There was once a time when it was believed you had to pick.
Either you could be a football school. Or a basketball school. But not both.
|It hasn't taken Bruce Pearl long to build a budding power in Tennessee. (Getty Images)|
What's next? Somebody crazy like Kansas being good at football? Or Connecticut, even?
Oh, wait ....
Anyway, here's a look at the SEC.
It ranks fourth in the countdown of basketball leagues here at CBSSports.com.
SEC Eastern Division
The good: Every relevant player (sans Dane Bradshaw) returns, including starters Chris Lofton (20.8 points), JaJuan Smith (15.2 points), Ramar Smith (10.7 points) and Wayne Chism (9.1 points). Joining that quartet on the court will be Tyler Smith, a transfer who averaged 14.9 points last season at Iowa.
The bad: Though Bradshaw's 5.5 points and 4.0 rebounds won't be missed, his presence almost certainly will be. The undersized power forward was the coach on the floor and heart of the team, and not having that could have an effect that reaches far beyond the box score.
The bottom line: In just three years, Bruce Pearl has built a team capable of making the Final Four, which is nothing short of miraculous. This is the most talented and most athletic bunch in the SEC, and anything less than a league title will be a surprise.
The good: The love-hate relationship that seemed like more hate than love last season ended between Kentucky fans and Tubby Smith when the latter decided it would be easier just to get the heck out of town. In his place is Billy Gillispie, who has a roster built to win now thanks to veterans Joe Crawford (14.0 points), Ramel Bradley (13.4 points) and Jodie Meeks (8.7 points) and newcomers Patrick Patterson and Alex Legion.
The bad: The loss of Randolph Morris (16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds) will be noticeable, an unavoidable hole in the middle. Patterson has McDonald's All-American credentials, but duplicating Morris' numbers in this league as a freshman won't be easy.
The bottom line: Gillispie's recruiting will have the program back to competing for Final Fours soon, but the wild thing is how even in this supposed transitional season the Wildcats will be among the elite in the SEC, good enough to make life tough for Pearl's Volunteers before returning to the NCAA Tournament.
The good: Billy Donovan's venture back-and-forth to Orlando this offseason left the nation baffled, but the end result was excellent for Florida. With their future Hall of Famer on board, the Gators will be among the elite programs going forward while continuously recruiting at a high level -- just like Donovan did to lure his current freshman class headlined by Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons, Jai Lucas and Alex Tyus.
|6. South Carolina||none|
|2. Mississippi State||NCAA|
|6. Ole Miss||none|
The bad: Winning a national title is great and all, but it sure can tear your roster to pieces. Juniors Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer could in theory be on this team, but because they all entered the NBA Draft Florida is left scrambling, relying on more than a comfortable number of newcomers.
The bottom line: Things will be tough at Florida as Donovan tries to continue the winning, and unlike last season there is a clear ceiling on what this team can do. A Final Four is pretty much out of the question, and as long as the Gators make the NCAA Tournament, 2007-08 should be deemed a success.
The good: Shan Foster (15.6 points) is back from a Sweet 16 team, but the most interesting part of Vanderbilt's roster is the presence of Andrew Ogilvy. A 6-foot-10 freshman, Ogilvy is a heralded recruit, a possible one-and-done NBA prospect. And if he adjusts to the SEC quickly it could help the Commodores be better than most expect.
The bad: Vanderbilt isn't the type of program that can just lose the SEC Player of the Year without a noticeable effect. That's why the departure of Derrick Byars will be felt, because he was capable of making big plays that led to big shots and big wins.
The bottom line: I might be looking forward to seeing Vanderbilt more than any other SEC team, if only because of Ogilvy. For what it's worth, everybody I know who has seen him work out (writers, rival coaches, everybody) raves and raves more, and if the Australian is as good as advertised he could turn the Commodores into an SEC contender.
The good: Last season's leader in minutes, Sundiata Gaines, is back to anchor the backcourt. He averaged 10.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season, and similar numbers (if not bigger) are expected now.
The bad: Discipline is necessary for any successful program, but it's currently killing Georgia's chances of competing for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Mike Mercer (for 15 games) and Albert Jackson (for six games) are each suspended for violating the school's Athletic Association policy, and Takais Brown was dismissed last week after initially being suspended along with Mercer and Jackson.
Add it up, and that means the Bulldogs will play the entire season without last season's leading scorer (Brown) and at least 15 games without last season's second-leading scorer (Mercer).
The bottom line: It's hard not to feel badly for Dennis Felton, who inherited a mess and is still feeling the effects. Trying to compete in this league with key players sidelined for violating academic standards that do not apply to most of the opposition is tough, and it'll be a shame if it one day costs Felton his job.
The good: A pair of transfers -- Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick -- should give the Gamecocks a solid pair of experienced guards, even if they aren't experienced at South Carolina. Downey averaged 11.9 points and 4.3 assists two seasons ago at Cincinnati. Fredrick averaged 10.6 points and 3.9 assists two seasons ago at Georgia Tech.
The bad: Downey and Fredrick are good, but I'm not sure either is Tre' Kelley. Last season's star averaged 18.9 points and 5.1 assists, and his absence won't be easy to overcome.
The bottom line: South Carolina is a respectable team, but playing in this division is a nightmare. Put the Gamecocks in the West, and they could perhaps compete for third place. But over here the goal is to just stay out of the cellar.
SEC Western Division
The good: John Pelphrey took about the best job a person replacing a fired coach will ever get when he moved to Arkansas and inherited the roster built by Stan Heath. Patrick Beverley (13.9 points), Sonny Weems (11.8 points) and Charles Thomas (10.7 points) provide a solid nucleus, one that nearly won the SEC Tournament last season.
The bad: No doubt, the Arkansas roster is talented. But there are also some perceived knuckleheads in place, and if you didn't know this already you should now considering Pelphrey suspended Beverley, Gary Ervin and Michael Washington from last week's Red-White Game. In other words, if the Hogs don't meet expectations, off-court issues will likely be at the root.
The bottom line: The only problem with inheriting a team like this is the normal honeymoon period afforded to new coaches is nonexistent. Pelphrey has to win ... now. And if he doesn't the fans who were calling for Heath's head will exhibit the same kind of vitriol.
The good: Jamont Gordon is one of the best guards in the country the average fan doesn't see enough. He's big and strong, and he averaged 16.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists last season. Similar numbers are expected, and he's got enough of a supporting cast to take the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament.
The bad: Both Delk Twins (Richard and Reginald) transferred after starting a combined 68 games last season. Vernon Goodridge also left town, meaning the Bulldogs are down three quality players they would've had otherwise.
The bottom line: A lack of experienced depth could haunt Mississippi State, but this is still a team plenty good enough to win the SEC West. Granted, it will take a monster season from Gordon, but he's capable of a monster season.
The good: Frank Tolbert isn't expected to miss any games despite being arrested for allegedly jumping the fence of a towing company to get his SUV and then driving through (and damaging) the fence after a night of alleged drinking. A criminal mischief charge was dropped because the towing company opted not to pursue charges, and Tolbert was found not guilty of the DUI charge because his estimated blood-alcohol level was .05, slightly below the state's legal limit of .08. So yeah, Tolbert is pretty much the luckiest college basketball player in the nation.
The bad: Jeff Lebo announced this week that Josh Dollard will redshirt for medical reasons. Meanwhile, Quan Powell is suspended for at least the first five games, and that's 24.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per contest the Tigers will have to find elsewhere.
The bottom line: The Tigers would've been a sleeper pick to win the West with Dollard available. But without him it's doubtful Auburn has enough to challenge Arkansas and Mississippi State, though a postseason berth of some kind is certainly possible.
|G - Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State|
|G - Chris Lofton, Tennessee|
|F - Shan Foster, Vanderbilt|
|F - Tyler Smith, Tennessee|
|F - Richard Hendrix, Alabama|
|G - Devan Downey, South Carolina|
|G - Patrick Beverley, Arkansas|
|F - Tasmin Mitchell, LSU|
|F - Charles Rhodes, Mississippi State|
|F - Dwayne Curtis, Ole Miss|
| Player of the Year |
Chris Lofton, Tennessee
| Newcomer of the Year |
Tyler Smith, Tennessee
| Breakthrough Player |
Marreese Speights, Florida
The good: Tasmin Mitchell returns on one wing after averaging 14.5 points last season. On the other side should be freshman Anthony Randolph, a long, talented athlete from Texas who was set to take Kevin Durant's place with the Longhorns until LSU secured his commitment.
The bad: The Tigers had point guard problems last season and finished with more turnovers (452) than assists (445) as a team. The problem now is that there is no obvious reason to believe things will be better, though freshman Bo Spencer did have a team-high five assists in last week's scrimmage.
The bottom line: Mitchell and Randolph are two of the more talented players in the league, and if junior college transfer Marcus Thornton meets expectations (he had 27 points in a recent scrimmage) then the Tigers could surprise some people and make a return to the NCAA Tournament.
The good: Richard Hendrix (14.6 points) and Alonzo Gee (12.6 points) are back, giving the Crimson Tide a pair of all-league caliber performers. Mykal Riley (12.6 points) gives Alabama a third proven double-digit scorer on the roster, which is three more than some teams possess.
The bad: Alabama was 1-5 against SEC opponents when Ron Steele played less than 34 minutes in a game last season. So it's hard to figure how the Crimson Tide can be significantly better when Steele plays zero minutes this season while taking a medical redshirt.
The bottom line: The Crimson Tide won't be down long, and they have enough talent to be competitive now. But the loss of Steele is probably too much to overcome, meaning anything more than a return trip to the NIT is probably too much to expect.
The good: Dwayne Curtis averaged 12.2 points and 8.3 rebounds last season, and he'll give Ole Miss a post presence. If Malcolm White develops as expected, the Rebels will suddenly have a formidable frontcourt.
The bad: The losses of Clarence Sanders and Bam Doyne -- not to mention Todd Abernethy -- leave Ole Miss with lots of holes to fill. Those were three of the top four scorers, three starters who averaged a combined 42.2 points per game.
The bottom line: Kennedy has been fabulous in two years as a head coach (one at Cincinnati/one at Ole Miss), so expecting him to finish last in this division seems foolish. Still, on paper he has less talent than anybody. So Kennedy is probably going to have to wait until his next crop of recruits -- led by Top 100 prospect Terrance Henry -- gets on campus before he can make another serious run at the NCAA Tournament.
|2007-08 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Monday, Oct. 15||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Thursday, Oct. 25||No. 7: Missouri Valley|
|Tuesday, Oct. 16||Preseason All-Amercia Team||Friday, Oct. 26||No. 6: Big 12|
|Wednesday, Oct. 17||No. 13: West Coast||Monday, Oct. 29||No. 5: Big Ten|
|Thursday, Oct. 18||No. 12: Colonial||Tuesday, Oct. 30||No. 4: SEC|
|Friday, Oct. 19||No. 11: Mountain West||Wednesday, Oct. 31||No. 3: ACC|
|Monday, Oct. 22||No. 10: Western Athletic||Thursday, Nov. 1||No. 2: Big East|
|Tuesday, Oct. 23||No. 9: Conference USA||Friday, Nov. 2||No. 1: Pac-10|
|Wednesday, Oct. 24||No. 8: Atlantic 10||Monday, Nov. 5||Preseason Projecting the Field|