With the season tipping off tomorrow, it's time to do a crash course for the remaining schools on Alabama's schedule. My apologies for not completing the previews in full, but real life intervened more often than not in the last month. Aight, let's go!
Missouri Tigers - Only one game with the Tigers on the schedule this season. They will come to Tuscaloosa. Frank Haith split for Tulsa after an underwhelming season. Missouri turned to Kim Anderson, a former player and assistant under Norm Stewart. Anderson won a national title just last season at Division II Central Missouri. This hire didn't move the needle much in the wake of Bruce Pearl being hired at Auburn, but I think Anderson is going to a do a good job in Columbia.
It could be a rough first season for Anderson though. This is going to be one of the youngest teams, not only in the SEC, but in the country. Of their 13 players, nine are freshmen or sophomores. That's not to say they're not talented. Anderson inherited an impressive first class from Frank Haith consisting of five 3-4 star rated players. The top returning players include Johnathan Williams III, Wes Clark, Ryan Rosburg, Keanu Post, along with transfers Keith Shamburger (Hawaii) and Deuce Bello (Baylor).
LSU - Alabama will play LSU once, traveling to Baton Rouge. An argument could be made that, relative to their talent, LSU was the most underachieving team in the SEC last season. The team was talented enough to make the NCAA tournament, but the chemistry was just never there. The team settled for an NIT bid, losing in the 2nd round at SMU.
Johnny Jones has done a heck of a job attracting talent to Baton Rouge. Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin toiled somewhat in the shadow of Johnny O' Bryant last season, but this appears to be their team this season. Mickey in particular was fantastic. He had the highest block average in the league, and became only the second player in LSU history to block at least 100 shots in a season. The other player: Shaquille O' Neal. He also averaged 12.7 ppg so pencil Mickey in as a legitimate SEC Player of the Year candidate. The backcourt also appears to be stronger this season with one of the top juco recruits (Josh Gray), a sharp-shooting transfer (Keith Hornsby/UNC Asheville/son of Bruce Hornsby) and a returning player (Tim Quarterman) who could be a breakout candidate. Jones also brought in another fantastic recruiting class, highlighted by 4 star Elbert Robinson III, a 7'1, 270 lb monster in the paint. Oh, and Jones has also signed the top recruit for 2015, Ben Simmons. Things are looking up in Baton Rouge.
Mississippi State - Only one game with State this season, in Starkville, a.k.a DJC's favorite road trip in the SEC. Most are picking State to finish last in the league again, primarily due to the perception that the talent level still isn't where it needs to be in order to make a significant jump in the standings. However, State will be more experienced this season; and for the first time in his tenure, Rick Ray will actually have some depth to play with.
Gavin Ware will be one player to watch from this team. That guy really got into shape, and is now a viable pick-and-pop option for this team in addition to being the banger he was his first two seasons. Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Roq Johnson, Trivante Bloodman and I.J. Ready are the other players with experience.
Vanderbilt - Bama will play the Dores twice. It's been two rough offseasons in a row for Kevin Stallings. Several players left the program or were booted out over the summer. As a result, Vandy is going to be extremely young in the backcourt. Talented, but very young. Vandy will most likely have a backcourt consisting only of freshmen. They will have to grow up fast. The front line is in much better shape, returning experienced guys in Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, James Siakam, Josh Henderson and Shelby Moats. While waiting for those young guards to grow up, this front line for Vandy will have to produce.
Georgia - One game with Georgia this season, taking place in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs were the surprise of the league last season, finishing with a 12-6 record and receiving an NIT bid. They return roughly 80% of their scoring from last season so expectations are high in Athens.
Georgia returns its starting backcourt, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. The duo also led the team in scoring. Other returning players to watch: Nemanja Djurisic (feels like he's been there forever), Marcus Thornton, Juwan Parker and J.J. Frazier. A potential impact freshman is Yante Maten, a 6'8, 240 lb post player that was named the Gatorade Player of he Year in Michigan as a high school senior. Averaged 19 points, 15 boards, 6 blocks and 4 assists.
And, finally, Ole Miss comes to Tuscaloosa for their single game with Bama this season. Ole Miss could be a bit of a sleeper pick. While Marshall Henderson brought a lot of media attention to Oxford, I actually think the team will be better off without him taking 52 shots a game. Jarvis Summers was the best player on that team last season, and he could be the top guard in the league this season as a senior. I've liked his game since he was a freshman, and I look forward to watching him play anyone but Alabama.
There are plenty of other solid options for Ole Miss in LaDarius White, Anthony Perez, Aaron Jones, Martavious Newby and Sebastian Saiz. Two transfers - M.J. Rhett (Tennessee State) and Terence Smith (Tennessee Martin) - should be a factor for this team. Throw in a couple of good juco recruits in Stefan Moody and Roderick Lawrence and this Ole Miss team might not jump off the page, but they will be deep and experienced.
Enjoy the season. Let's hope it's a good one. Roll Tide!