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.

URI fights off La Salle for share of A-10 title

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jeff Dowtin scored 25 points, including four key free throws in the final seconds, as No. 18 Rhode Island clinched a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a hard-fought 95-93 overtime victory at La Salle on Tuesday night.

Five Rams scored in double figures. Stanford Robinson had 20 points, Jared Terrell had 14, E.C. Matthews had 13 and Fatts Russell had 10.

La Salle was led by B.J. Johnson, who posted a career-high 23 rebounds to go with 29 points. Johnson a double-double in the first half with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Rams (22-4, 14-1 Atlantic 10) trailed 30-18 midway through the first half before going on a 14-0 run and taking a 39-37 halftime lead.

Rhode Island never trailed in the second half and led 81-78 with three seconds left. The Rams purposely fouled Pookie Powell, who made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. Tony Washington snared the long rebound and made the putback to tie the game at 81 at the end of regulation.

Cyril Langevine scored four straight points to give the Rams a 91-87 lead with 2:20 left in OT. Trailing 91-90, La Salle had two chances to take its first lead since the first half, but couldn’t convert.

Dowtin hit two free throws to give La Salle a 3-point lead, and the Rams again intentionally fouled Powell, this time with 3.2 seconds left. Powell again made the first — and accidentally made the second. After Dowtin made two more, the Explorers tried the same tactic yet again but were called for a lane violation.

Saul Phiri added 16 points, and Miles Brookins scored 13 for La Salle (11-17, 5-10).

BIG PICTURE

Rhode Island: The Rams are looking for the first outright A-10 title in team history. In 1980-81, they finished tied for a share of the Eastern Eight regular season title. The 14 conference victories equal a team record.

La Salle: The Explorers are now 9-4 at home this season and have lost five straight to Rhode Island at Tom Gola Arena. Johnson’s previous career-high in rebounds was 16 against Miami in November of last year.

No. 21 West Virginia gets back to basics in win over Baylor

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West Virginia was not happy about the way things ended in Lawrence, so they took it out on the hottest team in the Big 12.

On Saturday, No. 21 West Virginia blew a double-digit, second-half lead in a loss to Kansas for the second time this season. Given the nature of Saturday’s loss, not only with regards to the blown lead but also the frustration that comes with attempting just two free throws, the question for the Mountaineers going into Tuesday’s game at Baylor was how would they respond.

As was the case with its 35-point beating of Texas in the first game after their home loss to Kansas, West Virginia offered up a positive response in Waco. Esa Ahmad and Jevon Carter led a balanced offensive effort and Sagaba Konate was dominant around the basket as the Mountaineers picked up the 71-60 victory.

West Virginia built its advantage in the first half, finding quality looks offensively (and making them at a solid clip) while limiting Baylor on the other end of the floor. But Baylor was able to mount a rally in the second half, with West Virginia’s offense being stagnant at times with passing on the perimeter ultimately yielding to a hopeful hoist in the final seconds of the shot clock.

That’s been an issue for the Mountaineers on multiple occasions this season, in wins and losses alike, with Carter being the team’s best option to make a play either for himself or his teammates. Even with Tuesday’s win, West Virginia showed that it still has work to to in this area as the season’s most important month draws closer.

The second half offensive issues aside, the conversation should be about what Sagaba Konate gives West Virginia in the post. Konate finished with ten points, ten rebounds and nine blocked shots, tying the single-game school record set by D’Or Fisher in 2004.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore entered Tuesday’s game ranked fifth in the country in blocks per game (3.15), and his block percentage of 16.2 ranks third nationally. While the perimeter players, most notably Carter, receive attention for their roles in “Press Virginia”, a big reason why they’re able to be so aggressive is the presence of Konate on the back line. Players big and small alike have looked to challenge Konate at the rim, and more often than not those attempts fail to the his combination of timing and sheer strength.

Baylor was able to pull closer in the second half due to West Virginia’s at times sluggish offense and its work on the offensive boards. For the game Baylor rebounded 38.6 percent of its missed shots, outscoring the Mountaineers 15-7 in second-chance points. But they shot just 32.8 percent from the field and 3-for-9 from three, with West Virginia putting forth one of its better efforts with regards to half-court defense in addition to forcing 14 Baylor turnovers.

Ultimately, while West Virginia’s bounce-back performance was a good one the result wasn’t so much about learning something new about the Mountaineers so much as them getting back to who they are. The offense was balanced if not spectacular, and defensively one of the nation’s best rim protectors produced a virtuoso performance.

That’s been the formula West Virginia’s called upon when successful, and they’ll have to continue to do that if they’re to make a run in March.

Bubble Banter: Losses by Texas A&M and Creighton put them in weird spots

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

N.C. STATE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 10): The Wolfpack avoided adding a bad loss to their résumé by knocking off Boston College. At this point, N.C. State has done enough to get into the tournament. Not only do they have five Quadrant 1 wins, but in that group of wins includes: Duke, Clemson, at North Carolina and Arizona on a neutral. They can still mess this thing up by going on a losing streak at the wrong time, but I think that N.C. State is closer to safe than people realize.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (RPI: 61, KenPom: 46, NBC seed: Out): It might be time to pay a little more attention to Mississippi State. After winning at Texas A&M on Tuesday, they now have three Quadrant 1 wins and a 6-8 record against the top two Quadrants with no bad losses. Here’s the problem: Their three best wins are Arkansas at home, Missouri at home, at Texas A&M, who may not end up being a tournament team. Throw in an atrocious non-conference SOS, and there is a reason they’re on the outside looking in. This is, however, a step in the right direction.

BUTLER (RPI: 34, KenPom: 20, NBC seed: 10): Butler did themselves a favor by picking up a Quadrant 2 win over Creighton at home. They now have a 3-8 record against Quadrant 1 with six Quadrant 2 wins. That loss to Georgetown at home doesn’t look pretty, but it shouldn’t be a killer so long as the committee takes into account that the Hoyas have been better late in the year. That’s a bad loss. It’s not a horrific loss. Their final two games of the regular season: at St. John’s and at Seton Hall. Win one and they should be fine, especially if they win their opener of the Big East tournament.

LOSERS

BAYLOR (RPI: 56, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: Play-in game): Baylor did not help their cause on Tuesday, losing at home to West Virginia. That dropped them to 16-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. Here are their final three games: at TCU, Oklahoma, at Kansas State. Those are all Quadrant 1 wins, and that’s before the Big 12 tournament. Baylor’s rallied a long way from the team that was barely in the mix for a bid three weeks ago. It’s not over yet, but they have quite a bit of work to do.

TEXAS A&M (RPI: 27, KenPom: 32, NBC seed: 7): This team is all over the place. They’re now 17-11 on the season after losing at home to Mississippi State, and they’ve now lost three straight games since Duane Wilson went down for the season. But the first two of those losses were on the road against top 30 teams, eight of their 11 losses are Quadrant 1 and of their three Quadrant 2 losses, this was the only one where they were anywhere near full strength. But they’ve had so many suspensions and injuries and illnesses and players missing time that I don’t know what is what with this group. Two of their last three are on the road, and they are already 6-9 in the SEC. I think the Aggies are in more trouble than people might realize.

CREIGHTON (RPI: 37, KenPom: 26, NBC seed: 7): I’m including Creighton here because a Creighton fan asked me about them this week so I figured it was worth the discussion. As of today, I think that Creighton is safe. They’re 3-7 against Quadrant 1, they have six Quadrant 2 wins and no bad losses. But I also recognize that the end of their season schedule isn’t exactly easy. They host Villanova on Saturday, and the Wildcats are finally healthy and playing with a Big East title on the line. Creighton should be DePaul, but then they have to play at Marquette, the same Marquette who just beat them in Omaha. Lose two out of three, and suddenly they’re 19-11 overall and 9-9 in the Big East. That would put them at 5th or 6th in the league standings, most likely, which would mean they play a Quadrant 1 game in the first round of the Big East tournament. So the way I see it, Creighton is likely in with one more win this season. They’re definitely in with two.

YET TO PLAY

LSU
NEBRASKA

No. 2 Michigan State tops Illinois 81-61, seals share of title

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges scored 19 points, Joshua Langford had 16 and No. 2 Michigan State beat Illinois 81-61 on Tuesday night, sealing a share of the Big Ten championship.

The Spartans (27-3, 15-2 Big Ten) have won 11 straight and can claim the conference title outright if they win at Wisconsin on Sunday.

The Fighting Illini (13-16, 3-13) were coming off a win over Nebraska and looked like they were building momentum, competing well enough to trail the Spartans by just three points at halftime.

Michigan State, though, opened the second half with a 12-1 run to take control and went on to build 20-plus-point leads. The cushion allowed coach Tom Izzo to put his three seniors in and out of the game in the final minutes, giving each of them an opportunity to kiss the school’s logo at midcourt and get an ovation from the crowd.

Cassius Winston scored 12 points, Jaren Jackson had eight points and five blocks and Kenny Goins added a season-high nine points.

Illinois’ Leron Black had 20 points and Trent Frazier scored 14 on 4-of-13 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The young team has experienced of growing pains that may serve the program well next season, when it returns almost every player on the roster.

Michigan State: Despite clinching a share of the conference championship, the Spartans have a lot to play for with an outright title at stake against the Badgers and a chance to improve their seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

SENIOR START

Izzo started Tum Tum Nairn, Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter in place of Winston, Jackson and Nick Ward, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds in just 15 minutes.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Wraps up the regular season at home against Purdue on Thursday night and Sunday at Rutgers, where the Illini will have their last chance to win a road game this season.

Michigan State: At Wisconsin on Sunday.

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Jackson scores 18 as No. 16 Ohio State routs Rutgers 79-52

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — C.J. Jackson scored 18 points to help No. 16 Ohio State rout Rutgers 79-52 on Tuesday night.

Kaleb Wesson added 14, and Kam Williams, playing his last home game, had 13 as the Buckeyes (23-7, 14-3 Big Ten) got a feel-good win on senior night, coming on the heels of tough road losses to Penn State and Michigan that dropped them out of first place in the conference.

Corey Sanders had 12 points for the Scarlet Knights (13-17, 3-14). They’ve lost eight of their last nine games.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State’s best player who missed most of last season to a leg injury, continued to struggle with his shooting. After starting the month as the likely candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, he has had trouble scoring against more aggressive defenses. He had just six points against Rutgers on 3-for-11 shooting.

Bates-Diop has a year of eligibility remaining but likely will leave for the NBA. He graduated from Ohio State in December.

Jae’Sean Tate, also playing his last game at Value City Arena, had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Ohio State led 32-27 at the half. The Buckeyes had built a 19-point lead coming off an 11-0 run with 5:41 left in the half but then went cold. Rutgers put together a 16-2 run to finish the half, during which Ohio State went 1 for 8 from the floor.

But Rutgers, one of the nation’s worst offensive teams, opened the second half 1 for 8, and Ohio State took control with an 18-2 run.

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights took advantage of a period of cold shooting by Ohio State but just didn’t have the talent to keep it up in the second half.

Ohio State: Buckeyes did what was expected against a poor team after dropping two on the road. They will need some help to win the regular-season conference title, but they’ve been one of the college basketball’s best stories this season.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Finishes regular season Sunday at Illinois.

Ohio State: Finishes Friday at Indiana.

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More AP college basketball at http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25.