In the next few weeks, I will be dribbling across the hardwood in the major conferences examining what’s since the seasons have ended and attention is turned to the 2014-15 campaigns. First up is the SEC where a familiar face returns to the sideline but in a different venue.
In the News: Pearl already making a splash at Auburn
Auburn basketball has wallowed in the catacombs of the SEC long enough. AD Jay Jacobs agreed and hired one of the top coaches in the game in Bruce Pearl, who had made his presence felt at ESPN after an unnecessary three-year show-cause by the NCAA forced him off the sidelines for three seasons. Pearl wasted little time in hiring a premiere staff with long-time aide Tony Jones, Harris Adler, Todd Golden, and Steven Pearl as the strength and conditioning coach. Pearl made also made headlines with the addition of former Auburn superstar and 14-year NBA veteran Chuck Person as an assistant as well. The Tigers added Cinmeon Bowers, the top JUCO player in the nation as the first recruit. Pearl has also been a stalwart in helping the league improve it’s overall hoops image. He noted last week that if each team dropped it’s one “bottom-feeder” that the SEC’s basketball RPI would go from seven to two.
Wildcats give and take with one-and-dones
John Calipari insists he is not a fan of the one-and done rules and there appears to be a movement to approve legislation to at least add an age limit of 20 years old. Kentucky will once again go in as the number one team in the nation and they should be even more of a tough out with the Harrison Twins staying for their sophomore year along with Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson. Add to that another Top 5 recruiting class highlighted by four five-star recruits that should make this a deep squad that could surpass the quality of the 2012 team. The key could be the emergence of 5-9 point Tyler Ulis, who could emerge as the key distributor.
LSU transfers Hickey and Morgan cast Tigers into another restructuring mode
Johnny Jones looked like he had the Tigers in position to make it to the NCAA Tournament several times in 2013-14, but untimely losses at certain points derailed the Tigers opportunities. Now, comes the departure of Johnny O’Bryant to the NBA Draft and then the surprising transfers of point guard Anthony Hickey and guard Malik Morgan as transfers.
There has been no reasoning given for the transfers other than Jones commenting that the two “would not be a part of the LSU program next season.” Hickey is a huge loss in averaging 31.3 minutes per game and averaging 3.7 assists from the point. The Tigers will miss his defense and ability to get to the basket off the dribble. Forward Shane Hammink also transferred, but his loss is of little consequence, considering the lack of contributions and the depth LSU still has in the post.
Ten Key Returnees for 2014-15
* Willie Cauley- Stein, Kentucky, C, 7-1, 244, Jr. - Recovering from ankle surgery and should be ready to go in October.
* Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida, F, 6-8, 212, Jr. - Has inside-outside skills and will add to the Gator’s immense front court depth.
* Michael Frazier, Florida, G, 6-4, 199, Jr. - Made 45 percent of his three-balls as he is potentially the best three-point shooter in the nation.
* K.T. Harrell, Auburn, G, 6-4, 216, Sr. - Harrell is the SEC’s returning leading scorer and should flourish in Bruce Pearl’s system.
* Aaron Harrison, Kentucky, G, 6-6, 218, Soph. - Became the Wildcats’ clutch performer in this past season’s NCAA run.
* Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, G, 6-6, 215, Soph. - By staying in Lexington with his brother, UK will have massive size to match up with on the perimeter as well as inside.
* Jordan Mickey, LSU, F, 6-8, 220, Soph. - Led the SEC in blocked shots last season plus averaged 12.7 ppg. on 53.3 percent shooting.
* Bobby Portis, Arkansas, F, 6-10, 242, Soph. - Only freshman in the nation with 50 blocks and 50 assists. Portis is a versatile player who can finish at the rim.
* Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina, G, 6-5, 206, Soph. - A tough match up given his size and athleticism and will be the go-to guy for the Gamecocks in 2014-15.
* Chris Walker, Florida, C, 6-11, 220, Soph. - Returns to the Gators after missing the first 18 games and flirting with the NBA Draft. Adds to the Gators’ embarrassment of riches in the post.
Ten SEC Newcomers Who Bear Watching
* Devin Booker, Kentucky, 6-6, 194, SG, Moss Point (Miss.) High School
* Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn, 6-7, 201, PF, Chipola (Fla.) Junior College
* Chris Chiozza, Florida, 5-10, 160, PG, White Station (Memphis, Tenn.) High School
* Justin Coleman, Alabama, 5-10, 146, PG, Winonah School (Birmingham, Ala.)
* Brandon Francis, Florida, 6-5, 209, SG, Arlington Co. Day (Jacksonville, Fla.)
* Jakeenan Grant, Missouri, 6-7, 195, PF, Effingham Co. (Springfield, Ga.) High School
* Trey Lyles, Kentucky, 6-9, 245, PF, Arsenal Tech (Indianapolis, Ind.)
* Karl Towns, Kentucky, 7-1, 248, C, St. Joseph (Metuchan, N.J.) High School
* Tyler Ulis, Kentucky, 5-8, 142, PG, Marian Catholic (Chicago, Ill.)
* Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, 189, SF, Christchurch (Church View, Va.)
Stansbury back in league - In early May, Texas A&M tabbed former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury as his lead assistant. The veteran coach had a stellar career with the Bulldogs with a 293-166 record in 14 years before he was unceremoniously and unnecessarily dumped at the end of the 2011-12 season. Stansbury won five SEC regular season championships and had two SEC Tournament titles with six NCAA appearances in Starkville. He will have a strong impact on Coach Billy Kennedy’s staff as a recruiter and a teacher as well as a navigator of the SEC waters. Many speculate that Kennedy could be on the hot seat as the season begins although he is a very well-respected coach around the nation. The Aggies look for their first NCAA appearance since 2011.
Mizzou reaches into past with Anderson hiring - Kim Anderson, a former Missouri Tigers basketball star under legendary Norm Stewart in the 1970s, is fresh off a Division II national withe Central Missouri State. Tigers fans shouldn’t create a backlash though as many coaches have taken off at the D-2 and D-3 levels and gone on to stellar careers. Anderson, the co-Big 8 Player of the Year in 1977, finished 274-94 in 11 years with the Mules. His career brings to mind that of Pearl, who won the D-II Championship at Southern Indiana before embarking on his successful career at Milwaukee, Tennessee, and now, Auburn.
Tyndall fashioning Tennessee’s roster - New Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall was masterful in winning 56 games at Southern Mississippi in two years, but didn’t get as much as a sniff at an NCAA bid with the Golden Eagles. Win 56 games in two years and Tyndall will be on track to duplicate Pearl’s prowess in Knoxville. He has his work cut out for him though as the roster turnover has been an unheard of entity. Ten players, including three graduating seniors and four incoming freshmen, and no longer Volunteers. Tyndall has been busy though trying to rebuild the roster with eight of his own signings. The Vols were going to have to build chemistry with the losses incurred anyway, so except for the numbers, the restructuring could be overrated. The signing of 6-10 power forward Tariq Owens of St. Vincent Pallotti in Laurel, Maryland, was major since the Vols’ most depleted area was the post.