RTC Conference Primers: #5 – Southeastern Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2010

Jared Quillen of BigBlueCats.com is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

SEC East

  • T1. Florida (11-5)
  • T1. Kentucky (11-5)
  • T1. Georgia (11-5)
  • 2. Tennessee (10-6)
  • 3. Vanderbilt (7-9)
  • 4. South Carolina (4-12)

SEC West

  • 1. Mississippi State (12-4)
  • 2. Mississippi (9-7)
  • T3. Alabama (7-9)
  • T3. Arkansas (7-9)
  • 4. LSU (4-12)
  • 5. Auburn (3-13)

All-Conference Team

  • G Brandon Knight – Kentucky
  • G Chris Warren – Mississippi
  • G Kenny Boynton – Florida
  • F Enes Kanter* – Kentucky (if eligible)
  • F Trey Thompkins – Georgia

6th Man

Travis Leslie – Georgia

Impact Newcomers

  • G Brandon Knight – Kentucky
  • G Gerald Robinson – Georgia
  • F Patric Young – Florida
  • F Tobias Harris – Tennessee
  • C Renardo Sidney – Mississippi State

Kentucky's Brandon Knight was a hot commodity as a late signee.

What You Need To Know

  • There are a few things that the casual observer of the SEC may not be aware of but should consider:  Mississippi State in November is not the same Mississippi State that you will see in December, nor the one that you will see in January.  The Bulldogs will play their first nine games without Renardo Sidney, who will have waited out a lengthy suspension by the time he plays his first game.  Then, after five more games, Dee Bost will return to the lineup. You recall that he declared for the NBA Draft, failed to pull out by the NCAA’s deadline, lost his eligibility, went undrafted, and subsequently was reinstated with a 14-game suspension.  Don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs drop a game or two early in the season to a team they should beat.  It means nothing.  This will be a very good team that will be fun to watch as the season progresses.
  • Florida brings back a lot of experience.  That would be all five of Florida’s starters, to be exact, plus they add the very talented McDonalds All-American Patric Young.  Young will provide the size inside that Florida lacked last year.  That said, count me as one who is still a little skeptical of Florida’s chances at winning the league.  Lest we forget, Florida was not one but two Chandler Parsons prayers from missing the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.  Furthermore, Florida lost in the first round to a good but not great BYU team that played a good but not great game.  Will Florida be good?  Definitely.  Great?  Well, that remains to be seen.

  • For those expecting Kentucky to repeat what they did last year because they replaced four freshmen stars with four new freshmen stars — think again.  This team is even younger than last year’s and noticeably smaller.  Look for the Wildcats to play much faster than last year and shoot better.  But DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, and John Wall are hard to replace.  If Enes Kanter becomes eligible (as most believe he will) by conference play, then they will challenge for the league title; if not, they fight for second or third in the SEC East.  It all comes down to Kanter.

  • The SEC East is going to be very good this year.  Mississippi State gets the nod as champion simply because the East teams are going to beat up on each other like no other group of six teams in America.  I could see any one of Florida, Kentucky, Georgia or Tennessee winning the East.  I hate predicting only seven conference wins for a talented Vanderbilt squad, but I just don’t know where to place them when they have to play eaach of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky twice, plus Mississippi State.

Predicted Champion

Mississippi State (NCAA #2-Seed) – Mississippi State is the favorite by default as the East is going to be a bloodbath and the Bulldogs only play each Eastern division team once.  Playing in the weaker West division is certainly going to benefit Mississippi State as they won’t have to play Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and even Vanderbilt but once.  Renardo Sidney is going to be a force, especially in a conference light on dominant big men this year.  Add Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson in the back court to an improving Kodi Augustus and that’s a team that easily wins the West.  If the Bulldogs manage to win half of their games against the East, they probably win the overall league crown.

Top Contenders

  • Kentucky (NCAA #2 Seed) Kentucky lacks the size and experience that Mississippi State has, Enes Kanter’s eligibility is still in doubt, and they play in the East where every game will be a battle.  Those three things keep the Wildcats from being a prohibitive favorite, though things can change very quickly once the season starts. Kentucky brings in the best freshman class in the country with Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones expected to contribute immediately.  The Cats also add freshman Stacey Poole, and Eloy Vargas, originally a Florida player in 2008, who played a juco year before coming to Kentucky.  Don’t expect him to pick up where DeMarcus Cousins left off, though.  He is much less aggressive and doesn’t have that slit-your-throat (Cousins’ words, not mine) killer instinct.  Again, it all comes down to Enes Kanter.  If he were eligible, Kentucky would move up to conference favorite. Until then, they’re just too weak inside.
  • Florida (NCAA #3 Seed) – While Florida does return talent and has depth, they also play in the very competitive East and we should remember they don’t exactly return a team that blew people away last year.  Kenny Boynton is very good, but his shooting is terrible, as is Erving Walker’s.  They averaged 38% and 34% from the field, respectively.  Between them, they missed 516 of 805 shots.  That’s a lot of long rebounds going to the defense and one big reason why I’m not convinced this team can win the conference.  Additionally, the Gators need to get better on defense, but as long as Chandler Parsons can come through late, the Gators have a chance at winning the conference crown.
  • Georgia (NCAA #4 Seed) While Georgia has great talent this year in Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie, transfer Gerald Robinson and freshman Marcus Thornton, the most important person here is Mark Fox.  The reality is that Georgia should never have done as well as they did last year, but Fox had them believing they could win every game.  They gave Kentucky a scare at Rupp last year and the Bulldogs will be much improved this year. They open the season just on the fringe of the Top 25, so it will be interesting to see how many teams still look past the Bulldogs.
  • Tennessee (NCAA #6 Seed) Tennessee lost and replaced a lot of talent.  Gone are Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince, but Top-10 signee Tobias Harris and UNC-Wilmington transfer John Fields will provide immediate help.  Let’s not forget that they still have Scotty Hopson, who loves to score, and Brian Williams, who played very well in the NCAA Tournament last year.  I fear that off-court problems with coach Bruce Pearl will finally catch up to the Volunteers, but it didn’t last year with their player problems.  Maybe this year, they can ignore their coach’s tumult.
  • Mississippi (NCAA #8 Seed) Mississippi will be good, but not great.  They lost a lot in Terrico White, Eniel Polynice and Murphy HollowayChris Warren, however, is ready to lead a quality squad that includes talented Indiana transfer Nick Williams, who started 29 games for the Hoosiers as a freshman.  The rebels also expect freshman point guard Dundrecous Nelson to be a factor immediately.  The Rebels will be deep at guard but shallow inside.  They will be good, but they just aren’t on par with the other top teams in the league.  A Tournament bid seems likely even though they’ll be sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

Among The Pack

  • Vanderbilt (NIT) – I like this Vanderbilt team, but the loss of AJ Ogilvy is really going to hurt them.  Brad Tinsley, Andre Walker and Jeffery Taylor will make up for the loss of graduated senior Jermaine Beal without a problem, but what do they do to replace Ogilvy?  Freshman power forward Rod Odom will help, but the hole inside is just too big for Vanderbilt to finish in the top half of the SEC East.  I think this is a good team with Kevin Stallings at the helm.  To crack the Big Dance this year, they’re really going to need that win against Missouri on December 8 and probably can’t afford to lose more than one game in their otherwise soft non-conference schedule.
  • Alabama (NIT) - Alabama lost leading scorer Mikhail Torrance but replaced him with Top-100 freshman Trevor Releford, and Andrew Steele should be healthy after playing in only six games last year.  Senario Hillman and Tony Mitchell will only get better as well, so this is a talented squad, but depth could be a problem.  Anthony Grant got his team to play defense well enough to hold opponents to only 64.5 PPG, but they only averaged 68.5 points on the other end.  They will need to get considerably better offensive production if they hope to get an NCAA bid.
  • Arkansas (NIT) - Replacing Courtney Fortson and his 17.9 PPG may appear a tough task, but he also committed 5.1 turnovers per game and shot only 36% from the field.  Could this be a case of the Razorbacks adding by subtracting? Perhaps.  They also still have Marshawn Powell, who had a fantastic freshman year, and Rotnei Clarke, one of the best three-point shooters in the country.  The question is if the Razorback faithful will be patient enough to keep John Pelphrey around for his great 2011 recruiting class to get to campus.  Pelphrey is building something in Fayetteville, but the Hogs are still a year away and I fear that an NCAA bid is a long shot this year.

Rebuilding

  • LSU (No postseason) LSU brings in a good recruiting class of Ralston Turner, Matt Derenbecker, Andre Stringer and Jalen Courtney to go with talented Mississippi transfer Malcom White, but it’s simply not enough for the Tigers to survive past the conference tournament this year.  Losing Bo Spencer and Tasmin Mitchell is costly.  Yes, the Tigers have a nice recruiting class, but they only won just two league games last year, so I don’t see how Trent Johnson squeezes out many more wins this year with a team that lacks experience and depth.
  • South Carolina (No postseason) No more gutsy Devan Downey threes.  Gamecock fans will be pining for Downey, one of their favorite players to come into Columbia in recent years.  South Carolina brings in a Top-25 recruiting class with guys like Bruce Ellington, Damontre Harris and R.J. Slawson, but none of these players are good enough to be impact players this early to lead South Carolina to a postseason.
  • Auburn (No postseason) The good news for Auburn fans is they got a great new coach in Tony Barbee.  The bad news is their only returning starter is Frankie Sullivan, who recently had knee surgery and probably won’t play this season.  Two of Auburn’s best recruits, Luke Cothron and Shawn Kemp, Jr., didn’t qualify academically and the Tigers don’t return a single legitimate contributor from last year.  The brand-new Auburn arena succeeds the 40-year-old Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum, but don’t look for the Tigers to christen it with many wins this season.

Top 10 RPI Boosters

While Ole Miss continues to play one of the easiest preseason schedules of any major conference team, several other SEC teams are playing games against superior competition that will help to improve their seeding come tournament time.

  • 11/16 – Ohio State at Florida, ESPN: Forget any thoughts about this being a rematch, as none of the players from the 2007 championship game are left.  But it should be a fun game to watch, as freshmen power forwards Jared Sullinger and of Ohio State and Patric Young of Florida will be playing in their first big-time college games.
  • 11/17 – Murray State at Ole Miss: This is the one non-conference game of any note on Mississippi’s schedule.  The Rebels had better do themselves a favor and win this because Murray State will be tough this year, and they too will be looking for that signature win.  Winning it gives the Rebs a legitimate hat-hanger of a non-conference victory.  Lose to MSU, as Vanderbilt did in the NCAA Tournament, and they’ll have nothing to show for their non-conference schedule yet again.
  • 11/22-24 – Kentucky in the Maui Invitational, ESPN/ESPN2:  It is likely Kentucky beats Oklahoma to face likely first-round victor Washington, the Pac-10 favorite. From there, Kentucky could square off against Michigan State, a top-5 team. There are major opportunities in Hawaii, but is it too early for such big challenges?
  • 11/24, 11/26 – Tennessee in the Preseason NIT: Tennessee is likely to face Wake Forest and Villanova.  Wake should be average this year, but Villanova will battle Pitt for the Big East crown.  Either way, a win against an ACC team and a top Big East team goes a long way towards convincing the selection committee that the SEC East is very tough.  Teams like Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky need to beat up on everyone else before they start beating up on each other to get high seeds come tournament time.
  • 11/25 – Georgia at Notre Dame, ESPNU. If Georgia wins this one and keeps going, the Bulldogs could end up facing one or two of the following group: Texas A&M, California, Temple, Wisconsin and Boston College.  A couple of wins here or winning the entire event would go far toward establishing Georgia as a high seed come March.
  • 12/4 – Kentucky at North Carolina, Dec. 4, CBS. This is a series that should never end; the two winningest programs in NCAA history with 12 championships between them and countless All-Americans.  This is basketball royalty, and both teams are constantly trying to one-up each other and crown themselves kings of the basketball world.
  • 12/11 – Tennessee at Pittsburgh, ESPN. Pittsburgh is the favorite in the Big East and Tennessee has a chance to win the SEC if you just look at talent.  Regardless of the potential RPI boost, Tennessee needs to win this one for the conference’s reputation which has taken some hits of late. Easier said than done at the Petersen Events Center.
  • 12/18 – Florida vs. Kansas State. An SEC favorite and a Big 12 favorite.  What’s not to like?  Frank Martin on the sidelines is as entertaining — and as good — as anyone.  I don’t know who to root for.  While I respect a man who is as comfortable publicly displaying his emotions as Frank Martin, I also respect a man who is not afraid to publicly admit he made a mistake (Orlando Magic) and return to where he belongs (Gainesville) before he makes things worse.  Go…Gators?
  • 12/18 – Mississippi State vs. Virginia Tech in the Bahamas. This is Renardo Sidney’s debut game and a win against a good ACC team could go a long way towards netting the Bulldogs a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament, as they will still be shorthanded without Dee Bost for another five games.
  • 12/22 – Mississippi State vs. Washington State, Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, ESPNU.  Same story as above.  While Washington State is not as good as Virginia Tech, the story line is otherwise identical.  By the way, anyone else think it’s not bad to be a Mississippi State Bulldog right about now?  The Bahamas followed by Hawaii.  Now there’s a recruiting tool.
  • 1/4 – Arkansas at Texas, ESPNU.  Arkansas has an outside chance of making the NCAA Tournament and if that’s going to happen this is almost a must win.  I don’t see Arkansas getting more than nine wins in conference play and with the West a little weak, I don’t see the selection committee being all that impressed without a good win or two out of conference. 

Key Conference Games

Anyone who tells you that one of Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi State is a clear favorite is partisan.  There just is not enough separation at the top, so every one of these games is a key game when it comes to determining who wins this conference.  It’s likely three teams will be in contention for the regular season title until the final weekend.

  • 1/8 – Kentucky at Georgia
  • 1/22 – Mississippi State at Georgia
  • 1/25 – Florida at Georgia
  • 1/29 – Florida at Mississippi State
  • 1/29 – Georgia at Kentucky
  • 2/5 – Kentucky at Florida
  • 2/15 – Mississippi State at Kentucky
  • 2/24 – Georgia at Florida
  • 2/26 – Florida at Kentucky

NCAA Tournament History

The SEC stands at 254-181 (.584) all-time in the Big Dance, with ten National Championships. Its 10-5 record in national title games is second to the Pac-10’s 15-5 mark among conferences with at least ten appearances. Within the conference, Kentucky is responsible for over 100 of the SEC’s 254 victories, with Florida the next-closest team at 29 wins. On the other end of the spectrum, South Carolina hasn’t won a tournament game since 1973.

Digging Deeper

Two years ago, only three players were selected in the NBA draft from SEC teams.  In 2010, seven players were selected, but five of those came from Kentucky, all in the first round.  This year, some draft prognosticators are predicting a full ten players will be drafted from the SEC, eight of them from the East, but only three from Kentucky.  The SEC has made a serious upgrade in talent, more balanced talent to be precise, which can only mean good things for the SEC getting a possible six NCAA Tournament bids.

Final Thoughts

The SEC is the best it has been in five years.  The East will be a bloodbath, the West a little weaker, but one thing is for sure: this is going to be an exciting league to watch.  There are as many quality teams in this conference as any in America.  It’s my prediction that the SEC gets five and possibly six bids this year.  Furthermore, they will be well prepared for the postseason and any one of the top five teams in this league could make a deep postseason run to the Final Four.  If you want to do well in your office pool this year, you better get familiar with the SEC.

Brian Goodman (783 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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2 Responses to “RTC Conference Primers: #5 – Southeastern Conference”

  1. Gary Bryson says:

    You have underestimated South Carolina. Wait and see.

  2. DP says:

    Dave Lighty is (shockingly) still playing for OSU, and he played in the 2007 game vs Florida

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