South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Johnny Jones (39-26, third season; 244-188, 15th season)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 20-14 (9-9)
2013-14 postseason: Second round, NIT
He’s outta here: Johnny O’Bryant (NBA, 15.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Andre Stringer (senior, 11.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Shavon Coleman (senior, 9.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Anthony Hickey (transferred to Oklahoma State, 8.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Malik Morgan (transferred to Tulane, 4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Shane Hammink (transferred to Valparaiso, 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 7-1 C Elbert Robinson; 6-4 G Keith Hornsby (transfer from UNC Asheville, sat out last year); 6-1 G Josh Gray (transfer from Odessa (Texas) College); 6-0 G Jalyn Patterson; 6-4 F Brian Bridgewater (sat out last year due to being declared ineligible by the NCAA); 6-9 F Aaron Epps
Top returners: 6-8 F Jordan Mickey (12.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg); 6-10 F Jarell Martin (10.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg); 6-6 G Tim Quarterman (2.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
It’s the sign of a respected program where you can jettison a three-year starting point guard and still be picked fourth in the preseason poll.
Or maybe it’s because Jones knew that he had the raw talent, and the budding hype, to replace three players that he let go, plus two seniors and an NBA draft pick.
Jones released a stunning announcement during the summer, declaring that Hickey, Morgan and Hammink wouldn’t be back. Morgan and Hammink were understandable, if not necessarily fair – Morgan has been beset with injuries and Hammink didn’t play much.
But Hickey? A former Mr. Basketball in Kentucky? Fast as a cheetah, an SEC-leading 126 assists to 45 turnovers and the floor general?
The relationship between Hickey and Jones had always been rocky, but it seemed as if they could patch up their differences for one more year together. With freshman towers Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin returning to anchor the post, and Bridgewater finally cleared, the Tigers looked poised to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. That would lead right into next year, with LSU holding a verbal commitment from Ben Simmons, the top-ranked player in the next recruiting cycle.
Losing Hickey is a blow, but LSU is still considered to have the pieces to make a tournament run. Martin and Mickey are the top two returning scorers, LSU signed a 7-foot-1 center to help them and Gray averaged 34.7 points per game in junior college.
Jones, in just his third season, is in no danger of losing his job, but if LSU doesn’t make the NCAA tournament this year, perhaps his decision to boot Hickey will be questioned. Then again, the non-conference schedule is rather soft and the Tigers don’t play a really tough SEC game until Game 5 at Florida. If LSU is already holding around 15 wins, it should be in position to run at a top-four finish in the league.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Nikki Caldwell (66-36, fourth year; 138-62, seventh year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 21-13 (7-9)
2013-14 postseason: Sweet 16
She’s outta here: Theresa Plaisance (senior, 15.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg); Jeanne Kenney (senior, 11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Shanece McKinney (senior, 7.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Derreyal Youngblood (transferred to East Carolina, 1.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-7 G Jenna Deemer; 6-0 G Akilah Bethel (transfer from West Virginia, will sit out this year); 5-11 F Alexis Hyder (transfer from North Texas, will sit out this year); 6-1 F Stephanie Amichia; 6-3 F Ann Jones (transfer from Memphis, sat out last year); 6-3 C/F Alliyah Fareo
Top returners: 5-9 G Danielle Ballard (10.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg); 5-10 G Raignye Moncrief (10.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg); 5-9 G DaShawn Harden (7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Caldwell has made a habit of reaching the NCAA tournament, doing it for five straight years at UCLA and LSU, and has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past two years. If she wants to make it a third, it will come from several different faces.
The Tigers are deep at guard but lost the high-scoring Plaisance and starting post McKinney. They brought in height in Jones and Fareo but will have to get immediate production from them. There’s also the not-unimportant matter of indefinitely suspending Ballard for a violation of team rules just before the season began.
Caldwell is depending on her guards to handle the early scoring and anchor the defense. LSU, long priding itself on stingy D, began 18-5 last year before it dropped six of eight. Still, the Tigers rebounded in the NCAA tournament, beating Georgia Tech and upsetting West Virginia before falling to Louisville in the Sweet 16.
LSU should be fine on the perimeter but may struggle to match up with what’s become a deeper, more talented collection of “big girls” across the league. While the Tigers like to press and use their speed, they have to depend on disrupting passes in the half-court before the opposing posts get their hands on the ball. If they can’t do that, they’re not going to have much of a chance to block or deflect the shots.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState