SEC Team Capsules: Bottom Tier (#14-#10)Posted by Brian Joyce on November 4th, 2016
With Halloween still fresh on our minds, there is nothing scarier than the bottom tier of the SEC. There are tigers, tigers, even more tigers, and there is nothing more frightening than a grumpy Frank Martin or a Johnny Jones-led offense without the services of Ben Simmons. If none of that sends chills up your spine, just think about Missouri basketball. If you were lucky enough to get through Halloween night with some leftover candy, the days that follow usually involve filtering through your stash to devour the best of the rest. Sometimes you are lucky enough to find a full size candy bar or those Halloween Kit-Kats (which are the best, by the way) hiding near the bottom. But more often than not, you end up with a skeleton pencil or those disgusting brown globs of goo wrapped in black and orange wrappers. This post is less of the delicious Kit-Kats that disappeared within seconds of returning back home, and more of the box of raisins that sat in the old lady down the street’s pantry for a decade. Let’s unveil our series of team previews beginning with the bottom tier of the SEC (#14-#10).
AT A GLANCE
#14 Missouri Tigers
- 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 10-21 (3-15)
- Key Returnee – Kevin Puryear, 11.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG
- Key Newcomer – Willie Jackson, 6’6” freshman forward
- Team Analysis: Wes Clark was dismissed; Namon Wright, Tramaine Isabell and Jakeenan Gant transferred; and Ryan Rosburg graduated, pretty much leaving the cupboard bare for Kim Anderson’s third year. Missouri’s defense was bad and its offense was even worse. There is nothing to suggest that this year will be any better in Columbia.
- Burning Question: Can Missouri protect its home floor in non-conference games? Last season, the Tigers won seven of their eight non-conference games at Mizzou Arena (losing only to NC State). The home slate wasn’t exactly a murderer’s row of college basketball powerhouses (with Wofford, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, Nebraska-Omaha, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Savannah State making the trip), but neither is the 2016-17 schedule. Missouri welcomes Alabama A&M, Northwestern State, North Carolina Central, Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Arizona (well, they can’t all be cupcakes), Eastern Illinois, and Lipscomb to Columbia, meaning that if Anderson’s squad has any hopes of getting to double-figure wins this season it has to enter January without any embarrassing losses. Something about this team suggests that won’t happen.
#13 Auburn Tigers
- 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 11-20 (5-13)
- Key Returnee – Bryce Brown, 10.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG
- Key Newcomer – Mustapha Heron, 6’5” freshman forward
- Team Analysis: There is talent here for Bruce Pearl’s third year at Auburn, but there is still a sense that the Tigers are a year (or two) from finally breaking out. A couple of freshmen in Heron and Danjel Purifoy figure to lead the way, a promising notion in terms of building for the future. Winning now, however, seems less optimistic for Pearl’s club.
- Burning Question: Who replaces Tyler Harris and Cinmeon Bowers on the boards? Auburn had plenty of problems last season. It had trouble shooting the ball, committed way too many turnovers and they were one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. The team wasn’t particularly strong at rebounding either, but Harris and Bowers kept Auburn respectable in that area. There is a sense that Brown, Heron and Purifoy will at least be able to put some points on the board, but who will provide adequate low post defense and rebounding? That burden can’t all fall on Horace Spencer. Outside of Spencer, the short answer to that question appears to be nobody, and that spells a lot of trouble for Auburn this season.
#12 Tennessee Volunteers
- 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 15-19 (6-12)
- Key Returnee – Robert Hubbs III, 10.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG
- Key Newcomer – Lamonte Turner, 6’1” freshman guard
- Team Analysis: The redshirt freshman Turner might just be the point guard of the future for Rick Barnes, but is he the point guard for right now? He practiced with the team last year, so he should be prepared to take the reins from the start. Turner is joined by Hubbs, Admiral Schofield and Detrick Mostella, but practically everyone else is new. It will take time for this young team to gel under Barnes’ leadership.
- Burning Question: Can Barnes find any outside shooting? Last year’s Vols shot 32.7 percent from long range, a figure that placed them near the bottom of the conference. That number could be even worse this year with the losses of Kevin Punter and Devon Baulkman. It is hard to imagine much improvement from Tennessee this year if it can’t find a way to stretch and challenge opposing defenses from the perimeter.
#11 LSU Tigers
- 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 19-14 (11-7)
- Key Returnee – Antonio Blakeney, 12.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG
- Key Newcomer – Skylar Mays, 6’3” freshman guard
- Team Analysis: Most of the team returns this season, and therein lies the problem. LSU had at least three future NBA players on the roster last year and still underachieved mightily. The Tigers lost two of those stars to greener pastures and did not do well in terms of newcomers, meaning that there is a serious talent gap between last year’s team and this year’s version. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Jones led LSU to a 19-14 (11-7 in SEC play) year last season, so expect a significant dropoff.
- Burning Question: Does the dysfunction that led to last year’s disaster in Baton Rouge still exist? Ben Simmons wasn’t perfect. He often didn’t play the best defense and he didn’t demand the ball on the other end, but it’s too easy to think he was the problem. The problem seems to be more of a culture issue, and that culture is likely still present at LSU. This team may prove doubters wrong, but until then remain skeptical.
#10 South Carolina Gamecocks
- 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 25-9 (11-7)
- Key Returnee – Sindarius Thornwell, 13.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.8 APG
- Key Newcomer – Sedee Keita, 6’9” freshman forward
- Team Analysis: Thornwell improved his shooting percentages tremendously last season, but he still has a long way to go before shedding the volume shooter tag. He needs to continue to improve his three-point and mid-range shooting accuracy to lift the Gamecocks into the middle of the SEC pack. Thornwell will share the perimeter with PJ Dozier and Duane Notice for one of the best backcourts in the SEC, but that’s not the biggest question mark in this lineup.
- Burning Question: Who can produce in South Carolina’s frontcourt after the departures of Michael Carrera, Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius? Frank Martin will rely heavily on Chris Silva, who posted 14.3 percent offensive rebounding and 22.3 percent defensive rebounding rates in limited action. Silva started six games last year and has the athleticism to keep up with Thornwell, Dozier and Notice if the Gamecocks want to play uptempo. Junior college transfer Ran Tut should be able to step in and play immediately, and Keita is a four-star power forward who should also see plenty of playing time on the low blocks.