College basketball practice officially begins on Friday, and Nooga.com continues its examination of Southeastern Conference basketball. After an analysis earlier this week of five key questions Tennessee must find answers to in the preseason, next comes the rest of the league, in two installments.
Alabama—How big an impact will five-star freshman Devonta Pollard have?
It took a while—June 2 to be exact—but Alabama finally signed the player upon whom it had focused all its recruiting efforts. The Crimson Tide didn’t sign another player other than Pollard, but the 6-foot-7 combo forward fills a huge void in the frontcourt.
“Devonta is a great addition,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “There probably wasn’t a better guy out there in terms of what our needs are, and what he brings. He certainly fills a need in terms of his versatility and skill set and the way he fits into our style of play.”
Arkansas—Who will handle the point guard position?
After parting ways with Julysses Nobles, last year’s starter at the point, the Razorbacks had to scramble to find a replacement. They signed Dee Wagner, a 5-10 freshman from Louisiana. He’s undersized and wasn’t a big-name recruit, but Wagner led his high school team to a 109-5 record, two Class 4A state championships and a state runner-up in his four seasons. He also earned Louisiana Mr. Basketball honors in 2011-12 after averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.0 steals for a 35-1 team.
“My idea (in signing Wagner) was to get more winning in the locker room,” Anderson said “He lost five games in his high school career and won two state championships. He makes other players better. As he continues to grasp our system, he’ll help us.”
The Hogs could also use sophomore B.J. Young at the point, and junior Rickey Scott could handle the job as well.
Auburn—Can third-year coach Tony Barbee blend a massive recruiting class with his returning veterans and steer the Tigers into a postseason tournament berth?
Auburn won 11 games in Barbee’s first season and 15 in his second, but a flurry of off-season moves has given him a host of new options.
The most talked-about freshman is 6-5 dunking machine Shaquille Johnson, but the most important one could be 6-3 Brian Green, Jr., a point guard who will push part-time starter Josh Wallace and team with senior stalwart Frankie Sullivan in the backcourt.
“He really stood out as a guy who has an unbelievable work ethic,” Barbee said. “He will give us great depth at the point guard position, along with size and athleticism. He’s as fast as Josh Wallace, jumps like [Auburn signee] Shaquille Johnson and has the ability to score and run the team.”
Florida—Who's going to play the point?
Coach Billy Donovan could play shooting guard Kenny Boynton at the position, but taking him off the ball could hamper the Gators’ point production. The logical player to inherit the job is junior Scottie Wilbekin, a backup to Erving Walker the last two seasons.
“He’s ready to step forward into more of a primary role,” Donovan said. “He’s a great defender, a great team guy and he had a great off-season.”
Wilbekin could also be pushed by 6-0 freshman Braxton Ogbueze, rated by ESPN as the No. 7 point guard in the class of 2012.
Georgia—Can freshman guards Charles Mann and Kenneth Gaines make immediate contributions?
At 6-4, Mann is a true point guard who last season averaged 16.2 points and 5.8 assists and led Milton High School of Alpharetta, Ga. to the Class AAAAA state championship. ESPN rated him the No. 21 point guard nationally.
“He has a natural instinct to pass the ball and make people better,” Fox said. “He’ll compete for the starting job with Vincent Williams.”
Gaines, a 6-3 scorer from Whitefield Academy in Atlanta, averaged 25.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals last season for a team that won the Class A state title. ESPN rated him the No. 24 shooting guard in his class.
“He’s an explosive scoring guard, a terrific athlete who knows how to put the ball in the basket,” Fox said. “We think he ultimately will be able to play both guard spots, but we probably won’t do that to him his freshman year.”
Kentucky—Can NC State transfer Ryan Harrow take his place alongside the great point guards who have played for coach John Calipari the last five seasons?
That includes two who played for Cal at Memphis, Derek Rose and Tyreke Evans. And it also includes three straight first-round NBA draft picks—led by the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, John Wall—at Kentucky. All started as freshmen and led their team to deep NCAA tournament runs. Harrow has a tough act to follow after Marquis Teague helped guide the ‘Cats to the national championship last April.
Calipari says Harrow has got one thing the other five point guards who played for him the last five years didn’t have—experience.
"Ryan should be in the best position of any point guard I have ever coached because he got a year to be tutored without the pressure of having to play,” Calipari said. “Ryan has major college experience, quickness and an ability to score that you can't teach."
LSU—Can former LSU player and assistant coach Johnny Jones bring some consistency to his alma mater?
Jones comes off a successful 11-year run at North Texas, where he regularly recruited players from Louisiana, his home state. It stands to reason Jones can some of talent-rich Louisiana’s best high school players at home, and he’s also raided other SEC states for talent, having already gained commitments from two four-star players from the class of 2013—6-7 power forward Jordan Mickey of Dallas, Texas and point guard Tim Quarterman from Savannah, Ga.
“We’ve got to do a great job of recruiting,” Jones said. “That’s where it starts. If we want to prevent the roller coaster ride this program’s been on, year in and year out, you have to compete for the top players, and you have to make sure you get your share. We’ll recruit in-state, nationally, or internationally to try and do that.”
Next: A closer look at Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.