Bama Hoops Hype

DiSECting the SEC (Part 2) – Aggies, ‘Dogs, ‘Dores, and Tide

Joe Habshey - Bama Hoops Hype

After scoring 3 teams in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, it’s safe to say college basketball is booming again in the Southeastern Conference. While Kentucky’s large shadow still looms over the rest of the field, there are many reasons for each team to be excited about hoops next season. This marks the first of three offseason installments in Bama Hoops Hype’s new series: “DiSECting the SEC.” We will take an in-depth look at each team around the country and measure their levels of success (or failures) to determine the conference’s strongest teams and to uncover who is most likely to be in line for next season’s Big Dance.

*In reverse order of ’16-17 SEC Standings. [] =Overall Record () =SEC Record

Texas A&M Aggies [16-15](8-10)

A year after an astonishing, last second 10-point comeback against UNI in the NCAA Tournament, Head Coach Billy Kennedy’s Team found itself at home all of March. A disappointing 16-15 record reflects poorly on the depth Kennedy hoped to have built up in his six seasons as Aggies’ Head Coach. However, not all is bad for the 12th Man as they are poised to return their top 4 scorers from this season in addition to the 14th-ranked recruiting class that’s on its way to College Station.

2016-17 A&M standouts Tyler Davis (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Admon Gilder (13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) are set to return back to the hardwood for Kennedy in ’17-18. Leading the pack of newcomers set to join them on the court is Savion Flagg – a 6-6 4-star small forward.

Flagg’s senior year stat line is insane: 31.3 points, 5.9 assists, 11.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. All of this on 52% shooting. 6-2, 4-star point guard, TJ Starks is also going to be in a maroon jersey next season, along with 4-star shooting guard Jay Jay Chandler and 3-star power forward Isaiah Jasey.

Billy Kennedy has a good problem on his hands. All his top scorers return next season, but he’s also got an extremely talented recruiting class coming in that will immediately fight for playing time. If Kennedy can find a perfect lineup that tailors the player’s strengths, they will not only have a dangerous starting five, but a talented and experienced bench. If all goes well, Kennedy’s Aggies will find themselves somewhere besides home late next March.

 

Georgia Bulldogs [19-15] (9-9)

Despite Kentucky HC John Calipari’s obscene opinion, Head Coach Mark Fox’s seat is almost at a boiling point. Through 8 seasons in Athens he’s only been invited to the Big Dance twice, both times coming away without wins. As HC at Georgia he’s accumulated a record of 145-118, a winning percentage of just over 55%, also known as slightly above average. Next season could determine his fate, for better or for worse.

First thing that jumps off the page going into the off-season is that the Bulldogs will need to replace their leading-scorer J.J. Frazier who led the team with 18.8 points per game while also donating 4 assists per outing as well. Next man up is 2nd leading scorer Yante Maten – 6-8 power forward – who averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Maten also showed the ability to step outside and hit a three when needed as he went 21-43 (48.8%) on the year from behind the arc.

The biggest question for Fox’s ’17-’18 team will be depth as the next three highest scorers averaged just 9.3, 7.1, and 4.4 points respectively. Their 43rd-ranked recruiting class does little to ease those fears, however 4-star forward Rayshaun Hammonds could be an immediate-impact player at the two and three spots. Based on film, he appears to have good defensive mechanics as well as a large wingspan. On offense, he is an above average mid-range shooter and has flashes of craftiness with the ball in his hands. His biggest weakness on tape is that his 3-point shot is inconsistent at best and he occasionally gets outmuscled for rebounds. 3-stars Nicolas Claxton and Teshaun Hightower also hope to see some court action next season and could potentially supply Fox with some bench depth in their freshmen seasons.

If Mark Fox puts it all together this year and earns UGA at least a 7-seed or a tourney win, expect his seat to cool down. Otherwise, Coach Calipari may have to hire him on as an Assistant Coach over in Kentucky to keep him from being unemployed.

 

Vanderbilt Commodores [19-16] (10-8)

In a strange twist of events, Bryce Drew’s Commodore squad snuck into the NCAA Tournament in his first season in Vandy. The first team to ever make the tournament with 15 losses, Vanderbilt rode in entirely because of their three wins against Florida throughout the season. However, they lost to a storybook Northwestern team when guard Matthew Fisher-Davis fouled intentionally because he thought the Commodores were down a point when they were in fact up one.

Despite the tragic ending to the season, there were a handful of positives to take from Bryce Drew’s first season at Vanderbilt that shine hope into next year. Although the brain lapse will always define the game, Matthew Fisher-Davis was having a terrific, 22-point game in which he fueled the team on both sides. Fortunately for Fisher-Davis, he will get a chance to redeem himself next season as well as re-write the narrative surrounding him.

The ‘Dores will however lose their defensive stopper and rim-protector in Luke Kornet (13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) and role-player Nolan Cressler (7.8 points, 4 rebounds) to graduation.

To pair with Fisher-Davis in the backcourt, 4-star point guard Saben Lee will likely earn plenty of playing next year as part of Vandy’s 42nd-ranked recruiting class.  Along with Lee, 3-star center Ejike Obinna and 3-star combo guard Maxwell Evans both also hope to see an opportunity to contribute to Vandy’s depth problems. If Obinna can provide a defensive presence in the paint he will become an immediate impact player by filling the hole left by Kornet.

Regardless of the strange circumstance, Vanderbilt made it into the NCAA Tournament under Bryce Drew in his first season. A year of being under his tutelage, and experiencing a crushing defeat, should have the Commodores ready to beat teams besides just Florida in 2017-18.

Alabama Crimson Tide [19-15] (10-8)

“We’re still two years into this,” Avery Johnson resounded after a stunning loss to Georgia back in February. “We haven’t arrived yet.” After a disappointing first round exit from the NIT Tournament last Tuesday, focus now shifts to next season. This will be Coach Johnson’s third year at the helm, a year he highlighted last Monday during a radio interview when stating that Alabama could “even be a pre-season Top 25 team.” With hopes and aspirations set high, Johnson’s team will need to ‘arrive’ now more than ever.

After a season struck full of inconsistencies, one stat stands out amongst the rest: road record. A 5-6 record away from home seemed to embody the inconsistencies Coach Johnson has repeatedly pointed out throughout the season. While a 4 OT win in March-Madness-Darling South Carolina certainly looks good on paper, a 19-point loss in Arkansas and a 20-point loss in Auburn reflect the team’s collective struggle to play the same way each night out on the court. While the Crimson Tide’s play away from home seemed plagued with uncertainty, their less-than-stellar 10-6 home record looks much more encouraging in comparison.

Next season, Alabama will lose its top rebounder in Bola Olaniyan and a playmaker in Corban Collins. However, they will return the core of the team in Braxton Key, Dazon Ingram, and Riley Norris. So, will Avery’s team finally arrive next season? Or will their lack of consistent play continue to plague them for seasons to come?

The answer may rest on the shoulders of not just the returning guys, but on the upcoming 4th-ranked freshman class that will likely see an abundance of minutes on the hardwood. The dynamic-duo of 5-star guards in Collin Sexton and John Petty can expect to see the ball in their hands a lot next season, and whether they- along with the rest of the class- are able to live up the high expectations they’ve been given will determine if Alabama will be able to take over late in tight games, especially against the pressure of being on the road against a tough crowd. If so, expect the Crimson Tide’s offense, which struggled mightily on the road, to finally find its niche for Avery Johnson in 2017. Defensively, the Tide will continue to try and put the squeeze on their opponents; hoping to force the other guys to make mistakes that turn in to turnovers and hopefully points.

Along with Sexton and Petty, Bama fans will need to get used to seeing talented 4-star Forward Alex Reese on the court as well. Reese, 6’9” and 225 lbs., averaged over 25 points and 10 rebounds a game for Pelham High School a year ago. He could be the post-up scorer that the Tide have been searching for and compliments the ultra-talented backcourt perfectly.

With all the focus Alabama’s top-ranked class is getting, one key player continues to fly under the radar: Daniel Giddens. A former 4-star recruit, Giddens transferred from Ohio State a year ago and had to sit out this season under NCAA rules. The 6’10” Center from Marietta, Georgia will be eligible to play this upcoming season and promises to be a potentially menacing interior defender, another piece that Coach Johnson has been searching for, along with Donta Hall.

“The Tide are still trending upwards,” said Avery Johnson. And he’s right…on paper. If the Crimson Tide are to battle for a ticket to the Big Dance, they are going to need to see the talent transition to team chemistry, and from team chemistry to consistency. This season going on the road was bumpy, however if the Tide is in fact rising, they need the consistency on the court to travel with them no matter where they are. Then, and only then, will they have arrived.

Jake Weaver is a contributor to Bama Hoops Hype. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter for sports news and commentary @JAWeaver0 

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