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Conference Catchups: Three-team race in the SEC?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Jordan Clarkson, Missouri

Much was expected of the Tulsa transfer and thus far Clarkson has delivered, as he leads the SEC in scoring (19.9 ppg) and ranks second in the conference in assists (4.3 apg). And from an efficiency standpoint Clarkson ranks third in the amongst players with a possession percentage of at least 24% when it comes to offensive rating, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Clarkson’s one of the big reasons why the Tigers are 10-1 heading into their game at N.C. State on Saturday.

All-SEC First Team:

  • Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
  • Jordan McRae, Tennessee
  • Jabari Brown, Missouri
  • Casey Prather, Florida
  • Julius Randle, Kentucky

Midseason Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan, Florida

Despite a roster in flux due to injuries and disciplinary issues the Gators are 9-2 and ranked 13th nationally. That says quite a bit about the coaching job that Donovan’s done to this point in the season, and Florida looks to be rounding into form just ahead of the start of SEC play. And the addition of McDonald’s All American forward Chris Walker will help Florida when it comes to their front court depth.

Favorite: Florida Gators

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Kentucky was the prohibitive favorite entering the season, and given the amount of talent at John Calipari’s disposal it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Wildcats ended up being that team come March. But the pick here is Florida, a team that’s getting all of its parts in order and is the lone SEC team that ranks in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Point guards Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin are healthy, as is forward Will Yeguete, and in Casey Prather the Gators have one of the most improved players in the country. The addition of Chris Walker will only help matters, and they have enough talent to take things slowly with the freshman.

And three more contenders: 

  • It wouldn’t be wise to rule out Kentucky, with their stable of talented freshmen being supplemented by sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein. Two keys for the Wildcats moving forward: the emergence of a team leader (or leaders), and the aggression of Alex Poythress. Poythress clearly has skill, but he has to bring the intensity on a consistent basis in order to help this team.
  • The perimeter tandem of Clarkson and Jabari Brown has led the way for Missouri, and for that reason the Tigers should be considered when discussing the top teams in the SEC. They can use another bench contributor or two, especially in the paint, but this is a group that will be a factor.
  • LSU may be the dark horse, with Johnny O’Bryant III leading four players scoring in double figures. Freshman Jordan Mickey has been very productive for the Bayou Bengals, and classmate Jarell Martin has the skill needed to have a greater impact when conference play begins.

Most Surprising Team: Arkansas

Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks have been more balanced and efficient offensively this season, with four players averaging at least 10.4 points per game and two others averaging at least 7.6 ppg. Alandise Harris and Bobby Portis have been good additions inside, and leading scorer Michael Qualls has raised his scoring average by almost ten points per game (14.1 ppg after averaging 4.6 ppg in 2012-13).

Most Disappointing Team: Kentucky

This one’s tough, because young teams need time to mesh and understand roles both on the court and in the locker room. But when you entertain preseason chatter about the possibility of going 40-0, the bar gets raised. The Wildcats have played a difficult schedule to date, so a couple losses were to be expected. The most disappointing thing at this stage in the season is that leaders have yet to emerge. That has to happen if Kentucky is to reach its full potential this season.

Most Important Player (in league play): Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

Kentucky’s lack of a definitive leader at this point means that the starting point guard, Harrison, will be their most important player in conference play. Harrison does rank fifth in the SEC in assists (3.5 apg), but that’s only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to being a team leader. If he can grab the reins and ensure that everyone’s headed in the same (and proper) direction, Kentucky can win the national title.

Who will slide?: Tennessee

The Volunteers’ best attribute thus far has their ability to hit the offensive glass, as they rank third in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (43.0%). That has masked their shooting issues, as Tennessee is shooting just 31.4% from beyond the arc on the season. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes can be a load inside, but how will they fare against the more athletic front courts of the SEC? That, along with perimeter shooting, could be a concern come January.

Who is the sleeper?: LSU

Johnny Jones has a team more than capable of getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, and given the status of the SEC why can’t they make a run? LSU has plenty of talent, and their guards (especially Anthony Hickey) can get after teams on the defensive end of the floor. They’ve been tested in non-conference play as well, with their two losses coming to UMass and Memphis. If there’s any team outside of the Florida/Kentucky/Missouri triumvirate capable of surprising people it’s LSU.

New Power Rankings

1. Florida
2. Kentucky
3. Missouri
4. LSU
5. Tennessee
6. Arkansas
7. Ole Miss
8. Alabama
9. Vanderbilt
10. Texas A&M
11. Mississippi State
12. South Carolina
13. Georgia
14. Auburn

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.

Michigan State lands second Class of 2017 commitment

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tom Izzo landed his second commitment in the Class of 2017 as big man Xavier Tillman announced that he will be attending Michigan State.

A 6-foot-7, 235 pound power forward, Tillman is a physical-if-undersized player that is rated as a three-star prospect. He’s not a one-and-done player, but he’s should be a good program guy for the Spartans.

“Tillman is another big and strong interior presence for Michigan State,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “What separates Tillman from a lot of big men his size is his passing ability. Tillman is an intelligent player on the offensive end and he rebounds his area well.”

Tillman joins Jaren Jackson, his AAU teammate for Speice Indy Heat, in Michigan State’s recruiting class.

He picked Michigan State over Purdue and Marquette.

PHOTO: Arizona’s Kobi Simmons puts his chin above the rim

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 06:  Kobi Simmons in action during adidas Euriocamp Day 1 at La Ghirada sports center on June 6, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images
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Kobi Simmons has some ridiculous hops.

How ridiculous?

Well, take a look at this tweet:

His vertical is … 45 inches? That’s pretty impressive, but not quite as impressive as the pictures that he tweeted out, the full effect of which you cannot receive until you see the picture in it’s entirety:

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1. Look how high he is off the court.

2. Look at where his hand is in relation to the top of the back board.

3. … LOOK AT HIS CHIN!

I know that the angle of this picture is probably playing some visual tricks on us, but think about how high you have to be able to jump just to have a camera visually trick someone’s eyes into thinking your chin is above the backboard.

The Perry Ellis All-Stars

Michigan guard Spike Albrecht (2) makes a layup between Northern Michigan forward Brett Branstrom, top left, and center Vejas Grazulis (52) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Michigan won 70-44. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
AP Photo/Tony Ding
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Beginning in September and running up until November 11th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

You know the feeling. You’re flipping between games and stumble upon him. Maybe it’s a team you only rarely catch, or maybe it’s a conference foe you’ve watched play dozens of times over the last few years, but as you watch for a few moments, that’s when you see him. You could have sworn he graduated last year. Or even maybe the year before. But alas, there he is. That four-year starter. The dude who got a medical redshirt. A graduate transfer. It’s one of college basketball’s enduring and unique phenomena.

We present, to you, the Perry Ellis All-Stars.

PERRY ELLIS ALL-STARS, FIRST TEAM

MVP G Spike Albrecht, Purdue: After averaging just 2.2 points and 0.7 assists per game for Michigan as a freshman, Albrecht broke through with one of the most memorable NCAA tournament title game performances of all-time against Louisville, hitting four of five 3-pointers, scoring 17 points and letting loose one of the most epic heat checks of all-time.

Albrecht’s career was set to come to a close with the Wolverines last year, but recovery from hip surgery didn’t go as quickly as hoped and he sat out with a medical redshirt. That paved the way for an intra-conference graduate transfer to West Lafayette, where the 24-year-old will bolster the backcourt and make legions of fans wonder how the hell he’s still playing college basketball.

G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State: Once best known for simply being Marcus Smart’s best friend, Forte has grown into his own and become one of the top – and most enduring – players in the Big 12. He’s averaged double-figures in scoring in every season and was set to be the face of the Cowboys last year in his senior season, but a torn elbow ligament delayed that final season to this year, when he’ll try to help the Brad Underwood era get off the ground as a likely all-conference player. Not bad for an unranked Class of 2012 recruit who many thought had his high-major opportunity only because of his friendship with a future top ten pick.

G Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford gets his spot on the first time because it feels like he’s been a major topic of conversation in hoops circles for a half-decade, even if it’s only been a little over two years. That’s what happens when you’re the shoot-happy son of the UCLA coach. He’s been a flashpoint for Bruins fans who have been less than thrilled with coach Steve Alford, given how much the offense – and shots – have gone through Bryce. With a monster freshman class coming to Westwood this season, Bryce’s role will be one of the more interesting subplots in college basketball this season.

F Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: The Charlotte native arrived in Chapel Hill as a McDonald’s All-American with expectations as large as his 6-foot-9, 315-pound frame. He averaged just 16 minutes per game as a freshman, but a productive NCAA tournament and as offseason dominated by talk of all the weight he lost propelled those expectations. He averaged 11 points and 7 boards in 23 minutes per game as a sophomore, but saw his minutes and production drop as a junior. A career that some thought would be a quick one at North Carolina will now reach its four-year conclusion this season, with Meeks a topic of discussion for the Tar Heels each and every offseason he’s been in Chapel Hill.

F Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson, another Class of 2012 recruit and McDonald’s All-American, returns for a fifth season with the Blue Devils due to a medical redshirt that was a product of a foot injury that cut Jefferson’s season last year short amid him putting up the best numbers of his career. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as he’s now part of a roster many have pegged as the best in the country, giving him a chance to pair another ring with the NCAA championship he won in 2015.

MORE: All-Americans | Impact Transfers | Expert Picks | Trending Programs

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 13: Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 13, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Amile Jefferson (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

PERRY ELLIS ALL-STARS, SECOND TEAM

G Stevie Clark, Oakland: Best known for his arrest after police said he was urinating out of a moving car, Clark attended two junior colleges and has now resurfaced at Oakland with two years of eligibility remaining.

G Katin Reinhardt, Marquette: After stops at USC and UNLV, the one-time top-40 2012 recruit — the supposed second-coming of Jimmer Fredette — is finishing his career in Milwaukee.

G Rodney Purvis: He started his career at N.C. State, transferred to UConn and submitted his name for NBA draft consideration, but the former top 15 prospect is back for his fifth year of college ball.

F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: The Badger senior was both a reserve and a starter in Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four runs and became something of an internet sensation with his fascination with stenographers. He’s now become one of the faces of the Wisconsin program and an outspoken socially conscious voice.

F Alex Murphy, Northeastern: A potential McDonald’s All-American in the Class of 2012, he enrolled at Duke a year early only to redshirt the 2011-12 season. After a year and a half seeing limited bench minutes, he transferred to Florida where, in the second half of the 2014-15 season, he saw limited bench minutes. An injury kept him out last season and, after receiving a sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA, will play at Northeastern this year.

C Przmek Karnowski, Gonzaga: The 7-foot-1 Poland native is the veteran of 113 career games, but only five came last year after a back injury forced him to take a medical redshirt.

YUP, THEY’RE STILL IN SCHOOL, TOO

Dajuan Coleman, Syracuse
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
London Perrantes, Virginia
Tracy Abrams, Illinois
Dylan Ennis, Oregon
Je’lon Hornbeak, Monmouth
Myles Davis, Xavier
Tyler Lewis, Butler

PHOTO: Thad Matta models Ohio State’s new jerseys

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes claps on the sideline in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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One of the things that basketball programs like to do near the start of the season is to blast out the new version of their uniforms on social media.

It gets fans excited about the upcoming season, it gets players excited to throw those jerseys on, it might result in some extra sales of team apparel. All that good stuff.

Typically, these pictures are with the uniforms modeled on a player or a mannequin. Not if you’re Ohio State, and not if you’re Thad Matta:

Here’s how the picture came to be, courtesy of ESPN:

According to Buckeyes video coordinator Kyle Davis, who took the Twitter photo, the staff was looking for a way to to show off the team’s new uniforms on social media before media day kicked off in earnest. He and OSU director of basketball operations David Egelhoff were laying the uniform out on various surfaces — tables, floors and so on — when Matta, en route to his daily workout, walked by.

“He asks us, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and we tell him we’re trying to show the new uniforms but we don’t really know what to do with this — we don’t have a mannequin,” Davis said. “And he says, ‘Why do you need a mannequin? I’m right here.'”

“We thought there was no way he was actually going to do this,” Davis said. “But Coach said ‘give me two minutes,’ and sure enough he came out wearing the uniform. He wanted everyone to know he still had it.”