Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely ReturneesPosted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014
No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.
- Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
- Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
- Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim.
- Aaron Harrison, Kentucky. Like his brother, Aaron’s play trimmed down some as the NCAA Tournament advanced. But his late game threes were some of the highlights of March Madness, and when the Wildcats need a clutch shot next season, there’s no question who the first option will be. If Harrison can also build on his NCAA three-point shooting performance (15-of-30) he’ll become quite a dangerous offensive force.
- Jarell Martin, LSU. This pick takes something of a leap of faith. Martin didn’t end up in the top 10 in the SEC in any statistic last season, and he experienced a slow start after suffering an ankle injury in LSU’s opener at UMass. Still, his talent is undeniable. The form on his jumper got better as the season went on, and the big, versatile forward has the potential to be a match-up nightmare for opponents.
- Dakari Johnson, Kentucky. The big Kentucky center is another player whose draft declaration would not shock the basketball world this spring. His fundamentals and feel for the game need to improve, but he held his own on the Wildcats’ run to the championship game and moves better than a guy his size probably should. His PER (24.2) was very good in limited minutes, and the 18 percent offensive rebounding rate he brings to the table should continue to improve and frustrate opposing coaches.
- Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss. Summers no longer has Marshall Henderson alongside him, and while that will undoubtedly increase the pressure, it should also allow the senior to get more attention for the quality player that he is. Last year he ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in points per game (17.3 PPG), assists per game (3.8 APG), effective field goal percentage (54.6%), and PER (22.2). There isn’t much more a player can do to earn some attention..
- Alex Poythress, Kentucky. If Poythress returns (have I written that before?) he should be in position for a breakout junior season. Even if he still doesn’t crack the starting lineup with power forward Trey Lyles coming to Lexington, Poythress will undoubtedly see more minutes than he ever has. His jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism turned the game’s momentum more than once in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament run, and he should be able to finally harness it into more consistent play.
- Damian Jones, Vanderbilt. Jones had a solid freshman season by scoring 11.3 points and grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game, and he did this while pressed into more minutes than Kevin Stallings probably would have preferred. The sophomore becomes the Commodores’ number one offensive option with the departures of Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom.
- Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. I wanted to give Kasey Hill the final spot here since it’ll be his show in Gainesville next season, but Thornwell was better across the board as a freshman, even though he did have a much larger role on his team. He was forced to play out of position as a point guard most of the year, but as Frank Martin said about him, that experience should serve him well going forward. Incoming freshman point guard Marcus Stroman could allow Thornwell to play off the ball more and create space for his slashing ability.
Also considered: Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, Michael Frazier, Devonte Fitzgerald, Alex Caruso, Rashad Madden, KT Harrell, Josh Richardson.