SEC Preview: It’s Kentucky’s world, everyone else is living in it

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SEC.

For the last two or three years, all we’ve heard about the SEC is how the conference is on the way up.

It wasn’t just going to be simply be football and Kentucky anymore. Bruce Pearl was going to turn around Auburn. Ben Howland and Rick Barnes would do the same for Mississippi State and Tennessee. Billy Kennedy had himself a pipeline at Texas A&M, while Johnny Jones was landing No. 1 draft picks at LSU.

And yet, here we are in 2016-17, and the preseason AP poll has Kentucky ranked No. 2 … and nary another SEC program to be found.

I guess it’s going to be football and Kentucky for at least one more season.

LEAGUE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | Mid-Majors

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics


1. Kentucky is loaded with talent once again: Are you really surprised that, in a year where the freshman class is as good as we’ve ever seen it be, that Kentucky has a roster stocked with future first round draft picks? It starts with Bam Adebayo, a top ten prospect and the most athletic big man in the SEC, and continues with another pair of potential lottery picks in back court mates De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Isaiah Briscoe was a five-star prospect last season, Wenyen Gabriel could end up being the best defender on this team and there are some NBA people that think Sacha Killeya-Jones might end up being the best long-term prospect on the roster.

And I haven’t even mentioned Derek Willis or Isaac Humphries yet. Kentucky is certainly loaded with talent …

2. … but there are legitimate questions about fit: Specifically, just how well does this roster fit together? The way I see it, there are two legitimate concerns, the first of which is UK’s perimeter shooting. Fox and Briscoe have yet to prove themselves as three-point threats while Monk has been anything-but consistent as a perimeter shooter in his young career. Willis was the difference-maker last season when he was thrust into the squad, but when he is on the floor, issues emerge for the Wildcats defensively. Does he guard threes or fours? Can you play him over Gabriel, who isn’t the same shooter but who is a potential stopper defensively? Can Humphries act as a rim protector? Can he play with Adebayo on a team that is just about locked into perimeter shooting issues?

To read more on this, I went in-depth on the Wildcats here. It takes more than a paragraph to fully flesh out that thought process.

3. Florida has a team that can get to the tournament: For my money, Florida is the second-best team in the SEC on paper, and I’m not sure it is all that close. Kasey Hill is a former five-star recruit who finally, after nearly three seasons of inconsistency, looked like a McDonald’s All-American down the stretch. KeVaughn Allen had flashes of brilliance in a promising freshman year. Devin Robinson has the kind of physical tools that should allow him to thrive in Mike White’s uptempo style of play, and Chris Chiozza offers a nice counter-balance to the insanity as a heady playmaker. Throw in Canyon Barry – Rick’s last son – and powerhouse big man John Egbunu, not to mention a slew of solid role players coming off the bench, and this team has the pieces to crack the top 25. Can White unlock their potential?

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

ANNAPOLIS, MD - NOVEMBER 13: KeVaughn Allen #4 of the Florida Gators puts up a shot in front of Jace Hogan #44 of the Navy Midshipmen in the first half during the Veterans Classic at Alumni Hall on November 13, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
KeVaughn Allen (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

4. Beyond that, who can you trust in the SEC?: I’m legitimately asking you, because I don’t know that there is a team here you can. Georgia has J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten and nary another proven contributor. Ole Miss is going to be relying on a pair of transfers in Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett. I’m not sure Arkansas has the talent around Moses Kingsley to be worth paying attention to. Texas A&M lost so many veteran pieces from a season ago. Vanderbilt made a needed change at head coach, but losing two first rounders for a First Four program is not easy to over come. This feels like it is South Carolina’s year, but what have they done to prove that they’re something more than a middle-of-the-pack SEC program?

5. Auburn, Mississippi State and Tennessee really are on the right track: It really should not be a surprise to anyone that Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl and Rick Barnes are able to recruit, because they’ve been able to recruit at every stop they’ve landed during their coaching careers. And while all three programs are still at least a year away, they’re heading in the right direction. Pearl finally has a roster of 13 scholarship players whom he recruited, headlined by a five-star prospect in Mustapha Heron with a top five recruiting class coming next season. Howland has a potential star in Quinndary Weatherspoon and six four-star freshmen entering his program. Barnes has more work to do still, but the Vols are not devoid of talent, just size. The results are coming … eventually.


Unless you are from the state of Arkansas, you may not realize just how good Kingsley was as a junior last season. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 15.9 points, 9.3 boards and 2.4 blocks despite playing for a Razorback team that didn’t have too many other threats.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 13: Moses Kingsley #33 of the Arkansas Razorbacks dunks against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Georgia Dome on March 13, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Moses Kingsley (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)


  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox could very well end up being the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season.
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia: Frazier is so underrated. he averaged 16.9 points, 4.5 boards and 4.4 assists last season.
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: If a Kentucky player is destined to win the SEC Player of the Year award, I think that it will end up being Bam.
  • Malik Monk, Kentucky: There isn’t a more exciting player in college basketball this season than Monk. The question is whether or not he is going to be consistent enough to garner postseason awards.


  • Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida
  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
  • Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
  • Yante Maten, Georgia

BREAKOUT STAR: Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Last year, playing on a team that was dominated by perimeter talent, a freshman like Davis was never really going to be a guy that was featured … and yet he still managed to average 11.3 points in just over 22 minutes. With guys like Danuel House, Alex Caruso and Jalen Jones gone, it’s going to be the Davis show for Billy Kennedy.


When you have the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on your team posting stat lines of 19 points, 12 boards and five assists every single night, and you cannot get that team to care enough to get into the NCAA tournament, it’s not an easy task to justify your salary to your bosses. Jones did that. We’ll see if it’s still the case if the Tigers have a disastrous 2016-17 season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Man, the SEC was lucky to get more than two teams into the Big Dance this year.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing how John Calipari puts all the pieces on his roster together.


  • 11/15, Kentucky vs. Michigan State
  • 12/3, Kentucky vs. UCLA
  • 12/6, Florida vs. Duke
  • 12/17, Kentucky vs. North Carolina
  • 1/28, Kentucky vs. Kansas


POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics


1. Kentucky: Duh.
2. Florida: I just love the talent on this roster. I do think that, out of the rest of the teams in this league, the Gators have the highest ceiling, but don’t go betting your mortgage on Mike White being able to tap into that talent until he proves he can win at this level.
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs have the best 1-2 punch in the SEC this season with J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten. If you know who is going to step up to support those two, please drop us a line and let us know. But that duo should be enough to get the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament conversation.
4. Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC and has done a pretty good job running a program that you may forget has a basketball team. Transfers Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett should thrive in Kennedy’s offense – think of Neal as Marshall Henderson minus the crazy – while Sebastian Saiz is one of the more underrated bigs nationally.
5. Texas A&M: I think the Aggies are still probably a year away, but with Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg and J.J. Caldwell playing around Tyler Davis, I think Billy Kennedy has enough pieces to make a run at the top four in the league and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
6. South Carolina: It’s hard to know what to make of the Gamecocks. I think Frank Martin has the pieces he needs to play the way he wants to play, but it’s hard to ignore that they lost three starters or how their season ended in 2016. Let’s see if P.J. Dozier is the real deal.
7. Vanderbilt: Vandy lost two first round picks and their head coach, which is a lot to overcome. But Bryce Drew may actually be an upgrade and there is probably more talent in this program than you may realize: Matthew Fisher-Davis, Camron Justice, Luke Kornet, Jeff Roberson. The big question: Can Riley LaChance handle the point guard duties full-time?
8. Arkansas: Moses Kingsley is an animal and Dusty Hannahs has game good enough to back up one of the best names in college hoops, but I’m not yet convinced that a team coached by Mike Anderson can out-perform expectations.
9. Mississippi State: Quinndary Weatherspoon is one of the best players you haven’t heard of, and his ability is one of the reasons that no one is really talking about Malik Newman leaving the Bulldog program. Given their youth, this team is a year away, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Howland find a way to get them to around .500 in league play come March.
10. Alabama: There are some pieces here – namely Dazon Ingram, Riley Norris and Memphis transfer Nick King – but we’d be having a very different conversation about the Tide is Terrence Ferguson hadn’t decommitted.
11. Auburn: I have a feeling that Mustapha Heron is going to be better than some people realize, but the talent on the Tiger roster is just a bit too raw at this point to expect them to really compete for the postseason.
12. Tennessee: The Vols are going to be fun to watch this year because they’ll spread the floor and get up and down the court, but when you play high-major basketball and have just three players taller than 6-foot-6, you’re in trouble.
13. LSU: Johnny Jones couldn’t win with the most talented player in college basketball last season, which should we expect him to win with essentially the same team and no Ben Simmons?
14. Missouri: Head coach Kim Anderson climbed out of a coffin at Midnight Madness. That wasn’t the kind of symbolism the Tigers intended, I’m sure.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

AP college basketball: and and

Penn State hires VCU’s Rhoades as men’s basketball coach

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State hired VCU’s Mike Rhoades on Wednesday as its men’s basketball coach, bringing in the Pennsylvania native to take over a program coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.

The Penn State board of trustees approved a seven-year deal worth $25.9 million for Rhoades, who is from Mahanoy City in eastern Pennsylvania.

Just a few hours after Rhoades was named at Penn State, VCU hired Utah State coach Ryan Odom to replace Rhoades.

Rhoades replaces Micah Shrewsberry, who was hired away by Notre Dame last week.

Shrewsberry, an Indiana native, was at Penn State for two seasons. The Nittany Lions went 23-14 this season, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and won an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.

Rhoades, 50, was 129-61 in six seasons at VCU, including three NCAA Tournament bids. He also spent three seasons at Rice, going 23-12 in the final year with the Owls before returning to VCU.

He was an assistant at the Richmond, Virginia, school from 2009-14 under then-head coach Shaka Smart.

Odom was 44-25 at Utah State in two seasons, with an NCAA Tournament appearance this season.

He previously spent five seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County, going 97-60. In 2018, Odom’s UMBC team became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it beat Virginia.

Temple hires Penn State assistant Fisher to replace McKie

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Temple named Penn State assistant Adam Fisher just its fifth coach since 1973 on Wednesday.

Fisher’s goal will be to turn around a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Fisher replaces Aaron McKie, who was transferred out of the coaching job earlier this month after four seasons and a 52-56 overall record with no tournament berths. McKie is now a special advisor to the athletic department.

Fisher takes over a team in flux with six players in the transfer portal. Temple has yet to find any steady success in the American Athletic Conference.

Fisher spent eight years as an assistant with Miami before he joined Micah Shrewsberry’s staff last season at Penn State. Shrewsberry has since moved on to Notre Dame.

“I am confident we have found the right person to lead Temple men’s basketball,” athletic director Arthur Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming coach Fisher to the Temple community and returning to the NCAA Tournament under his leadership.”

Fisher also worked as a graduate manager at Villanova under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright from 2007-09.

The Owls have traditionally given their coaches significant time on the bench, though McKie’s tenure was the shortest since Ernest Messikomer from 1939-42. The next five coaches all lasted at least 10 seasons, notably Hall of Fame coach John Chaney’s tenure from 1982-2006.

Cal hires Mark Madsen as basketball coach

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

BERKELEY, Calif. – California is hiring a former Stanford star to revive its struggling basketball program.

The Golden Bears announced Wednesday that Mark Madsen was signed to replace the fired Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

“We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”

Madsen played at Stanford under Mike Montgomery, who later coached at Cal, from 1996 to 2000 and helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four in 1998.

After a nine-year playing career in the NBA that featured two titles as a backup on the Lakers in 2001-02, Madsen went into coaching.

He spent time in the NBA’s developmental league and a year at Stanford before spending five seasons on the Lakers staff.

Madsen then was hired in 2019 to take over Utah Valley. He posted a 70-51 record in four years with a 28-9 mark this season before losing on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals to UAB.

“Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates,” Madsen said. “We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride.”

Madsen is the third prominent coach to flip sides in recent years in the Bay Area rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The Cardinal hired former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor to take over the football program last season and Bears women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith played and coached as an assistant at Stanford.

Madsen is faced with a tough task, taking over a program that went 3-29 under Fox and set a school record for most losses and worst winning percentage in a season.

Cal went 38-87 during Fox’s tenure, ending his final season on a 16-game losing streak. Fox’s .304 winning percentage ranking second worst in school history to predecessor Wyking Jones’ 16-47 mark (.254) in the two seasons before Fox arrived.

The Bears haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2013 under Montgomery.

Adding to the issues for Fox was the complete lack of interest in the program. Cal’s home attendance averaged just 2,155 this season for the lowest mark among any team in the Power 5 or Big East. That’s down from an average of 9,307 per game in Cuonzo Martin’s last season in 2016-17 and from 5,627 the year before Fox arrived.

Cal had the worst winning percentage among any school in the six major conferences during Fox’s tenure. The Bears also were the lowest-scoring team (62.4 points per game) in all Division I under Fox and had the worst scoring margin of any major conference team under Fox.

Brea Beal’s defense lifts South Carolina to Final Four


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brea Beal is not just South Carolina’s X factor in one of the country’s best defenses but also a four-year lesson in sacrifice and reinvention that may add a second straight NCAA title to her resume.

Beal is generally third when most think of the landmark recruiting class from 2019 led by heralded All-American Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. But she could have the most critical role at the Final Four, most likely checking Iowa’s All-American Caitlin Clark in the national semifinals.

The Gamecocks (36-0) face the Hawkeyes (30-6) in the second game in Dallas on Friday night, with the winner playing LSU or Virginia Tech for the national title on Sunday.

Beal, who has started 136 of 137 games in her four seasons, and her senior teammates have racked up championships in their time. They have won three Southeastern Conference Tournament titles, have been to three straight Final Fours and are chasing their second NCAA crown.

Beal takes on the opponent’s best player and, more times than not, limits her effectiveness – a role that took Beal time to embrace.

“It definitely came with some hardship, but throughout time I just walked into it,” she said at the Greenville 1 Regional last weekend.

It wasn’t a path Beal envisioned after a celebrated prep career. She was a three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball from Rock Island High School, averaging 20 or more points a game her final three seasons. Beal joined Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings as the only players in the state to earn that award as a sophomore.

Beal expected to make the offensive impact that Boston and Cooke have had with the Gamecocks.

“It’s not necessarily something I was like, ‘I’m this defender, I’m the best defender,’” Beal said. “It came naturally, just as well as offensively, it’s just something you’ve got to be patient and just accept as time goes.”

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley sees Beal’s value as more than what she does on the court. Beal, overlooked sometimes behind Boston and Cooke, didn’t look to transfer in the portal era or complain about her scoring. She has kept her head down, Staley said, and made herself an indispensable part of the undefeated defending national champions.

“It took her time to just really relax and see where she can find spots to be effective,” Staley said. “Now that she’s a senior, she sees it.”

Clark, the Iowa star, would have to be one of Beal’s most difficult assignments. Clark had a triple-double – 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds – in the Hawkeyes’ 97-83 victory over Louisville to reach their first Final Four in 30 years.

Clark is not one-dimensional – “I pride myself in doing a lot of different things for this team,” she said – and Beal understands it will take a team effort to slow her down.

South Carolina has relied on its defense throughout Beal’s time and this year’s run is no different. The Gamecocks lead the country in blocks and rebound margin, are second in field-goal percentage defense and are third in points allowed.

Cooke believes it’s Beal’s defensive focus that has all the Gamecocks looking to raise their intensity on that side of their game. “She’s the one that taught us how to play defense,” Cooke said. “Especially me. Just watching her and the things she does definitely wore off on me.”

Cooke’s offense may be elevating Beal’s game as of late. Beal has scored in double digits in eight games this season, seven of those since the start of February. She had 10 points in a 59-43 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 16 in an 86-75 victory over Maryland in the Elite Eight.

Once considered the most likely of the 2019 freshmen class to play an extra season, the dual threat has been rising in WNBA mock drafts. has projected her getting called seventh in next month’s draft, going to the Indiana Fever in the first round.

Beal isn’t worried about her pro prospects or savoring all she’s accomplished. She only wants to finish her college career with another championship moment – and that means dialing up the defense.

“We’re a defensively minded team,” she said. “When we come to this part of the season, we definitely need our defense from every single individual.”