Tuesday, January 8, 2008

2008 SEC Basketball Preview

While the conference is down this year as a whole, the SEC is the only conference with 2 undefeated teams – Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The divisional battles should be highly entertaining as well. Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Arkansas appear to be the class of the SEC, but Mississippi State has been playing much better as of late.

Conference play tips off Tuesday night when the Gators travel to Tuscaloosa. The rest of the league gets started Wednesday night. Here’s a look at how conference play will shake out 16 games from now…

1. Tennessee – they were the preseason pick of nearly everyone to win the East – as well as the conference – and they’ve done nothing to make me think they won’t. Their one loss is to a very good Texas team that’s better than anyone the Vols will face in conference. They’ll need preseason All-America Chris Lofton to snap out of his shooting slump (34.4% from the floor, 33% on 3s) to live up to their preseason hype, but they have talent to do so. The conference’s best shot at a Final Four Team.
Significant Wins: West Virginia(N), @Xavier, Gonzaga(N)
Bad Losses: None

2. Vanderbilt – Coming off a season in which they were denied an Elite 8 berth by a curious no-travelling call on Georgetown’s Jeff Green, no one knew what to make of the ‘Dores’ chances this year, particular with the graduation of top scorer Derrick Byars. Those questions have been answered and more. Led by Senior Shan Foster and true freshman Andrew Olgilvy (ranked 1st and 2nd in scoring in the conference), The ‘Dores are one of just 6 undefeated teams left in the nation. It remains to be seen if they have the talent to take down the Vols in the East, but they’ll certainly be ranked and dancing at year’s end.
Significant Wins: South Alabama, @DePaul, UMass
Bad Losses: None

3. Florida – The 2-time defending national champs are nowhere near where they were the last 2 seasons. But who would be losing what they lost last year? They play a bunch of talented – but very young – guys who will have their ups and downs this season. This was obvious in blowout losses at home to Florida State and on the road against Ohio State. HC Donovan knows his way around the conference though, and while they’ll take their lumps at time this season, they’ll certainly be back among the nation’s elite next season. True freshman Nick Calathes (15ppg, 6apg, 5rpg) is a true star in the making.
Significant Wins: None
Bad Losses: Combined 100 pts in losses to Florida State and @Ohio State

4. Kentucky – Not what the Big Blue Nation had in mind when Billy Gillispie to be the savior of the program. He has not gelled with the holdouts from Tubby Smith’s tenure and UK has compiled a list of embarrassing losses to prove it. There’s even a song about it. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, the bottom of the SEC East borders on wretched, and there’s still enough talent the team to finish 4th in the division. Freshman Patrick Patterson (17ppg, 8rpg, 2 apg) has been the lone bright spot for UK this season.
Significant Wins: None
Bad Losses: Gardner-Webb, San Diego, blowout loss to IU

5. South Carolina – Cincinnati’s firing of Bobby Huggins paid immediate dividend for Ole Miss, as the Rebels snagged Bearcats’ interim coach Andy Kennedy, who promptly led the Rebels to a division title and SEC Coach of the year. The Gamecocks are benefitting this year as UC transfer Devan Downey has become USC’s go-to guy in his first year in Columbia. He’s leading the Gamecocks in scoring, assists, and steals and ranks in the top 6 in the SEC each of those categories. The Gamecocks though will be without the nation’s leading 3 point shooter (Brandis Raley-Ross, knee injury) for the first couple of weeks of January and will struggle against teams with solid inside players.
Significant Wins: @Providence
Bad Losses: UNC-Asheville

6. Georgia – What was set to be a breakout season for HC Dennis Felton and the ‘Dawgs has turned into a nightmare. Mike Mercer and Takais Brown, leading scorers from last season, were kicked off the team before the season started, and now 7’0 freshman Rashaad Singleton has quit the team in search of more PT at another school. While they still have quality players in Sundiata Gaines and Billy Humphrey, they don’t have the depth to compete over a 16-game schedule.
Significant Wins: Wake Forest
Bad Losses:ETSU

1. Arkansas - While Ole Miss may be the only ranked (and undefeated) team in the SEC West, the Hogs return basically their entire team from last season’s NCAA tourney berth. They’ve been up and down in the early season, but their core players have been through the rigors of the SEC before and that should give them the advantage over the young Rebels down the stretch. Patrick Beverly, Darrian Townes, Sonny Weems lead a balanced Razorback attack.
Significant Wins: Missouri, Baylor
Bad Losses:Appalachian State

2. Ole Miss – What else can you say about Andy Kennedy? The upstart Rebels enter conference play undefeated and ranked #15 in the country. They’re big in the middle, getting solid play and a lot of minutes from 3 senior big men, including All-SEC performer Dwayne Curtis. Their guards are very young though, which may spell trouble down the line. Sophomore SG Eniel Polynice missed a triple double by 1 assist earlier this season, so he represents the Rebs’ best all-around threat. While they enter conference play as the West favorite, their youth and inexperience may cost them critical games and drop them to 2nd in the West.
Significant Wins: New Mexico, Clemson, South Alabama
Bad Losses: None

3. Mississippi State – This was supposed to be a big season for the ‘Dawgs, but it hasn’t panned out that way. At least not yet. Losing the Delk brothers before the season hurt their depth and may have contributed to some of their early season stumbles. G/F Jamont Gordon is one the best players in the conference and is an all-around threat, so more effective when not handling the ball. He’s putting up great stats (17.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.6 apg) so far and will key to the Bulldogs making a run at defending their SEC West title. MSU is good enough to finish in the top half of the SEC West, but not the top 2.
Significant Wins: Missouri
Bad Losses: Miami (OH)

4. Alabama – Richard Hendrix is the SEC Player of the Year so far. He’s averaging 19 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2 bpg, and is shooting 63.2% despite facing double- and triple-teams every time he touches the ball. He and teammate Alonzo Gee rank 1st and 2nd in the conference in rebounding, and – along with sharpshooter Mykal Riley – form a dangerous scoring combination. Unfortunately, they’re playing without Ronald Steele, their All-SEC PG. The lack of a steady ball handler will spell doom in close games, particularly on the road. Those losses will drop the Tide to 4th in the West.
Significant Wins: None
Bad Losses: Belmont, 26-pt home loss to Clemson

5. Auburn – Prior to the season, Auburn looked like they could be this year’s surprise team. They had basically their entire team back from last season and a manageable schedule. That was to put to rest with a bad loss to Tulane to open the season and the humbling blowout to West Virginia. Now, with Korvotney Barber out for a month, the Tigers will be without the nation’s leading FG% guy for the first several games of conference. That spells trouble.
Significant Wins: None
Bad Losses: 29-pt loss to WVU, 23-pt loss to Xavier at home

6. LSU – Unfortunately for LSU HC John Brady, tonight’s BCS Championship game marks the end of LSU’s football season. Until baseball starts up, all eyes will be on him and his team, which has been just this side of abysmal this season. While the schedule has been tough, the blowout losses are mounting. And with All-SEC forward Tasmin Mitchell on the shelf for the season with an ankle injury, things will be very ugly on the bayou this basketball season. If – and that’s a big IF – Brady survives the season, I can't see him surviving more than a few days after the SEC Tourney ends.
Significant Wins: None
Bad Losses: 20-pt loss @Wichita State, @Tulane, 26-pt loss @Texas A&M

No comments: