Senior College Basketball Columnist

Conference Reset: UK will withstand SEC challenge and go far in March


Patric Young and Florida could be Kentucky's only real challenge in its quest for the SEC title. (US Presswire)  
Patric Young and Florida could be Kentucky's only real challenge in its quest for the SEC title. (US Presswire)  

Some fans take joy in the fact that John Calipari has never won a national title.

If you're one of those, you might be in trouble.

Kentucky really might do it this year.

Conference resets
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The Wildcats are big and strong and long and talented. They have shooters. They have shot-blockers. They've got everything you need to win a national championship, and they are, right now, the favorites out in Las Vegas. Will Florida push them in the SEC? Yes, maybe. Vanderbilt could too, I guess. But the prediction here is that the Wildcats will win the SEC by multiple games, take the SEC tournament, be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday and the majority's pick to cut nets in April.

SEC play starts Saturday.

Here's a primer to get you ready.

Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi.

The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Kentucky's Anthony Davis blocked John Henson's shot in the closing seconds of a 73-72 victory over North Carolina, and he really hasn't stopped blocking shots since. The elite freshman and National Player of the Year candidate is among the reasons why UK is so dominant on both ends of the court.

The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: Tennesseecoach Cuonzo Martin got his first big in-state recruit when Jarnell Stokes signed with the Vols in December. The 6-foot-8 forward is currently enrolled and will play this season.

Coach feeling the heat: South Carolina's Darrin Horn entered the season on the so-called hot seat. An 8-6 record heading into league play hasn't removed him from it.

Still unproven: Arkansas is 10-3, but what does that mean? The Hogs' best win is probably against Charlotte.

Player of the Year and All-League Team: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky (POY); Anthony Davis, Kentucky; Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State; John Jenkins, Vanderbilt; Tony Mitchell, Alabama.

What I loved: Kidd-Gilchrist getting 24 points and 19 rebounds in UK's New Year's Eve victory over Louisville. It's been a joy to watch the 6-foot-7 wing go from the 13-year-old I met at the LeBron James Skill Academy to one of the best players in America. He's a terrific talent and genuinely nice young man.

What I hated: Vanderbilt starting 6-4 with losses to Cleveland State, Xavier, Louisville and Indiana State. The Commodores have since won four straight -- including a blowout victory at Marquette -- but their start gave skeptics plenty of ammunition to use against them.

1. Kentucky

What's Gone Quite Right: The freshman class has come along nicely. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis both look like National Player of the Year candidates.

New Year's Resolution: Get improved minutes at the point. The Wildcats are operating at a high level, obviously, but they still need Marquis Teague to be better. He's turning the ball over 3.2 times per game.

MVP: Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 14.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. He's UK's leader and the heart of this team.

Step Your Game Up: Terrence Jones was the preseason SEC Player of the Year, but he won't be in the postseason. He's only averaging 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. He's still disappearing all the time.

2. Florida

What's Gone Quite Right: The Gators have no great wins, but victories over Texas A&M, Florida State and Arizona can be labeled as quality.

New Year's Resolution: Never lose to a bad Big East team again. Like Rutgers.

MVP: Kenny Boynton is averaging 19.4 points while shooting 51 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range. Those percentages are way up from last season.

Step Your Game Up: Mike Rosario has played 208 minutes and only attempted 11 free throws. Shouldn't an elite scorer get to the line more than that?

3. Mississippi State

What's Gone Quite Right: The Bulldogs have gone 12-1 since losing their second game of the season to Akron. The only loss in this stretch was to fourth-ranked Baylor in Dallas.

New Year's Resolution: Keep Renardo Sidney on track and on the court. The talented but troubled big man has been pretty solid this season. He's averaging 10.4 points and 4.8 rebounds but only playing 20.8 minutes per game. He could use a few more if conditioning allows.

MVP: Arnett Moultrie is averaging 16.8 points and 11.4 rebounds. He's a transfer from UTEP who looks like the pro he was advertised to be.

Step Your Game Up: Dee Bost is mostly terrific, but he doesn't really shoot it too well. He's shooting 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range. Both percentages are down from last season.

4. Vanderbilt

What's Gone Quite Right: The Commodores have won four straight since losing to Indiana State. They got a win at Marquette in late December and are clearly better with a healthy Festus Ezeli.

New Year's Resolution: Focus every game. Kevin Stallings' team looked terrific in that blowout win at Marquette. Why Vanderbilt can't play with that kind of energy consistently is a mystery to most.

MVP: John Jenkins is averaging 20.5 points. He's shooting more this season. He's making more, too.

Step Your Game Up: Festus Ezeli is still trying to get comfortable, I know. But his most recent performance was a 1-of-5 effort against Miami-Ohio. He has to be better than that.

5. Alabama

What's Gone Quite Right: The Crimson Tide are 11-3 with wins over Wichita State, Purdue, VCU, Oklahoma State and Maryland. They've fallen out of the Top 25, but they're still a Top 25ish team.

New Year's Resolution: Shoot the ball better. Alabama is making just 27.4 percent of its 3-point attempts. If Anthony Grant's team struggles in the SEC, that'll be why.

MVP: Tony Mitchell is averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds. He has four double-doubles.

Step Your Game Up: Trevor Releford has cut down on his turnovers, but his assist-to-turnover ratio still isn't great. The sophomore point guard is averaging 3.3 assists and 2.2 turnovers.

6. Arkansas

What's Gone Quite Right: The Hogs are 11-3 against a so-so schedule. They don't have a good or even great win, but they do have 11 of them.

New Year's Resolution: Score more often. The Hogs are averaging 76 points but that's just because they play fast. Their offense actually ranks outside of the top 125.

MVP: B.J. Young is averaging 13.9 points and shooting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc. Those are good numbers for a freshman guard.

Step Your Game Up: Rickey Scott has taken 29 3-pointers and made just three. So he's missing roughly 90 percent of his 3-point attempts.

7. LSU

What's Gone Quite Right: The Tigers have 10 wins -- one of which came against nationally ranked Marquette. They also played No. 21 Virginia close.

New Year's Resolution: Get better offensively. LSU is pretty good defensively, but Trent Johnson's team just can't score. The Tigers rank 214th nationally in offensive efficiency.

MVP: Justin Hamilton is averaging 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. He's a 6-foot-11 center who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

Step Your Game Up: Johnny O'Bryant was LSU's most heralded recruit. His averages are OK, but he's only getting 19 minutes per game.

8. Mississippi

What's Gone Quite Right: The Rebels own wins over an ACC school (Miami), a Big East school (DePaul) and a Big Ten school (Penn State). They have a top 60 RPI.

New Year's Resolution: Get Jelan Kendrick to be consistent. The former McDonald's All-American looked good in a loss to Middle Tennessee State, but he backed it with a zero-point performance in a loss to Dayton.

MVP: Murphy Holloway is averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds. He has five double-doubles.

Step Your Game Up: Kendrick could be a difference maker for this team. But he missed nine of his first 12 shots this season and is still a headache off the court from time to time.

9. Georgia

What's Gone Quite Right: The Bulldogs have nine wins -- including victories over Notre Dame and Southern California.

New Year's Resolution: Make more 2-pointers. Georgia is only shooting 45 percent inside the arc. That's awful.

MVP: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 14.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. He's lived up to his McDonald's All-American status.

Step Your Game Up: Remember when Marcus Thornton was supposed to be a nice recruit? He's only averaging 2.8 points as a sophomore and shooting 25 percent from the field.

10. Tennessee

What's Gone Quite Right: Cuonzo Martin signed Jarnell Stokes and by extension did something Bruce Pearl never did -- enroll an elite recruit from Memphis.

New Year's Resolution: Get Stokes enrolled and comfortable. Honestly, I don't know if it's wise for the 6-foot-8 forward to play this year with barely any practice, but he wants to play so he will. The goal should be to make sure he's great not by March but by next November.

MVP: Jeronne Maymon is averaging 11.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. He had 32 and 20 in an early loss to Memphis.

Step Your Game Up: Though Maymon is the MVP, he's tailed off lately and only reached double-figures in one of his past five outings.

11. Auburn

What's Gone Quite Right: The Tigers have won 10 of 13 to start the season. One more win and they'll equal last season's win total.

New Year's Resolution: Get Varez Ward going. (See below.)

MVP: Kenny Gabriel is averaging 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. Both are team highs.

Step Your Game Up: Varez Ward was supposed to be an impact transfer, and he is. But he's only averaging 1.2 points a game more in his first season at Auburn than he averaged in his final season at Texas.

12. South Carolina

What's Gone Quite Right: The Gamecocks have won four straight to move to 8-6. They started the season 2-5.

New Year's Resolution: Guard the perimeter. South Carolina's opponents are shooting 38.4 percent against the Gamecocks from beyond the arc. That means South Carolina is one of the nation's very worst at preventing 3-point baskets.

MVP: Malik Cooke is averaging 13.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. The senior forward began his career at Nevada.

Step Your Game Up: None of South Carolina bigs is a great rebounder. Only one player (Anthony Gill) is even averaging five boards a game.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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