SEC preview: Embrace the change

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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.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

So much change in the SEC this season. And it’s not all in Lexington.

That change, for the most part, stays the same. Coach John Calipari brings in another top-flight recruiting class for a run at a second-straight national championship.

To continue the trend of change league-wide, the conference welcomes two new members in Missouri and Texas A&M and three new coaches. Add in that eight teams have recruiting classes of six players or more and there’s going to be a lot of new faces and places for fans and programs alike to take notice of during the 2012-13 season.

Change is a constant. It’s how the teams adjust to it that will determine how the SEC shakes out.

Five Things To Know

1.) Missouri and Texas A&M enter their first seasons in the SEC. In the media poll, the Tigers were picked to finish second behind Kentucky in the league. The Aggies were tabbed 9th.

2.) Kentucky, the defending national champions, just keeps hitting the conference with quality newcomers. A four-man freshman class paired with transfers Ryan Harrow (N.C. State) and Julius Mays (Wright State) will give the Wildcats a solid shot at a repeat.

3.) Mississippi State lost five important players to graduation, going pro or transferring. In total, the Bulldogs will have to make up for 59.6 points and 28.3 rebounds lost, and you can also factor in the 10.3 assists per game lost between Rodney Hood, who transferred to Duke, and Dee Bost, who exhausted his eligibility.

4.) Along with joining a new conference, Missouri brings in almost an entirely new roster. The Tigers offseason haul included 11 newcomers, with five transfers from four-year schools. Only three players return off last season’s roster, including forward Laurence Bowers, who missed all of the 2011-12 season with a torn ACL.

5.) SEC coaching experience is at a minimum this season. Three programs will have new coaches: LSU (Johnny Jones), South Carolina (Frank Martin) and Mississippi State (Rick Ray). Four other programs, Missouri (Frank Haith), Texas A&M (Billy Kennedy), Tennessee (Cuonzo Martin) and Arkansas (Mike Anderson) have coaches that are in their second seasons in the conference.

Impact Newcomers

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – The general consensus on Noel, a 6-10, 205-pound Top-5 player in the Class of 2012, is that he’s a more raw Anthony Davis, which is funny considering Davis was a freshman just a year ago. But Calipari has developed a reputation for developing big men, and Noel should be no exception.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky – Calipari’s attack is predicated on an aggressive point guard. Harrow, a 6-2, 175-pound transfer from North Carolina State, will have to be it. He’s apparently shown flashes in practice, and being a third-year guy in the college game — with a redshirt year, obviously — he can command some respect from the youth on the team. He averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists for the Wolfpack two seasons ago.

Devonte Pollard, Alabama – The Crimson Tide’s lone incoming recruit this season is a good one. A 6-8, 200-pound wing who can slash and shoot. There’s a decent base coming back for coach Anthony Grant, and it will all be built around Pollard.

Alex Oriakhi, Missouri – The Tigers needed a center, badly. The former UConn forward was arguably at his best during the Huskies’ 2010-11 national title run as a sophomore, but a lack of playing time last season — he averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game — and general discontent left the 6-8, 255-pound banger looking for a change. He’ll use the graduate transfer rule to be eligible immediately.

Charles Carmouche, LSU – The 6-3, 183-pound guard’s story is a weird one. He played his first two seasons at New Orleans before they dropped to Division III, spent the past two seasons at Memphis, graduated, and now will finish at LSU. The New Orleans native averaged 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 2010-11, but sat out most of last season due to suspension and injury and the NCAA granted him a fifth-year as a result.

Breakout Players

Phil Pressey, Jr., Missouri – A lot of pundits are picking the 5-11, 175-pound Pressey to have a monster season for the Tigers. He’s the most complete player in the SEC, averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists last season. With Marcus Denmon gone, the control is all his and he’s going to do a lot with it.

Anthony Hickey, Soph., LSU – It’s too bad LSU wasn’t very good last season, or Hickey might’ve gotten more pub. The 5-11, 182-pound guard stuffed the stat sheet with per-game averages of 8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists while starting 31 of 33 games.

Archie Goodwin, Fr., Kentucky – Noel is getting a ton of the copy. But it’s Goodwin who could thrive as a result. He was one of the best prep players in the nation at getting to the hoop and word is he’s retooled his jumper. Goodwin’s size at 6-4, 180 pounds, paired with his skill, puts him between a shooting guard and a smaller wing, positionally. But he’s the type of player that develops best in Calipari’s system.

Erik Murphy, Sr. Florida – He’s a big man who can shoot the three with consistency. The 6-10, 238-pound forward shot 42.1-percent from deep last season, averaging 10.5 points per game. He’ll get more shots with Erving Walker gone, but the main reason for the breakout will be his inside game. He led the team with 37 blocks last season and pulled in 4.5 boards per game.

Rickey Scott, Jr., Arkansas – Scott may benefit the most from Anderson’s system. The 6-3, 205-pound Irving, Texas native averaged 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and a team-leading 2.5 assists last season and could up that this season.

Player of the Year

Kenny Boynton, Sr. Florida – Boynton can score (a team-leading 15.4 points per game last season), rebound well for a guard (2.6 rebounds) and distribute (leading returner at 2.7 assists per game). Losing Walker means more shots for Boynton. What can he do with those shots? If he can stay steady or improve on his 44-percent field goal percentage and his 40.7-percent clip from three-point range, Boynton gets the nod at the end of the season. Though there’s about 8-10 players that could win it.

All-Conference Team

G: Phil Pressey, Missouri
G: Kenny Boynton, Florida
F: Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss
F: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

Coach Under Pressure

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss – It’s time for Kennedy to do something other than trudge into the NIT. He’s got his best team in his seven seasons at the helm, including Murphy Holloway as the rock. Four starters return and the Rebels bring in a six-man recruiting class, anchored by junior college transfer Marshall Henderson, and he returns four starters. Kennedy has pumped out 20-win seasons, but how long until just 20-win seasons aren’t enough?

Predicted Finish

1.) Kentucky – John Calipari just reloads with another crazy-talented recruiting class. Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein anchor the post. Alex Poythress on the wing and Goodwin and Harrow at the guard spots. Can Mays and Kyle Wiltjer anchor a seven-man rotation?

2.) Tennessee – There’s a lot of love for Jarnell Stokes. Rightfully so. If Trae Golden and and Jeronne Maymon are as consistent as they were last season, this squad has a proven shot at catching and beating Kentucky.

3.) Missouri – The guys coming back are as solid as anyone in the nation. Pressey, Laurence Bowers and Michael Dixon, Jr. Problem is, they’re it. The 11 newcomers will have to gel quick for this team to keep pace.

4.) Florida – A solid corps of veterans return in Boynton, Eric Murphy and Patric Young. The play of fifth-year senior Mike Rosario and how he improves on that 33.7 three-point percentage might be a key.

5.) Arkansas – B.J. Young surprised some folks last season in having the best season of any freshman outside of Kentucky in the SEC. As long as Marshawn Powell returns healthy and the nine-man recruiting class hits the ground running, Mike Anderson will have a good squad.

6.) Ole Miss – This is Andy Kennedy’s major proving year. He’s got one of the most underrated players in the SEC in Murphy Holloway, a solid perimeter presence in Nick Williams and returns four starters off an NIT team.

7.) Alabama – Six players come back that started at least 10 games for Anthony Grant’s squad, plus Devonta Pollard is the only incoming freshman and a stud. The Crimson Tide could be the biggest surprise of the season and finish better than seventh.

8.) Georgia – This isn’t really Georgia’s fault. They have a number of starters back and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope makes this team run, but the talent above them is just better.

9.) Texas A&M – Not sure what to make of this team. The Aggies lost Khris Middleton to the NBA, but return four players that started at least 13 games last season. It’s going to depend on what the bench does.

10.) LSU – What can the Tigers expect in Johnny Jones’ first season? A lot of Hickey and Carmouche in the backcourt. The question lies in the paint and who can help out Johnny O’Bryant.

11.) Auburn – Two full-time starters return for the Tigers, but Frankie Sullivan is going to have to do a lot for Tony Barbee’s team to be successful.

12.) Vanderbilt – Commodores, the Missouri Tigers feel your pain. However, they loaded up on transfers to heal their wounds. Kevin Stallings didn’t. Or a top-flight recruiting class. It’s going to be a tough drop in Nashville.

13.) South Carolina – Frank Martin took a big chance leaving Kansas State for the Gamecocks, and he isn’t inheriting much. Four players return that started at least 12 games, but those players haven’t experienced many wins.

14.) Mississippi State – This team was demolished by a mass exodus of transfers after Rick Stansbury “retired” or whatever you want to call it. If this team can even earn respectability, it’ll be an accomplishment.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Angel Delgado’s return to Seton Hall makes Pirates Big East contender

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Seton Hall got huge news on Monday when Angel Delgado announced that he would be returning to school for his senior season.

“I am coming back to school for my senior year,” Delgado said in a statement on Monday. “It’s very important to my family and me that I finish what I started. This was a difficult decision that took time and patience. Coming back feels just right.”

Delgado, a 6-foot-10 forward from the Dominican Republic, averaged 15.1 points and 13.2 boards last season for the Pirates. He was one of the best big men in the country over the last six weeks of the season.

And his return should bring about one of the best years that Seton Hall basketball has had in a long time.

The Pirates are loaded with talent, tough and, most importantly, old players, from Delgado to Khadeen Carrington to Ishmael Sanogo to Desi Rodriguez. They are going to be a nightmare to run offense against, and they may just be the best team in the Big East not named Villanova. Delgado should end up being a preseason all-american.

Seton Hall is currently ranked No. 17 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Texas to return Andrew Jones for sophomore season

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Texas got another boost on Monday as former five-star recruit Andrew Jones announced that he will be returning to school for his sophomore season.

“I’ve matured and learned a lot through this process,” Jones said in a statement released on twitter. “I enjoyed the experience and opportunity that I had to be able to participate in the combine and team workouts.

“Time to go work out with my teammates. Hungry and Humble.”

This comes on the heels of Texas landing a commitment from a top five prospect in Mo Bamba. With all those pieces in the fold, including a recruiting class that features four more top 100 prospects, the Longhorns look like they are on track to be a borderline preseason top 25 team and heading back to the NCAA tournament.

This could end up being a narrative-changing year for Texas.

West Virginia returns potential Big 12 Player of the Year in Jevon Carter

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West Virginia got some great news on Monday as Jevon Carter announced that he will be returning to the Mountaineers for his senior year.

“I’m excited about coming back to West Virginia and playing with my teammates for my senior season,” he said. “The entire NBA process was a great experience for me and to gain valuable feedback that I can use to prepare for the future.”

This is massive for the Mountaineers. Not only is Carter the team’s leading scorer at 13.5 points, but he is a three-time all-Big 12 Defensive Team member and led West Virginia in minutes played last season. He’ll be a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year, with Devonte’ Graham of Kansas.

Arizona adds five-star Emmanuel Akot to Class of 2017

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Emmanuel Akot, a five-star wing that has been committed to Arizona for months, announced on Monday that he will be reclassifying to the Class of 2017 and enrolling at Arizona this offseason.

“My family and I have decided to join the 2017 class and become a member of the Arizona Basketball family,” Akot said.

Akot was considered a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2018, a class that many believe to be significantly weaker than the Class of 2017. At 6-foot-7, he’s a versatile defender with quite a bit of potential that can step out and knock down threes, but he’s also far from a finish product and will likely need time to acclimate to the college level.

That said, he should be able to fill a role on the wing nicely, providing a nice bit of defensive reliance alongside more offensive-minded weapons like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.

Akot joins a five-man recruiting class headlined by top four prospect Deandre Ayton and four-star recruits Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee.

The eight most important NBA Draft Early Entry decisions remaining

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The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft is on Wednesday, May 24th, meaning that the players that have not signed with an agent have roughly 48 hours left to determine their basketball future.

Here are the ten most important decisions left to be made:

1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  • Projected: Late first round or early second round
  • If he stays in: It will be a massive blow for Purdue, although one that the program should not be surprised about. Swanigan had an argument to be the National Player of the Year last season with the year that he had, and frankly, I’m not sure what else there is for him to prove at the college level. We know what he is offensively, and I don’t think that his flaws as a player are necessarily fixable. How much can he improve his body? How much different can he be as a defender? At this point he is what he is as a player.
  • If he returns: The Boilermakers will be returning a guy that will be a lock to be the Preseason National Player of the Year. Without him, Purdue still has a shot to be a top 25 team and a threat to finish near the top of the Big Ten. With him? Matt Painter will have a chance to repeat as the Big Ten regular season champ, even with Michigan State looking like the best team in college basketball.
  • CBT says: He should, and probably will, remain in the draft.

2. Tony Bradley, North Carolina

  • Projected: Early second-round
  • If he stays in: It would be a significant loss for the Tar Heels, but not a fatal one with Joel Berry set to return as a potential National Player of the Year candidate along with Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams also in the starting lineup. What’s missing would be that experienced presence in the middle.
  • If he returns: North Carolina would be without a doubt one of the top national title contenders. With Bradley in the lineup, the Tar Heels simply won’t have a huge weakness in the lineup that teams can immediately exploit. It won’t make them the clear-cut title frontrunner, but it’ll put them in the top tier.
  • CBT says: With a first-round selection no guarantee, Bradley has a lot to gain returning to one of college basketball’s best teams.

3. Mo Wagner and D.J. Wilson, Michigan

  • Projected: Wilson is a potential first round pick, but Wagner may end up going undrafted
  • If they stay in: The biggest loss for Michigan is going to be point guard Derrick Walton, who was on another level at the end of last season. John Beilein’s teams are at their very best when they have a great ball-screen point guard, and their season is going to depend, in the end, on how Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons adjusts to a higher level. But Beilein also runs an offense based on spacing the floor, and there’s no better way to space the floor than having a pair of big men that can step out on the perimeter and make threes.
  • If they return: Suddenly, Michigan goes from being a team that could end up making the NCAA tournament to one that has a ceiling of being a top 15 team. Wilson probably has the most to gain by coming back for another year. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, and his defensively versatility and perimeter skill make him him a more likely first round pick if he can prove he’s more than just a one year wonder. Wagner may actually have a higher ceiling, but he needs to get tougher and show he can defend and rebound.
  • CBT says: The safe bet is that Michigan loses Wilson and gets Wagner back, but I wouldn’t be shocked if both returned to school.

4. Justin Jackson, Maryland

  • Projected: Mid-second round with first round potential
  • If he stays in: It’s a massive blow for a Maryland team that will be looking to replace Melo Trimble, the man who is as responsible for turning around the Terp program as Mark Turgeon is. But Jackson has some NBA potential. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he can defend multiple positions and he shot 44 percent from three. He’s built in the combo-forward mold that NBA teams love these days. There’s a real chance he leaves as a one-and-done player, and while the Terps have some other young, talented pieces, this loss could cost them the NCAA tournament.
  • If he returns: Maryland should once again be a fringe top 25 team. Jackson has the chance to develop into an all-Big Ten kind of player next season as he takes on a bigger role of the offense. The freshmen trio of Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter should have Maryland fans excited.
  • CBT says: All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Jackson’s potential to get him picked in the back end of the first round. How he performs at the combine may determine that.

5. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky

  • Projected: Late first round, early second round
  • If he stays in: Kentucky has a ridiculous amount of talent joining the program next season, enough that John Calipari will likely have the pieces to make another push for an SEC title and a trip to the Final Four without him. At this point, he is really the only five-star off-guard on the roster, and losing him means the Wildcats may take a hit on the defensive end, but that would also allow some better shooters to get on the floor, so it may end up being a wash.
  • If he returns: Kentucky suddenly looks like a team that is going to be as good as anyone on the defensive end. Between Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards and, potentially, Mo Bamba, there is as much length and athleticism on that roster as Coach Cal has ever had. Where their points come from will be the question, and this may be what gets Diallo to stay in the draft. He may be the most explosive athlete in the draft, but he’s also very raw. He’s not a shooter and he doesn’t have a great feel for the game. There’s a line of thinking that, if he returns to a team that doesn’t have myriad options offensively, he could end up being exposed on that end of the floor.
  • CBT says: I think it would be in Diallo’s best interest to return — remember, he redshirted the second semester of last season after enrolling in January — but I would not be shocked to see him remain in the draft.

6. Thomas Welsh, UCLA

  • Projected: Undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Bruins will still have quite a bit of talent and will be a preseason top-25 team, but losing a player like Welsh would seriously lower their ceiling. Take a big step back is certainly something Steve Alford will look to avoid after a breakthrough season last year that started with him under some pressure.
  • If he returns: The Bruins won’t be the toast of the Pac-12, that distinction will stay with Arizona, but UCLA asserts itself as a top-15(ish) team that has enough firepower, especially with a major 7-foot contributor, to at least push the Wildcats in the league.
  • CBT says: Welsh has a lot of tools, but probably even more questions that make his stock pretty low right now.

7. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Musketeers are suddenly one of the younger teams in the Big East with a roster that has just three players — J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Kaiser Gates — that have spent more than one year on the Xavier campus. I still think Xavier would be able to get back into the NCAA tournament, as they will have some young talent on the roster and Chris Mack at the helm, but their upside will be significantly diminished.
  • If he returns: Xavier will have a preseason all-american on their roster, a potential Big East Player of the Year and a guy that could end up averaging 20 points as a senior. He, along with J.P. Macura, will anchor a Musketeer roster that, beyond them, will be very young but promisingly talented. They’re probably a tournament team either way, but with Bluiett in the fold, they might have a chance to get back to the Elite 8 again.
  • CBT says: Return to school

8. Deng Adel, Louisville

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: Louisville will have lost their two most dangerous perimeter scoring options — Donovan Mitchell looks like he is going to sneak into the back-end of the lottery — from a team that really struggled to score from the perimeter. That would be a crushing blow for a Cardinal team that was the Preseason No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Top 25 when it looked like both would be returning to school.
  • If he returns: Louisville has their go-to scorer on the wing and Adel will have a chance to prove that he can play that role full-time. He really came on down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, and with an offense more or less built around him as the leading man, he’ll have every opportunity to prove himself an NBA-caliber wing scorer.
  • CBT says: He returns to school.