals last year. Ben Howland's intriguing mix of returnees is led by Holman, a 6-10 NBA prospect who made 44 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and 63 percent of his shots inside the arc.

4. Daniel Gafford, Arkansas

Mike Anderson's team lost five of its top six scorers from last year. But Gafford, a 6-11 potential lottery pick who averaged 11.8 PPG and 2.2 BPG last year, will be fun to watch.

5. Tremont Waters, LSU

Write down the name. The 5-11 guard is must-see TV in 2018-19. He averaged 15.9 PPG and 6.0 APG in 2017-18. Those numbers should rise with the weapons he'll have at his disposal at LSU this season.