SEC Optimism: Best Case Scenarios in the “East”

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 29th, 2013

Optimism. It’s what makes this an exciting time of year. You may have an idea what lies ahead for your team, but you don’t know for sure. Surprises happen. A freshman proves that the recruiting services were wrong, an underachieving group of seniors plays with new urgency, or the third-year coach’s offensive system finally clicks. In honor of this cliched “everyone has the same record” feeling, let’s take a glass half-full look at the 14 teams of the SEC. Here’s why each SEC East team will exceed their expectations in 2013-14.

Florida

The Expectation: Top two SEC + Elite Eight

Why They’ll Exceed It: The Gators’ frontcourt is one of the best defensive units in the country, making it difficult on opponents who focus on scoring around the rim (like Kentucky). Patric Young caps off an excellent career and a healthy Will Yeguete joins him in frustrating opposing bigs. Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris maintain this defensive presence when called upon. Scottie Wilbekin becomes eligible early and finds a chemistry with Kasey Hill in a creative, dual point guard offense. Casey Prather and Chester Frazier make the jump from productive role players to mainline contributors. Billy Donovan has the personnel to ride his pressure defense into the Final Four.

Patric Young's Offensive Rebounds Are One Way To Get Additional Touches (Getty)

Patric Young’s Offensive Rebounds Are One Way To Get Additional Touches (Getty)

Georgia

The Expectation: Lower tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Charles Mann learned from playing alongside Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and becomes a premier scorer with good range. Nemanja Djurisic emerges as a versatile scorer, and creates space and slashing opportunities by pulling opposing big men outside. Kenny Gaines benefits from this space and becomes a reliable scorer as well. Upperclassmen Donte’ Williams, John Cannon and Tim Dixon all take a step forward in their development, forming a solid rebounding and shot-blocking trio. Mark Fox also gets immediate contributions from freshmen guards J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker. This gives him the ability to create mismatches with small lineups full of shooters. The Bulldogs use a progressive system to climb into the middle of the SEC and make the NIT.

Kentucky

The Expectation: First place SEC + Final Four

Why They’ll Exceed It: About the only way the Wildcats exceed expectations is by going undefeated… and winning every game by double figures. Andrew Harrison runs the team like a veteran from the first game, eclipsing what  even the best in the long line of great John Calipari freshman point guards have done. Julius Randle bullies opposing frontcourts, including the Young-Yeguete and Maymon-Stokes duos. Marcus Lee and Willie Cauley-Stein force teams to shoot low-percentage shots because of their shot-blocking capabilities. James Young gives the Wildcats a presence beyond three, something Calipari teams have sometimes lacked. The Wildcats cruise through the Tournament and cut down the nets, without even mentioning contributions from potential lottery picks Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress.

Can Andrew Harrison Become the Next Wall, Teague or Knight? (Getty Images).

Can Andrew Harrison Become the Next Wall, Teague or Knight? (Getty Images).

Missouri

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Jordan Clarkson is indeed a pro-level talent, and can handle point guard duties until Wes Clark or Shane Rector is ready to take over. This shifts Clarkson off the ball, joining talented wings Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. Jonathan Williams III transitions smoothly and Stefan Jankovic plays well enough defensively so that Frank Haith can utilize his diverse offensive skill set. These two provide finesse to the frontcourt while Tony Criswell and Keanau Post focus on rebounding and protecting the rim. This all gives Frank Haith his first two NCAA Tournament wins and Missouri is alive on the second weekend.

South Carolina

The Expectation: Lower tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: The Gamecocks grow into a high-effort, make-the-opponent-earn-every-point team that Frank Martin is known for. Villanova transfer Tyronne Johnson joins Bruce Ellington to form a physical defensive duo on the perimeter. They are backed up by tenacious rebounder and defender Michael Carrera. Brenton Williams handles the scoring with an effective three-point shot, and South Carolina gets immediate offensive contributions from freshman Sindarius Thornwell. Laimonas Chatkevicius uses his large frame and improved game to be a match-up problem for opposing defenses. South Carolina isn’t a potent offensive team, but gets just enough to support an above-average defense. Fueled by Martin’s glares the Gamecocks earn a spot in the middle of the SEC and a NIT invite.

Bruce Ellington and his physical football mentality are a perfect fit for Frank Martin.

Bruce Ellington and his physical football mentality are a perfect fit for Frank Martin.

Tennessee

The Expectation: Upper tier SEC + solid showing in NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Jordan McRae continues to grow into one of the best scorers in the SEC. Jarnell Stokes displays a mid-range jump shot and becomes a dominant interior scorer. Fellow senior Jeronne Maymon’s left knee is 100 percent, and he controls the paint on both ends of the floor. Few teams have a more talented trio. Memphis transfer Antonio Barton makes it all gel at the point guard position, and Trae Golden isn’t missed. The freshmen guards play big roles: Darius Thompson spelling Brown at the point, and Robert Hubbs scoring while McRae is on the bench or the sole focus of opposing defenses. Cuonzo Martin finally gets the Volunteers into the Tournament, and his high ceiling team makes it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Vanderbilt

The Expectation: Lower tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Early on the Commodores establish that they will not be as perimeter-dependent as last season. Freshman center Damian Jones is a big part of this, as he brings a defensive presence down low Vanderbilt missed in 2012-13. Rod Odom complements Jones on the offensive end, and caps off his career improving on a solid junior season. The Commodores utilize their three-point shooting prowess responsibly. Dai-Jon Parker emerges as solid two-way player with a lethal three-point shot. Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan also stretches defenses, while Kyle Fuller benefits from heavy playing time early last season. The more well-rounded, yet still dangerous from deep Commodores leap into the middle of the SEC and get an NIT invite.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (139 Posts)


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