Much like our last post, this one came from a thought about Marshall Henderson. He was (depending on who you cheered for) fun to watch in all his jersey-popping, landshark-throwing glory. But for some, it was really just because he had coach Andy Kennedy’s blessing to shoot from wherever, whenever. It’s a lost gift, really. In these the days of ball-control and efficiency stats, every possession matters, which makes a player who has the ability to chuck it from a different area code a treasure to behold. Like Clear Pepsi or a late 1990s Master P CD.
He wasn’t the only one. Ethan Wragge is done at Creighton, a guy who took 242 shots last season, and 234 were threes.
So I went digging. I started with some of the top players in terms of three-point attempts in NCAA Division I basketball. Then I went further, seeing what their teams look like to see if they could continue their pace of jacking threes like the line was being banned tomorrow.
Here’s who I think could make you sit and watch a game just to watch them hoist threes all night.
Michael Frazier II, Jr., Florida (264 of 343 shots were 3’s in 13-14) - Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Frazier is one of the best — possibly the best — big-name shooter in the country and he had a breakout season as the Gators reached the Final Four last year. The 6-4 guard was 118-for-264 (44.6 percent), averaged 12.4 ppg and hit big shots when they mattered — he shot 48 percent in the NCAA Tournament and SEC Tournament combined. With Kasey Hill and Eli Carter in to assume point guard duties after Scottie Wilbekin exhausted his eligibility, Billy Donovan will have to give him the green light based on the fact that, well, you don’t leave a stallion locked in the barn.
Prediction – Over 130 makes and 290 attempts, keeping him at around his normal 44 percent for the year.
Q.J. Peterson, Soph., VMI (244 of 549 shots were 3’s) – When you’re in the right system, everything will come together. For Peterson, he plays for a Keydets team that, as most know, love to get up-and-down the court. As a freshman, Peterson, a 6-foot guard, had no conscience, shooting 244 threes with 78 makes (31.9 percent). That’s a pretty awful percentage, but it’s what comes with the territory when your coaches make line changes for substitutions and average a Division I-leading 88.3 ppg as a team. Peterson averaged 19 ppg, but he basically got the greatest situation for a shooter short of Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss.
Prediction – 110 makes with over 310 attempts, which will improve Peterson’s percentage to around 35 percent.
Johnny Dee, Sr., San Diego (225 of 425 shots were 3’s) – This season it should be more of the same for Dee, who hit 94-of-225 (41.7 percent) threes last season. Two of the other top three scorers return for the Toreros in Christopher Anderson and Duda Sanadze return, which will keep the offense relatively the same. The 6-footer has been one of the more consistent shooters his whole career, averaging around three three-point makes and 6.5 attempts to this point. The Toreros also have eight freshman or sophomores on the team this year, so he’s going to be asked to maintain leadership on the court.
Prediction – Around 100 makes with 230 attempts, which should keep him around his current averages. Dee can also get to the rim, which is evident with his free throw-percentage hovering around 90 percent for his career and averages of around six trips to the line per game.
Damon Lynn Soph., NJIT (282 of 405 shots were 3’s) – Lynn led the Highlanders with 17.2 ppg and hit 37.9 percent from three-point range, which was actually better than the 37.3 clip he hit at overall. The 5-11 guard was easily NJIT’s hottest scorer (Terrence Smith was second at 12.2 ppg and after that no teammates were in double-figures) and with some improvements from the rest of the roster, Lynn could be have the freedom to score. For Lynn, a unchanged situation puts him in the perfect one.
Prediction – Until NJIT finds a conference, guys like Lynn should get the nod to score at will. I’d expect his ppg to climb, but his three-point percentage to drop. Around 90 makes and 250 attempts.
Did I miss anyone? Got a better idea? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter @David_Harten.
The differences in Aaron Craft and Marshall Henderson were astounding, really.
When you think about it, the 2013-14 basketball season, in part, was a study of how two men can be seen as “evil” to different people on totally different ends of the spectrum. Craft was, by all accounts, clean-cut, nice and did all the right things. Though he was still hated as if he somehow victimized an entire student section.
Then you had Marshall Henderson, who was 180-degrees in the other direction. The history with drugs. The arrests. The four schools in five collegiate seasons. Not to mention all the trashing-talking, jersey popping and general anger he incited….and that was just against Auburn.
They were the villains of the 2013-14 season (the last two seasons, really). But those two were seniors and have exhausted their eligibility.
So now we search for the next batch of possible prospects who are ready to cause fans to be ejected, security to be beefed up around the visiting bench and boosters’ wives to leave games early.
One caveat: No Duke players. Because, for the love of God, that’s just too easy. And y’all are better than that.
Ryan Boatright, Sr., G, UConn – The Mouth – There aren’t many great players going into 2014-15 that are known for their trash talk, but Boatright is one of them. He’s a smaller, talkative point guard who loves to get the the basket (12.1 ppg. 3.4 apg) and isn’t afraid to let you know that his game is up there with the best. He’s got a mouth to match his talent and I’d bet your life that we see it on a national stage.
Ron Baker, r-Jr., G, Wichita State - The Gun – Ron Baker has a well-rounded game (13.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 spg) , but he’s known for his range more than anything. He’ll piss off a fanbase from deep nightly (38 percent from 3-point range last year) and he’ll do it quietly, which added another dimension to how he’ll drive opposing fans crazy.
Aaron Harrison, Soph., G, Kentucky – Mr. Big Shot – Despite the insane amount of talent that recently descended upon Lexington, there’s no way student sections around the SEC forgot about Harrison’s big shot tour of March 2014. Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin fans sure as hell won’t. Every time the game is in the balance late, you can bet no. 2 will get more flak than his brother or the freshman phenoms for the Wildcats. And he and his 13.7 ppg will probably get the same attention from opposing defenses.
Kevin Pangos, Sr., G, Gonzaga - The Tradition – Pangos carries on a long, proud legacy for the Zags: Shorter, white point guards who somehow get to the rim with ease. John Stockton, Matt Santangelo, Dan Dickau, Derek Raivio, now Pangos. He’s already the most hated man in the West Coast Conference and, while he’s had some attention on a national stage, it should increase this season as a senior, where he should improve on his 14.4-point, 3.3-rebound, 3.6-assist per game averages. If anything, Pangos is already hated at Wazzu.
Siyani Chambers, Jr., G, Harvard and Wesley Saunders, Sr., G, Harvard – The Nerds -It’s the smart kid syndrome. Despite the Crimson having one of the better mid-major programs in the past five years under Tommy Amaker, the average fan at a college basketball game is going to prey on the fact that they go to a smart-kid school (which is a compliment, but you get the idea). Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Saunders (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) have arguably the most talented mid-major backcourt in the land — rivaling Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter of Georgia State — and they’ll hear all about how they don’t belong all season.
Tyler Haws, Sr., G, BYU – The Jimmer Effect – I know, I know. It’s an easy play. But sometime you have to point out the obvious. He’s a white guard at BYU who gets all of the buckets — 23.2 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting, 40.4 percent from 3. He’s going to be the focal point of the Cougars attack and their opponents’ defensive strategy. And you can bet that he’ll be at the center of every student sections disparaging chants (though a lot of sections are slacking. Seriously, what’s wrong with you people? Get creative.)
Marcus Foster, Soph,, G, Kansas State – The Most Known Unknown – You’re welcome for the 3 6 Mafia drop. Foster had very few offers coming out of high school and he made the most of his Kansas State one. He averaged 15.5 points last season and with Oklahoma State losing so much and Texas bringing back a ton of good-but-not-marquee players, there needs to be a star in the Big 12 OUTSIDE of Lawrence, Kansas (though he’ll have to fight Georges Niang.) Foster could definitely be it for Bruce Weber’s team. He’s already probably made many enemie in Spokane.
Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong? Did I miss anyone? Let me know on Twitter at @David_Harten or email me at email@example.com.
College recruiting is a giant gray area. There are a number of ways to lock up recruits that aren’t wrong and don’t break any rules. Their only crime is being obvious.
One of those ways is a prominent college coach hiring the parent of a prominent prep player to, eventually, earn a signature on a National Letter of Intent.
It (officially) happened on Wednesday with Memphis coach Josh Pastner’s hiring of Keelon Lawson as his third assistant. It’s no surprise the at a successful Memphis-area coach (Lawson was the head man at Hamilton High School and has won a state title for the school) could and would get an assistant job for a program in an area that’s a hoops hotbed.
It just so happens that Lawson has four sons, all of which are staring — or will be staring — major Division I offers in the face. D.J., Detric, Chandler and Jonathan Lawson all have a shot at being near the top of their respective prep classes, D.J. had already committed to Memphis prior to his dad’s hire, and Pastner smartly hired their dad to help get them to campus.
It’s far from a new trend in college basketball. Temple just hired Rick Brunson for their coaching staff. Brunson’s son, Jalen, is one of the top players in the class of 2015.
It’s worked in the past at some places. Other places it didn’t. Here’s a look at some of the best father/son package deals in college basketball.
Danny and Ed Manning – Kansas, 1984
In the spring of 1984, Danny Manning was the hottest name on the high school hardwood. Ed Manning, a 10-year NBA veteran, was his father. Larry Brown, then the coach at Kansas, wanted to sign Manning. So he made the move to hire Ed as an assistant on his staff, which in turn, netted him Danny and four years later, helped the Jayhawks raise a national title.
Danny Manning went on to average 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and shot 60.5 percent from the floor before being selected as the first overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. Ed Manning followed Brown to the Spurs, joining his staff as a scout.
This may have been arguably the greatest father/son package in the history of college basketball. Anything that leads to a national title has to be up for that discussion.
Mario and Ronnie Chalmers – Kansas, 2005
I’ve got to give it to the Jayhawks. When the package it, they go all-in. Ronnie Chalmers was a big-time high school coach in Alaska and his son, Mario, was the best player in the Great White North in 2005. Not to mention, he was ranked as the a Top 2 point guard in the nation by most recruiting services.
Kansas coach Bill Self wanted Mario, as did most of the coaches in Division I. But Self was the one who hired Ronnie Chalmers as his director of basketball operations, which all but sealed Mario heading to Lawrence. Three years later, Chalmers helps Kansas to their first national championship since their last famous father/son package was on campus in the Mannings.
Mario Chalmers stacked up three-year averages of 12.2 points, 3.8 assists and shot 41.8 percent from three-point range and was selected in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft. Ronnie Chalmers resigned from his post at Kansas right after Mario went pro in 2008.
Allan and Wade Houston – Tennessee, 1988
The Houston’s situation was made even more interesting with fact that Wade was an assistant under Louisville coach Denny Crum for 13 seasons. During his son Allan’s senior year at Ballard High School in Louisville, Houston was hired as the head coach at Tennessee.
Allan Houston, who would be named Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky and would help the Bruins win the state title in 1988, was rumored to be a strong UofL commitment before his dad got the Vols job. He promptly committed to UT, and flourished in Knoxville from 1989-1993, finishing as the school’s all-time leading scorer, averaging 21.9 points per game. Wade Houston got out of coaching after the 1993-94 season.
Allan would go on to be the 11th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, while Wade lasted one more season at Tennessee before being fired with a 65-90 career record and just two NIT appearances to his credit.
Dajuan and Milt Wagner – Memphis, 2001
Dajuan Wagner was another possible Louisville target whose father had strong ties to the Cardinals, but then got a coaching job with another school and the son followed. Dajuan was arguably the best scorer in the 2001 class and, like his father Milt, was a standout at Camden High School. Milt went on to star for Louisville as part of the Camden Connection that Crum had forged with recruits in the area and started as a fifth-year senior on the Cardinals’ 1985-86 national championship team.
Those around the fanbase thought Wagner was a lock to follow his old man. But, just like with the Houston episode, Milt Wagner was hired as a coach by another program, John Calipari and Memphis, prior to Dajuan’s graduation from high school.
Wagner signed with Memphis, led them to the NIT title in his lone season with the Tigers, clocked 21.2 points per game and shot 45.3 percent from three before being selected as the 6th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Milt was most recently a member of Tony Barbee’s staff at Auburn. Barbee was fired after this past season.
Got a better idea? Did we forget anything? Hit us on Twitter at @TBBChronicles or at TBBChronicles@gmail.com.
Tonight, The State Farm Champions Classic delivered two quality games to millions around the world from the friendly confines of Chicago. The event featured four of the Top 5 teams in the nation and didn’t disappoint. There’s a solid shot that at least 5-6 players taking part in the event are currently spending their final (or only) season in college during 2013-14, and most are deserved of that.
A bunch of players in this four-team event are already NBA-ready. With that in mind, and using just the players in tonight’s event, how would a draft look using just Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State?
Ladies and gentleman, the 2013 TBBC Champions Classic Draft.
Using just one round (because no one is draft walk-ons) we take a look at the talent in this event and how they would fare in a situation where the massive about of talent on the United Center was the only talent you could choose from. I kicked it around, and this is what I came up with.
(NOTE: I included the players’ entire body of work up to now, including Tuesday’s results, as a the measuring stick for where they went in the draft.)
1.) Andrew Wiggins, G/F, Kansas – Duh. The Top 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft had a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Duke. He showed everyone he can play on the biggest stage, now he just has to maintain that.
2.) Julius Randle, F, Kentucky – It was already a race between Wiggins and Randle for next year’s top pick. Randle showed some flaws (free throws?) but it’s obvious the big stage doesn’t scare him. He finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
3.) Jabari Parker, F, Duke – The third of the trio of talented freshman to show off on Tuesday night did exactly what every expected too, with 27 points and 9 rebounds, including 4-7 on threes. Well, looks like they’re all gonna be alright.
4.) Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State – The senior is following in a long line of experienced bigs to play under Tom Izzo. He finished with 15 points and just three boards, but he showed a variety of post moves and a face-up game that can hang.
5.) Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky – He’s starting to get it under John Calipari, you can tell. Harrison is the point guard, the most important position in that Dribble Drive Motion Offense. He finished with 11 points and three assists, along with four turnovers, which has to improve.
6.) Keith Appling, G, Michigan State – I really think he could end up as a dark horse lottery pick in the June draft. The senior had 22 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals for the Spartans. Easily the best stat line of the night.
7.) James Young, G/F, Kentucky – The 6-6 shooter had an off-night (3-11 from three) but had 19 points in the loss. He’s got a pull-up game that is pro ready. He’s just got to become more consistent.
8.) Gary Harris, G, Michigan State – The sophomore is fully healthy and showed it with 20 points on the night. He was projected as a one-and-done in 2013, but he made the right decision to come back.
9.) Rodney Hood, G/F/, Duke – The Mississippi State transfer has a lot of “best transfer of the season” hype surrounding him. I think he will live up to it. The redshirt sophomore finished with 11 points in an average showing. He’ll need a few weeks to assimilate.
10.) Rasheed Suliamon, G, Duke – The sophomore probably had the quietest 13 points you’ll ever see, but we all know Suliamon is capable of more. He’ll show it later on in the season.
11.) Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky – A guy who was supposed to be gone after one season has improved dramatically in Year 2. The final line is Ben Wallace-esque, 7 points and 12 rebounds (7 of them offensive). The nasty streak has to develop if he wants to be a success in the NBA.
12.) Branden Dawson, F, Michigan State – Dawson has either a double-double or near a double-double in Sparty’s first two games. He had 8 points and 9 rebounds on Tuesday night. A guy who can do both consistently will get a look in the NBA. A long one.
13.) Tarik Black, F/C, Kansas – The Memphis transfer is a brute that has a game built just like Ben Wallace (second BDub reference!). I don’t care that he didn’t score a point. I want him on my team because he’s not afraid of contact, which is key in the League.
14.) Quinn Cook, G, Duke – More and more, Cook looks like the true point guard Mike Kryzewski wants him to be. He finished with 10 points, 3 assists and 2 boards. If he develops, he’s gone after this season. His decision making has to improve, though.
15.) Willie Cauley-Stein, F/C, Kentucky – Calipari’s ultimate project from 2012-13 has proven to be a successful one. The 7-footer had 5 points, 7 boards and two blocks with only 2 fouls in 27 minutes. He might want to stay another year, but if he came out he’d have a shot to get drafted at a decent slot.
16.) Perry Ellis, F, Kansas – Ellis really hasn’t gotten the love he deserves in two seasons in Lawrence. First because of en McLemore, now Wiggins. Well, that can’t happen much longer after games of 24 points and 7 rebounds like he had against Duke.
17.) Brannen Greene, G, Kansas – Greene will eventually make a splash, which is why he’s a bit high on this list. He only had 5 points, but his consistent stroke is undeniable. He’s going to make some team happy as a result whenever he comes out of KU.
18.) Joel Embiid, F/C, Kansas – He’s only been playing basketball for three years, but Embiid is a 7-footer who shows the makings of being a great defensive big man. He had 2 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists against the Blue Devils, which previews an all-around game.
19.) Dakari Johnson, F/C, Kentucky – He’s such a project pick, but if Daniel Orton could parlay one mediocre season into a first round selection, Johnson, a much more polished freshman, definitely can. The 6-11 Johnson had 2 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes.
20.) Wayne Seldon, G, Kansas – This is probably too low, but Seldon doesn’t look like a great pro. He’s great in the Jayhawks’ system, with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists against Duke, and in this crop, he’d be a Top 20 pick.
21.) Tyler Thornton, G, Duke – I can always get behind a senior glue guy that the younger guys listen to. Thornton, despite the lack of stats, is that guy. Which works great on a bench and in practice. And late in games. No mistakes.
22.) Travis Trice, G, Michigan State – Now that he’s healthy, look for Trice to make his presence felt more often. Trice is a solid defender who provides depth at multiple positions. He had a bucket in 14 minutes.
23.) Naadir Tharpe, G, Kansas – Tharpe is just a calming presence on the floor. He had 7 points and a bevy of 3’s in the stat box (rebounds, assists, turnovers, fouls.) It’d need to be the right team, but Tharpe could be a serviceable defensive guard.
24.) Denzel Valentine, F, Michigan State – He might be a bit higher if he wasn’t a product of the flow of the game. Valentine finished with 5 points, 5 assists and 2 steals.
25.) Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky – He probably, like his brother, was a first round pick if the one-and-done rule wasn’t around. But now he has a year to develop that jumper. He finished with one bucket and he and Young will be battling each other for the NBA scouts to see who could be the best 2-guard out of the duo.
26.) Marcus Lee, F, Kentucky – We’re talking about ONLY this game, remember? Lee has some skill, or Cal wouldn’t have recruited him. He played 1 minute, but he will come around this season and have a Darnell Dodson-type impact (without the whole leaving the team thing.)
27.) Marshall Plumlee, F, Duke – He’s a Plumlee, so he’s got to have that game like his two older brothers, right? After redshirting and dealing with injuries his first two seasons, the youngest Plumlee to head to Duke is healthy and ready to contribute. His game translates to the NBA because like his brothers, he’s not afraid of contact, Kendrick Perkins style.
28.) Conner Frankamp, G, Kansas – NBA general managers love guys who can stretch a defense. Frankamp can do just that. In a few seasons, he’s going to fit that Brady Morningstar role really well.
29.) Jarrod Polson, G, Kentucky – I really think Polson gets overlooked for his acumen. This kid can play when called upon, and I think Calipari picks his spots with this guy. He didn’t play Tuesday night, but he will definitely in SEC play.
30.) Frank Mason, G, Kansas – You can’t ignore a guy who hits 11-12 free throws and caps the night with 15 points after just 3 points in their season opener.
Watching tonight’s game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, I wanted to see one thing: Marshall Henderson.
All season, I’ve yet to see the Rebels’ redshirt junior play a full game, be it because I was busy or another game was more interesting. I finally got to see it, and wasn’t disappointed.
What’s beyond this link is why (credit to Matt Norlander for the video).
The scary thing is that Henderson squared his feet from 35-feet and leaned only slightly forward to get the leverage to shoot that ball. It was nearly a textbook jumper for a guy who earns his scholarship chunking it from three.
As a fan, that’s tons of fun to watch. A guy that you see in your normal rec league game, playing Division I basketball, only he’s way more talented. He shoots in bunches and coach Andy Kennedy said he’s given Henderson the green light to shoot numerous times. It’s worked. The Hurst, Texas native leads the Southeastern Conference at 18.6 points per game.
What’s it take to do what Marshall Henderson is doing? Also, how is he limiting himself, offensively? Glad you asked. Even if you didn’t, you can find out below.
Square feet - The great shooters always do it. Lately, it’s become somewhat of a lost art. Something I like to call the “Pigeon Toe” effect is what makes Henderson great. When he sets his feet, his toes point inward, so that when he jumps, his feet — and as a result, his shoulders — are square to the bucket. It will always get the ball going in the right direction.
Defensive energy - Most offensive machines aren’t known for great defense. Henderson is by no means a Russ Smith or Aaron Craft, but he’s one of the more underrated perimeter defenders in the SEC. In his 41 minutes on the court, Henderson got his hands (deflection or steal) on 11 balls, all on the perimeter. He’s 6-2, and even though he averages 1.4 steals per game, he’s not going to do too much when a guard penetrates, but he has active hands, and legs. Four times in the second half alone, even if it was ill-advised, Henderson ran from the top of the key to the deep wing or baseline to chase down a shooter. For better or worse, Henderson likes the play the perimeter on both sides of the ball.
Ball-screen awareness - Any shooter worth his salt knows how to properly come off a screen, especially off the ball in a catch-and-shoot situation. What sets Henderson apart is his ability to know when to come off the screen. He’s great at coming off the shoulder of the screener. But, for example, five minutes into the game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, Marshall started on the right baseline, hesitated when he saw the ball get to the top of the key, and instead of coming off the screen of Reginald Buckner immediately, put enough of a stutter-step up to freeze the defender, Kedren Johnson, to get the space he needed to go wide off the screen, wrap around, catch and shoot from 25 feet. It’s the fact that he knows how to do this that gets Henderson space.
Overconfidence - Henderson has no fear. That’s fine. He’s got the tools to always believe he’s going to drop 30 in a game. But some nights, it’s not going to be his night. Henderson’s got the shooting part down, but the percentages suggest there’s night when they wont fall. He’s hitting 36.1-percent from three and 39.7-percent overall. All hoopers have that night. When that comes, Henderson has a tendency to rely on jacking up threes to regain the swagger he shows — and pisses a ton of people off with. He had to learn to defer to teammates. His ability to pull the defense deep outside the perimeter can open a ton of mid-range looks for Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams.
Perimeter floating - Henderson is a bomber. He’s thrown up an mind-numbing 158 threes this season already. With that, home is on the perimeter. That can make any shooter complacent. There wasn’t much crashing the boards when it mattered for Henderson and a ton of cherry-picking. This can be a good thing on outlet plays, but to rely on it against a team like, say, Kentucky, could end in a lot of athletic guards like Archie Goodwin getting some offensive rebounds.
Henderson falls into the category that guys like Jimmer Fredette and J.J. Redick (at least his freshman year) did in college. Deep range with no conscience. I can dig that. So can a lot of fans. And it’ll help Ole Miss a bunch this season. To break down Henderson’s game is lesson in controlled chaos. Beautiful chaos. It’s what happens when that chaos starts to hinder the team’s gameplan that will determine if this is Kennedy’s year to take the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, Marshall Henderson is that important.
Even though Kentucky ended up winning the National Championship last year, it was Vanderbilt who took home the SEC title. Can UK recover from five players leaving for the NBA Draft, or will another team pull off another major upset in the SEC?
1- Kentucky. Nerlens Noel will lead another star-packed Kentucky recruiting class, that was ranked No. 2 in the nation. Scouts say Noel is every bit the shot blocker Anthony Davis was, though his offensive game still needs some work. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin will both get big minutes in their freshman years as well. Of John Calipari’s five recruits from the 2011 class, only Kyle Wiltjer elected to stay for a sophomore season. He averaged five points a game and will be the only contributor back from that National Championship team. NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will be Calipari’s most experienced point guard he has had in years. It’s hard not to pick Kentucky to win the conference with the way Calipari is able to rebuild teams quickly.
2- Missouri. With Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, Missouri will have one of the best starting backcourts in the country. The two combined for nearly 24 points and 10 assists a year ago. The Tigers had trouble with frontcourt depth last season, but 2010 starter Laurence Bowers (10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game in 2009-10) is back from a torn ACL, and they will also have UCONN transfer Alex Oriakhi, who has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. They lost three players who averaged over 13 points a game, but with who they have coming back this is still a strong team.
3- Florida. The Gators are without two of the main backcourt members, including Bradley Beal who was the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, but the cupboards are hardly bare. Shooting guard Kenny Boynton, who averaged nearly 16 points a game last year, will be counted on even more this year. Erik Murphy and Patric Young, who both averaged over 10 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last year return as well. This team will have a lot of depth and experience, including that of Mike Rosario and Brandon Ogbueze.
4- Tennessee. If the Volunteers can repeat what they did in their half season with freshman Jarnell Stokes, then this team will for sure be a top-five SEC team and borderline top-25 team in the nation. After Stokes was inserted into the starting lineup last year, Tennessee went 10-3. He provides a big physical presence that the Volunteers will need to rely on. He isn’t their only quality big man, as Jeronne Maymom (12.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will be a good counter for Stokes. Trae Golden is one of the SEC’s best point guards as well, leading the team in scoring at 13.6 a game. It’s NCAA Tournament or bust for Tennessee, as they return over 80 percent of the scoring and rebounding.
5- Arkansas. A 3-9 stretch to end last year ended squashed any chance of the Razorbacks making the Big Dance, but this year should be a different story. Arkansas got a huge break when BJ Young decided to not turn pro and stay in college another year. He led the SEC freshmen in scoring a year ago, shooting 50 percent from the field. Marshawn Powell tore knee ligaments after just two games last year — two breakout games, suggesting he is in for a big year this year. Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and freshmen JaCorey Williams and DeQuavious Wagner give this team a lot of depth.
9- Ole Miss
11- Texas A&M
12- Mississippi State
14- South Carolina
Jarnell Stokes- In just half of a year last season, Stokes was a monster in the post, and a full summer with the team will pay huge dividends going into his sophomore season. He only averaged 9.6 points a game, but that’s in limited playing time. Look for that to increase upward of 15 a game, as he has a full summer of workouts. He helped Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas during the offseason, averaging 15 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
Nerlens Noel- It’s hard not to compare him to Anthony Davis, especially when there have been plenty of people that said his defensive game rivals Davis’. If that’s the case, pencil Noel in for an SEC first-team selection. He may not be totally polished on offense, but in a Calipari offense the offense will definitely be there for him to average at least 10 points a game. He doesn’t have to be Anthony Davis, just Nerlens Noel, and by the looks of it — that kid can play.
BJ Young- As a freshman last season, this guard was fourth in the whole conference in field goal percentage. You just don’t see that in freshmen, especially guards. Fayetville must be excited to get Young back for another season, one that is filled with high expectations for the Arkansas squad. He averaged 15 points a game last season, and with even just a little bit of improvement I’d be shocked if he didn’t leave for the NBA after this season.
Phil Pressey- Though he averaged just 1.3 points a game, Pressey did pretty much everything else last season. He was tops in the Big 12 in assists (6.4) and steals (2.1). His field goal percentage went from 38 percent in his freshman year to 43 percent last year, but he will still need to improve on that. Pressey was the lone Tiger who showed up for their first round NCAA Tournament game with Norfolk State, scoring 20 points with eight assists. Expectations are high with this Missouri team, and a lot of their success will depend on Pressey’s play.
Kenny Boynton- With apologies to Alex Poythress, Patric Young and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Florida’s Young gets the nod for the fifth spot on this list because of his ability to take over games with his scoring. The SEC’s leading returning scorer, Boynton has averaged at least 14 points a game in all three years at Florida. Last season he had 13 games of at least 20 points. The biggest improvement Boynton made was in his field goal percentage, which jumped from 38 percent to 44 percent.
Most Underrated Team- Alabama
The Crimson Tide had a two-man monster in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell a year ago, but with both of them graduated Alabama will need a new identity. Look no further than Devonta Pollard, who may be the best freshman in the conference aside from UK’s. Pollard has tremendous athleticism and will fit in right away with Alabama. Returning for the Crimson Tide is Trevor Releford, who last year averaged 12 points a game on 48 percent shooting. There are no seniors this year, so if they finish in the middle of the pack this year, look for them to be in the top-5 in 2013-14.
Most Overrated Team- Vanderbilt
With all of the pieces they graduated, it’s hard to imagine the Commodores enjoying much success this year. Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli are all graduated, leaving a big hole on the Vanderbilt squad that won the SEC Tournament last year. Not many are picking the Commodores to do much of anything this year, but fans may look at this time as a top-half SEC team just by habit. But with their top six players graduated, that simply will not be the case.
This one was a toss up for me, but if Tennessee repeats what they did when they had Stokes in the starting lineup last year, then it should be their sophomore big man who takes home this award. Word in Knoxville is that Stokes has looked even more polished. He made his presence known in just his third game last year, pulling down 12 rebounds and scoring 16 points in an upset win over UCONN. I envision Stokes being a double-double machine this year. He is now used to Cuonzo Martin’s system and knows what to expect out of the team, including that of Trae Golden who will feed Stokes the ball early and often.
Coach of the Year- Cuonzo Martin
Not many people expected Tennessee to be good this soon after Bruce Pearl’s exit. But Martin has put the Volunteers in a position to contend for the No. 2 team in the conference behind Kentucky. With several players on his team recruited from Pearl’s team, Martin was able to keep the team focused enough to contend for the NCAA Tournament, and they will be better this year with most of their players returning. The biggest thing Martin has done was grab the aforementioned Stokes as a part of his first recruiting class.
Sleeper Impact Player- Marshawn Powell
Powell began the 2011-12 season as good as anyone, scoring at least 19 points with five rebounds in each of his first two games. His season was short lived, as he tore knee ligaments after in just the first week of the season. He’s back for an Arkansas team that has high expectations. Powell is a guy who averaged 14.9 points and then 10.8 points in his first two years at Arkanas, and the Razorbacks will need him to be a double-digit scorer again in what they think will be a big year for their team.
Photos: SEC Conference/Google Images