Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NCAA Basketball Preview - SEC

While the Pac-10 has been down and gotten most of the press/talk about being the worst major conference in college ball lately, the SEC hasn't been far behind.  It's less notable because of Kentucky and Florida's success, but some of the traditional power teams have been way down, specifically LSU and Arkansas.

Things seem to be looking up however, with Vanderbilt looking very strong (they'd probably be ranked first in any other conference outside this and the ACC), Alabama looking strong, and LSU looking to be improved this year.  Also I'm really just writing this to push the pictures down so they aren't "above the fold" because somebody once requested I do that because otherwise they pull up my blog at work and BAM hot chick right in front.  So that's why I'm still typing. 

1.  KENTUCKY WILDCATS.  If you're sick of John Calipari and Kentucky, this isn't the year for you because this might be slimey Cal's best team ever.  He got a break with Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb opting to stay in school and brings in the #1 recruiting class in the country and maybe the best of his career with PF Anthony Davis (#2), SF Mike Gilchrist (#3), PG Marquis Teague (#5), and PF Kyle Wiltjer (#22).  Just those six together with filler would be a top 10 team, but Kentucky still has .  Is this the year Calipari finally puts it all together and walks away with the National Title?  Good god, I hope not.  That slime ball and Kentucky hoops in general can go to hell.

2.  VANDERBILT COMMODORES.  Vandy has a big chance to be really, really good this year.  Unfortunately they were really, really good last year too and still got bounced by Richmond in the first round - not unlike the previous year when they got bounced in the first by Murray State.  If they're going to make a run anytime soon this is the year to do it - they've got all five starters back and nine of their top ten scorers.  John Jenkins might be the best shooter in the league and has surpassed Jeffrey Taylor as the best player on this team - and Taylor still has a shot to be All-SEC First Team.  Their point guard led the SEC in assists, which makes sense giving those two guys he's dishing to, and they have a couple very solid post men including the sweet named Festus Ezeli.  They also bring in a good class highlighted by Dai-Jon Parker, one of the best recruits in Vandy history.  Seriously, they're loaded.  If they can't make a run with this group they might as well disband the hoops program and become the full-time nerd school they're destined to become.

3.  FLORIDA GATORS.  The good news is that the Gators are absolutely loaded at guard, and you need guards to win.  They return Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, who were their top 2 scorers last year and add Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, who led his team in scoring 2 years ago and was a big time recruit as a freshman, and freshman Bradley Beal, the #4 recruit in the nation.  So yeah, they're set in the back court.  The front court, however, is a big question mark because all three starters are gone.  Patric Young is still here, and he was a highly regarded center a year ago and played well as a back-up last season.  If they can figure out what to do with their big men or make a 3/4 guard offense work they are going to be a very, very dangerous team in March.

4.  ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE.  Essentially the inverse of Florida, the Tide are loaded in the paint but
 have serious question marks on the perimeter.  JaMychal Green might be the best interior player in the conference, and he returns as the #2 returning scorer among perimeter players and the #2 returning rebounder in the conference (both behind UK's Terrence Jones), and the man who'll be starting right next to him, Tony Mitchell, is #3 and #4.  On the perimeter there's talent, if not experience.  Travis Releford, the team's third leading scorer last year, is back and a couple of newcomers are top 30 recruits in Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph.  Actually, now that I'm writing this I want to swap Bama and Florida here, but then my first sentence doesn't make any sense and I'd have to redo the whole thing.   

5.  MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS.  The Bulldogs will go as far as Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost's heads will take them.  Neither was the team's leading scorer last year (that was Ravern Johnson who is gone) but it's hard to argue they aren't the two most talented players.  Of course, Sidney is overweight, disappears and floats through games at times, and got in a well-publicized fight with a teammate last season, not to mention the mess of trouble he went through with the NCAA.  Bost missed the first 14 games last year after not withdrawing from the NBA draft in time and not keeping his academics in order.  All the NCAA trouble should be behind them, but Sidney is the type of guy who could score 30 and grab 15 boards in a game or just as easily score in single-figures and grab just a couple boards.  Not to mention that he gives the impression he's a bit of a ticking time bomb who could do something that would get him suspended again.  Awfully fun to watch though.

6.  LSU TIGERS.  It hasn't really felt right the last two season's with LSU at the bottom of the SEC, but things should be looking up this year.  Their top four scorers are back and they add in their first McDonald's All-American since 2005 in Johnny O'Bryant, a center who Rivals ranks as the 4th best at his position amongst all freshmen (#46 overall).  And what a nice coincidence, center is exactly what LSU needed most.  The perimeter is manned by sophomores Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner who were both top 150 recruits last year and both had successful first seasons, with Storm Warren (team's best rebounder) and Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton joining O'Bryant on the inside (I didn't know players actually transferred OUT of Ames).  LSU won't be a great team and likely won't challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid, but they'll at least get themselves out of the cellar and moving in the right direction.

7.  ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS.  Despite bringing in what Rivals ranks as the #11 class in the country, John Pelphrey was fired after another subpar season by Arkansas.  Luckily new coach Mike Anderson was able to hold on to the class, and that's doubly good because leading scorer, noted sharpshooter, and horribly named Rotnei Clarke (who is white, fyi) transferred after the switch and third-leading scorer and leading rebounder Delvon Johnson has graduated.  It's basically going to be Marshawn Powell with a whole bunch of unproven guys, both older and the newcomers.  The two new guards (B.J. Young and Ky Madden) can both play either guard spot and were both top 30 type recruits, so they should thrive under Anderson.  Should be fun to watch, either way.

8.  TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS.  I don't really like living in a world where Tennessee isn't a top tier SEC basketball team, but after Bruce Pearl tried to single-handedly destroy the program that looks like where we sit with five of the team's top six scorers from last year gone and one of their top recruits opted out and signed on with Louisville instead.  The lone big-time returner is guard Cameron Tatum who has been a bit of a disappointment thus far in his career, averaging around 7.5 points per game.  He's always been a 3rd or 4th option, but will have a chance to be the man this year.  There's plenty of other talent (why wouldn't there be since Pearl was a cheater) if not experience, with freshmen PG Chris Jones and SG Josh Richardson, sophomore SGs Jordan McRae and Trae Golden, junior center Kenny Hall and SF Jeronne Maymon, and senior PF Renaldo Woolridge all former top 100 recruits.  So really, these guys could finish anywhere from 4th to 12th and it wouldn't be a surprise.  With a good new coach in Cuonzo Martin I'm guessing they'll be ok.

 9.  OLE MISS REBELS.  The last four years had to be a bit disappointing for the Rebels (assuming anybody there cares about something besides football) because they had Chris Warren (not the RB) one of the best players in Ole Miss history and all they could muster was a couple of NIT Final Fours without a single NCAA berth.  Now Warren is gone along with his back court mate Zach Graham and they're combined 34 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists per game with them.  As you can imagine, this leaves a fairly gaping hole.  The good news is that Jelan Kendrick, formerly of the Memphis Tigers and was ranked the #15 best recruit in the country in 2010, is on board and becomes eligible after the first semester - he will immediately become Ole Miss's best player.  Assuming he manages to stay on the team (read this for a quick synopsis of this dude's mental issues) he and fellow NBA prospect Terrance Henry should at least keep Ole Miss competitive.

10.  AUBURN TIGERS.  Auburn was completely awful last season with losses to teams like Presbyterian, Asheville, Samford, Jacksonville, and Campbell and their leading scorer and rebounder from last season transferred to Missouri, but there isn't a complete lack of hope for the Tigers.  Kenny Gabriel is a double-figure scorer who is back, point guard Frankie Sullivan is returning from a season ending knee injury last year, while a couple of transfers (Varez Ward from Texas and Noel Johnson from Clemson) will likely immediately jump into the starting lineup.  They also add 6-10 center Willy Kouassi, the #66 freshman in the country and SG Cedrick McAfee (#145), so although they won't be in contention for an NCAA bid any time soon, at least there's a little bit of reason for hope.

11.  GEORGIA BULLDOGS.  No team was hit harder by early NBA entries than Georgia with Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie taking off.  All those two were responsible for last season was 45% of the team's points, 44% of their rebounds, 30% of their assists, 38% of their steals, and 46% of their blocks, and took 42% of the team's shots.  So yes, there are some big shoes to fill here.  They do have 3rd leading scorer and starting PG Gerald Robinson back, so that will help, and stud recruit Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (#12 overall) will probably immediately start next to him, but besides Thompkins in the paint they also have to try to replace their top 2 other post men, and there's just nobody here to do it.

12.  SOUTH CAROLINA GAME COCKS.  So this team won 5 SEC games last year.  Their best player, Bruce Ellington, decided to play football and, although he is supposed to rejoin the team it won't happen until after football season and South Carolina is probably heading to a bowl.  Their second best player graduated, and their third best player decided to transfer to LaSalle who is terrible.  I'd say things are not looking super great.  You know how it seems like the Cocks either beat or put a scare into somebody good at home every year?  Yeah, don't expect that this year.  As the Gin Blossoms once said, "Don't expect too much from me and you might not be let down."

Other previews:
Big 12
Atlantic 10
Pac 12

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