SEC Team Capsules: Middle Tier (#9-#5)

Posted by Keith Hatfield on November 7th, 2016

Every league has teams that are more talented than those fighting to stay out of the cellar yet not quite poised to challenge for a spot at the top of the standings. Some of the squads situated in that position are rising programs looking to take another step forward. Some are programs rebooting to attempt to recapture past success. What they all have in common is the goal of getting into the conference’s upper echelon and contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. On Friday, we published capsules on the SEC’s bottom tier of teams (#14-#10). Today we tackle the middle tier.

AT A GLANCE

#9 Alabama Crimson Tide

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 18-15 (8-10)
  • Key Returnee: Shannon Hale 10.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Braxton Key 6’8″ forward
  • Team Analysis: Avery Johnson’s initial season has to be viewed as a success. Energy was restored to the program and the team was surprisingly in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid down the home stretch. The loss of Retin Obasohan makes a repeat of last season’s performance, however, a tall task. The return of Shannon Hale and the presence of a healthy Dazon Ingram gives the Tide a nucleus upon which to build. Johnson will have to coax significant production from freshman Braxton Key and Memphis transfer Nick King to match or surpass last season’s record.
  • Burning Question: Can Avery Johnson maintain the early momentum he has created in Tuscaloosa? Avery Johnson has rekindled interest in basketball at Alabama — no small feat at a football-mad school. His first team performed better than expected and he has significantly elevated the program’s profile on the recruiting trail. The trick now is to maintain the interest that has been manufactured and continue to improve the roster’s talent level. Early indications from the classes of ’17 and ’18 indicate the recruiting piece will be covered. Making Coleman Coliseum a winter destination for the Tide faithful will be much easier if Johnson continues to haul in quality talent.

#8 Ole Miss Rebels

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 20-12 (10-8)
  • Key Returnee: Sebastian Saiz 11.7 PPG., 8.7 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Deandre Burnett 6’2″ guard
  • Team Analysis: Andy Kennedy‘s program has been a model of consistency for several years. The Rebels are perennial 20-plus game winners and find themselves entrenched in the top half of the conference. With the departure of all-SEC star Stefan Moody, though, meeting those standards might be difficult this season. Sebastian Saiz provides some inside punch and transfer Cullen Neal will bring some experience in the backcourt, but the development of Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey will be a key to this team’s success.
  • Burning Question: Can Andy Kennedy strike jump-shooting gold again? It seems as if Ole Miss is always able to find a gunslinger through the transfer market. Over the last four seasons, Rebel transfers such as Marshall Henderson and Stefan Moody lit up scoreboards across the SEC. Kennedy now turns to Deandre Burnett in the hopes of capturing similar magic. While 20 points per night might be a bit ambitious, 15 PPG from Burnett would go a long way toward pushing the Rebels’ win total near its customary number of 20 or more.

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SEC Hoops Would Do Well to Follow Big 12 Roadmap

Posted by Keith Hatfield on November 3rd, 2016

SEC basketball has long suffered from the perception that the league consists of Kentucky and a group of schools waiting for spring football to begin. While the league has begun to attack its image problem, there is still work to be done. If the SEC needs a blueprint for how to flip the script on the current narrative, it can look at the Big 12’s recent resurgence. While Kansas has been the unquestioned lodestar in that conference, the other schools have taken action and helped create a college hoops monster. Since many of the schools in the Big 12 are also football powers, their experiences have particular relevance to the pigskin-mad members of the SEC. Here are four steps the SEC can take to replicate the basketball success of their Big 12 counterparts.

SEC

SEC Basketball Should Look to the Big 12 for a Roadmap to Success

  1. Sell the Chase. Too often it seems as if the other 13 SEC schools are resigned to Kentucky’s dominance. That is not the case in the Big 12, a league that has done a great job in capturing fan interest by making sure everyone knows the worthy challengers to the Jayhawks (winners of 12 straight conference titles) each season. Sports fans love to see dynasties pushed to the limit. The SEC has to become more proactive in marketing that possibility to its core audience.
  2. Stay the Course. One of the main reasons the Big 12 has been able to improve its basketball brand is with its aggressive hiring of quality coaches. When half or more of your league coaches have been to a Final Four, you are on to something. The SEC has followed suit in the past couple of hiring cycles. Names like Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes, and Avery Johnson resonate with fans. The conference will benefit if every school with an opening makes a similar commitment to hiring a coach with some professional cachet. Doing that allows for the type of top-to-bottom strength that has served the Big 12 so well. Read the rest of this entry »
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64 Thoughts on the the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part II

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2016

Yesterday we brought you the first half of our 64 thoughts on the SEC’s upcoming season. Today we finish out our rambling thoughts on the conference.

  1. Kasey Hill shot under 54 percent from the foul line last season. Mike White can’t afford to have a point guard on the floor who can’t make free throws in crucial end-of-game situations.
  2. Florida’s alternative at the point, Chris Chiozza, converts 79 percent of his free throws.
  3. Based on scrimmage results, Devin Robinson seems poised for a breakout year. Robinson connected on all four of his three-point attempts and finished the game with 23 points.
  4. I believe Robinson is going to have such a big year that I put him on my All-SEC first team, which includes: G- De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky; G- Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky; F- Devin Robinson, Florida; F- Yante Maten, Georgia; C- Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
  5. Kingsley in 2014-15: 3.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG; Kingsley in 2015-16: 15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG.
  6. Maten in 2014-15: 5.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG; Maten in 2015-16: 16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG.
  7. My All-SEC second team: G- J.J. Frazier, Georgia; G- Malik Monk, Kentucky; G- Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State; F- Bam Adebayo, Kentucky; C- Tyler Davis, Texas A&M.
  8. Honorable mention (otherwise known as guys who would have made the first or second team if I didn’t limit the selection to five players): G- KeVaughn Allen, Florida; G- Antonio Blakeney, LSU; G- Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt; G- Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas; F- Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt; G- Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; G- Duane Notice, South Carolina; G- Mustapha Heron, Auburn; C- John Egbunu, Florida; F- Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss; F- Craig Victor, LSU; F- DJ Hogg, Texas A&M.

The SEC has no shortage of quality freshmen, and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron might be the best not in a Kentucky uniform. (Getty)

  1. By the way, all-conference teams should include no more than five players to remain consistent with the All-America teams and because it’s just common sense.
  2. The SEC is in no shortage of quality freshmen, and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron might be the best not in a Kentucky uniform.
  3. The addition of Heron has a lot of people in Auburn, Alabama, excited about basketball for Bruce Pearl’s third season. Pearl finished his third season at Tennessee in 2008 with a 31-5 campaign and the schools’ first trip to the top of the AP poll. Could year three with Auburn finally represent the breakout year the Tigers have been waiting on?
  4. No matter what happens, Auburn has something all of us wish we had – a giant bronze statue of Charles Barkley.
  5. Even with Heron suiting up for the Tigers, there isn’t a reasonable scenario where Auburn finishes any higher than 12th.
  6. My predicted order of finish: 1- Kentucky; 2- Florida; 3- Georgia; 4-Texas A&M; 5- Vanderbilt; 6- Arkansas; 7- Alabama; 8- Ole Miss; 9- Mississippi State; 10- South Carolina; 11- LSU; 12- Tennessee; 13- Auburn; 14- Missouri
  7. The top five (Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt) will receive bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  8. Only Kentucky will make it out of the first weekend.
  9. Missouri seems hopeless. I would be surprised if Kim Anderson is still coaching the Tigers next season.
  10. Anderson has put together a total of 19 wins in two seasons in Missouri.
  11. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Mike Anderson gone too if Arkansas fails to make the NCAA Tournament again.
Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee (foxnews.com).

Will Mike Anderson survive another year in Fayetteville?

  1. If Arkansas is left out of the field on Selection Sunday, it will be the age-old “not enough quality wins on its resume” argument that provides the reason.
  2. The Razorbacks play only one preseason top 50 KenPom team (Texas) on its non-conference schedule.
  3. Arkansas is always strong at home at Bud Walton Arena, but Florida is likely the best opponent making a trip to Fayetteville this year.
  4. If you’re keeping count — that’s potentially three SEC coaches who won’t be around after the 2016-17 season.
  5. One SEC coach is on his way in, however, as new Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew is bringing high hopes along after a 30-win season at Valparaiso. Vandy might be happy with just 25 wins (a feat it last accomplished in 2012).
  6. According to KenPom, Drew’s last Crusaders team fielded a top-10 defense, which has to excite Commodores’ fans with the level of shooting that returns in Nashville. Both Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson shot over 45 percent from behind the arc last year.
  7. Just imagine if Riley LaChance shoots like it’s 2014 again.
  8. Vanderbilt has the opportunity to tip off the season with quality wins in neutral site games against Marquette and Butler before December.
  9. Last year’s Tennessee team was the first time ever that a Rick Barnes team finished with a sub-100 KenPom defense.
  10. Barnes’ last Texas team in 2014-15 finished first in two-point defense percentage and first in block percentage.
  11. Avery Johnson’s second Alabama team will be slightly better than his first, even with the loss of Retin Obasohan. Expect to see the Crimson Tide compete in some games we wouldn’t necessarily expect.
  12. Ben Howland’s second Mississippi State team will be slightly better than his first, but don’t expect a big jump until year three.
  13. The SEC lacks the overall star power (outside of Kentucky) that it had last year, but 2016-17 is still shaping up to be a fun year for both college basketball and SEC fans.
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64 Thoughts on the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part I

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 26th, 2016

The beginning of another college basketball season is already in progress, and with it an opportunity to start talking about SEC hoops again. The SEC last season managed just three bids to the NCAA Tournament, but with a new year brings optimism that more teams can break into the First Round field of 64. To tip off the SEC microsite, here are 64 musings, opinions, thoughts, predictions, questions, and observations about the 2016-17 season [Ed. Note: Technically, 32 since this is part one of two with the second part coming tomorrow]:

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17 (AP).

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17. (AP)

  1. Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the SEC this year, but the big question mark about the Wildcats in the preseason revolves around their three-point accuracy. It says here that this will be the best perimeter shooting squad John Calipari has put on the court in Lexington since his 2011 Final Four team.
  2. Wildcat sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe shot just 13.5 percent from beyond the arc last year, allowing opposing defenses to sag to the middle on him. But the limited sample of shooting we have seen so far suggests that he will no longer be an offensive liability shooting the ball this season.
  3. Briscoe was also 9-of-12 from the free throw line in Friday night’s Blue-White game, indicating that his 46 percent accuracy from the stripe last season could also be a thing of the past. Read the rest of this entry »
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Seems Familiar: SEC’s Country Music Doppelgangers

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Nashville is a great place for a conference tournament. Even if the basketball happens to be underwhelming, there’s plenty of other forms of entertainment just steps away from Bridgestone Arena. It is the Music City, after all. In the spirit of basketball and honky-tonk, here are some of the SEC’s teams and the country music stars they most resemble.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 at 8.05.59 PM

Blake Shelton And Kentucky Are Both Living Large Again

Kentucky as… Blake Shelton. Before Wisconsin extinguished that dream, life was perfect for the unbeaten Wildcats last year as they tried to notch an unprecedented 40-0 record. Similarly, it wasn’t very long ago that Shelton and Miranda Lambert were living large as country’s pre-eminent power couple. But life happens, and the two stars have since gone their separate ways. Kentucky and Shelton, however, have both found a neon light at the end of the tunnel. Against the odds, Shelton has put together a run of hit singles, is dating Gwen Stefani and even has a Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit opening. The Wildcats, to their credit, claimed a share of this season’s SEC regular season title with a guard-oriented team. Life goes on.

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SEC Saturday Storylines: Is Alabama Really On The Bubble?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2016

This Saturday will contain more conference title drama in the span of just a few hours than the SEC has had over the past two seasons. The top four teams play each other on a day that could go a long way toward determining which squad arrives in Nashville as the SEC regular season champion. Here are three stories to keep track of with a lot at stake this weekend.

P.J. Dozier and South Carolina downed LSU to set up a crucial match up with Kentucky (thestate.com).

P.J. Dozier and South Carolina downed LSU to set up a crucial matchup with Kentucky (thestate.com).

  1. Which team will have a leg up in the title race on Sunday morning? With the top of the SEC standings muddled as we enter mid-February, the schedule-makers have smiled on us this weekend. KentuckySouth Carolina and LSU all sit at 8-3 with Texas A&M and Florida right behind that trio at 7-4. The Wildcats and Gamecocks will meet in Columbia while the Tigers and Aggies face off in Baton Rouge. The most pressure of the weekend might be on Billy Kennedy’s club, since a fifth straight SEC loss — a situation nobody would have thought possible just a few weeks ago — could put an end to the Aggies’ championship hopes. South Carolina might have the most to gain, however. A win for the Gamecocks could put Frank Martin’s team in a commanding position since its remaining schedule is the most manageable. South Carolina’s remaining road games? At Missouri, Mississippi State and Arkansas. That’s hardly a murderer’s row, even with the trip to Bud Walton thrown in there. There’s a lot of basketball still to come this season, but we may look back on this Saturday as the most pivotal day in the SEC race. Read the rest of this entry »
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Alabama Poised to Seize an Opportunity in SEC Play

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 23rd, 2015

If you’re an Alabama fan, you couldn’t have been blamed for feeling underwhelmed when athletic director Bill Battle introduced Avery Johnson and his infectious smile as the next Crimson Tide basketball coach. Battle had swung hard for Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and had come up empty. The former NBA Coach of the Year (Dallas Mavericks) was a good back-up plan in the sense that he brought some name-brand appeal to the program, but would he be a good fit for rhythms and demands of the college game? His last coaching stint did not go well with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, and his last experience in college was as a player. It was easy to speculate that this was an experiment unlikely to pan out for Alabama, especially since Mississippi State (Ben Howland) and Tennessee (Rick Barnes) hired proven college winners.

Justin Coleman had a career night in the Tide's loss to Oregon (rolltide.com).

Justin Coleman had a career night in the Tide’s loss to Oregon (rolltide.com).

But as we near the start of conference play, the early returns on Johnson’s performance have been great. There have been wins on the recruiting trail, such as adding five-star shooting guard Terrance Ferguson to his class of 2016. That part was more or less predictable since few other college coaches can sell as much NBA know-how and connections as Johnson. The Tide’s results on the court, though, have been the bigger surprise. Sitting at 7-3 with games against Jacksonville State and Norfolk State before conference play begins, Alabama looks poised to become a legitimate player in an SEC race that looks as open at the top as it has been in years. That’s not necessarily something many saw coming in the preseason.

Blowout losses to Xavier and Dayton in November exposed two big weaknesses: poor rebounding and ball control. Over those two games, the Tide turned the ball over 38 times and were destroyed (-29) on the glass. They were able to right the ship with a subsequent five-game winning streak that included victories over Wichita State (without point guard Fred VanVleet), Notre Dame and Clemson. But Johnson’s offense generally struggled and starting freshman point guard Dazon Ingram was lost for the season with a fractured left foot. There were still a number of questions about Alabama heading into Monday’s game against Oregon in Birmingham. And although the Tide blew a 12-point halftime lead to lose a close contest to a team that has become a fixture in the NCAA Tournament, their effort against the Ducks nevertheless showed that they are not a fluke.

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SEC Burning Questions: How To Earn Respect

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 4th, 2015

The SEC got an early start in its annual quest to shed its label as an underachieving basketball conference. By swapping out Anthony Grant, Rick Ray and Donnie Tyndall for Avery Johnson, Ben Howland and Rick Barnes, the league upgraded in coaching talent and brand name recognition. Losing Florida’s Billy Donovan to the NBA was counterproductive to that pursuit, but by and large, the SEC was the clear springtime winner when the coaching carousel came to a halt. Now the focus shifts to what happens on the court — resumes don’t much matter if you’re not winning games. Here are several ways how the SEC can sustain the momentum to improve its national standing this upcoming season.

Can Bruce Pearl help raise the SEC's national profile? (athlonsports.com)

Can Bruce Pearl help raise the SEC’s national profile? (athlonsports.com)

  • More and higher seeds: Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: The best way for the SEC to get more national respect is to put more teams in the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s five teams invited on Selection Sunday counts as solid improvement on this front. This year you could make an early, sight-unseen case that six or even seven SEC teams could be in position to make the field by March. That volume would be great, but even if the number of teams ends up as fewer than six, it would be good to see a few higher seeds. Last year, the league’s seeds other than Kentucky came in at #5, #9, #10 and #11. There was no other SEC team that was consistently in the Top 25 last season.

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SEC Burning Questions: First Year Coach With the Biggest Impact

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 2nd, 2015

One of the biggest developments in the SEC this offseason was the star power added to the league’s coaching ranks, as no fewer than three programs added a head coach with an impressive pedigree. Mississippi State hired Ben Howland, a man who led UCLA to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 and has won conference titles in the Big Sky, Big East and Pac 10/12. Tennessee quickly ended its tumultuous relationship with Donnie Tyndall and added a coach with a Final Four to his name as well (plus three Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights) in Rick Barnes. And after swinging and missing on Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Alabama was nonetheless able to win the press conference by hiring Avery Johnson, a former NBA Coach of the Year who led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006. Florida didn’t make a splashy hire, but the Gators replaced its legendary coach with Louisiana Tech’s Michael White  no stranger to the SEC after playing and coaching at Ole Miss.

Ben Howland inherits a better-than-you'd-think situation in Starkville (stationcaster.com).

Ben Howland inherits a better-than-you’d-think situation in Starkville (stationcaster.com).

Of the four, Howland and White are poised to have the biggest impacts this season. For Howland, this is in no small part because of the situation former Bulldogs’ head coach Rick Ray left him. It would have been more than understandable had Mississippi State stuck with Ray for at least another year. His three-year results weren’t great, but there had been incremental improvement: The Bulldogs won six SEC games under him last year (his highest total) and were poised to return a strong and experienced core that he had recruited and developed. But as cruel as it was for Ray to lose on the chance to continue building his program, it’s refreshing that Mississippi State strived for more — the type of ambition the league needs if it wants to raise its national profile. Howland arrived in Starkville and delivered right away, signing Jackson native Malik Newman (Rivals’ #8 overall prospect) away from the likes of Kentucky, Ole Miss and LSU.

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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? (sports.yahoo.com).

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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