SEC Optimism: Best Case Scenarios in the “West”

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 30th, 2013

Optimism. It’s what makes this an exciting time of year. You may have an idea what lies ahead for your team, but you don’t know for sure. Surprises happen. A freshman proves that the recruiting services were wrong, an underachieving group of seniors plays with new urgency, or the third-year coach’s offensive system finally clicks. In honor of this cliched “everyone has the same record” feeling, let’s take a glass half-full look at the 14 teams of the SEC. Here’s why each SEC “West” team will exceed their expectations in 2013-14.

To take a look at the SEC “East” teams’ best-case scenarios, click here.

Alabama

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Many feel that Julius Randle winning SEC Player of the Year is a foregone conclusion. Trevor Releford challenges this idea in becoming one of the top scorers in the country. As the returning SEC assists leader, he adds to this total by also setting up Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, both of whom become more reliable perimeter shooters. Seven-footer’ Carl Engstrom shows no ill effects from his torn knee ligaments, and uses his size to create match-up problems on both ends. Forward Nick Jacobs builds on his improved play at the end of last season, and fills the rebounding void created by Moussa Gueye’s transfer. Anthony Grant rides his star point guard off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Auburn

The Expectation: Bottom tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Yes, a three-win team replacing its leading scorer and best player (Frankie Sullivan) can exceed expectations. Virginia Tech transfer K.T. Harrell will be a big reason why. He was a 42 percent three-point shooter during his freshman year, and he recaptures his magic. Chris Denson provides a slashing counterpart and Tony Barbee finds himself with an offensively versatile backcourt. Freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen grabs the point guard position and makes it all work. Change is inevitable with nine newcomers. Seven-foot freshman Ronald Delph and Brinas Griciunas join incumbent seven-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum to create a giant rotation other teams simply don’t have. Auburn fights its way to a .500 SEC record.

Arkansas

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Mike Anderson has elite talent in the form of freshmen forwards Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. The duo join Coty Clarke to form a shot-blocking unit that can cover for aggressive defense by Razorback guards. This leads to steals and turnovers that fuel Anderson’s up-tempo system. Upperclassmen Mardracus Wade, Rashad Madden, Kikko Haydar and Rickey Scott improve as their collective eligibility ticks away. Even if none takes a giant step forward, they all play well enough to become the effective wave of players Anderson needs to pressure opposing guards. A reliable distributor must be found, and either Madden or Wade, the top two assist percentage returnees, grab that role. Arkansas finally wins a handful of road games, and Anderson returns to the NCAA Tournament with his high-pressure system in full gear.

Louisiana State

The Expectation: Upper tier SEC + solid NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: The good vibes began well before this fall. Johnny Jones picked up an excellent recruiting class and Johnny O’Bryant III did not enter a weak NBA Draft. O’Bryant shows he’s one of the top athletes in the conference and becomes a ferocious rebounder. Shavon Coleman blossoms into a versatile defensive stopper. Freshman Jarell Martin flashes his pro potential from the start. Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are an undersized backcourt, but make up for this with experience and pressure defense. Hickey emerges as the best on-ball defender in the conference. Big freshman point guard Tim Quarterman provides a change of pace. Jones has an athletic team that becomes one of the most disruptive defensive units in the country. The second weekend of the Tournament arrives and the Tigers are still alive and well.

Anthony Hickey should be the leader of an excellent defensive team at LSU.

Anthony Hickey should be the leader of an excellent defensive team at LSU.

Mississippi State

The Expectation: Bottom tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Several freshmen flashed offensive potential despite a rough first season for Rick Ray. Gavin Ware displays better touch around the rim, and becomes an effective and reliable post scorer. Craig Sword sees an increase in usage yet decreases his turnover percentage. He becomes an efficient perimeter counterpart to Ware. These two sophomores provide the Bulldogs with consistent offense. Tyson Cunningham builds on a 40 percent-plus three point percentage year and opens space for both. Roquez Johnson and Colin Borchert fill roles as rebounding-first big men. Freshman I.J. Ready is another SEC freshman receiving big minutes at point guard and excels. Ray manages to get his team to .500 in the league.

Ole Miss 

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: It has to start with Marshall Henderson, right? The senior does what he needs to do and becomes eligible right away. He maintains his aggressive, quick-trigger flair but understands that his young team can’t withstand too many foolish shots. Jarvis Summers helps in this regard, as he becomes the most reliable point guard in the conference. LaDarius White is already an effective slasher, and uses the space created by Henderson to get more chances at the rim. Derrick Millinghaus builds on late season success to be another reliable scoring option. The backcourt goes four deep, and this helps absorb the loss of Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway. The Rebels also get immediate production from freshmen forwards Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby. Andy Kennedy returns to the bubble, and even without the comfort of a conference tournament championship, finds the Rebels on the right side of it.

Texas A&M 

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Fabyon Harris builds on his excellent true shooting percentage for a guard last season (58%) and becomes a lethal perimeter shooting threat Billy Kennedy’s offense can run through. J-Mychal Reese got big minutes running the team as a freshman and uses this experience to provide a steady hand. Alex Caruso emerges as a stat sheet stuffer who can do a little of everything. Kourtney Roberson (who thankfully appears okay after a rapid heart beat scare) was an effective rebounder last season and uses his large frame (6’9”, 244 lbs) to build on this. Kennedy brought in eight newcomers. Florida State transfer Antwan Space contributes immediately as another physical rebounding presence. Kennedy has a solid all-around team, and his team finds itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (107 Posts)


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