Conference Countdown: No. 5 SEC

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Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Trey Thompkins, Georgia

There
are three reasons I think Thompkins wins this award. First and
foremost, the kid can flat out play, and may very well turn into one of
the best big men in the country this year. He has range on his jumper,
he can score in the post, he rebounds the ball well. There is not much
he cannot do on a basketball court. The second reason is that the SEC
is not overloaded with talented big guys. Enes Kanter and Patric Young
are freshmen. Who knows what Renardo Sidney is going to be this year,
especially on the defensive end. Can Storm Warren guard Thompkins?
Brian Williams? JaMychal Green? The third reason is that Georgia does
not have much else on their team. Travis Leslie can score, but he gets
hustle points more than buckets off of plays that are run for him.
Combine Thompkins ability with the fact that he will get a lot of
touches against inferior competition, and the chance is there for Trey
to become a nationally recognized name by season’s end.

And a close second goes to: Chris Warren, Ole Miss

Warren
has always been a fantastic scorer for the Rebels. In each of his three
seasons with Ole Miss, he has averaged at least 15 ppg, and finished up
his junior campaign as a 17 ppg scorer despite coming off of a serious
knee injury the year before. Last year, Andy Kennedy had guys like
Terrico White and Murphy Holloway, but this year Warren is going to be
options A, B, and C. Don’t be surprised if he ends up averaging 20 ppg.
And while this Ole Miss team loses four of the five starters from last
year’s club and adds five freshmen, there is potential here. In other
words, the Rebels aren’t going to finish at the bottom the league.

Breakout Star: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt

Last
season, Jenkins proved to be one of the best shooters not just in the
conference, but in the country, hitting 48.3% of his long balls. As a
freshman on a good Vanderbilt team last year, he also had to defer to
Jermaine Beal and AJ Ogilvy. With those two off their pursuing
professional careers, Jenkins is going to be the Commodore’s No. 1
offensive option. Jeff Taylor, as good as he is, is not a player that
you can build an offense around at this point in his career. If Jenkins
can develop more of an all-around offensive game beyond his
catch-and-shoot ability — and I think he can, he was a top 15 national
recruit and showed a decent offensive repertoire off of close-out
situations (pump-fakes, pull-ups, etc.) — I wouldn’t be surprised if
he became a potential first-team all-conference performer.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Trey Thompkins, Georgia, Jr.
  • G – Chris Warren, Ole Miss, Sr.
  • G – Brandon Knight, Kentucky, Fr.
  • G – Scotty Hopson, Tennessee, Jr.
  • F – Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt, Jr.
  • F – JaMychal Green, Alabama, Jr./Enes Kanter, Kentucky, Fr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Travis Leslie, Georgia, Jr.
  • G – John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, So.
  • F – Chandler Parsons, Florida, Sr.
  • F – Marshon Powell, Arkansas, So.
  • F – Tobias Harris, Tennessee, Fr.

Freshman of the Year: Brandon Knight, Kentucky

As
much as I want to put Enes Kanter here (and, to tell you the truth, I
think — should he get eligible — he competes for SEC player of the
year), there are just too many question marks regarding his eligibility
to assume he will play the whole season, or even enough of the season
to warrant such an award. And, let’s be honest, it is not like Knight
can’t play. He is a truly gifted scorer, someone that can go for 30
points when his team needs it. He is more of a combo-scoring guard than
a true point, the kind of player that will take a high volume of jump
shots. And, given the make up of this Kentucky roster — youth, lacking
interior size and depth — that may not necessarily be a bad thing to
begin the year. If he can develop a bit more of a creator’s mentality,
there is no reason Knight can’t be the next in line of the great
Calipari point guards.

All-Freshman Team:

  • G – Trever Releford, Alabama
  • G – Doron Lamb, Kentucky
  • F – Tobias Harris, Tennessee
  • F – Terrence Jones, Kentucky
  • C – Enes Kanter, Kentucky/Patric Young, Florida

What Happened?:

  • Controversy Deluxe:
    Is it just me, or did it seem like everything that happened this
    off-season involved a team from Lexington? It started with Terrence
    Jones, the second recruit that John Calipari was able to pry away from
    Lorenzo Romar, and his soap opera.
    If you remember, Jones committed to Washington, then spoke to Calipari
    on the phone just hours after his commitment. He then waited until the
    signing deadline to back out on his pledge to Washington and instead head to Kentucky.

    The
    other player that backed out on Washington was Enes Kanter, a 6’11”
    monster from Turkey that put 34 points and 14 boards on a USA team that
    included Terrence Jones. Well, Kanter — who some believe will be the
    best big man in the country this season — may never see a minute in Kentucky blue as he is dealing with amateurism issues from his time in Turkey. Kentucky fans, is it too soon to bring up Pete Thamel’s articles?

    That was far from the end of the scandal the Kentucky program faced this year. How about the accusations of academic impropriety
    against Eric Bledsoe back in May? Or what about the Chicago Sun-Times’
    assertions that Anthony Davis, a top five player in the class of 2011, had his commitment for sale, and that Kentucky was the highest bidder? And who can forget the back lash that Coach Cal received for his comments on draft night? Never a dull moment…

  • Bruce Pearl, Tennessee, and the invention of lying: First, Bruce Pearl cheated. Then he lied. Then news broke he did it before. Then we found out Tennessee lied too. Yeesh.
  • But wait, there’s more:
    Kentucky wasn’t the only team that dealt with their share of
    controversy this summer. Justin Knox, who graduated from Alabama in
    just three years, was not allowed to transfer to UAB. It worked out for Knox in the end, as he is headed to North Carolina instead.

    Knox
    isn’t the only player that had to deal with the ridiculous transfer
    policies in college basketball. Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway decided he
    wanted to transfer out of Ole Miss in order to be closer to his
    children, but the Rebels would not grant him a release to attend South Carolina or Clemson. He ended up at South Carolina, but will have to sit out a season and pay his own tuition.

  • More Ole Miss problems: Remember the issues that Andy Kennedy had back in Cincinnati last year? Well, he solved them, settling out of court when the cab driver he allegedly punched apologized to him.

    Then there was Eniel Polynice.
    Polynice graduated from Ole Miss (he redshirted a year when he blew out
    his knee), declaring for the NBA Draft. When he found out that he
    wasn’t picked, and learned that Andy Kennedy wasn’t too disappointed
    that he declared, Polynice opted to transfer, ending up at Seton Hall.

  • Mississippi State’s trials and tribulations:
    Dee Bost initially declared for the NBA Draft, and then didn’t remove
    his name before the May 8th deadline. It was until June that he decided he wanted to return to school,
    which, obviously, was too late. The NCAA is reviewing his decision,
    although its unlikely Bost will be cleared to return. Then there was
    Kodi Augustus, who made an appearance on the Real World.
  • I’m glad I’m not Tony Barbee:
    The first year coach at Auburn lost four of his five starters. The only
    returner, Frankie Sullivan, is out with a possible season-ending knee
    injury. So is Ty Armstrong, a potential starter. And his two best
    recruits — Luke Cothron, who was top 50, and Shawn Kemp, Jr. — failed to qualify academically. Yeah, Auburn is screwed. And Tony Barbee may be as well. He’s not under contract yet.
  • Or Trent Johnson: LSU lost their best player, Bo Spencer, who was kicked off the team last spring for academic issues. He has since transferred to Nebraska.

    Bo
    Spencer wasn’t only player with academic issues. South Carolina’s
    Austin Steed was asked to leave the program, and Georgia Cady Lalanne
    did not qualify.

What’s Next?:

  • Mississippi State’s newest big man:
    Last season’s biggest controversy centered aroud Renardo Sidney, a
    talented big man that most believed had been the recipient of illegal
    benefits while in high school. Sidney received his punishment, which
    essentially ended up being a three semester suspension. Sidney will be
    allowed to play in the tenth game of the season, and if he can live up
    to his hype, he could be the piece that Mississippi State needs to make
    the NCAA Tournament.
  • The SEC West …:
    is absolutely awful. There is a legitimate argument to be made that not
    one western division team is better than the worst eastern division
    team. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment, but I don’t think
    that there will be any SEC West teams in the tournament this year.
  • A New SEC Tournament?: Well, its not happening this season, but with the SEC West’s struggles, the idea has been floated to seed to SEC Tournament 1-12. Currently, the format equates the first place finisher in the eastern and western divisions, the second place finisher, etc.
  • Scottie Wilbekin starting a trend?: Wilbekin skipped his last year of high school to enroll at Florida early. Trendsetter? Vandy’s James Siakam did the same thing.

Power Rankings

  1. Florida:
    The Gators have a chance to be very, very good this year. They
    basically bring back the same club from last season. Erving Walker and
    Kenny Boynton are both talented back court players, although they can
    use a healthy dose of shot selection. The 5’8″ Walker is more of a
    playmaker, and while Boynton is more the natural scorer, he needs to
    find more consistency with that jumper; 29% from three won’t cut it
    this year. There isn’t a ton of depth in the back court here —
    freshman Scottie Wilbekin enrolled early, but he wasn’t a terribly
    highly regarded recruit, Casey Prather is more of a small forward than
    a guard — as Ray Shipman and Nimrod Tishman are both gone. Up front,
    Chandler Parsons — who may very well have grown another inch
    — is back. Parsons is as underrated as anyone in this league. At
    6’10”, he can shoot, he can create off the dribble, he rebounds the
    ball, and he has a knack for hitting game-winners.
    Vernon Macklin and Erik Murphy both return, and although Dan Werner and
    Alex Tyus are both gone, the Gators bring in plenty along the front
    line. Will Yeguete and Cody Larson both should be able to contribute,
    but the x-factor could very well be Patric Young. Young is a big,
    strong, athletic post player that can rebound and block shots, exactly
    what Florida was missing last year. There is talent here, and depending
    on how guys like Parsons and Boynton develop and how good Young ends up
    being, Florida could very well end up winning the SEC.
  2. Kentucky:
    John Calipari simply reloaded with this team. Once again heavy on
    freshmen, this club will be hard-pressed to have as much success as
    last year’s team, however. For starters, they may not even have Enes
    Kanter, the 6’10” Turkish center that went for 34 and 14 against the
    best high schoolers in the country, for part or all of the season due
    to amateurism issues. Whenever Kanter gets eligible, he will be joining
    Terrence Jones up front. Jones is a versatile 6’10” forward in the mold
    of a Lamar Odom. The biggest problem for them is that the only other
    big man on the roster is Josh Harrellson. The back court will be less
    of an issue. Brandon Knight is this year’s star point guard, and while
    he’s a different kind of player than John Wall, he should be a
    more-than-adequate replacement. Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole — two more
    talented freshmen back court players — and Jon Hood will see time
    alongside Knight. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller will split time at
    small forward. Both are going to be counted on for big years, but
    Liggins in particular has received quite a bit of praise for his
    improvement this summer. This freshman class isn’t as good as last
    year’s, and there isn’t a Patrick Patterson holdover on this team, but
    there is enough to contend for the SEC title, and possibly make a run
    at the Final Four in they do, in fact, get Kanter back.
  3. Tennessee:
    The Vols lost quite a bit of talent to graduation. Tyler Smith, Wayne
    Chism, Bobby Maze, and JP Prince have all moved on. But there are
    plenty of reasons to believe that Tennessee can compete for an SEC
    title. The first is Scotty Hopson, an athletic, 6’7″ wing that was a
    top ten recruit in 2008. Hopson has loads of potential, and with the
    amount of talent leaving Knoxville, Hopson will be counted on to step
    up. Another reason is Tobias Harris, a skilled combo-forward that
    should fit in very well with Bruce Pearl’s system. Harris has the skill
    to play either forward spot at either end of the floor at a high level,
    and Pearl loves versatile players like that. Beyond those two, there is
    still a high level of talent on this roster. Cam Tatum, Renaldo
    Wooldridge, and Skylar McBee will be joined on the perimeter by top 50
    swing man Jordan McRae. John Fields, Kenny Hall, and Brian Williams
    will help Harris man the paint. The biggest question mark is at the
    point, where the inconsistent Melvin Goins will be joined by Trae
    Golden. As we have become accustomed to with Pearl, his roster is deep
    and athletic. Depending on how good Hopson and Harris end up being,
    Tennessee could very well win the conference, although I think a
    second- or third-place finish in the East is much more likely.
  4. Vanderbilt:
    Losing Jermaine Beal and AJ Ogilvy, its difficult to imagine that the
    Commodores can make a push to the top of a very good SEC East. That
    said, there are still some very good basketball players on this roster.
    I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that John Jenkins could turn into
    one of the best scorers in the SEC by the time his career is over.
    Forward Jeffery Taylor is an athletic specimen and a potential first
    round draft pick. Brad Tinsley, Andre Walker, and Lance Goulbourne are
    all capable, versatile role players. Fetsus Ezeli, Steve Tchiengang,
    and a couple of freshmen will provide the muscle inside. For my money,
    there will be two x-factors on this club. The first is at the point,
    where Beal was the man for the last few years. Who replaces him? His
    importance for Vandy shouldn’t be understated. Then there is Rod Odom,
    a talented 6’8″ forward. How good is Odom? If he becomes a capable
    offensive option to put alongside Taylor and Jenkins, the Commodores
    may very well end up being a tournament team.
  5. Georgia:
    Its too bad the Bulldogs play in the loaded SEC East, because this
    squad legitimately could make a run at the SEC West crown. Big man Trey
    Thompkins will be, at worst, one of the best front court players in the
    SEC, and very likely a first round pick come June. A big man with post
    moves and range is going to be tough to defend at any level. Travis
    Leslie is as athletic as they come, and its reasonable to expect an
    improvement on the 15 points and 7 boards he averaged last season. If
    he develops a jump shot, he too could be a first-rounder. Dustin Ware
    is a capable point guard, and Jeremy Price, along with freshmen Marcus
    Thornton and Donte Williams, will be solid players in the front court.
    Somewhere, a jump shooter is going to have to develop to keep the floor
    spread and replace Ricky McPhee if Mark Fox wants to take this team to
    the NCAA Tournament.
  6. Mississippi State: The
    Bulldogs have a real chance at being a tournament team this year, as
    the 2010-2011 roster listed on their is talented. The problem? There
    are major question marks regarding three valuable pieces. Point guard
    Dee Bost will not be eligible until the start of SEC play
    (although its an easy argument that Rick Stansbury caught a huge break
    with Bost even being allowed to play this season). Renardo Sidney has
    already sat out an entire season, and still has nine games to sit out
    this season, which is not a good thing for someone that has struggled
    with weight problems in the past. John Riek was, at one time,
    considered the best recruit in the country, but after numerous knee
    surgeries he is a shell of his former self. Having said all that, Bost
    is one of the most talented point guards in the SEC, and if he can
    improve decision-making he is an all-conference caliber player. Word
    out of Starkville is that Sidney has, in fact, dedicated himself to
    getting in shape, and if so he will be a serious weapon for the
    Bulldogs. There some help as well. Ravern Johnson is a lanky, 6’7″ wing
    with a deadly jump shot. Kodi Augustus is a live-bodied power forward
    that can be a weapon when his head is in the game. Rick Stansbury is
    going to have to develop a bench, which is easier said than done, but
    playing nine games without Sidney and the entirety of the
    non-conference schedule without Bost will force some of Stansbury’s
    inexperienced guys to play a larger role. And when you consider the
    massive road trip this team takes in December — Virginia Tech in the
    Bahamas on the 18th, the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu the
    22nd-25th, and St. Mary’s in Vegas the 29th — this team should be
    tested come SEC play. The NCAA Tournament is a very real possibility.
  7. Alabama:
    Anthony Grant took over the Alabama program before the 2009-2010
    season, and this fall he will be bringing in his first recruiting
    class. Its a solid one, headlined by four-star recruits Trever
    Releford, a point guard, and 6’8″ forward Justin Carter. While the
    Crimson Tide will lose the very talented Mikhail Torrance, they do
    bring back some players. Junior power forward JaMychal Green was a
    big-time recruit two years ago. He’s had ups-and-downs throughout his
    first two years, but averaging 14 and 7 in the SEC is pretty
    impressive. The rest of the Tide’s front line will be inexperienced, as
    Carter, Carl Engstrom (a 7’1″ Swedish freshman), and senior Carl Hines
    round out the rotation. In the back court, the point guard position is
    going to be young, but there is experience on the wings. Releford could
    very well end up being the starter, with sophomore Ben Eblen and JuCo
    transfer Kendall Durant competing for minutes. On the perimeter, the
    Tide has some talent. For starters, there is Senario Hillman, a
    super-athletic but enigmatic senior that has driven Tide fans crazy as
    he has never quite lived up to his hype. Tony Mitchell had a solid
    freshman campaign, and if he can iron out some of the inconsistencies,
    he has a shot to be an all-SEC talent one day. Andrew Steele is a
    big-bodied defender, and Charvez Davis and Charles Hankerson, Jr., will
    also see some minutes. This isn’t necessarily an NCAA Tournament team,
    even in the weak SEC West, but Grant’s club will win some games.
  8. Ole Miss:
    The Rebels only return seven players from last year’s team. They lose
    two-thirds of their starting back court, as Terrico White left for the
    NBA and Eniel Polynice left due to issues with the coaching staff.
    Murphy Holloway, the Rebels best front court player, transferred to
    South Carolina to be closer to his family and DeAundre Cranston
    graduated, meaning that only one starter is back for Andy Kennedy. The
    good news is that the one returner just so happens to be Chris Warren.
    Warren is small, but he is one of the best pound-for-pound scorers in
    the country and has been for two and a half seasons (he blew out his
    knee as a sophomore). Beyond that, however, Ole Miss is full of
    question marks. Zach Graham and Trevor Gaskins are both solid
    performers on the perimeter that could very well see a bump in
    production with the availability of back court minutes this season. The
    same could be said for Terrence Henry and Reginald Buckner in the front
    court. With the addition of a fairly solid five man recruiting class,
    it seems that positional battles for playing time will be fairly
    intense for Ole Miss this season. The scary part here? Despite all this
    uncertainty, Ole Miss is one of the two favorites to win the SEC West.
  9. South Carolina:
    The Gamecocks are going to be in some trouble this year. They lost four
    of their top five from last season, including the diminutive Devan
    Downey, and play in the wrong division of the SEC. Despite that
    turnover, I still like what the Gamecocks bring back. Sophomore guards
    Ramon Galloway, who is out for another couple of weeks with a foot
    injury, and Lakeem Jackson both showed flashes of promise as freshman,
    and with the increased number of minutes and shots they will get this
    season, both should be primed for big seasons. Sam Muldrow is a solid
    rebounder and very good shot blocker. Steve Spinella and Johndre
    Jefferson will both need to develop into capable role players, and with
    a six man recruiting class, Darrin Horn is going to devote a lot
    minutes to freshman, but there are some pieces here. A trip to the NCAA
    Tournament may be a bit of a stretch, but I think this team will, at
    the least, throw a couple of scares into the big boys in the SEC East.
  10. Arkansas:
    The Razorbacks lose quite a bit of talent from last year’s crew.
    Courtney Fortson, Michael Washington, and Stefan Walsh are all gone.
    But with them goes their troubles — Fortson and Walsh always seemed to
    be suspended. There are two reasons for Arkansas fans to have hope this
    season — Rotnei Clarke and Marshon Powell. Clarke may just be the best
    shooter in the country. He’s a kid that has to be face-guarded at all
    times, as he has range out to about 28 feet and needs just a
    split-second to get his shot off. Then there is sophomore Marshon
    Powell, a 6’7″ forward that put up some impressive games as a freshman.
    He was a bit inconsistent, but that is expected of a freshman counted
    on as heavily as Powell was. Beyond that, there are a lot of question
    marks. Pelphrey brings in three freshmen, headlined by top 100 recruit
    Rickey Scott, but no one is really a program changer. There are five
    more rotational guys returning as well, but not a ton of size and
    certainly not much offensive punch. Enjoy watching Powell play.
    Appreciate Clarke’s picture perfect jumper. But don’t expect too many
    wins.
  11. Auburn: Tony
    Barbee takes over an Auburn program that doesn’t have much going for
    it. Five of the Tigers top six graduate from a team that went 15-17
    last season. The only guy that returns is Frankie Sullivan, a
    double-digit scorer that dropped 27 on Florida in the SEC Tournament
    that also underwent off-season knee surgery. His timetable for return
    is unknown. Ty Armstrong, another returnee and possible starter, also
    has a season-ending knee injury. Andre Malone and Earnest Ross, two
    sophomore guards that combined to average 5.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg, are the
    only players that were in the rotation last season that will be ready
    to go this year. Barbee did have some talent coming in — Luke Cothron
    is a top 50 recruit, and Shawn Kemp, Jr. (yes, that Shawn Kemp), is
    borderline top 100 — but neither of them were able to qualify
    academically. Adrian Forbes, Josh Langford, and Allen Payne are
    freshmen that will actually join the fray. The Tigers are going to have
    a rough go of it this season.
  12. LSU:
    Trent Johnson is going to have another long season in Baton Rouge.
    Tasmin Mitchell graduates, and Bo Spencer is kicked off the team. The
    Tigers do return Storm Warren, a junior power forward that has the
    potential to put up big numbers. But what else returns? Garrett Green?
    Dennis Harris? Aaron Dotson? Eddie Ludwig? They bring in four
    three-star recruits and one four-star (Matt Derenbecker) but no program
    changers. That 2006 Final Four run seems like a long time ago.


Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.