A league in transition is getting a jolt from the Midwest.
There are several big storylines that will impact the 2012-13 season, but none is bigger that the import of Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. The SEC is now a 14-team league (with the accompanying scheduling headaches) and both teams should be solid additions in the short- and long-terms. In terms of this season, the Tigers could be major party crashers (see below).
Speaking of that schedule, it's now 18 games and comes with each team having a "constant rival" and four other teams it plays home-and-home. The other eight league foes are faced once apiece. There was additional drama injected this summer when the league, without consulting coaches after everyone believed scheduling had been settled in the league's June meetings, changed up the pairings. This could be impactful because teams set their nonconference schedules based in part on expected league schedules. Expect this to be a discussion for SEC bubble teams in March.
There also was significant personnel movement, both on the court and on the bench. The big coaching news was Frank Martin moving from Kansas State to a rebuilding project at South Carolina. Wonder if he'll get any advance scouting calls from teams who are less familiar with Missouri's and A&M's players? LSU (former North Texas head coach Johnny Jones) and Mississippi State (former Clemson assistant Rick Ray) also got new coaches.
From a player turnover standpoint, Kentucky's annual talent exodus was more pronounced than usual, with practically everyone from its national championship rotation moving on. There's still plenty of talent in Lexington, but the Cats will not be as dominant as last season. Several other regular contenders (notably Florida and Vanderbilt) suffered significant personnel losses. The Gators should still be pretty strong. The Commodores? Not so much. SEC hoops control of the Volunteer State should move back to the Volunteers this season. Elsewhere, the bottom of the league continues to improve.
As long as John Calipari remains at Kentucky, the recruiting story in the league will begin in Lexington. Calipari brought in another bountiful class centered (figuratively and literally) around shot-swatter Nerlens Noel, very arguably the nation's top recruit. Throw in small forward Alex Poythress and shooting guard Archie Goodwin to go with some returning talent and a couple of potential impact transfers and the Cats will once again be formidable.
Florida reloaded its backcourt after losing both Erving Walker and Brad Beal (early entry), with point guard Braxton Ogbueze considered the best of the bunch. Alabama adds stud small forward Devonta Pollard to a promising returning core. The league is also getting deeper as teams like Auburn and Georgia continue to add regional talent. There are a lot of guards coming into programs all over the league, which could make the SEC a fun watch over the next few seasons.