Looking Forward: Catching up on the SEC’s offseason

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Last week, we took a look at the ACC, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Today, we’ll look at the Big East and the SEC.

READ MOREThe NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Wild spring on the coaching carousel: The SEC’s coaching carousel was as wild and entertaining as any this spring. Rick Ray was fired by Mississippi State to make room for new head coach Ben Howland. Rick Barnes, fresh off an ouster at Texas, was hired by Tennessee to replace Donnie Tyndall, who was fired for NCAA violations one year after getting the job. Alabama threw a blank check at Gregg Marshall, misseed, and then signed former NBA head coach Avery Johnson. And then, of course, there was Billy Donovan, one of college basketball’s best, heading to the NBA to take over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was replaced by Mike White, which begs the question: Is Florida truly an elite job, or was Donovan simply an elite head coach?

2. Kentucky’s recruiting misses this spring: Kentucky lost seven of their top eight players to the NBA Draft this spring, changes that weren’t exactly unexpected. Every preseason top 25 that was released still had Kentucky listed in the top five, partly because the Wildcats were bringing in 2015’s top recruit (Skal Labissiere) and top point guard (Isaiah Briscoe). But there was also an assumption that at least one or two of the uncommitted stars in the class would end up in Lexington, because of course they would.

Right?

Well, not exactly. Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Malik Newman, Stephen Zimmermann, Cheick Diallo and Derryck Thornton all went elsewhere. The Wildcats still have the pieces to win a national title, but it sure was odd to see John Calipari take an 0-fer on elite recruits during the spring.

3. Can anyone make the jump to elite?: Kentucky is the obvious favorite to win the SEC, but there are a number of other teams in the conference that will have the pieces to make some noise this season. LSU will bring in one of the nation’s best recruiting class, headlined by Ben Simmons. Texas A&M not only returns a number of key pieces from last year’s team, but they add four four-star recruits. Georgia returns the majority of their back court from last year’s NCAA tournament team. And perhaps most interesting will be Vanderbilt, who brought back Damian Jones and finished last season as one of the league’s hottest teams.

READ MOREEleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Ben Simmons, LSU: Simmons is an incredibly entertaining and versatile prospect. A college four, Simmons has the handle and the passing ability to play the point if needed. Think former Iowa State forward Royce White. He’s joined by Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Randolph in LSU’s elite recruiting class.
  • Skal Labissiere, Kentucky: Labissiere is the best prospect in the 2015 class. A face-up big man that scores with his back to the basket, hits jumpers and blocks shots, Labissiere will remind some of Anthony Davis, although he doesn’t have close to the same ceiling.
  • Malik Newman, Mississippi State: Newman has an outside shot of leading the SEC in scoring, and could lead the country in shot attempts. The best guard prospect in the country, Newman was Howland’s first big recruit in Starkville.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Michael Frazier and Chris Walker, Florida: Maybe Frazier and Walker saw it coming with Billy Donovan. The junior shooting guard’s departure to the NBA is a major blow, while Florida may be happy to simply cut ties with the disappointing Walker, a former top ten recruit that never lived up to the hype.
  • Michael Qualls, Arkansas: Everyone believed that Bobby Portis was heading to the NBA after his sophomore season. Losing Qualls may actually hurt more, however, as he really showed how good he can be in the 2015 NCAA tournament.
  • Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, LSU: It’s not all that surprising that Martin and Mickey headed to the NBA, but it does hurt. Neither are expected to go in the first round, and it leaves the Tigers, who have a ton of perimeter talent on their roster, without much depth in the post.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt (Player of the Year)
Danuel House, Texas A&M
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
Ben Simmons, LSU

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. Kentucky: Coach Cal lost seven to the NBA and missed on a ton of elite recruits, but Skal, Ulis, Briscoe and Lee is as good of a top four as anyone.

2. Vanderbilt: The nation will get a chance to see how good Damian Jones and Riley LaChance are as Kevin Stallings adds another solid recruiting class.

3. Texas A&M: The majority of Billy Kennedy’s rotation returns and is joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting class. A&M is trending up in a big way.

4. LSU: Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney headline a loaded class to add to LSU’s already talented roster. But can Johnny Jones win with that talent?

5. Georgia: The Bulldogs lose their front line, but their guards — Gaines, Mann and Frazier — are back. Keep an eye on Yante Maten.

6. Florida: Losing Billy Donovan certainly hurts, but Mike White is a good coach and he still has talent: Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza, Dorian Finney-Smith, Devin Robinson.

7. Ole Miss: Losing Jarvis Summers will hurt, but that will only mean more shots for Stefan Moody, one of the league’s most entertaining players.

8. Mississippi State: Rick Ray may have gotten a raw deal, but Ben Howland’s a great coach, and he can get talent like Malik Newman.

9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have some young, talented pieces on their roster, namely Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. What can Frank Martin get out of them?

10. Auburn: Bruce Pearl had an impressive recruiting haul with the Tigers, but they’re still quite young. A year or two away still.

11. Arkansas: It’s not going to be easy to overcome the losses of Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis, who was the SEC’s Player of the Year.

12. Tennessee: Getting Rick Barnes is a good sign for Tennessee’s future. He’ll get players … eventually.

13. Alabama: Anthony Grant didn’t exactly leave the cupboard full for new head coach Avery Johnson.

14. Missouri: Things are getting ugly in Columbia. Will Missouri keep Kim Anderson for more than two seasons?

Gardner, Beekman lift No. 8 Virginia past No. 22 N.C. State

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia coach Tony Bennett had a simple message for his team after a poor defensive performance in a loss at Virginia Tech.

“Talk is cheap. Do it. Show us, to our players, to us as a staff, show up, work in practice, step to between the lines and don’t lose yourself in anything but what your job is,” Bennett said he told his players and assistants in the two days of practice since the 74-68 loss.

The team clearly got the message.

Jayden Gardner scored 18 points, Reece Beekman added 15 and No. 8 Virginia cooled off red-hot No. 22 North Carolina State 63-50 on Tuesday night.

“We had a great two days before State, you know, preparation and just diving in,” Gardner said. “It’s just this is the time of the season we need to lock in and you know, we’re playing for something. … We’re trying to win a championship.”

The Cavaliers (18-4, 10-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) handed the Wolfpack (19-6, 9-5) their second loss in 10 games and moved into a share of first place in the conference with Clemson and Pittsburgh.

The Wolfpack arrived leading the ACC with an average of 79.6 points and were 19-2 when scoring at least 70, but became the 38th consecutive league opponent held below 70 points at John Paul Jones Arena.

“Obviously, as I watched the Virginia Tech game and knew that those guys dropped the game and, you know, any time you’re going to play a very good defensive team on their home floor, you know you’re going to get that energy,” North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said.

Terquavion Smith led N.C. State with 19 points and Casey Morsell, who spent his first two seasons at Virginia and was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball in his first game back, had 18 points before fouling out in the final minute.

Jarkel Joiner, the Wolfpack’s No. 2 scorer at 16.2 points per game, missed 12 of his 14 shots and scored five points. D.J. Burns Jr. (eight points) was the only other Wolfpack player to score.

Reserve forward Kadin Shedrick, who did not play in Virginia’s loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday, had 10 points and six rebounds for the Cavaliers.

Virginia scored the first six points of the second half to open its largest lead at 40-20, but the Wolfpack began whittling away, fueled by a 12-6 burst in which Smith and Morsell each hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“In the past, we’ve been able to control the tempo and to get those guys to play a little bit faster and even turn them over,” said Keatts, whose team had won three of the last four meetings. “But we couldn’t.”

N.C. State twice closed within nine points but got no closer. Morsell’s 3 made it 55-46 with 3:46 to play, but Beekman made a free throw and then took a no-look pass from Kihei Clark for an easy backdoor layup.

Virginia closed the first half on an 8-2 run to lead 34-20 at the break. The Wolfpack missed 10 straight shots before Burns scored just before the half.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack got scoring from just three players – Smith with nine points, Morsell with seven and Burns with four – in the opening half. They shot 25.8% with Smith going 4 for 13 and Joiner 0 for 6. … Burns picked up his third personal foul less than a minute into the second half after getting the ball stolen by Beekman. He stayed in the game and drew his fourth foul on a drive by Clark with 16:03 left.

Virginia: Beekman started the game ranking first in the ACC in assist/turnover ratio (3.0) and third in assists (5.1). He had four assists and one turnover. Clark started first in assists (6.0) and second in assist/turnover ratio (2.8). He had six assists and three turnovers.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: At Boston College on Saturday.

Virginia: Hosts Duke on Saturday.

Michigan St. rallies to win after giving up lead to Maryland

Maryland v Michigan State
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Joey Hauser scored 20 points and Tyson Walker had 17 and Michigan State rallied after scoring the game’s first 15 points to beat Maryland 63-58 on Tuesday.

A.J. Hoggard had 10 rebounds and eight assists for Michigan State.

Jahmir Young scored 17 points for Maryland, Hakim Hart 12, Julian Reese 11 and Donta Scott 10 for the Terrapins.

The Spartans (15-9, 7-6 Big Ten) used an 8-0 run in which Walker made a layup and 3-pointer wrapped around a 3 from Jaden Akins for a 52-48 lead with 7:44 remaining and Michigan State led for the remainder.

The Terrapins erupted for a 12-0 run in less than three minutes in the second half turning a 38-26 deficit into a 38-all tie. Young and Hart posted back-to-back three-point plays, and Hart’s 3-pointer with 13:01 knotted it at 38. Prior to that 3, Hart was 3-for-last-27 shooting from beyond the arc. Maryland finished shooting 3 of 22 from distance.

Michigan State started the game with a 15-0 run and led 31-22 at halftime. Coming off an 81-46 win over Maryland (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) on Saturday, the Terrapins have yet to win back-to-back contests in almost three years.

The Terrapins host Penn State on Saturday. Michigan State travels to play Ohio State on Sunday.

Arkansas pulls away from Kentucky in 2nd half, wins 88-73

Arkansas v Kentucky
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ricky Council IV scored 20 points, Anthony Black had 19 and Arkansas used a blazing second half to pull away and beat Kentucky 88-73 on Tuesday night, giving coach Eric Musselman his 200th collegiate victory.

Black added five assists and five steals. Makhel Mitchell and Davonte Davis scored 15 points each and Jordan Walsh 13 for the Razorbacks (17-7, 6-5 SEC) who have won five straight conference games, including three in a row. It was Arkansas’ third straight win over the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4). The teams meet again in Fayetteville in a regular-season finale on March 4.

Cason Wallace scored 24 points to lead Kentucky, which had won six straight conference games. Chris Livingston added 13 points and Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves 11 each.

After a first half with 11 lead changes, there were none in the second when Arkansas shot 72% and Council and Black combined for 25 points.

Three steals, including two by Black who turned them into consecutive dunks, fueled an 11-3 run to begin the second half for a 52-43 lead. A basket by Black made it a double-digit lead with eight minutes left as the Razorbacks sank 7 of 9 over that span to finish the game. They made 8 of 10 free throws over the final two minutes.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was given a technical foul with 33 seconds left in the first half. Black sank the resulting free throws for a three-point lead before Daimion Collins’ midrange jumper made it 41-40 at halftime.

Both teams shot over 50% in the first half with Wallace leading all scorers with 11 points. Kentucky dipped under 50% for the game while Arkansas finished at 63% and outscored the Wildcats 46-28 in the paint.

Arkansas is home against Mississippi State and Kentucky is at Georgia, both games on Saturday.

Tulane secures 101-94 OT win over Cincinnati

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – Kevin Cross and Jalen Cook scored 27 points each as Tulane took down Cincinnati 101-94 in overtime on Tuesday night.

Cross added 15 rebounds and six assists for the Green Wave (16-7, 9-3 American Athletic Conference). Cook added 14 assists. Jaylen Forbes scored 24 points and shot 6 for 15 (3 for 6 from 3-point range) and 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

Landers Nolley II finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Bearcats (16-9, 7-5). Ody Oguama added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Cincinnati. In addition, David Dejulius finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals.

Tulane entered halftime down 37-28. Cross paced the team in scoring in the first half with 10 points. Forbes scored 18 second-half points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Tulane scored seven unanswered points to break a tie and lead with 42 seconds left in overtime.

No. 16 Oklahoma women take 1st lead in OT, rally past Baylor

Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman
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WACO, Texas – Ana Llanusa and Skylar Vann each scored 20 points and No. 16 Oklahoma took its first lead of the game in overtime before rallying past Baylor 98-92 on Tuesday night.

The Sooners trailed for 39 minutes in regulation and were down 75-63 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Baylor turned it over twice on inbounds plays in the closing seconds of regulation and Taylor Robertson tied at 83-all on a wide-open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

Llanusa started overtime with a 3-pointer, and she finished with eight points during the extra session. Baylor never led in overtime, shooting 2 of 6.

Robertson, who tied Danielle Robinson’s program record of 140 starts, finished with 14 points and three 3s for Oklahoma (19-4, 9-3 Big 12), which trails Texas (18-6, 9-2) in the hunt for its first conference title since 2009. Nevaeh Tot added 13 points, Liz Scott added 11 points and eight rebounds and Madi Williams had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Sooners, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense at 86.5 points per game, have scored at least 88 points 14 times this season, seven in conference.

Caitlin Bickle scored a career-high 30 points with four 3s and Sarah Andrews added 20 points for Baylor (16-7, 7-4). Freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Ja’Mee Asberry scored 11. Jaden Owens had 14 of Baylor’s 25 assists on 32 field goals.

Bickle was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 7 from distance, and Littlepage-Buggs recorded her sixth double-double in the last seven games.

It was the first time in 20 years the Sooners were ranked in game against an unranked Bears squad. Oklahoma continues its road trip at Kansas State on Sunday. Baylor plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.