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SEC Hoops Exit Survey: Let’s make sense of a hectic spring

No program was spared from churn, and some fared better others. Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Florida? Not so bad. Georgia? Not so much.

SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Tennessee v Florida Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Note: This piece was updated on July 20 after Jaden Shackelford announced he was pulling his name out of transfer portal and returning to Alabama.

The only stability in the SEC could be found in its coaching ranks. As for the rosters they oversee? That’s an entirely different matter. Almost 40 percent of the conference’s scholarship players transferred by our accounting, and more than half of available slots saw turnover. Meanwhile, incoming transfers outnumbered freshmen enrollees, including eight veterans moving between SEC programs.

That kind of tectonic movement produced a 10 to 12 percentage-point dip in returning production across the league. And even if a coach managed to amass a healthy portion of talent, continuity figures to be an issue. Fortunately, this offseason resembles something approaching normal, with staff getting consistent floor time for summer development work.

As you skim over the capsules, you’ll see that most programs fared well in a chaotic environment. Out of 52 transfers, more than 30 spent last season at a high-major program, and almost half of them logged more than 50% of minutes at their old stop. In addition, the conference continues to upgrade the caliber of high school talent it attracts, landing 13 prospects ranked in the top 50 of 247 Sports’ composite index.

Now, a reminder: this isn’t a forecast. Instead, it’s a primer to catch you up on a hectic period filled with transfers, NBA draft decisions and spring commitments. Typically, I do this twice — once at the deadline to declare for the draft and after players withdraw their names. That said, we haven’t seen this kind of player movement before, so it made more sense to hold off.

This fall, Sam Snelling will fire up the conveyor belt to crank out in-depth previews of each squad. But, for now, this will have to tide you over.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide

  • Record: 26-7, 16-2 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 9
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 3 (Avg. Recruit: 98.35)
  • Departures: Josh Primo (NBA draft), John Petty (graduation), Herb Jones (graduation), Alex Reese (graduation), Jordan Bruner (graduation), Jaden Shackelford (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Noah Gurley (grad transfer), Nimari Burnett (transfer), JD Davision (No. 10 recruit), Charles Bediako (No. 32 recruit), Jusaun Holt (No. 82 recruit)
  • Returners: Jahvon Quinerly, James Rojas, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary, Alex Tchikou, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Darius Miles

Alabama | Returning Production | 2021-22

6 43.29 44.29 40.5 46.37 38.17 53.89 46.85 38.93 27.98

Outlook: For most of the spring, Alabama avoided the roster tumult created by a fast-whirring transfer portal. If anything, coach Nate Oats had ample time to plan, knowing four seniors, including SEC Player of the Year Herb Jones, were set to depart. And while Josh Primo and Jaden Shackelford explored their NBA draft stock, it seemed safe to assume at least one would stick around Tuscaloosa.

Primo kept his name in the draft after turning heads at the league’s scouting combine. The 6-foot-5 sophomore’s measurables and youth — he was the youngest player in Division I — were enticing. But it was his play in scrimmages where the All-SEC freshman helped himself most, showcasing passing instincts to pair with a shooting stroke that knocked down 38% of his 3-point attempts last season.

And for a couple of weeks, Shackleford seemingly dealt the program a major blow, announcing on June 30 that if pulled out of the draft, he would explore the transfer portal. Fortunately, he decided to stick around, ensure the Tide return a legitimate two-way wing ready to inherit John Petty’s mantle in the backcourt.

Now, consider that Oats’ program also added three top-10 recruits and two of the better prospects — guard Nimari Burnett and combo forward Noah Gurley — from the transfer market. Oh, Jahvon Quinerly is still around to operate the point. Alabama’s too well-stocked to backslide into mediocrity. But is it still a contender?

Aside from continuity, Shackelford eases pressure that might have fallen elsewhere on the roster. A former McDonald’s All-American, Burnett struggled mightily on the offensive end at Texas Tech, averaging 0.76 points per possession, per Synergy Sports data. However, Burnett showed he could become a reliable defender, a skill that will come in handy if he has to slot in alongside Quinerly and Shackelford.

Top-10 freshman JD Davison is a blur with some bounce at lead guard, and now he can serve as a change of pace when Quinerly needs a rest. Or he could potentially serve as a secondary creator playing off of Quinerly, shiftier lead guard that can also knock down spot-ups. Along the frontline, though, Charles Bediako, a top-40 freshman, doesn’t face similar pressure. At Furman, Gurley wasn’t merely productive, averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. The grad transfer also posted a 17.0 net rating, according to Synergy Sports tracking data.

So far, Oats’ calling card is a decidedly modern offense— pace married with threes-and-frees. But it was a pack-line approach on defense, which finished third in adjusted efficiency, that teed up the Tide’s success. With so much youth and so many newcomers, how quickly the Tide achieves cohesion will determine its fate.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Arkansas at Baylor Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Record: 25-7, 13-4 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 18
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 11 (Avg. Recruit: 92.00)
  • Departures: Moses Moody (NBA draft), Vance Jackson (grad transfer), Jalen Tate (graduation), Justin Smith (graduation), Desi Sills (transfer), Ethan Henderson (transfer), Abayomi Iyiola (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Chris Lykes (grad transfer), Audiese Toney (grad transfer), Stanley Umude (grad transfer), Trey Wade (grad transfer), Jaxon Robinson (transfer), Kamani Robinson (transfer), Chance Moore (No. 92 recruit)
  • Returners: JD Notae, Devonte Davis, Jaylin Williams, Connor Vanover, KK Robinson

Arkansas | Returning Production | 2021-22

9 37.52 39.44 40.34 37.37 42.31 36.69 39.95 43.43 54.52

Outlook: Eric Musselman’s model was made for an offseason like this one. Few coaches embraced the transfer portal as quickly. So, it makes sense that Arkansas’ coach adeptly navigated a crowded marketplace.

Need to replace Moses Moody, the SEC’s freshman of the year? Fine, swipe Pitt’s Au’diese Toney, a sturdy two-way wing who posted 14.4 and 5.9 points last season. Oh, and grab South Dakota’s Stanley Umude (21. 6 ppg and 7.0 rpg), whose gaudy efficiency (20.4 net rating) hints his game should transfer up. Hobbled last season, point guard Chris Lykes is looking to regain the form that made him a dynamic force as a junior at Miami. Just for good measure, Arkansas rounded out depth with an experienced forward in Wichita State’s Trey Wade and made long-term bets on Texas A&M’s Jaxson Robinson and UALR’s Kamani Robinson.

Unlike last season, though, the core of a foundational recruiting class might be clamoring for more significant roles. For example, it was easy to bring Jaylin Williams off the bench as a backstop for Justin Smith. And with experienced guards like Jalen Tate and JD Notae, Devontae Davis had to pick his spots. As for KK Robinson, a foot injury sidelined him in January.

Now, those sophomores will crave expanded opportunities. What pecking order shakes out among Davis, Robinson, Lykes, and Notae? Who sees a larger share of minutes between Toney and Umude? Where does a veteran like Connor Vanover, a more traditional post presence, fit in? Admittedly, these are peers envious of Muss’ conundrums. We’ll see how Muss manages a locker room of would-be mercenaries and the best young talent offered up by the Natural State.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn Tigers

  • Record: 13-14, 7-11 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 60
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 13 (Avg. Recruit: 99.88)
  • Departures: Sharife Cooper (NBA draft), JT Thor (NBA draft), Jamal Johnson (transfer), Javon Franklin (transfer), Tyrell Jones (transfer), Justin Powell (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Zep Jasper (grad transfer), Walker Kessler (transfer), K.D. Johnson (transfer), Wendell Green (transfer), Jabari Smith (No. 4 recruit)
  • Returners: Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge, Jaylin Williams, Dylan Cardwell, Chris Moore, Babatunde Akingbola

Auburn | Returning Production | 2021-22

1 58.77 53.69 51.02 54.99 61.5 45.5 52.18 56.55 65.65

Outlook: Typically, seeing three of your top five scorers depart might induce some concern. Not on the Plains. Coach Bruce Pearl’s program leads the SEC in returning minutes, points, rebounds, steals and blocks. Combo guard Allen Flanigan dipped a brief toe in the professional waters before announcing his return, while juniors Jaylin Williams and Devin Cambridge fortify depth. And no one was caught off guard when the freshmen duo of point guard Sharife Cooper and JT Thor moved on to the professional ranks.

Auburn also struck a delicate balance in its use of the transfer market. In Charleston’s Zep Jasper, the Tigers poached a ball-handler whose efficiency is so stellar (33.0 net rating) that even a dip from transferring up won’t drastically undercut a game that posted 15.6 points and 2.6 assists. But it’s the long-term pickups that are intriguing. Sophomore Wendell Green was among the 10 most efficient pick-and-roll passers nationally last season at Eastern Kentucky. K.D. Johnson joined the exodus from Georgia, and if the former top-100 prospect learns to defend, there’s no dropoff behind Flanigan.

The luminary is obvious: Walker Kessler, a former five-star talent who left North Carolina over differences of opinion about his role. The Georgia native wanted more opportunities to face up and stretch the floor—a marked contrast to how the Tar Heels use bigs in their secondary break. Whether he finds what he is looking for with Pearl is worth monitoring.

The arrival of Jabari Smith, the No. 4 recruit in 247Sports’ composite, is a significant reason. Over the past three seasons, Auburn’s funneled Thor, Issac Okoro, and Chuma Okeke through its program – long and rangy forwards comfortable operating in space. Behind them, Pearl’s relied on bigs such as Austin Wiley, Anfernee McLemore, and Horace Spencer for rim protection. So, how will he balance that insurance with Kessler’s desire to play away from the paint?

On paper, the starting five seems easy to flesh out: Jasper, Flanigan, Cambridge, Smith and Kessler. But Green and Jasper are locked in a duel for the starting job. And presumably, Johnson bailed on Athens for a more prominent role— one that will have him jockeying with Flanigan. If Pearl concocts the right mixture, the Tigers might have the proper blend of experience, elite talent, and depth to push toward the top of the table.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators

  • Record: 15-10, 9-7 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 41
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 14 (Avg. Recruit: 98.53)
  • Departures: Tre Mann (NBA draft), Scottie Lewis (NBA draft), Noah Locke (transfer), Omar Payne (transfer), Ques Glover (transfer), Osayi Osifo (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Myreon Jones (grad transfer), CJ Felder (transfer), Brandon McKissic (grad transfer), Philandrous Fleming (grad transfer), Kowacie Reeves (No. 39 recruit)
  • Returners: Keyontae Johnson, Coln Castleton, Tyree Appleby, Anthony Duruji, Jason Jitoboh, Samson Ruzhentsev, Niels Lane

Florida | Returning Production | 2021-22

4 45.49 45.7 29.59 46.44 49.06 45.4 46.3 41.12 54.19

Outlook: Even in an offseason of upheaval, we can take comfort in a familiar question: Will Florida live up to expectations?

Since coach Mike White’s arrival, the Gators wooed seven top-100 prospects to Gainesville, including top-25 recruits such as Scottie Barnes, Andrew Nembhard and Tre Mann. In addition, snagging premier transfers like Kerry Blackshear and Colin Castleton buffeted elite prep talent. And the result? Just one SEC campaign with 11 or more wins – a 2017 campaign that ended with an Elite Eight run. Over the last four seasons, Florida’s only mustered a .571 win percentage in conference play and never been seeded better than sixth in the NCAA tournament.

No, White’s rump isn’t warming. But should it be? Mann broke out last season, but Barnes’ development remained stilted as he tried to convert elite measurables into productivity. Now, both are off to earn paychecks. What should turn heads were the transfer decisions of entrenched veterans like Noah Locke (Louisville) and Omar Payne (Illinois) — moves that had the Gators surprisingly active in the transfer portal.

On the sideline, the entirety of White’s coaching staff also decamped. Erik Pastrana moved to Oklahoma State. Al Pinkins, who has worked all over the SEC, joined Illinois. Meanwhile, Jordan Mincy filled a head coaching vacancy at Jacksonville. Taken together, this season might be a barometer for White’s long-term viability. If so, his roster remains packed with enough talent to be a factor in the SEC race.

No addition may be more impactful than Keyontae Johnson’s decision to return. After collapsing in a heap last season, it was fair to wonder whether the Preseason SEC Player of the Year’s career might be done— or if a return might unfold professionally. Instead, the Gators potentially have one of the SEC’s best perimeter players anchoring their backcourt. White also got good news when forward Colin Castleton (12.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg), an All-SEC selection, withdrew from the NBA draft. Toss in combo guard Tyree Appleby and combo forward Anthony Duruji, and the guts of Florida’s rotation would still appear sound.

Even as his assistants departed, White still found success in wooing potentially impactful transfers. The most important: Penn State point guard Myreon Jones (15.3 ppg and 2.0 apg), who slots into Mann’s vacancy. No, his shooting stroke (39.0 FG%) isn’t glittering. But he’s a competent distributor who averaged 2.45 points per assist last season against a 1.8 assist-to-turnover rate, both among the better marks in the Big Ten, per Synergy. Landing Boston College’s C.J. Felder is also a potential upgrade, especially on offense, over Duruji. As for a pair of up-transfers, UMKC guard Brandon McKissic projects as a 3-and-D specialist, while Charleston Southern’s Philandrous Fleming (20.1 ppg) could serve as instant offense for a bench unit.

Florida’s one-man recruiting class of wing Kowacie Reeves, a top-40 prospect, and sophomores Samson Ruzhentsev and Niels Lane will try to push their way into backcourt minutes. So, White has assets to be a factor, but it’s hard to set aside skepticism until the Gators break through.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Bulldogs

  • Record: 14-12, 7-11 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 95
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 12 (Avg. Recruit: 87.59)
  • Departures: Sahvir Wheeler (transfer), Toumani Camara (transfer), Tye Fagan (transfer), KD Johnson (transfer), Christian Brown (transfer), Jaykwon Walton (transfer), Andrew Garcia (grad transfer), Justin Kier (grad transfer)
  • Newcomers: Jabri Adur-Rahim (transfer), Aaron Cook (transfer), Noah Baumann (transfer), Jailyn Ingram (transfer), Braelen Bridges (transfer), Christian Wright (No. 204 recruit), Camron McDowell (No. 223 recruit), Tyrone Baker (No. 257 recruit), Dalen Ridgnal (JUCO), Kario Oquendo (JUCO)
  • Returners: PJ Horne, Jonathan Ned, Josh Taylor, Jaxon Etter

Georgia | Returning Production | 2021-22

14 21.19 15.91 32.74 16.38 18.92 5.39 12.95 14.09 17.18

Outlook: At almost any other program, Tom Crean might be mentally preparing for buyout life. Instead, two years after inking a top-10 recruiting class, the Georgia roster is a shriveled husk after seven of its top scorers left town. All four top-100 recruits? Bye. Worse, two stayed in the SEC: Sahvir Wheeler at Kentucky and K.D. Johnson at Auburn. A reliable veteran in Tye Fagan wound up in Oxford at Ole Miss. Justin Kier? The prized transfer moved out to Arizona. P.J. Horne, a sixth-year senior and floor-spacer, is the lone stalwart to stick around.

Projecting a rotation is a fool’s errand. If there’s an organizing premise, it’s hard to find.

Jabri Abdur Rahim, a former top-40 talent, logged a whopping 37 minutes at Virginia. Aaron Cook was a regular starter at Southern Illinois but struggled to carve out a niche for Gonzaga, averaging 4.2 points and posting a 3.5 net rating. Noah Baumann’s first bid at up-transferring resulted in him becoming a 3-point specialist at USC. And UIC’s Braelen Bridges (8.9 ppg and 4.8 rpg) didn’t distinguish himself in the Horizon League.

So, a recruit seeking a reboot and four additions who are replacement level up-transfers. All around an undersized four-man who prefers to fire from behind the arc. Meanwhile, Crean’s recruiting class, comprised of two JUCO additions and three players rated lower than 200th in the composite, isn’t chockablock with reinforcements.

Set aside the on-court product, which will likely be dreadful, too. Roster management in the portal era poses a challenge, but Georgia’s exodus hints at some more systemic problems. Ideally, Jaykwon Walton and Christian Brown, a pair of top-75 recruits, would have emerged as the kind of hybrid wings Crean covets. Instead, both were gone by mid-season. Walton’s now at a JUCO, and Brown landed with Tennessee State. Fine, so evaluations were off. But what’s the explanation for exits by Wheeler, Fagan, Kier, and Toumani Camara (Dayton)— all of whom were crucial cogs?

However, Georgia’s treatment of Mark Fox showed that it’s an athletic department with institutional patience. Granted, Fox never bottomed out quite like this, and the person who hired Crean retired. But there’s also been a more concerted investment in the program since Crean was hired— one that theoretically ratcheted up expectations. Unfortunately, for the short term, they look grim.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Wildcats

  • Record: 9-16, 8-9 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 49
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 2 (Avg. Recruit: 99.24)
  • Departures: Olivier Sarr (graduation), B.J. Boston (NBA draft), Terrence Clark (NBA draft), Isaiah Jackson (NBA draft), Devin Askew (transfer), Cam’Ron Fletcher (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Oscar Thiebwe (transfer), Kellan Grady (transfer), CJ Frederick (transfer), Sahvir Wheeler (transfer), TyTy Washington (No. 12 recruit), Damion Collins (No. 13 recruit), Bryce Hopkins (No. 36 recruit)
  • Returners: Davion Mintz, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen, Jacob Toppin, Lance Ware

Kentucky | Returning Production | 2021-22

7 42.15 42.02 60.63 41.9 42.22 42.36 40.88 38.86 27.69

Outlook: It was all good fun while it lasted. We all got our cracks in. And who could argue? Even under the unique circumstances, Kentucky earned its dose of schadenfreude last season. Well, John Calipari’s not chuckling.

The mass turnover induced by the one-time transfer exception is new for Cal’s peers. Yet he’s accustomed to remaking a roster out of whole cloth. What’s different now is the materials. Sure, Kentucky reeled in a trio of top-40 recruits in TyTy Washington, Daimion Collin, and Bryce Hopkins. But for the first time since arriving in Lexington, the Wildcats are going all-in on the transfer portal.

The quartet of vets addresses many of the deficiencies that hobbled UK a year ago. For one, they have a legitimate lead guard in UGA transfer Sahvir Wheeler, whose 37.8 assist rate ranked 11th nationally, per KenPom. And unlike his time in Athens, he won’t be counted on to carry a substantial scoring load. While Davon Mintz and Dontaie Allen returned, Kentucky added an elite floor-spacers in Iowa’s C.J. Frederick (47.4 3FG%), whose stroke should unclog gaps. Davidson’s Kellan Grady is a hyper-efficient wing producer (+23.7 net rating) who would have been a contender for the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year.

West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe, who transferred to Lexington at mid-season, restores some brawn on the block. Olivier Sarr could post up, but his default was to pivot, face up and go to work that way. Tshiebwe can bury dudes, but two years ago, he showed enough mobility enough to score on rim runs (1.529 PPP) and rolling (1.095 PPP) to the rim.

The one-and-done era is winding down, forcing Calipari to adapt. If this spring is any indication, he won’t struggle to operate in an environment where players have never had more mobility. And he won’t lack the motivation to show that Kentucky’s slippage was simply a blip.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Drexel at Illinois Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

LSU Tigers

  • Record: 19-10, 11-6 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 24
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 4 (Avg. Recruit: 93.83)
  • Departures: Charles Manning (grad transfer), Javonte Smart (NBA draft), Trendon Watford (NBA draft), Cameron Thomas (NBA draft), Josh LeBlanc (transfer), Aundre Hyatt (transfer), Bryan Penn-Johnson (transfer), Josh Gray (transfer), Jalen Cook (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Adam Miller (transfer), Tari Eason (transfer), Xavier Pinson (transfer), Efton Reid (No. 24 recruit), Alex Fudge (No. 57 recruit), Brandon Murray (No. 79 recruit), Jerrel Colbert (No. 127 recruit), Bradley Ezewiro (No. 260 recruit)
  • Returners: Darius Days, Shareef O’Neal, Mwani Wilkinson, Eric Gaines

LSU | Returning Production | 2021-22

12 30.01 21.56 25.21 21.98 36.82 19.66 18.66 36.85 37.64

Outlook: You can sum up Will Wade’s overhaul bluntly: grab talent. Do the pieces necessarily fit? That’s why you have offseason workouts and preseason practices.

With a cursory glance, LSU’s transfer haul looks mighty impressive. Missouri’s Xavier Pinson can be dynamic slashing out of pick-and-rolls. Adam Miller is a former top-35 talent who averaged 8.3 points, started 31 games as a freshman, and was Ayo Dosunmu’s heir apparent at Illinois. Finally, Tari Eason averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds as a freshman at Cincinnati.

Yet none of those three were particularly efficient on the offensive end, with Miller’s 0.928 PPP leading the group. So to maximize Pinson, you need to jack his usage rate up. Doing so, however, takes the ball out of Miller’s hands. And that’s before you consider sophomore Eric Gaines and Alex Fudge, who arrived as a mid-season redshirt, are both former top-75 prospects expecting expanded roles in the backcourt. At least Mwani Wilkinson knows his niche is as a potential defensive stopper.

Put simply, there’s only one ball and likely not enough possessions to sate every member of the backcourt. So it’ll be fascinating to see how Miller and Pinson, a pair of Chicago kids who clashed in the Public League, work out an arrangement.

Along the frontline, Eason’s a suitable — if slightly undersized — rim protector (7.1% block rate), but he’ll face immediate competition from five-star freshman Efton Reid. A finesse big, Reid can facilitate and stretch his shot out to the 3-point arc, but he’s not a physical defender on the block and relies on sound positioning. That leaves Wade with a potential problem. If the past two years have shown us anything, he will choose offense over rim protection.

The only certainty should be a starting role for senior Darius Days, who withdrew from the NBA draft. While he wasn’t a headliner last season, Days lifted LSU’s performance by 13.9 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, according to HoopLens. Meanwhile, his efficiency (1.147 PPP) was second on the roster, behind only Cam Thomas. Days’ game is subtle — spot-ups, putbacks, rim rolls — but vital. He’s also flexible enough defensively to cover up (some) of LSU’s struggles to contain dribblers.

When you evaluate each piece independently, Wade’s roster is as talented as any in the conference. We’ll have to see what schematic he uses to fit them together.

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Record: 18-15, 8-10 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 67
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 8 (Avg. Recruit: 92.01)
  • Departures: Jalen Johnson (grad transfer), Abdul Ado (grad transfer), DJ Stewart (NBA draft), Quinten Post (transfer), Deivon Smith (transfer), Keondre Montgomery (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Garrison Brooks (grad transfer), D.J. Jeffries (transfer), Rocket Watts (transfer), Shakeel Moore (transfer), Camryn Carter (No. 105 recruit), KeShawn Murphy (No. 142 recruit), Alden Applewhite (No. 161 recruit)
  • Returners: Iverson Molinar, Tolu Smith, Cameron Matthews, Derek Fountain, Andersson Garcia, Javian Davis

Mississippi State | Returning Production | 2021-22

5 47.66 47.25 39.67 50.98 50.98 41.68 46.83 45.41 31.54

Outlook: Discreetly, coach Ben Howland’s program made the most of the spring. A run to the NIT final capped a season that saw a patchwork roster overachieve. And while D.J. Stewart capitalized on a breakout campaign by jumping to the NBA draft, Mississippi State’s rotation wasn’t left in tatters, with the Bulldogs’ returning production ranking fifth in the SEC.

And just as quietly, Howland’s staff did more than plug the few gaps it encountered, snaring three high-upside transfers. A family connection explains the first pickup. North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks, a former ACC Player of the Year, joins his father, assistant coach George Brooks, in Starkville and is more than a serviceable upgrade over Abdul Ado. On the perimeter, Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts potentially replaces Stewart, a pickup made possible by assistant coach Ernie Ziegler’s ties to the Mitten. Finally, there’s wing DJ Jeffries, a former top-60 recruit, who projects a potential 3-and-D option.

As usual, those additions come with a caveat. Brooks regressed offensively last season, averaging just 10.6 points, shooting 46.1%, and posting a minus-8.7 net rating. In East Lansing, Watts’ didn’t lack opportunities (23.4% usage) but struggled to maximize them, and his defensive rating (.946 PPP allowed) will need to improve to earn Howland’s trust. The same holds for North Carolina State transfer Shakeel Moore, who finished his freshman season with a minus-21.4 net rating.

The Bulldogs’ bench balances experience in Cam Matthews and Derek Fountain with a trio of freshmen, headlined by Camryn Carter, a four-star guard who can slot in behind Jeffries or Watts. The exact pecking order remains to be seen, but State should be able to go nine deep while toggling between jumbo lineups and four-guard groups.

The collection of players assembled here should contend for a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble, but if Brooks, Watts, and Jeffries all pop, Mississippi State could insert itself in the mix for a top-four finish.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Georgia vs Missouri Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri Tigers

  • Record: 16-10, 8-8 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 47
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 10 (Avg. Recruit: 88.10)
  • Departures: Dru Smith (graduation), Jeremiah Tilmon (graduation), Mitchell Smith (graduation), Mark Smith (grad transfer), Drew Buggs (grad transfer), Xavier Pinson (transfer), Torrence Watson (transfer), Parker Braun (transfer), Ed Chang (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Jarron Coleman (transfer), Amari Davis (transfer), Ronnie DeGray III (transfer), DaJuan Gordon (transfer), Anton Brookshire (No. 140 recruit), Trevon Brazile (No. 178 recruit), Yaya Keita (No. 199 recruit), Sean Durugordon (No. 228 recruit), Kaleb Brown (No. 322 recruit)
  • Returners: Kobe Brown, Javon Pickett, Jordan Wilmore

Missouri | Returning Production | 2021-22

13 21.19 15.91 32.74 16.38 18.92 5.39 12.95 14.09 17.18

Outlook: Last year, no other SEC program returned as much production or continuity as Missouri, vital commodities in a year where the pandemic disrupted the sport’s regular rhythms. Now, the Tigers embark upon a full-blown reset, and the coaching staff is taking a long-term view.

This roster is far from grizzled, welcoming five freshmen and four transfers with at least two years of eligibility remaining. Aside from embracing youth, Martin’s shifting toward a small-ball approach, where skill, athleticism, and comfort playing at a perky tempo are vital. The additions of Green Bay’s Amari Davis, Ball State’s Jarron Coleman, and UMass’ Ronnie DeGray III also show MU betting on its track record of helping mid-major talent scale up to a power conference.

Coleman, the former MAC Rookie of the Year, can play all three guard spots and showed an improved shooting stroke (42.5 3FG%) down the stretch last season. Davis, a two-time All-Horizon League pick, put up 16.5 points per game for the Phoenix utilizing a potent mid-range game. DeGray saw plenty of action as a freshman for the Minutemen and has the skill set required in a modern hybrid four-man. Lastly, DaJuan Gordon arrives from Kansas State, hoping his on-ball defense and slashing ability are productive.

Anton Brookshire boasts the highest rating among the freshmen and is probably the most important of the quintet. While Coleman can operate the point, Brookshire is the more logical choice, a hyper-skilled ball-handler that gets into his buttery smooth shooting stroke off the bounce or dip into a floater package. Yet, the Springfield Kickapoo product scores more than he facilitates. Yaya Keita, a post out of DeSmet in St. Louis, also figures to be in the mix for early playing time. By all appearances, he’s recovered from a torn ACL, which supplies some athleticism Mizzou’s lacked at times along the frontline.

The rest of the freshmen class — Trevon Brazile, Sean Durugordon (who arrived on campus last semester) and Kaleb Brown — will all likely need a year to truly carve out roles. However, they also have cover with combo forward Kobe Brown (8.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and wing Javon Pickett (6.2 ppg), both of whom will need to scale up their production.

It’s likely MU takes a step back in the standings, which will have a segment of the fanbase grumbling. Martin’s seat isn’t warm, but this season’s objective is clear: identify a handful of players who will evolve into a stable core. If the Tigers manage to do that, there’s a world where they finish closer toward the middle of the pack and position the program for a quicker return to bubble contention.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss Rebels

  • Record: 16-12, 10-8 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 51
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 7 (Avg. Recruit: 90.71)
  • Departures: Romello White (graduation), Devontae Shuler (graduation), Dimencio Vaughn (grad transfer), Khadim Sy (grad transfer), KJ Buffen (transfer), Antavion Collum (transfer), Shon Robinson (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Nysier Brooks (grad transfer), Tye Fagan (grad transfer), Jaemyn Brakefield (transfer), Daeshun Ruffin (No. 49 recruit), James White (No. 206 recruit), Eric Van Der Heijden (No. 212 recruit), Grant Slatten (No. 221 recruit)
  • Returners: Jarkel Joiner, Matthew Murrell, Luis Rodriguez, Robert Allen, Sammy Hunter, Austin Crowley

Ole Miss | Returning Production | 2021-22

3 54.28 49.34 53.41 46.12 52.33 50.87 49.14 55.92 44.04

Outlook: What is coach Kermit Davis trying to do? That’s not posed with snark. And it’s not rhetorical. Yet, ahead of his fourth season in Oxford, I’m not sure you can briefly sum up the Rebels’ style or culture, and this offseason hasn’t offered much in the way of clarity.

Ole Miss’ roster, which ranks third for returning production, is safely positioned for a middle-of-the-pack finish. Sure, Jarkel Joiner (12.0 ppg) and Luis Rodriguez (7.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) are the lone starters back, but rotational pieces such as Robert Allen Jr. and Sammy Hunter lend valuable depth. After adding Romello White last season, Davis followed a similar script by adding a grizzled high-major post in Nysier Brooks (7.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg) by way of Miami.

If Davis were still at Middle Tennessee State, his rotation would comprise athletic and interchangeable pieces antagonizing foes with a relentless zone press. But to recruit a higher-caliber player, he’s had to strike a stylistic compromise. You can’t argue with the results, either. Matthew Murrell, a former top-40 prospect, enters his sophomore season, and the Rebels inked point guard Daeshun Ruffin, the program’s first McDonald’s All-American. On top of that, Ole Miss scooped up Duke transfer Jaemyn Brakefield.

With those pieces, you can scribble out a potentially potent starting five: Ruffin, Joiner, Murrell, Brakefield, and Brooks. Of course, that grouping assumes Murrell, who posted a 78.4 offensive rating, breaks out of an offensive rut. And while Brakefield graded out well defensively (0.837 PPP allowed), he only shot 40.8% from the floor in Durham last year. Meanwhile, Brooks poses the opposite problem, allowing almost a point per possession defensively.

You can also make an argument that former Georgia guard Tye Fagan, the lowest-profile transfer, might be the most impactful. No, Fagan can’t stretch defenses, but he’s deft attacking closeouts (1.12 PPP), running the wings on the break (1.026 PPP), and cutting (1.444 PPP) cutting to the rim— touches that don’t require him serving as a focal point of actions.

There’s a world in which Ruffin, Joiner, Murrell, Allen, and Brakefield make up a small-ball group that plays at warp speed while calling on the likes of Hunter and Brooks when facing bigger lineups in Mississippi State or Kentucky. But would Davis dare to try it? Or will he try to continue adapting his scheme to incorporate a more traditional post presence anchoring the back?

For now, Davis remains secure in his seat. He’s guided the Rebels to an NCAA tournament bid and capitalized on an infusion of resources to upgrade recruiting. We know his floor is high. The question is just how much headroom his ceiling offers.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Kentucky Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina Gamecocks

  • Record: 6-15, 4-12 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 124
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 6 (Avg. Recruit: 90.15)
  • Departures: A.J. Lawson (NBA draft), Seventh Woods (grad transfer), Justin Minaya (transfer), Alanzo Frink (transfer), TJ Moss (transfer), Trey Anderson (transfer), Jalyn McCreary (transfer), Trae Hannibal (transfer)
  • Newcomers: A.J. Wilson (grad transfer), Erik Stevenson (grad transfer), James Reese (grad transfer), Chico Carter (transfer), Brandon Martin (transfer), Devin Carter (No. 82 recruit), Jacobi Wright (No. 124 recruit), TaQuan Woodley (No. 253 recruit), Carlous Williams (No. 308 recruit)
  • Returners: Keyshawn Bryant, Jermaine Couisnard, Wildens Leveque, Ja’von Benson, Tre-Vaughn Minott

South Carolina | Returning Production | 2021-22

10 37.11 39.37 27.47 40.12 41.67 32.85 39.94 35.23 48.05

Outlook: Five seasons ago, South Carolina’s run to a Final Four seemed to signal a sea change in the program’s fortunes. No, the Gamecocks wouldn’t be perennial contenders, but regular forays into March would due. Unfortunately, the program hasn’t been back since, and this roster composition doesn’t appear poised to do it.

Wing A.J. Lawson bolted for the NBA draft. Six more players transferred. To backfill his guard rotation, Martin dipped into the mid-major ranks to pick up North Texas’ James Reese (10.9 ppg), Murray State’s Chico Carter (12.7 ppg), and George Mason’s A.J. Wilson (7.8 ppg), but none of them truly move the needle. Erik Stevenson is on his third stop after Wichita State and Washington, but last season’s minus-3.5 net rating isn’t inspiring.

So, it’ll be a by-committee approach alongside Keyshawn Bryant (14.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Jermaine Couisnard (10.1 ppg, 3.2 apg), but the frontcourt remains a gaping hole.

Over the past couple of seasons, Martin’s scaled-down his lineups and jacked up the pace. The stylistic shift pushed Justin Minaya to play as a four, but he bailed for Providence. So is backup Jaylyn McCreary, who landed at USF. In the post, Wildens Leveque (6.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is the only holdover, but understudy Alanzo Frink also moved along. Recently, Martin added LSU transfer Josh Gray, who saw little of the floor during his lone season in Baton Rouge.

Then there’s Martin himself.

His name’s been prominently mentioned in searches at Cincinnati, UNLV, and New Mexico over the last couple of coaching carousels. While South Carolina’s upgraded its facilities, the budget still ranks in the lower third of the SEC. Meanwhile, Martin’s never truly capitalized on the momentum generated in 2017, inking just four top-150 prospects over that span.

Yet until last season, South Carolina never truly bottomed out, and when it happened, it came after COVID-19 pauses undercut the program. Maybe this patchwork roster finds a way to finish in the middle of the standings, but it increasingly feels like Martin and the program are each due for a reset.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oregon State at Tennessee Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Volunteers

  • Record: 18-9, 10-7 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 28
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 1 (Avg. Recruit: 97.25)
  • Departures: Yves Pons (graduation), EJ Anosike (grad transfer), Jaden Springer (NBA draft), Keon Johnson (NBA draft), Davonte Gaines (transfer), Drew Pember (transfer), Corey Walker (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Justin Powell (transfer), Kennedy Chandler (No. 6 recruit), Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (No. 23 recruit), Jonas Aidoo (No. 37 recruit), Jahmai Mashack (No. 58 recruit), Quentin Diboundje Eyobo (No. 155 recruit))
  • Returners: John Fulkerson, Josiah-Jordan James, Victor Bailey, Santiago Vescovi, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic

Tennessee | Returning Production | 2021-22

2 56.3 53.51 71.91 53.65 57.06 57.36 51.93 52.55 41.65

Outlook: We’ve talked about how Rick Barnes’ executed a deft pivot in Knoxville, using the momentum created by a roster of developmental prospects to upgrade Tennessee’s recruiting. This year, the Volunteers pieced together their second consecutive top-five class, headlined by the nation’s top point guard in Kennedy Chandler. Now, the question is whether it produces robust returns.

Admittedly, Tennessee’s roster looked stellar last offseason, too. A 10-1 start lifted the Vols to No. 6 in KenPom, putting Barnes’ crew on an inside track toward an SEC crown. Then Jaden Springer got nicked up. Ball-handling woes crept up again, and a roster filled to the brim with talent somehow finished 85th in offensive efficiency. The result: an 8-9 finish and a getting bounced by 14 points in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Reeling in Chandler is about more than raw talent. His arrival ushers in a coherent reordering of the backcourt. For one, Santiago Vescovi, who’s not a true facilitator, slots into a reserve role as a secondary creator whose jumper is reliable enough (36.8 3FG%) to space the floor. Senior Victor Bailey Jr., who averaged 10.9 points last season, reprises his role at combo guard and will hope his shooting stroke comes back online. That should allow Josiah-Jordan James to fill in on the wing, where the former McDonald’s All-American is still looking for a breakthrough. The Volunteers also added Auburn transfer Justin Powell, a 44.2% shooter from behind the arc who saw his freshman campaign cut short by a concussion.

Any youth movement will likely unfold in the frontcourt. At last, players attacking the rim can rest easy knowing that Yves Pons won’t fly in from some absurd angle to swat away their feeble attempt. Fortunately, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, a top-40 recruit, should slot right in. At the five, John Fulkerson’s back for a sixth season, and even if he relies more on touch than brawn, he’s still a reliable anchor. Behind him is another top-40 talent in Jonas Aidoo.

Last year’s rickety finish was vaguely reminiscent of Barnes’ end-stage years at Texas: stellar recruiting classes failing to gel and make good on obvious potential. Barnes’ chair isn’t close to warming at his current home, but this edition of the Volunteers won’t have plausible excuses for underwhelming.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M Aggies

  • Record: 8-10, 2-8
  • KenPom: No. 137
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 5 (Avg. Recruit: 93.62)
  • Departures: Quenton Jackson (graduation), Kevin Marfo (grad transfer), Jay Jay Chandler (grad transfer), Savion Flagg (grad transfer), Emanuel Miller (transfer), Jonathan Aku (transfer), Cashius McNeilly (transfer), Jaxson Robinson (transfer), LaDamien Bradford (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Ethan Henderson (grad transfer), Marcus Williams (transfer), Henry Coleman (transfer), Javonte Brown-Ferguson (transfer), Aaron Johnson-Cash (JUCO), Manny Obaseki (No. 31 recruit), Wade Taylor (No. 114 recruit), Ashton Smith (No. 209 recruit)
  • Returners: Andre Gordon, Hassan Diarra, Zach Walker, Hayden Hefner

Texas A&M | Returning Production | 2021-22

11 29.3 29.81 35.05 24.72 17.75 39.91 31.64 32.26 11.76

Outlook: Buzz Williams did everything right. After arriving from Virginia Tech, he eschewed a quick tear down. Instead, Williams adapted his style to fit the personnel he inherited from Billy Kennedy. And he methodically set about improving the talent courted to College Station.

Then the pandemic tore that meticulous plan to shreds. The Aggies’ eight transfers tied Georgia for second-most in the SEC, while a lone graduation meant nine newcomers arriving for what was, in theory, supposed to be a season that saw the end of a slow rebuild.

The unplanned reset, though, didn’t come with a shift toward short-term thinking. Sitting at No. 31, wing Manny Obaseki will likely be leaned on early, joining point g combo guard Andre Gordon (9.3 ppg and 2.7 apg) in the backcourt. Point guard Marcus Williams was the Mountain West’s Rookie of the Year, posting 14.8 points and 4.3 assists. And while Williams’ heavy usage explains his productivity, he still seems in line to leapfrog Hassan Diarra. Duke transfer Henry Coleman, a former top-60 prospect, and Quenton Jackson (10.4 ppg) are also potential rotational pieces.

It’s the frontcourt where depth gets dicey. Javonte Brown-Ferguson is a former four-star big man who couldn’t stay healthy, while Arkansas forward Ethan Henderson was recruited over in Fayetteville. Unfortunately, neither has an ample body of work, and freshman Ashton Smith doesn’t project as an instant-impact addition. For a spell, St. Joseph transfer Jordan Hall, an All-Atlantic 10 freshman pick, was slated to join up, but a change of heart led him back to Philadelphia.

Reviewing the list of defections, only the exit of Emanuel Miller, who averaged 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds, truly leaves a mark. Jaxson Robinson, a former top-75 recruit, left after a turbulent freshman debut, but Obaseki offsets the former’s move to Arkansas. As for everyone else, they simply cycled out the bottom of the roster.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Florida Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt Commodores

  • Record: 9-16, 3-13 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 104
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 9 (Avg. Recruit: 91.25)
  • Departures: Clevon Brown (grad transfer), Maxwell Evans (grad transfer), DJ Harvey (grad transfer), Ejike Obinna (grad transfer), Dylan Disu (transfer), Braelee Albert (transfer), Isaac McBridge (transfer), Akeem Odusipe (transfer)
  • Newcomers: Liam Robbins (transfer), Rodney Chatman (transfer), Terren Frank (transfer), Jamaine Mann (transfer), Shane Dezonie (No. 95 recruit), Peyton Daniels (No. 166 recruit), Gabe Dorsey (No. 218 recruit)
  • Returners: Scotty Pippen Jr., Jordan Wright, Tyrin Lawrence, Myles Stute, Quentin Millora-Brown

Vanderbilt | Returning Production | 2021-22

8 38.68 43.08 33.05 45.64 37.87 59.43 45.58 44.04 29.23

Outlook: Scotty Pippen Jr’s decision to return to Vanderbilt might not strike you as all that notable, but there’s an argument his choice was the most consequential for any SEC program. Vanderbilt’s been abysmal for a while. And no one will argue the junior’s presence transforms the moribund Commodores into a bubble team.

However, Pippen, who averaged 20.8 points and 4.9 assists, might be the difference between finishing in the cellar or 10th place. And right now, forward momentum is a small victory for coach Jerry Stackhouse.

A tad too much optimism for a program that saw eight transfers? Maybe. But look at who moved on. Guards D.J. Harvey and Trey Thomas shot a 38.5% combined from behind the arc – and only 35.8% inside it. Freshmen Myles Stute and Isaac McBride never carved out roles, while Ejike Obinna, Clevon Brown, Braelee Albert, and Akeem Odusipe were buried on the end of Stackhouse’s bench.

Aside from Pippen, the Commodores kept wing Jordan Wright (8.7 ppg) around as a spot-up threat who shot 43.2% from behind the arc. Joining them are a pair of additions. Minnesota transfer Liam Robbins posted 11.7 points and 6.6 rebounds last season, supplying Vandy with a replacement-level big. In addition, guard Shane Dezonie is a top-100 prospect who could get in the mix at the combo spot.

The depth drops off quickly, however. Point guard Rodney Chatman posted 7.9 points and 3.8 assists last season at Dayton, but his 84.5 offensive rating tells you he doesn’t fill the stat column efficiently. As for forward Terren Frank, it’s hard to argue he’s a difference-maker after seeing just 11.3% of minutes last season for TCU. Behind Dezonie, the ‘Dores other two freshmen — Peyton Daniels and Gabe Dorsey — project as developmental assets.

This is where one departure leaves a welt: Dylan Disu. The former top-150 prospect’s decision to transfer robbed Vandy of a quality stretch four. A lineup of Pippen, Dezonie, Wright, Disu, and Robbins, for example, would possess enough fissile material to worry a contender on a random Wednesday in late January. Instead, his 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds bounded off to Texas.

Is this current collection of players that much better than the likes of Georgia or South Carolina? No. But Stackhouse has found ways to keep the Commodores competitive and bought in. In a season with this much roster change, there might be a path for a team with a player like Pippen Jr and a cohesive starting unit to push its way up the standings.

What Stackhouse needs more than anything is progress— and maybe Pippen Jr helps nudge fortunes in that direction.