Last season, the SEC earned just three bids to the NCAA Tournament (Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt). The conference was rather thin beyond Kentucky, as Ben Simmons and LSU fell flat on their faces, Malik Newman struggled mightily at Mississippi State, and the new coaches, Avery Johnson and Rick Barnes, dealt with rebuilding programs in year one.
In 2016-17, the SEC is expected to play by the same tune. Kentucky features one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, and everyone else is trying to catch them for that conference title.
A&M will take a bit of a step back after losing veterans, including Danuel House and Alex Caruso, while the Tigers won’t have their nightly triple double threat and will have to rely on the combustible Antonio Blakeney.
The SEC may only receive three bids to the Big Dance, but who are some underrated teams within this conference that might surprise us. It doesn’t mean they will make the NCAA Tournament, but it might mean they could pull off some upsets in conference play and finish higher than expected.
Kentucky and Texas A&M should earn the first two NCAA Tournament bids in the SEC. The third bid is expected to come from a team who’s coach is supposedly on the hot seat, who is overlooked nationally, and who has some talented players returning.
The Bulldogs return their two leading scorers, J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten, while they maintain the presence of Juwan Parker.
Frazier can score from all over the floor, and Maten is a solid, physical big who is efficient and is a good rebounder.
In my opinion, Fox is a solid, intelligent coach who has led the Bulldogs to two NCAA Tournaments and two NIT appearances in seven years. He’s 126-103 as a head coach and Georgia has finished at least six games over .500 the past three seasons (plus they have been over .500 in SEC play).
The Bulldogs don’t have a star (which puts them under the radar nationally), but Frazier and Maten are two guys that could be even better in their senior and junior years respectively.
Book the Bulldogs for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
These Bulldogs were projected to make the Big Dance last year after the addition of five-star recruit Malik Newman and head coach Ben Howland. But the chemistry wasn’t there, Newman was banged up for most of the season, and of course, it was transition for Howland to coach in the SEC.
In 2016-17, Mississippi State won’t have Newman (he transferred to Kansas), although, they will have Quinndary Weatherspoon, who had a breakout freshman season. Weatherspoon was the team’s third leading scorer at 12.0 points per game, shot 45 percent from the field, and even hit a buzzer beater versus Vanderbilt.
Weatherspoon should be Howland’s leading scorer next year after the departures of seniors Gavin Ware, Fred Thomas and Craig Sword.
Beyond Weatherspoon, point guard I.J. Ready and 6’10” big man Aric Holman returns.
But where the Bulldogs will really make their waves is with their newcomers.
Howland adds one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, including FIVE four-star recruits Eli Wright, Schnider Herard, Lamar Peters, Mario Kelger and Tyson Carter. He also reeled in three-star E.J. Datcher, and the Bulldogs will get Louisiana Tech transfer Xavian Stapleton (torn ACL) back for SEC play.
The silver lining with the departure of Newman is the clear path for the freshman to get quality minutes from day one. This will give them enough experience before SEC play, and certainly before the SEC Tournament in March.
I’m not saying Howland is going back to the Big Dance, but if everything gels, this team could be more on the cusp than we think.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The front court has pretty much been stripped thin.
Laimonas Chatkevicius. Gone.
Michael Carrera. Gone.
Mindaugas Kacinas. Gone.
But there is still power in the backcourt.
Former highly regarded recruit P.J. Dozier is long, athletic and is capable of finishing around the rim. He does need to work on his jump shot and get stronger, but he should be a force to be reckoned with as a ball handler and a pressure defender.
Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice, two seniors, also are back in Columbia. Thornwell averaged 13.4 points per game last season (second on the team), while Notice averaged 10.8 points per game (third on the team). Thornwell is not the best passer in the world and tends to turn the ball over a lot, but he can score the basketball when a bucket is needed. Notice is a bit more efficient, especially from three, but isn’t much of a playmaker as an off-guard.
Regardless of the areas they need to work on, a backcourt rotation featuring Dozier, Thornwell and Notice is dangerous, to say the least.
The Gamecocks have four-star 6’9″ Putnam Science Academy forward, Sedee Keita, joining the team as the member of the team’s recruiting class.
Frank Martin is also an excellent, fiery head coach who demands the best from his players.
The Gamecocks have a shot at an NCAA Tournament, but depth could be a major concern with Chris Silva and Jamall Gregory’s future up in the air.
Video Surfaces Showing Agent Christian Dawkins Promoting Connections to Top Coaches
Another layer has unraveled in the college basketball corruption trial on Wednesday when a video recording of a conversation about paying college coaches and athletes was played on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Paula Lavigne.
In the video dated June 6th 2017, aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins brags about his connections to top NCAA basketball coaches, including Arizona head coach Seam Miller.
When referring to incoming (at the time) Arizona player Deandre Ayton (who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns) Dawkins says Miller told him, “I’m taking care of everything myself. I wanna bring you in. I’ll turn everything over to you.”
Dawkins is currently on trial for allegedly bribing college coaches.
Marty Blazer, a former financial advisor who was being questioned by prosecutors and who was present for the conversation, said the reference was about Miller “taking care” of payments for Ayton.
“Sean Miller has to know everything that’s going on. I can call Sean and have a conversation … like this is what is needing to be done,” Dawkins said on the video. He said that Miller is, “talking on the phone about stuff he shouldn’t be talking on the phone about.”
Unites States District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled back on Friday that defense attorneys could not subpoena Miller and LSU’s Will Wade to testify during the federal bribery trial.
Rick Barnes Says He Would Have Left Tennessee if UCLA Paid Buyout
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes could have been the next head coach for UCLA, instead of Mick Cronin, if only the Bruins were willing to open up their wallets.
Barnes says that if UCLA would have promised to pay Barnes’ $5 million buyout, he would have left Tennessee to take the job at UCLA.
“I think I would’ve been the coach at UCLA,” Barnes said (h/t ESPN). “I’ve said that to people before. I really felt at that time that’s what would happen.”
Barnes was honest and open with his decision process during the news conference, saying that he struggled with making a final decision due to financial matters.
Barnes has since agreed to a new deal with Tennessee that will pay him $4 million per year before increasing to a $6 million annual sum by the end of the contract and provide more cash for his assistants.
“I’m supposed to be at Tennessee,” Barnes said. “And it’s really above and beyond the basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state. I just think we got a lot of great things going on in this town.”
“A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that,” Barnes said. “There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. Bottom line is we couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
Barnes also informed UCLA that he would not depart Knoxville without talking to athletic director Phillip Fulmer and others in the community.
I told them point blank, ‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team,'” Barnes said. “‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people here that have been really good to me.’ … I said, ‘You just can’t say send a plane tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure this is done the right way.'”
“There was one time in my mind I truly felt that’s what would happen,” Barnes said about potentially taking the UCLA offer. “It got to that point where I felt like my prayers had been answered.”
The Madness is Underway
As we inch closer to selection Sunday, many conference tournaments are underway finding teams who will automatically make the NCAA Men’s basketball. Here are the teams that currently in the tournament:
Atlantic Sun: Liberty
Big South: Gardner–Webb
Horizon: Northern Kentucky
Missouri Valley: Bradley
MEC: Fairleigh Dickinson
Ohio Valley: Murray State
Summit League: North Dakota State
Summit League: Saint Marry’s
Out of the 32 conferences with automatic bids in the tournament, 12 of them have been clinched. All the until selection Sunday the remaining 20 conferences will have their tickets punched. Who will that be? Stay tuned!
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