Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2008-09 SEC Basketball Preview

Less than a month has passed since Kansas beat Memphis in the national title game, but I couldn't help but take a look at the 2008-09 season. The deadline has passed for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft (although they have until June 16 to withdraw), which means we have a pretty good idea of who's staying and going.

In previewing the Southeastern Conference, it seems as though the East is once again more talented than the West with Tennessee and Florida as the clear favorites. Vanderbilt and Kentucky lose a lot, but both welcome talented freshman classes that make it that much harder to project how they'll finish.

With that said, here's an early look at the SEC. Disagree with my picks? As always, feel free to leave comments below.

Eastern Division

2007-08 Record: (31-5, 14-2 SEC)

Key losses
Chris Lofton (15.5 points, 3.2 rebounds)
JaJuan Smith (14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds)
Jordan Howell (4.3 points, 2.2 assists)
Tyler Smith (13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists)
J.P. Prince (8.0 points, 3.2 rebounds)
Wayne Chism (9.9 points, 5.8 rebounds)
Duke Crews (5.4 points, 4.0 rebounds)
Ramar Smith (7.4 points, 3.2 assists)
Coming in
Cameron Tatum (Redshirt freshman)
Scotty Hopson, SF (5-Star)
Renaldo Woolridge, SF (4-Star)
Philip Jurick, C (4-Star)

Season Outlook: The Vols got great news when Tyler Smith decided to return for his junior season. All-American Scotty Hopson is going to make people forget about Chris Lofton. UT also welcomes back Cameron Tatum, the big signee from '07, who was injured last season. In addition, the entire roster is finally full of Bruce Pearl's recruits, which means they should be bigger and more athletic. A Final Four is not out of reach for this squad, although the point guard position is once again in question.

2007-08 Record: (24-12, 8-8 SEC)

Key losses
Jonathan Mitchell (Transfer)
Nick Calathes, Fr. G/F (15.3 points, 6.1 assists, 5.2 rebounds)
Walter Hodge, Jr. G (10.4 points, 2.9 assists)
Jai Lucas, Fr. G (8.5 points, 2.3 assists)
Dan Werner, So. F (9.1 points, 6.4 rebounds)
Chandler Parsons, Fr. F (8.1 points, 4 rebounds)
Alex Tyus, Fr. F (4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds)
Marresse Speights, So. F (14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds)
Coming in
Kenny Kadji, C (5-Star)
Ray Shipman, SF (4-Star)
Allan Chaney, PF (4-Star)
Eloy Vargas, PF (4-Star)
Erving Walker, PG (3-Star)

Season Outlook: The Gators were extremely young in 2007 and still won 24 games (advancing to the NIT Final Four). Speights has declared for the NBA Draft, but has not hired an agent. If he returns, the Gators will challenge the Vols for the SEC East crown. Without him, Billy Donovan's squad still very well could as they bring virtually everyone else back. Calathes is a SEC Player of the Year candidate and UF welcomes three talented big men in Kadji, Vargas and Chaney. While Noah, Brewer and Horford aren't walking through that door, a Sweet 16 run is likely for the Gators.

2007-08 Record: (26-8, 10-6 SEC)
Key losses
Shan Foster (20.3 points, 4.9 rebounds)
Alex Gordon (10.8 points, 3.1 assists)
Ross Neltner (8.3 points, 5.6 rebounds)
Alan Metcalfe (5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds)
Jermaine Beal (7.6 points, 4.6 assists)
A.J. Ogilvy (17 points, 6.7 rebounds)
Andre Walker (2.4 points, 2.0 rebounds)
Darshawn McClellan (2.7 points, 3.0 rebounds)
Jamie Graham (Football player/defensive specialist)
Brad Tinsley
Coming in
Festus Ezeli, C (Redshirt)
Charles Hinkle, SG (Redshirt)
Lance Goulbourne, F (4-Star)
Steve Tchiengang, F (4-Star)
Jeff Taylor, SF (4-Star)
Jordan Smart, SG (Preferred walk-on)

Season Outlook: The Commodores are one of the toughest teams to project. They're losing a lot, most notably SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster, but return Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy and welcome what is perhaps the best recruiting class in Kevin Stallings' tenure. Adding Jeff Taylor last week was huge and they could still sign Brad Tinsley, who is deciding between VU and Wake Forest. You also can't forget about the raw, but extremely athletic center Festus Ezeli, who redshirted this season. Ultimately, there are too many unknowns to place any expectations on the Commodores. I would imagine that they struggle somewhat early, but get much better as the year goes on and have a chance to qualify for the Big Dance. With no seniors on the roster, however, watch out for Vandy in 09-10.

2007-08 Record: (18-13, 12-4 SEC)

Key losses
Ramel Bradley, G (15.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists)
Joe Crawford, G (17.9 points, 3.6 rebounds)
Jodie Meeks, So. F (8.8 points, 2.6 rebounds)
Patrick Patterson, Fr. F (16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds)
Perry Stevenson (5.9 points, 5.1 rebounds)
Ramon Harris, (4.2 points, 3.5 rebounds)
Derrick Jasper, So. G
Coming in
DeAndre Liggins, SF (5-Star)
Darius Miller, SF (4-Star)
Kevin Galloway, SF (4-Star, JUCO)

Season Outlook: Billy Gillespie said he expects to be "a much more fast-paced team" next season. Whether that means better is yet to be determined. While their relationship was rocky at first, Gillespie grew to love Bradley and Crawford, who averaged 34 points between them. It's not going to be easy to replace their production, which is why the Wildcats will need oft-injured Jodie Meeks to return to his freshman-year form. Kentucky also has a lot of unknowns. Jasper is homesick and considering transferring to a school on the West Coast, while Patterson (stress fracture in his left ankle) will be out four to six months. Like Vandy, the Wildcats will be asking a lot of their talented freshman class, which includes Kentucky's "Mr. Basketball" and the next Scottie Pippen. If Patterson is healthy, expect the Wildcats to be in the Big Dance once again.

2007-08 Record: (24-12, 8-8 SEC)

Key losses
Sundiata Gaines, G (14.8 points, 6 rebounds, 4.2 assists)
Dave Bliss, C (7.6 points, 5.6 rebounds)
Billy Humphrey, Jr. G (12.2 points, 3.5 rebounds)
Terrance Woodbury, Jr. G/F (11 points, 4.1 rebounds)
Jeremy Price, Fr. F (8.1 points, 4.4 rebounds)
Albert Jackson, So. F/C (3.7 points, 4.3 rebounds)
Coming in
Trey Thompkins, PF (4-Star)
Travis Leslie, SF (4-Star)
Drazen Zlovaroc, SF (3-Star)
Dustin Ware, PG (3-Star)
Ebuka Anyaorah, SG

Season Outlook: The Bulldogs may have won the SEC Tournament, thus earning a trip to the Big Dance, but don't let that Cinderella finish fool you. They are a decent team that's losing its best player in Sundiata Gaines. While the recruiting class is strong, it's going to be a long time before the Bulldogs "can literally dominate the nation and win championships with just Georgia players," no matter what disillusioned coach Dennis Felton likes to believe.

2007-08 Record: (14-18, 5-11 SEC)

Key losses
Dwayne Day (5.1 points, 3.7 rebounds)
Devan Downey, So. G (18.4 points, 5.4 assists)
Zam Fredrick, Jr. G (14.8 points, 3.2 assists)
Dominique Archie, So. F (10.6 points, 5.7 rebounds)
Evaldas Baniulus, So. F (5.4 points, 2.2 rebounds)
Mike Holmes, Fr. F/C (8.5 points, 5.7 rebounds)
Coming in
Darius Morrow, C (3-Star)

Season Outlook: No much to say here, other than I think that new coach Darrin Horn should hire Ty Rodgers as an assistant, or at least give him a portion of the five-year contract worth $800,000 annually that he just signed. Had Rodgers not hit the shot of the lifetime to lift Western Kentucky past Drake, Horn wouldn't have gone anywhere, which shows how much stock (foolishly?) teams place on NCAA Tournament results. As for the team Horn takes over? They don't lose or gain much, which means they should be just as bad (OK, maybe a couple of wins better).

SEC Western Division

2007-08 Record: (24-11, 7-9 SEC)

Key losses
Dwayne Curtis (14.9 points, 9.6 rebounds)
Kenny Williams (8.5 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Chris Warren, Fr. G (15.8 points, 4.5 assists)
Eniel Polynice, So. G (10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds)
David Huertas, So. G (10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds)
Trevor Gaskins, Jr. G (5.9 points, 1.5 rebounds)
Zach Graham, Fr. G (5.9 points, 2.7 rebounds)
Coming in
DeAundre Cranston, F (JUCO)
Murphy Holloway, SF (4-Star)
Terrance Henry, PF (4-Star)
Three 3-star recruits

Season Outlook: Andy Kennedy, the SEC's most underrated coach, has to like his squad's chances. Point guard Chris Warren is only going to get better, and the same could be said for the Rebels' supporting cast, which includes Polynice and Huertas. Ole Miss will be thin in the frontcourt without Curtis, Williams and Jermey Parnell, although Cranston, Henry, a top-100 recruit, and the super-talented Holloway should help. Kennedy's teams always seem to be better than the sum of their parts and I expect next year to be no different.

2007-08 Record: (17-16, 5-11 SEC)

Key losses
Mykal Riley, F (14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds)
Rico Pickett, Fr. G (Transfer)
Alonzo Gee, Jr. G (14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds)
Brandon Hollinger, Jr. G (6.3 points, 3.2 assists)
Demetrius Jemison, So. F (5.6 points, 5.3 rebounds)
Richard Hendrix, F (17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds)
Ronald Steele, PG (Injured)
Coming in
Anthony Brock, PG (JC All-American)
JaMychal Green, F (5-Star)
Andrew Steele, PG (4-Star)
Tony Mitchell, SF (4-Star)

Season Outlook: I'm high on the Crimson Tide as long as it Hendrix and Steele realize they're not first-round picks and return for their senior seasons. JUCO point guard Anthony Brock is a nice addition and McDonald's All-American JaMychal Green should be an absolute stud. I know that Alabama has underachieved in the past, but in the wide-open West where every team has question marks, the talented Tide have as good a shot as any.

3. LSU
2007-08 Record: (13-18, 6-10 SEC)

Key losses
Anthony Randolph (15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds)
Marcus Thornton, Jr. G (19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds)
Tasmin Mitchell, Jr. F (Injured)
Garrett Temple, Jr. G (6.4 points, 4.2 rebounds)
Chris Johnson, Jr. C (11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Terry Martin, Jr. G (8.3 points, 2.5 rebounds)
Coming in
J'Mison Morgan, C (4-Star)
Delwan Graham, PF (4-Star)
Storm Warren, PF (3-Star)

Season Outlook: Randolph is off to the NBA and for good reason (he's a projected lottery pick), but had he stayed, the Tigers would have been a team to watch out for. New coach Trent Johnson (a great hire for LSU) will rely heavily on leading scorer Marcus Thornton and center Chris Johnson. The Tigers also expect Tasmin Mitchell, a 2007 preseason second-team All-SEC selection, to return to form after missing all but three games with an ankle injury.

2007-08 Record: (23-11, 12-4 SEC)

Key losses
Charles Rhodes (17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds)
Ben Hansbrough (10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds)
Jarvis Varnado, So. C (7.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 blocks)
Barry Stewart, So. G (11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds)
Jamont Gordon, Jr. G/F (17.2 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Coming in
Romero Osby, PF (4-Star)
Dee Bost, SG (4-Star)
Twany Beckham, SG (3-Star)

Season Outlook: I've got the Bulldogs here under the assumption that Jamont Gordon does not return for his senior season. Judging from this story, I think that's a fair assumption. Mississippi State was not a very deep team to begin with, and without Gordon, Rhodes and Hansbrough (who transferred to Notre Dame), it returns just two starters in Stewart and Vernado, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. While Bost and Osby are both 4-star recruits, it will be tough for the Bulldogs to get back to the NCAA Tournament without Gordon.

2007-08 Record: (23-12, 9-7 SEC)

Key losses
Gary Ervin, G (9.5 points, 3.8 assists)
Sonny Weems, G/F (15 points, 4.5 rebounds)
Darian Townes, F (12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds)
Charles Thomas, F (9.2 points, 4.5 rebounds)
Steven Hill, C (4.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks)
Patrick Beverley, So. G (12.1 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Stefan Welsh, So. G (5.3 points, 1.9 assists)
Michael Washington, So. F (4.3 points, 3.9 rebounds)
Coming in
Rotnei Clarke, PG (4-Star)
Jason Henry, SF (4-Star)
Four 3-star recruits

Season Outlook: For the past two seasons, the Razorbacks failed to live up to their potential. Now, they're losing five talented seniors, most notably the high-flying Sonny Weems. Beverley is fun to watch, but there's going to be too much riding on his shoulders. While John Pelphrey's first recruiting class includes two 4-star recruits, expect the Razorbacks to take a step backward this season.

2007-08 Record: (14-16, 4-12 SEC)

Key losses
Frank Tolbert, G (13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds)
Quan Prowell, F (15 points, 6.3 rebounds)
Rasheem Barrett, Jr. G (13.6 points, 4 rebounds)
Quantez Robertson, Jr. G (7.8 points, 5 rebounds, 4.1 assists)
Korvotney Barber, Jr. F (13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds)
DeWayne Reed, So. G (8.9 points, 3.7 assists)
Lucas Hargrove, So. F (7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds)
Coming in
Four 3-star recruits

Season Outlook: The Tigers lose two key contributors from a squad that wasn't very good to begin with. Couple that with the fact that they've signed a mediocre recruiting class and you've got a team that doesn't have much to look forward to.


David Shochat said...

just a note. Taylor is now a four star guy and actually the highest ranked of any of our recruits. I think the rankings are good. I would be surprised if we don't make the tourney next season if the freshmen are really as good as advertised. Florida, UT, Ole Miss all seem like locks but if Hendrix leaves which i think he will Bama may struggle, Arkansas has lost a ton (more than Vandy), Auburn, UGA, South Carolina should be about normal. Miss St. will really miss Gordon. So that leaves UK, us, and LSU trying to get in granted the SEC gets its normal 5-6 teams in. Also when you look back, sure losing Shan is really going to hurt, but the other guys were solid players not great. I think the other three esp. Metcalfe and Neltner will be easily replaced. We may not have as good of a record next year as this year, but i think we will be an overall better team. This year our record was so good because of our easy first half of the season with all those home games.

Jarred Amato said...

The thing with freshmen is you just never know. AJ was the real deal, but he's the exception, not the rule. That's why it's so hard to make predictions about teams like Vandy and UK who will be relying heavily on freshmen.

I think the Commodores will be talented enough to make the Big Dance, but there are a number of question marks. How will the chemistry be? Will they be able to defend? Can this year's freshmen make the leap? Will AJ and Beal assume the leadership responsibilities?

You're right that most of the seniors are replaceable from a talent standpoint, but you can't ignore their leadership qualities. Red and Shan in particular taught the underclassmen what it was like to practice hard every day and are singlehandedly responsible for the team's great chemistry. Hopefully the returning players took notes...

Regardless of whether they make the tournament, next year's squad should be fun to watch.

Tony Arnold said...

A question mark for us next year besides the points already made is who steps up to be the leader on this team?

Not necessarily scoring, but who steps up to be the team leader in energy, toughness, practice mentality, locker room, etc. The guy that during key point in the game can make an important score, assist, take a charge, whatever.

It should be a senior or junior. Goes a long way in making the freshman better. I think of Freije, Dan Cage, Drew Maddux, Byers, Shan, even Ross did it last year. They could do that one little thing at a key point that really came more from their heart and gut than from just talent.

David Shochat said...

While I agree that Red and Shan will be missed in the locker room and in practice because everyone respected what they had to say since they were the leaders, some said that our horrible performances on the road were due to a lack of leadership. Some would argue that leadership was lacking last year so will it really be any different? I think it will. Just saying i remember people questioning senior leadership last season.