The power in the SEC should be in the East.
| Defending regular-season champion: |
| Defending tournament champion: |
| Top returning scorer: |
Marcus Thornton (LSU), 19.6 ppg
| Top returning rebounder: |
Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State), 7.8 rpg
season previews & primers
Because the best teams on that side were able to keep their leading returning scorer from leaving school early. Tennessee still has Tyler Smith, Nick Calathes is back for Florida, Kentucky returns Patrick Patterson and Vanderbilt has A.J. Ogilvy.
In the West, Alabama is adjusting to life without Richard Hendrix (left after his junior season), LSU is without Anthony Randolph (left after his freshman season), Mississippi State will go minus Jamont Gordon (left after his junior season) and Arkansas sans Patrick Beverley (suspended after his sophomore season, which prompted him to leave school).
So what's the lesson?
Keeping your best players makes things easier.
And losing them makes things harder.
(This stuff isn't brain surgery, you know?)
Anyway, here's a look at the SEC:
The good: Bruce Pearl made huge strides in the spring by gaining commitments from Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and Emmanuel Negedu. Add that to the fact that Smith stayed around and Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince are a year older and stronger, and it's clear the Vols have the best roster in the SEC, which is why they're the pick to win the East and the league as a whole.
The bad: Regardless of your thoughts on Ramar Smith and Duke Crews as players and people, losing them in the same year as Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith indicates a major overhaul of the UT roster. Again, the additions of Maze, Hopson and Negedu (and Renaldo Woolridge) could be enough to offset the losses. But those picking somebody besides Tennessee to win the SEC point to this as the reason, and it's a legitimate concern and reasonable point of view.
The bottom line: A remarkable stat is that Pearl has won at least 20 games in 15 of 16 seasons as a Division I or Division II head coach, and that streak will almost certainly be extended. If you believe Maze will be at least as good as Smith was (which he should be) and that Hopson will perform like a McDonald's All-American (which he should), then you can surmise that -- as long as Smith, Chism and Prince (when he's healthy) are what they've been -- the Vols will have a good shot to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
The good: Calathes rejected the temptation of the NBA and then an offer to play professionally in Greece to return to Florida and try to return the Gators to the NCAA tournament. The sophomore guard led the Gators by averaging 15.3 points, 6.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds last season, and he'll be joined this season by six of the other top eight scorers from a 24-win team, plus a top 10 recruiting class.
|5. South Carolina||none|
|3. Ole Miss||NCAA|
|5. Mississippi State||none|
The bad: The loss of Marreese Speights leaves a large hole in the middle, and there's no obvious single replacement. Sophomore Alex Tyus got the start in the Gators' first exhibition and notched 16 points and 14 rebounds, but it's likely that Florida will use some sort of center-by-committee rotation where the hope is to get 15 points and 10 rebounds a game from a combination of Tyus and freshmen Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas (assuming the latter ever gets healthy). Also, Wednesday's news that Jai Lucas is transferring isn't a positive. It won't be a hit in the long-term, not with what Billy Donovan has coming in next year and the year after. But in the short-term it could have an effect.
The bottom line: Florida is not an NIT program and it's hard to imagine the Gators ending up there again. Last year was tough because of the losses and transition, but Donovan has the roster to compete for an SEC title even if he's probably one player away from competing for another Final Four.
The good: That "one player" Florida is missing could be called Patrick Patterson, UK's star who strongly considered the Gators before signing with Kentucky. The 6-8 forward averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in 25 games last season and is now healed after a stress fracture ended his freshman campaign prematurely. Patterson is joined by veteran Jodie Meeks and a top 25 recruiting class highlighted by DeAndre Liggins.
The bad: I'll just ask: Is this season's UK roster better than last season's? That's the question I most often present to Kentucky fans who are sure they have a Top 25 (and one) team, whether it's correct to conclude that a team minus Joe Crawford (17.9 points per game), Ramel Bradley (15.9 ppg) and Derrick Jasper (4.2 ppg) is really better equipped to compete for an SEC title. My guess is that it's not, but that such could be offset by the fact that Billy Gillispie won't again have to spend November and December whipping his players into shape (and around to his way of thinking).
The bottom line: Like I said, I do believe this UK team will be better than Gillispie's first if only because Gillispie's first got off to such a horrendous start. Still, the roster doesn't necessarily guarantee success. But with a healthy Patterson and improved Meeks the Wildcats should make the NCAA tournament and continue building while awaiting the arrival of a pair of Class of 2009 elite recruits, namely Jon Hood and Daniel Orton.
The good: Ogilvy was one of the nation's great freshmen who did not turn pro. The 6-11 center averaged 17.0 points and 6.7 rebounds last season and should be the primary option this season now that Shan Foster is playing professionally overseas.
The bad: The loss of Foster is huge. He averaged 20.3 points last season and became the school's all-time leading scorer. Also gone are Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner, so there's another 19.1 points per game that must come from some other source or sources.
The bottom line: The Commodores lost too much at the same time to not slip, but Kevin Stallings has been pretty consistent and will make Vandy competitive, even if the Nashville-based school isn't quite as successful.
The good: Darrin Horn inherited an experienced roster, even if it isn't all that experienced in winning. The Gamecocks have gone 9-23 in the SEC the past two seasons, but that should change with some new energy at the top and three double-digit scorers led by all-league guard Devan Downey.
The bad: Again, these players might be experienced but they have mostly lost. If Horn can change the culture, he could do better than fifth in the SEC East. But it'll be a hard culture to change in his first season.
The bottom line: The Gamecocks haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. That's probably not changing this season. They haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2004. That's probably not changing either.
The good: Dennis Felton saved his job with that improbable run through the SEC tournament. From that team returns Terrance Woodbury, a 6-7 wing who averaged 11 points last season, but 15.8 in the SEC tournament.
The bad: Another off-the-court incident cost the Bulldogs their leading returning scorer when Billy Humphrey was dismissed. That's 12.2 points per game missing and a loss the Bulldogs really couldn't afford.
The bottom line: Once you get past that wild week last March the reality is that Georgia was terrible. And now the roster is worse. So it's not easy to envision a scenario where the Bulldogs ride momentum and have a great season, and if things go as poorly as they seem they might, then it's possible Felton could be moved following his sixth season.
dantheman4250: Last season the SEC was loaded with potential. Bruce Pearl's Tennessee squad was loaded with offensive firepower, and was one of the nation's best teams all season long. In Lexington, Billie Gellespie's Kentucky Wildcats struggled out of the gate but rebounded in time to make the NCAA Tournament. Vanderbilt was a force again in the SEC East, and Georgia made a miracle run to win the SEC Tournament and steal a bid. Out west the fight was on all season, but there was not really a bright spot. The conference was far from the back-to-back championships that Florida provided the previous two seasons, but overall, it was still pretty strong from top to bottom.
This season the SEC hopes to continue its streak of excellence, and once again find a way to get five or six teams into the Big Dance. There's no letdown of talent in the SEC, either. Nick Calathes, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Smith, Marcus Thorton, and Ronald Steele are among the most talented guys in the conference. All five have the same goal... to take their team to the NCAA Tournament to see how far they can go in March. With a few breaks, and a little bit of luck, one team might win the SEC's third national title in four seasons. Let's break down the SEC divisions: Read more
The good: Tasmin Mitchell's return gives new coach Trent Johnson an established scorer to play beside Marcus Thornton. Those two should easily combine for 30-plus points per game. Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson are also back, meaning five of the top six scorers from last season are on campus and hoping for a return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since a trip to the 2006 Final Four.
The bad: The one elite player not back was the most elite, specifically Randolph. The lottery pick averaged 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds in one year of college. Also worth noting is that LSU's top recruit, J'Mison Morgan, asked for a release, got it and enrolled at UCLA. In other words, UCLA has a freshman center ready to make an impact; LSU does not.
The bottom line: Predicting the Tigers to win the West is putting a lot of trust in Johnson's ability. Basically, what I'm saying is that he'll take a bunch of guys who lost a bunch last season and make them win (without their best player). So in that respect, this sounds crazy. But that's how much LSU underachieved last season.
The good: Ron Steele is finally healthy (fingers crossed). After limping through the 2006-07 season and missing all of 2007-08, the former All-American should be capable of leading the Crimson Tide back to the NCAA tournament. He'll be aided by veteran Alonzo Gee and freshman JaMychal Green, the latter of whom is a McDonald's All-American capable of helping offset the loss of Hendrix.
The bad: Hendrix's decision to enter the NBA Draft early cost Alabama a preseason Top 25 (and one) ranking and more. In fact, with Hendrix the Crimson Tide might've been the pick to win the entire SEC. But without him there's a question mark surrounding this team and a worry that his 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game will be missed and impossible to make up elsewhere.
The bottom line: The consensus in basketball circles is that this is a make-or-break season for Mark Gottfried, who hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2006 or the Sweet 16 since 2004. The good news is that Gottfried has the roster to win big and create a contract extension, and that's actually what I think he'll do.
3. Ole Miss
The good: The Rebels are set in the backcourt with Chris Warren, David Huertas and Eniel Polynice. That's a talented trio that averaged 37.2 points last season and should be capable of helping the Rebels compete for the SEC West title this season.
The bad: One of the things Ole Miss had going for it last season was that it was big and strong and experienced in the frontcourt. Now, not so much. That's the result of the losses of Kenny Williams, Jeremy Parnell and Dwayne Curtis. So while the incoming class is talented -- specifically Terrance Henry -- it could be hard to overcome the absence of those veteran big men.
The bottom line: Ole Miss has overachieved in both years under Andy Kennedy and was closer (at least according to the raw data) to making the NCAA tournament last season than most realized. Now it's probably time to breakthrough, which is why an NCAA tournament bid is expected.
The good: Korvotney Barber is back after missing all but 10 games last season with a broken hand. That means the Tigers will again have a McDonald's All-American on the court, and things tend to go better when such is the case.
The bad: In a perfect world Auburn would've also welcomed back Josh Dollard, its leading scorer from the 2006-07 season. But he was dismissed this summer for a violation of the school's athletic policy, becoming the next in a long line of Tigers to leave the program under Jeff Lebo in a way that wasn't initially planned.
The bottom line: Lebo is under pressure to win because he's averaged just 4.8 SEC victories through four years on the job. Some of that can be attributed to bad luck because of injuries. But considering this is a results-driven business, the Tigers must push for a postseason bid to ensure their coach is safe.
|G - Devan Downey, South Carolina|
|G - Nick Calathes, Florida|
|F - Tyler Smith, Tennessee|
|F - Patrick Patterson, Kentucky|
|C - A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt|
|G - Chris Warren, Ole Miss|
|G - Marcus Thornton, LSU|
|G - Scotty Hopson, Tennessee|
|F - JaMychal Green, Alabama|
|F - Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State|
| Player of the year |
Tyler Smith, Tennessee
| Newcomer of the year |
Scotty Hopson, Tennessee
| Breakthrough player |
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky
| Coach on the hot seat |
Dennis Felton, Georgia
The good: Jarvis Varnado is a shot-blocking center and exciting defensive presence. Hanging out in the paint, he can cover for a lot of mistakes. Barry Stewart is also back after averaging 11.5 points for a 23-win team.
The bad: Jamont Gordon was in such a hurry to leave college he didn't care that he wasn't a draftable prospect. Thus, he went undrafted and left Rick Stansbury trying to figure out how to replace three double-digit scorers -- Gordon, Charles Rhodes (exhausted eligibility) and Ben Hansbrough (transferred to Notre Dame).
The bottom line: Stansbury seems to always have good talent, but this is a down year by his standards. Given the roster, it's hard to imagine the Bulldogs being a factor in the West.
The good: John Pelphrey signed a top 15 recruiting class led by Courtney Fortson, Jason Henry and Rotnei Clarke. Of the returning players, Michael Washington is probably best equipped to handle an increased role. He got 22 points and seven rebounds in the Hogs' first exhibition and, assuming his minutes go from the 13.4 he averaged last season to 25 or so, the junior big man could be an all-league threat.
The bad: All five starters from last season's 23-win team are gone, and it wasn't supposed to be this way. Sure, this was always going to be a rebuilding year at Arkansas. But Beverley's suspension (that led to his departure) late this summer ensured Pelphrey's second season in the SEC will be difficult.
The bottom line: It's hard to lose five starters in one offseason from a great team and still be good, as Florida proved last season. So that Arkansas lost all five from a not-great-but-pretty-good team doesn't bode well for the Hogs, who won't be successful again until at least 2009-10.
|2008-09 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Monday, Oct. 20||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Thursday, Oct. 30||Ranking the best of the non-BCS|
|Tuesday, Oct. 21||Preseason All-America Team||Friday, Oct. 31||No. 6: Big Ten|
|Wednesday, Oct. 22||Player rankings: Points/combos||Monday, Nov. 3||No. 5: Pac-10|
|Thursday, Oct. 23||Player rankings: Wings||Tuesday, Nov. 4||No. 4: Big 12|
|Friday, Oct. 24||Player rankings: Big men||Wednesday, Nov. 5||No. 3: SEC|
|Monday, Oct. 27||Impact Freshmen||Thursday, Nov. 6||No. 2: ACC|
|Tuesday, Oct. 28||Coaches on the hot seat||Friday, Nov. 7||No. 1: Big East|
|Wednesday, Oct. 29||Games to watch||Monday, Nov. 10||Preseason tourney projections|