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): Billy Kennedy (50-49, fourth year; 261-228, 17th year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 18-16 (8-10)
2013-14 postseason: Second round, CBI
He’s outta here: Jamal Jones (NBA, 13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg); J-Mychal Reese (transferred to North Texas, 7.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); Fabyon Harris (senior, 6.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg); Shawn Smith (transferred to Lee (Texas) College, 5.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Blake McDonald (senior, 0.5 ppg, 0.3 rpg); Don Thomas (transferred to Texas A&M-Kingsville, 0.1 ppg, 0.1 rpg); Payton Carrell (senior, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-11 G Avery Johnson; 6-5 F Derek Cahn; 6-1 G Alex Robinson; 6-10 C Tonny Trocha-Morelos; 6-7 G/F Jalen Jones (transfer from SMU, eligible this year); 6-5 G Peyton Allen; 6-7 G Danuel House (transfer from Houston, may be eligible this year)
Top returners: 6-9 F Kourtney Roberson (9.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg); 6-5 G Alex Caruso (9.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg); 6-7 F Davonte Fitzgerald (7.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Kennedy has yet to take Texas A&M to the NCAA tournament (the Aggies had gone to six straight before he arrived). His highest win total in three years is 18. He’s gone to one postseason (the pay-for-play CBI) and his best finish in the SEC is two games under .500.
Seems a strange case for a contract extension, but that’s what happened this summer. Kennedy’s deal was placed through 2018, which caused a few howls among the Aggies’ fans.
Why? The future.
The Aggies have commitments from four of the top 64 prospects in the country for next season, the leader No. 20 Tyler Davis. Kennedy’s offseason hire of former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury has paid huge dividends – the man who took the Bulldogs to great heights has already earned his salary by getting big-time recruits.
“Three of these guys, we’ve been recruiting for a long time,” Kennedy said at SEC Media Days. “Rick’s come in and done a really special job with one of the kids. Just his experience, his confidence, knowing what it takes to run an SEC program at a championship level has been a tremendous get for me.”
The future glimmers, but this year may be more of the same. The Aggies lost their leading scorer and although they return the next three scorers among a massive roster, Kennedy doesn’t have a lot of all-SEC talent on the team.
A&M lined up an aggressive non-conference schedule and that may take its toll before SEC season begins. With such promise for next year, it’s easy to think the Aggies may lose a few in a row and mail in the rest of this year. Kennedy will have to battle that kind of attitude, but a lot can be covered considering A&M has what some are calling the second-best recruiting class in the country. While A&M is very strong in almost every sport, men’s basketball has taken a downturn – but just wait til next year.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Gary Blair (264-109, 12th year; 672-272, 30th year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 27-9 (13-3)
2013-14 postseason: Elite Eight
She’s outta here: Karla Gilbert (senior, 11.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg); Kristen Grant (senior, 0.9 ppg, 0.5 rpg); Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (senior, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-5 C Khaalia Hillsman; 6-0 F Taylor Cooper (transfer from Oral Roberts, sat out last year); 5-8 G Shlonte Allen (transfer from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College)
Top returners: 5-8 G Courtney Walker (15.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg); 6-1 G/F Courtney Williams (13.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg); 5-6 G Jordan Jones (7.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Blair has it figured out – get a few big girls per year, find a guard who is more than happy to fill up the basket on the occasions the ball is kicked to the perimeter, and get out of the way.
Blair signed the 6-5 Hillsman and added her to a roster already featuring 6-3 Jada Terry and 6-7 (not a typo) Rachel Mitchell. Added to the two Courtneys, one of the most high-scoring duos in the country, and the Aggies are once again expected to challenge for the SEC championship – and much more.
Blair has reached the second round of the NCAA tournament for each of the past eight years, with two Elite Eights and one national championship. He’s finished top-four in each of his two years in the SEC and won one SEC tournament title. The Aggies are going to win and win big, and don’t mind in the least that South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky will also be bidding for a crown.
In fact, that’s where championship implications should be determined. The Aggies play all three teams, but only once each. All are on the road.
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