SEC Impact Newcomers: Part II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 29th, 2015

Yesterday, we looked at the freshmen or transfers who figure to make a first-year impact for half of the teams in the SEC. Today we do the same with the other half of the league, including two freshmen who could be top-10 picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and a transfer who has some international experience.

LSU – Ben Simmons. Simmons was a major get for Johnny Jones, a coach who will try to prove his critics wrong by showing that he can get the most out of a talented roster. The Australian-born wing will almost certainly be a top-five pick in next year’s NBA Draft and is without question the most talented player Jones has had, which is saying something. Simmons is 6’10”, explosively athletic, and according to DraftExpress, was the best passer at the Nike Academy over the summer. Those kinds of skills are a coach’s dream — Simmons, Tim Quarterman and fellow freshman Antonio Blakeney should make the Tigers a fun team to watch in transition this season.

Ben Simmons is as elite a prospect and talent as there is. Can Johnny Jones cash in on that? (

Ben Simmons is as elite a prospect and talent as there is in college basketball. Can Johnny Jones cash in on that?

Auburn – Kareem Canty. How do you replace scorers like KT Harrell and Antoine Mason? Simple — add yet another high-volume shooting transfer player with a scoring pedigree. Canty, who spent his freshman season averaging 16.2 PPG at Marshall, will assume that role on Bruce Pearl’s second Auburn team. His latest recruiting class generated a lot of buzz, but Canty should be able to take some of the offensive pressure from the freshmen. He’s not the three-point marksman Harrell was, but he’s a proven scorer. In a three-game stretch against Vanderbilt, Penn State and West Virginia two years ago, Canty scored 18, 28 and 16 points, respectively. That kind of offensive production could allow Auburn to rise up the SEC ladder despite the loss of such a prolific three-point shooter and scorer.

Arkansas – Jimmy Whitt. Mike Anderson did not have a very good offseason. Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls declared for the NBA Draft while Rashad Madden and Alandise Harris exhausted their eligibility. This means that four of the Razorbacks’ top five scorers from last season are now gone. To top it off, three players expected to contribute were suspended indefinitely after being charged with forgery (one of whom, Jacorey Williams, was eventually dismissed). This leaves a massive scoring and playmaking void for an Arkansas team that was clearly headed for a rebuilding year even before the arrests. Whitt therefore could immediately become the go-to scorer on the team, playing alongside Jabril Dunham (a pass-first guard) and Anthlon Bell (a high-volume three-point shooter). His build and game resembles that of former Razorback BJ Young, and Whitt may be asked to hoist a similar number of shots per game (11) as Young did during his freshman year.

Ole Miss – Tomasz Gielo. Stefan Moody needs some help after the SEC’s top returning scorer lost backcourt running mates and double-figure scorers Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White. He might receive that help in Gielo, a graduate transfer from Liberty who has also played for the Polish national team. The 6’9’’ forward’s greatest asset is his long-range shooting, as he shot the ball better than 40 percent from three over the past two seasons. That’s the kind of floor spacing that should excite Moody. The concern with Gielo is that Andy Kennedy’s frontcourt looks light on options, which could force Gielo into the paint a bit more than he’d like. He’s also coming off a stress fracture that limited him to just seven games played last season.

Mississippi State – Malik Newman. There are a lot of no-brainer choices on this list, and the selection of Newman is one of them. Rick Ray was making some progress in Starkville but it would be foolish to think that the decision to replace him with Ben Howland didn’t have a lot to do with Newman. Names like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook are fairly powerful tools when dealing with the recruitment of potential lottery picks living in your own back yard. Newman will play point guard for the Bulldogs but he will simultaneously become one of the most versatile and dynamic scorers in the league as well. His slashing ability and consistent release should make him a match-up nightmare for just about any team in America. The Bulldogs probably would have landed around .500 in SEC play because of seniors Gavin Ware, Fred Thomas and Craig Sword; but Newman adds enough top-level talent to the roster that could have Mississippi State contending for an NCAA invitation in Howland’s very first season.

Malik Newman will be the focal point of Ben Howland's first team in Starkville (

Malik Newman will be the focal point of Ben Howland’s first team in Starkville (

Alabama – Dazon Ingram/Brandon Austin. The Tide were a tricky pick on this list. Avery Johnson must replace a lot of perimeter talent and scoring with Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph lost to graduation and Ricky Tarrant transferring out of the program. There is some depth in the frontcourt, but the backcourt is barren of experience outside of Justin Coleman and Retin Obasohan. The potential of freshmen wings Ingram or Austin (or ideally both for Johnson) contributing immediately would be a solid first step as Johnson begins building his program in Tuscaloosa.

Tennessee – Ray Kasongo. Tennessee will likely not be contending for much this year but the Vols still have some pieces that should allow Rick Barnes to field a competitive team. Armani Moore, Kevin Punter, Robert Hubbs and Derek Reese were all important parts of a squad that surprised many by going 16-16 and finishing with a top 75 offense last year. But Josh Richardson is gone, meaning the Vols will need to replace one of the best players in the conference and a guy whose defensive prowess helped land him on the Miami Heat. Kasongo, Barnes’ first recruit, has been lauded for his extreme athleticism, and while he profiles as more of a presence down low than on the wing, any defensive spark will be important for Barnes in a rebuilding year.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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