Saturday, September 22, 2012

Previewing the Schedule: January

January 5th: Oakland - These guys must like Tuscaloosa. They were in Coleman last season for a game that Bama won, 74-57. After back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, Oakland was expected to win the Summit League last season. Unfortunately, things never quite got rolling for the Grizzlies. While they did upset Tennessee, they played a very challenging non-conference schedule that saddled the team with plenty of losses coming into conference play where the struggles continued as the most talented team in the conference posted only an 11-7 record. Their strong strength of schedule did net them an invitation to the tournament where they won three games before losing to Utah State in the semifinals. The program loses a great player in Reggie Hamilton, but the other four starters return. It's going to be difficult for any Summit League team to unseat a South Dakota State squad returning a wealth of talent and experience, but Oakland should once again finish near the top of their conference.

January 8th: @Missouri - Mizzou may be a new member of the SEC, but they have a roster capable of winning the league title in year one. Phil Pressey might be the best point guard in the SEC. The Tigers also return Michael Dixon and Laurence Bowers. The key to Missouri's season will be the addition of a transfer class made up of Alex Oriakhi (Uconn), Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine) and Jabari Brown (Oregon). Frank Haith also signed a nice class of newcomers. There is still some question whether Haith will be the long-term answer at Missouri despite a 30-win season a year ago, but there's little question that this team, if it gels, is a championship contender.

January 12th: Tennessee - UT was one of the surprise teams in the conference a season ago. The Vols overcame a slow start in the non-conference to finish tied for second in the SEC. They appeared to be in line for an NCAA Tournament berth, but seemed to run out of gas near the finish line, having to settle for an NIT bid. Nevertheless, it was a good start for Cuonzo Martin who inherited a bit of mess in the wake of Bruce Pearl's departure. This season's team will return four starters and is expected to finish in the top half of the league again. They are also one of five schools that Alabama will play twice this season in conference play.

January 16th: @Mississippi State - After a monumental collapse in which State lost six of their final eight games and a first round loss in the NIT, Rick Stansbury decided to spend more time with his family and resigned. MSU responded by hiring Rick Ray, a Clemson assistant. The hire was a bit of a surprise as Ray has no head coaching experience and there did not appear to be an extensive coaching search prior to Ray's hire. Experience or not, Rick Ray faces a tough task this season. While his roster is not devoid of talent, it is a very young and inexperienced group that will be challenged to avoid the lower half of the league.

January 19th: Texas A&M - There isn't a lot of chatter about A&M so far. Their 14-18 record a year ago probably has a lot to do with that. To be fair, that team faced a lot of adversity, from injuries to key players to their head coach - Billy Kennedy - missing important time with the team shortly after he was hired due to being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Though A&M enters the SEC with some questions (only one starter returns), their roster does have the necessary talent that could result in a turnaround from last season's disappointing results.

January 22nd: Kentucky - UK's national championship team last season was one of the best teams I've seen in college basketball in the last decade. They were balanced on both ends of the floor and had a game changer in Anthony Davis. Now the top six scorers have moved on to the NBA so John Calipari starts over yet again with another top-ranked recruiting class and even some impact transfers in Ryan Harrow (N.C. State) and Julius Mays (Wright State). The centerpiece of the incoming recruiting class - Nerlens Noel - is currently being investigated by the NCAA in order to determine his eligibility. Assuming he's cleared, it all adds up to another Calipari team that will contend for an SEC and national championship.

January 26th: @Tennessee - The second match-up with the Vols. Alabama has won four of its last five visits to Knoxville.

January 31st: Arkansas - Mike Anderson's first season at Arkansas was going well until the team lost eight of its final ten games and missed the postseason for the fourth straight season. A few key injuries (Marshawn Powell) played a part, but so did Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell" system, which puts as much pressure on his own players as on the opposing team. I believe his team ran out of gas down the stretch as a result of this. The experience of last year no doubt helped the players in their offseason conditioning and that should serve them well in year two under Anderson. Another benefit will be the return of Marshawn Powell from injury and B.J. Young who may have been a 1st round pick if he had entered the draft. The supporting cast surrounding them isn't too shabby either. The end result is that Arkansas should compete in the SEC and finally end their postseason drought.


Alex said...

I have losses @Mizzou and @Tenn
I think we get the win over UK at home, they may finish 3rd in the SEC this year behind Mizzou and Florida.

MSmilie said...

Those two road games will be tough, no doubt.

UK may finish third, particularly if Noel isn't cleared. Florida and Missouri seem like the two teams with the best chance to contend with Kentucky this season, but Kentucky has owned Florida in recent years (Kentucky with Calipari is 6-1 against Florida) and it remains to be seen how Missouri will fare with all of the new faces.