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Hoops Check-Up: The NBA withdrawal deadline passed, and the SEC looks loaded

The ongoing pandemic made it hard for the conference’s borderline prospects to gauge their draft stock, and many opted to bide their time. The result: a potentially crowded race for the SEC crown.

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NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In late May, we took quick snapshots of SEC programs at a point when most players intent on exploring their prospects had declared for the draft and the transfer market had calmed.

This week, we learned which players were staying in the draft and those who were returning to campus. The uncertainty surrounding the draft dragged out the process, but the Aug. 3 deadline to withdraw has come and gone. With decisions made, rosters are fixed in place.

Now is an ideal time to take stock of what each program has on its hands. Our next league-wide survey will be this fall, when Sam Snelling previews each team. Until then, here is the lay of the land across the southeast.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide

  • Record: 16-15, 8-10 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 60
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 5 (Avg. Recruit: 93.91)
  • Departures: Kira Lewis (NBA draft), James Bolden (graduation), Javian Davis (transfer), Galin Smith (transfer), Jaylen Forbes (transfer), Raymond Hawkins (transfer)
  • Returners: John Petty, Jaden Shackelford, Herbert Jones, Alex Reese
  • Additions: Jahvon Quinerly (transfer), Jordan Bruner (graduate transfer), James Rojas (redshirt), Juwan Gary (redshirt), Keon Ellis (JUCO), Josh Primo, Alex Tchikou, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Darius Miles,

Alabama | Returning Production — August 2020

9 52.73% 54.09% 66.47% 54.16% 58.30% 48.08% 48.36% 52.55% 49.50% 55.14%

Outlook: In less than a year, coach Nate Oats sculpted a roster in his image, a group that could elbow itself into contention for an SEC crown. While the Tide could have made due without John Petty, the senior’s shooting stroke, crafty finishing in the mid-range and length on the defensive end pairs nicely with Jaden Shackelford. Meanwhile, Oats planned for Kira Lewis’ eventual exit by stashing former five-star talent Jahvon Quinerly as a transfer.

The Crimson Tide’s backcourt rotation could settle out nicely, but, aside from Alex Reese, the front court seems in flux. Jordan Bruner arrives from Yale as one of the better graduate transfers on the market, while Alex Tchikou (No. 59), Keon Ambrose Hylton (No. 125) and Darius Miles (No. 147) are a trio of top-150 talents who will jostle for minutes.

No doubt, the cupboard is well stocked in Tuscaloosa. It falls to Oats to find the optimal blend.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Arkansas Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Record: 20-12, 7-11 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 47
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 2 (96.94)
  • Departures: Mason Jones (NBA draft), Jimmy Whitt Jr. (graduation), Jeantal Cylla (graduation), Jalen Harris (transfer), Adrio Bailey (transfer), Reggie Chaney (transfer)
  • Returners: Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills, Ethan Henderson, Abayomi Iyiola
  • Additions: Connor Vanover (transfer), JD Notae (transfer), Jalen Tate (graduate transfer), Vance Jackson (graduate transfer), Justin Smith (graduate transfer), Moses Moody, KK Robinson, Jaylin Williams, Davonte Davis

Arkansas | Returning Production — August 2020

10 32.94% 36.12% 58.03% 33.39% 27.33% 23.09% 25.34% 41.03% 24.10% 31.45%

Outlook: Like his colleague at Alabama, coach Eric Musselman quickly flipped the roster in Fayetteville, but Isaiah Joe’s decision to put off a pro career is pivotal.

While Joe didn’t take the leap some expected as a sophomore, he’s still arguably the best floor-spacer in the SEC. Assuming he’s in good health, perhaps Joe is more assertive off the bounce and more durable on the defensive end. Regardless, Joe and fellow veteran Desi Sills could anchor two guard spots, while top-50 freshman Moses Moody, a polished three-level scorer, slides in alongside them. Meanwhile, a pair of transfers — a staple building block for any Muss roster — in JD Notae and Jalen Tate round out the backcourt.

After gutting out last season with small-ball lineups, the Razorbacks now have legitimate size along the back line in Cal transfer Connor Vanover. What’ll be fascinating to see is how Musselman staffs the four spot. Does he plug in graduate transfer Justin Smith, a double-digit scorer who arrives from Indiana? What kind of rile can freshman Jaylin Smith, a prized in-state prospect, carve out early on? And is New Mexico graduate transfer Vance Jackson simply a depth piece?

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

Auburn Tigers

  • Record: 25-6, 12-6 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 33
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 4 (94.68)
  • Departures: Isaac Okoro (NBA draft), Samir Doughty (graduation), J’Von McCormick (graduation), Danjel Purifoy (graduation), Austin Wiley (graduation), Anfernee McLemore (graduation)
  • Returners: Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge, Jamal Johnson, Jaylin Williams, Tyrell Jones, Babatunde Akingbola, Javon Franklin
  • Additions: Sharife Cooper, JT Thor, Chris Moore, Justin Powell, Dylan Cardwell

Auburn | Returning Production — August 2020

13 21.49% 18.31% 24.20% 15.89% 20.21% 10.59% 19.01% 27.61% 19.59% 17.88%

Outlook: The Tigers didn’t have to worry about draft decisions, but the roster still saw its top-six scorers leave the Plains, leaving 10 underclassmen in need of seasoning after the majority only saw spot minutes in a veteran-laden rotation. Auburn tried to play in the transfer market to infuse proven producers alongside Sharife Cooper and JT Thor, both of whom are top-50 talents, but came up empty.

In truth, coach Bruce Pearl’s facing a potential reset, but there are still four more former top-150 recruits behind Cooper and Thor. Throughout his tenure, Pearl’s proven more than capable of extracting incremental gains. So, even if Auburn takes a modest step back, it could also be the first down that path and pointed toward ample gains a few years from now.

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

Florida Gators

  • Record: 19-12, 11-7 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 32
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 7 (92.83)
  • Departures: Andrew Nembhard (transfer), Kerry Blackshear, Jr. (graduation), Dontay Bassett (transfer), Gorjok Gak (transfer)
  • Returners: Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Ques Glover, Jason Jitoboh
  • Additions: Anthony Duruji (transfer), Tyree Appleby (transfer), Samson Ruzhenstev, Niels Lane, Osayi Osifo

Florida | Returning Production — August 2020

4 68.00% 66.97% 74.21% 65.68% 63.85% 38.04% 59.24% 64.17% 69.66% 76.04%

Outlook: Andrew Nembhard’s move to the northwest and Gonzaga isn’t exactly addition by subtraction, but it might pick a stylistic lock in Gainesville. With Nembhard and big man Kerry Blackshear in the fold, the Gators operated at a deliberate pace, playing off the post or high ball-screens. Now that they’re no longer in the mix, though, coach Mike White can shift toward a style that better suits the bulk of his roster.

Put simply, he can unleash athletic guards in transition.

Keyontae Johnson’s done an outstanding job expanding his game and exploiting mismatches against combo forwards, but he’s a monster in the open floor. Alongside Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, the Gators are equipped to turn heavy doses of on-ball pressure in transition chances. His front court, namely Louisiana Tech transfer Anthony Duruji, also has big men comfortable playing in space.

No longer forced to compromise, White might be able to deploy rotations and a system more true to his character.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Bulldogs

  • Record: 16-16, 5-13 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 96
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 11 (90.16)
  • Departures: Anthony Edwards (NBA draft), Rayshaun Hammonds (NBA draft), Donnell Gresham Jr. (graduation), Tyree Crump (graduation), Jordan Harris (graduation), Rodney Howard (transfer), Amanze Ngumezi (transfer), Mike Peake (transfer)
  • Returners: Sahvir Wheeler, Toumani Camara, Tye Fagan, Christian Brown, Jaykwon Walton,
  • Additions: Justin Kier (graduate transfer), Andrew Garcia (graduate transfer), P.J. Horne (graduate transfer), Mikal Starks (JUCO), Jonathan Ned (JUCO), Tyron McMillan (JUCO), K.D. Johnson, Josh Taylor

Georgia | Returning Production — August 2020

11 36.00% 29.07% 15.15% 30.56% 29.31% 42.70% 40.23% 31.09% 33.33% 33.65%

Outlook: From the moment Anthony Edwards pledged his services, all parties knew his college career amounted to a gap year. As for Hammonds, he could never consistently produce in a system that, in theory, fit him perfectly. Now, coach Tom Crean’s roster is fashioned to his liking.

A pair of graduate transfers in Justin Kier and Andrew Garcia could partner with sophomore point guard Sahvir Wheeler, but it would be a boon if Jaykwon Walton could make a dent. Last season, combo Toumani Camara earned a larger share of minutes than Christian Brown, who can toggle between the wing and combo forward spots. Alone, each piece in Athens is enticing, but what can Crean fashion out of them?

If we know anything about Georgia, it’s that power brokers will grant a basketball coach latitude. Yet it might behoove Crean, who is entering his third season, to escape the bottom of the standings.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-Wake Forest vs Pittsburgh Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Wildcats

  • Record: 25-6, 15-3 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 29
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 1 (98.92)
  • Departures: Tyrese Maxey (NBA draft), Ashton Hagans (NBA draft), Immanuel Quickley (NBA draft), Nick Richards (NBA draft), Kahlil Whitney (NBA draft), Nate Sestina (graduation), Johnny Juzang (transfer)
  • Returners: Keion Brooks Jr., Dontaie Allen
  • Additions: Davion Mintz (graduate transfer), Olivier Sarr (transfer), Terrence Clarke, BJ Boston, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher

Kentucky | Returning Production - August 2020

14 7.72% 7.26% 3.82% 6.99% 9.36% 1.45% 6.99% 6.14% 8.01% 8.50%

Outlook: Even amid the uncertainty surrounding the NBA draft, G League and playing overseas, every Wildcat who declared stayed in the draft pool. For the likes of E.J. Montgomery or Kahlil Whitney, there’s reason to doubt the wisdom underlying that decision, but John Calipari’s recruiting machine doesn’t cycle down.

One question clouds the forecast for this collection of blue chippers: Will Olivier Sarr, a transfer from Wake Forest, receive a waiver for immediate eligibility?

On its face, the case is mighty thin. Sarr wasn’t run off, and his chief claim is he passed on exploring his professional prospects because it appeared coach Danny Manning would get another year in Winston-Salem. Once Manning was axed, though, Sarr sought walking papers. While that certainly stinks for Sarr, it’s not the stuff of hardship waivers.

But the ways of the NCAA can be mysterious, and if Sarr’s granted a reprieve, the Wildcats should be stocked for another run at an SEC title. Or, as we know it, business as usual in Lexington.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU Tigers

  • Record: 21-10, 12-6 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 37
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 6 (93.58)
  • Departures: Skylar Mays (graduation), Emmitt Williams (NBA draft), Marlon Taylor (graduation), Marshall Graves (graduation), James Bishop (transfer)
  • Returners: Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Charles Manning Jr., Aundre Hyatt, Courtese Cooper
  • Additions: Cam Thomas, Eric Gaines, Mwani Wilkinson, Jalen Cook, Bradley Ezewiro, Josh Gray

LSU | Returning Production - August 2020

8 51.75% 59.03% 60.66% 55.92% 59.77% 58.77% 57.30% 56.80% 50.77% 66.11%

Outlook: LSU coach Will Wade is the big deadline winner after three veterans chose another season in Baton Rouge.

Sophomore Trendon Watford’s decision might have been the most important. Yes, he has tendency to float on the perimeter. Sure, his jumper was marked by inconsistency. And like the rest of his teammates, he needs to improve defending on the ball and in space. Despite those critiques, Watford still posted 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season, meaning an efficiency gains are likely to put him in the discussion for the conference’s player of the year.

In Days, LSU has low-usage, high-efficiency threat who cuts off the ball, corrals putbacks, runs the the floor in transition, and should pair nicely with Watford. When it comes to Smart, might it behoove Wade to move him off the ball to a combo guard role? Operating as the primary ball-handler, Smart’s assist rate (21.4) is solid but unspectacular, and the Tigers landed fast-rising Eric Gaines, who is a pass-first operator, as part of their recruiting class.

Nudging Smart off the ball to get Gaines on the floor is one step to reorganizing the backcourt. The other is deciding whether to prioritize offense at the wing with Cam Thomas or tighten up the defensive bolts with Mwani Wilkinson. Regardless, Wade now has the luxury of figuring out how talented his newcomers can bolster an established core.

NCAA Basketball: Rider at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss Rebels

  • Record: 15-17, 6-12 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 102
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 8 (92.65)
  • Departures: Breein Tyree (graduation), Blake Hinson (transfer), Bryce Williams (transfer), Franco Miller Jr. (transfer), Carlos Curry (transfer)
  • Returners: Devontae Shuler, KJ Buffen, Khadim Sy, Austin Crowley, Sammy Hunter, Antavion Collum, Luis Rodriguez
  • Additions: Dimencio Vaughn (graduate transfer), Romello White (graduate transfer), Jarkel Joiner (transfer), Shon Robinson (redshirt), Matthew Murrell

Ole Miss | Returning Production — August 2020

7 60.79% 54.73% 36.98% 54.71% 68.99% 64.17% 53.72% 52.57% 66.80% 78.02%

Outlook: A sedate offseason received a jolt when combo forward Blake Hinson transferred out of Oxford. The junior also said basketball factors weren’t at play in the decision. Instead, he did not want to be linked with the Confederate iconography attached to his former school.

Dismaying and abrupt as Hinson’s exit might have been, coach Kermit Davis had already landed a replacement in graduate transfer Romello White. As for the rest of the roster, no Rebels tossed their name into the NBA draft hopper, and Davis reeled in Rider’s Dimencio Vaughn to add some scoring punch to the wing. Freshman Matthew Murrell, the nation’s No. 44 recruit, is also in the fold. Between those two, Davis might have a suitable option to pair with Devontae Shuler, who is now a senior and face of the program.

The Rebels also have a couple stalwarts in K.J. Buffen, an undersized combo forward, and big man Khadium Sy. Whether the Rebels contend for a place in the bubble conversation may ultimately hinge on whether reserves such as Austin Crowley, Antavion Collum and Sammy Hunter can give Davis some depth.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Record: 20-11, 11-7 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 48
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 10 (90.41)
  • Departures: Reggie Perry (NBA draft), Robert Woodard II (NBA draft), Nick Weatherspoon (NBA draft), Tyson Carter (graduation), KeyShawn Feazell (transfer), Prince Oduro (transfer), Elias King (transfer), Devin Butts (transfer)
  • Returners: D.J. Stewart, Abdul Ado, Iverson Molinar, Quinten Post
  • Additions: Galen Smith (transfer), Jalen Johnson (graduate transfer), Deivon Smith, Keondre Montgomery, Cameron Matthews, Andersson Garcia, Derek Fountain

Mississippi State | Returning Production — August 2020

12 37.20% 27.49% 24.85% 35.64% 31.07% 26.51% 28.67% 26.42% 31.63% 44.94%

Outlook: Reggie Perry moving along isn’t a shock, and once Robert Woodard flashed consistent shooting, he fit the mold of a 3-and-D wing at the next level. Had those been the only departures, Mississippi State could have put its head down and scrapped for a mid-table finish.

Ben Howland could have cobbled together a backcourt with Nick Weatherspoon, D.J. Stewart, Iverson Molinar, and a top-60 recruit in Deivon Smith. Elias King would be a hybrid option at the four spot, all while Abdul Ado anchors the backline.

Instead, Weatherspoon, who had multiple suspensions, hit the eject button. King, who saw scant minutes as a freshman, became one of three Bulldogs to seek a fresh start elsewhere. When the dust settled, Howland found himself without a double-digit scorer on his roster and scrambling to pluck Jalen Johnson from transfer market.

Admittedly, the rate of turnover in Starkville seems ominous, but keep in mind that Howland’s two decades at the high-major level, he’s only had three finishes outside the KenPom top-100 and three finishes worse than 75th. If Howland holds true to form, the Bulldogs won’t crater.

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

Missouri Tigers

  • Record: 15-16, 7-11 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 97
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 14 (Avg. Recruit: 84.22)
  • Departures: Reed Nikko (graduation), Tray Jackson (transfer), Mario McKinney, Jr. (transfer), Axel Okongo (transfer)
  • Returners: Jeremiah Tilmon, Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Kobe Brown, Torrence Watson, Parker Braun
  • Additions: Drew Buggs (graduate transfer), Ed Chang (JUCO), Jordan Wilmore

Missouri | Returning Production — August 2020

1 87.55% 90.04% 96.58% 89.00% 83.60% 94.60% 87.22% 90.54% 93.30% 76.77%

Outlook: While Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson and Mitchell Smith solicited feedback on their professional prospects, there were never serious doubts if all three would return. Once it became official, coach Cuonzo Martin cemented the most experienced roster in the SEC.

But as we asked earlier in the spring: What value does that continuity hold, especially when its peers saw little churn and upgraded their recruiting?

Throughout their careers, Tilmon, Pinson and Torrence Watson showed tantalizing flashes of productivity. Yet none has become the kind of reliable entity needed for a veteran nucleus. Meanwhile, Mark Smith’s been sidetracked by injuries each of the last two years. That left Dru Smith shouldering a hefty workload and Javon Pickett trying to meet demands beyond his skill set.

The Tigers’ experience will only matter in so far as those veterans finally become steady cogs. Now, Martin did try to purchase insurance. Drew Buggs, a gradute transfer from Hawaii, is a pure passer who can shoulder some of the burden. And maybe Ed Chang becomes a spot-up shooting four man to aid spacing.

There’s also foreshadowing that comes with bringing back almost 90 percent of your production: a looming exodus. Facing the distinct possibility of replacing half his roster, this is Martin’s last shot to make a dent with the group he hoped would place MU on stable ground.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina Gamecocks

  • Record: 18-13, 10-8 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 69
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 12 (86.89)
  • Departures: Maik Kotsar (graduation), Michaiah Henry (graduation), Jair Bolden (transfer)
  • Returners: A.J. Lawson, Jermaine Couisnard, Justin Minaya, Keyshawn Bryant, Alanzo Frink, T.J. Moss, Trae Hannibal, Jayln McCreary, Wildens Leveque
  • Additions: Seventh Woods (transfer), Patrick Iriel, Ja’Von Benson, Devin Carter

South Carolina | Returning Production — August 2020

2 73.73% 72.32% 72.99% 73.50% 73.52% 74.17% 81.63% 74.71% 69.16% 72.39%

Outlook: Looking over the roster assembled by Frank Martin doesn’t leave your jaw slack at star power. What Martin has mastered, though, is identifying and developing quality college players. The trio of A.J. Lawson, Jermaine Couisnard, and Justin Bryant doesn’t feature a single top-100 talent, and Lawson (No. 148) eked his way into the top 150 of 247Sports’ Composite.

Once you analyze the conference’s top returners, however, all three wind up in the mix. Toss in Justin Minaya and Alanzo Frink, and the Gamecocks have a workmanlike group that can grind you to pulp. Meanwhile, Palmetto State native Seventh Woods, a former top-50 recruit, is hoping for reset after struggling to find a niche at North Carolina.

Over the past two seasons, Martin’s overachieved with a modest collection of talent that’s steadily improved. Doubting South Carolina has proven to be a poor choice over that time, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the blueprint is successful now that the upper half of the conference is engaged in arms race to upgrade talent.

Maybe the Gamecocks don’t challenge for a top-four finish, but picking off the likes of Arkansas, Auburn and Alabama — talented teams that might be fighting for cohesion — could help put them in the bubble conversation.

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

Tennessee Volunteers

  • Record: 17-14, 9-9 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 68
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 3 (96.77)
  • Departures: Jordan Bowden (graduation), Lamonte Turner (graduation), Jalen Johnson (transfer), Zach Kent (transfer)
  • Returners: John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi, Uros Plavsic, Olivier Nkahouma, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember, Jacob Fleschman, Brock Jancek
  • Additions: V.J. Bailey, (transfer), E.J. Anosike (graduate transfer), Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Corey Walker

Tennessee | Returning Production — August 2020

3 68.84% 64.61% 55.63% 51.67% 76.51% 56.92% 72.99% 64.62% 66.13% 85.63%

Outlook: A year ago, Yves Pons might have found a market for his services. No, you don’t funnel possessions through him, but the junior can knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers and is a savvy cutter. And his ability as a switch defender fits the modern game. Even if he didn’t go off the board in the first round, he might have landed a rookie deal with some guaranteed cash.

Instead, the uncertainty for this year’s draft class pushed him back to campus, ensuring that Tennessee returns four starters that will be bolstered by an elite recruiting class.

This iteration of the Volunteers also epitomizes a philosophical transition. Coach Rick Barnes rebuilt the program on the back of developmental prospects like Pons, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and post John Fulkerson. That success allowed him to upgrade recruiting to land players like sophomore Josiah-Jordan James and three top-75 freshmen.

No matter the source, Barnes and the Vols have flexibility, sliding a blue-chipper like Jaden Springer into a starting rotation alongside Pons, Fulkerson, James and sophomore point guard Santiago Vescovi. When Barnes looks to his bench, he can tap Uros Plavsic or grad transfer E.J. Anosike for veteran help in the paint. If he needs shooting, Oregon transfer Victor Bailey, Jr. is an option.

The permutations are vast, and in Barnes’ hands, the Vols are a logical frontrunner for the SEC title.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M Aggies

  • Record: 16-14, 10-8 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 131
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 9 (92.57)
  • Departures: Josh Nebo (graduation), Wendell Mitchell (graduation), Mark French (graduation), Yavuz Gultekin (transfer)
  • Returners: Savion Flagg, Emanuel Miller, Quenton Jackson, Andre Gordon, Jay Jay Chandler, Jonathan Aku, Cashius McNeally,
  • Newcomers: Kevin Marfo (graduate transfer), Jaxson Robinson, Hassan Diarra, Hayden Hefner, LaDamian Bradford

Texas A&M | Returning Production — August 2020

6 65.30% 64.07% 66.14% 60.55% 71.81% 68.46% 68.28% 64.35% 67.87% 30.24%

Outlook: Unlike other new hires, Buzz Williams didn’t carry out a quick gut job on the roster he inherited. Choosing adaptation, though, means patience and incremental shifts. By now, you know the Aggies hit turbulence early last season, but a 13-9 closing stretch is reason for optimism.

Five contributors are set to return, highlighted by senior Savion Flagg, who is hoping to bounce back from a junior campaign that saw him average 10.8 points and post a negative-0.8 net rating. On the recruiting trail, Williams added two top-100 recruits — wing Jaxson Robinson and point guard Hassan Diarra — and one of the nation’s top rebounders in Kevin Marfo, a graduate transfer from Quinnipiac.

Williams’ track record gives him enough political capital that he doesn’t need to rush his renovation project, either. (It also helps he already has a pledge from combo guard Manny Obaseki, the No. 28 prospect in 2021). A cleaner start and another year of his system could help the Aggies creep up the standings, positioning the program for break out in Year 3.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt Commodores

  • Record: 11-21, 3-15 SEC
  • KenPom: No. 169
  • SEC Recruiting Rank: No. 13 (86.34)
  • Departures: Saben Lee (NBA draft), Aaron Nesmith (NBA draft), Matthew Moyer (transfer), Oton Jankovic (transfer)
  • Returners: Scotty Pippen, Jr., Dylan Disu, Ejike Obinna, Jordan Wright, Braelee Albert, Clevon Brown, Isaiah Rice
  • Additions: D.J. Harvey (transfer), Quentin Millora-Brown (transfer), Tyrin Lawrence, Myles Stute, Akeem Odusipe, Trey Thomas

Vanderbilt | Returning Production — August 2020

5 68.37% 60.70% 59.16% 57.23% 72.56% 57.27% 64.05% 58.96% 61.95% 68.28%

Outlook: The on-court results might not be tangible evidence, but the situation in Nashville isn’t entirely bleak. Jerry Stackhouse adroitly leveraged his existing talent in a scheme tailored to their skillsets. After salvaging what he could from a modest recruiting class, Scotty Pippen, Jr. hinted at becoming a cornerstone in seasons ahead. And even when the losses mounted, the Commodores kept clawing.

Still, losing Aaron Nesmith to a broken foot in the SEC opener is the kind of event that topples a season. Now, he and Saben Lee are gone, but neither drew the process out. Stackhouse has known for several months progress in his second season at the helm hinges on Pippen and Dylan Disu becoming steady contributors. In addition, former Notre Dame wing D.J. Harvey, who sat out last season, needs to hit a rhythm early.

Vandy’s roster isn’t entirely hollowed out, but how much developmental ceiling remains for vets such as Clevon Brown and Ejike Obinna? Can Stackhouse expect a freshman class headlined by Tyrin Lawrence (No. 180) to make a dent? Will the mid-year insertion of former Kansas guard Isaac McBride serve as a catalyst?

In all likelihood, the Commodores will have to scrap to avoid another season in the SEC cellar. A sliver of hope exists, though: Stackhouse already has a pair of top-120 players committed in the 2021 class.