SEC West Conference Preview

SEC West Conference Preview
Nov 01, 2005, 04:21 am
Projected order of finish

SEC East

1. Kentucky
2. Florida
3. Vanderbilt
4. South Carolina
5. Georgia
6. Tennessee

SEC West

1. Arkansas
2. Alabama
3. LSU
4. Mississippi State
5. Ole Miss
6. Auburn

DraftExpress 2006 Preseason All SEC Teams and Awards

Player of the Year: Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas
Newcomer of the Year: Mike Mercer, Georgia
Defensive Player of the Year: Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
Most Improved Player: Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
Coach of the Year: Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt

All SEC Team

First Team

PG Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
PG Ronald Steele, Alabama
SG Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas
PF Chuck Davis, Alabama
C Glen Davis, LSU

Second Team

SG Chris Lofton, Tennessee
SF Corey Brewer, Florida
SF Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
PF Darian Townes, Arkansas
C Randolph Morris, Kentucky

Third Team

PG CJ Watson, Tennessee
PG Mario Moore, Vanderbilt
SG Sundiata Gaines, Georgia
SG Jonathan Modica, Arkansas
PF Al Horford, Florida

All Newcomer Team

PG Mike Mercer, Georgia
G Clarence Sanders, Mississippi
SG Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
F Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
PF Richard Hendrix, Alabama


2005 Record: (18-12, 6-10)
Postseason: Turned down NIT invitation
Head Coach: Stan Heath

Key Losses:

SG Olu Famutimi (9.4 ppg)

6’2 PG Sean McCurdy, St. Anthony (NJ) Prep
6’9 PF Cyrus McGowan, Meridian, MS

PG – 6’4 Dontell Jefferson, sr
SG – 6’4 Jonathan Modica, sr
SF – 6’7 Ronnie Brewer, jr
PF – 6’10 Darian Townes, so
C – 7’0 Steven Hill, so

PG – 6’2 Sean McCurdy, fr
SG – 6’1 Eric Ferguson, sr
SF – 6’7 Preston Cranford, so
PF – 6’7 Charles Thomas, so
PF – 6’10 Vincent Hunter, so

Say what you want about Stan Heath’s program, this is his make or break season as the coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. While recruiting picked up almost immediately and optimism has flooded back into the program, the results have yet to show up on the court.

The past two seasons have seen expectations of major improvement go unmet as Heath’s teams have faltered down the stretch. Last season, things got so bad in the second half of SEC play that Heath decided to pack up early and decline an NIT invitation. There were rumors of the team essentially quitting on their coach down the stretch, and the Arkansas administration has made it clear that it expects results from Heath this season.

Nonetheless, Heath now has the pieces in place to recover the program’s lost momentum, answer any questions about his ability to coach, and win the SEC West in one fell swoop. Do-everything wing Ronnie Brewer is a legitimate All-America candidate and the frontcourt is absolutely stocked with talent. Were last season’s struggles a result of inexperience and youth, or could there have been bigger issues festering in the locker room? On paper, this team is primed for the type of breakout season that will make national headlines. A weak bottom half of the division is certain to be a help as well. However, if 2006 turns into another underachieving season, bigger questions will start being asked of Stan Health.

This season will begin and end on the shoulders of junior wing Ronnie Brewer (16.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.4 apg). Brewer emerged into stardom a season ago, developing the outstanding all-around game that allowed him to quickly move ahead of the more highly regarded Olu Famutimi two seasons ago. He is comfortable at any of the three backcourt positions, and will do a little bit of everything. Whether it is creating his own shot, handling the ball and creating for teammates, beating defenders in the open court, or playing tough defense of his own, Brewer can contribute in every area on the court. Brewer was named preseason player of the year by the media, and if the preseason public scrimmage was any indication, is ready to take his game to another level.

Famutimi went undrafted but still decided to pursue a professional career. Hog fans aren’t too worried about it, though, as he never really was comfortable with his role as a supporting piece to Brewer. Instead, senior Jonathan Modica (9.6 ppg) is back in the starting lineup. Modica averaged over 16 points per game two seasons ago, but accepted a smaller role as Heath’s younger guards emerged. Expect a bounce back year from Modica, as his outside shooting will provide the perfect complement to Brewer’s ability to create offense. Another outside shooting option could be redshirt sophomore Preston Cranford, who dazzled with his outside shooting stroke in the recent scrimmage.

The point guard slot has been a bit of a weak point in recent years. Heath nearly grabbed current Villanova standout Kyle Lowry two years ago, but wound up settling for junior college transfer Dontell Jefferson (4.1 ppg). Jefferson has nice size, but is definitely a combo guard. Senior Eric Ferguson (8.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) had a nice bounce back season, and will spend a lot of time at the point. Both will be pushed by freshman Sean McCurdy, who has the instincts to play the position but missed all of last season with a foot injury.
While Heath doesn’t have a go-to star of Brewer’s caliber in the frontcourt, he has to be pretty happy with the way that sophomore post man Darian Townes (10.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg) is developing. Thought of as a project who might be more ready to help out as a shot blocker or on the glass, Townes shocked everybody by showing up with a fully developed back to the basket scoring arsenal. By the end of the season, he was one of the more prominent frontcourt scorers in the conference. Townes will need to work on consistency and improve his contributions in the rebounding department, but looks like a future star. 7-foot shot blocking sophomore Steven Hill (2.3 ppg, 1.8 bpg) joins Townes up front to form as physically formidable a front line as you will see in the SEC. Hill is quite raw and saw his playing time fall off as the season went on, but has reportedly bulked up over the summer.

Heath can throw athletic specimens at you all night, and will look to sophomore Charles Thomas (5.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg) for a change of pace off the bench. Thomas is a true beast in the paint, and what he gives up in size he makes up for in explosiveness and determination. Also back is redshirt sophomore Vincent Hunter, a lanky, perimeter-oriented big man. He missed last year with an injury, but will contribute minutes in an already loaded frontcourt. While freshman Cyrus McGowan is buried at the bottom of the depth chart, he was considered a top 100 player in 2005 class.

Heath has a little bit of everything on his 2006 roster. Brewer is the star, Townes is the second option, and there are numerous other players ready to contribute in big ways. Seniors Jonathan Modica and Eric Ferguson took their lumps early in their careers, but have turned into top notch, efficient role-players. The point guard spot is a question mark, but Heath should be able to get by with a committee of Jefferson, Ferguson, Brewer, and McCurdy. Nonetheless, this season is not without major question marks. The roster was equally loaded a season ago, but the Razorbacks couldn’t win on the road, and spent the latter half of the season losing to teams that didn’t have the right to be in the same gym with them. Heath must figure out a way to turn all this talent into an effective group that wins basketball games, and has brought in experienced coach Dan Hipsher to help out on the bench. By the end of the season, Stan Heath will have either returned the Razorback program to the top of the conference, or raised serious questions about his future with the team.

Recruiting Update: Heath narrowly missed out on the services of future lottery pick Thaddeus Young for a season, but has still put together a nice 2006 recruiting class. Sonny Weems is the likely replacement for Ronnie Brewer next fall, and is currently ranked the number one junior college prospect in the nation by at least one recruiting service. Combo guard Stefan Welsh will help out immediately as well, and was recruited by top notch programs around the country. Versatile big man Michael Washington is also a nice get, though it might be a couple of seasons before he is a major contributor. Heath also accepted former Mississippi State floor general Gary Ervin as a transfer. Ervin is a lock down defender with a reputation of being disruptive in the locker room, but could be Heath’s starting point man for the next two seasons.


2005 Record: (24-8, 12-4)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1st round
Head Coach: Mark Gottfried

Key Losses:

SG Earnest Shelton (16.3 ppg)
SG Glenn Miles
SG Albert Weber
SF Kennedy Winston (17.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
PF Akini Adkins
C Shawn Taylor

5’11 PG Brandon Hollinger, Mobile, AL
6’6 SF Alonzo Gee, Palm Beach, FL
6’8 PF Richard Hendrix, Athens, AL
6’10 PF Yamene Coleman, Boykin, AL

PG – 6’2 Ronald Steele, so
SG – 6’6 Alonzo Gee, fr
SF – 6’7 Jean Felix, sr
PF – 6’8 Chuck Davis, sr
C – 6’10 Jermareo Davidson, jr

PG – 5’11 Brandon Hollinger, fr
SG – 6’5 Justin Jonus, so
PF – 6’8 Richard Hendrix, fr
PF – 6’9 Evan Brock, sr

Alabama shouldn’t be in the position it is in right now. Star Kennedy Winston should have preserved his eligibility, just in case his first round pick aspirations turned out to be slightly optimistic because of knees that had redflags all over it from the very start. Guards Glenn Miles and Albert Weber should be suiting up this fall, ready to play bigger roles in the backcourt. Talented junior college transfer Ray George should have dealt with his academic issues and be eligible to play right now. Unfortunately, none of these players will be a part of the Crimson Tide program. That leaves Gottfried in a true pinch, as sophomore floor general Ronald Steele is the only true scholarship guard on the roster.

The roster attrition turns a season that should have been a banner one for the Crimson Tide program into a year where fans will be crossing their fingers in hopes of the remaining backcourt players staying healthy. The core of a very good team is here, with Steele ready to emerge into stardom, frontcourt stalwarts Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson returning, and blue chip freshman Richard Hendrix coming off the bench. Gottfried will look to small forwards like Jean Felix and Alonzo Gee to ease the load for Steele, but there is the real possibility that Gottfried will become overwhelmed before the end of the season. Alabama is still a formidable opponent capable of winning the SEC West, but the top ten team and final four contender that could have been is not likely to materialize in 2006.

Sophomore Ronald Steele (7.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.0 apg) will be option number one, two and three in the backcourt. The transition to high major floor general was a seamless one for Steele, as Gottfried handed him big minutes right away and Steele ran the offense with a steady hand. While his job was to get the ball to accomplished wing scorers like Winston and the also departed Earnest Shelton a year ago, Steele will be required to shoulder the majority of the scoring load as a sophomore. He has reportedly made major strides as a jumpshooter, but as the only true guard presence on the roster, Steele has an impossible amount of weight on his shoulders. His backup is freshman Brandon Hollinger, an obvious emergency recruit picked up as Gottfried began to fear the worst case scenario last spring. Needless to say, if Steele goes down with injury or doesn’t live up to expectations, the Crimson Tide likely goes with him for stretches.

The other options in the makeshift backcourt include natural forwards like senior Jean Felix and touted freshman Alonzo Gee. Felix (5.6 ppg) has a nice package of athleticism and raw scoring tools, but is still learning how to play within the team concept. He picked up his production near the end of the season, and Gottfried needs the former junior college transfer to be much more comfortable on the perimeter this season. Gee is considered a top 50 recruit in this year’s freshman class, but was expected to be brought along more slowly. He is a formidable athlete, but is still working on developing a perimeter game. Sophomore Justin Jonus (2.3 ppg) is a former walk on that will be relied upon to add some much-needed perimeter shooting.

The frontcourt is on much more solid footing, and the only reason Alabama has retained its spot in preseason top 25 polls. The steady Chuck Davis (13.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg) returns for his senior season. Davis is lanky, extremely intelligent and somewhat athletic, but still manages to thrive close to the basket. Gottfried has made it very clear that we won’t be seeing any perimeter crisis solutions that would involve moving Davis away from the basket. His partner up front is junior Jermareo Davidson (7.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg), who has made some major strides over the past year. Davidson isn’t ever going to be a particularly mobile big man, but has the ability to alter shots and can hit the midrange jumper. While he couldn’t find a first round suitor in his attempt to enter the NBA Draft, Davidson did show an improved level of skill in spring tryouts.

The player getting fans most excited for the new season may be freshman bruiser Richard Hendrix. A local standout, Hendrix turned down a major push from Roy Williams to join Alabama. He is the type of post player that is impossible move off of the blocks, and is polished enough to stand out right away. While the freshman likely starts the season coming off the bench, Gottfried will go with a three man rotation in the post where Davis, Davidson, and Hendrix split nearly all the minutes. That leaves senior beanpole Evan Brock out of the loop. Freshman Yamene Coleman, an AAU teammate of Hendrix, has some potential but remains quite raw.

Alabama’s lack of backcourt bodies is a story that will be interesting to watch unfold. Gottfried clearly isn’t comfortable with the situation, and will have to come up with a few gimmicks not only to get adequate production from all five positions, but also to make sure his remaining guards don’t get overwhelmed. Can Gottfried find a way to keep the ball moving on the offensive end? Will his accomplished post players find room to operate if defenses are able to ignore the outside shot? A lot of this falls to Steele, who might just be up to the task. He has a few very nice post options, and the potential of a truly dominant big man Richard Hendrix. The Crimson Tide still looks like an SEC contender, but Gottfried will definitely have to get creative to make sure that expectations are met.

Recruiting Update: Gottfried has done a good job of protecting his turf in years past, but missed out on a big one this fall when the electric Stanley Robinson opted to take his game north to Connecticut. Alabama has four commitments for 2006, with combo guard Mikhail Torrance, wing Vernice Cloyd, and big man Avery Jukes all top 150 level recruits. Shooting guard Justin Tubbs is also on board. These players won’t make up for the whiff on Robinson, but all will have a chance to contribute early and often. It is a bit surprising that with all the playing time available in the backcourt, Gottfried hasn’t gotten in on any of the top-tier wings available this fall.


2005 Record: (20-10, 12-4)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to UAB in 1st round
Head Coach: John Brady

Key Losses:

SG Antonio Hudson (13.1 ppg)
F Regis Koundjia (3.2 ppg)
PF Brandon Bass (17.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg)
PF Ross Neltner (2.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg)

6’1 PG Ben Voogd, Florence, OR
6’5 SG Alex Farrer, Phoenix, AZ
6’7 F Tasmin Mitchell, Denham Springs, LA
6’11 F Chris Johnson, Laurinburg (NC) Prep
6’10 PF Magnum Rolle, the Bahamas, via Laurinburg (NC) Prep
6’9 PF Kentrell Gransberry, jr, San Jacinto (TX) CC

PG – 5’11 Tack Minor, jr
SG – 5’11 Darrel Mitchell, sr
SF – 6’7 Tasmin Mitchell, fr
PF – 6’9 Kentrell Gransberry, jr
C – 6’9 Glen Davis, so

PG – 6’1 Ben Voogd, fr
G – 6’5 Garret Temple, (rs) fr
F – 6’7 Tyrus Thomas, (rs) fr
PF – 6’10 Magnum Rolle, fr
PF – 6’8 Danrell Lazare, jr

The LSU program seems to have entered a somewhat complacent state over the past few seasons. John Brady might have been forced to unleash his spiked club a couple of times, but he has largely managed to keep national programs from raiding his local talent base. In landing such in state talents as Stromile Swift, Brandon Bass, and Glen Davis, he has generally kept the Tigers NCAA tournament worthy. However, despite all the talent, LSU hasn't been able to advance deep into the big dance, and much of the wrath from LSU fans has fallen squarely on Brady’s shoulders. This year appears to be more of the same. Brady landed local McDonald’s All-American Tasmin Mitchell, but lost Bass to the draft, and two promising players decided to transfer in Regis Koundjia and Ross Neltner. Mitchell will team with super sophomore Glen Davis to form an impressive frontcourt, but volatile point guard Tack Minor will miss the first semester due to a violation of team rules. With Brady’s inability to land other viable backcourt options, the Tigers could be in dire straights over the first portion of the season. Expect more of the same from LSU this season – there will be some spectacular individual performers, and moments when the Tigers look ready to take that next step. However, a middle of the pack SEC finish and another first round NCAA exit may be the most realistic expectation.

Junior Tack Minor (10.8 ppg, 4.6 apg) has driven everybody in the program nuts over the past two seasons, but the simple fact of the matter is that Minor is a much better basketball player than any of the alternatives that Brady will go with in December. Brady is high on the prospects on freshman Ben Voogd, though he wasn’t a highly recruited prep. Another possibility is redshirt freshman Garett Temple, combo guard and younger brother of former Tiger stalwart Collis Temple. When Minor returns, he will offer an explosive on the ball presence and will excel when Brady is able to rein him in.

The shooting guard spot belongs to the undersized Darrel Mitchell (13.1 ppg), who has quietly developed into one of the conferences’ more productive guards. Mitchell can also handle the ball, though Brady likes to play him on the wing to take advantage of his outside shooting ability. The only other scholarship guard available is Alex Farrer, who was receiving no division one interest before being offered a scholarship by the Tigers.

There are plenty of options for Brady to utilize in the frontcourt, none more important than the mammoth Glen Davis (13.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg), who was every bit as good as advertised as a freshman. With the departure of Bass, Davis now becomes the focal point of the LSU offense. That also means he will be the focus of opposing defenses, but the bouncy behemoth is more than up to the task. His enthusiastic personality and local roots make him the face of this program, and Brady must be hoping that Davis will stick around longer than Brandon Bass did, as he did briefly talk about the NBA draft already as a high schooler, despite being nowhere close to a legitimate NBA prospect at that point. Another true post presence is Kentrell Gransberry, considered to be one of this season’s top junior college transfers. Junior Darnell Lazare has yet to contribute on the court, but could see time this season.

LSU will likely be forced to go big, and that means starting freshman combo forward Tasmin Mitchell on the wing. While Mitchell lost his standing as the number one player in the high school class of 2005 when he tried to become more perimeter-oriented, he should be ready early on. His blend of strength, tenacity, and skill will make him a difficult matchup for almost every SEC defender. Brady has several lanky big men he could play out on the perimeter, the most intriguing of which has to be freshman Magnum Rolle, who flashed some downright scary potential last spring. However, he is still a relative newcomer to the game, and might be brought along slowly. Other options are redshirt freshman Tyrus Thomas or Rolle’s teammate at Laurinburg Prep, 6’11 beanpole Chris Johnson.

Once again, John Brady has an intriguing mix of veteran production and young talent. Always sporting a distinct local flair, the Tigers are capable of competing in the wide open SEC West. However, the lack of bodies in the backcourt could hit this team hard early. While the early season schedule isn’t difficult, it will take some practice time to get Minor back into the swing of things, and Brady doesn’t have the bodies to simply shrug off his loss. Look for LSU to be very good when they are good, but very mediocre on the nights when the guards can’t force defenses to pay them any attention. The star power of Glen Davis is enough to carry the team to another 20 win season, but the Tigers need everything to go right to end up much better than that.

Recruiting Update: It is doubtful that Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath will directly affect the recruiting in Baton Rouge, but it may have already made an indirect impact. Top point guard prospect DJ Augustin moved from Louisiana to Texas in the aftermath of the disaster, and the Longhorns just so happen to be the other finalist in Augustin’s recruitment. Augustin visited Baton Rouge last weekend, and is ready to make a decision before the early signing period. The fact that Brady has already missed out on Louisiana’s two other premier talents in point guard Demond Carter (Baylor) and power forward Perry Stevenson (Kentucky) only makes Augustin’s decision that much more important. Also on board is Marquette transfer Dameon Mason, a physical, athletic presence who fits in well with Brady’s style and should start immediately for the Tigers.

Mississippi State

2005 Record: (23-11, 9-7)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Duke in 2nd round
Head Coach: Rick Stansbury

Key Losses:

PG Gary Ervin (7.4 ppg, 4.7 apg)
SG Winsome Frazier (12.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
SG Shane Power (11.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
SF Ontario Harper (8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
PF Lawrence Roberts (16.9 ppg, 11.0 rpg)
C Marcus Campbell (6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

6’5 PG Richard Delk, Jackson, TN
6’4 SG Jamont Gordon, Nashville, TN via Oak Hill (VA) Academy
6’4 SG Reginald Delk, Jackson, TN
6’7 SF Bernard Rimmer, Grenada, MS via Bridgton (ME) Academy
6’9 C Vernon Goodridge, Brooklyn, NY

PG – 5’9 Jamall Edmonson, sr
SG – 6’3 Dietric Slater, jr
SF – 6’4 Jamont Gordon, fr
PF – 6’8 Charles Rhodes, so
C – 6’9 Walter Sharpe, so

PG – 6’5 Richard Delk, fr
SG – 6’4 Reginald Delk, fr
SF – 6’7 Bernard Rimmer, fr
F – 6’8 Jerell Houston, (rs) fr
PF – 6’9 Piotr Stelmach, jr
C – 6’9 Vernon Goodridge, fr
C – 7’2 Wesley Morgan, sr

Rick Stansbury has built the Mississippi State basketball program into a winner. He has taken his share of the south’s premier talent and blended it nicely with the lesser known names that he has developed. Last season’s senior laden team struggled with injuries and may have underachieved a bit in conference play, but came up with a nice win against Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament before giving Duke a very tough game in the second. That team is essentially gone, as star Lawrence Roberts is now a Memphis Grizzly, while Winsome Frazier, Marcus Campbell and Shane Power also graduated. The transfer of point guard Gary Ervin to Arkansas means that no major cogs from last year’s tournament team return. Thus, Mississippi state may struggle to continue their winning ways, at least for this season. The Bulldogs could have been in big trouble if last season’s group of unhappy freshmen had followed Ervin out the door, but Stansbury managed to stave off a mass exodus by pointing out the available playing time this fall. Another banner group of freshmen has arrived on campus as well, albeit without McDonald’s All-American and 2nd round draft pick Monta Ellis. Ellis is just the latest in a long line of Bulldog signees to jump straight to the pros, but fans can rest assured that wing Jamont Gordon and big man Vernon Goodridge are two of the most promising new faces in the entire nation. Stansbury’s new task is to blend in this new talent with a few benchwarmers from last year’s team, and not sink too far in the standings while getting it done. Don’t expect 20 plus wins from Mississippi State in this rebuilding year, but a complete dropoff isn’t a forgone conclusion.

This team is completely unproven, so predicting the major contributors might be an inexact science at the moment. The veterans are just as green as the newcomers, so almost anybody could end up in the starting lineup. If there is a player likely to earn a starting spot, it might be freshman wing Jamont Gordon. Gordon played his senior season at powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, and is physically mature enough to contribute right away. He has a nice all-around game, and his physical style should fit in well in Starkville. Gordon was the best player on the court in the team’s open scrimmage last weekend. Also likely to play big roles are the Delk twins, freshmen Richard and Reginald. Neither is a complete player yet, but Reginald is known as the scorer and Richard as a tall point guard type. Both will need to gain significant amounts of weight before they are ready to become big time players.

As far as returnees, look for junior Dietric Slater (3.3 ppg) in the starting lineup on opening night. Mostly a defensive role-player in his first two seasons, Slater will have to lead by example in that department this fall. Early reports indicate that Slater could play a much bigger role in the offense this year as well. Also back is senior point guard Jamall Edmonson (4.8), who is undersized, can’t shoot, and came in out of shape in his first season after junior college. Edmonson has worked hard to take slim down, but will still have to hold off Richard Delk to win the starting point guard spot. Another potential contributor is freshman Bernard Rimmer, who has impressed in early practice.

Mississippi State has a few very nice big man prospects, but the SEC West isn’t currently an easy place for a post player to develop. Stansbury needs his talented trio of second year players to show a lot more maturity and dedication this year, and for a couple of veterans to prove that they are SEC caliber players. Talented sophomore Charles Rhodes (2.9 ppg) gets the unenviable task of trying to replace Roberts. Roberts was a complete non-factor early in the season, but late in the year showed why he was such a highly regarded prep. Not the most imposing player in terms of size, Rhodes gets by due to his athleticism and toughness.

Youngsters Jerrell Houston and Walter Sharpe have a bit more to prove Rhodes. The athletic Houston didn’t like being redshirted last season, but stuck with the program and can play three frontcourt positions. Sharpe (2.4 ppg) struggled academically and also looked like a summer casualty, but somehow made it through summer school and is on track to return to the team in January. Sharpe has a very high ceiling, and is very much in the mix to start at center if he continues to show the right mentality. Freshman Vernon Goodridge is a project, but has the size and shot blocking ability to contribute early. Goodridge is another prospect with a somewhat spotty record when it comes to dedication to academics, but will end up being as good as he wants to be. Also around are two upperclassmen holdovers in power forward Piotr Stelmach and the 7’2 Wesley Morgan. Morgan has shown a bit of improvement over the years, and will get a significant amount of time at the center spot.

This is absolutely a transition year for the Mississippi State basketball program. While Stansbury has rarely been able to get his top talent to stay on campus for too long (or at all), there were always other proven contributors waiting in the wings to step up. This year is different, as his most talented players have virtually no on-court experience. Players like the Delks, Jamont Gordon, Charles Rhodes, and Vernon Goodridge make up a very exciting core for the future. However, the veterans that would normally initiate them into the program will be sorely missed. This season isn’t about wins for Rick Stansbury and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but about developing talent that will eventually win games down the road.

Recruiting Update: Stansbury recruits the South as well as anybody, and with the number of bodies he has brought in over the past two seasons, can afford to be picky over the next couple of years. The Bulldogs have two commitments for 2006 at the moment. Lanky forward Jarvis Varnado blew up over the summer, and will be the latest freak athlete to join the Mississippi State frontcourt. Ben Hansbrough, a shooting guard, is the younger brother of UNC’s latest prize freshman, Tyler Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

2005 Record: (14-17, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Rod Barnes

Key Losses:

PG Cavadas Nunnery (3.1 ppg)
SG Justin Johnson (5.5 ppg)
SG Ed Glass (3.8 ppg)
SF Kendrick Fox (7.6 ppg)
F Marvin Moore (5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
PF Tommy Eddie (11.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

6’2 SG Clarence Sanders, jr, Okaloosa-Walton (FL) CC
6’7 SF Trey Hampton, Hoover, AL
6’9 PF Xavier Hansbro, Atwood, TN
6’7 PF Miek Smith, Jacksonville, AR via Laurinburg (NC) Prep
6’9 C Dwayne Curtis, so, transfer from Auburn
6’9 C Marquis Young, Chicago, IL

PG – 6’1 Todd Abernathy, jr
SG – 6’6 Brandon Patterson, so
SF – 6’6 Lodrick Nolen, sr
PF – 6’9 Jeremy Parnell, so
C – 6’9 Dwayne Curtis, so

PG – 5’11 Brian Smith, so
G – 6’2 Clarence Sanders, jr
SG – 6’3 Bam Doyne, jr
SF – 6’7 Trey Hampton, fr
PF – 6’9 Xavier Hansbro, fr
PF – 6’7 Mike Smith, fr

Ole Miss basketball has become an ugly affair, with overmatched players, unsettled rosters, poor shooting, and a disturbing decline in win totals. What has happened to this program, one that used to be a consistent NCAA tournament participant? For one, Rod Barnes simply hasn’t recruited well enough to keep up in an ultra-competitive high major conference. Last season’s product was a mind-numbing blend of indistinguishable players that weren’t ever going to be capable of putting together a winning season in the SEC. Of the six players not returning this fall, it is hard to say that even one of them will be missed. Barnes realizes that he has to recruit better, and has added assistant Tracy Dildy, a man with some serious Chicago connections. It wasn’t surprising, then, to see former Auburn big man and Chicago native Dwayne Curtis pick the Rebels. He is the centerpiece of a recruiting class that Barnes hopes will reverse the fortunes of this once successful program. Nonetheless, it won’t be clear what kind of team Barnes has until they step onto the court for the first time. These players weren’t the most highly sought after national recruits, and it would be a surprise to see this Ole Miss team back in the upper half of the division this year.

The one place Barnes does have some stability is at the point guard spot, where junior Todd Abernathy returns as the starter (8.3 ppg, 2.6 apg). While Abernathy is anything but a star, he looks to pass first, takes advantage of a dependable jumper, and knows Barnes’ system inside and out. His backup will be sophomore Brian Smith, son of Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith. Another player sure to see big minutes in the backcourt is Clarence Sanders, one of the mostly highly regarded junior college transfers in the nation. He can score off of the dribble, and averaged nearly 24 points per game at Okaloosa-Walton CC last season.

Several wings from last season’s team return. Former junior college transfer Lodrick Nolen (9.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) is the most accomplished of the group, and will be counted on to improve on last year’s scoring average. He is most effective as a slasher. Also returning are sophomore Brandon Patterson (5.1 ppg) and junior Bam Doyne (3.6 ppg). Neither player managed to shoot 40% from the floor a season ago, though Patterson did flash some scoring potential. Talented wing recruit Bobby Clark would have helped, but didn’t qualify academically.

Barnes was really undermanned in the paint a season ago, and while there isn’t much experience here, at least there will be a few big bodies available. The focal point is likely to be Auburn transfer Dwayne Curtis, who showed flashes of developing into a viable SEC big man as a freshman. It isn’t clear just how long it will take for Curtis to get back up to speed after his year off, but his 290-pound frame is going to help. The other starter is likely to be sophomore Jeremy Parnell (1.6 ppg), who struggled a bit as a freshman.
The other big man options are all newcomers. Barnes' highest rated recruit was the truly monstrous Carl Swanigan, but the 340 pounder ended up having to attend junior college. Barnes will still have a little extra bulk on the bench in 300 plus pound freshman Marquis Young, though Barnes is more exited about the potential of the athletic Xavier Hansbro. Power forward Mike Smith also joins the team.

Rod Barnes has seen his program fall apart, and realizes that he could be coaching for his job this season. There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about here, though there are a few newcomers that should increase the overall talent level significantly from last year. The unfortunate academic woes of Bobby Clark and Carl Swanigan robbed Barnes of perhaps his top two newcomers. It is likely that the Rebels will put up more of a fight than last season, but in the end, that might not be saying much. Barnes must attempt to develop his newcomers, look to next season when Seton Hall transfer Justin Cerasoli is eligible, and hope that his time doesn’t run out too soon.

Recruiting Update: The new Ole Miss connection to Chicago paid off this summer when former Illinois prep standout and Seton Hall point guard Justin Cerasoli decided on the Rebels. While he developed a reputation as a troublemaker very quickly in his time with the Pirates, he will be the most talented player to put on an Ole Miss uniform in quite some time. The Rebels have two other commitments for 2006, in point guard Solomon Bozeman and wing Terry Herbert.


2005 Record: (14-17, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Jeff Lebo

Key Losses:

G Toney Douglas (16.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
G Ian Young (13.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.0 apg)
SG Nathan Watson (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
SF Quinnel Brown (12.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg)

5’11 PG Michael Woodard, jr, Los Angeles Southwest (CA) CC
6’3 PG Quantez Robertson, Cincinnati, OH via Laurinburg (NC) Prep
6’5 SF Rasheem Barrett, Atlanta, GA
6’7 PF Korvotney Barber, Manchester, GA
6’8 PF Emmanuel Willis, so, transfer from USC
6’8 PF Josh Dollard, Pickens, SC
6’7 PF Joey Cameron, Birmingham, AL

PG – 5’11 Michael Woodard, jr
SG – 6’5 Daniel Hayles, so
SF – 6’3 Frank Tolbert, so
PF – 6’7 Korvotney Barber, fr
C – 6’7 Joey Cameron, fr

PG – 6’1 Brett Howell, jr
PG – 6’3 Quantez Robertson, fr
SF – 6’5 Rasheem Barrett, fr
SF – 6’5 Ronny LeMelle, sr
PF – 6’8 Emmanuel Willis, so
PF – 6’8 Josh Dollard, fr

Jeff Lebo may have had the toughest task of any college basketball coach last season. Not only was it his first attempt at coaching in a major conference, but Lebo also had to try to find a way to win with no regular rotation player taller than 6’6. Wing Quinnel Brown ended up seeing a lot of center duty, and yet the Tigers were still able to pull off four SEC wins. Hopefully the bottom is in, as Lebo has brought in an eight man recruiting class heavy on frontcourt help. Chief amongst the newcomers would be McDonald’s All-American Korvotney Barber, who Lebo managed to keep away from Tubby Smith and Kentucky. The problem is that Auburn will be without four double digit scorers from a season ago, including one of the nation’s top freshman in Toney Douglas, who transferred to Florida State. The conclusion here is that while Lebo has a more talented, much more balanced roster to work with this year, the lack of experience is going to keep the Tigers near the basement in the SEC west.

Lebo relied almost exclusively on guards a season ago, but the majority of that production is either graduated or flown the coop. The latter would describe Toney Douglas, the team’s top scoring option as a freshman, whose father made some very negative comments about Lebo to the media. Instead of having one of the conference’s top returning scorers to lean upon, Auburn will be forced to go with a mix of last year’s minor contributors and some unheralded newcomers. The key trio of returnees is comprised of sophomores Daniel Hayles (6.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Frank Tolbert (6.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg), and senior Ronny LeMelle. LeMelle has been a big factor in the past, but has seen his career derailed by injuries. He might be the best pure scoring guard on the team, however. Hayles and Tolbert were probably thrown into the fray too early last season.

The point guard position will likely be manned by junior college transfer Michael Woodard, who was a late signee that arrives on campus with little fanfare. He will be pushed by freshman Quantez Robertson and little used sophomore Daniel Hayles. The other newcomer in the backcourt is wing Rasheem Barrett, who is physically mature enough to contribute right away.

The frontcourt is a major improvement over last season, simply because Lebo has a frontcourt. Freshman power forward Korvotney Barber comes in with all sorts of fanfare, and is athletic enough to be a factor right away. However, he might be a bit rawer than you would expect given the McDonald’s All-American tag. Barber will have to earn his minutes, as several other newcomers are talented as well. Emmanuel Willis left USC after Henry Bibby was fired, and the athletic forward will play immediate minutes upon becoming eligible in January. Touted big man Joey Cameron will fight for a starting spot, and is thick enough to be a factor. The other newcomer is freshman Josh Dollard.
One might think that Auburn’s situation can only get better after last season. However, despite not having a frontcourt last year, that team was experienced and knew what it took win games in the SEC. This group is young and thin, and Lebo is still attempting to patch holes in the roster. There are now pieces in place for the future, but this program is still far from being ready to start winning a lot of games in the SEC.

Recruiting Update: Lebo continues to do whatever he can to upgrade the talent level of the program. Furman transfer Quan Prowell is a tall, versatile perimeter player that averaged 15 points per game last season. Shooting guard Kelvin Lewis is ranked as one of the top 100 players in the class of 2006 by at least one recruiting service. Small forward Lucas Hargrove recently committed to Auburn over interest from several other SEC programs.

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