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November 5, 2012

WBB: Scouting the SEC



South Carolina begins its season on Friday. A look at how the rest of the SEC stacks up as Dawn Staley begins her fifth season with the Gamecocks.

Preseason media predictions: Click
Preseason Top 25 polls: Click

ALABAMA
Coach (years): Wendell Hudson (Fifth)
Record at school: 55-69
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 12-19, 2-14 (T-11th)
She's here: G Jasmine Robinson (11.4 ppg), G Meghan Perkins (9.4 ppg), G Khristin Lee (4.9 ppg), G Jessica Merritt (6.0 ppg)
She's outta here: F Kyra Crosby (9.1 ppg)
The skinny: Sure looks like another long year in Tuscaloosa. Even with four returning starters, the Crimson Tide were picked to finish last in the SEC. Alabama has little height and little flash at the guard spots and no great way to get the ball to what it has in the post. The Tide are fast, but speed only accounts for so much without the scoring to go with it.

ARKANSAS
Coach (years): Tom Collen (Sixth)
Record at school: 93-66
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 24-9, 10-6 (T-fourth) *Second round, NCAA tournament
She's here: F Sarah Watkins (10.0 ppg), G Dominique Robinson (6.6 ppg)
She's outta here: G C'eira Ricketts (11.3 ppg), G Lyndsay Harris (9.6 ppg), F Ashley Daniels (7.8 ppg)
The skinny: Watkins returns to handle the post game but the Razorbacks lost their guard tandem of Ricketts and Harris. Collen signed freshman point guard Mia Melton to replace Ricketts, but Calli Berna is back to bid for the job. Perhaps a year away from returning to last season's form.

AUBURN
Coach (years): Terri Williams-Flournoy (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 13-17, 5-11 (Ninth)
She's here: G Tyrese Tanner (10.6 ppg), G Hasina Muhammad (9.5 ppg), G Blanche Alverson (9.1 ppg)
She's outta here: Coach Nell Fortner, G Camille Glymph (9.0 ppg), F Chantel Hilliard (6.0 ppg)
The skinny: The Tigers might not have much in the way of returning talent, but Flournoy-Williams brings an injection of energy. She is coming off three straight NCAA tournament trips at Georgetown and hopes to build the way she did in eight years with the Hoyas. Her three returning starters are a good foundation to raise the team's structure on, and Auburn may offer a lot more than its predicted 10th-place finish.

FLORIDA
Coach (years): Amanda Butler (Sixth)
Record at school: 98-67
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 20-13, 8-8 (Eighth) *Second round, NCAA tournament
She's here: F Jennifer George (12.8 ppg), G Jaterra Bonds (8.1 ppg)
She's outta here: G Jordan Jones (11.2 ppg), G Lanita Bartley (9.3 ppg), C Azania Stewart (6.3 ppg)
The skinny: Butler has had a good run with the Gators, but is still trying to get back to the 24-8 record she posted in 2008-09. While Florida has been good, with back-to-back 20-win seasons, the Gators always want more. It will be difficult to do that this year, although George is an all-conference performer. Butler signed a whopping eight players in her recruiting class, but only one (6-foot-7 junior center Vicky McIntyre) has any experience.

GEORGIA
Coach (years): Andy Landers (34th)
Record at school: 795-268
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 22-9, 11-5 (Third) *NCAA tournament
She's here: F Jasmine Hassell (13.0 ppg), G Khaalidah Miller (12.4 ppg), G Anne Marie Armstrong (11.5 ppg), G Jasmine James (10.6 ppg)
She's outta here: G Meredith Mitchell (9.2 ppg)
The skinny: The Lady Bulldogs had another fine season last year, but also flamed out in the NCAA tournament, bounced in the first round by Marist. It's become a rather disturbing staple of Landers' teams - great talent, always in the tournament, always wins his 20, but can't get that ring. This may be his best chance in quite some time to get it. The Bulldogs return four starters and have a solid veteran corps of backups. They'll finish in the top four of the league - most likely.

KENTUCKY
Coach (years): Matthew Mitchell (Sixth)
Record at school: 114-56
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 28-7, 13-3 (First) *Elite Eight
SEC regular-season champion
She's here: G A'dia Mathies (15.0 ppg), G Bria Goss (11.0 ppg), C Samantha Drake (4.7 ppg), G Kastine Evans (7.0 ppg)
She's outta here: G Amber Smith (4.4 ppg)
The skinny: You may think Mitchell is an arrogant guy, coming out of the locker room after his team as "My Town" blares on the PA, but he's backing it up. The Wildcats have not won less than 25 games in each of the past three years and this season, are taking aim at the Final Four. With four starters back, including Mathies, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, Kentucky was naturally voted to repeat as regular-season champ. Mitchell is hitting on all cylinders right now and doesn't show any sign of stopping.

LSU
Coach (years): Nikki Caldwell (Second)
Record at school: 23-11
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 23-11, 10-6 (T-fourth) *Second round, NCAA tournament
She's here: G Bianca Lutley (5.3 ppg), G Jeanne Kenney (5.6 ppg), G Adrienne Webb (9.9 ppg)
She's outta here: F Courtney Jones (8.9 ppg), F LaSondra Barrett (12.8 ppg)
The skinny: Caldwell did as expected in her first year, guiding the Tigers to the NCAA tournament after two straight tournament appearances at UCLA. LSU lost its post presence but returns three backups that are all at least 6-2. Caldwell has shown that she can recruit the "big girl" and have her produce, and her three guards are as savvy and veteran as they come. LSU is in that logjam of teams that are good but not great - many are fighting for third and fourth place behind Kentucky and Georgia.

MISSISSIPPI STATE
Coach (years): Vic Schaefer (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 14-16, 4-12 (10th)
She's here: C Martha Alwal (5.4 ppg), G Kendra Grant (7.3 ppg)
She's outta here: Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, G Diamber Johnson (14.7 ppg), G Porsha Porter (13.0 ppg), C Catina Bett (5.3 ppg), F Ashley Brown (4.0 ppg)
The skinny: The Bulldogs had drastically fallen off in the past two years, causing the coaching change. Schaefer, after seven years at Sam Houston State where he only had one winning season, doesn't stand much of a chance to reverse that right away. While Alwal and Grant are solid, they're not the types to carry a team. MSU returned seven other letter-winners but signed only two freshmen. Could be a long season.

MISSOURI
Coach (years): Robin Pingeton (Third)
Record at school: 26-36
2011-12 record (Big 12 finish): 13-18, 2-16 (10th)
She's here: G Kyley Simmons (4.7 ppg), G Morgan Eye (8.1 ppg), G Liene Pride (6.5 ppg)
She's outta here: F Christine Flores (16.9 ppg, BreAnna Brock (13.7 ppg)
The skinny: The new kid on the block doesn't have the luxury as fellow Big 12 defector Texas A&M. The Tigers lost their two best players and are stepping into a league where the competition and talent is much better. While the Tigers could perhaps spring the "unknown commodity" on their first couple of conference opponents, three of their first four SEC games are against Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Talk to you next year.

OLE MISS
Coach (years): Brett Frank (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 12-18, 2-14 (T-11th)
She's here: G Valencia McFarland (13.5 ppg), F Danielle McCray (5.2 ppg), F Courtney Marbra (2.9 ppg)
She's outta here: Coach Renee Ladner, coach Adrian Wiggins, C Nikki Byrd (11.7 ppg), G Whitney Hameth (4.9 ppg)
The skinny: Ole Miss had some talent to work with and hired Wiggins, who guided Fresno State from scandal to national prominence, to start the rebuilding process. Instead, the Rebels are looking down a long, dark tunnel. Wiggins was fired, along with an assistant coach and his director of operations, for recruiting violations less than a month before the season. The school and NCAA are investigating while Frank has been named interim coach. The Rebels have a solid nucleus of players, but the question is if they can get past the cloud hanging over the program. It certainly doesn't look promising.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Coach (years): Dawn Staley (Fifth)
Record at school: 67-58
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 25-10, 10-6 (T-fourth) *Sweet 16
She's here: G Ieasia Walker (7.9 ppg), F Ashley Bruner (7.2 ppg), F Aleighsa Welch (7.6 ppg)
She's outta here: G La'Keisha Sutton (10.6 ppg), G Markeisha Grant (11.1 ppg), F Charenee Stephens (4.9 ppg), F Courtney Newton (0.7 ppg)
The skinny: Staley's rebuilding project, as she said, took longer than expected, but finally paid off in her fourth year. The Gamecocks, built around a core of veterans that had been through the bad times, exploded onto the scene last year and ran to the Sweet 16. Those veterans are gone, but USC re-stocked with a lot of talent, including two homegrown pieces in Asia Dozier and Khadijah Sessions. The Gamecocks have the look to do some damage, but their bench is thin - only 10 players are likely to play this season.

TENNESSEE
Coach (years): Holly Warlick (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 27-9, 12-4 (Second) *Elite Eight
SEC tournament champion
She's here: G Meighan Simmons (11.1 ppg), G Ariel Massengale (7.4 ppg)
She's outta here: Coach Pat Summitt, G Briana Bass (2.0 ppg), F Alicia Manning (3.9 ppg), F Vicki Baugh (7.5 ppg), F Glory Johnson (14.2 ppg), G Shekinna Stricklen (16.4 ppg)
The skinny: For the first time 38 years, Summitt won't be on the sideline. Warlick was doing a lot of actual coaching during games last season, but Summitt was still there; this time, it's Warlick's show. Some have wondered if Summitt's departure would trigger a reversal in Tennessee's staggering success, and it certainly was a blow that the Lady Volunteers lost five starters. But it's Tennessee. It's going to be late March and the Lady Vols will still be playing.

TEXAS A&M
Coach (years): Gary Blair (10th)
Record at school: 212-90
2011-12 record (Big 12 finish): 24-11, 11-7 (Second) *Sweet 16
She's here: C Kelsey Bone (11.9 ppg), G Alexia Standish (5.8 ppg)
She's outta here: G Sydney Carter (10.9 ppg), F Adaora Elonu (11.6 ppg), G Tyra White (13.1 ppg)
The skinny: The other conference newcomer, the Aggies come to the SEC on a wave of success. NCAA champions two years ago, Texas A&M's lowest win total since 2005-06 is 23. Stocked with a lot of homegrown height and talent, the Aggies can come at opponents in a variety of different ways, and were it not for Baylor last year, would have been Big 12 champions. USC gets a reunion with Bone, who jettisoned the Gamecocks after spending her freshman year with them - the crowd at Colonial Life Arena on Feb. 10 may be hostile.

VANDERBILT
Coach (years): Melanie Balcomb (11th)
Record at school: 238-94
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 23-10, 9-7 (Seventh) *Second round, NCAA tournament
She's here: G Christina Foggie (17.7 ppg), G Jasmine Lister (12.5 ppg), F Tiffany Clarke (11.1 ppg), C Stephanie Holzer (11.0 ppg), F Kady Schrann (6.7 ppg)
She's outta here: G Jordan Coleman (1.7 ppg)
The skinny: In a sense, Vanderbilt isn't too pleased about welcoming Missouri and Texas A&M into the league. The Commodores, returning all but one letter-winner, were aiming to knock Kentucky off the heap this year and now have to go through two more teams to do it. A very deep, very talented team, Vanderbilt will go far this year if it can keep riding its preference of living by the 3-pointer. The Commodores can score in other ways, but like the 3-pointer - only problem is, when it's not there, neither is the team.



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