South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches
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Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Andy Kennedy (171-101, ninth year; 191-114, 10th year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 19-14 (9-9)
2013-14 postseason: None
He’s outta here: Marshall Henderson (senior, 19.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Derrick Millinghaus (transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, 6.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg); Demarco Cox (transferred to Georgia Tech, 4.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Janari Joesaar (transferred to Texas-Pan American, 2.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg); Jerron Martin (transferred to South Plains (Texas) College, 1.5 ppg, 0.0 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-5 G Roderick Lawrence (transfer from South Plains (Texas) College); 6-4 G Terence Smith (transfer from Tennessee-Martin); 6-9 F M.J. Rhett (transfer from Tennessee State); 6-6 F Marcanvis Hymon; 5-10 G Stefan Moody (transfer from Kilgore (Texas) College); 6-11 C John Crnogorac
Top returners: 6-3 G Jarvis Summers (17.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg); 6-6 G LaDarius White (7.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg); 6-9 F Anthony Perez (3.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Kennedy took the same line as Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin did on his former prize player/troublemaker. At SEC Media Days, he answered questions about Henderson but made it clear that he wants to move on.
“I’ll miss him at the end of the shot clock,” he quipped before discussing the future at Ole Miss, one that doesn’t include one heck of a talent who shot off his mouth about as well as he did his jumper.
No doubt that Henderson made the SEC a more visible league and did great things for the Rebels. Kennedy finally reached the NCAA tournament in a year where his job was on the line, and the school will finally build a new arena to replace the antiquated Tad Smith Coliseum (opening December 2015).
But man, was everybody ready for it to end. Henderson’s antics were too wearisome to deal with anymore.
It’s not that strange that the Rebels were picked to finish sixth despite losing Henderson and a couple other key parts. I suspect that many, like me, see addition by subtraction, and Kennedy again worked the transfer wire to add to some very solid pieces.
Summers, White, Perez and Sebastian Saiz are a very solid core and Kennedy added two college graduates with remaining eligibility, including Rhett, a Columbia native whose dad, Joe Rhett, played at South Carolina. They’re a long, tall team, which should help the defense drastically improve from the defensive rebounding (13) and scoring defense (11) it was in the SEC last season.
Kennedy is also going back to what gave him great won-loss records – but not tournament appearances – in the past. His non-conference schedule is barren outside of a potential game against Cincinnati, a game at Oregon and a game at Dayton. He’s won at least 20 games every year but two at Ole Miss, and is the Rebels’ all-time winningest coach, but stellar runs over weak non-conference slates and middling records in the SEC (two winning records in eight years) have made him an NIT staple.
The Rebels may make it back to the NCAAs if they can survive in the SEC. I think they’ll finish top half but they’ll have to get a win or two over an LSU or Arkansas (if not a Kentucky or Florida) to catch the committee’s eye.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Matt Insell (12-20, second year; 12-20, second year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 12-20 (2-14)
2013-14 postseason: None
She’s outta here: Valencia McFarland (senior, 17.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Diara Moore (senior, 10.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Kenyotta Jenkins (senior, 4.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Tianah Alvarado (transferred to Gulf Coast State (Fla.) College, 3.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg); Monique Jackson (transferred to Tennessee-Martin, 2.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Claudia Ortiz (transferred to Northeastern, 1.0 ppg, 0.1 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-8 G Kiara Golden; 5-10 G Toree Thompson; 5-8 G A’Queen Hayes; 6-1 G/F Precious Person (transfer from Rutgers, will sit out this year); 5-9 G Erika Sisk (transfer from Murray State, sat out last year); 5-10 G Sarah Porter; 6-3 F Kelsey Briggs; 5-10 G Shandricka Sessom
Top returners: 6-4 C Tia Faleru (16.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg); 5-11 G Danielle McCray (6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); 6-1 F Gracie Frizzell (6.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Insell was asked at SEC Media Days how he felt about the team’s low predicted finish.
“Has there been a preseason prediction?” Insell asked. “What were we picked?”
Upon hearing “14th,” he didn’t blanche, smirk or adopt a “We’ll see” look. His tone or expression didn’t change.
“Fourteenth. Great,” he said. “We’re the only ones who know what’s on the roster. I feel like we have a lot better basketball team than we did last season.”
The Rebels aren’t expected to do much, because they lost the best player off a bad team and are still staring at an NCAA investigation that may cut their legs off at any time (violations were under previous coach Adrian Wiggins, who never coached a game).
“That’s just the spot we’re in,” Insell said. “We’ve served several self-imposed penalties. If you read Twitter, you’ll read that women’s basketball and football is under investigation, but if you go back and look at the article, neither present staff is under investigation. We’ve moved past that, and now it’s time to worry about what we have going on in the future.”
Insell served at Kentucky, where a new coaching staff also wasn’t expected to do much and instead produced one of the best programs in the country. Insell learned from his father Rick Insell, the tremendously successful coach at Middle Tennessee State and formerly the Tennessee high school ranks, and then from Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky. He took over a reeling program and knew it was going to be tough sledding for a while, but that he eventually would succeed.
There were spots last year – beating Mississippi State in overtime, installing his up-tempo, pressing defense, signing an extensive recruiting class. He’s fine with playing the underdog this year as well, since it will make it all the more special when they do better than expected.
The league is strong and even a better-than-expected Ole Miss team may finish last. But the Rebels have the leading returning scorer and rebounder in the SEC (Faleru), Sisk won the Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year award two years ago and the thought is that just one more player added to those two will produce some wins.
There’s nowhere to go but up – and keep hoping that the NCAA will take it easy if it ever finishes its search.
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