South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.
Oct. 31 Alabama
Nov. 1 Arkansas
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Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 3 Florida
Nov. 4 Georgia
Nov. 5 Kentucky
Nov. 6 LSU
Nov. 7 Mississippi State
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Kim Anderson (9-23, second year; 283-118, 14th year)
2014-15 record (SEC finish): 9-23 (3-15)
2014-15 postseason: None
He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): F Johnathan Williams (transferred to Gonzaga, 11.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg), G Deuce Bello (transferred to East Tennessee State, 1.8 ppg, 1.1 rpg), G Keith Shamburger (8.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg), F Keanau Post (4.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Montaque Gill-Caesar (transferred to San Diego State, 9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) Hayden Barnard (quit to focus on academics, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-11 G Terrence Phillips, 6-3 G K.J. Walton, 6-7 F Kevin Puryear, 6-7 F Adam Wolf, 6-4 G Cullen VanLeer, 6-2 G Martavian Payne (Jr., transferred from John A. Logan (Ill.) College), 6-8 F Russell Woods (Jr., transferred from John A. Logan (Ill.) College)
Top returners: 6-0 G Wes Clark (10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg), 6-5 G Namon Wright (6.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg), 6-8 F Jakeenan Gant (4.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
“When Dreams Become Nightmares.” Sounds like a Stephen King novel.
Which is pretty accurate when describing Kim Anderson’s first season at Missouri.
“It was frustrating just from the standpoint that I had never really gone through that,” Anderson said at SEC Tipoff. “We just had a lot of different issues we had to deal with.”
Anderson, the native son finally brought home to coach at his alma mater and dream job (he’d been turned down the previous three times Missouri made a hire), was belted upside the head last season. While he may steer the Tigers back into the spotlight, his first season was a gruesome mix of suspensions, injuries and plain ol’ bad basketball.
Missouri went 9-23, its worst season since 1967. Anderson’s young roster was overwhelmed night after night. Seven players were suspended for at least one game and following the season, two of his top three scorers transferred.
“I actually talked to Frank (Martin) a little bit and listened to him talk about it,” Anderson said. “When you’re a first-year coach, you have to make decisions and sometimes they’re not pleasant. But they were decisions we had to make. The guys that stayed, I think they want to prove we’re better than we were a year ago.”
Anderson restocked his team but considering how much youth struggled last year, it may not be a hugely positive development that 10 of his 14 players are freshmen or sophomores. There are only four upperclassmen (Ryan Rosburg is the only senior) and two of the juniors are first-year players.
What’s there to look forward to?
“I like these guys,” Anderson said simply.
Thus far, Mizzou has bought into Anderson’s vision of bringing the Tigers back to prominence. They work hard, and the roster was constructed to address the glaring needs of last year (although D’Angelo Allen and Namon Wright were suspended for the exhibition game. They’ll be back for the opener).
Off-the-dribble attacking guards were recruited to get Missouri out of its doldrums and help out Wes Clark, who was the top threat before he dislocated his elbow in February. Jakeenan Gant is a former Top-100 recruit who never settled in after a nine-game NCAA suspension to start last season. Tramaine Isabell has hopefully gotten the knucklehead out of his system (he was benched for five games) and can blossom as Clark’s understudy.
Turnaround won’t be immediate, but Missouri should be substantially improved. Anderson sleeps well with the choices he had to make last season.
He’s hoping to avoid another rude awakening.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Robin Pingeton (79-79, sixth year; 414-236, 21st year)
2014-15 record (SEC finish): 19-14 (7-9)
2014-15 postseason: Third round, WNIT
She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Bree Fowler (3.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg), G Morgan Eye (10.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Davionna Holmes (no longer on team, 0.8 ppg, 0.5 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-2 F Hannah Schuchts, 6-1 G Sophie Cunningham, 6-4 F Cierra Porter
Top returners: 6-1 F Jordan Frericks (13.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg), 5-10 G Sierra Michaelis (10.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg), 6-2 F Kayla McDowell (8.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg)
Three straight WNIT seasons may not seem like that big a deal.
At Missouri, it’s the start of something big.
The Tigers won their most games in a decade last year, their third straight winning campaign under Robin Pingeton. The season may have been better if not for devastating injuries throughout, but Missouri still played its best at the end of the year and nearly made it to the WNIT semifinals.
Pingeton was rewarded with a five-year contract extension for guiding the Tigers to three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1987-90. The good tidings could really pay off since the program’s first McDonald’s All-American, Sophie Cunningham, is finally on campus.
Cunningham committed in the eighth grade. She’s since scored nearly 2,000 points in high school and won four state championships. She’s penciled in to start right away and will be a huge boost to the backcourt – perhaps alongside her sister, junior Lindsey Cunningham.
The team looks healthy, which is welcome considering the injuries it had last year, but it still pulled off a seventh-place finish. The Tigers nearly made it to the NCAA tournament (which would have been the first time since 2005-06; only Alabama has a longer drought among SEC teams) but the injuries and early losses left them a win or two short.
Losing sharpshooter Morgan Eye and cornerstone Bree Fowler is a void, but Pingeton may be able to open up the offense a bit more this year. It’s more of a veteran team, with nine upperclassmen, and the experience of last year is a talking point for this year.
Pingeton has been at Missouri for five years and has a .500 record – 79-79.
The first 79 will be heavily increased this season.