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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.

Report: Felony arrest warrant issued for Maurice Watson Jr.

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 21: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays receives and ovation before their game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at CenturyLink Center on January 21, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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A felony arrested warrant has been issued for Creighton senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr., according to the Omaha World-Hearld.

According to the outlet’s breaking news reporter Andrew J. Nelson, Watson will be charged with first-degree sexual assault. News came out earlier on Thursday that the star guard had been accused of sexual assault by a female student earlier this month.

The allegation is that Watson sexually assaulted a 19-year-old acquaintance in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. She filed a report later that morning.

Watson, 23, began his career at Boston University before transferring to Creighton in 2015. He has been one of college basketball’s top floor generals during his time with the Bluejays. He was in the midst of an All-American season — and Creighton was a Final Four-caliber team — before he tore his ACL on Jan. 16 vs. Xavier.

Watson was suspended from the program on Feb. 13 for, “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.” He will not be involved in senior night festivities on Feb. 28.

T.J. Leaf, No. 5 UCLA holds off Arizona State

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins rebounds over Elijah Stewart #30 of the USC Trojans during the second half of a game at Pauley Pavilion on February 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) T.J. Leaf scored 25 points, and No. 5 UCLA survived an upset bid by Arizona State with an 87-75 victory Thursday night.

The Bruins (25-3, 12-3 Pac-12) won their sixth straight game. Aaron Holiday added 17 points and Thomas Welsh had eight points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes.

Torian Graham led Arizona State with 28 points and Kodi Justice added 19. The Sun Devils hit 14 3-pointers but were outrebounded 49-30.

The Bruins’ size made a difference throughout the game, with UCLA capitalizing on plenty of second-chance opportunities and taking advantage of Arizona State’s four-guard lineup with a major rebounding edge.

The Sun Devils (13-16, 6-10) scored the first seven points of the second half and got a near capacity crowd on its feet when Shannon Evans II made a fastbreak layup to trim UCLA’s lead to 45-43.

Evans’ dunk made it 50-49 at the 15:22 mark, but UCLA went on a 14-5 run capped by a 3-pointer by Holiday off an offensive rebound. The Bruins had a 31-7 edge in second-chance points and 50-22 in points in the paint.

Holiday hit a 3 for a 74-60 lead with 7:29 to play and the Sun Devils couldn’t rally again.

Arizona State led 14-10 6 minutes into the game and thanks in part to UCLA’s early turnovers. But the Bruins hit five straight shots, three for freshman big man Ike Anigbogu inside.

Anigbogu’s dunk with 6:16 to go in the first half gave UCLA a 29-21 lead, and Arizona State was forced to rely on perimeter shots with UCLA controlling the low post at both ends. The Bruins went ahead 40-27 on a follow by Welsh with 3:18 left, and led by as many as 14 before finishing the half with a 45-36 lead.

The Sun Devils didn’t make a first-half substitution and got 17 points from Graham, who hit four of his team’s seven 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

UCLA: The Bruins can still finish in second place in the Pac-12, but need a win at No. 4 Arizona in one of the nation’s marquee matchups this weekend in Tucson, Arizona, for starters. They will likely have to win out and get help from the teams that play current second-place team Oregon. Either way, UCLA looks bound for the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils dropped to 0-7 against Top 25 opponents this season, and still have one more to go in No. 4 Arizona on March 4.

TIP-INS

UCLA: Anigbogu scored a career-high 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. … The Bruins have won all six games they have played in February.

ARIZONA STATE: Graham has 11 20-point games this season and three in his last four. … Obinna Oleka recorded his 14th double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

HELD BALL

UCLA freshman sensation Lonzo Ball finished with just four points, well under his per-game average of 16.9. Ball, UCLA’s leading scorer this season, also missed a couple of minutes in the first half to get his right ankle checked, briefly returning to the locker room. He returned to action just before halftime and ended up with 11 rebounds and five assists.

UP NEXT

UCLA: At No. 4 Arizona on Saturday, then home for the final two games of the regular season against the Washington schools.

Arizona State: Hosts Southern Cal on Sunday, the second-to-last home of the regular season.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 16 Wisconsin suffers blowout loss to Ohio State

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 31:  JaeÕSean Tate #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after scoring a basket against the Maryland Terrapins in the second half on January 31, 2016 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Maryland defeated Ohio State 66-61.   (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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No. 16 Wisconsin has lost three of its last four games. The worst of those defeats came on Thursday night, as Ohio State, which by 20 inside five minutes remaining in regulation, blew out the Badgers, 83-73, in Columbus.

Jae’Sean Tate, who registered a double-double before halftime, set the tone early with energy. The Buckeyes’ defense got the Badgers out of sync, taking Ethan Happ out of the game by doubling the post. Happ was actually taken out of the game after picking up his second foul. The likely all-Big 10 first team selection played six minutes, recording zero points through the first 20 minutes.

Without Happ, the Wisconsin offense is out of sorts. That’s only compounded when Nigel Hayes is off, which he was on Thursday night. The Ohio native, in his final collegiate game in his home state, had seven points and four rebounds in 35 minutes.

The only player who was on for the Badgers was Bronson Koenig, who is still working his way back from an injury that kept him out of last week’s loss to Michigan. He had 14 (off 4-of-7 3-point shooting) of his 27 points in the first half. The rest of the team shot 29 percent, contributing 17 points in the first.

Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes took a 44-31 lead heading into the break. Imagine how lopsided that would look had the Badgers not sunk seven 3-pointers?

Wisconsin opened the day as a projected No. 5 seed in the latest NBC Sports’ bracketology. That’s most definitely going to change once Dave Ommen updates his bracket. It should be pointed out that last year, the Badgers made the Sweet 16 as a No. 7 seed. And that team had its issues as well, but had a much better résumé heading into March.

The Badgers are a game out of first place in the Big Ten, but a closer look at their NCAA Tournament résumé isn’t all that impressive. They’re 2-2 vs. the RPI Top-25. Those two wins both came at home against Michigan and Northwestern. The Wildcats are currently projected as a No. 8 seed. The Wolverines are slotted as a No. 9. Also, Wisconsin became signature wins for both those programs last week.

And up next for Wisconsin: a road trip to East Lansing on Sunday. Michigan State would also like to punch its ticket to dance by beating a ranked opponent.

Will the Badgers accommodate the Spartans, or will they end this current slide and head into tournament time with some momentum?

No. 15 Cincinnati extends home streak, beats Memphis 87-74

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 04:  Troy Caupain #10 of the Cincinnati Bearcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) After a dominant first half, No. 15 Cincinnati relaxed and wound up sweating one out.

Jacob Evans III scored 12 of his 15 points during the Bearcats’ lopsided first half on Thursday night, and they let most of a big lead slip away before holding on for their 25th straight home victory, 87-74 over Memphis.

Cincinnati (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic) led by as many as 24 points during its highest-scoring opening half in conference play this season, pulling ahead 51-32 at the break. The Tigers cut the lead to six points before fading.

“We got off to a big lead, and in the second half I feel we started to coast a little bit,” Evans said. “We can’t do that. If we want to make a deep run in March, we can’t take a half off against any team. Our energy on defense went down.”

The Bearcats’ front line dominated on offense. Gary Clark had 13 points and nine rebounds while Kyle Washington had 16 points and six rebounds. The problem was the sluggish defense in the second half, which left shooters open.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played about as well as we can play,” coach Mick Cronin said. “My halftime speech gets an F. I talked to our guys about defense. Our defense was nonexistent for most of the second half. We learned our lessons.”

Memphis (18-10, 8-7 ) has dropped a season-high three straight. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points and 11 assists. Dedric Lawson had 21 points with 10 rebounds.

“They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “And when you get in a hole like that, it’s tough.”

The Tigers cut the lead to 75-69 on Martin’s three-point play with 5:18 left. Evans’ 3-pointer – his only basket of the second half – ended the comeback. It was his only 3-pointer of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Lawson got his 35th double-double, the sixth-most by an active player. His 18 double-doubles this season are a career high for the sophomore. He has 282 rebounds this season. The AAC record is 321 by UConn’s Daniel Hamilton.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 25 straight home wins match the second-longest streak at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. The arena record is 41 straight wins from 1997-2000.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bearcats have won four straight since a 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12, minimizing the damage of their only conference loss.

BAD START

The Tigers were playing from behind the entire time because of their horrible start. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots – Lawson was 0 for 3 – while the Bearcats rolled out to a 26-11 lead.

LOOKING UP

Lawson got a loose ball while sitting under the basket in the second half and took a shot that bounced off the rim. After the slow start, he ended up 9 of 16 from the field.

CUMBERLAND BACK

Freshman Jarron Cumberland sat out Cincinnati’s last game because of a curfew violation. He was back on Thursday and had nine points in 22 minutes.

UP NEXT

Memphis: The Tigers host Houston on Saturday. They won at Houston 79-67 in overtime on Jan. 19.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play at Central Florida on Saturday. They beat Central Florida 60-50 on Feb. 8.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Five Maine players suspended following a fight over locker room music

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Bob Walsh of the Maine Black Bears prepares for their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much love being spread in the Maine basketball locker room on Valentine’s Day.

A locker room fight led to the suspensions of five players, including the team’s leading scorer. According to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, who obtained the police report, the incident was the result of teammates Wes Myers and Marko Pirovic arguing over locker room music on Feb. 14.

Myers wanted the music off, Pirovic, who stands five inches taller and outweighs Myers by 25 pounds, refused. This led to both throwing punches, one of which connected on Pirovic’s face, breaking his jaw.

Jaquan McKennon, Ilija Stojiljkovic and Dusan Majstorovic were all suspended, but reinstated on Wednesday, for telling head trainer Ryan Taylor that Pirovic’s injuries resulted from him falling in the shower.

Myers, a junior guard averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.

Pirovic declined to press charges. All involved could still face punishment from the university, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s been a long season for the Black Bears. Maine owns the America East’s worst record at 6-24 (3-12). Outside of a modest three-game winning streak in late January, the Black Bears have not won a game in 2017. They close out the regular season on Saturday at home against Binghamton.