So, you want to know more about the Southeastern Conference? Well, lucky for you, I’ve got your back. Surely you are familiar with the past glories of the SEC – it’s the home of the back to back defending national champion Florida Gators! Look! Over there! It’s the sleeping powerhouses of Kentucky and Arkansas! Complete with brand new coaches! Who’s that with the funky little gym? Why it’s the Vanderbilt Commodores! And those handsome gentlemen in orange? None other than the Tennessee Volunteers – the true insurgents of the SEC who have gone from zeros to heroes since Sweaty Bruce Pearl arrived in Knoxville a few years ago. Over the past decade and a half the SEC has produced five national champions, but will they produce one for the third year in a row? The only 2007-08 SEC hoops breakdown you’ll ever need awaits you after the jump!
1) Tennessee Volunteers
What’s not to like about the Vols? They have a fantastic backcourt with the SEC’s leading scorer in Chris Lofton (20.8 ppg in ’06-’07), Ramar Smith (10.3ppg), and JaJuan Smith (15.2 ppg). The Vols also bring in Iowa transfer Tyler Smith who was among the Hawkeyes leaders in scoring, assists, and rebounding (14.9, 3.6, and 4.9 per game) last season. With all of the offensive talent in Knoxville this year, the Vols should be the team to beat in the East and the SEC as a whole. Tennessee debuted in the pre-season coaches poll at #7 and are the SEC’s best bet to bring home another championship banner.
2) Kentucky Wildcats
With Tubby Smith living in Minnesota now and the arrival of Billy Clyde Gillispie as head coach (and you MUST include the Clyde when referencing him) expectations are typically high in Lexington. Gillispie has earned a reputation as an great turnaround artist at UTEP and Texas A&M, and for the first time, he’s getting a team that is already pretty talented. Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley are experienced seniors who should provide consistency and sharp perimeter shooting. The frontcourt loses Randolph Morris, but gains highly touted freshman Patrick Patterson. If Patterson is as good as advertised, his presence inside combined with the depth at the guard position (Billy Clyde will use a four guard set most of the time) could make UK a solid challenger for the SEC East if UT should falter. At the very least, they’ll be in the tournament once again and looking to make a run.
3) Florida Gators
Well, it’s all downhill from here for Gator fans – I’m looking at you Shanof – but all hope should not be lost. However, if you can name one Florida Gator starter, you win a prize. The Gators are returning only one player who has ever started a game in Gainesville, guard Walter Hodge. Had Billy Donovan followed through with his departure for the Orlando Magic, I’d likely be expecting the Gators to finish in the cellar of the SEC East – especially since they have to play UK and UT twice – but the last time the Gators had to go young, they won 24 games and laid the foundation for the back-to-back championship squad. If incoming freshmen Jai Lucas, Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons, and the rest of the Gator freshmen find their footing before conference season starts, the Gators could challenge for an NCAA bid. But, it’s going to be a challenge to get there.
4) Vanderbilt Commodores
Vandy has one of the best home court advantages in the conference with Memorial Gymnasium, and they’ll need it if they are going to make it to the NCAA tournament for the third time under coach Kevin Stallings. The Commodores had a great run in the tournament last year, before falling to Georgetown after a questionable traveling call in the Sweet 16. Vandy is returning 3 starters from that team, including leading scorer Shan Foster. It’ll be a challenge for the Dores to make a run in the East and they are unlikely to repeat last year’s 10-6 conference record. Look for a season on the tournament bubble in Nashville this year.
5) Georgia Bulldogs
My expectations for Georgia this year were a lot higher initially. The Dawgs were returning four starters under coach Dennis Felton and looked primed to make a run at the NCAA tournament. Then the suspensions started coming. At first leading returning scorer Takais Brown (14.2 ppg 5.6 rpg) was suspended for the first nine games of the season…then he was sent packing for good. Mike Mercer (13.6 ppg) was suspended earlier for 15 games and Albert Jackson, a 6-10 sophomore who was expected to challenge for a starting role, was suspended for 6 games as well. While Mercer and Jackson will be back with plenty of season to go, losing Brown as well has done Georgia no favors. Felton has done a great job cleaning up Jim Harrick’s mess, but this may end up being another NIT season in Athens thanks to the off-season troubles of three players.
6) South Carolina Gamecocks
Coach Dave Odom has built a championship powerhouse in Columbia. They are the masters of the NIT, having won two NIT titles in Odom’s six years as the Head
Cock Coach. Last year’s team didn’t qualify for even the NIT after a 14-16 campaign that found SC going only 4-12 in conference play. To make things worse, they lost three starters, including Tre Kelley and his nearly 19 points per game. The good news is that the Gamecocks are young and that the future could hold brighter things. The Gamecocks only senior is Dwayne Day and a majority of this years starters are sophomores.
1) Arkansas Razorbacks
One of the best programs of the 80s and 90s, the Hogs have had a rough go of the ’00s. While Stan Heath did an excellent job of rebuilding the talent level in the wake of Nolan Richardson’s departure five years ago, his teams often lacked the intensity that Richardson’s teams had and they developed a reputation for underachieving. In spite of making the NCAA tournament the past two years, Heath was sent packing and in comes
Dana Altman, er, make that John Pelphrey to remedy things in Fayetteville. Pelphrey inherits an extremely talented team with all five starters returning from last year’s team. Patrick Beverley is a rising star in the SEC at SG and Steven Hill is one of the nation’s best shot-blockers at Center. Add in the return of Gary Ervin at the point and Sonny Weems on the wing and the Razorbacks have the capability to score in bunches as Pelphrey returns Arkansas to their old “40 Minutes of Hell” style of play. If the Hogs can solve their turnover problems from last year, they could prove to be one of the SEC’s best teams and more than capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament.
2) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last year’s SEC West champions, the Bulldogs have the talent to compete for the crown again this year. While they only return two starters, one of them is Jamont Gordon – one of the SEC’s leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists last year. Also coming back in Charles Rhodes, whose 13.7ppg and 6.2 rpg, should provide a solid presence in the frontcourt. The Bullies also return a pair of excellent sophomores in guards Barry Stewart and Ben Hansbrough – the younger brother of North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. Basketball families are all the rage in Starkville, as MSU also welcomes in freshman Kodi Augustus – the cousin of former LSU women’s great, Seimone Augustus. If Stansbury’s young players can contribute enough to help out Gordon and Rhodes, then the Bulldogs may make a return to the NCAA tournament this year.
3 ) Auburn Tigers
It’s been four years since the Tigers last made the NCAA tournament and Jeff Lebo’s squad has enough experience to compete for the SEC West and to return to the Dance this year. Like Arkansas, Auburn returns all five starters from last year’s squad. Auburn has talent up front with Quan Prowell, Josh Dollard, and Korvotney Barber all returning. All three players averaged over 11.0 ppg and more than 5.0 rpg last year. Only Prowell is a senior, so the foundation for the future is solid as well. Quantez Robertson is solid at the point and the should serve as a nice anchor for Auburn’s backcourt. The Tigers are at their highest levels of both talent and experience in several years. The pieces are in place for Lebo to take his Tigers to their first NCAA berth in his tenure.
4) Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama was set to make a run at the NCAAs and the SEC West title this year. Then, they lost Ronald Steele for the year due to an injury. The loss of Steele dealt a huge blow to the hopes of the Crimson Tide. His numbers had already taken a huge dip from his sophomore to junior year last year due to balky knees, but it was expected that Steele would be healthy and able to lead the Tide this year. Combined with the departure of Jermareo Davidson, the Tide are considerably less formidable now. However, Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee make for a pretty darn good frontcourt and give Bama some hope for the season. Additionally, there are some solid young players coming in this season, including Senario Hillman and Justin Knox. If the Tide can find a way to make up for the lack of Steele, they’ve got a chance. But that chance is not looking too good at this point.
5) Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels have a very good young coach in Andy Kennedy and are coming off a season in which they won 21 games – a number they had come close to in several years – and Kennedy was named SEC Coach of the Year. But, they also lost three senior starters, including their entire backcourt. The backcourt also included their top two scorers last season. Incoming Florida transfer David Huertas is expected to provided immediate help at SG and the new point man will likely be Brian Smith – son of Tubby. The future is bright for the Rebels with Andy Kennedy at the helm, but this year is likely to be a dreaded rebuilding year.
6) LSU Tigers
Hey! Weren’t these guys in the Final Four two years ago? How the heck did they finish dead last in the SEC West last year? The loss of Tyrus Thomas and Darrel Mitchell likely expedited the Tigers drop off last season and the loss of Glen “Big Baby” Davis is not likely to help things this year. The Tigers do have a very talented player in the frontcourt in Tasmin Mitchell (14.5ppg 5.9 rpg), but the rest of the cast is too young and inexperienced to make the Tigers too much of a threat this season. However, this team has only one senior (Dameon Mason) and this year’s youth movement may very well pay dividends in the future.
So there you have it – the mighty Southeastern Conference from head to toe. While the SEC doesn’t have an obvious title contender this year, they do have some very talented teams that could make some noise on a national level this season.
NCAA Bound – Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State
Bubbilicious – Florida, Auburn, Vandy
Maybe, If Things Go Right – Georgia, Alabama
Next Year Calls -Ole Miss, LSU, South Carolina