Men's Basketball

Sizing up the SEC: Coaches defend league's basketball prowess

"God is going to have a much stronger presence in my locker room. ... If not for His grace, I would not be back in coaching."
Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl
"God is going to have a much stronger presence in my locker room. ... If not for His grace, I would not be back in coaching." Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl AP

Having placed only three teams in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, Southeastern Conference coaches sound inSECure about perceptions of the league around the country. That's no SECret.

Rather than SECede from college basketball's upper tier, the coaches used the recent SEC Media Days to lobby for the league's worthiness.

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings suggested that envy played a part in the lack of respect for SEC basketball around the country.

"We're a league people want to take shots at," he said. "People don't want us to succeed because we're the league with the best football, the best baseball. ... People want us to fail."

Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy was one of many coaches to cite Kentucky last season as an example of how good SEC basketball is.

"Kentucky had seven SEC losses and played for the national championship," he said. "People don't want to talk about that. Hopefully that will resonate and people will realize we play quality basketball in this league."

Why is it not resonating?

"First and foremost, our football brethren are so strong, so dominant, everything else pales in comparison," Kennedy said.

Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl used football to promote basketball. Noting that the SEC hoped to place two teams in the four-team Division I football playoff, he said, "I don't know if they'll get two in, but we had two in in basketball last year. And that needs to be continued to be talked about."

Obligatory hot seat note

The consensus has Alabama Coach Anthony Grant on the metaphorical hot seat this season. In his five seasons at Alabama, there has been one NCAA Tournament appearance and no NCAA Tournament victories. Alabama's 13-19 record last season was the program's worst since 1970-71 (10-16). Close (10 losses by eight points or less) didn't help much.

Bests

Best backcourts: 1. Georgia (Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines). 2. Kentucky (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker). 3. Mississippi (Jarvis Summers and LaDarius "Snoop" White). 4. Florida (Michael Frazier II and Kasey Hill).

Best frontcourts: 1. Kentucky (Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns). 2. Kentucky (Dakari Johnson and Trey Lyles). 3. LSU (Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin). 4. Kentucky (Marcus Lee and Derek Willis).

Best chance to burst onto the scene: 1. Alex Poythress (Kentucky). 2. Bobby Portis (Arkansas). 3. Kasey Hill (Florida). 4. Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina).

Comebacks

■ Once a heralded recruit, Georgia's Marcus Thornton once considered not playing anymore because of knee injuries. His return to health keyed the Bulldogs' second-half surge last season.

■ Tennessee's Robert Hubbs III, a five-star prospect, was limited to 12 games last season because of labrum surgery on his non-shooting shoulder.

■ Former Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury, who ranks ninth all-time in career coaching victories at an SEC school, is a new assistant coach at Texas A&M.

■ Auburn, initially because of new coach Bruce Pearl's ability to create a buzz around a morbid program. John Calipari was the coach at Memphis the last time Auburn had a winning record (2008-09).

■ Mississippi's home court. The Tad Smith Coliseum is 50 years old. A new $69 million facility seating 9,500 is scheduled for opening in January 2016.

Fresh points

Teams expecting to play newcomers at point guard include:

■ Texas A&M, where freshmen Avery Johnson (the son of the former NBA player and coach of the same name) and Alex Robinson will compete for the job.

■ Vanderbilt. Freshman Shelton Mitchell, a product of Oak Hill Academy, originally signed with Wake Forest.

■ Arkansas, which hopes four-star freshman Anton Beard or junior-college transfer Jabril Durham can play the point. The emergence of either would allow Rashad Madden to move to his more natural shooting guard spot.

■ LSU, where junior-college transfer Josh Gray replaces former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey, who transferred to Oklahoma State. Gray averaged 34.7 ppg for Odessa Community College.

Newcomers of note

Besides Kentucky's four new McDonald's All-Americans, there's:

■ The Texas A&M twosome of 6-10 Tonny Trocha-Morelos (recruited by Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio State, Oregon, Providence and UCLA) and Jalen Jones (a transfer from SMU).

■ Alabama's Ricky Tarrant, who scored more than 1,000 points in two seasons for Tulane. He is being asked to replace Trevor Releford, who left the Tide after last season ranked fourth in career scoring (1,873 points) and first in steals (263) and games played (134) among Alabama players.

■ Mississippi's M.J. Rhett (ranked 18th in the nation with nine double-doubles at Tennessee State last season) and Terence Smith (scored more than 1,000 points and made 40 percent of his three-point shots for Tennessee-Martin last season).

■ Florida transfers Jon Horford (younger brother of Al Horford and transfer from Michigan) and Alex Murphy (younger brother of Eric Murphy and transfer from Duke).

■ Coaches Donnie Tyndall at Tennessee (56 victories in two seasons at Southern Mississippi) and Kim Anderson at Missouri (274-95 at Division II Central Missouri).

■ Former NBA head coach Eric Musselman is associate head coach at LSU.

Progress and regress

■ Arkansas expects to have a perfect Academic Progress Rate score of 1,000 this year. The program had to forfeit a scholarship for the 2011-12 season because of a low APR score.

■ With Eddie Sutton and then Nolan Richardson as head coaches, Arkansas played in the NCAA Tournament 22 times in a 25-year period from 1977 through 2001. Arkansas has made just three NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 13 years, none since 2008.

Highs and lows

■ Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young won 120 games as a class. That's the most by Florida in a four-year period. In John Calipari's first four seasons at Kentucky, his teams won 123 games. None of Florida's four departing seniors was taken in the 2014 NBA Draft.

■ For more than four months last season (from Dec. 2 to April 5), Florida did not lose a game.

■ Georgia has had a 12-13 record in pre-conference games the last two seasons. That included a 1-4 start last year and a 2-7 start two seasons ago.

Heredity

■ Keith Hornsby, a 6-4 junior guard for LSU, is the son of Grammy Award-winning musician Bruce Hornsby.

■ Georgia's Houston Kessler, a 6-8 sophomore, is the son of former Georgia star Chad Kessler.

■ Vanderbilt forward Luke Kornet is the son of former Vandy center (and Lexington Catholic grad) Frank Kornet.

■ Auburn's Antoine Mason (the nation's second-leading scorer at Niagara last season, behind Creighton's Doug McDermott) is the son of former NBA strongman Anthony Mason.

Did you know?

■ The SEC's active leader in scoring and assists is ... Jarvis Summers of Mississippi with 1,233 points and 370 assists.

■ Since 2008-09, Missouri has won 102 games at home. That's second to Ohio State (103) nationally. In that span, Kentucky has won 95 home games.

■ South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell led all SEC freshmen in scoring (15.6 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg) last season.

■ Jordan Mickey's 106 blocks last season made him the first LSU player to reach the century mark since Shaquille O'Neal.

■ Michael Frazier II set a Florida record with 118 three-point baskets last season. Jodie Meeks holds the UK record with 117 in 2008-09.

■ Former UK recruit KC Ross-Miller will play for Auburn.

■ Arkansas' star sophomore, Bobby Portis, attended a Nike Elite Youth Basketball Big Man Skills Academy. The counselors included ex-UK big men Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

■ According to ESPN's strength-of-schedule ratings, only Kansas (1), Kentucky (2) and Wisconsin (3) played a more difficult schedule last season than Alabama.

■ Tennessee has only one player on its roster who scored 10 points in an SEC game: Josh Richardson.

■ Mississippi State has not won a game in the month of February the last two years.

Milestone moments

■ Billy Donovan needs 14 more victories to reach 500 in his coaching career that includes two seasons at Marshall and 18 at Florida. The Gators' 16th game of the season will be against Auburn. "I'd love for that to be the game," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. "It'd be an honor to lose to him in Game No. 500. If he's not the best in our business, he's right there."

■ Kevin Stallings needs eight victories to reach 300 at Vanderbilt. Only six coaches have won 300 or more games for SEC programs: Adolph Rupp (875 for Kentucky), Billy Donovan (451 for Florida), Dale Brown (448 for LSU), Harry Robenhorst (340 for LSU), C.M. Newton (340 for Alabama and Vanderbilt) and Tubby Smith (308 for Georgia and Kentucky).

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