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SEC preview: Unlike football, East is where it's at


You know how the SEC West is full of good football teams?

And how the SEC East mostly stinks?

It'll be exactly the opposite in basketball this season, proof being how the school picked to win the West (Mississippi State) would likely be picked no better than fifth in the East (behind Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia). Best I can tell, these divisions are more lopsided than that Oregon-UCLA football game a few weeks ago, more unbalanced than Ron Artest and Delonte West combined. I'm not saying the top four in the East will go 24-0 against the West like they did last season. But what I am saying is that if the SEC gets six bids to the NCAA tournament, five will come from the same side.

And it won't be the West.

Here's a look at the Southeastern Conference:

(Schools listed in predicted order of finish.)


1. Florida

The Gators return every relevant player from a team that made the NCAA tournament, then added a freshman in Patric Young, who has the body and ability to make an immediate impact around the rim. Detractors point out that Florida only won 21 games last season, only finished 9-7 in the league, and then they insist that's not quite the same as returning five starters from a national championship team as Billy Donovan did in 2006. Guess what? I agree. But based on what was accomplished last season and what's back for this season, the Gators should be picked atop the SEC East, and the SEC in general. NCAA tournament? Yes

2. Kentucky

I'm not sure how many coaches could lose five first-round picks and still be considered a serious threat to win a league title, but I know John Calipari is one of them. He enrolled the nation's best recruiting class for the second straight year, and his Wildcats will be led by a freshman point guard for the second straight year, this time Brandon Knight. If Enes Kanter gets eligible, UK could win the national title. Either way, the Wildcats will be good. NCAA tournament? Yes

2011 Tournament:
March 10-13 -- Atlanta
Quick facts
Defending regular-season champion:
Defending tournament champion:
Top returning scorer:
Trey Thompkins (Georgia), 17.7 ppg
Top returning rebounder:
Trey Thompkins (Georgia), 8.3 rpg
First team
G - Brandon Knight, Kentucky
G - Chris Warren, Mississippi
F - Scotty Hopson, Tennessee
F - Chandler Parsons, Florida
F - Trey Thompkins, Georgia
Second team
G - Kenny Boynton, Florida
G - John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
G - Travis Leslie, Georgia
F - Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
F - Ravern Johnson, Mississippi State
Player of the year
Trey Thompkins, Georgia
Newcomer of the year
Brandon Knight, Kentucky
Breakthrough player
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
Coach on the hot seat
Bruce Pearl, Tennessee
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conference previews

3. Tennessee

Bruce Pearl will make a sixth straight NCAA tournament at Tennessee as long as he's allowed to continue coaching through March despite admitted NCAA violations. Fair or not, that's the storyline overshadowing the Vols' season, and it won't go away until UT receives a notice of allegations. So calm times in Knoxville, these are not. But the on-the-court product should be solid enough to keep the Vols nationally relevant thanks to the return of Scotty Hopson and addition of Tobias Harris. NCAA tournament? Yes

4. Georgia

Not much was expected from the Bulldogs last season, but this year is different. Mark Fox has two future pros (Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie) in his starting lineup, and a transfer from Tennessee State (Gerald Robinson) who will allow Georgia to push the ball and get transition baskets that'll almost certainly turn into highlights given Leslie's track record with dunks. Should be a fun team to watch. If the Bulldogs challenge for the East title, it won't surprise me. NCAA tournament? Yes


Picking a team fifth in a six-team division typically suggests the team stinks. That's not what it suggests here, though. Sure, Vandy lost Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy, and that's not ideal. But Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor and Andre Walker give the Commodores three players who started at least 27 games last season, and John Jenkins' increased role could make him a 15-point per game scorer considering he shot 48.3 percent from 3-point range as a freshman. NCAA tournament? Yes

6. South Carolina

Three of the Gamecocks' top four scorers -- including All-American Devan Downey and his 22.5 points per game -- are gone, and even a recruiting class ranked 22nd nationally by won't be enough to offset things in a division this strong. So it's a take-a-step-back year at South Carolina, I'm afraid. These freshmen will serve the program well in time. But they'll struggle this season with the adjustment, barring a huge surprise. NCAA tournament? No


1. Mississippi State

Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost will serve NCAA suspensions that'll prevent Rick Stansbury from starting the season with a full complement of players. But Mississippi State's first nine games are against inferior opponents at home, meaning the risk of taking losses with an incomplete roster is minimal. Thus, the Bulldogs should be undefeated when Sidney becomes eligible Dec. 18. They'll be ready to tear through the SEC West once Bost joins him three weeks later. NCAA tournament? Yes

2. Ole Miss

Chris Warren and Terrico White are both terrific talents, but they weren't terrific together. So while it's rarely great to lose a pro, Warren should benefit from White's early departure to the NBA and flourish with the ball in his hands. What's less clear is how Ole Miss' newcomers will adjust. But if Indiana transfer Nick Williams proves capable of guarding multiple positions in the backcourt, and in-state product Demarco Cox makes an impact in the frontcourt, the Rebels could push Mississippi State and make this division interesting. NCAA tournament? No


The addition of freshman point guard Trevor Releford gives the Crimson Tide a chance to be better, but the truth is that second-year coach Anthony Grant is still rebuilding. He's already got a commitment from the state's best high school senior (Levi Randolph); that's a sign this is headed in the right direction. But Alabama doesn't seem equipped from a talent perspective to break through just yet. For now, it's an NIT roster. NCAA tournament? No

4. Arkansas

The rocky start that's defined the John Pelphrey era appears over, and a recruiting class that could make the Hogs relevant again is committed and set to enroll next year. So things seem OK for the first time in a long time. But change off the court is almost always a year ahead of change on the court, and that's likely going to be the case at Arkansas considering the Hogs lost two of their top four scorers in Courtney Fortson and Michael Washington. NCAA tournament? No

5. LSU

Trent Johnson likes Ole Miss transfer Malcolm White, who averaged 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Rebels two years ago. But it can't be a good sign when one of LSU's top players is expected to be an Ole Miss transfer with modest numbers, can it? Either way, the Tigers are picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC West for the second straight season. They'll be better, I think. But they only won two SEC games last season. So it's all relative. NCAA tournament? No

6. Auburn

Tony Barbee recruited well and won at UTEP, then bolted when offered the chance to move to the SEC. But the roster he left behind might be better than the one he inherited, meaning things will be tough until Barbee is able to use his recruiting connections -- and a beautiful new arena -- to lure better prospects to Auburn. There was, after all, a reason why Jeff Lebo was fired, and that reason is because he didn't enroll proper talent. NCAA tournament? No

2010-11 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule
Fri., Oct. 15Preseason Top 25 (and one) Fri., Oct. 29Conference No. 6: Pac-10
Mon., Oct. 18Preseason All-Americans Mon., Nov. 1Conference No. 5: SEC
Wed., Oct. 20Player rankings: Points/Combos Tues., Nov. 2Conference No. 4: ACC
Thurs., Oct. 21Player rankings: Wings Wed., Nov. 3Conference No. 3: Big East
Fri., Oct. 22Player rankings: Big men Thurs., Nov. 4Conference No. 2: Big 12
Mon., Oct. 25Coaches on the Hot Seat Fri., Nov. 5Conference No. 1: Big Ten
Wed., Oct. 27Best of the non-BCS Mon., Nov. 8Projections: Parrish | Palm

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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