Checking in on the… SECPosted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2008
Kurt of SEC Hoops: The Good, The Bad, The Dirty is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
Okay, so the Southeastern Conference has…well…embarrassed itself. Kentucky got the party started with a home loss to VMI and as of this posting, only four unbeatens remain in what was formerly considered a “power conference.” This season is looking like a major reloading session for the SEC, as nearly every team is falling short of pre-season expectations. Stars like Shan Foster, Chris Lofton, Jamont Gordon and Marreese Speights have exited and the conference is feeling the losses in a big way. Let’s get to this week’s SEC rankings…
Week One Power Rankings
#12 Tennessee (3-0)
Mississippi State (4-0)
#17 Florida (3-1)
South Carolina (3-0)
Ole Miss (3-1)
For now, we’ll classify the teams in terms of how they are performing versus how they were expected to before the season. This category will change pretty often, depending on the week, but each one will feature a short snippet of each team in the conference.
While “expectations” are subjective, these are teams that are playing above the level they were expected to at this point in the season.
Mississippi State – The Bulldogs’ offseason seemed to be one gigantic nightmare. The most potent duo in the conference in Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes departed for the NBA (or not) and a third starter in Ben Hansbrough to transfer. Instead of taking a step backward, the squad has meshed surprisingly well on the shoulders of reigning National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who is thus far averaging just short of a triple-double with 10.3ppg, 13.0rpg, and 7.8bpg. Varnado again leads the nation in blocks and has helped State lead the SEC in seven statistical categories thus far. Freshman point guard Dee Bost has been outstanding in early play, currently leading the SEC in assists per game with 6.75apg. The competition has been weak, but while other league teams are dropping those games, the Bulldogs have been owning their opponents so far.
LSU - The other West standout is in a very similar situation as Mississippi State, except that expectations for the Tigers are high considering their high talent level and experience versus the rest of the Western Division. LSU’s competition level has been similarly weak, but LSU is defeating teams by an average of 25.7ppg and is looking to be the surprise team of the SEC. The Tigers are stacked with potent offensive players in Bo Spencer, Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton, but are surprisingly stingy on defense as well. With the conference down, LSU could win enough conference games to make the NCAA Tournament as long as the squad stays healthy. LSU lacks depth, so any loss would be a disaster.
Steady As She Goes
#12 Tennessee – The Vols have performed exactly as planned – which is to dominate their competition. Granted, the defense hasn’t been there, but with Tennessee averaging over 93ppg – it hasn’t mattered. Big-man Tyler Smith has become the star many expected him to, averaging nearly 20ppg and providing some much-needed offense in the post. Transfer Bobby Maze has impressed thus far and will need to distribute the ball well to UT’s many stars, including freshman Scotty Hopson, if Pearl’s squad wants to match or surpass last year’s success.
#17 Florida – While my expectations for the Gators were apparently a bit lofty, Florida still seems to a be a very solid squad despite Monday’s neutral-site loss to unranked Syracuse. These young pups are still struggling on defense, but reigning Co-Freshman of the Year Nick Calathes runs an efficient offense who relies too heavily on guards after the loss of star Marreese Speights.
South Carolina – The Gamecocks’ non-conference schedule is one of the weakest I have ever seen. With that said, I’ve said several times now that apparently winning the games you’re supposed to will put you among the elite in the SEC this season, and USC is doing that, although not very efficiently. Despite the weak opponent level, the Gamecocks rank near the middle of the pack in the conference in important categories such as margin of victory and field goal percentage offense and defense. All-SEC point guard Devan Downey can score and dish the ball, but he can’t do it alone. Look for these early warning signs to be a sign of things to come.
Vanderbilt – The Commodores were expecting to take a step backward after losing the league’s most prolific scorer in Shan Foster, and it looks like their expectations will be fulfilled. The team’s only loss was at home to a solid Illinois squad, but potential-laden forward A.J. Ogilvy seriously needs to step up his game offensively to make this team present any threat to the SEC East.
Auburn – The Tigers actually have some potential for improvement, and overall have shown a bit of it thus far excluding a home loss to a red-hot Mercer squad. With the lack of height – which has become a Jeff Lebo specialty – Auburn ranks near the bottom of the conference in rebounding, and that will become a serious issue down the road. On the bright side, Juco transfer Tay Waller has an outstanding complement to returning big-man Korvotney Barber, who is shooting nearly 60% from the field. Depth is a major concern, and the Tigers can’t afford a single injury if they hope to rise off of the SEC cellar.
Ole Miss – Andy Kennedy had enough on his hands with losing two major inside presences in the offseason, but the recent loss of guards Trevor Gaskins and Eniel Polynice to injury have now given both the front and back courts serious depth issues. Chris Warren, one of the conference’s most dynamic and talented point guards, had teamed with junior David Huertas to help carry the squad’s offense but won’t be able to do so forever. Seems as if the Rebs will struggle this season without any bench depth and so few playmakers to rely on.
Georgia – Well, I expected the Bulldogs to be horrible this season, and they proved me right. The offensive numbers out of Athens are disgusting – the squad averages 60.2ppg, shoots 39.9% from the field, gets outrebounded by 3.2rpg, only manages 9.25 assists per game and holds a 0.62 assist-to-turnover margin…all of which rank last in the conference. This from a team who has faced USC-Upstate, Loyola-Chicago (a loss), Eastern Michigan, and Presbyterian (Georgia also defeated Santa Clara today but these stats do not take that game into account). Georgia has simply lost too much firepower and talent to suspensions and transfers to compete in this conference. Look for Dennis Felton to be on his way out.
Alabama – A team which should have been favored in the Western Division has already lost at home to Mercer before responding with a big win over Florida A&M. While questions remain, there is little doubt that the loss of possibly the conference’s best all-around player in Richard Hendrix has hurt the Tide, who have been struggling on the boards as a result. Newcomer JaMychal Green has been solid, averaging a double-double at 14.5ppg and 10.0rpg, but that won’t be enough in the post without some other threat on the block. All eyes have been on Ronald Steele’s return, and he’s impressed offensively – averaging 20 points per game – but has become a ball-hog, just handing out 2 assists and turning the ball over 2 times per game. From watching the Tide thus far, there simply doesn’t seem to be enough organization or execution for this team to make the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky – Opening with another home loss, Kentucky is severely one-dimensional. Junior Jodie Meeks has quickly become an all-star, averaging 26.7ppg, but is taking entirely too many shots from the floor to keep defenses honest. Reigning Co-Freshman of the Year Patrick Patterson is efficient as always, but sees too little playing time and receives too few touches. This team has a wealth of talent but has proven to lack the complementary players to compete in the SEC East like I once thought they would.
Arkansas – It’s hard to undercut such low expectations, but the Razorbacks have managed it. The ‘Backs have squeaked past home games against Southeastern Louisiana and UC Davis, and recently lost on the road to Missouri State. Freshmen Rotnei Clarke and Coutney Fortson are essentially the only productive guards on the team while Michael Washington is everything down low. This team has some serious rebuilding and reloading to do.
Summary and Look Ahead
In closing, most of what the SEC has shown has been disappointment. Many teams have lost huge playmakers, and are struggling with various holes in their rosters early on. The East behind Tennessee looks wide open, while the West seems to be setting up as a struggle between LSU and Mississippi State. Some SEC squads will clear up some questions this coming week, such as Kentucky vs. Kansas State in Las Vegas and Mississippi State facing Washington State on a neutral floor that could set up a match with sixth-ranked Pittsburgh. Times are tough in the SEC and it’s up to a few to carry the many in 2008-09.