- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on SEC, click here.
Best-case scenario: The most impressive thing about Alabama's season was not just that Anthony Grant had the onions to suspend his two best players down the stretch but also that Alabama played so well after he did. That bodes well for the upcoming season, in which Grant will incorporate talented freshman small forward Devonta Pollard with essentially the same team that finished 7-3 down the stretch. If Alabama can find some outside shooting to go with its typically stingy defense, it should be in the NCAA tournament yet again.
Worst-case scenario: The Crimson Tide shot 28.9 percent from 3 last season, good for 328th in the country. That was the main cause of Alabama's offensive struggles, and Pollard is unlikely to alleviate it this season. If the defense slips even a bit from its top 10 efficiency perch, Alabama will take a step back.
Best-case scenario: B.J. Young is a highly talented player and a prime candidate for breakout stardom, but he isn't the only talented sophomore on the roster. When Mike Anderson took over at Arkansas, he managed to keep all of John Pelphrey's last-ditch 2011 recruiting class, including guard Rashad Madden and forward Hunter Mickelson. With a season in Anderson's demanding system under its belt, this program appears set to vault itself to NCAA-tournament-bubble relevance once more.
Worst-case scenario: I'm not sure how this team won't improve, given the increase in experience and the time spent learning on the fly last season. But for all that talent, the Razorbacks have to improve on the defensive side of the floor. Anderson's teams are at their best hassling opponents 90 feet from the rim, but the 2011-12 edition was far too permissive to be a consistent winner.
Best-case scenario: Tony Barbee has raved about the talent he has accumulated this offseason. That's not exactly a high bar, but he has a point. Auburn brought in two top-100 recruits, four-star shooting guard Brian Greene and two junior college transfers who could contribute right away. This will be a whole new squad, and while an NCAA tournament berth is still a season or two away, the Tigers are almost certain to improve over their ugly, sub-.500 season.
Worst-case scenario: Barbee will have to rely on his newcomers, because almost no one else is left. This young team could take its lumps early and may finish in the bottom of the SEC yet again. But the fresh start is what really matters.
Best-case scenario: Guard Kenny Boynton should have a big senior season, forward/human mountain Patric Young may finally unleash a consistent low-post game, forward Erik Murphy will stretch the floor with his 42.1 percent 3-point shooting, freshman Braxton Ogbueze will provide backcourt depth, and Florida may find itself feeling the addition-by-subtraction effects of losing maddening guard Erving Walker to graduation. A conference title and deep NCAA tournament run are realistic goals.
Worst-case scenario: The Gators may find that they miss Bradley Beal more than any of us think, not only because Beal was a great scorer -- a trait he didn't really turn on until the NCAA tournament -- but also because Beal was an excellent rebounder at the 3. The Gators need to make up for the lack of a second true post man next to Young on the low block. That may be a bit technical for July. Anyway, there is little mystery here. The Gators will be good. The worst-case scenario for this team is an NCAA tournament exit before the second weekend.
Best-case scenario: Whatever Georgia's best-case scenario is -- a midtable SEC finish and bubble consideration, if not a bid -- sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to be a major part of it. Caldwell-Pope will be the nexus of nearly everything this team does on offense, and if he blows up, and he very well could, Georgia could surprise a few folks along the way.
Worst-case scenario: It's unclear whether KCP has any sort of backup on the Georgia roster. This is Mark Fox's fourth year at the school, so this is still a rebuilding project. Worst-case scenario? Let's say 15 wins or fewer.
Best-case scenario: Another national title. It's just that simple. As is his wont, coach John Calipari has restocked his team with elite recruits who will play big minutes right away. Bringing Ryan Harrow in after his transfer year and putting a score of athletic players around sharpshooting power forward Kyle Wiltjer is a recipe for some potentially spectacular offense. This team won't be as good as 2011-12 -- that almost seems impossible -- but its best-case scenario is still very much about hardware.
Worst-case scenario: Regardless of personnel, Calipari teams are always tough on the defensive end, so there's a baseline level of expectation baked in no matter what form -- dribble drive? downscreen sets? secondary breaks? -- the offense takes. Still, some tempering of expectations is probably warranted. Nerlens Noel is not the transcendent, once-in-a-generation freak show Anthony Davis was, and Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are not Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Terrence Jones. The learning curve for this team will be higher, but when your worst-case scenario is not making the Final Four, you're in pretty good shape.
Best-case scenario: The good news for LSU fans -- and new coach Johnny Jones -- is that Trent Johnson left behind some pieces to build around. Anthony Hickey is a solid young point guard, and forward Johnny O'Bryant has sophomore leap written all over him. LSU won't make the tournament, but it could get a head start on the next rebuilding phase.
Worst-case scenario: Nice young pieces aside, LSU lost the majority of its size in the offseason when seniors Storm Warren and Malcolm White graduated and junior Justin Hamilton left for the NBA draft. That won't do much for the Tigers' offense, which held the team back throughout 2011-12. Another 18-15 season doesn't seem so bad, all things considered.
Best-case scenario: This is all about the rebuild. Rick Ray inherits a program in a massive state of transition. Best-case? Incoming freshman Fred Thomas, a four-star shooting guard, shows glimpses of a brighter future.
Worst-case scenario: Ray is living it this week. On Sunday, incoming shooting guard Craig Sword was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of a firearm. Then Ray learned that freshman guard Jacoby Davis tore his ACL and is likely to miss the 2012-13 season. Losing one would be bad enough; losing both would be a disaster. It's going to be a long season in Starkville.
Best-case scenario: Missouri ended a brilliant 2011-12 season on a brutal note, and only a few of the Tigers from that team remain. But Frank Haith has enlisted the help of a deep pool of transfers in Mizzou's quest for postseason redemption. Those transfers include national-title-winning UConn center Alex Oriakhi, highly sought-after guard Jabari Brown, athletic freak Keion Bell and former Auburn swingman Earnest Ross. Lightning-quick guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon will anchor the backcourt, and forward Laurence Bowers will return from last summer's devastating ACL tear. You can make the argument that, save for Kentucky, this is the SEC's most talented team. An extended March stay is the very attainable goal.
Worst-case scenario: Transfers are tricky under any circumstances. This many transfers with this much talent? Haith, whose hiring was widely panned, acquitted himself brilliantly in his stewardship of a guard-heavy Tigers lineup last season, but this will be his most challenging coaching job yet.
Best-case scenario: A return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. That might seem slightly optimistic, but only if you missed Ole Miss's quiet 20-win 2011-12. Murphy Holloway, Jarvis Summers, Nick Williams and Reginald Buckner form a quality, balanced core, one joined by some quality newcomers, particularly four-star small forward Anthony J.P. Cortesia. If the Rebels get more consistent offensive play, particularly shooting, they can go dancing.
Worst-case scenario: That this team is already what it is. If that's the case -- if Holloway doesn't raise his play, if the Rebels can't find better outside shooting or more consistent conversion from the free throw line -- then its offense is likely to lag again, and its chances of a tournament bid will lag along with it.
Best-case scenario: Frank Martin -- whose teams never lack a certain edge, one that is about more than his infamous expressionistic facial displays -- gets the Gamecocks to buy in defensively and on the glass and coaches them to an impressive first season.
Worst-case scenario: If the above happens, it'll be a lovely bonus. If it doesn't, oh well. Martin is starting from scratch, not only on his roster but also in the basketball culture. It will take time to build South Carolina into a competitive outfit.
Best-case scenario: Jarnell Stokes was a revelation in his freshman season, and he should be a full-fledged star in his sophomore campaign. Junior Trae Golden brings savvy guard play, and forward Jeronne Maymon is an aggressive handful on the glass. With a year under Cuonzo Martin, an already-good defense that should get better and a true centerpiece in Stokes, Tennessee fans are expecting a return to the NCAA tournament much earlier than previously planned. Rightfully so.
Worst-case scenario: It's hard to picture Tennessee not taking a step forward in 2012-13, but if it doesn't, blame the offense. The Volunteers were thoroughly mediocre in all four statistical offensive factors. They were especially sloppy with the ball, allowing opponents to turn them over on 20.7 percent of their possessions, almost half of which were steals. Things look bright, but Martin's team will have to clean up some fundamentals before it can make a leap.
Best-case scenario: The good news? Texas A&M has talent. Billy Kennedy's first recruiting class includes two top-100 prospects, point guard J-Mychal Reese and shooting guard Alex Caruso, and both should compete for big minutes right away. It also has a pair of solid senior veterans in Elston Turner and Ray Turner. The obvious bet is a rebuilding season, but it doesn't have to be a completely dour one.
Worst-case scenario: The bad news? The talent Texas A&M has isn't very big. Turner is the only notable returning player with anything resembling interior size. A&M may have to play small-ball, or it may have to wait until Kennedy can refresh the ranks. Neither option bodes well for 2012-13.
Best-case scenario: It doesn't look good. Vanderbilt had a great run these past four seasons, and Kevin Stallings has done a magnificent job building this program into a perennial SEC contender. His teary reaction after Vanderbilt beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament final was a fitting punctuation on the Taylor-Jenkins-Ezeli era. Now, Stallings is back to the drawing board.
Worst-case scenario: Could Vanderbilt finish last in the SEC? It seems borderline, given how much talent was lost and how little experience and playing time Stallings' new charges have. This is a down year, plain and simple. Hey, it happens.