BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Kentucky's PJ Washington says coach John Calipari has "chilled out" at practice leading up to the season.

It doesn't take as much yelling from coaches when you have a little seasoning and maturity on the roster, qualities that the Wildcats and other top Southeastern Conference teams are banking on to match — or even better — the league's strong 2017-18 season. Calipari says he hasn't had to raise his voice yet in practice.

"Last year it was pretty much every day but this year he's kind of chilled out a little bit," Washington said Wednesday at SEC media day. "We have experience obviously."

Seriously? No yelling?

"I'm shocked, too," Washington said. "He's usually screaming every five seconds. Now, he's just stopping practice and trying to teach young guys what to do."

It helps when they're not all young guys. Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis , a two-time All-Pac-12 performer, brought a wealth of experience to the lineup.

There are plenty of highly touted freshmen in Lexington and around the league, of course. But a number of standouts returned, too, including reigning SEC player of the year Grant Williams at Tennessee, Arkansas' Daniel Gafford, Auburn's Jared Harper, Florida's Jalen Hudson and LSU's Tremont Waters.

The SEC proved its back as a basketball power last season, sending a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Optimism abounds again going into this season, with coaches not being shy about trumpeting the league's strength.

"The league top to bottom has probably never been stronger," Calipari said. "Top-heavy, too. Crazy."

Added Mississippi State's Ben Howland: "I can't say enough about our league. This league is going to be so good this year. As good as it was last year, this year's group is going to be even better."

LSU coach Will Wade said last year there were a number of good teams, and now there are some that can be "elite."

Plenty of players explored entering the NBA draft after last season but opted to return.

Tennessee and Auburn shared the SEC regular season title and return most of their top players. The Volunteers return all five starters and are led by Williams and senior Admiral Schofield. That experience prompts Howland to proclaim: "There's no doubt they're the team to beat in our conference."

Auburn lost leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John's. Harper and Bryce Brown returned while center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy are back after being ineligible last season.

"Austin is as big, as strong, as fast and as mobile as any big guy in the country," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is no longer undersized.

Wiley is recovering from a foot injury that could sideline him early in the season. Purifoy is still ineligible for the first nine games.

The Tigers snapped a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.

Then there's Kentucky. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards are among the returnees.

Travis is the Wildcats' only preseason first-team All-SEC pick.

The Wildcats are the preseason league favorites — as usual. But teams like Tennessee and Auburn are potential preseason top 10 teams, too.

For all the returning veterans, there's also a strong wave of incoming talent.

Kentucky brought in the nation's No. 2 recruiting class with four five-star recruits, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

LSU was ranked No. 4, led by five-star forwards Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, and teams like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida also had highly rated classes. The Gators (Andrew Nembhard) and Commodores (Darius Garland) both signed five-star point guards.

"I think we have some really good incoming freshmen and I think we have some terrific veterans that have had a big impact on the league," Calipari said. "The teams that won the league last year have most of their players back.

"We finally have a couple of returning players. It's been awhile."

Restocked Kansas nabs No. 1 spot in AP Top 25 preseason poll, UK No. 2

Kansas coach Bill Self sees big holes when he looks at his roster after losing three starters, including Associated Press All-American Devonte' Graham.

The voters in the AP Top 25 poll see something different: a roster restocked so well that Jayhawks will start the season as the nation's top team.

Kansas checked in at No. 1 in the preseason poll released Monday, earning the top spot to start a season for the third time in program history, all under Self. The Jayhawks topped the ballot for 37 of 65 voters, nearly double that of No. 2 Kentucky.

Voters established a clear top tier: Kansas, Kentucky, No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 4 Duke. Those four teams appeared in some combination at the top of nearly half the ballots (32 of 65).

John Calipari's latest group of touted recruits helped the Wildcats earn 19 first-place votes to open as a top-5 team for the eighth straight season.

Chris Mack embraces challenge at scandal-plagued Louisville

Chris Mack expected big changes when he left a school coming off a NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeding for scandal-plagued program with a rich basketball tradition.

Louisville's first-year coach hit the ground running after leaving Xavier, attracting several transfers to supplement the Cardinals' reserve holdovers. Mack's challenge will be melding them into a cohesive rotation he hopes can be competitive.

Mack, 48, takes over Louisville after going 215-97 in nine seasons at Xavier with eight NCAA Tournament appearances. The Musketeers went 29-6 last season and earned their first No. 1 tournament seeding before losing in the second round to Florida State.

Benny Snell's late TD helps No. 12 Kentucky escape Vanderbilt

Kentucky's hope of winning with style coming out of an off week quickly evolved into doing whatever it could to get past Vanderbilt.

The No. 12 Wildcats eventually succeeded behind the reliable combination of running back Benny Snell Jr. and a fierce, opportunistic defense that wouldn't break.

Snell rushed for 169 yards, including the go-ahead 7-yard run with 8:04 remaining that helped Kentucky pull away for a 14-7 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night.

The Wildcats (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) clinched bowl eligibility for a third consecutive season and stayed in contention in the East division with their third straight victory over the Commodores (3-5, 0-4). But it took nose guard Quinton Bohanna to force Jamauri Wakefield's fourth-down fumble that he recovered at the 20 midway through the fourth quarter to jump-start Kentucky from game-long inconsistency.

Snell took control from there, rushing 10 times for 74 yards on the drive that ended with his ninth TD run. The junior rushed 32 times for his 16th career 100-yard game on a blustery night that Kentucky had to work hard to outgain Vanderbilt 298-284.

Chase Elliott wins for 2nd time in 3 NASCAR playoff races

Chase Elliott first had to figure out how to win at NASCAR's top level. Now that he's got that handled, the son of 1988 champion Bill Elliott is chasing a title of his own.

Elliott won at Kansas Speedway on Sunday for his second victory in three races, cementing himself as a title threat late in a season in which mighty Hendrick Motorsports has lagged. He needed 98 career starts and maybe a dozen near-misses before he finally closed out his first Cup victory.

The breakthrough victory 11 events ago sparked Elliott's performance in NASCAR's playoffs, the second round bookended by a pair of Elliott victories. Elliott opened the round with a win at Dover and closed it with the Kansas victory.

Broncos backup QB Kelly arrested in trespassing case

Denver Broncos backup quarterback Chad Kelly has been arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass.

According to the Englewood Police Department, Kelly was taken in custody early Tuesday. It's not clear if he has an attorney to comment on the case.

According to court records, a man and woman told police a man came into their home uninvited after 1 a.m. Tuesday and sat down on the couch "mumbling incoherently."

The records say the man chased the intruder out, striking him in the back with a vacuum tube.

Police say they found a man nearby matching the intruder's description and identified him as Kelly, who is 24.

Giants trade former 1st rounder pick cornerback Eli Apple to Saints

Two people with knowledge of the deal tell The Associated Press the New York Giants are trading cornerback Eli Apple to New Orleans.

One of the people says the Giants will receive a fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh-rounder in 2020 for Apple, a first-round pick in 2016 out of Ohio State.

The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the deal has not been announced.

Apple has 23 tackles this season and a forced fumble.

The Giants are 1-6 after a 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.