Stefan Moody

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LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 2 Michigan State, No. 7 Miami roll on the road

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: St. Bonaventure 98, Saint Joseph’s 90

This was a big game for both teams, but especially for the Bonnies as they still have work to do if they’re to lock up an NCAA tournament bid. Marcus Posley made sure Mark Schmidt’s team picked up the quality win, as he scored a career-high 47 points on 15-for-19 shooting from the field. Dion Wright added 22 points and six rebounds for the Bonnies, while Shavar Newkirk and Isaiah Miles led a balanced effort for the Hawks with 19 points apiece. The two teams combined to score 119 points in the second half.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 7 Miami 68, Notre Dame 50: The Hurricanes and Fighting Irish are headed in opposite directions at this point. Miami jumped out to a 21-3 lead, and while Notre Dame made a couple runs to trim the margin to single digits the hole was too deep to climb out of. Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan combined to score 36 points, with Rodriguez also dishing out five assists, and Tonye Jekiri added 14 along with nine rebounds. Miami, which has won eight of its last nine games, can still win the ACC outright. As for Notre Dame, they’ve lost three of their last four.

Butler 85, Seton Hall 78: The Bulldogs completed a season sweep of the Pirates, picking up a much-needed win as they look to earn an NCAA tournament berth. Kellen Dunham scored 22 points and Roosevelt Jones added 20 along with five rebounds and five assists to lead the way for Butler, which shot 51 percent from the field. Isaiah Whitehead scored a game-high 27 for the Pirates, but he did so on 9-for-23 shooting from the field.

No. 9 Oregon 76, UCLA 68: Dillon Brooks hit a dagger of a three in the final minute to seal the win for the Ducks, who clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 title and the top seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament. Brooks finished with 15 points and freshman Tyler Dorsey scored 20 points to lead the way for the Ducks. Isaac Hamilton scored 19 points and Tony Parker added 18 for the Bruins, who are now locked into the ten-seed.

Wednesday’s Bubble Banter

STARRED

Marcus Posley, St. Bonaventure: Posley was incredible in the Bonnies’ critical 98-90 win over Saint Joseph’s. 15-for-19 from the field (6-for-7 3PT) and 11-for-12 from the foul line, scoring 47 points.

Andrew Andrews, Washington: Andrews scored 47 points, collected six rebounds and dished out four assists in the Huskies’ 99-91 home win over Washington State.

Bryn Forbes, Michigan State: Forbes set a Big Ten record with 11 three-pointers in the Spartans’ blowout victory at Rutgers.

Chris Horton, Austin Peay: 37 points and 21 rebounds in the Governors’ OVC tournament win over Tennessee Tech.

Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: Moody scored 43 points (11-for-24 FG) and dished out six assists in the Rebels’ 86-78 win over Mississippi State.

STRUGGLED

Demetrius Jackson and V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: Jackson and Beachem combined to score 12 points, shooting 5-for-20 from the field in a 68-50 home loss to No. 7 Miami.

Ahmad Gilbert, Minnesota: Gilbert scored two points, shooting 1-for-8 from the field, as the shorthanded Golden Gophers lost to Wisconsin.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 2 Michigan State has now won nine of its last ten games, as they whipped Rutgers 97-66 in Piscataway. Bryn Forbes, as mentioned above, set a Big Ten record with 11 made three-pointers on the night. Eron Harris scored 15 points, Denzel Valentine finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Matt Costello added ten points and 15 boards.
  • No. 10 West Virginia rolled to a 90-68 home win over Texas Tech, locking up no worse than the three-seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament. Daxter Miles and Jaysean Paige scored 15 points apiece for the Mountaineers, who forced 18 Texas Tech turnovers on the night. With the loss Texas Tech is locked into the seven-seed next week, meaning that they’ll have to play Wednesday night.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Albany’s quest for a fourth straight America East tournament title came to an end Wednesday night, as they lost to seven-seed Hartford 68-59 in an America East quarterfinal. Next up for the Hawks is top seed Stony Brook, which pulled away late to beat UMBC 86-76. Three-seed Vermont will host four-seed New Hampshire in the other semifinal Monday.
  • In the Northeast quarterfinals six-seed LIU Brooklyn eliminated three-seed Sacred Heart, 84-76. Also advancing to Sunday’s semifinals were one-seed Wagner, two-seed Fairleigh Dickinson and five-seed Mount St. Mary’s. Wagner will host LIU Brooklyn in one semi, with Mount St. Mary’s visiting FDU in the other.
  • VCU clinched at least a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a 70-60 win over Davidson. Mo Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson led the way for the Rams, with Alie-Cox finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks and Johnson adding 16, five rebounds and four assists.
  • Austin Peay advanced to the quarterfinals of the OVC tournament with a 92-72 win over Tennessee Tech. Also advancing was Murray State, which beat Eastern Illinois 78-62.
  • Just three days removed from their home win over Duke, Pittsburgh did themselves no favors with a 65-61 loss at Virginia Tech. Zach LeDay led the Hokies with 20 points and ten rebounds.
  • Providence picked up a second straight victory, holding off Creighton by the final score of 70-66. Ben Bentil finished with 27 points and ten rebounds, and Kris Dunn added 17, six boards and six assists for the Friars.
  • Alabama suffered a damaging loss, as they fell 62-61 at home to Arkansas. The Razorbacks went to a box-and-1 to slow down Retin Obasohan down the stretch, and the move worked out well for Mike Anderson’s team. Obasohan finished with 32 points, but no other Alabama player scored more than ten.
  • Wisconsin continued its roll with a 62-49 win at Minnesota. Bronson Koenig accounted for 14 points and six assists with Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes adding 12 apiece for the Badgers, who have won 11 of their last 12 games.
  • Boston College is one loss away from going winless in ACC play, as they lost 73-72 at NC State on a Maverick Rowan layup as time expired. The Eagles also went winless in ACC play in football last season.
  • A Justin Bibbins coast-to-coast drive and finish gave Long Beach State a 75-73 win at Cal-State Fullerton. Nick Faust finished the game with 30 points and eight rebounds for the 49ers.
  • USC snapped a stretch of five losses in six games with an 81-70 win over Oregon State. The Beavers played without freshman Tres Tinkle, who injured his foot in practice Tuesday.

VIDEO: Stefan Moody’s layup caps wild game-winning sequence for Ole Miss

Associated Press
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Ole Miss moved to 2-0 at its new home arena, The Pavilion at Ole Miss, with a 72-71 win over Georgia Saturday night. The game-winning shot was made by senior guard Stefan Moody, who drove through the Georgia defense and hit a tough layup with just under five seconds remaining.

Ole Miss nearly turned the ball over before Moody got his hands on it, then splitting three Bulldog defenders on his way to the basket. Some questioned if Moody got away with traveling on the play, and feel free to leave your thoughts on that below. In a tight SEC this is a big win for the Rebels, who are now one of five teams with a 2-1 record in conference play.

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h/t The Student Section

Tyler Ulis helps No. 10 Kentucky beat Mississippi 83-61

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis made an impression on Andy Kennedy.

The Mississippi coach heaped praise on Ulis after he had 20 points and 10 assists to help No. 10 Kentucky beat Mississippi 83-61 on Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

“I think he is best point guard in college basketball,” Kennedy said. “He just kind of skates through. When he is making shots, he is very difficult (to stop).”

Ulis set the tone for the blowout, scoring seven of Kentucky’s first nine points. He pounded his chest after connecting on a layup igniting those in attendance, including his parents.

“There was just a lot of energy,” Ulis said. “The crowd was going crazy. I was actually looking for my parents but they had changed seats. I finally found them.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari was pleased with the way Ulis performed on both ends of the court.

“He is a good player and also took on a challenge (of facing Ole Miss scoring leader Stefan Moody),” Calipari said. “He is out to prove who he is. I just want a team full of guys that want that.”

Sparked by Ulis, Kentucky (11-2) ended the Rebels’ seven-game winning streak and limited Moody to eight points in the first half, hindering the Rebels’ hopes for an upset.

Jamal Murray made four of Kentucky’s seven 3-pointers and had 18 points. Marcus Lee added 13.

Despite a slow start, Moody led the Rebels (10-3) with 23 points. Sebastian Saiz followed with 12.

The Wildcats held a 14-11 advantage with 10:29 remaining in the first half and put the game away with a 23-3 run, pushing it to 37-14 with 3:40 remaining in the first half.

Murray made two 3-pointers during the decisive spurt and finished with 11 points in the opening half.

Kentucky led 46-22 at the break and didn’t let up in the second half.

Ole Miss struggled from the field, especially in the first half, shooting 23 percent (6 for 26). The Rebels fared better in the second half and finished 20 of 50 from the floor for 40 percent.

A year ago, Ole Miss took the Wildcats to the wire before losing 89-86 in overtime, but failed to duplicate the performance.

“We lost a lot of guys that were part of that run,” Kennedy said. “I thought the moment might have been a little big for them early.”

HAWKINS HURT

Kentucky junior guard Dominique Hawkins left with 13:55 remaining and didn’t return after tweaking his ankle while going up for a rebound. Hawkins scored a career-high 13 points against No. 18 Louisville in his last outing. Hawkins played three minutes and didn’t score.

“They say he will be fine,” Calipari said. “I didn’t see it but it was ugly. But he is a tough kid.”

SMITH WOWS CROWD

Jordan Smith, the latest winner in NBC’s “The Voice,” drew a rousing applause after performing the national anthem prior to tipoff. Smith, a native of Harlan County, is a senior at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and has already signed a contract with Republic Records.

TIP-INS

Kentucky: Briscoe returned to the lineup after tweaking his ankle during pregame warmups prior to Kentucky’s win over Louisville. He finished with six points. … Murray has hit a 3-pointer in his first 13 games, a school record. … After playing 10 of their first 13 games at home, the Wildcats play their next two conference games on the road, starting Tuesday at LSU. … Kentucky has won nine of its last 10 games against the Rebels. … Calipari improved to 8-1 against Ole Miss as coach of the Wildcats.

Ole Miss: The Rebels fell to 53-2 in games played against the Wildcats in Lexington. Their last victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena came when they posted a 73-64 win in 1998. … Moody has made a 3-pointer in 27 straight games, the fourth-longest in school history. … The Rebels play their first game at The Pavilion at Ole Miss on Thursday. The facility will seat 8,867 fans.

NEXT UP

Kentucky is at LSU on Tuesday night.

Ole Miss hosts Alabama on Thursday night.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: South Carolina looks to remain undefeated

Associated Press
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Ole Miss at Memphis, 8:00 p.m.

One of the nation’s best scoring guards will be on display in this one, as senior Stefan Moody leads the Rebels up against Memphis. Moody’s averaging 24.1 points and 4.2 assists per game for Andy Kennedy’s team, and slowing him down is the primary objective of any team. Memphis will counter with a perimeter rotation led by senior Ricky Tarrant, and their top two scorers are forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin. Keep an eye on the free throw numbers in this one, as Memphis is one of the nation’s best when it comes to getting to the foul line (third in free throw rate).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: South Carolina at Clemson, 7:00 p.m.

Despite being 9-0 on the season, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have flown under the radar nationally to this point in the season. They boast five double-digit scorers led by senior forwards Mindaugas Kacinas (13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Laimonas Chatkevicius (13.0, 4.3), and freshman P.J. Dozier (8.1 ppg) will only get better with time. South Carolina’s gotten the job done thus far with balanced scoring an tough defense (opponents shot 39.9 percent from two), and that will need to be the case when they take on their in-state rival tonight. The Tigers are led by junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who’s averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 57.6 percent from the field.

SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. A game that may float under the radar tonight is Southern’s trip to Ruston to take on Louisiana Tech. Eric Konkol’s Bulldogs are looking to rebound from a 19-point loss at Ole Miss, and they’ll do so against a team that has road wins over Mississippi State, Tulane and Wyoming. The tandem of Alex Hamilton and Eric McCree has been key for Louisiana Tech thus far.

2. BYU is back in action, taking on one of the early favorites in the MAC in Central Michigan. While CMU can put the ball in the basket their issue is defense, as they’re ranked 316th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Can they slow down Kyle Collinsworth and company?

3. Oregon hosts Long Beach State, with the 49ers having already been through a rigorous non-conference schedule. While they’re still awaiting the debut of the injured Dylan Ennis, Oregon’s received steady play at the point from sophomore Casey Benson. His numbers on the season: 31 assists and just two turnovers.

4. Wake Forest faces a Coastal Carolina team that’s expected to contend in the Big South, with Cliff Ellis’ team being a balanced group offensively led by guards Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins. The question for the Chanticleers is whether or not they have the power inside needed to deal with Demon Deacon forwards Devin Thomas and Dinos Mitoglou.

5. Grand Canyon heads west to play San Diego State, and this could be a trickier game than one would anticipate. The Antelopes are 8-2 on the season, and the addition of guard Dominic Magee (29 points against Omaha) has given them another guard capable of putting points on the board. The Aztecs will defend, but can they produce enough on the offensive end? That’s been the question all season for them.

6. 8-1 Colorado takes on Nicholls State in a game they should win comfortably. Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes have turned things around after a disappointing 2014-15 season, and while senior Josh Scott has been the mainstay George King’s been good as well. The redshirt sophomore’s averaging 15.9 points per game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 48.8 percent from three.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Southern Illinois at Murray State, 8:00 p.m.
  • Texas State at Washington State, 9:00 p.m.
  • Louisiana at Pepperdine, 10:00 p.m.
  • Cal-State Fullerton at Oregon State, 11:00 p.m.

Ranking the best off-guards in college basketball

Buddy Hield (AP)
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The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was UConn’s Sterling Gibbs, who ranked 59th in our top 100 players list.

For off-guards, only 18 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final two in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooters role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?

As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day. Here are the top 20 off-guards in college basketball:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

It feels like Hield has been around forever. Initially considered to be not much more than a lockdown perimeter defender, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year has developed into one of the nation’s most potent wing scorers, averaging 17.4 points last season. His shooting percentages dipped a bit last year, which will be something to keep an eye on this year. Does being the focus of every team’s defense throw him off?

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

I’m beating this quote to death, I know, but the ACC coaches that I’ve spoken too rave about Brogdon. One of them told me that “he’s a MFer, man. In every way.” That’s just about the highest compliment that can be given to a basketball player from a coach. What he means is that Brogdon is tough, he’s physical, he’s skilled and he’s got the mental fortitude to execute in big moments. He’s a perfect fit for Tony Bennett’s system.

3. Ron Baker, Wichita State

It’s really difficult to argue with Ron Baker’s results. He made the Final Four as a freshman. He was a star on a team that won their first 35 games as a sophomore. He was an all-american on a team that went to the Sweet 16 and beat in-state rival Kansas — who refuses to play the Shockers — in the tournament. What does he have left to do?

The NBA hype on Baker has subsided a bit, but I still think he’ll find a role somewhere at that level. He can shoot, he can defend, he can handle the ball and he can operate in ball-screen actions.

4. Caris LeVert, Michigan

Ability is not going to be the issue with LeVert. We know how good he can be. The question is going to be his health. He’s broken his left foot twice in the last 18 months, with both injuries requiring surgery. How long does it take him to shake off the roster? And, more importantly, can he remain healthy for an entire season? If he does, Michigan has enough talent to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and LeVert is good enough to finish his final season as an all-american.

5. Wayne Selden, Kansas

I see all the buzz surrounding Wayne Selden after his performance in the World University Games this summer. I understand why people are so high on him entering the year. The dude has never lacked for ability. Consistency and a left hand? That’s where he’s struggled. He got a slight bump in these rankings because of his play in Korea, but until he proves it night-in and night-out in the Big 12, I’ll have my reservations.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top Lead Guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)
Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)

6. James Blackmon, Indiana

Blackmon is such a dangerous scorer and he’s such a perfect fit for this Indiana offense. He’s a lethal three-point shooter when he gets into a rhythm, which is often, and that ability to shoot is what helps Indiana keep the floor spread offensively, creating acres of space for Yogi Ferrell to penetrate. I’d be surprised if his scoring numbers — he averaged 15.7 points as a freshman — didn’t improve this year. That said, the reason he’s sixth on this list is because he was a sieve defensively last year.

7. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky

Briscoe was another guy that was tough to place in these rankings. For starters, he’s probably more of a natural lead guard than he is an off-guard, but playing in a back court with Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis is an easy way to get pushed off the ball. How does he react to that? Will he be willing to fill a role for UK? Is he a good enough shooter to dominate minutes over guys like Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder? The ability is there, but it remains to be seen how he will be utilized by John Calipari.

8. Danuel House, Texas A&M

House was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and last season, his first with the Aggies after transferring in from Houston, he looked like it. House averaged 14.8 points, 2.1 assists and shot 40.0 percent from three. The Aggies were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament in March. With House leading the way, and a talented freshman class coming in, the Aggies should be an SEC contender this season.

9. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

Matthews, a junior, is probably the best player in the Atlantic 10, having averaged 16.9 points last season. He’s an explosive, albeit at times inefficient, scorer that is a major reason the Rams will enter this season as the favorite to win the Atlantic 10.

10. Eron Harris, Michigan State

As a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14, Harris averaged 17.0 points. He’s a big-time wing scorer that can light it up from three when he gets on a role. Like Briscoe, it’s going to be interesting to see how Tom Izzo divvies up minutes on his perimeter. Will Harris start over Bryn Forbes? Will they be on the floor together with Denzel Valentine handling playmaking duties? Who will be the guy whose number gets called in crunch-time?

  • 11. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen was terrific in the Final Four last season, helping to spark Duke’s come-from-behind title game victory. Does his development continue this season? And how does Coach K divide up minutes on Duke’s loaded perimeter?
  • 12. Kellen Dunham, Butler: It feels like Dunham is perennially underrated. He averaged 16.5 points and shot 41.0 percent from three last season on a top 25 team.
  • 13. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Cousins doesn’t get quite as much attention as he should, which is a by-product of sharing a back court with Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard. NBA scouts know how good he is.
  • 14. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin had a nice sophomore season individually, but with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton getting injured, Michigan missed the NCAA tournament. Irvin is a lights-out spot-up shooter when he gets in a rhythm.
  • 15. A.J. English, Iona: English was the only player in college basketball last season to average 20 points, five boards and five assists.
  • 16. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is a big-time talent that can score in bunches and throw down some thunderous dunks. But he’s also streaky and playing for a coach that doesn’t always maximize his talent. I expect that he’s going to have an up-and-down season.
  • 17. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: McClellan was the steadying force on a Miami team that won 25 games a season ago. While Angel Rodriguez was up and down, McClellan averaged a cool 14.5 points with 48.4/35.8/82.4 shooting splits.
  • 18. Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: Moody is the SEC’s leading returning scorer. At 5-foot-9 with a 45 inch vert and a penchant for hitting three or four 25-footers in a row, Moody is as entertaining as anyone in the country.
  • 19. Anthony Drmic, Boise State: Drmic missed the second half of last season with an injury. With Derrick Marks gone, Drmic will have to carry a heavier load this season.
  • 20. Juice Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard is the leading scorer on a Tulsa team that is going to contend for the AAC regular season title.

SEC Preview: Kentucky’s favored, but watch for Vandy, Texas A&M

UK Athletics
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SEC.

As has been the case for much of the recent past, the SEC shakes out like this: Kentucky, and then everyone else. Part of that is a result of just how good the Wildcats are and have been. Part of that is due to the fact that the SEC is a football league with the hoops side of things playing catchup. And while the gap is closing, it may be a few years before the impact is truly apparent.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kentucky is loaded again … obviously: It’s standard at this point. This group is likely not going to be making a run at 40-0 like last year’s group, but they will be making a run at a national title. Skal Labissiere will be the nation’s best big man. Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe will make up the nation’s best back court. Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress will get their shot, finally.

2. But they may not have the best freshman in the league: That title could end up going to LSU’s Ben Simmons, who, along with Skal, is a favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The Tigers are loaded with talent this year. Along with Simmons, they bring in McDonald’s All-American Antonio Blakeney, top 40 recruit Brandon Sampson and Arizona transfer Craig Victor. Throw in returnees like Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby, and LSU, on paper, is a top 15 team. But head coach Johnny Jones has underachieved with talented rosters before. Is this the year they break through?

3. Vanderbilt will be the second-best team in the conference: It’s tough to call them a sleeper at this point because they’re getting plenty of pub, but the Commodores are the odds-on pick to finish second in the conference behind the Wildcats. They’re anchored by Damian James, who may be the most under-appreciated player in college basketball. The 6-foot-10 junior is a legitimate All-American candidate. Throw in talented sophomores Wade Baldwin IV and Riley LaChance, and another promising recruiting class, and head coach Kevin Stallings has more than enough pieces to put together something special in Nashville. Vandy won eight of their last ten regular season games last year after starting SEC play 1-7.

4. Coaching turnover: There has been an impressive influx of coaching talent into the SEC this year, although the league did lose arguably the best coach in the sport.

  • Billy Donovan left for Oklahoma City, leaving Florida in an interesting spot with new coach Mike White. More on them in a minute.
  • Former UCLA head coach Ben Howland took over for Rick Ray at Mississippi State and immediately reeled in Malik Newman, a top ten freshman in the class.
  • Donnie Tyndall was fired due to the scandal he was involved in at Southern Miss, but Tennessee went out and picked up former Texas coach Rick Barnes.
  • Alabama missed on Gregg Marshall but they did land Avery Johnson.
  • And don’t forget, in his second season at Auburn, Bruce Pearl has things rolling on the recruiting trail

5. Keep an eye on Texas A&M, too: Billy Kennedy is not a new hire by any stretch of the imagination, but his new assistant coach — Rick Stansbury — is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail. The Aggies have a loaded recruiting class, one that is going to be afforded the luxury of a year’s worth of seasoning as veterans Danuel House, Alex Caruso, Jalen Jones and Alex Robinson lead the way this year. This is a group that can reach the Sweet 16.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “Kentucky. For sure. One pro leaves, and any pro comes in. Skal is as good as anyone they’ve had and Jamal Murray can play either guard spot, but Tyler Ulis will make them go. He can lead, and he’s perfect in his role with those other guys around them.
  • Sleeper:
    • “Mississippi State is under the radar, with Malik Newman and Ben Howland coming in. But they’re starting to get attention, so I’ll go with South Carolina. They have a lot returning. Their ability to shoot is always a question, but [freshman P.J.]Dozier can really open things up.”
    • “Georgia. They’ve got really good guards and seemingly no one is talking about them.”
  • Best player: “Skal or Ben Simmons. Simmons versatility and his passing ability — he can use both hands as well as anyone — sets him apart.”
  • Most underrated player:
    • “[Mississippi State’s Craig] Sword on the wing. He’s as athletic as can be. His shooting can be streaky at times, he’s kind of hit and miss, but he will be better this year. He’s a really good fit in their system. Also, [Vandy’s Luke] Hornet has grown. He can really shoot it from deep, and with Damian Jones focal point, Luke’s ability to stretch the court will be key.”
    • “Stefan Moody. Dude is the SEC’s leading returning scorer and can’t even make a preseason watch list.”

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Skal Labissiere, Kentucky

I’m still of the belief that Labissiere is the best player on Kentucky and, feasibly, the most talented player in the entire country. He’s a seven-footer with a back-to-the-basket game, perimeter skills and a soft jumper and that shows up when he squares up opponents. The Anthony Davis comparisons are going to flow because the they’re both No. 1 recruits and centers at Kentucky with similar body-types, but Labissiere is much more skilled offensively and much less dominant defensively. Think LaMarcus Aldridge.

Damian Jones (AP Photo)
Damian Jones (AP Photo)

THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM:

  • Malik Newman, Mississippi State: Newman is a high-volume scorer that can drop 25 in a half without breaking a sweat. He’ll be playing on a team where he’s going to be asked to take a lot of shots. His efficiency numbers likely won’t be great, but he’s going to score a lot.
  • Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: For my money, Jones is the single-most underrated player in college basketball this season. He may be the best big man in the country this side of Labissiere.
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky: I’m still not sold on Murray being a future NBA star, but based on his performance at the Pan-Am Games this summer, I think he’ll end up being a very good combo-guard in college.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU: Casual fans are going to love watching Simmons play. He’s a 6-foot-9 point forward that is so talented. He’d be the National Player of the Year if he was in a different program.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
  • Tim Quarterman, LSU
  • Danuel House, Texas A&M
  • Stefan Moody, Ole Miss
  • Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt

BREAKOUT STAR: Yante Maten, Georgia

Wade Baldwin IV of Vanderbilt was an intriguing pick here, but I’m going with Maten. The 6-foot-8, 240 pound big man was somewhat buried on Georgia’s bench as a freshman last season, averaging just 18.2 minutes while watching Marcus Thornton and Nikola Djurisic. But while his playing time was limited, Maten did manage to average 5.0 points, 4.3 boards and 1.4 blocks. He’ll now step into a starting role in Georgia’s front court.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kim Anderson, Missouri

This is just Anderson’s second season in Columbia, but things have not gone well for him. The Tigers went 9-23 last season, finished just 3-15 in the SEC and lost their top two players — freshman Teki Gill-Cesear and sophomore Johnathan Williams III — to transfer. Does Anderson have what it takes to turn the program around? If the Tigers don’t show signs of improvement this season, he may not get a chance.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Kentucky isn’t the only team from the SEC eyeing a run to the Final Four. Ain’t that right, Vanderbilt?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching those freshmen play. Skal Labissiere — assuming he eventually gets eligible — and Ben Simmons could end up going Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2016 NBA Draft, while Jamal Murray and Malik Newman won’t be all that far behind.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • 11/17, Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
  • 12/6, Vanderbilt vs. Baylor
  • 1/30, Kentucky at Kansas
  • 1/30, LSU vs. Oklahoma
  • 1/30, Iowa State vs. Texas A&M

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PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats have a very strong argument to be the No. 1 team in the entire country heading into the season. Of course they’re going to be No. 1 in the SEC power rankings.
2. Vanderbilt: It’s hard not to love what Kevin Stallings brings back this season. One of the best X’s-and-O’s coaches in the sport has one of the nation’s best big men at his disposal and surrounds him with a myriad of talented shooters and scorers on the perimeter. I think this is a Sweet 16 team.
3. Texas A&M: The Aggies are in a great spot this year. Not only are they built for the future thanks to Billy Kennedy’s recruiting class, but they have enough veteran talent on their roster that they can make a run in an SEC that isn’t overly strong at the top. Daneul House and Alex Caruso get slept-on nationally.
4. LSU: From a talent perspective, LSU is second only to Kentucky in this league. But talent hasn’t kept Johnny Jones from underachieving before, so until this group proves that they can compete for an SEC title, I’ll expect them to be a borderline top 25 team that won’t feel comfortable about their NCAA tournament prospects until March.
5. Georgia: Georgia returns their veteran back court but graduates key pieces in their front court. The key to their season could end up being the development of YantTagse Maten. If he turns into an all-SEC caliber player, they should end up being a tournament team.
6. Florida: The Gators are one of the most interesting teams in college hoops this season. They lost Billy Donovan to the NBA after a disappointing year, but they also return plenty of elite talent from a team that was far more competitive than their record shows; no one in the country suffered more heart-breaking losses than the Gators last season, as it felt like they kept inventing new ways to lose basketball games. There’s talent, depth and athleticism on their perimeter (Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza, Devin Robinson, KeVaughn Allen, Brandone Francis) and South Florida transfer John Egbunu will sneak up on some people on the interior. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike White led this group to a top four finish in the league. I can also see them heading to the NIT.
7. Auburn: I think Bruce Pearl is still a year or two away from really making Auburn competitive in the conference. That said, to me, Pearl’s presence on the sideline makes the Tigers two or three games better in league play.
8. Ole Miss: Stefan Moody is back for the Rebels this season, but they lose a ton of talent off of last year’s tournament team. Moody will put up some big numbers, but the Rebels would do well to finish in the top half of the conference this season.
9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have some sleeper potential this season. They return five of their top six players and add top 30 recruit P.J. Dozier to the mix. But will Dozier be the difference between finishing 6-12 last season and reaching the top half of the league this season?
10. Mississippi State: Ben Howland is a terrific coach and he has a dynamic lead guard in Malik Newman, but it’s going to take more than one year and one player to turn things around in Starkville.
11. Arkansas: Mike Anderson lost the underrated Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls to the NBA and had three players get arrested for using counterfeit bills. It was a rough offseason in Fayetteville.
12. Tennessee: Rick Barnes takes over for Donnie Tyndall in Knoxville. The Vols overachieved last season and lost their best player, Josh Richardson, to graduation. Barnes will build Tennessee back up, but it will take a few years.
13. Alabama: Avery Johnson did a great job landing Terrence Ferguson, a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2016, but he really could use Ferguson this season.
14. Missouri: The Tigers went 9-23 in Kim Anderson’s first season and then proceeded to lose their two best players to transfer during the offseason. It’s going to be a long year in Columbia.