SEC Basketball: Summer Preview

August 21st, 2006
Much of the nation knows the SEC as a football conference. And why not, with teams like Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, and Alabama stealing the national limelight? Still others see the SEC as the leading conference in baseball. Which, with 9 out of the 12 SEC schools ranked in the Top 25 at one point last season, it is. However, many overlook the heritage-rich Southeastern Conference in terms of basketball. That is, until last season. In what pre-season analysts called a “down year” for the SEC, the conference sent 6 teams to the NCAA – two of them to the Final Four, produced the national champion, and finished just behind the ACC in RPI standings.


While the 2005-2006 season proved to be one of success for the SEC, the nation will be watching to see if the conference has what it takes to follow up with a strong encore. What teams will step up to the plate, and which ones will simply fade into quiet nothingness?


1. Florida (Last Year: 33-6, 10-6) – There’s no way not to put Florida at the top of the conference at this point. Winning the national championship and then avoiding the loss of any substantial players nets you a number one spot nationally, let alone at the top of the conference. However, with such a monstrous amount of pressure from every direction, last year’s “super sophs” will need to develop into mentally-tough juniors in order to pull off two championship runs in a row.


2. LSU (Last Year: 27-9, 14-2) - Although Tyrus Thomas was a significant loss, this Final Four team remains mostly intact; including no incoming freshman. With John Brady at the helm of this experienced group, led by a slimmer “Big Baby” Davis, LSU should be the favorite to take the SEC West title.


3. Tennessee (Last Year: 22-8, 12-4) – Was last year a fluke? Probably not. Tennessee’s loss of CJ Watson will be a challenge, but should be one that will be fulfilled readily by this talented coach. Expect Bruce Pearl’s squad to do nothing but improve as his own recruits begin to filter into the system.


4. Alabama (Last Year: 18-13, 10-6) – With two All-SEC competitors at arguably the two most important positions on the court, Mark Gottfried is undeniably looking forward to a special season. That said, the Tide suffered some bumps and bruises last season, along with the denial of extra eligibility served to team-star Chuck Davis, and will have some obstacles to overcome this upcoming season.


5. Kentucky (Last Year: 22-13, 9-7) – What is the world coming to? Kentucky at #5…in the conference?!? Words of mutiny are spreading in Lexington, as the Wildcats barely managed 20 wins and a NCAA birth. Tubby Smith, with his impressive resume, struggled with team dynamics last season, which resulted in a mediocre 9-7 conference record. For this season, Tubby must replace names like Rondo, Sparks, Moss, and Sims – which, needless to say, won’t be an easy task. Look for the Wildcats to struggle with experience and be slow to rebound from last year’s “down” season.


6. Mississippi State (Last Year: 15-15, 5-11) – After four years of 20+ win seasons and NCAA appearances, Rick Stansbury started over last year after losing all five starters. As expected, the Bulldogs endured nasty losses and a few impressive wins. For 06-07, Stansbury loses only one quality player, and brings in a nice recruiting class highlighted by Jarvis Varnado. Expect the Dawgs to improve greatly on last year and make a post-season appearance.


7. Arkansas (Last Year: 22-10, 10-6) – Modica and Brewer will be sorely missed in Fayetteville. After losing, debatably, their two most valuable assets, the Razorbacks – led by Stan Heath – will be greatly relying on seasoned Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin to lead the way. The ‘Backs should take an inevitable tumble from last year, putting Heath on the hot-seat once again.


8. South Carolina (Last Year: 23-15, 6-10) – Two NIT titles is impressive…but sadly, not as impressive as NCAA berths. Dave Odom’s Gamecocks also have their own losses to deal with, in the forms of Tarence Kinsey and 05-06 breakout Renaldo Balkman. USC will be overpowered in an extremely talented Eastern division; seeing only limited success this coming season.


9. Vanderbilt (Last Year: 17-13, 7-9) – The Commodores managed a somewhat impressive record last season, including a sweep over the Wildcats of Kentucky. Vandy skipper Kevin Stallings returns the third highest-scoring duo in the SEC last year in Foster/Byars, and could be set to surprise a few analysts – along with some teams on the way.


10. Georgia (Last Year: 15-15, 5-11) – Sad times have befallen the Bulldogs of Georgia. Kevin Brophy, a junior guard who saw action in every game during the 05-06 season, was recently killed in an auto accident. With this morale-destroying loss, along with the non-renewal of Younes Idrissi’s scholarship, Dennis Felton will again be searching for some much-needed depth.


11. Ole Miss (Last Year: 14-16, 4-12) – The Rebels from Oxford have some talent at crucial positions, including Todd Abernethy at point guard, but must undergo a coaching overhaul for this upcoming season. The success of Andy Kennedy’s squad will depend on how quickly these players can adapt to a new style of play under a completely new system.


12. Auburn (Last Year: 12-16, 4-12)– Things seem to be business as usual in Auburn – little talent, inexperience, and volatile team dynamics frustrating any chance for success and limiting the Tigers to the bottom of the conference. Without much improvement in depth or talent, a winning season seems to be a stretch for Jeff Lebo’s squad.


With November inching ever closer, the stakes are high as the nation waits to see how the SEC will fare after over-achieving last season. Until then, the SEC will be preparing for what is setting up to be an epic 06-07 season.