2014-15 Season Preview: Can anyone other than Kentucky, Florida go dancing?

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source: AP
Karl-Anthony Towns (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the SEC.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Kentucky should be awesome.

We all know that.

But when it comes to the SEC, that’s about all that we know for sure. Florida should be good, but a number of key pieces are young and unproven. Arkansas might be good, but when was the last time that a Mike Anderson team was anything close to consistent on the road? LSU should make the tournament, but they should have made it last season. Georgia finished tied for second in the league last year, but they didn’t sniff the bubble. Might Ole Miss actually be the third-best team in the conference?

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kentucky is so deep they’ll be playing with platoons: I was asked about this on the radio this week, andto really get a feel for just how deep Kentucky is, think about Derek Willis. At one point, Willis was the No. 26 recruit in the country. He’s an athletic, versatile combo-forward with three-point range and probably good enough to start for just about any team outside the top 25. He’s so far down the Wildcat depth chart that he won’t even play in Kentucky’s second platoon. Nine McDonald all-americans. Eight guys that potentially could be drafted this spring. Yeesh.

2. Florida is talented, but quite young: Florida graduated four seniors from last year’s team, including center Patric Young and SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin. In their stead this season will be former five-star recruits Chris Walker and Kasey Hill. How will that pair fare playing much-expanded roles for the Gators this season?

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3. Ole Miss is the league’s sleeper team: There is a lot to like about the Rebels this year. For starters, the distraction that was Marshall Henderson is gone, and in his place is star guard and our Preseason SEC Player of the Year, Jarvis Summers. The Rebels also have a big, athletic front line, and that should be enough to get them in the mix for that No. 3 spot in the league standings.

4. Arkansas should be good enough to get an at-large bid: If the Razorbacks are going to make the NCAA tournament, this is the season to do so. They have talented, veteran perimeter plays that will do well in Mike Anderson’s “40 Minutes Of Hell” system, but they also have one of the most underrated players in the country is star big man Bobby Portis. Portis could end up being a first round pick by the time the season is done, meaning that this may be their best chance to dance.

5. The same with LSU, but they should have been last year, too: Once again, LSU will enter this season with a front line that will draw attention: Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and Elbert Robertson. But the key this year will be the back court of Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby, who will replace Anthony Hickey. The key? Ensuring that back court understands the importance of pounding the ball into the paint for those big bodies.

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

With all the talk about Marshall Henderson over the course of the last two seasons it was easy to overlook the fact that the best player on the Rebels was Summers. He may not become a national name this season — it’s hard to do that if you play in the SEC for someone other than Kentucky or Florida — but an all-american team isn’t out of the question.

THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM:

  • Aaron Harrison, Kentucky, So.: Harrison could very well end up being the leading scorer for Kentucky this season. He was inconsistent as a freshman, but he hit three enormous threes during Kentucky’s run to the NCAA tournament title game.
  • Karl Towns, Kentucky, Fr.: Towns is the most talented player in the league and may be the most talented player in the country, but Kentucky’s depth will limit his playing time and production.
  • Bobby Portis, Arkansas, So.: One of the most underrated players in the conference, Portis had a very good freshman season that was a bit overshadowed by the fact that Arkansas wasn’t a tournament team in a mediocre SEC.
  • Jordan Mickey, LSU, So.: Mickey put up huge numbers as a freshman, but it didn’t get as much attention nationally due to LSU’s disappointing finish to the season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, So.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, So.
  • Kasey Hill, Florida, So.
  • Michael Frazier, Florida, Jr.
  • Charles Mann, Georgia, Jr.

BREAKOUT STAR: Kasey Hill — and, to a lesser extent, Chris Walker — should have big seasons for Florida this season, and Bobby Portis will likely shoot up draft boards as the season progresses, but my pick for a breakout star in the SEC is Vanderbilt big man Damian Jones. He averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 boards and 1.4 blocks as a freshman with the ‘Dores and will be asked to carry the load once again next season.

source:
AP

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Anthony Grant was one of the hottest names in coaching when he was hired away from VCU by Alabama back in 2009, but he hasn’t really been able to get things up and running in Tuscaloosa. Grant’s made just one NCAA tournament in his five seasons with the Crimson Tide, and last year was his worst as a head coach, as the Tide finished just 13-19 overall. It would not be good for Grant if his program finishes behind Bruce Pearl’s at Auburn.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The SEC only sent three teams to the NCAA tournament again?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT … : Seeing how John Calipari will manage his roster and whether or not the platoons will work.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 18th, Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
  • Dec. 5th, Florida at Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • Dec. 5th, Texas at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • Dec. 13th, North Carolina at Kentucky
  • Dec. 27th, Kentucky at Louisville

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SECSports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kentucky: I could see the Wildcats doing what Florida did last season, rolling through the league schedule undefeated and winning the regular season title by six games.
2. Florida: Florida’s success this season hinges on the play of sophomores Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. If they play like top ten recruits, the Gators could end up being a top ten team. If they don’t, Florida might not finish second in the SEC.
3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks have a star-in-the-making in big man Bobby Portis and a pair of talented wings in Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls. Two keys for this group: Winning on the road, and finding a point guard to run the ship.
4. Ole Miss: The Marshall Henderson Show overshadowed just how good Jarvis Summers was last season. Andy Kennedy will have a pair of talented transfers joining him in the back court along with a slew of big, athletic forwards. The SEC’s sleeper this year.
5. LSU: Jordan Mickey headlines a talented front court that includes Jarrell Martin and Elbert Robertson, but the Tigers are going to need more consistent back court play. Can transfers Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby provide it?
6. Georgia: The Bulldogs bring back their top five scorers from last season, including Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, but to move up the SEC standings, they’ll need big years from big men Nemanja Djurisic and Yante Maten.
7. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose Jamal Jones, but Alex Caruso and Kourtney Robertson are back and will be joined by Jalen Jones, Alex Robinson and, if he gets a waiver, Danuel House.
8. Auburn: The Tigers bring back K.T. Harrell and add a number of quality transfers, but most importantly, the hiring of Bruce Pearl has added a level of excitement around the program. Bet on Pearl to win.
9. Missouri: New head coach Kim Anderson will have work to do with this group, but the cupboard if far from bare. I loved point guard Wes Clark in high school, Johnathon Williams III was promising last season and the addition of Jakeenan Gant, Deuce Bello and Keith Shamburger will help.
10. Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings returns Damian Jones, who is a future all-SEC talent, and adds four top 150 freshmen to the mix. They’re young, but the future is brighter than the present.
11. South Carolina: Frank Martin has the Gamecocks moving in the right direction, as he’s added Sindarius Thornwell, TeMarcus Blanton and Marcus Strohman in recent classes.
12. Alabama: Anthony Grant has yet to have real success at Alabama. He’ll be relying on the influx of talent into the program — freshmen Justin Coleman and Devin Mitchell, transfer Ricky Tarrant — to try and get a tournament bid this season.
13. Mississippi State: Rick Ray is still in full-blown rebuilding mode with this program, but this season he’ll get back a number of key pieces — including Craig Sword — and will finally have some height.
14. Tennessee: The Vols lost quite a bit from last year’s Sweet 16 teams, and while Robert Hubbs and Josh Richardson return, there’s not much else here outside of the distraction provided by the NCAA investigation into Donnie Tyndall.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.