Spring tends to be a tumultuous time in men's college basketball. A couple of kids decide where to go to school, and a few change their minds on where they are going to school, coaches make similar decisions and changes, and teams decide when and where they want to play games.
Well, now that it's summer, things are calming down a bit. (Kind of, as July is still a very busy time for recruiting and coaches travel the country to places like Augusta for the Peach Jam and Las Vegas and Orlando if not beyond to attend camps and tournaments and look for the next group of players.) Transfers are done and dusted for the most part, as rosters and coaching staffs are set, and teams put in some summer work in pick up games and such.
So with the Dawgs and their competition set barring any late changes from injury, etc, here's a look at what we have, and then the rest of the conference.
Guards Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, JJ Frazier, and Juwan Parker all return, with Mann and Gaines expected to lead the way again for the team offensively in their junior seasons. A redshirted Dusan Langura could provide some shooting help off the bench, and Fox also has SFs Brandon Morris and Kenny Paul Geno playing a good bit on the perimeter as well as helping in the front court defensively.
Both Morris and Geno are strong athletes and with improvements in their game could become very useful tools on both ends of the floor. If either can show a good scoring touch, prospects for this team improve considerably. Same holds up around the paint where Nemi Djurisic will be a senior still hoping to get some consistency after flashing quality but never for long stretches the last 3 years. Marcus Thornton made great strides getting finally healthy last season, leading the team in rebounding and blocked shots inside. Having a summer to work on his body instead of rehab it, and finally found a permanent position in the paint, I expect a good year from our only other senior on the roster.
Behind Thornton and Djurisic will be returning junior and former top JUCO scorer Cameron Forte, as well as redshirt freshman Houston Kessler (son of Chad and nephew of Alec). Forte should compete with Djurisic and freshman Yante Maten for the starting spot alongside Thornton down low. While the 7' Osahen Iduwe will likely provide depth behind them and ahead of Kessler, with his size having considerable value defensively on a team where he'd be the only one taller than 6'8.
All in all, it's a solid roster of veterans that should start strong, and hopefully finish strong with a lot of last season's production returning, which was good enough to finish tied for 2nd in SEC play. Continued progression of Mann, Gaines, Morris, and Thornton as the leaders, and getting some help from Nemi, Frazier, and the others make what should be expected to be an NCAA Tournament team.
So who will we have to beat to get there?
Not Kentucky or Florida in all likelihood. The Wildcats added some amazing talent, to a team full of returning amazing talent. It's really not fair the embarrassment of riches assembled in Rupp Arena (with Calipari having 10 potential NBA first round picks to pick from as he puts 5 on the floor), but sitting behind them right now, when they may well win the national title and wouldn't be a shocked to make a run at an undefeated season is nothing to be ashamed of. Florida lost some very important pieces, but brings back some key bits in SG Michael Frazier, PG Kasey Hill, and big man Chris Walker. Add a trio of top prospects to that mix, and the Gators will be second only to Kentucky in terms of the talent level they have on the roster. It'll be young, but Donovan has shown he can do a lot with these caliber players even as freshmen and sophomores.
And after you get below Kentucky and Florida, it's really anybody's guess as to what will happen.
Mike Anderson has had a slow rebuild at Arkansas, but he's getting their athleticism back to what he needs for 40 minutes of hell in a nightmare of a home arena. I've always been a fan of his, but as implied it's taken a little longer than I'd have thought for him to rebuild John Pelphrey's mess. And Kevin Stallings looks to reemerge from his recent downturn at Vanderbilt by returning to his roots with a very perimeter oriented group. Both of these coaches have proven they can make deep March runs before, but recent results make it hard to know just what we'll be facing here.
Johnny Jones has two years of building down in Baton Rouge, and has won 19 and 20 games in those two seasons. He doesn't have the elite talent that took John Brady to a Final Four, but his teams are always solid. And with a 7', 300+ pounder coming in, the return of Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey up front, and now eligible junior SG transfer from NC-Asheville Keith Hornsby (who has great range), this should be a team ready to take that next step up. Billy Kennedy hasn't done quite as well in three seasons at Texas A&M, but he has them at a respectable level. I'm not sure they'll be much of a threat though until Danuel House gets eligible. And it appears there may be some problems smoldering under cover in College Station also.
The rest of the conference is either in transition or about to be in transition. Anthony Grant has always recruited well and coached poorly at Alabama. Don't expect that to change until Bama makes a change with Grant. Ricky Ray has struggled to turn around Mississippi St for two years failing to crack a better than .500 record, and the incoming class isn't likely to make that improve just yet. Frank Martin in South Carolina has had his roster turning over continuously in South Carolina, and until that situation stabilizes they aren't likely to challenge for a place in the upper half of the conference standings.
Tennessee had fans revolt on a Sweet 16 reaching young coach in Cuonzo Martin, and the smoldering ashes from that will be hard for former Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall to get winning quickly. Bruce Pearl just arrived in Auburn, and while loading up on transfers will speed up his building plans, Auburn had so far to go that this season should still be a struggle for them. Missouri was the third SEC squad to get a new coach this spring, bringing up former Tiger player Kim Anderson after he spent 12 seasons with D2 Central Missouri, including a national title winning season last year. Frank Haith left behind a solid roster, and I have no doubt that Anderson will be a coaching upgrade on Haith. I wouldn't be surprised if Mizzou actually takes a step back up towards the top of the conference this year.
So there we go, Georgia looks solid with veterans but nothing special. Florida is going to be young, but special, and Kentucky will be insane. Other than that, Mark Fox has his chance to get a firm grip on what most Georgia basketball fans want, which is a permanent spot around the top of the SEC standings. Their recruiting this summer and performance on the floor this coming winter will let us know just how realistic of an expectation that is with him in charge.