Much like the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference-USA has one dominant team, and several others looking up hoping and praying they will get an NCAA Tournament berth.
C-USA Preseason Rankings:
1. Memphis. The Tigers have all of the tools to not only easily win the conference, but to also make a deep tournament run for the first time in Josh Pastner’s reign. Memphis lost their best perimeter scorer in Will Barton, but an Adonis Thomas-led frontcourt will be the backbone of this team. The best news for the Tigers this year? They’ve got Shaq! Shaq Goodwin that is, a 6’8″ big man who was rated the 31st best recruit by ESPN. Replacing the scoring of Barton will be Joe Jackson, who averaged 11 a game last season. Chris Crawford will also be a key wing player for the Tigers. An easy schedule will benefit Memphis, at least until postseason play — Memphis plays only one team, Louisville, currently ranked in the top-25 in the nation.
2. Marshall. You’re going to want to learn DeAndre Kane’s name this year. After a stellar sophomore season for the Thundering Herd where he did a little bit of everything, including leading the team with 16.5 ppg., Kane is back for his junior year to lead Marshall. Joining him for Marshall will be Dennis Tinnon, who averaged a double-double last year (10 ppg., 10 rpg.). Marshall struggled in conference last year, going 9-7, this coming after beating Cincinnati in out-of-conference play and having a close game with Syracuse. The Thundering Herd have one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, playing Kentucky, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Villanova.
3. Central Florida. The Golden Knights return three of their top four leading scorers, led by Keith Clanton who has averaged at least 14 the last two seasons. Isaiah Sykes will join in on the offense with Clanton. I like Sykes to be a big breakout candidate as he averaged 12 points and six rebounds last year, after not doing much at all his freshman year. He will need to pick up the offense with Marcus Jordan deciding not to return to UCF. If Sykes improves on his three-point field goal percentage (29 percent), he could very well be the team’s leading scorer this year. Unfortunately, UCF is barred from postseason play due to recruiting violations, so even an improvement off their 20-win season last year won’t take them dancing.
4. Tulane. No really, Tulane. Plagued by injuries last year, this team finished dead last in the conference, but I have reason to believe they belong in the top-five. Ricky Tarrant is fresh off of a 15 ppg. season last year, and he will be joined by Kendall Timmons, who only played half of the year last season after tearing his Achilles. Timmons is the long-distance threat Tulane needs (48 percent 3P%). With Jordan Callahan and Josh Davis returning, the Green Wave return almost all of their scoring, and will also likely get back Tomas Bruha, one of their big frontcourt weapons. An NCAA Tournament berth may be a stretch, but don’t be shocked if they make the NIT.
5. UTEP. There’s about five teams I could put here, and with expectations so high for the Miners I’m giving them the nod. UTEP returns five of their top seven scorers and four of their top five rebounders. If that wasn’t enough, they got high school All-American Twymond Howard, as well as fellow freshman Chris Washburn. I really like what UTEP is doing, and if all the pieces click, this could easily be a top-three team in the conference. Leading scorers John Bohannon and Julian Washburn both return for UTEP.
Preseason C-USA First Team
Adonis Thomas- Simply put, this man is a beast. At 6’7″ and 242 points, Thomas averaged just 8.8 points per game last season, but that was in his freshman season where he was only getting 24 minutes a game. Look for improvement in every category this year, and for his minutes to get over 30 a game. He needs to become a better rebounder, as he averaged just 3.2 a game last year. But this physical specimen has all of the tools to be a top contributor for the Tigers.
DeAndre Kane- This guy can do it all, probably because he has to. Averaging 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists is good enough to get on this list. He had very similar numbers his freshman year, which makes me believe if he still has room to grow. His field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages were all down from his freshman year, but if those go up he could be a guy that challenges for Player of the Year in the conference.
Keith Clanton- For a while it looked as if Clanton was on his way out, as the NCAA gave UCF heavy recruiting sanctions. Thank God he’s not, because there is no way the Golden Knights would contend for an NCAA Tournament berth without him. The double-double machine averaged 14.5 and 8 last year, and he can also hit from deep (1.2 three’s a game). A guy that can shoot in the post and from outside, as well as being a solid rebounder is a tough guy to guard.
Rick Tarrant- This sophomore guard will be the reason behind Tulane’s surge to the top half of the conference. Averaging 15 points, with 3 assists and 3 rebounds last year, Tarrant had a freshman season as good as anyone last year. He poured in 24 points and seven rebounds when Tulane beat Georgia Tech last year.
Dennis Tinnon- As a junior college transfer for his junior year, Tinnon averaged a double-double for the Thundering Herd. He, along with Kane will be counted on to keep Marshall in the hunt this season. He had 12 double-doubles last season, including an 18 and 11 performance in Marshall’s NIT loss to Middle Tennessee State.
Coach of the Year:
Ed Conroy- Tulane is going to surprise some people, let me tell you. Conroy is now in his third year at Tulane, and we all know the third year is when team’s make that big jump. They may not be the fourth best team in the conference like I’m predicting, but I guarantee they will be in the top half of the conference.
Player of the Year:
Keith Clanton- You know you’re good when you turn down the chance to play for University of Kentucky. Clanton could have jumped ship and went to Lexington this summer, but he decided to stay with UCF despite no chance at postseason play this year. UCF lost several key members of their team last year, so Clanton will be counted on even more this year. He led the team in points and rebounds a year ago.
Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
All of a sudden the Atlantic-10 Conference looks like a power conference. The arrivals of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler will bring a new sense of life into the conference for the 2012-13 season.
1. St. Louis:
A surprise team last year, most of last year’s Billikens will return, except of course head coach Rick Majerus, who is taking the season off for health reasons. Kwamain Mitchell should be one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 12.4 points a game in his junior season. Dwayne Evans, who averaged over seven points and seven rebounds a game last year, helping lead a defense that only gave up 57.6 points per game — eighth in the nation. Jared Drew, a talented freshman out of Indianapolis, will likely man that frontcourt with Evans. Expectations will be high with this St. Louis team, and they have the talent to be a top-15 team in the nation.
After back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championship game, Butler didn’t get an NCAA Tournament nod OR an NIT invite in 2011-12, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for the CBI. Butler should be improved this year, only losing point guard Ronald Nored off of last year’s team. Andrew Smith, who apparently is never going to graduate, is back for his senior year, and will anchor the inside after his 2011-12 year with 10.7 ppg and 5.7 rebounds per game. But the best player on this team could be Rotnei Clarke, an Arkansas transfer who was second-team All-SEC his junior year. He will be eligible this year, so look for him to lead the Bulldogs in scoring. Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones will also be key players for Butler.
And here is the other newcomer, rounding out the top-three in their first year in the A-10. This is a very deep team, with no one star. They lost Bradford Burgess from last year’s team (13.5 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) but they will have his younger brother Jordan Burgess likely stepping up and making big contributions for his freshman season. A backcourt led by Darius Theus and Briante Weber will likely be the strength of this team, as thy helped force 17.9 turnovers a game last season — good for third in the nation. Their leading returning scorer is Juvonte Reddic (10.4 ppg.)
If the Owls do anything for the 2012-13 season, it will be because of Khalif Wyatt, who returns for his senior season after averaging 17 points a game last year. He appears to be a lock for First-Team A-10, as well as a potential All-American candidate. But Temple lost three of their starters from last year’s team that won the A-10, meaning this season they may be closer to the bubble, if not off the bubble. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee will be two players the Owls will count on with the graduations of three of their key players, including Ramone Moore.
Even with losing Tu Hollowy, Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons, it’s hard to keep the Musketeers out of the top-five. The Musketeers will also have to cope with the expulsion of leading returning scorer Dezmine Wells. Helping to ease the graduations of Holloway and Frease will be freshman Semaj Christian and Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore. Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2005, and this year will likely be the toughest year they have had to return.
6. St. Josephs
9. St. Bonaventure
10. La Salle
13. George Washington
14. Rhode Island
Khalif Wyatt: One of the best scorers in the conference, this two-guard averaged 17 points a game last year. He scored 22 points and had 5 steals when Temple was able to upset No. 3 Duke this year. The Owls simply need to give Wyatt the ball and let him do the rest. He had 12 games last year with less than 10 shot attempts, and that won’t be acceptable this year.
Rotnei Clarke: The Arkansas transfer could be the go-to-guy in the Butler offense his first year for the Bulldogs. He could already be the best shooter in the conference, averaging over 42 percent from behind the 3-point line and making nearly three 3-pointers a game in his three years at Arkansas. He averaged 15 points a game his last two years as a Razorback, and it would be a surprise to see him not duplicate that in a weaker conference this year.
Kwamain Mitchell: With leading scorer Brian Conklin graduated from St. Louis, Mitchell will need to step up his scoring from last year (12.4 ppg.). He’s the best player on the best team in the conference, so you’d think he belongs on this list. Not only is he a solid scorer, but his 126 assists led the team last year.
Chaz Williams: If UMass contends for an NCAA or NIT berth, it will be because of Williams. Probably the best point guard in the conference last year, Williams averaged 16 points and six assists. The Minutemen haven’t made the Big Dance since 2997, and Williams will need to up those numbers for them to have a chance.
Chris Gaston: He may play for one of the worst teams in the conference in Fordham, but you can’t ignore this double-double machine. Last year he averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds, but he may need to get his team some more wins to get on this list at the end of the season.
Coach of the Year: Jim Crews
Crews, who takes over for Rick Majerus this year, is no stranger to head coaching responsibilities. He is the former head coach of Evansville and Air Force, and has NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt. This year he has the task of replacing a coaching icon, who brought St Louis to the top of the conference. They should stay at the top of the A-10 this year, and if they do it should be Crews who takes home the hardware.
Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt
There isn’t a standout, runaway favorite to win this award, so I’m going with Wyatt. Temple has the makes of a bubble team, and Wyatt will do everything he can to push the Owls to the Big Dance. He may have to take over games at times, but he is certainly capable.
When someone asks you who you like in the Big 12 this season, go ahead and find the Big 12 standings from five years ago, or any year since, and tell them whoever is on top of them, is your team that you think will win. Because that will be Kansas. It’s a tale as old as Hug Hefner. Who still is doing better than all of us.
BIG-12 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
1.) Kansas - This seems too easy, but I’m not one to look off a sure thing. Withey is back. Travis Releford at the point with Elijah Johnston in the backcourt. Perry Ellis is going to make a name for himself while Bill Self continues to prove he’s an elite coach even though he’s probably the most overlooked coach with a national title, in all of America.
2.) Baylor - It’s really a two-team race in the Big 12. Scott Drew has brought the Bears out of the depths of college basketball and continuously hauls in top recruiting classes. This season, Isaiah Austin will compliment Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip on the perimeter. Look at Duece Bello and A.J. Walton to have better season defensively for a Baylor team that really needs to disrupt passing lanes to stay competitive.
3.) West Virginia - We all keep forgetting that the Mountaineers have made the move to the Big 12. Coach Bob Huggins doesn’t mind. West Virginia has two key transfers eligible this season in LaSalle defector Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten from Dayton. Jabarie Hinds (7.4 ppg, team-leading 108 assists) and Deniz Kilicli (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) return and as long as WVU can make up for the losses of Kevin Jones’ 19.9 ppg and 10.9 rpg and Darryl “Truck” Bryant’s 16.9 ppg — which will probably happen by-committee — they should compete in their first year in the league.
4.) Kansas State - The Wildcats enter the Bruce Weber era with the promise of a team still coached by Frank Martin. I guess that’s a good thing. Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez return, and what’s more, the leading-scorer Rodney MacGruder’s 15.8 points and 5.2 boards and 50 made three’s return, as does Will Spradling’s 9.3 points and 47 made three’s also makes its way back to Bramlage Coliseum. If the team can get even the gist of Weber’s system early-on, expect fireworks and deep run into March for K-State.
5.) Oklahoma State - How does a team that went 15-18 last season make the Top 5? They return everyone but their leading scorer, at least all the guys that matter. And really, that’s one guy: LeBryan Nash and his 13.3 points per game. Marcus Smart hits Gallagher-Iba Arena and Markel Brown brings his numbers back. Travis Ford has a legitimate NCAA Tournament team on his hands. The only question is depth.
8.) Iowa State
10.) Texas Tech
Pierre Jackson, Baylor – Junior college players in big-time college basketball are normally quick-fix guys. Jackson is one of those exceptions. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists for the Bears last season and with the addition of Isaiah Austin, the lobs should still be aplenty. He’s quick, defends the perimeter well — leading the team with 68 steals — and has total control of the offense under coach Scott Drew. He’s headed for the Cousy Award.
Jeff Withey, Kansas – Seems like he’s been around forever, right? The talented shot-blocker for the Jayhawks is ready to take leadership with the departure of Thomas Robinson to the NBA. He averaged 9 points, 6.3 boards and had 140 blocks in 2011-12 and this season he’ll need more of the same now that he’s the sole guy in the post. Perry Ellis will take some of the burden off Withey, but it won’t stop him from being a human bruise.
Myck Kabongo, Texas – The sophomore has no choice. Kabongo learned for one season under J’Covan Brown and now school is out — on the court, at least — for the point guard. There isn’t a ton of hype on this team going into the season, so they’ve got that going for them. But that’s because the number of high-profile players is at one: Kabongo. More that likely, this will be it for him as a collegian, because this kid can lead the nation in assists (averaged 5.1 assists per game last season) if he minimizes the turnovers (102 in 2011-12).
LaBryan Nash – He’ll be the top offensive weapon for the Cowboys. He’ll be spelled by Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, but he’s the epicenter of this half-court-centric attack that commands discipline in the post. Nash has it after some freshman season bumps. This will more-than-likely be his final season in Stillwater, so leaving the program with an NCAA Tournament berth will be on his mind. A double-double year isn’t out of the question.
Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech – The bright spot on an otherwise horrible team. Blame Billy Gillispie. Tolbert quietly had a serious season for the Red Raiders in BCG’s lone season, and now he’ll have to do the same under interim coach Chris Walker. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg for the 8-23 Red Raiders and I expect him to do more now that he’s not being chain-whipped in practice by BCG (KIDDING!). Expect an 18-and-8 year from him, because he has to do it for Texas Tech to even sniff a .500 record.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM
Texas – No, this isn’t supposed to be below in the “overrated team” category. Rick Barnes is one of the best at getting average out of great talent. This season, he’s giving Myck Kabongo the keys to the system, and hoping that he does something right. This team lacks talent, and strangely, that’s why this team will do well. Prince Ibeh is the prize incoming recruit, and the Longhorns return Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg) and Julien Lewis (7.8 ppg) in terms of scoring to go along with Kabongo’s 9.6 ppg. They also bring back Jonathan Holmes’ 4.8 rebounds per game. If Kabongo can be the man that J’Covan Brown was last season, this team could shock the Big 12.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM
Kansas State – Forgive me, Bruce Weber. One of the nicest guys in the business inherits great talents in Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez, and he’ll get to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. But I think a lot of people overvalue Weber’s buffer time between getting his team to adjust to his style of play. Weber utilizes more zone than Frank Martin did, and that’s a lot tougher to get used to that one would imagine. It’s not going to be a bad first year for Wildcat fans under Weber, just not a great one.
SLEEPER IMPACT PLAYER
Romero Osby, Oklahoma – He’s not that traditional sleeper. Osby was third on the Sooners in scoring (12.9 ppg) in his first season since transferring in from Mississippi State in 2011-12. He also led the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game. The sleeper part of it is that he was on a 15-16 team. The Sooners should be better this season, but if that team is going to be good, Osby is going to be the reason why. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a double-double out of this guy.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Pierre Jackson, Baylor- I’m one of the most skeptical people when it comes to junior college players making the jump to Division I. The ones that make it normally are the ones that didn’t qualify out of high school, and even those have a tough time keeping it together for two/three years in D-I. Jackson is one of the exceptions. He’s got the speed and court vision and has commanded control of the Bears on the court since Day 1. He’s going to make some late-first-round team very happy in the 2013 NBA Draft.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had the roughest of rough years in 2011-12. This year, a huge recruiting haul for Ford including point guard Marcus Smart could create a deadly one-two punch with LeBryan Nash. Back comes Nash’s 13.3 ppg and 5 rpg along with Markel Brown’s 10.5 and 5.1 per. Don’t forget Jean-Paul Olukemi (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Brian Williams (9.6 ppg) making a return. Smart will be this team’s starting point guard with Brown moving to the two. If Michael Cobbins and Phillip Jurick (97 combined blocks) can improve their defensive presence, Ford could be a surprise 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
PHOTO: BIG 12 CONFERENCE
The ACC will have a lot of familiar faces this season as 35 starters from last season return including 8 who received some type of ACC honor last season.
ACC Preseason Rankings
1. Duke – How can you not pick the Blue Devils when Mike Krzyewski has four starters back from a squad that has 27 wins last season? Coach K sits at 927 wins, plus a few gold medals, I really don’t see this Duke team losing that many games, and will probably pencil them in right now as a team that we will see in Atlanta.
2. NC State – The Wolfpack also return four starters. C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg) will be leading the way for Mark Gottfried’s squad that is the only team to return four players that were double digit scorers.
3. North Carolina – Roy Williams probably has the toughest job, needing to fill the void of four starters lost. The Tar Heels will rely on Dexter Strickland to be the leader. What may be a bigger story for college basketball fans is that Hubert Davis returns to Chapel Hill as an assistant coach.
4. Miami (FL) – Six of top seven scorers return for the Hurricanes. Reggie Johnson (10.8ppg, 7.3 rpg) will be among the senior leaders for Jim Larranaga. Julian Gamble is also back for Miami after missing last season from a torn ACL. A little fun fact since the NCAA approved the 3-point shot, Miami has made at least one three in 801 of 804 games.
5. Virginia – Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers return three starters and six of the team’s nine top scorers. Joe Harris returns as the leading scorer from last season. Harris is joined by last season ACC All-Defensive Team member Jontel Evans.
6. Florida State
9. Virginia Tech
10. Georgia Tech
11. Boston College
12. Wake Forest
Mason Plumlee – 4th in the ACC in rebounds, 5th in blocks and off rebounds last season.
C.J. Harris – 4th leading scorer last season
Lorenzo Brown – started all 37 games last year and led the conference in steals.
Dexter Strickland – returning from an injury during the middle of last season and is the team leader in scoring, assists and steals.
Ryan Anderson – led BC in scoring and rebounding as a Freshman.
Most Underrated Team – Florida State, four of the top five scorers return for the Seminoles.
Most Overrated Team – North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a lot to replace.
Player of the Year – C.J. Leslie, the junior earned second-team last year. He gets my nod, especially if he can lead the Wolfpack over Duke or UNC.
Coach of the Year – Tony Bennett, it would be too east to pick Coach K.
Sleeper Impact Player – C.J. Harris (35 min/game and 16ppg) really shouldn’t be a sleeper pick but with Wake being near the bottom of the ACC he doesn’t get the publicity that he deserves.
Thanks to Louisville advancing to the Final Four last season the Big East has had a presence during the final weekend six of the last seven seasons, you can probably go on and pencil them in for seven out of eight, Louisville fans and the media seem to think that the Cardinals will be there.
Realignment will begin to take its toll on the Big East as West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to follow in the years to come. Jim Calhoun has retired from his post at UConn leading the way for Kevin Ollie to take over. Steve Lavin is set to return to the sidelines after taking last season off due to prostate cancer.
Big East Preseason Rankings
1. Louisville – hard not to buy into the national hype. 3 starters return for Coach Pitino, as Peyton Siva guides the offense in his Senior season with help from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, and don’t forget about Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 2.2 steals in 21 mpg). The problem could be injuries, it seems every year the Cardinals have more players in the training room than the bench early in the year, and have already lost Mike Marra who torn his ACL for the 2nd time in as many years.
2. Notre Dame – for the past two years the Irish have exceeded expectationsso maybe I am a little too high on the Irish. However with all of the starters back for Coach Brey it’s hard not to like the Irish especially when in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion where they went 16-1 last season.
3. Cincinnati – Mick Cronin seems to have the Bearcats back on the national radar. Yancy Gates is gone but Cronin has Sean Kilpatrick who led the Big East with 92 3-pointers. Cashmere Wright also returns after averaging 10.9 ppg.
4. Pittsburgh – Sure Pitt missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they ended the year poorly but capped it off with a CBI Championship (a win is a win).Tray Woodall will lead the Panther’s who return five of their top seven scorers from last season.
5. Syrcasue – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have all departed but Syracuse has been so deep that they have players that return with experience. Brandon Triche will be ready to lead the Orange to what fans hope is a trip to Atlanta.
9. St. John’s
14. Seton Hall
All Conference Team
Shabazz Napier – taking control for the new reign of the Huskies.
Sean Kilpatrick – if teams don’t shut him down behind the arc the Bearcats may do better than expected.
Gorgui Diend – let’s see a guy that can rebound, score and block shots, yeah I will give him a All Conference nod.
Tray Woodall – a healthy Woodall should do better than last seasons 11.7 ppg
Jack Cooley – after voted Most Improved last season, the Irish have high hopes for Cooley who average 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Most Underrated Team – Cincinnati, Cronin has his team bonding.
Most Overrated Team – Notre Dame, could the Irish just be riding a wave of recent success?
Player of the Year – Peyton Siva, last years MOP at the Big East Championship should win if the Cardinals run the conference.
Coach of the Year – Heart wants to say Steve Lavin, but my mind says Rick Pitino with Cronin in 2nd.
Sleeper Impact Player – 1a Cleveland Melvin, was the leading scorer in the league last season. I am going to say D’Andelo Harrison is 1b especially if Lavin has the Red Storm on upset mode.
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.
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