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November 7, 2012

Scouting the SEC



South Carolina begins its season on Sunday. A look at how the rest of the SEC stacks up as Frank Martin begins his first season with the Gamecocks.

Preseason media predictions: Click
Preseason Top 25 polls: Click

ALABAMA
Coach (years): Anthony Grant (Fourth)
Record at school: 69-39
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 21-12, 9-7 (Fifth) *NCAA tournament
He's here: G Trevor Releford (12.0 ppg), G Trevor Lacey (7.3 ppg), G Andrew Steele (6.6 ppg), G Levi Randolph (6.5 ppg)
He's outta here: F JaMychal Green (14.0 ppg), F Tony Mitchell (13.1 ppg)
The skinny: Grant never has the sexy team to watch, but his teams always play tough, physical defense and find ways to win. Now that he has gotten rid of a very talented but problematic player in Green, Grant can avoid all of the off-the-court distractions, but he also lost his top two scorers and has a 10-man team. The Crimson Tide don't have the talent of a Kentucky or a Missouri, but they'll finish in the upper half of the league. It wouldn't be wise to count them out of a top-four finish.

ARKANSAS
Coach (years): Mike Anderson (Second)
Record at school: 18-14
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 18-14, 6-10 (Ninth)
He's here: F Marshawn Powell (19.5 ppg), G B.J. Young (15.3 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (10.8 ppg), G Rickey Scott (9.1 ppg)
He's outta here: G Julysses Nobles (8.7 ppg), F Michael Sanchez (4.0 ppg)
The skinny: The record doesn't reflect it, but Anderson had a good season last year. The Razorbacks' problem was they couldn't win on the road, as a horrid 1-9 record attests. Anderson, the lifelong Arkansas assistant who had great success at UAB and Missouri, will get it done with the Hogs, and this year is the start of it. Like Alabama, Arkansas may not finish in the top two, but those third and fourth spots are open.

AUBURN
Coach (years): Tony Barbee (Third)
Record at school: 26-36
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 15-16, 5-11 (T-10th)
He's here: G Frankie Sullivan (12.6 ppg), C Rob Chubb (8.1 ppg)
He's outta here: F Kenny Gabriel (12.2 ppg), G Varez Ward (9.0 ppg)
The skinny: Auburn's still waiting for the Barbee Project to begin. While nobody expected a great turnaround when Barbee was hired, the Tigers have become stagnant. Whispers of huge locker-room turmoil have surfaced and it didn't help that Ward was implicated in a point-shaving scandal in March. Going to be another long year on the Plains.

FLORIDA
Coach (years): Billy Donovan (16th)
Record at school: 386-158
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 26-11, 10-6 (T-second) *Elite Eight
He's here: G Kenny Boynton (15.9 ppg), F Erik Murphy (10.5 ppg), C Patric Young (10.2 ppg)
He's outta here: G Bradley Beal (14.8 ppg), G Erving Walker (12.1 ppg)
The skinny: As good as Donovan has been at Florida, the past two years have left a bitter taste in Gainesville. The Gators won 29 games two years ago and 26 last year, but didn't win a national championship. That's understandable, but still frustrating - the fact is, Florida has lost two straight Elite Eight games, where it had a double-digit lead with eight minutes to play. Since the Gators won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, they want to do it again, and they feel this is the team that may do it. With a solid nucleus back plus another stellar recruiting class, Florida doesn't feel like it has to bow down to Kentucky just because of that new banner hanging in Rupp Arena.

GEORGIA
Coach (years): Mark Fox (Fourth)
Record at school: 50-46
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 15-17, 5-11 (T-10th)
He's here: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13.2 ppg), F Donte Williams (7.8 ppg), F Nemanja Djurisic (7.0 ppg), F Marcus Thornton (3.0 ppg)
He's outta here: G Gerald Robinson (14.2 ppg)
The skinny: Fox took the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament two years ago but missed last year, after an expected dropoff from losing talent. It doesn't look like he'll be able to correct it this year, although he has some talent to build around. Fox has a good core, but welcoming two new teams into the league may be the difference between him having a winning season or not. Georgia may offer a few surprises, but a .500 finish seems the most likely destination.

KENTUCKY
Coach (years): John Calipari (Fourth)
Record at school: 102-14
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 38-2, 16-0 (First)
SEC regular-season champion
NATIONAL CHAMPION
He's here: F Nerlens Noel (first year), F Alex Poythress (first year), F Willie Cauley-Stein (first year), G Archie Goodwin (first year), F Kyle Wiltjer (5.0 ppg)
He's outta here: F Anthony Davis (14.2 ppg), G Doron Lamb (13.7 ppg), F Terrence Jones (12.3 ppg), F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.0 ppg), G Marquis Teague (10.0 ppg), G Darius Miller (9.9 ppg)
The skinny: Kentucky lost an NBA starting five (plus more) after storming to the national title last season, yet was still picked to win the SEC again. Why? Easy. The Wildcats simply went out and signed three five-star recruits, plus another four-star prospect. All of the one-and-dones may eventually catch up to Calipari in terms of APR, but it won't for a while. In the meantime, the rest of the league suffers.

LSU
Coach (years): Johnny Jones (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 18-15, 7-9 (Eighth) *NIT
He's here: G Andre Stringer (10.1 ppg), G Anthony Hickey (8.9 ppg), F Johnny O'Bryant (8.5 ppg)
He's outta here: Coach Trent Johnson, C Justin Hamilton (12.9 ppg), G Ralston Turner (9.1 ppg)
The skinny: The Tigers were dealt a setback when Johnson unexpectedly bolted for the TCU job after the season. LSU had improved throughout last year until a late-season fold ended its chances for the NCAAs, but with a healthy and solid team coming back, thought it could make some noise. Instead, Jones is coming in with a new style. Jones is an LSU alum and was around for the Dale Brown days, so he knows the tradition, and has a good team for his first try. LSU was picked rather low, but don't be surprised if O'Bryant becomes an All-SEC performer this year and the Tigers go dancing.

MISSISSIPPI STATE
Coach (years): Rick Ray (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 21-12, 8-8 (T-sixth) *NIT
He's here: G Jalen Steele (8.7 ppg)
He's outta here: Coach Rick Stansbury, F Arnett Moultrie (16.4 ppg), G Dee Bost (15.8 ppg), G Rodney Hood (10.3 ppg), F Renardo Sidney (9.7 ppg)
The skinny: Yes, that really happened. The Bulldogs turned an assured NCAA tournament trip into a stumbling finish, losing seven of their last nine to play themselves right out of the tournament. That led to more locker-room turmoil, with rampant egos, which led to several departures and the retirement of longtime coach Stansbury. MSU is trying to start all over, including trying to wipe away some of the shadiness of the Stansbury era, and get back to prominence. It won't be this year. Steele is the only returning player of note, and the Bulldogs will finish near the bottom of the SEC.

MISSOURI
Coach (years): Frank Haith (Second)
Record at school: 30-5
2011-12 record (Big 12 finish): 30-5, 14-4 (Second) *NCAA tournament
He's here: G Phil Pressey (10.3 ppg), G Michael Dixon (13.5 ppg)
He's outta here: G Marcus Denmon (17.7 ppg), G Kim English (14.5 ppg), F Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 ppg), G Matt Pressey (6.2 ppg)
The skinny: The Tigers had an outstanding first year under Haith, clinching a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament, then shockingly lost to No. 15-seed Norfolk State. After losing four starters, Missouri was thought to struggle this year, but yet, the Tigers replaced the four with a lot of talent. Pressey was voted SEC Preseason Player of the Year and Missouri was voted to finish third in the league. Preseason predictions don't count for much, but the Tigers are aiming to show that it wasn't a joke. With Haith, he needs to show what he can do. Last year's Tigers were put in place by Anderson, not him.

OLE MISS
Coach (years): Andy Kennedy (Seventh)
Record at school: 125-78
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 20-14, 8-8 (T-sixth) *NIT
He's here: F Murphy Holloway (11.2 ppg), G Jarvis Summers (10.4 ppg); G Nick Williams (10.1 ppg), F Reginald Buckner (6.9 ppg)
He's outta here: F Terrance Henry (12.5 ppg)
The skinny: Kennedy has won more games in his first six years than anyone in school history, but his seat is a bit warm. Why? He still hasn't taken the Rebels to the NCAA tournament, only advancing to five NITs. The reason for it is that Kennedy always plays a soft non-conference schedule, which hurts him come March - the Rebels only finishing above .500 in the league once during his tenure also hurts. He has the talent to make the tournament this year, but will have to fight past Alabama and Arkansas. The top teams in the league only appear once on the schedule, so that may help him out. If not, he may have to go job-hunting.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Coach (years): Frank Martin (First)
Record at school: 0-0
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 10-21, 2-14 (12th)
He's here: G Bruce Ellington (11.0 ppg), G Damien Leonard (6.8 ppg), G Brenton Williams (6.1 ppg)
He's outta here: Coach Darrin Horn, F Malik Cooke (12.3 ppg), F Anthony Gill (7.6 ppg), F Damontre Harris (6.8 ppg)
The skinny: While Martin brings an infusion of energy to a program needing it, the Gamecocks don't have much to work with this year. Ellington won't return until January and USC simply doesn't have players on offense. USC will play tough defense and be competitive, and can take advantage of a soft non-conference schedule. But the real improvement will probably be shown next year.

TENNESSEE
Coach (years): Cuonzo Martin (Second)
Record at school: 19-15
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 19-15, 10-6 (T-second) *Second round, NIT
He's here: G Trae Golden (13.6 ppg), F Jeronne Maymon (12.7 ppg), F Jarnell Stokes (9.6 ppg), G Jordan McRae (8.6 ppg)
He's outta here: Cameron Tatum (8.1 ppg), G Skylar McBee (6.6 ppg)
The skinny: Not many were impressed with the hire of Martin two years ago, figuring that he would simply be a caretaker, steering Tennessee through the aftermath of the Bruce Pearl era before UT could thank him kindly and go get a real coach. Instead, Martin won a surprising 10 games in the SEC last year, tying for second, and had the Volunteers not had a couple of bad losses early in the year (Austin Peay, College of Charleston), they would have been dancing. Instead, they went to the NIT and celebrated a year where they certainly did more than expected. With four starters back and some solid recruits, Martin should enjoy another fine season. He really needs to, since he'll lose five seniors in March.

TEXAS A&M
Coach (years): Billy Kennedy (Second)
Record at school: 14-18
2011-12 record (Big 12 finish): 14-18, 4-14 (Ninth)
He's here: G Elston Turner (13.8 ppg), F Ray Turner (9.1 ppg)
He's outta here: F Khris Middleton (13.2 ppg), F David Loubeau (11.0 ppg), G Dash Harris (6.0 ppg)
The skinny: Not many know what to expect from the Aggies, who enter their first year in the league coming off a rough outing in their last year in the Big 12. Kennedy is a fine coach, despite being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease last year, and will have his team playing hard, but may not do so hot in his first year in the SEC. The Big 12 was a very strong league last year and the SEC is no different, although there is a big dropoff from the top-tier teams such as Kentucky and Florida to Alabama and Arkansas. A&M may surprise folks.

VANDERBILT
Coach (years): Kevin Stallings (14th)
Record at school: 261-159
2011-12 record (SEC finish): 25-11, 10-6 (T-second) *Second round, NCAA tournament
SEC tournament champion
He's here: G Kedren Johnson (3.1 ppg), G Dai-Jon Parker (1.7 ppg)
He's outta here: G John Jenkins (19.9 ppg), F Jeffery Taylor (16.1 ppg), C Festus Ezeli (10.1 ppg), G Brad Tinsley (9.0 ppg)
The skinny: Stallings knew that he had the greatest team of his tenure last year, and knew that if the Commodores couldn't get somewhere that year, they may not ever. Vandy had a stirring emotional win in the SEC tournament championship over eventual national champion Kentucky, but lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Vandy's overhauled roster had to replace the six highest scorers from last year, and the Commodores may struggle with a team featuring two juniors and no seniors. It also doesn't help that Parker is indefinitely suspended. Seems to be a case of playing this year to get to next.



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