It’s a saying the most Mizzou fans hated hearing up until this year. Now, they are whispering it to each other and openly praying for the 2012-2013 season to start. After finishing the year 30-5 and putting a Big 12 Tournament trophy in their trophy case, before leaving the Big 12 and ultimately blowing a perfect opportunity at a Final 4. The Mizzou Tigers are ready to begin a new era in the SEC.
To put it simply, the SEC doesn’t play basketball nearly as well as they play football. The only consistent powerhouse in this conference is Kentucky. Florida looks pretty solid and they have a fantastic coach. So let’s take a look at the rest of the conference and ultimately explore how Mizzou will stack up.
SOUTH CAROLINA: A familiar face and temper followed Mizzou and Texas A&M into the SEC. Good old Francisco Martin takes over for Darrin Horn. Francisco and his over-sized suites walked into a disaster. The Gamecocks only won 10 games last year. Their best player, Bruce Ellington, is also a football player and won’t be available until later in the year. What’s most concerning about this is, Ellington is their starting point guard and most consistent scorer. One thing they do have going for them is they picked up 2 kids from Lithuania who are big and have the typical European skill set. Mindaugas Kacinas is a 6’8 SF/PF type and Laimonas Chatkevicius a 6’11 PF. Other than those 3 glimmers, it looks to be a long season for everyone’s favorite Cuban.
GEORGIA: With Gerald Robinson gone and not a lot of firepower outside of sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Georgia Bulldog team will struggle to make the tournament let alone the NIT in my view. They have a few true freshmen that will get some important playing time. Charles Mann is a 3-star 6’6 shooting guard, who could be forced into the point guard position and Kenny Gaines another 3-star shooting guard who could see a lot of minutes out of necessity. Gaines is probably the better player of the two and will have to come out and score right away because he will probably get the starting role due to lack of options. However, outside of Caldwell-Pope, there’s not much to like about this team.
AUBURN: Auburn has some key players coming back but that’s not really saying much. They picked up a 4-star recruit in Jordan Price. Price is a sharpshooter from the 3 point line. This team lost a lot of players to transfer and will struggle if Price isn’t as advertised. Even if Price scores right away, this team doesn’t really have much surrounding him. There isn’t much of an inside presence for this team. Overall, Auburn lost 8 players from last year and brought in 7 new ones. This will probably result in another tough season for Coach Tony Barbee.
ARKANSAS: Unfortunately for everyone outside of Fayetteville, B.J. Young is coming back after testing the NBA draft. The Hogs are getting a key player back from injury in Marshawn Powell. It looks like Arkansas is ready to make a splash in the SEC. Like most Mike Anderson recruiting classes, his first is full of players that fit his system. Look for Coty Clarke, a junior college transfer, to resemble a Demari Carol type player for Anderson. Junior Mardracus Wade is their sharpshooter, knocking down 47.6% from beyond the arc last year could be a nice complement to Young in the scoring department. Overall, I think this team will be a tournament team and will finish in the top half of the SEC, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are in the NIT this year. Anderson doesn’t quite have his system player in place yet, but they could make a serious splash in 2014.
LSU: LSU lost their coach, Trent Johnson, to TCU and hired former player Johnny Jones. That’s not the only place LSU experienced significant turnover. There are five new players including 4-star recruit Malik Morgan. The team’s best player, in my opinion, is Anthony Hickey Jr. What he lacks in size, he makes up in quickness and defense. Andre Singer is a nice compliment to Hickey, but the guy has the “if it feels like leather, shoot it” mentality that can plague a team. They do have Johnny O’Bryant who was a McDonald’s All-American. He will be interesting to watch because this team is guard heavy and will need him to show more touch inside and improve his shot selection. Outside of O’Bryant, this team is pretty weak inside. This team looks like they may struggle and it will be a tough first year for Johnny Jones.
OLE MISS: Murphy Holloway is the man on this team. He has had an interesting career. He once transferred from Ole Miss to South Carolina and then back to Ole Miss. Holloway is a stud. He averaged almost a double double last year. Even though he’s undersized at 6’7, he’s a beast on the boards and extremely physical around the rim. The Rebels have some pretty decent talent in sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers. Jason Carter is the new kid on the block after transferring from Chipola Junior College. He’s got some range and should help the Rebs out in the scoring department. Demarco Cox is another undersized big man who, like Holloway, plays bigger than his height. Overall, the two guys to watch are Holloway and Summers. However, the Rebels have a pretty easy non-con and should finish around the middle of the pack of the SEC. My guess is, they have an outside chance to make the field of 68 but should make the NIT.
MISSISSIPPI ST.: This team is experiencing some serious turnover. They hired Rick Ray, a former Clemson assistant, to replace Rick Stansbury after 14 years of mediocrity. They lost all but 5 players to the draft and graduation. They were picked last by the SEC media and it’s hard to argue with them considering only 2 players on the current roster have played in an NCAA game. There is definite talent in the freshmen coming in, led by 4-star recruits Craig Sword and Gavin Ware, and they do have senior leadership in Jalen Steele. Steele will probably play in the NBA next year and is the only proven talent on the team. Look for them around the bottom with South Carolina.
ALABAMA: The Tide lost their top 2 scorers from last year in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Green’s 14 ppg and 7.4 rebounds will be very difficult to replace. Mitchell was a good scorer but he was a ball hog and extremely streaky. Mitchell was suspended the last 11 games and ultimately kicked off the team. Coach Anthony Grant was able to snatch former Mizzou target Devonta Pollard. He’s the lone freshman coming in this year, but he’s a very fine catch. At 6’8, he can play the 3 or 4 and will be a matchup problem for a lot of teams. Miege product Trevor Releford is the top returning scorer but there’s definitely potential in sophomores Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph to be big time contributors. Overall, this team is young but very talented. Grant is a very good coach and has the Tide rolling in the right direction. I’d say this team finishes in the top 5 of the SEC and easily makes it in the NCAA tournament.
FLORIDA: Even though they lost starting point guard Erving Walker and their leading scorer Bradly Beal, Coach Billy Donovan has the Gators reloaded and ready for 2013. Junior Patric Young and Kenny Boynton look to lead this team. Young is a 6’9 249 center who’s extremely strong and extremely athletic. Boynton is a 6’2 190 shooting guard who can score. If he has another good year and stays healthy, this team should be a force to be reckoned with. The biggest question mark on this team is at the point guard position. Junior Scottie Wilbekin is slated to take over for Erving Walker. This will be a tough task but Wilbekin has a lot of talent around him. A point guard’s job becomes a lot easier with guys like Patric Young patrolling the paint and Kenny Boynton patrolling the arc. This is a definite tournament team and a definite contender for the SEC title.
VANDERBILT: Not only did the Vandy Commies let their fan base down after last year’s tournament performance, they also torpedoed my bracket in all the pools I was in. I thought for sure this team would make a run. With John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Ezeli gone from this year’s team, the Commies are going to have to come up with some scoring and leadership. They have a freshman named A.J. Astroth who can absolutely light it up from the outside. He’s got good size too at 6’5. The overall question for this team is how are they going to replace the core of last year’s team? Someone will have to step up. I think the guy who does step up is Rod Odom. He’s got a pretty nice touch from the outside and has the most experience on the team. However, this team struggles throughout the year and doesn’t make the tournament while finishing in the bottom half of the SEC.
TENNESSEE: Cameron Tatum has finally graduated (It felt like Tatum has been a Tennessee Vol since the early 80s). They will have to replace his scoring and his leadership. Trae Golden is the best player on this team and he’s still only a junior. He led the team in scoring and assists. Skyler McBee, the former walk-on that broke many Jayhawks’ hearts, is the team’s best 3-point shooter, shooting almost 40% last year. Jordan McCrae has more talent and athleticism than anyone else on this team. If you are a Vols fan, you just hope he’s able to put all the pieces together this year. Jeronne Maymon is a beast on the boards and in the paint. Jarnell Stokes has a lot of potential and could break out in his sophomore year. This team has a strong top five and will be a force in the SEC. The NCAA tournament is in their future.
KENTUCKY: Six players were drafted into the NBA from last year’s national championship team. Most programs would have a ‘rebuilding year.’ This isn’t most programs, this is Kentucky. Most coaches would talk about having a young team and needing to for the talent to develop. This isn’t most coaches, this is John Calipari. Cal went out and got 4 incredible freshmen to replace his drafted stars. Most of you probably know who these guys are and if you don’t, you will. Willie Cauley-Stein is a 7’0 post from Olathe Northwest that Cal stole out of Billy’s backyard. Archie Goodwin is a 6’4 shooting guard is a slasher and a high flier. He’s not much of a jump shooter, but the guy has unbelievable athletic ability. Alex Poythress is 6’8 and an athletic freak. I wouldn’t be shocked if he is the team’s leading rebounder. He’s extremely versatile and runs the floor well. He will be a one and done guy and he may not go ahead of Noel, but I personally think he’s Kentucky’s best player. Nerlens Noel almost didn’t get to play for the Wildcats, but the NCAA cleared him earlier this month. Noel is also a freak of nature. He’s 6’10 (if you add his sweet fade, he’s probably more like 7’4) and can jump through the gym. He will lead the nation in blocks and his game reminds everyone of Anthony Davis. He could play the 4 while Cauley-Stein would play the 5. That’s a scary combo. If Calipari can get these guys to play together like he did with his freshmen last year, the Cats could repeat.
TEXAS A&M: A&M struggled in their last year in the Big 12. They were 14-18 overall and only 4-14 in the conference. Coach Bill Kennedy had a tough year on and off the court. They lost Khris Middleton who ran off to the NBA and David Loubeau, but will return Elston Turner. They have a few nice additions coming in like JUCO transfer Fabyon Harris and freshmen J’Mychael Reese and Shawn Smith. Reese could compete with Harris for the starting point guard position. Even if he doesn’t win the competition, he will still get a lot of minutes off the bench. Overall, this group has some talent, but not much more than last year’s team that finished 14-18. They will struggle in their first year in the SEC and have a hard time making the NIT.
MISSOURI: Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Mizzou has a few things it didn’t have last year. First, they have depth. Mizzou brings in a group of 3 star freshmen recruits that won’t come in right away and make a huge impact but they do add depth. Last year’s team had zero players over 6’9. This year they will have 6. The most intriguing freshman in my opinion is Stefan Jankovic. When was the last time Mizzou had a legitimate prospect at center? At 6’11, this kid is long and athletic. He’s originally from Canada but he looks like a typical European type. He has pretty good handles for being 6’11 and this kid has a beautiful stroke from the 3 point line. He can nail the mid-range jumper. He will struggle with his lack of strength. Ryan Rosburg (6’10 245) is another prospect at center. He’s big and strong, but he is still a project. Tony Criswell (6’9 230) is a JUCCO transfer. He shows great touch around the basket and has tremendous rebounding skills. Negus Webster-Chan (6’7 175) is an athletic swingman. Webster-Chan will take some time to develop but will probably get a lot of playing time this year. Phil Pressey is the best player in the SEC. He’s arguably the best PG in the country. Put him next to Michael Dixon and you could be looking at one of the best guard tandems in the country. Ernest Ross is a 6’5 shooting guard who can slash and shoot. He’s extremely streaky and has a habit of being trigger happy. He may be the most frustrating player on the team this year if he goes through a cold spell. Kion Bell is an athletic 2 guard that can play the point if needed. Lawrence Bowers is back and Mizzou brought in big-time transfer (and former 5 star recruit) Alex Oriakhi and you have almost 300 career blocks between the two of them. This team will look a little bit different down low this year. Overall, I think Mizzou has a very high ceiling and could make a run at an SEC championship in the first year in the league. They should at least finish in the top 3 of the league if Haith can get these transfers to play well together.
Here’s how I see the league stacking up:
7. Ole Miss
8. Texas A&M
13. Mississippi State
14. South Carolina