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5 SEConds: A Closely Guarded Preview of the SEC (Part 1)

A three-part preview of the upcoming SEC basketball season begins with a look at the bottom 5 teams.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Dark Ages of SEC basketball are over as the 2014-15 season should see improved play up-and-down the conference. A new feature on Peachtree Hoops this season will be a weekly update of what is going on in the SEC with a focus on the NBA prospects in the conference--the deepest group of prospects in the conference in a decade. The feature will be called 5 SEConds and will highlight five things most to know about SEC play each week. We kick things off with the five teams least likely to be featured this season:

14b.   Mississippi State (2013-14 season: 14-19, 3-15)

How Last Season Ended: The Bulldogs' season ended after beating Auburn on January 22 to start SEC play 3-2. They dropped their next 13 game before beating what was left of Vanderbilt to open the SEC Tournament.

Best Returning Player: Junior guard Craig Sword is a solid all-around player who led the Bulldogs in scoring last season. He does a little bit of everything on the basketball floor and will have to do a lot of everything for Mississippi State to move up the SEC pecking order.

Best Newcomer: Incoming freshman forward Demetrius Houston, like Craig Sword,  was a three-star recruit out of Montgomery, Alabama. An underrated prospect, Houston will have every opportunity to surprise SEC teams that chose not to recruit him.

Coach Status: Rick Ray (24-41, 3rd season) inherited a mess in Starkville and injuries have held back efforts at progress. The Bulldogs should be improved this year, but remain the least talented team in the conference. Fans will have to wait until 2015-16 to see much of a change.

Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: November 28 at Saint Louis (CBS Sports Network at 9:30 p.m. ET), but every game will be a test for this team.

14a.    Vanderbilt (2013-14 season: 15-16, 7-11)

How Last Season Ended: A roller coaster season was torpedoed by the academic loss of leading scorer Eric McLellan at mid-season. Vanderbilt briefly showed some life before ending the season on a five-game losing streak that included a horrible defeat against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament.

Best Returning Player: Sophomore Center Damian Jones was a member of the All-Freshman Team while averaging over 11 points and nearly 6 rebounds a game. Jones is one of the best SEC players fans do not know much about, but he will become a known commodity if he improves his free-throw shooting and stays out of foul trouble.

Best Newcomer: Freshman point guard Shelton Mitchell missed most of his senior season at Oak Hill Academy, but reports are he has looked good since arriving in Nashville. Young teams desperately need solid play at point guard and Mitchell has the ability to solidify the position despite his inexperience.

Coach Status: Kevin Stallings (292-192, 16th season) must feel like the 2012 SEC Tournament Championship was a decade ago after the up-and-down effort of the last two seasons. It is going to get worse before it gets better, but Stallings will be given time to develop some young talent this season while waiting for a strong recruiting class to arrive next fall.

Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: Umm...December 31 at St. Louis? The Billikens doubled down on scheduling the worst two hands in the SEC.

13.      Missouri (2013-14 season: 23-12, 9-9)

How Last Season Ended: A 10-0 start to the season quickly fell apart with a 4-6 stretch to open SEC play. A wasted season with a talented roste ended with a second-round NIT loss to Southern Miss led by new Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall.

Best Returning Player: Sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III is the leading returning scorer (5.8 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 rpg) and should be a team leade. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn meniscus at the beginning of October but is expected to be ready to play when the season starts.

Best Newcomer: Freshman forward Jakeenan Gant was "Mr. Basketball" in the state of Georgia and has had a rough start to his career at Mizzou due to a suspension and reinstatement. However, the 6'8 Springfield native is the most talented player on the Tigers roster and will be leaned upon heavily in his first season in Columbia.

Coach Status: Kim Anderson (0-0, 1st season) takes the reigns of the least talented Missouri team since before DeMarre Carroll stepped on campus. It will be a long season, but Anderson is a coaching upgrade over the departing Frank Haith.

Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: November 24 versus Arizona (ESPN2 @ 5:00 p.m. ET)

12.      Tennessee (2013-14 season: 24-13, 11-7)

How Last Season Ended: A season of fans petitioning to fire Cuonzo Martin ended with a close Sweet Sixteen loss to Michigan. The departure of Martin along with Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae leaves the Vols in rebuilding mode.

Best Returning Player: Josh Richardson scored 10.3 points per game last year while rarely being an option in the offense. He is a great athlete who should thrive with the ball in his hands more.

Best Newcomer: Freshman guard Detrick Mostella is a great athlete still learning to play basketball. He should find success in a likely role as a dynamic sixth man behind talented wings Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs.

Coach Status: Donnie Tyndall (0-0, 1st season) is rightly viewed as one of the hot coaches in college basketball after rebuilding the Southern Miss program. Despite significant losses to graduation and transfer, Tydall still has significant talent to work with on the wings. Unless Vol fans petition for talent to arrive at point guard and center, Tennessee will be looking up to former coach Bruce Pearl in the SEC standings.

Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: The Vols play in the Orlando Classic from November 27-30. They could meet Kansas if they get past first-round opponent Santa Clara.

11.      Auburn (2013-14 season: 14-16, 6-12)

How Last Season Ended: Auburn AD Jay Jacobs elected to bring Head Coach Tony Barbee back for the 2013-14 season. Jacobs was rewarded for his incompetence with Bruce Pearl arriving on the plains to rescue a program perpetually trapped in the spin cycle.

Best Returning Player: Senior forward KT Harrell is a highly effective scorer (18.3 ppg) who is a sleeper All-SEC candidate. If Harrell becomes an adequate defender under Pearl, he could become a fringe NBA prospect.

Best Newcomer: Niagara transfer Antoine Mason led the NCAA in scoring at 25.9 points per game. He should join Harrell to make up a very dynamic combo if both players can find balance in sharing the ball.

Coach Status: Bruce Pearl (0-0, 1st season) is the best SEC coach in the last 2 decades not to win a national title. He knows and understands the SEC and will have Auburn at the upper half of the SEC in 2015-16. If he gets 9 conference wins this season with a strange mix of talent, he should be named SEC Coach of the Year.

Pre-Conference Thermometer Game: The Tigers face Louisiana-Lafayette and NBA prospect Shawn Long on November 21 followed by a trip to the MGM Grand Event in Vegas where they could get matched up with Oklahoma State.