20 At The Top: SEC Player RankingsPosted by zhayes9 on August 13th, 2010
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.
For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.
As long as the coaching spectrum around the SEC remains stable, there’s little reason to believe that the conference should ever experience a disastrous season similar to what occurred three years ago when a 4-12 Georgia team won four games in four days to take the tournament crown. The main reasons: coaching and recruiting. Since that time, John Calipari replaced Billy Gillispie as the head honcho at Kentucky and has immediately pulled off previously unforeseen recruiting escapades. Mark Gottfried has been let go and young Anthony Grant with his string of success at VCU has a bright future. Jeff Lebo is gone for Tony Barbee, a Calipari disciple. Exit: Dennis Felton. Enter: Mark Fox, who has already lured a top-15 player for 2011 to Athens. Veterans Bruce Pearl and Billy Donovan can recruit and coach toe-to-toe with the best in the business. Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches around and just two summers ago talked John Jenkins into a commitment. Trent Johnson, Billy Kennedy, Rick Stansbury, Darrin Horn and John Pelphrey (right now his inclusion might be a stretch) are not exactly slouches either. This collection of intelligent, charismatic and successful coaches should keep SEC basketball respected somewhere in the vicinity of its football brethren for the near future.
1. Chris Warren, Mississippi- Warren has been the focal point of an Ole Miss attack from the moment he stepped on the hardwood in Oxford and averaged 4.5 APG as a freshman. Warren now enters a crucial senior season on a Rebel team devoid of a reliable second option (unless freshman Demarco Cox is the real deal or Reginald Buckner makes the leap) with Terrico White leaving for the NBA and Eniel Polynice transferring. While these defections could lead to a season at the bottom of the SEC, Warren will have ample opportunity to show off his skill set scoring the basketball during a season where he could average 20+ PPG. Warren is a 40% three-point shooter and has sunk a trey in a school record 45 consecutive games, a mark good for third in SEC history. The 5’10 point guard excels in spot-up opportunities and can also explode to the tin in transition. While evaluators shouldn’t be too harsh to judge based on his lackluster supporting cast, Warren shows pro-ready court vision and he does a tremendous job finding passing angles and setting up teammates for open opportunities. Although a bit undersized, Warren is a complete, refined point guard with leadership qualities and is my preseason pick to take home SEC Player of the Year honors.
2. Trey Thompkins, Georgia- I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that Trey Thompkins is one of the most complete players in the nation. Asked to carry an extraordinarily heavy load in Mark Fox’s first year at the helm, the Georgia native responded with an 18/8 average, 48% FG, 76% FT and 38% 3pt. How many players average over eight rebounds per game and shoot 38% from behind the arc? Thompkins also saved his magic for the Bulldogs marquee games, scoring 20 vs. Georgia Tech, 21 vs. Illinois, 17/12 in the tight loss at Kentucky and 21 on 9-13 FG in the win over Tennessee. Thompkins has the ability to stretch the defense with a solid mid-range game that extends to the perimeter. He’s a gifted ballhandler, a 6’9 forward with guard skills, that can also utilize his frame to corral defensive rebounds at a superb rate. Thompkins now enters his junior season with expectations, albeit moderate, surrounding the Georgia program with sidekick Travis Leslie, Georgia Mr. Basketball Marcus Thornton and an under-appreciated secondary cast. The opportunity is there to become a national name.
3. Enes Kanter, Kentucky- Ever since I saw Kanter single-handedly take over the third quarter of a World Select Team game last April, I’ve been anticipating the day he’ll step on the Rupp Arena floor and star for coach Cal and the Wildcats. While he may not be as powerful, efficient or productive as DeMarcus Cousins, Kanter’s emergence shouldn’t result in much of a drop-off at the center position for Big Blue. Kanter is savvy and intelligent on the low block beyond his years. Watching his vast array of post moves and that indescribable feel for the game he possesses actually reminded me of the clips I’ve seen of a young Bill Walton at UCLA (slow down, I’m not saying he’s the next Bill Walton). Sprinkle in a growing mid-range jumper that Cousins didn’t have and you could have an even more complete player from the outset. One area where Kanter is the polar opposite of Cousins is demeanor, displaying a calm, steady head during his time on the floor. His eligibility remains slightly in limbo, but once Calipari gets this uber-talented Swiss/Turkish big man on the floor, college basketball fans will be amazed by his pure skill level.
4. Brandon Knight, Kentucky- Knight is the next in line of famous Calipari one-and-done point guards, from Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall and now Knight. While they were all thrust into the same position, their repertoires are actually quite varied. One could see Rose’s gift of court vision and passing ability beyond his years. Evans was lanky and needed the ball to be effective. Wall relied on penetration. What Knight has that these other top picks didn’t as college freshmen is the ability to explode for 35 points on any given night. Knight is a truly gifted scorer, whether it’s spotting up from deep, pulling up in the mid-range or relying on his quickness to explode to the rim. Much like Evans, there are questions surrounding whether Knight can run an effective point for Calipari as a freshman. Knight is more of scoring combo guard that needs a high volume of shots rather than a comfortable creator for teammates. Whether or not Knight is able to mature and grow in this area — and it would be stupid not to believe he’ll only improve from November to March — Calipari has another gem on his hands.
5. Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt- While the Swedish import didn’t improve much from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, most feel Taylor has the untapped potential to really take off this season and mold into a potential first round selection in the 2011 Draft. What jumps out most about Taylor are his length, perimeter defense and ability to get to the charity stripe (78th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes in the nation). He can lock up two or three positions on the floor and is a solid rebounder for a 6’7 wing. Taylor’s shooting must improve mightily as defenders really don’t have to pay attention to him beyond the three-point line. 1-11 from downtown on the season is quite poor for a small forward and Taylor can disappear for chunks of time in games. With Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy gone, the onus is on Taylor to become more of a consistent weapon and send Vanderbilt back to the NCAA Tournament to avenge last season’s disappointing finish.
6. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee- Hopson is a rare talent, someone that just needs to play at 100% for more than half of his teams’ possessions, the Matt Kemp of the SEC, if you will. Bruce Pearl is certainly hoping that it’s Hopson’s junior campaign where the light bulb clicks on and he molds into the can’t-miss talent only expected to spend one year in college coming out of high school. Hopson is an elite athlete with a versatile offensive game and great length. Hopson clearly has the athletic gifts to be more aggressive offensively, but he can become way too in love with hanging out around the perimeter and chucking up jumpers. The mid-range shot needs some fine tuning, but Hopson did post a respectable 45% FG as a sophomore. Still, there’s that feeling he can do more. Pearl hopes inconsistency and spotty effort is a thing of the past when November rolls around. He needs Hopson to step up since Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince are no longer singing Rocky Top. It’s entirely possible Hopson is just a late bloomer and the best is yet to come.
7. Marshawn Powell, Arkansas- It was a tumultuous season in Fayetteville for John Pelphrey and his Razorbacks, but one clear bright spot that emerged from the darkness was the play of freshman Marshawn Powell. Powell developed quickly into a reliable low-post option in the rugged SEC, finishing his debut season with an impressive 14.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 50% FG. Sure, he won’t have Courtney Fortson’s bricks to collect anymore, but Powell’s numbers aren’t likely to suffer. The 6’7 forward notched four 20+ point performances in the SEC, including a breakout 25/8 on 10-16 FG against Jarvis Varnado and the Mississippi State frontline. Powell is extremely active on the glass and is also quite the scoring presence down low. Develop a consistent mid-range jumper and the SEC all-freshman first teamer could provide a ray of hope for Arkansas in 2010 before an impressive 2011 recruiting haul contributes.
8. Travis Leslie, Georgia- The human highlight reel of college basketball last season is back to team with Trey Thompkins and send Georgia to the NCAA Tournament. Sure, being labeled the most electrifying dunker in his sport is neat, but Leslie would much prefer gaining credit for more substantial accomplishments. There’s also more to Leslie’s game. Although the pure athleticism and excellence in transition certainly stands out, Leslie’s mid-range shot has improved since arriving at Athens. He’s a constantly aggressive player both going to the rim to draw contact or on the boards to snag an offensive rebound and jam it back with authority, as Leslie ranked third in the SEC in offensive rebound percentage as a 6’4 2-guard. His 34 points on 12-23 FG in the season finale should provide Leslie with boatloads of confidence heading into 2010-11.
9. JaMychal Green, Alabama- Much like Hopson, most sense that there’s still a great deal of untapped potential with Green. Now entering his junior season, Green shows glimpses of being a special talent with a soft touch around the basket and tremendous shot-blocking ability on the defensive end. Couple those skills with his athletic frame and Green is a legitimate NBA prospect, even as an undersized 4. He can be prone to turnovers and poor decision making on the floor, but those can improve with two more years of college experience. Green may still be a bit on the raw end of the spectrum rather than polished, but there’s certainly evidence to believe he can be a force in the SEC as the main man in Alabama’s attack this season. Even if Green isn’t scoring, he can help the Tide in numerous other ways, from snatching offensive boards to discouraging penetrating guards from entering his paint on the defensive end to drawing fouls and living at the line where he shoots a decent 70%.
10. Erving Walker, Florida- Steps forward and backward were made by Walker a season ago. On the bright side, he became much more of an adept and polished point guard, displaying improved court vision and passing ability. Walker ranked near the top of the SEC in assist rate as a sophomore and dropped nearly five dimes per game for Billy Donovan. Where Walker slipped is his shooting efficiency. After notching a 42% three-point mark two season ago, Walker dropped to 35% from deep and a paltry 34% overall from the field, flashing some curious shot selection in the process. Rather than utilize his quickness, Walker often settled for deep NBA threes and the Florida offense went in spurts. His 6-32 FG stretch in three crucial games for Florida nearly cost them an NCAA berth. Still, it’s within reason Walker improves back to his freshman total and keeps up that stellar assist rate with more talent around him in Gainesville. That equates to a pretty darn good point man for Donovan’s Gators.
11. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt- Jenkins has a chance to do great things. It’s really that simple. A shooter this pure and this accurate coming around is a very rare luxury. Hyped as a pinpoint long-range shooter out of high school, Jenkins lived up to the billing as a freshman and more. How’s 48% from deep sound to you? His performances late in the season against Florida and Georgia were sights to behold. Jenkins is a big-time shooter who can light it up for eight or nine treys when given enough opportunities, and he should see the ball in his hands with increased frequency with Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy departed. The only reason Jenkins isn’t higher on the list is that his game lacks in two main areas: defense and ballhanding. He’s not yet proficient at creating shots for himself on a consistent basis. While I’m sure Vandy point guard Brad Tinsley is feeding Jenkins a healthy amount of passes this summer, Jenkins will only become a truly special talent if he can do more on his own.
12. Terrence Jones, Kentucky- We don’t need to go into the Jones recruiting details that have been covered abundantly. I’ll just keep it simple: this was a decision that altered the expectations of both Kentucky and Washington substantially. Jones gives John Calipari a legitimate starting power forward to boost what appeared to be a woefully thin front line depth-wise. His change-of-heart tempers expectations for what could have been a top-10 caliber Washington squad. Jones was the best prospect in his class out west. He’s a versatile four who likes to play on the perimeter, showing tremendous court vision for his size and a jumper that extends fairly deep but can be refined. He displays flashes of being a solid low-post option but can slide away from the painted area and hang around the arc (this is where the Lamar Odom comparison makes sense). Any successful John Calipari team always defends. He won’t have any problem motivating Jones on that end, either. Jones could be another one-and-done.
13. Ravern Johnson, Mississippi State- Jarvis Varnado and even Dee Bost garnered more attention, but Ravern Johnson really had a solid, underrated year for the Bulldogs last season. Johnson pulled out of the NBA Draft and will look to form a new 1-2 punch with Renardo Sidney once he becomes eligible. Johnson is primarily a three-point shooting specialist, although he does show glimpses in other capacities. He’s chucked up almost 900 threes in the last two seasons and finished with percentages around the 40% range, so despite questionable mechanics, Johnson is a fairly efficient shooter. He’s a bit of a tweener defensively; too skinny to guard effective big men in the SEC and struggling with quicker guards. Johnson is a mediocre rebounder and almost never shoots free throws. The only way I see Mississippi State making some real noise in this conference is if Johnson adds more dimensions to his game than three-point shooting, a skill that will always be there if needed.
14. Kenny Boynton, Florida- I wouldn’t label Kenny Boynton’s debut season disappointing. After all, he did average 14 PPG to lead an NCAA Tournament team, contributed almost three assists and rebounds per game, dropped in nine 20+ point performances and peaked in March with two outstanding games to round out his freshman campaign. A highly ranked recruit out of Pompano Beach, Year Two will be where Boynton is counted on to show improvement. Boynton is an undersized 2-guard with Erving Walker around (he wouldn’t run the point regardless), which is perfectly acceptable if you can shoot. This means the 29% 3-point mark that Boynton posted in 245 attempts is simply unacceptable. Known as a big-time scorer in high school, Boynton is sure to boost that number if shot selection improves and he flashes enough penetration ability that force defenses to lend him shooting room.
15. Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State- Finally. After a brief suspension in November, Sidney will finally lace up the sneakers and play college ball for Rick Stansbury after he failed to gain eligibility last season. By all accounts, Sidney is motivated to make up for a lost season. More importantly, he’s trimmed down, quicker, faster and conditioned to wreak havoc in the SEC. Sidney has truly a complete game, a trait that doesn’t jump out at you given his size. He’s comfortable facing the basket and can hit a mid-range jumper with consistency. Sidney is also a surprisingly good passer and can create his own offense. Develop a low-post game utilizing that sturdy frame and Sidney will live up to the hype immediately.
16. Tobias Harris, Tennessee- Once Harris fully recovers from a broken foot, the prize of a stellar Tennessee recruiting class should start from the outset. He has the capability of scoring both inside and outside which should serve as a valuable compliment to the skill set of post mate Brian Williams. Harris won’t blow any spectator away with flash or electrifying play; instead, he displays a very intelligent, well-rounded post game and competes on every possession, a trait his coach will surely appreciate. Harris is an excellent fit for Tennessee and the job he’s done remaking his body the last year or so shows the motivation and dedication needed to excel in Bruce Pearl’s system.
17. Chandler Parsons, Florida- Parsons is more of a natural three but possesses the versatility to play the 2-guard position because of his perimeter skills, even at 6’9 (and still growing, apparently). Judging from his heroics against NC State and South Carolina last season, is there anyone else in the nation you’d pick to take the last shot of a game? Parsons’ versatility is matched by what was his best shooting season in Gainesville, nailing 49% of his shots and 36% of his threes. Parsons also grabs nearly seven rebounds per game. One area he clearly needs to improve is on the defensive end of the floor, where his shoddy play often mitigated any offensive contributions last season.
18. Storm Warren, LSU- Last year’s 2-14 SEC campaign was an unmitigated disaster for Trent Johnson and LSU fans, but Warren is a capable player to begin the rebuilding project around. The 6’7 junior saw his minutes escalate last season and he took advantage of the opportunity, quietly molding into one of the most efficient players in the conference. Warren is a truly gifted rebounder on the offensive glass, ranking behind only DeMarcus Cousins in that department a season ago. Surround Warren with Johnson’s talented incoming class and LSU should surprise some folks.
19. Brian Williams, Tennessee- Williams’ numbers from last season don’t necessarily jump off the page, but anyone who watched him improve dramatically after returning from his midseason suspension realizes this 6’10 Bronx native has the chance to shine as soon as this year. Give Williams three points and one more rebound and he has double-doubles in the Vols final three NCAA Tournament games, forced into playing a bigger role with Tyler Smith’s dismissal. His minutes jumped to 30+ per game at the St. Louis regional and he responded with 20 points and 21 rebounds combined in two games. His averages of 6/6 drifting into 10/10 territory certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
20. Frankie Sullivan, Auburn- The Tigers rarely get attention on a national platform- and that won’t change much with most of their scoring and rebounding from a mediocre season ago gone- but Sullivan, not to be confused with the thousands of Irish mobsters by the same name, deserves more recognition for his efficient play as a sophomore. His shooting percentages across the board were dependable at 43/85/37 and Sullivan gave Tigers fans a glimpse of this season when he finished 2010 with a 27 point, 11-18 FG performance at Florida. Sullivan also shows quick hands and energy defensively. With DeWayne Reed and Lucas Hargrove departing, Sullivan is the centerpiece in an Auburn offensive attack under first year coach Tony Barbee.
Also considered: Darius Miller (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Brad Tinsley (Vanderbilt), Jordan McRae (Tennessee), Demarco Cox (Mississippi), Alex Tyus (Florida), Patric Young (Florida), Trevor Releford (Alabama), Rotnei Clarke (Arkansas), Sam Muldrow (South Carolina), Damontre Harris (South Carolina), Luke Cothron (Auburn), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Ralston Turner (LSU).