(Author's Note: This would normally be the place where you would expect the weekly SEC basketball review and power rankings. However, because the SEC Power Poll -- compiled by HHKB Chris at Rock M Nation -- runs on Fridays, starting this week the AOG Power Rankings will be published on Fridays and will also serve as AOG's vote in the SEC Power Poll. Why? Because I don't want to do one set of rankings on Sunday and then do a different one after Thursday night's games, because I have a real job. You're welcome. This article is presented to prevent angry mobs from storming my house.)
With our Commodores currently in the middle of a seven-game losing streak, our NCAA hopes (if we ever had any) long gone and even our NIT hopes dashed, most of us are now looking ahead to 2015-16. Okay, okay, most of us are looking ahead to baseball season (#1 in the nation!) and maybe National Signing Day if we remembered that we still have a football team (between last season and the events of the past week, there are a lot of things we just want to forget ever happened.)
If our thoughts are about 2015-16, what will the rest of the conference look like next year? There are obviously a lot of unknowns at this point: there may (or may not) be a couple of schools with new basketball coaches next year, there will be early entries to the NBA Draft (Hello, Kentucky!), there will be transfers (inevitably some guys at the end of the bench will transfer -- or get run off, if you're being uncharitable -- but a key player or a few will transfer out as well), there will be late signings (Hello, Kentucky! Again!), and there may even be a signed player or two who asks out of his Letter of Intent (cough, probably Alabama.)
About the only thing we know for certain is that if you're a senior, you will be gone. Unless you're Josh Henderson. But we do have an idea. A very cloudy idea, but an idea nonetheless.
Minutes played are for conference play only. Why? Since over half the games played so far have been non-conference, total minutes for the season may be skewed by garbage time in early-season blowouts, more so than they would be in March. I want the minutes to reflect actual rotations. Win Shares stat is from Sports Reference. Recruiting info comes from 247 Sports. "Scholarship underclassmen," to avoid confusion, does not include players who are sitting out this season (whether they're transfers or just redshirting), and also does not include former walk-ons who are currently on scholarship (since their scholarships are assumed to be on an "as available" basis.)
Seniors: James Siakam (2.2 WS), Shelby Moats (0.1 WS); 10.2% of total minutes
Scholarship underclassmen: 8*
Possible early entry: Damian Jones (2.8 WS)
Incoming players: Nolan Cressler (transfer); Joseph Toye (#26 SF); Samir Sehic (#15 C); Djery Baptiste (#19 C); Camron Justice (#54 SG)
We're assuming that Josh Henderson gets a medical hardship after missing most of 2013-14. The reason for optimism is based on the fact that the only (definite) significant loss off this year's team is James Siakam -- who certainly will be missed, but between the returnees and the incoming talent Bamba's production should be replaced.
If there are reasons for pessimism, they're based on how the last two offseasons went. I don't expect Jones to be an early entry this year, but he's popping up on enough draft boards that we can't take it for granted that he'll return. The last two seasons have seen a total of six players leave before exhausting their eligibility, however, so we're all bracing for the blow that may or may not come. If there are no or minimal defections, Vanderbilt figures to be improved next year.
We're currently projecting to be at the full scholarship load for 2015-16, so don't expect any late signings unless there's a defection (or a few).
Seniors: Levi Randolph (3.6 WS); Rodney Cooper (2.2 WS); 32.8% of total minutes
Scholarship underclassmen: 8
Incoming players: Jeff Garrett (redshirt); Donta' Hall (#37 PF); Brandon Austin (#37 SF); Dazon Ingram (#59 SG)
We know for certain that Alabama's top two players in terms of minutes will both be gone. The elephant in the room (pardon the pun) is whether Anthony Grant will be gone as well. With the Tide currently 3-5 in the SEC, the NCAA Tournament looks like a long shot, and it's also looking like Grant is on his last legs at Alabama. Figure on the Tide having a new basketball coach in 2015-16.
If that happens, you can practically assume there will be some upheaval -- though perhaps it works to their advantage that five of the nine underclassmen and all three incoming recruits are from Alabama. The current recruits don't look like anything special on paper (247 Sports ranks this as the #11 recruiting class in the SEC), but with at least one more scholarship available, the new coach (or Grant, if he's somehow retained) may look to add to it. And while Randolph and Cooper will be gone, Ricky Tarrant should be back, sophomore Jimmie Taylor will be back to anchor the defense, and freshmen Justin Coleman and Riley Norris have shown promise. So regardless of who's coaching the team next season, he should have some talent to work with -- at the very least, unless there's a mass exodus from the program, enough to keep the bottom from falling out.
Seniors: Rashad Madden (2.2 WS); Alandise Harris (1.4 WS); 24.1% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 10
Possible early entries: Bobby Portis (3.6 WS); Michael Qualls (3.0 WS)
Incoming players: Dusty Hannahs (transfer); Jimmy Whitt (#17 SG)
Given his performance and family situation, I think it's safe to assume Portis is off to the NBA, which would push Arkansas up to 40.6% of their minutes being gone. Qualls is a much more questionable NBA prospect, but there's always going to be an ill-advised early entry or a few and his 16.5 ppg could convince him he's ready.
If Qualls is gone, the Razorbacks could basically be starting over from scratch next season. In spite of there only being two seniors on the roster, Arkansas has relied heavily on Portis and Qualls this year and hasn't gotten a lot of production from the rest of the team. There is some talent on the roster -- particularly former four-star recruits Moses Kingsley (sophomore) and Anton Beard (freshman) -- and incoming freshman Whitt is also a four-star recruit. But Qualls looks as though he may be the difference between a potential tournament season and a rebuilding one. That would seem to make it far more imperative that the Razorbacks get back to the tournament this year, because the prospects could be bleak next year.
Seniors: K.T. Harrell (2.5 WS); Antoine Mason (1.3 WS); Malcolm Canada (1.0 WS); K.C. Ross-Miller (0.5 WS); 51.9% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 7
Possible early entry: Cinmeon Bowers (1.7 WS)
Incoming players: Kareem Canty (transfer); Danjel Purifoy (#11 SF); T.J. Dunans (#1 JC SG); New Williams (#48 SG); Bryce Brown (#89 SG); Horace Spencer (#12 PF)
While it might seem strange to see a team toward the bottom of the SEC standings losing over half its minutes, that's partly a function of Pearl rolling the dice on a couple of graduate transfers in hopes of a quick fix. Bowers isn't popping up on draft boards, but I have this weird gut feeling that he may try to go to the NBA.
Aside from Bowers, the rest of the returning roster doesn't really look like that of an SEC contender. Canty, who's sitting out this season after a solid freshman year at Marshall, could help at the point, and Pearl has a solid recruiting class lined up. But as we're currently seeing with Vanderbilt, Missouri, and South Carolina, an influx of young talent won't necessarily spark an immediate turnaround. Even with that incoming class, Auburn may still be a year or two away from pushing toward an NCAA bid. Auburn currently projects to be right at the scholarship limit next year but since Bruce Pearl is involved, it's probably not safe to assume that the recruiting class is finished.
Seniors: Jon Horford (1.8 WS); Jacob Kurtz (1.5 WS); 14.6% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 8
Possible early entries: Dorian Finney-Smith (2.4 WS); Chris Walker (0.9 WS)
Incoming players: DeVon Walker (redshirting due to injury); John Egbunu (transfer); Brandone Francis (partial qualifier); KeVaughn Allen (#15 SG); Noah Dickerson (#14 PF); Kevarrius Hayes (#14 C); Keith Stone (#17 SF)
You'll notice that in the "possible early entries," I'm including not only the obvious cases like Bobby Portis but also guys with iffy draft stocks or who still need a year (or more) to develop but who might make an ill-advised jump to the NBA anyway. The latter definitely describes Walker, who's far from ready for the NBA but who seems not to be terribly interested in going to college and has enough potential that some team will probably take a flyer on him if he declares. Finney-Smith isn't a big-time NBA prospect but likewise could make the jump anyway.
With a grand total of 15 players either currently on scholarship (with eligibility remaining after this season) or coming into the program next year, an early entry or two would probably help to defuse an impending roster crunch. A couple of players are going to have to be culled and I'll let you do the guesswork on who, exactly, will be gone. Whatever the case, Billy Donovan figures to have a deep and talented team in 2015-16. Of course, Donovan figured to have a deep and talented team this year, too, but that was before an injury, an academic casualty, and players not living up to their potential. 13 of the 15 players who could be playing for Florida next season were rated as four-star recruits or better.
Seniors: Marcus Thornton (2.4 WS); Nemanja Djurisic (1.9 WS); 28.2% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 9
Incoming players: William Jackson (#21 PG); E'torrion Wilridge (#35 SF); Derek Ogbeide (#22 C)
With J.J. Frazier, Kenny Gaines, and Charles Mann all expected back next year, Georgia figures to have a solid backcourt. The frontcourt is more of a question mark with Thornton and Djurisic gone, but freshman Yante Maten should help soften the blow. Fox does have a bunch of big bodies deeper on his bench this year who could play bigger roles next year.
The incoming recruiting class isn't that highly-regarded, but then this year's Georgia team doesn't have a single player on it who was rated better than a three-star recruit. That's either a testament to Fox's coaching ability or his penchant for finding diamonds in the rough -- which, to be fair, he did when he was at Nevada, too. It might have taken him a few years to get things going at Georgia, but I don't really expect the Bulldogs to go away next year as Fox seems to be putting a solid program in place now. Local product and future one-and-done Jaylen Brown seems like a real longshot, but with a scholarship still available Fox could add to the recruiting class in the late signing period.
Seniors: Are you kidding me?
Scholarship underclassmen: 12
Possible early entries: The entire team.
Incoming players: Skal Labissiere (#1 C); Isaiah Briscoe (#1 PG); Charles Matthews (#16 SG)
Your guess is as good as mine as to what Kentucky's roster will look like in 2015-16, because of the nine guys playing significant minutes for the Wildcats (plus Alex Poythress), any of them could go to the NBA after the season. If I had to handicap it: Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Trey Lyles are basically locks to leave. Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison are basically locks if Kentucky wins the championship and probably leaning that way even if they don't. Dakari Johnson and Devin Booker are probably on the fence, with the former maybe needing a little more seasoning and the latter having played his way into the first round of late. The only two I would say will probably be back are Marcus Lee and Tyler Ulis. Poythress's status will depend almost entirely on whether he's recovered enough to participate in pre-draft workouts.
And don't figure on that recruiting class being complete, either. Pretty much every top recruit still on the board is considering Kentucky, and since Calipari is involved he'll have at least a couple more freshmen coming in next year. Oh, and Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis will be returning in case Calipari whiffs on a couple of recruits and actually needs to play them more than five minutes a night. The only things we know for certain are that Kentucky will be talented and will probably be very young.
Seniors: John Odo (0.3 WS); 0.7% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 10
Possible early entries: Jarell Martin (3.1 WS); Jordan Mickey (3.0 WS)
Incoming players: Craig Victor (transfer); Ben Simmons (#1 SF); Antonio Blakeney (#3 SG)
It's basically a given that LSU will be talented next season with top overall recruit Simmons and former Louisville commit Blakeney joining the fold, as well as Victor, a former top recruit who's transferring in from Arizona and should be eligible at midseason at the latest.
The question marks are how talented, and how deep this team will be. In spite of not really having a thin bench, Johnny Jones has spent much of the season only using six players regularly, with sophomore seven-footer Darcy Malone seeing his minutes pick up of late. A lot hinges on whether Martin and Mickey go pro; if even one were to return, LSU would have a ridiculously talented starting lineup. If both stars are gone, though, Jones will need somebody else to step up or else LSU will likely be plagued with the same depth issues that they have this year.
Seniors: Roquez Johnson (2.0 WS); Trivante Bloodman (0.6 WS); 20.3% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 9
Incoming players: Johnny Zuppardo (redshirt/injury); Quinndary Weatherspoon (#38 SG); Tookie Brown (#34 PG); Joseph Strugg (#70 PF)
At least in terms of players expected to leave, State shouldn't suffer heavy losses. Roquez Johnson is the team's leading scorer, but he's not really the kind of player who's that difficult to replace. State retains a decent core with juniors Gavin Ware and Craig Sword and sophomore I.J. Ready, and Oliver Black, a freshman who's showing some promise, could step up to offset the loss of Johnson.
At the present time, the incoming talent doesn't look all that impressive. But Mississippi State is heavy on top recruit Malik Newman, whose father played at State. While the consensus is that he's still not likely to be a Bulldog, stranger things have happened than a top recruit choosing to play close to home at a school his dad attended, and inking him would alter the entire trajectory of the 2015-16 Mississippi State team.
Seniors: Keith Shamburger (1.8 WS); Keanau Post (0.6 WS); 25.4% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 9
Incoming players: Cullen Vanleer (#81 SG); Kevin Puryear (#57 SF); Terrence Phillips (#33 PG)
Missouri is in a similar boat to Vanderbilt; this year, the Tigers are playing a lot of young guys (freshmen and sophomores account for 68.5% of their minutes in SEC play.) They do lose Shamburger and Post, and the recruiting class isn't that impressive right now (it's the #13 recruiting class in the SEC according to 247 Sports.) That could change, however, as Mizzou still has a scholarship left to give and is going in heavily on top uncommitted recruits Thomas Bryant (#7 PF) and Ted Kapita (#9 PF). Also, incoming recruit Terrence Phillips has a humorous name for anyone who ever watched South Park. But at the very least, improvement from the young players on the current roster should mean that Missouri will be better next year. How much better? Well, that's the question.
Seniors: Jarvis Summers (2.1 WS); LaDarius White (1.7 WS); M.J. Rhett (1.4 WS); Aaron Jones (0.8 WS); Terence Smith (0.8 WS); 52.7% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 8
Possible early entry: Stefan Moody (2.9 WS)
Incoming players: Donte Fitzpatrick (#41 SG); Terence Davis (#46 SG); Rasheed Brooks (#8 JC SG)
Ole Miss is the most experienced team in the SEC this year, with five seniors and over half of those team's minutes going to seniors, and at least to this point, exactly zero minutes going to freshmen in conference play. The only freshman on this year's roster is Marcanvis Hymon, who has played 51 minutes all year.
Which, of course, does not mean that the cupboard will be bare next season. Stefan Moody is only a junior, and I don't expect him to test the NBA waters -- that indication as a "possible" early entry is basically a "he could be stupid." Sophomore bigs Sebastian Saiz and Dwight Coleby have provided some solid inside play this year and could get better. Although I had Andy Kennedy at the top of the hot seat list earlier this year, the Rebels' solid play in conference has me leaning toward Kennedy being back next year. And Kennedy can use one of the two remaining scholarships on a transfer or two to add some more experience to next year's team -- or, like Mississippi State, there's still a relatively small chance of adding Malik Newman.
Seniors: Ty Johnson (2.3 WS); 16.0% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 10
Incoming players: TeMarcus Blanton (redshirt); Perry Dozier (#6 SG); Chris Silva (#27 PF)
This is the caution for a team like Auburn: it's Frank Martin's third year with the program, and things are just now (barely) starting to get turned around. South Carolina had a very young team in 2013-14, and has a still pretty young team this year. If there's good news, it's that once again, the Gamecocks are going to be returning pretty much everyone -- or at least they should. I didn't list Sindarius Thornwell as a possible early entry because his draft stock has plummeted since early this season. But assuming Thornwell does return, Carolina has Duane Notice returning as well and while bigs Laimonas Chatkevicius, Mindaugas Kacinas, and Demetrius Henry aren't great, South Carolina does have a nice rotation of bigs and will add Silva to that mix, with the talented Dozier joining the backcourt mix as well.
Seniors: Josh Richardson (3.0 WS); 17.4% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 9
Incoming players: Shembari Phillips (#64 SG); Admiral Schofield (#51 SF)
While Josh Richardson won't be easy to replace, at the very least he's the only player that Tennessee knows will be gone after this year. If there's bad news, it's that Richardson has been a very big reason for the Vols' surprising success, and the four freshmen on the team haven't shown a lot -- Detrick Mostella and Jabari McGhee could wind up being good players, but both look pretty far away from making that happen. And the incoming recruiting class is ranked #14 (out of 14) in the SEC.
On the other hand, sophomore Robert Hubbs is only beginning to reach his potential and juniors Kevin Punter, Armani Moore, and Derek Reese have been pleasant surprises this year. The other question mark, though, is coach Donnie Tyndall, whose performance on the court has been fine in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year but whose previous program just self-imposed a postseason ban in anticipation of NCAA sanctions. That could have an effect on Tyndall's future with the Vols.
Seniors: Kourtney Roberson (2.0 WS); Jordan Green (1.5 WS); 23.9% of minutes played
Scholarship underclassmen: 11
Possible early entries: Jalen Jones (2.6 WS); Danuel House (2.2 WS)
Incoming players: Tyler Davis (#6 C); D.J. Hogg (#8 PF); Elijah Thomas (#8 C); Admon Gilder (#28 SG)
With the nation's #3 recruiting class coming in (per 247 Sports) and only two seniors on what's currently a borderline NCAA Tournament team, there's going to be plenty of reason for optimism in College Station. That optimism could be curbed somewhat, though, if either of the team's star juniors (Jones and House) were to try the NBA; neither one is a big-time draft prospect, but there have certainly been less-touted players who have tried the NBA draft.
Of course, with 11 underclassmen on scholarship and four players signed to Letters of Intent, there's going to be a scholarship crunch here, and certainly Billy Kennedy would prefer a couple of benchwarmers transfer out of the program over Jones and/or House going to the NBA. While I wrote about Auburn that an immediate turnaround was unlikely even in light of a strong recruiting class, the difference here is that this recruiting class is being added to a team that's already pretty good. The Aggies should get better guard play with freshman Alex Robinson having had a year to learn the point, and Alex Caruso is, well, what he is, so adding a bunch of depth and talent to the frontcourt can only make this team better. Signs are pointing up.