Projecting the SEC

24 Oct

By Matt Fultz
National Hoops Report

The SEC is heavy at the top, solid in the middle and the bottom has a number of teams that could fit the sleeper mode. So what does that mean exactly? A fun and unpredictable year in the league. Here’s the National Hoops Report crack at how we think the league will finish up.

1. Kentucky

John Calipari once again brought in the nation’s best recruiting class, but this year he has the luxury of having several key returners back. Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller all return after plying critical minutes in the Wildcats run to the Final Four a season ago. Add to that Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer and Kentucky could very well find themselves playing for a national title.

2. Vanderbilt

The Commodores have a legitimate shot to make it to the Final Four this season. They have one of the best inside-out combinations in center Festus Ezeli and shooting guard John Jenkins, and a plethora of talented wings led by Jeffrey Taylor. This Vanderbilt team could be the most athletic that the program has even had and will not have to rely on the three point shot to beat people like they have in the past.

3. Florida

With Rutgers transfer Mike Rosaria eligible and freshman Brad Beal joining Irving Walker and Kenny Boynton in the Gators backcourt, Florida easily had the deepest rotation of guards in the league. Up front Florida has some talented players in Patric Young and Erik Murphy, but they are young and there is not a lot of depth, so they will have to stay out of foul trouble if the Gators want to contend. If Walker, Boynton, Rosario, and Beal can share the ball effectively and not force too many bad shots, it is not out of the question for Florida to take home the SEC championship.

4. Alabama

The Crimson Tide has a very good chance of making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2006. Alabama’s strength lies in the frontcourt, with JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, who combined averaged more than 30 points a game last season. The backcourt on the other hand will be very inexperienced, as top returned Andrew Steele was forced to give up basketball due to concussions. Anthony Grant brought in a very talented recruiting class including highly ranked shooting guards Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey. Whether Alabama has a average year or a very good year, depends on how fast the young guards develop.

5. Mississippi State

Rick Stansbury’s team could end up, where they have all too often the past several years, on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Bulldogs have a bery talented trio of players returning in Dee Bost, Renardo Sydney, and UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie. The loss of three-point shooter Ravern Johnson will be helped by the addition of 5-star recruit Rodney Hood, who played very well on the team’s offseason trip to Europe. Last year the team had no chemistry highlighted by the Elgin Bailey-Sydney scuffle, the team’s success will also depend on if they can come together as a unit.

6. Arkansas

Mike Anderson returns to Arkansas, where he was an assistant under Arkansas legend Nolan Richardson. Anderson brings with him the up-tempo full court press that he learned from Richardson. The Razorbacks leading scorer from last season Rotnei Clarke decided to leave the program and transferred to Butler. The cupboard is not completely bare in Fayetteville however, former All-SEC freshman selection Marshawn Powell is still around, and Anderson was able to keep former coach John Pelphrey’s stellar recruiting class, including 5-star point guard B.J. Young, largely intact.

7. Ole Miss

Andy Kennedy has his work cut out for him this season trying to replace former first team All-SEC selection collection Chris Warren. The school’s all-time leading three point shooter averaged 19 points a game last season. Sophomore point guard Dundrecous Nelson will be counted on to take up some of the slack, but the Rebels will rely heavily on their frontcourt. Murphy Holloway, who was just granted a transfer waiver by the NCAA, will help out in his return to Ole Miss after a sitting out last season at South Carolina. Junior Reginald Buckner will look to improve on his sophomore season, when he average 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. The Rebels will get an added bonus at the end of the first semester, when Memphis transfer Jalen Kendrick becomes eligible.

8. Georgia

Mark Fox brought in a highly ranked recruiting class this year, but it will be hard for Bulldogs to overcome the losses of Trey Tompkins and Travis Leslie, both of which were selected in the 2011 NBA draft. Now that freshman Kentavios Caldwell-Pope is has been declared eligible, he will have to take over some of the scoring left by those two if Georgia wants to contend. Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson return in the backcourt, which will be counted on heavily to produce.

9. Tennessee

Cuonzo Martin has his work cut out for him in his first season at the helm in Knoxville. The Volunteers lost a lot from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, including Scotty Hopson and All-SEC freshman Tobias Harris. Cameron Tatum is back, however and the young team will look to him for leadership. After not quite living up to expectations as a freshman, Trae Golden will have to play much better this season for the Volunteers.

10. Auburn

The Tigers will be much improved from a season ago, but they will still find wins hard to come by in conference play. Frankie Sullivan returns for his junior season after sitting out last year due to knee surgery. Tony Barbee has also brought in a pair of transfers that have to ability to make an immediate impact, in former Texas guard Varez Ward and Noel Johnson of Clemson. Freshman Willy Kouassi has impressed the coaching staff with his ability to rebound, look for him to see significant minutes this season.

11. LSU

After consecutive last place finishes, LSU will be improved this year, but they still have a long way to go to be back in contention. The Tigers return All-SEC freshman selection Ralston Turner, who 12.3 points last season. The LSU frontcourt lost several players to transfer, but Trent Johnson was able to haul in Johnny O’Bryant, a highly rated power forward.

12. South Carolina

Arguably the Gamecocks top returner sophomore Bruce Ellington decided to play football this fall and will not rejoin the team till as least the end of the football’s regular season, but even when he does Darrin Horn’s team is still likely to struggle.

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