SPECIAL EDITION: SEC Basketball Preview
Special to 217 – by Michael Sison
SEC Basketball is upon us, and there is actually some cause for excitement this season with a couple of powerhouses and quite a few teams on the rise looking for an NCAA Tournament berth. Among these are a bunch of talented, athletic teams that no one will want to face in postseason play.
A big change is the absence of the traditional East and West divisions. Instead we’ll have one massive basketball division, mimicking the Big East most recently.
The SEC is loaded with up-and-coming coaches, and schools determined to match their basketball programs to the level of their football teams. Let’s take a look at each.
The Big Dogs (Perennial powerhouses; these are the teams everyone will have to beat if they want to even think of taking the SEC)
Florida (11-2) – Probably the most well-rounded team in the SEC, Florida already has some big wins and their two losses came against top-20 teams (Wisconsin and UConn)
Kentucky (10-3) – Calipari’s team of typical young studs has had their lumps, but they ended non-conference play with their best win of the season (Louisville). This team will be a huge threat to win it all come March.
Missouri (12-1) – While Mizzou didn’t have many major tests (beat UCLA, lost to Illinois), the Tigers’ veteran leadership will carry them far in SEC play.
The Contenders (These teams have vastly improved and could wreak havoc on their SEC opponents)
LSU (9-3) – With a great blend of young talent and veteran leadership, LSU upped its non-conference schedule and performed quite nicely in it. Once this team starts performing consistently, they will destroy teams with their athleticism and shooting ability.
Arkansas (11-2) – Arkansas, like Florida, is very well rounded. Like LSU, the Razorbacks have a nice grouping of under and upperclassmen, and should continue to grow as the season wears on.
Tennessee (9-4) – The wild card of the Contenders group, Tennessee has the talent to return to its usual SEC glory, but they could also flutter like they have in recent years.
The Tweeners (Teams that have either risen from the cellar or just stayed steady over the last couple years. Will get a few good wins, but not a major threat to take down the SEC crown.)
Mississippi (9-4) – The sharpshooting Marshall Henderson never met a shot he didn’t like (or take), but the absence of Murphy Holloway to the NFL (yes, he tried but did not make any teams), will make this team very vulnerable in the interior.
Alabama (6-7) – Judging from their record in non-conference play, you’d think they belong in the cellar; however, Alabama played a rough schedule and was competitive with a bunch of solid teams. Look for the Crimson Tide to rebound in SEC play.
Vanderbilt (8-4) – They have played everyone close to this point, and will continue to do so while getting some nice wins in SEC play. The Commodores just don’t have enough star power to make a serious run to the postseason.
Texas A&M (9-4) – Like Missouri, they are trying to get back to consistency of their Big 12 days. Like much of the SEC, the Aggies’ record is thanks to a cupcake non-conference schedule. With only one player averaging double figures, A&M will need the 12th man to have any chance at an SEC title.
Auburn (8-3) – They won some games, but they lost big and only played one road game. Auburn could easily be in the cellar come the mid-season point in the SEC.
Mississippi State (10-3) – See Auburn, literally.
The Cellar (Welcome back, Georgia and USC)
Georgia (6-6) – Imagine this team last year without Caldwell-Pope and that’s pretty much what you’ve got this year. The Bulldogs will beat the teams they should; unfortunately, there aren’t many of those left on their schedule.
South Carolina (7-6) – Might struggle to get another win.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
KT Harrell and Chris Denson (Auburn) – This dynamic Auburn backcourt duo is averaging a combined 38 PPG
Jordan Clarkson (Missouri) – The do-it-all shooting guard can be a little sporadic, but he is a top-notch player on a top-notch team
Jordan McRae (Tennessee) and Trever Releford (Alabama) – Rare seniors who are proven leaders and nightly performers for their respective squads
Julius Randle (Kentucky) – The SEC’s version of the Super Freshman is averaging a double-double
Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey (LSU) – The dominant frontcourt that can beat you just about anywhere on the floor
Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss) – Hate him or love him, this guy is about as entertaining as his ridiculous shot attempts
Casey Prather (Florida) – Vastly improved and earning big minutes for the Gators
Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) – Visions of the Brow swatting everything out of the lane are dancing through Rupp Arena
Regular Season Champion – Florida Gators
SEC Tournament Champion – Kentucky
NCAA Tournament Teams – Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, LSU
SEC Player of the Year – Julius Randle, Kentucky
SEC Freshman of the Year – Julius Randle, Kentucky
SEC Coach of the Year – Johnny Jones, LSU
SEC Defensive Player of the Year – Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
SEC Sixth-Man of the Year – Shavon Coleman, LSU