BX SEC Conference Preview

BX SEC Conference Preview
Nov 01, 2007, 02:04 am

-Last year no SEC West team managed a winning record in conference play, and Arkansas was the only team from the West to make the NCAA Tournament….barely. Just about every team in the West looks better this year, and the conference as a whole looks like it could be one of the top two in the nation once again.

-Since 1998 the SEC has sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament in all but two seasons. They’ve had three teams in the Final Four over the past two years, and Florida has won back-to-back National Championships.

-This is a league that always seems to end up much differently than what everyone thinks it will. It’s as if it is the league of long shots and busts all at the same time. Last year, Alabama and LSU were ranked in the Top 15 to begin the year, and neither made the NCAA Tournament. At the same time, Vanderbilt came on very strong when no one was really expecting it. The year before (2005-2006), Florida and LSU were both unranked to begin the year, and both went to the Final Four. That same year Tennessee earned a #2 seed, but was also unranked to begin the year. Those are just a few recent examples. In the past few years if someone in March would go back in time and tell everyone in November how things would end up, everyone would say they were crazy. I’ve already been told I’m crazy by a number of SEC fans, so maybe I’m doing something right. If this season is like most seasons, we’ll see one or two highly ranked preseason teams absolutely bust, and one or two overlooked teams earn high seeds and/or play deep into the NCAA Tournament.

-Tekais Brown has been dismissed from Georgia’s team, and Mike Mercer and Albert Jackson have been suspended. I put the preseason bracket projection together before hearing the news, so that would definitely effect Georgia being a #7 seed. I have replaced them with Mississippi State in the Bracket Express portion of the site.


-TENNESSEE returns just about all of their contributing players from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team, and adds to it transfers Tyler Smith (Iowa) and J.P. Prince (Arizona). They also add freshman guard Cameron Tatum to their already stacked perimeter. This is a deep, experienced, talented team that loves to play an up-tempo style game. Chris Lofton is one of the best shooters in the country, and averaged just under 21ppg last season. JaJuan Smith is also a big time scorer, who averaged over 15.2ppg a season ago. Forwards Duke Crews and Wayne Chism give them a frontcourt presence. Don’t be surprised to see this team run deep into March. They look like they’re good enough to contend for the Final Four. They were a last second blocked shot away from beating national runner up Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament a season ago, and they have just about everyone back, and then some.

-FLORIDA has won back-to-back national championships, but they lost their top six players from last year and have just nine scholarship players this year. The good news is that they have the #3 recruiting class in the nation coming in, and although they aren’t likely to be a Final Four caliber team, they should be a solid NCAA Tournament team. It’s hard to say for sure how good the Gators will be because they have so many newcomers, but freshman guard Nick Calathes is a McDonalds All American, guard Jai Lucas was considered one of the top high-school players at his position, small forward Chandler Parsons was considered one of the top ten high-school players at his position, and power forward Alex Tyus was ranked in the top 20. That is a great deal of young talent. Head coach Billy Donovan has been in this situation before as you may recall, and he did quite well.

-If there is one thing that new KENTUCKY head coach Billy Gillispie could get his old team to do, it was pull out close games. Seven of Kentucky’s 11 regular season losses last year were either in overtime or by five points are less, and that is one thing that should improve. He is a coach that always seems to get the maximum output out of the sum of his parts. Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley make up a pretty strong backcourt. Both averaged in double figures last season, and should continue to improve. They also have Jodie Meeks, and freshman Alex Legion to add to their backcourt, so it is both talented and deep. They aren’t quite as experienced in the perimeter, but freshman power forward Patrick Patterson should give them quite a boost. He was one of the top rated high school at his position, and having the opportunity to be on the floor with upperclassmen should speed up his development. Kentucky should be better this year than they have the past two years. I believe we’ll see them in the Top 25 once the season begins.

-How successful ALABAMA will be this year depends on the production of point guard Ronald Steele. He was injured for most of the season last year and played through it, but was not at 100%. He underwent two knee surgeries in the offseason and if they can get him healthy then the Tide will really have something. Three other starters are back, including center Richard Hendrix, who along with Steele was voted preseason all-conference. Hendrix averaged over 14ppg and just under 9rpg last season. He was also a good defensive player and should be even better this year. Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley join him in the frontcourt and gives the Tide quite a bit of production underneath. With those three, along with the addition of freshman Justin Knox, the Tide should be able to make up for the absence of Jermareo Davidson. They also add a top 15 point guard (Rico Prickett) and a top 15 shooting guard (Senario Hillman) to their lineup as well. Both freshmen will be called upon to step it up if Steele can’t play. Alabama hasn’t been getting a whole lot of kudos this year, but I believe they are a team that can get into the rankings and earn a good NCAA Tournament seed IF they can stay healthy. They are more experienced now, and should be more consistent.

-Former ARKANSAS head coach Stan Heath was moving at a slow pace, but at least he was moving in the right direction and it really looked like this would be their year. It still could be, but Heath will not be with them. New head coach John Pelphrey will take over for Heath, who was sent packing. This is a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year and was really playing well down the stretch. Pelphrey is a good coach, but his style is somewhat different than Heath’s, and that may result in a transitional period where Arkansas could struggle. Talent wise and experience wise, they’re stacked. Guards Patrick Beverley and Gary Ervin both averaged double figures last year, and did a good job passing the basketball as well. Forwards Charles Thomas and Sonny Weems also averaged double figures a year ago. This should be a solid NCAA Tournament team, and they have the potential to be a Sweet Sixteen caliber team, but I believe there are still a few question marks when it comes to the coaching transition.

-MISSISSIPPI STATE is a team that should be a solid NCAA Tourney contender this year. Guard Jamont Gordon and forward Charles Rhodes are both big time players who return to the lineup. Barry Stewart and Ravern Johnson are two big time shooters who will join Gordon in making up a strong backcourt. Louisville transfer Brian Johnson should be an asset in the post as well. The team appeared to improve as the season progressed last year, and there is no reason to believe that will stop this year. I really like their chances.

-VANDERBILT had a big season last year that ended with a disappointing Sweet Sixteen loss to Georgetown after a controversial no-call. Three starters are back, including Shan Foster who averaged over 15ppg last season. One of the things that concerns me about the Commodores is their interior defense. They gave up 50% from inside the arc last year, and with leading scorer Derrick Byers gone along with Dan Cage, they lose close to 28ppg. They need to step it up defensively, or their win total is likely to drop. The jury is still out, at least for me, when it comes to their recruiting class. Nevertheless, Kevin Stallings has done exceptionally well in years where I thought Vandy would struggle to go anywhere, and there is no reason to think they won’t be in the mix for the NCAAs this year.

-There were times last season where AUBURN looked fantastic. There were other times when they looked pathetic. There are five starters back, and this team has a ton of potential, but they need to play more consistently. Hopefully they’ll be able to now that they’re more experienced. Five players on their roster averaged double figures last year, so there is quite a bit of balance. Guard Quantez Robertson was a good defender, and can also pass the ball very well. He, along with Josh Dollard, make up a pretty tough frontcourt that’s as strong on defense as they are on offense. Underneath, Korvotney averaged just under 7rpg and 2 blocks per game as well. The Tigers, like most teams in the West, look to be much better.

-GEORGIA was a team I was high on, but that was before the suspensions of Mike Mercer and Albert Jackson, and the dismissal of Tekais Brown. Mercer and Jackson should be reinstated at some point, but in Mercer’s case it will revolve around when he recovers from his knee surgery. According to the release, coach Dennis Felton stated his 15 game suspension would not begin until he was healthy. Georgia still does have a few weapons in guards Sundiata Gaines, who averaged in double figures last year, and Billy Humphrey, who is a good outside shooter who came off the bench. Freshman center Jeremy Price was a highly touted recruit that could step right into the starting lineup. Still, they are nowhere near as solid as they would have been prior to the suspensions/dismissals.

-LSU was a big time bust last year after going to the Final Four the previous year and starting the season very highly ranked. They ended up going just 17-15, and finishing last in the SEC West. This is a team that is normally dominant in the post, but this year it looks like the perimeter is where their experience and strength is. Point guard Garrett Temple does a good job distributing the basketball, and can score from the floor pretty well. Also on the perimeter is Terry Martin, a good outside shooter who averaged in double figures last year. Freshman power forward Anthony Randolph is someone who should step right into the starting lineup and contribute right away. He was a highly touted recruit, and he’s someone the Tigers really need in the post. I’ve given up guessing how good I think this team will be. It seems as if the lower their expectations are, the better they do.

-SOUTH CAROLINA has undergone quite a few roster changes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a team that won just four conference games last year. Sam Muldrow and Mike Holmes are two highly touted freshmen who should be able to contribute to the frontcourt. Dominique Archie also returns at the forward position, so the Gamecocks appear to have quite a bit of potential underneath. Transfers Devan Downey (Cincinnati) and Zam Frederick (Georgia Tech) will need to produce out on the perimeter if South Carolina is going to improve. The team should be better, but they don’t look to be as good as most of the rest of the league.

-MISSISSIPPI was picked to finish last last year, but ended up tying for first in the SEC West. They’re projected to finish low again this year, but head coach Andy Kennedy has been able to get the most out of his players pretty much everywhere he’s been. The Rebels lost their entire backcourt, and as a result are very inexperienced this year. They do have some good players up front, particularly center Dwane Curtis, who was a good scorer and rebounder last year. Still, they are inexperienced and unproven. Freshman point guard Chris Warren will likely be called on to produce right away. He’s got potential, but he’s also going to thrown into the fire with very little time to develop.

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