- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Ole Miss
- Mississippi State
Player of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU
Coach of the Year: Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
Newcomer of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU
G – Tyler Ulis, Kentucky, Sophomore
G – Alex Caruso, Texas A&M, Senior
F – Ben Simmons, LSU, Freshman
F – Damian Jones, Vanderbilt, Junior
F – Skal Labissiere, Kentucky, Freshman
G – Charles Mann, Georgia, Senior
G – Stefan Moody, Ole Miss, Senior
G/F – Jamal Murray, Kentucky, Freshman
F – Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida, Senior
F – Alex Poythress, Kentucky, Senior
G - Duane Notice, South Carolina,
G - Danuel House, Texas A&M, Senior
G – Malik Newman, Mississippi St., Freshman
G – Riley LaChance, Vanderbilt, Sophomore
G/F - Tim Quarterman, LSU, Junior
C – Skal Labissiere, 6’10, Freshman
PF – Alex Poythress, 6’8, Senior
SF – Jamal Murray, 6’4, Freshman
SG – Isaiah Briscoe, 6’3, Freshman
PG –.Tyler Ulis, 5’9, Sophomore
Reserves: Marcus Lee, 6’9, Jr.; Charles Matthews, 6’4, Fr.; Mychal Mulder, 6’4, Jr.; Derek Willis, 6’9, Jr.; Dominique Hawkins, 6’0, Jr.
Postseason Prediction: 1 seed
As much as I wanted to be “go-against the grain guy” and project the Cats to not be a top 5 team to begin the year, I’ve now seen enough of the incoming freshman to shut myself up. Jamal Murray will bring offensive bucket-getting and playmaking that Cal hasn’t had since the John Wall days. He will fit perfectly next to Tyler Ulis, who ran the show uber effectively as a freshman in a limited role playing next to the Harrisons. The combination of those 2 and the 13th best freshman in the country, Isaiah Briscoe, gives the perimeter a lot more skill and balance than the Cats had even last year. There will not be issues of fit with this team, specifically on the perimeter, and I think the freshman will mature faster because of it. The interesting question is whether or not Briscoe will start on the bench, or if Cal chooses to show Poythress loyalty, given his semi tragic career at UK. I ultimately think they should start both, and put monster Skal Labissiere at the 5 (number 3 recruit), who will just be a left handed and more offensively skilled version of Nerlens Noel, with almost the same level of dominant rim protection. This starting lineup will make Marcus Lee their 6th man, and provide even more depth off the bench at the big position.
This is the first year Kentucky won’t have great guard depth, and an injury to either freshman or Ulis will stretch this bench very thin. That would result in a whole lot of Dominique Hawkins, who likes to appear in random November games against cupcake opponents, or in February when Cal wants to teach the stud freshman a lesson for not trying. I don’t know a ton about their 4th best freshman in Charles Mathews, but he’ll provide some additional guard depth if needed, as will junior college transfer Mychal Mulder.
Kentucky should most likely regress in their offensive rebounding and shot blocking dominance, but less than most think, especially with Poythress returning, who was elite at both before he got hurt. I also don’t think this team will shoot a much higher percentage from the floor compared to last year. Though Ulis was outstandingly efficient from deep, hitting 43% of his 3s, the departure of Booker and Andrew Harrison (38% from 3 last year) likely won’t be matched by Murray and Briscoe. These 2 will have to be relentless attacking the glass and getting to the line if they want to score efficiently in their freshman campaign, because I also doubt the bigs can replicate the offensive glass & putback dominance that Lyles, Towns and Cauley-Stein delivered last year.
Bottom Line: I think the potential stardom of Murray and Skal, along the clockwork point guard play of Ulis make this a lock top 5 team, and a clear contender to lock down another number 1 seed. This should also be a much more aesthetically pleasing team to watch than a year ago, with the versatile offensive skill and shot making of Briscoe and Murray.
C – Damian Jones, 6’10, Junior
PF – Luke Kornet, 7’0, Junior
SF – Matthew Fisher-Davis, 6’5, Sophomore
SG – Riley LaChance, 6’2, Sophomore
PG –.Wade Baldwin, 6’3, Sophomore
Reserves: Nolan Cressler, 6’4, Jr.; Jeff Roberson, 6’6, So.; Joseph Toye, 6’7, Fr.; Camron Justice, 6’2, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 5 seed
Despite Kevin Stallings stand-offish perception and poor tourney resume, the man is as consistent as they come. I fully expected Vandy to return to SEC normalcy, once a major talent pool left town a few years back (John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli, Jeffrey Taylor, etc.). Stallings responded last year with perhaps the most effective recruiting in the country. With no stand out, high-pedigree recruits, Vandy trotted out 5 freshman last year that played just under half of their team’s minutes, all of whom were incredibly efficient. The lack of star freshman seemed to fit in perfectly to Stallings evil plan, as the ‘Dores shared the ball as well as any team in the country (4th in assists). The key guards are Wade Baldwin and Riley LaChance. Baldwin assumed point guard duties last year, though he did not dominate ball handling, as LaChance and Shelton Mitchell (transferred to Clemson this offseason) made this more of a point guard by committee role. Regardless, Baldwin was simply outstanding, dishing out a 30% assist rate (65th in the country), while turning it over at a respectable 20% rate. He isn’t uber quick, but works well within the motion offense that Stallings lives by, and he makes plays when needed. LaChance is the “shooter” of the bunch, but actually finished 3rd on the team in 3 point % a year ago, behind Matthew Fischer-Davis and Luke Cornet, who each hit 41% of their attempts. Oh, I forgot to mention Cornet stands 7’0 tall, and took almost twice as many bombs as 2 point attempts.
While Cornet will float around the perimeter offensively, the paint is controlled by Damian Jones. Jones jumped all over NBA draft boards with the leap he made in his sophomore campaign, being the go-to guy Vandy focused their halfcourt sets around. His effectiveness opened spacing all over the perimeter for the young shooters, and his defensive presence kept Vandy hovering around a top 100 defense, despite having very young guards, none of whom are elite athletes. Jones is a great rebounder on both ends, an outstanding post scorer with both hands around the basket (56% from the floor), and protects the basket on the defensive end (top 100 block rate). His ONLY flaw is his 61% free throw percentage, which is magnified given he gets to the line so much.
Bottom Line: A top-20 offense a year ago, which returns literally everyone except for James Siakam and Mitchell, the Dores have a real shot to crack the top 3 of the SEC this year with an additional year of maturity for all their key cogs. Defensively the freshman should all make major strides, which could easily push this squad into a top 100 defense this year (119 a year ago). Their only inhibitor is the lack of top notch athletes, but I tend to value basketball IQ and skill over NBA draft combine metrics. This team may crack the top 25 at some point this year, and are a lock to make the tourney. Anything lower than an 8 seed would be a disappointment for the boys of Nashville.
3. Texas A&M
C – Tyler Davis, 6’10, Freshman
PF – Jalen Jones, 6’7, Senior
SF – Danuel House, 6’7, Senior
SG – Alex Robinson, 6’0, Sophomore
PG –.Alex Caruso, 6’5, Senior
Reserves: Anthony Collins, 6’0, Sr.; Peyton Allen, 6’5, So.; DJ Hogg, 6’7, Fr.; Elijah Thomas, 6’9, Fr.; Admon Glider, 6’3, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 7 seed
Full disclosure: I have a secret man crush on Alex Caruso, whom most consider to be the Aggies best player. For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m not gay. Caruso is their de facto point guard, a high-risk playmaker that is exceptionally skilled, with fantastic vision and an efficient shooter from everywhere. However, what limited this talent group a year ago on the offensive side, was their turnovers, which Caruso is primarily responsible for. A&M ranked in the top 100 of 3 of the 4 four factor offensive categories (Efg%, Rebounding, Free Throws), but were 178th in TOs. Caruso, despite posting a top 25 assist (and steal) rate, turned it over just under 30% of the time, and MUST be more selective in the back-door passes and full court outlets he loves making. The other dynamic guard for A&M is Danuel House, an ex-transfer from Houston and ex- McDonalds All American. The dude has absurd hops, and finally crafted his shot last year to be a terrific shooter from range (40% on 155 attempts). Despite both of those studs roaming the perimeter, versatile Jalen Jones actually had the highest usage rate, and is a relentless rim attacker. However, he needs to be slightly more efficient in his senior year campaign if this team is to reach their ceiling offensively.
Defensively, Kennedy plays a decent amount of zone, which gives Caruso freedom to pick his spots to get in passing lanes, and allows their versatile frontline to step out and guard on the perimeter. A&M didn’t have a dominant rebounder last year, or rim protector, but the consistent height and length across both the perimeter and the interior allowed a slew of players to contribute. This year in strolls in 5-star stud Tyler Davis, who will be an immediate presence on the defensive side of the ball, and fill the void of Kourtney Roberson departing. I expect he will anchor the middle of the zone, and allow Kennedy to play some man against teams with true bigs. The good news is the zone can be still used to hide Davis from foul trouble and limit his pick n roll exposure. And on the offensive end, the SEC (outside of the Cats) lacks traditional centers, so Davis may be featured much more in the half court set, and Caruso is smart enough to feed him effectively.
Bottom Line: This team is a lock to finish top 5 in the SEC, and may in fact be the third best team behind UK and Vandy. Not many teams in the nation can say they have 2 top 30 guards, and an elite big man talent in their starting 5.
C – Elbert Robinson, 6’11, Sophomore
PF – Ben Simmons, 6’9, Freshman
SF – Keith Hornsby, 6’4, Senior
SG – Antonio Blakeney, 6’4, Freshman
PG –.Tim Quarterman, 6’6, Junior
Reserves: Brandon Sampson, 6’4, Fr.; Craig Victor, 6’7, So.; Darcy Malone, 7’0, Jr.; Jalyn Patterson, 6’0, So.; Josh Gray, 6’1, Sr.
Postseason Prediction: 7 seed
Good ole Johnny Jones continues to bring elite talent in to Baton Rouge and turn it in to mystifying seasons, usually defined by a couple of great wins and a few more horrendous losses. Last year was the same, sad tale unfortunately, and perimeter inconsistency played the role of villain.
Jones brought in Josh Gray, a highly touted JUCO transfer to run the show at point, and he was at no point told the following:
1. “you are not the best player on the floor, like ever”
2. “you are playing with 2 NBA-prospect big-guys at all times, and they are eligible to be passed to”
Jones seemed to figure out this issue about 3 months too late, and shockingly began to get solid PG production from true freshman Jalyn Patterson. Patterson’s efficiency late in the year will make the inevitable decision on whether to play Ben Simmons (absurdly talented and number 1 incoming recruit in the nation) at point guard a tough one. I still think playing Simmons in a point forward role is ideal, given that Patterson proved to be a decent shooter from deep (37%) and could be well suited at the 2 when Simmons is on the floor. The other key wing is Keith Hornsby, who knocked in 40% of his 3 point shotputs (find me an uglier form in college basketball, seriously one doesn’t exist). Throw in another 5 star freak athlete Antonio Blakely, Tim Quarterman (who may actually be LSU’s most consistent guard over the last 2 years) and top 40 recruit Brandon Sampson, and the perimeter depth and versatility is almost scary.
The real question will be the interior, with both Jordan Mickey and Jarrell Martin leaving. Simmons should be able to defend most 4s in the SEC, but some additional rim protection and rebounding must come from incoming Zona transfer Craig Victor. Victor is only 6’7, but was efficient in minor minutes at Arizona and developed a shot blocking reputation coming out of high school. However, Victor won’t be eligible to play until December and there are no other noteworthy bigs on this roster I’ve seen play basketball, or even heard of. Simmons may be forced to defend some 5s, and foul trouble could become a monster issue for Johnny Jones to manage.
Bottom Line: With the depth at the guard position, and the absurd versatility that Simmons brings, Johnny Jones would be a fool not to push tempo as much as possible (14th in pace last year) while mixing in some pressure defenses on the other end. Regardless of style, this roster is dripping with talent and if the Tigers don’t crack the top 25 and secure a top 5 seed, Johnny Jones should consider hiring a co-coach to handle the actual coaching, so he can stick to what he does best on the recruiting trail.
5. South Carolina
C – Laimonas Chatkevicius, 6’11, Senior
PF – Mindaugas Kacinas, 6’7, Senior
SF – Sindarius Thornwell, 6’5, Junior
SG – Duane Notice, 6’2, Junior
PG –.PJ Dozier, 6’6, Freshman
Reserves: Marcus Stroman, 6’2, So.; Michael Carrera, 6’5, Sr.; Justin Mckie, 6’4, Jr.; Carlos Silva, 6’8, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 9 seed
Frank Martin has drug in enough talent over the last 3 years for the Gamecocks to now make a leap in 2016. Duane Notice, Sindarius Thornwell, Marcus Stroman and new incomer PJ Dozier wree all top 100 recruits coming in to Columbia, and should dominate the perimeter production. All have proven to be excellent defenders, much of which can probably be attributed to Martin’s selective scouting and value he puts on that end. These 4 guards range from 6’2 to 6’6 and can match up with a slew of 1s 2s and 3s on the defensive end, as Martin rarely plays anything other than man. The athletic guards are supplemented with outstanding rim protection provided by “the Lithuanian Wall”. The wall to the west is called Laimons Chatkevicuis, who emerged last year as a top 100 shot blocker in the country, playing ~ 25 minutes a game. The eastern wall is controlled by Mindaugas Kacinas, whom Martin should start at the 4, and lives to crash the O boards (104th in O rebounding rate, but not even a top 500 player on the defensive glass). Senior Michael Carrera should round out the front court rotation, who is an undersized 4 that has seen his role reduced each year with the influx of younger talent.
Tyrone Johnson was the only senior on last years team and he will immediately be replaced by Dozier as the starting wing. This projects to be a clear upgrade, specifically in shooting, where Johnson hit just 28% from 3 land a year ago. However, shooting across the board is the primary ceiling blockade for this team, especially when the Cocks leading scorer Sindaruis Thornwell shot 39% from 2 and 27% from 3. At 6’5 Thornwell has no business jacking 150 threes, and needs to live around the hoop, where he is noticeably more effective getting to the line. Duane Notice was the only respectable 3 point shooter last year (36%), but was weirdly inaccurate in side the arc, actually shooting worse than Thornwell from 2 (38%). If the Gamecocks want to get out of mediocracy offensively (158th last year), these 2, along with Dozier, are going to have to be more efficient. All 3 have the potential to get the line a lot, and both Thornwell and Notice shoot in the high 70s from the stripe.
Bottom Line: Despite the shooting concerns, the Cocks’ defensive prowess should not see any regression, and could actually crack the top 20 this year (26th a year ago). If they can make trey balls at a more respectable rate than the 30% clip they posted a year ago and avoid breaking down into the fetal position every time Frank scowls at them, I’m predicting they knock off Kentucky at home this year, and settle in as the 4th best team in the league.
C – Devin Robinson, 6’8, Sophomore
PF – Dorian Finney-Smith, 6’8, Senior
SF – KeVaughn Allen, 6’3, Freshman
SG – Chris Chiozza, 6’0, Sophomore
PG –.Kasey Hill, 6’1, Junior
Reserves: Alex Murphy, 6’8, Sr.; Keith Stone, 6’7, Fr.; John Egbunu, 6’11, R-So.; Noah Dickerson, 6’8, Fr.; Kevarrius Hayes, 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 10 seed
Kasey Hill and Chris Walker may be reasons 1a and 1b why Billy Donovan bolted town for the NBA. To have 2 top 10 recruits prove to be as big of flops as those 2 were is simply unprecedented. With a weird offensive team last year, Billy shifted his focus even more so to the defensive end, putting together the 11th best defense in the country and possessed one of the more underrated teams in the country by the numbers, comparing their PPP differential and actual record (45th in Kenpom, but finished 16-17).
In steps in young stud Michael White to pace the sidelines, who should mimic the young and enthusiastic energy that Billy brought to Florida when he first arrived. Both White and Billy like to show full court defensive pressure at times, but Donovan was much more concerned with controlling tempo offensively. On the contrary, White likes to push it, as he feasted off some talented guards that came his way at La Tech. I expect with the athletes left on this roster, he’ll be eager to get up and down as much as possible.
Kasey Hill returns again as almost a forgotten talent to run the point guard position alongside 2 guard Chris Chiozza. At this point, we know were getting some flashes of good playmaking from Hill, coupled with a decent amount of turnovers and atrocious finishing at the rim and from deep (39% from 2 and 28% from deep), and Chiozza is effectively a defensive specialist who is asked to play a solid floor game (only 11% usage rate, despite being a starter). Stud Dorian Finney-Smith will have to continue to shoot the deep ball at a high rate and own an even larger share of the scoring load than he did a year ago. Finney-Smith’s 43% 3 point clip was a massive surprise to everyone, and catapulted him into a versatile go-to weapon for the Gators offensively. He still lacks pure post scoring and relies a ton on the offensive glass, but what’s interesting is that he only shot 75 free throws last year. As the leading usage player at 6’8 tall, this number feels incredibly low, but it may actually be a good thing given he only hit 59% of his throws last year. It just feels discouraging to rely on your 6’8 go-to-scorer from 3s and put backs exclusively. Along with Finney-Smith on the front line, the other bigs will be led by Devin Robinson, who mimics Finney-Smith’s, step away, face up style, but does so much less efficiently.
The upside is that the Gators bring in 4 top 100 freshman, 3 of which are 6’7 and above, and South Florida 6’10 transfer Josh Egbunu. None of these guys needs to show elite rim protection, but needs to preserve the steady rebounding production and force turnovers, like Donovan’s bigs in years past have done. This team was an elite defensive team due to their balance of forcing turnovers and controlling the glass, despite being an average shot blocking team a year ago (126th in the country in block rate).
Bottom Line: Hill, Finney-Smith, and the development of all 4 freshman will determine the fate in Mike White’s first year in Florida. This team falls into the jumbled, middle of the pack SEC that is impossible to predict. I think anywhere in the upper half of the league would qualify as a success for the Gators, but there is enough talent on this team to return to their past SEC dominance if Hill can figure it out in his 3rd year.
C – Derek Ogbeide, 6’9, Freshman
PF – Yante Maten, 6’8, Sophomore
SF – Kenny Gaines, 6’3, Senior
SG – JJ Frazier, 5’10, Junior
PG –.Charles Mann, 6’5, Senior
Reserves: Cameron Forte, 6’7, So.; Juwan Parker, 6’4, Jr.; Will Jackson, 6’4, Fr.; E’Torrion Wilridge, 6’7, Fr.; Osahen Iduwe, 6’11, So.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Marky Fox continues to deliver slightly above expectation results for the UGA men’s basketball program, despite his name being mentioned on the hot seat every year. He got an atrocious Sparty round 1 matchup in the tourney a year ago, and could have got a higher seed if it weren’t for some questionable conference losses (South Carolina twice and Auburn AT HOME). He returns the key parts from a versatile offensive and defensive team a year ago, including a stout perimeter tandem of Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and little lefty shooter JJ Frazier.
For a guy that I thought would emerge as an all-conference player after his sophomore year performance, Mann was a huge disappointment in his junior campaign. He continued to be the primary ballhandler and distributor, but was slightly turnover prone (25% TO rate) and did not shoot it well at all from anywhere on the floor (43% from 2 and 27% from 3). His bread and butter is getting to the rim and to the line, with the 10th best free throw rate in the nation (attempted 220 last year) but only knocked down a blah 68% of those. With the departure of effective inside scoring brought by Nemanja Djurisic and Marcus Thornton, the Dawgs offensive efficiency is highly leveraged on Mann converting more from everywhere on the floor. He’ll need Gaines and Frazier to both maintain their deep shooting rates (37% and 39% respectively), as both will probably get ~ 150 attempts each this season.
The real question marks lie inside, with Djurisic and Thornton departing. However, the emergence of Yante Maten as a shot blocking force was a nice surprise to Mark Fox last year (59th in country playing about half of all minutes). He has a ton of work to improve offensively, but if he can maintain a top 150 offensive rebounding rate and finish dump-offs from Mann’s penetration, they don’t need a lot more from him on that side of the ball. I suspect Cameron Forte will get the starting nod at the 4, as he saw his minutes increase a ton down the stretch last year. He looked to be an effective rebounder on both ends, despite being a little undersized at 6’7 220. Incoming 6’9 freshman Derek Ogbeide should also contribute right away on the defensive end.
Bottom Line: The perimeter continuity makes this team a safe choice to crack the top half of this league, but a ton of uncertainty lingers on who can provide the consistent interior scoring that Djurisic provided and the steady rebounding on the defensive end that Thornton provided. Still, with Mann projecting to improve his efficiency drastically playing next to two steady guards in Gaines and Frazier, I see this team regressing only slightly from a good season in 2014-2015.
8. Ole Miss
C – Dwight Coleby, 6’9, Junior
PF – Sebastian Saiz, 6’9, Junior
SF – Donte Fitzpatrick, 6’5, Freshman
SG – Martavious Newby, 6’3, Senior
PG –.Stefan Moody, 5’10, Senior
Reserves: Aaron Jones, 6’9, Sr.; Rasheed Brooks, 6’6, Jr.; Tomasz Gielo, 6’9, R-Sr.; Terence Davis, 6’4, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Despite the departure of the Rebels 2nd and 3rd leading scorers and senior leaders, Andy Kennedy returns a decent amount of offensive firepower. Assuming the law doesn’t keep Stefan Moody off the court (DUI), the starting lineup should feature 4 guys who played at least 20 minutes a game last year. Kennedy’s depth last year allowed him to give a lot of reps to the younger bigs, whom proved to be super efficient complimenting the guard-dominant scoring of Moody and the graduated Jarvis Summers. The key bigs are rising juniors Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Colby, who both measure at 6’9 230 and are extremely athletic. They contributed well on both ends, each posting an O rating of 116 and ranking in the top 20% of the nation in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and shot blocking. Coleby is slightly less polished offensively, but both dudes should take a step forward in their progression, building off of their efficient sophomore years.
The story on the perimeter will be focused on Martvious Newby assuming a bigger role in his senior year, playing alongside Mr. Moody. Newby causes all kinds of havoc on the defensive end (top 100 in steal rate), but what is most impressive is his rebounding production for a guy that stands only 6’3 (120th defensive rebounding rate). He shoots sparingly, and when he does he has not been super efficient, and sometimes gets out of control trying to force the action late in shot clock. He’ll be asked to knock down a lot more than 13 (out of 48) 3s this year if this team wants to have any perimeter spacing for Moody to attack when he wants. The departure of Ladarius White guts this squad of any other consistent shooting, outside of Moody. The last starting spot will go to one of two incoming freshman (Donte Fitzpatrick and Terence Davis) , or top 40 JuCo transfer Rasheed Brooks. I suspect Kennedy will favor the best shooter of these 3.
Bottom Line: This team will have some adjusting to life without 2 steady guards, as Moody shifts to handle more of the point guard responsibilities. Despite how reckless he appears sometimes, Moody doesn’t actually turn the ball over that much, and has proven to make plays for his teammates when defenses are tired of watching him fill it up in bunches. He’ll have to be more of a facilitator in his new role, but the perimeter supporting cast must first find some shooting consistency if this team has any shot to maintain their offensive production a year ago (23rd in the country). What hurt this team defensively last year was fouling and 3 point percentage defense. Kennedys team will always give up a ton of 3s in the zone, but they need to do a better job of controlling the glass and keeping teams off of the foul line. The Rebels should have no problem finishing in the top half of the league, and will need another outstanding year from Moody to have a shot of finishing in the top 5.
C – Derek Reese, 6’8, Senior
PF – Armani Moore, 6’5, Senior
SF – Robert Hubbs, 6’6, Junior
SG – Kevin Punter, 6’4, Senior
PG – Lamonte Turner, 6’1, Freshman
Reserves: Detrick Mostella, 6’3, So.; Devon Baulkman, 6’5, Sr.; Willie Carmichael, 6’8, So.; Admiral Schofield, 6’6, Fr.; Shembari Phillips, 6’2, Fr.; Ray Kasongo, 6’9, Jr.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Similar to Ole Miss, the Vols return a lot more offensive production than you may think. Out of all SEC teams, Vandy returns far and away the most offensive production, but are followed by Ole Miss and Tennessee at 2nd and 3rd respectively (ranking slightly ahead of South Carolina and even A&M). The Vols relied heavily on chasing down missed shots and forcing turnovers, ranking in the nation’s top 20 in both categories.
With the entrance of Ricky Sticky Barnes, this squad should play a lot more man and limit the massive amounts of 3 balls that sunk the Vols a year ago (again similar to Ole Miss). And though trolling Ricky became a cliché joke of the college basketball snobs for the past decade at Texas, I think a change of scenery with slightly lower expectations may be exactly what he needs to “succeed”. He’ll get 4 of 5 returning starters from a year ago, but will be hurt by the loss of uber-talented Josh Richardson, who provided scoring and playmaking, all while leading the Vols in steals. The point guard spot remains a huge question mark, and freshman Lamonte Turner may actually get the start. Despite an impressive point guard resume that Barnes has produced (TJ Ford, DJ Augustin, etc.), in my opinion he handled Isiah Taylor poorly over the last 2 years at Texas by allowing him to shoot way too much and ignore the plethora of interior talent the Longhorns had. How Barnes manages the point guard position in the upcoming year will have a massive impact on their success.
The rest of the perimeter spots should be filled by Armani Moore, Kevin Punter and Robert Hubbs, each of whom started a year ago. Punter was the only respectable shooter from deep at 35%, and was 2nd on the team (behind Richardson) last year in forcing turnovers. Both Moore and Reese are excellent rebounders for their position, and Moore actually ranked 158th in the country in block rate a year ago, despite standing only 6’5. In the paint, the Vols return their only big starter from a year ago in Derek Reese, who is a solid rebounder on both ends, but likes to step away from the basket for midrange jumpers and 3s when open. Devon Baulkman provided some shooting off the bench last year, and could find himself a key part of the perimeter rotation in his senior year, if he can maintain his 38% shooting clip from last year.
Bottom Line: This team is a lock to finish in the middle of the pack of a relatively deep SEC conference, but like so many SEC teams, the Vols have major question marks on who will provide consistent scoring. Moore’s incredible offensive rebounding prowess, along with Reese and the other guards, may be hard to sustain, so offensive efficiency improvement will have to come by committee with Richardson now gone. Moore, Punter & Hubbs will need to take the biggest step forward if this team wants to maintain a top 100 offense rating. When it’s all said and done, I think this squad finds themselves in the bottom part of the SEC jumble, settling in around 8th or 9th place.
10. Mississippi State
C – Gavin Ware, 6’9, Senior
PF – Travis Daniels, 6’8, Senior
SF – Malik Newman, 6’3, Freshman
SG – Craig Sword, 6’3, Freshman
PG –.IJ Ready, 5’11, Junior
Reserves: Fred Thomas, 6’5, Sr.; Demetrius Houston, 6’7, So.; Oliver Black, 6’9, So.; Fallou Ndoye, 6’11, So.; Quinndary Weatherspoon, 6’5, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Note to self: Send Rick Ray a “Get Well Soon” card. Ray is like the cute, pure, innocent girl that is everything and more a guy like Mississippi State could realistically get. But then that same guy won some scummy sweepstakes contest and sold his newly acquired “wealth” status to some smoke, who also happened to be coming off massive rebound (Ben Howland). So said guy had no choice but to leave Ricky Ray, who now finds himself unemployed, after being promised years of support to rebuild what was a program in a dumpster forest fire.
That said, with the smoke girl on the sidelines, comes her even hotter younger sister, in the form of ELITE recruit Malik Newman. Among the elite recruits I’ve seen, Newman is one of the most skilled and has the best feel for the game that I saw (in addition to both Cal studs, Simmons at LSU, and Allonzo Trier of Arizona). He’ll get some perimeter scoring help from senior Craig Sword, who was a respectable 70, 50, 36 guy from the line, 2 point and 3 point respectively. The point is run by IJ Ready, who started a year ago and was relatively efficient as a sophomore, but will need to hit more than 30% of his threes, as opponents triple and quadruple team Newman early on.
The Dawgs have a slew of mini-bigs that range from 6’5 to 6’9, similar to the makeup that Ole Miss had a year ago. The most noteworthy is Gavin Ware, who was far and away the leader on the defensive glass and protecting the rim, also leading the Dawgs in offensive rebounding. Late in the year, Ray started to give a lot of minutes to two freshman, Oliver Black and Fallou Ndoye, neither of whom showed any sign of rebounding or interior de consistency. At 6’11, Ndoye has the highest upside, but when you commit 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes of basketball, you simply cannot be trusted to be a consistent impact player.
Bottom line: The Dawgs will be intriguing to watch, just because of Howland’s first year and the stud that is Malik Newman. Howland’s teams historically play outstanding man defense, which should not be a big adjustment from Rick Ray’s defensive approach last year. However, Miss State was the 255th best team offensively and turned the ball over less than only 20 teams in the entire country. As Ready and Sword gain one more year of maturity, their respectable TO rates should go even lower, as a lot of the turnover-prone wings are thankfully no longer on this team. Newman’s TO rate will also have a massive impact on this team’s offensive ceiling, and he must avoid forcing for himself and others early on. The final result should be an encouraging year for the Bulldogs, given their atrociousness of last year. There are still at least 8-9 teams better in this league, even with the NBA talent of Newman.
C – Cinmeon Bowers, 6‘7, Senior
PF – Tyler Harris, 6‘10, R-Senior
SF – TJ Lang, 6‘7, Sophomore
SG – TJ Dunans, 6‘5, Junior
PG – Kareem Canty Jr., 6‘1, R-Junior
Reserves: Jordon Granger, 6‘8, Jr.; Danjel Purifoy, 6‘7, Fr.; Horace Spencer, 6‘8, Fr.; Tahj Shamsid-Dean, 5’10, Jr.; Trayvon Reed, 7‘2, R-So.
Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
Ok so I could be way too down on this team, but I just want everyone to think about their opinion of this team in August of last year. All you could read about was Bruce Pearl, the recruiting traction and the JUCO influx. All that amounted to in 2015 was a cute SEC tourney title run that ended oh so abruptly. What's great is that they get to build off that with all 1 of their returning starter from a year!
No team's offseason buzz was silenced faster than Bruce Pearl's Auburn Tigers a year ago. After putting together an intriguing roster of scattered talent, this team molded together like a collection of jagged-edged marbles and displayed some of the worst offensive chemistry I’ve ever seen. Nothing was more fun than to watch Cinmeon "Cinnabon" Bowers do his best Charles Barkley impression and alienate the true talent of this team that lied in KT Harrell and Antoine Mason.
Bowers, Harrell, and Mason contributed for 28.7%, 25.9%, and 26.4% of Auburn’s possessions respectively last year. They will most likely see several new faces in the starting lineup including three transfers. Kareem Canty Jr. (Marshall), Tyler Harris (Providence) and TJ Dunas (JUCO) will give War Eagle optimism. TJ Lang played a significant role during the SEC Tournament where the Tigers won three games before facing Kentucky. They will likely go small again this year and start Canty Jr, Dunas, Lang, Harris, and Bowers, who should produce more than 4 wins this year in the SEC.
Bottom Line: If this starting 5 along with two top 100 froshies can figure out who should shoot and when, the Tigers could make some noise once conference play begins. I am just severely betting against it. Also, this team probably won't play any more defense than they did a year ago, relying on Bowers 6'7 (Measurables: 5'7 wingspan and 15 inch vertical) to protect the rim. And no, Trayvon Reed will not be that guy, unless he doubles his O Rating of 74 from a year ago (bahaha).
C – Moses Kingsley, 6’10, Sophomore
PF – Ted Kapita, 6’8, Freshman
SF – Anthlon Bell, 6’3, Senior
SG – Anton Beard, 6’0, Sophomore
PG –.Jimmy Whitt, 6’3, Freshman
Reserves: Dusty Hannahs, 6’4, R-Jr.; Jabril Durham, 6’1, Sr.; Manuale Watkins, 6’3, Jr.
Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
From a team that secured a 5 seed in last year’s tourney, it’s hard to envision a fall as big as I’m predicting for the Razorbacks this year. But when you take away your 4 best players and don’t replenish the roster with elite talent, regression is inevitable. “Suitcase Mike” Anderson did manage to bring in 2 top 100 recruits, in Jimmy Whitt and Ted Kapita, but neither are of the Bobby Portis or Michael Qualls caliber. Whitt should start right away at the point guard position, alongside short, lefty Anton Beard and slasher Anthlon Bell. Both shot 35% from deep a year ago, and Bell was certainly not bashful, attempting 185 threes (more than both Qualls and Rashad Madden). However, both were steady handling the ball and should ensure this team remains in the nation’s top 50 in turnover rate (47th a year ago).
The Razorbacks were even better at turning their opponents over (20th nationally), as Anderson figured out how to selectively apply the full-court pressure, and retract from the traditional “40 minutes of Hell.” Anderson and other traditional pressing coaches (Shaka Smart) have had problems with their half court de in recent years. VCU and Arkansas both continue to be among the nation’s elite turnover teams, but have found out how difficult it is to consistently force teams to throw it away while not giving up easy buckets. This is especially true in conference, where familiarity is highest, and opposing guards can get a feel for the pressure and traps. It also magnifies the importance of having a real rim-protector to cover up for over-extended perimeter defense that is obviously vulnerable to drives and back-doors.
Fortunately for Mr. Anderson, the Hogs return an emerging monster in Moses Kingsley. He posted a 10% block rate (!!!!) and displayed outstanding offensive rebounding production, albeit in a limited role as a freshman. He’ll get the bulk of the big minutes next at center. Probable starting forward Jacorey Willams transferred to Middle Tennessee State, and, as a result, incoming top 40 recruit Ted Kapita will be heavily relied upon. He is solid on the defensive end and is touted an athletic, versatile 6’8 big, similar to the mold Anderson traditionally gets for his bigs.
Bottom Line: This team lost way too much firepower to avoid a significant regression in conference play, and the scoring production is an absolute mystery at this point. Mikey will have his hands full after his best year at Arkansas since succeeding his mentor, Nolan Richardson. This looks to potentially be a bottom 5 SEC team, and I don’t see the Hogs stacking up with even the middle-tier of this conference.
C – Jimmie Taylor, 6’10, Junior
PF – Donta’ Hall, 6’8, Freshman
SF – Riley Norris, 6’7, Sophomore
SG – Retin Obasahon, 6’1, Senior
PG –.Justin Coleman, 5’10, Sophomore
Reserves: Michael Kessens, 6’9, Jr.; Dazon Ingram, 6’5, Fr.; Brandon Austin, 6’5, Fr; Kobie Eubanks, 6’5, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: None
Alabama’s AD must have hard-sold their future commitment to basketball success and the amount of money pouring in to the athletic facilities, because there is nothing exciting about this roster that would’ve brought Avery Johnson to Tuscaloosa. The only bright spots for the Crimson Tide are a couple returning post dudes, now that Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper and Ricky Tarrant are no longer on the roster. Jimmie Taylor was one of the more underrated bigs in the league as a sophomore, posting a respectable rebounding rates on both ends of the floor, and a 9% block rate (50th in the country!). He even showed some competency finishing around the rim, converting 60% of his 2 pointers a year ago. He’ll play alongside Michael Kessens and Riley Norris as the starting frontline, which should turn out to be formidable, especially defensively.
However, the perimeter is much uglier, with the only semi-efficient guard returning is Retin Obasohan. He barely put up a 100 O Rating, even playing with Randolph (who was sneaky awesome last year). Justin Coleman may start at the 2, and he returns from a 27%, 23% shooting year from 2 point and 3 point land respectively, so that’s (not) encouraging. I suspect Bama could go very big and start their best recruit, 6’8 Donta Hall, along with rising sophomore Riley Norris, who can shoot decently well (24-73 from 3 last year), and perhaps provide the tiniest amount of floor spacing (wow, I’m reaching now). The Tide will also hope to get some contributions from freshmen Kobie Eubanks, Dazon Ingram, and Brandon Austin, with Austin being the most likely of the bunch to help right out of the gate.
Bottom Line: The guard position has been completely gutted for Mr. Avery Johnson. This team will compete for last in the SEC, but should finish comfortably ahead of the Mizzou Tigers.
C – Ryan Rosburg, 6’10, Senior
PF – D‘Angelo Allen, 6‘7, Sophomore
SF – Jakeenan Gant, 6‘8, Sophomore
SG – Namon Wright, 6‘5, Sophomore
PG – Wes Clark, 6‘0, Junior
Reserves: Russell Woods, 6‘9, Jr.; Martavian Payne, 6‘2, Jr.; Terrence Phillips, 6‘1, Fr.; Tramaine Isabell, 6‘0, So.; KJ Walton, 6‘3, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: None
Mizzou loses their top scorer and rebounder, starting point guard, and most gifted player from a team that won 9 games last year. The biggest question mark entering the season is the future of Wes Clark. He has been nearly invisible during summer workouts and is the default leader for this team. If Clark takes a similar path that many of his teammates took and opts to leave school, the offense will be handed over to 4 star recruit, Terrance Phillips. Their adjusted offensive efficiency was ranked 245th last year while their defense was 163th.
Namon Wright will start at the off-guard position and was considered the best “shooter” while stroking 36% of the three-point attempts. The fact that he only shot 14 free throws all year should give you a good idea of what his game is offensively. In order to be a legitimate threat, he needs to improve his 3-point percentage, and become some threat off the dribble. I believe Gant and Allen will start at the 3 and 4 which will leave Rosburg at the 5.
Bottom Line: Phillips, Rosburg, Allen, Gant, and Wright provide the Tigers with a glimmer of talent and slightly more experience to edge out double digit wins this year. Need a new drinking game? Take a drink every time Wes Clark and Namon Wright carry the ball, as you sit back and enjoy the high-powered Mizzou Offense.