CBSSports.com Senior Writer

SEC East makes picking champion difficult

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NASHVILLE -- Somebody asked a few days ago who I think will win the SEC East.

My answer?

"Kentucky, probably. But it could be Georgia. Or Vanderbilt. Or Florida. Or ..."

Three minutes later, I was still rambling in a way that suggested I didn't have a great answer. But don't blame me. Nobody has a great answer to a question about who will win the SEC's Eastern Division, including Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli.

Erving Walker is leading the Gators with 14.4 PPG. (Getty Images)  
Erving Walker is leading the Gators with 14.4 PPG. (Getty Images)  
"There are a lot of candidates for that," Ezeli told me after leading Vanderbilt to a 73-66 win over Georgia this week, and I couldn't agree more. Vandy is obviously one of those candidates because Ezeli has emerged as a 6-foot-11 center who averages 12 points and seven rebounds. Kentucky is another candidate because the Wildcats have great freshmen and a coach good at winning with them. Georgia is a candidate because Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson are one of the better trios in the league. And Florida is a candidate because the Gators are talented, experienced and coached by a Hall of Famer.

"I always thought it would be Florida," said Georgia coach Mark Fox, at which point I reminded him that UK's John Calipari said in the preseason that the SEC East champion would actually be Georgia. "Yeah, but he was just trying to set me up."

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your SEC East. Just one week in and it's already clear there is no clear favorite. Florida is 2-0 and Tennessee is 0-2. Everybody else -- Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina -- is 1-1, and good luck trying to figure out where things go from here. The highest-ranked school of the bunch is Kentucky, which has already lost to Georgia, which has already lost to Vanderbilt, which has already lost to South Carolina.

The team at the top of the standings (Florida) has lost to unranked Jacksonville.

The team at the bottom of the standings (UT) has beaten No. 5 Pittsburgh and No. 7 Villanova.

Every SEC East school except South Carolina has been ranked at some point this season, and every SEC school except Kentucky has been unranked at some point this season. Things are constantly changing, forever going in different directions. So I don't know what to think anymore. But here's what I think I think right now: I think Kentucky has the highest ceiling. I think Georgia has the best mix of a talented roster and gifted coach. I think Vanderbilt will finish undefeated at Memorial Gym. I think Florida is the safest pick. I think Tennessee is a mess on the verge of a possible five-game losing streak. And I think South Carolina will finish last, one way or another.

My official pick is still Kentucky, I guess.

(I'll be a sucker for talent till the day I die.)

But it could be Georgia. Or Vanderbilt. Or Florida. Or ...

The truth is that I don't really know.

But neither do you.

So it's probably best to just sit back and watch and see where this ride takes us.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com 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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