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.

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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.

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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?