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The SEC's Best Returning Players

With the NBA's early entry deadline having come and gone, who are the best players returning to SEC teams next season?

J/k, he didn't make the cut.
J/k, he didn't make the cut.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

While a lot of the excitement about SEC basketball in 2015-16 has to do with some of the players entering the league -- at least three (likely) one-and-dones will be suiting up for SEC teams next year (and, in a bigger surprise, two of them will not be suiting up for Kentucky), there are also some very good players whom everybody is familiar with.  Some guys went to the draft early -- but these guys didn't, and they'll be back for us to deal with in 2015-16.

1.  Damian Jones

Call me a homer all you want -- but seriously, if you think there's a better player returning to an SEC team next year, I'd like to hear your case.  Jones is coming off a season in which he averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 boards a night, and while those numbers dipped to 12.6 and 5.6 in SEC play you could argue that that had as much to do with Vandy's talented freshmen stepping up their games as anything else.  He's a force on defense as well.  Jones might not wind up being the best player in the league next year (some of the newcomers might be better), but he's an excellent building block for what should be an improved Vanderbilt team.

2.  Alex Poythress

All right -- raise your hands if you had Alex Poythress being a four-year player at Kentucky.  Didn't think so.  Technically 2015-16 won't be his senior year (he'll likely get a medical hardship after missing all but eight games of 2014-15), though we would be surprised if 2016 isn't his last year in Lexington, particularly since he'll have his degree (if he doesn't already).  Poythress has never quite been the player that everybody expected him to be, but next season he should have one last chance to assert himself for a Kentucky team that lost pretty much everyone else.

3.  Stefan Moody

Moody leads all returning players in both points per game (16.6) and Win Shares (4.5) -- so why isn't he at the top of this list?  Well, aside from having less upside or defensive value, Moody's numbers also reflect the fact that he was allowed to dominate the Ole Miss offense in a way that neither Jones nor especially Poythress were allowed to do.  Which doesn't mean that Moody isn't a very good player; he is.  And with Ole Miss suffering heavy graduation losses, he may be asked to shoulder an even bigger load next year.

4.  Tim Quarterman

Quarterman is the kind of player who you can call a "stat sheet stuffer," averaging 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.4 steals last season.  His all-around contributions were best on display on February 28 against Ole Miss, when he became just the third player in LSU history to record a triple-double.  (The others?  Pistol Pete and Shaq.)  And as weird as it may sound, he might not even be the best player on LSU's team next season.

5.  Wade Baldwin

Going into last season, Vanderbilt had a giant question mark at the point.  That won't be the case next year -- Baldwin asserted enough production that fellow freshman Shelton Mitchell saw the writing on the wall and transferred out of the program.  Baldwin ranked fifth in the league with 4.4 assists per game last season, but equally impressive were his ability to avoid turnovers and an impressive three-point stroke down the stretch.  Those are qualities you don't normally see in a point guard.

6.  Tyler Ulis

Ulis, like Baldwin, came in as a freshman and served as a steady hand at the point, though he technically functioned as Andrew Harrison's backup.  Of course, with five-star recruit Isaiah Briscoe coming in next year, Ulis might not even be the best point guard on his own team.  But I wouldn't bet against him getting starter minutes next season and continuing to create for teammates.

7.  Riley LaChance

Yes, if you're keeping score at home, that's three Vanderbilt players on this list.  Relatedly, I think Vandy is going to be very good next season.  LaChance scored 429 points as a freshman; in Vanderbilt history, only A.J. Ogilvy and Mike Rhodes scored more points in their freshman season.  And while his all-around contributions aren't quite as good as those of Baldwin or Jones, if he improves further there's a realistic chance he could be Vandy's all-time leading scorer when he graduates.

8.  Alex Caruso

One thing that's always irked me as a basketball fan is the tendency that some people have to equate "leading scorer" with "best player."  Caruso was arguably Texas A&M's best player last season in spite of only being its number three scorer.  A natural two-guard, Caruso handled the point guard duties for the Aggies last season to the tune of 5.5 assists per game; he's also one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.  And that's how you earn the title of "best player" while being third on your own team in scoring.

9.  Dorian Finney-Smith

Florida was a mess last season, but that wasn't really because of Finney-Smith -- who, at 6'8", can stretch defenses out to the three-point line while also being a solid rebounder and defender.  With Michael Frazier off to the NBA and Eli Carter transferring, he'll be counted on to play an even bigger role for the Gators next season.

10.  Danuel House

House flirted with the NBA Draft before deciding to return to Texas A&M for his senior season, and that's a good thing for the Aggies.  At 6'7", he shot 40 percent on threes last season, and while he's not great on the defensive end his shooting ability alone is valuable enough to get him on this list.

Honorable Mention

  • Cinmeon Bowers: At the end of the day, he's only good at one thing: rebounding.  But he's really good at that.
  • Kasey Hill: A good creator and distributor, Hill misses this list for one reason: his hide-the-children shooting (37.9 percent from the floor.)
  • Anybody who plays for Georgia: The bad news about having a team where the whole is better than the sum of the parts is that no individual really stands out.
  • Marcus Lee: Has enormous upside, but you don't make this list without actually producing.
  • Keith Hornsby: A good shooter, but I'm not sure he keeps up that shooting on a team where he isn't the fourth option on offense.
  • Jalen Jones: While he averaged 13.7 ppg last year, his rather low shooting percentage on twos suggests that's a function of taking a lot of shots more than anything else.
  • Luke Kornet: I'm not that big of a homer.