HOOVER, Ala. – Red & Black sportswriter Connor Smolensky is in Hoover, Ala. for the annual SEC Media Days for men's basketball. Here's a report from teams across the conference which met with media this afternoon:
With the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the Southeastern Conference the league just got a lot more competitive.
Not only did the SEC get more competitive, but so did Missouri’s squad.
Coming off of a 30-5 season in 2011 and an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers added highly talented transfers to their team heading into the 2012 season.
Those include Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross from Auburn, Keion Bell from Pepperdine, and Alex Oriakhi from Connecticut.
“All those guys will have an impact,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said.
All four players played major roles for their teams last season, most notably being Bell who scored more than 1,300 points in his three years with Pepperdine.
Haith described Oriakhi’s transfer as a “Christmas present,” and says that the senior forward has only improved since coming to Missouri.
“[His physique] It’s unbelievable. He has gotten down to about seven percent body fat, and he came in at 14 percent this summer,” Haith said. “My strength coach sent me pictures of before and after, and he has worked unbelievable in June to get his body right. That young man will have a great year.”
Alabama’s backbone last season was its defense.
The Crimson Tide had the No. 1 defense giving up only 58.1 ppg, and finished second in the SEC with 7.24 steals per game.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant hopes this year can be the same, but understands it will be harder having lost some key parts to its defense from a season ago.
The Crimson Tide lost its two best defenders in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell who had a combined 41 steals and 70 blocked shots.
“We lost some key parts to our defense last season,” Grant said. “For every team, you’ve got to establish an identity and I know what I want our identity to be on the defensive end. But, we’ve got to be able to buy into that and accomplish that. I think that will determine in large part to the success that we have.”
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said this is the best Ole Miss team that head coach Andy Kennedy has had in years.
Coming off of a 20-14 (7-9 SEC) finish in 2011, Ole Miss returns its top nine players and four starters.
The Rebels return starters Murphy Holloway (11.2 ppg), Jarvis Summer (10.4 ppg), Nick Williams (10.1 ppg) and Reginald Buckner (6.9 ppg)
“I think the pieces are in place for us to have a good team,” Kennedy said. “I think when you return your top nine, four starters, and you have the most experienced top line in the SEC, it’s not a bad place to start. Now some things have to come together for us. But potentially it’s the deepest team that I have had, and I’m anxious to start the journey with them.”
Kennedy explained his team has made great improvement and believe the greatest improvement will be the ability to overcome adversity.
“The quality of depth to this team allows us to overcome the inevitable, the flu here, a turned ankle hear,” Kennedy said. “We’re all going to go through that over a six year journey. I think this team based on the fact that we have more quality as it relates to our depth, we can overcome some of those things. The fact that we have seniors that have produced that have been there done that so to speak. I’m excited about that because they understand the standard by which you have to play in order to be successful at this level.”
Along with the ability of overcoming the inevitable, Kennedy acknowledges his new recruits. The addition of five freshmen will allow Ole Miss to clean up some spots of weakness from a season ago.
“Then we had some glaring weaknesses in our team last year, he said. “Our inability to score on the perimeter, we didn’t have great team speed in our back court. The guys we have brought on board have addressed those issues. I like the pieces, now it is just a matter of seeing how they all fit.”