Coming into this season, there were two main storylines to watch for the conference as a whole. The first was if the SEC, after a down year and having only three NCAA teams last year, could rebound and regain its status as an elite conference. The second one was if the influx of new talent in the SEC, both in the coaching and playing ranks, would help to raise the prestige level of the SEC.
The jury is out as to whether the SEC is going to be an elite conference this year. So far, the SEC has an unimpressive 32-12 record so far. There have been embarrassing losses, the key one being #19 Mississippi State losing to Rider by 14 points. Add to this the fact that the SEC have not knocked off a “name team,” yet. Just last night, #9 Tennessee lost to #6 Purdue and #24 Vanderbilt lost to Cincinnati. The East division is clearly the class of the league with a 17-5 record and all three of the SEC’s ranked teams residing in that division. So far, only Kentucky, Florida, and LSU have escaped the first two weeks of the season unscathed.
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South and Deep South) are located here.
It’s time for the fifth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of landlocked states that produce some really good basketball players – the Mid-South. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
James Anderson – Jr, F – Oklahoma St. An obvious and unanimous choice for our Mid-South list, James Anderson cannot be blamed if he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now. Let’s see: he’s the third-leading returning scorer in the Big 12 for the upcoming season; last year the guy averages 18.2 points, 5.7 boards, shoots over 48% from the field as well as over 82% from the line and 41% from beyond the three-point line… and he gets left off the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. Anderson has coolly acknowledged his surprise at this slight, and we think he’s well within his right to do so. No doubt this will provide motivation for the versatile forward as he embarks upon his junior season for a Cowboys squad that needs him in the leadership role. Gone are Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, leaving only Anderson and Obi Muonelo in terms of returning double-digit scorers. That’s over 27 points a game for which to compensate, so Anderson will get the touches, without question. Last year was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Oklahoma State in the last four years, and despite the aforementioned losses, Cowboy fans are most assuredly expecting another bid this season. If it’s going to happen, it will be on Anderson’s shoulders. We know that making our Impact Players list for the Mid-South region isn’t the same as making the preseason Wooden Award Top 50. But at least we can say… hey James… we got your back, man.
Patrick Patterson – Jr, F – Kentucky. Patrick Patterson didn’t need a ton of motivation to return for a junior season in Lexington. The potential NBA riches were surely enticing, but with the news of John Calipari’s hire and subsequent commitments of a recruiting class for the ages, Patterson found himself in a spot where another season at Kentucky may mean a national championship, a far cry from the tumultuous two campaigns he spent in the Bluegrass State under the tutelage of Billy Gillispie. Patterson is a physical specimen in the paint for Kentucky and coach Cal has to be absolutely salivating at the thought of pairing Patterson and diaper dandy DeMarcus Cousins there to complement John Wall, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter (just think if Jodie Meeks had stuck around). Patterson nearly finished with a double-double last season at 17.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, including a dominant 22/15 performance at future #1 seed Louisville, a 19/16 vs. Miami and 21/18 vs. Auburn. In fact, Patterson led the SEC with 15 double-doubles in 2008-09 and was the only player in the conference to finish in the top five in scoring and rebounding. A wildly underrated part of Patterson’s game is his 77% ft to go along with an efficient 60% from the field overall. Most NBA scouts think Patterson will only get stronger and continue to improve with another season in college, a scary thought for opposing SEC coaches and forwards, and a delightful proposition for Calipari. The 6’8″ big man already possesses an NBA-ready frame, a beast on the blocks that loves to bang inside and fight for any rebound in his vicinity. If Patrick Patterson gets the ball deep, he will score. Period. And with John Wall, possibly the top point guard in the nation this season, making those entry passes, Patterson should be able to average a double-double for Kentucky, only adding to the 1,000+ points he’s already totaled as a Wildcat. Barring injury (which isn’t a certainty as PP battled a stress fracture in his ankle in 07-08), Patterson seems about as surefire as anyone in the country to earn national accolades this season. But with realistic hopes of a Final Four at Kentucky for the first time in Patterson’s career, it won’t be about personal accomplishments for the determined forward; it’ll be all about wins.
Big East/SEC Invitational. This is so ridiculous. Tonight was the opening night of yet another conference challengeseries invitational that theoretically is a great idea, but is executed all wrong by the powers-that-be. Why don’t the Pac-10, Big 12, SEC and Big East realize that interest will be much greater in these things if they’re made into week-long EVENTS, similar to the way the ACC and Big 10 do it, and they let ESPN carry all the games throughout the week. The Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series is bad enough, considering nobody even knows about it; but this Big East/SEC thing is an abomination. It only involves four teams from each conference, and somehow a team like South Florida gets invited. South Florida… most people don’t even realize that USF is IN the Big East or even carries a basketball program! Furthermore, they’ve decided to have doubleheaders in semi-neutral venues, which only serves to confuse people and create situations where half the stands are empty, even though two top 25 teams are playing (see: UT-Marquette tonight in Nashville). How cool would it be to have three legitimate made-for-tv challenges between all the power conferences in the first three weeks of December, leading into Bowl Week? Make this happen. FYI – the much-maligned SEC went 2-0 tonight, but who wouldn’t beat South Florida?
Tennessee 80, Marquette 62. The score was Marquette by 2 with just over ten minutes remaining. Then Tennessee and, more precisely, Mr. Headband as Yarmulke Wayne Chism, took over the game. The Vols scored on eleven of their next twelve possessions, and Chism was involved in seven of them. Game pretty much over. Chism, incidentally, set a new career-high with 26 pts and 11 rebounds, and it was clear that in the second half he was feeling it. The Vols didn’t get a huge amount of production from anyone else, though, (Tyler Smith had 14/3; Bobby Maze 10/6 assts) but their long arms and athletic defense did force Marquette into its worst shooting performance of the season (38%). Wesley Matthews continued to show his value, as he dropped 30 (15 from the line) on a myriad of drives and scoop shots in the lane. Matthews is #2 in the nation in FT attempts (97), behind only Blake Griffin, which shows just how frequently he gets into the paint and absorbs contact.
Vanderbilt 71, South Florida 52. We’re not going to spend too much time on this turd of game, but one interesting aspect of it was that the much-ballyhooed Mike Mercer (transfer from Georgia) and Gus Gilchrist (transfer from Maryland, sorta) made their tv debuts. Mercer had 10/3 assts, while Gilchrist added 12/8 off the bench. Anyone expecting these two players to turn USF into a Big East contender should have their heads examined. AJ Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal had twenty each for the Commodores.
This Sweaty Vol Fan Was Outworking Wayne Chism Tonight
It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp.
LMU’s Bill Bayno is taking a leave of absence due to a “serious medical condition” related to coaching-related stress. Maybe the 0-10 record with a trip scheduled to Pauley on Wednesday had something to do with it.
Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury was hospitalized yesterday with migraines and flu-like symptoms, although further tests were being done.
Clemson 76, North Florida 36. In the past seven years, Clemson has had starts of 10-0, 17-0, 11-0, 9-0, and now in 2008-09, 11-0 again. In those other four unbeaten starts, the final result was two NITs, one NCAA first round loss, and one losing record. Woo. Hoo.
Texas 88, Texas Southern 72. We’ve said it before, but if Dexter Pittman (19/5) gets going, Texas is a whole different animal. One troubling aspect of tonight’s game is they allowed 0-9 TSU to shoot 58% against them – Rick Barnes cannot be happy about that.
On Tap Wednesday (all times EST). Nothing like a Duke v. UNC-Asheville game (w/o Kenny George) to keep us warm at night. We’re actually very intrigued with how Syracuse responds 48 hrs after losing at home, whether Pitt will dominate a good Siena team, and if St. Mary’s can go into Mac Court and beat a young Oregon team.
NC State (-9.5) v. East Carolina – 7pm
Syracuse (-25) v. Canisius (ESPNU) – 7pm
Duke v. UNC-Asheville (ESPN2) – 7:30pm
LSU v. Nicholls St. (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
Memphis (-22) v. Arkansas-Little Rock – 8pm
Arkansas (-6.5) v. Austin Peay (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
What You Need to Know. The name of the game for the SEC this year is youth. The Western Division in particular, as nearly every team loses some nucleus from squads that formed a comparatively weak conference half as it was. Tennessee once again looks to lead a strong Eastern Division despite the loss of All-American Chris Lofton. The nation will be looking towards this typically loaded conference with several questions heading into 2008-09. Can Florida’s sophomores have a breakout season similar to those of 2006-07? Can Kentucky put enough guards around all-SEC forward Patrick Patterson to compete for the East? And can the West avoid being stomped once again in head-to-head competitions with the East? My answers: yes, yes, and no.
Predicted Champion.Tennessee (#2 seed NCAA). It’s pretty easy to brag on Bruce Pearl. He’s one of the nation’s premier coaches, owning a ridiculous 394-108 (.785) record as a head coach, standing third amongst current head coaches. Despite losing popular 2007-08 preseason pick for National Player of the Year Chris Lofton and do-everything guard/forward JuJuan Smith, the Vols will benefit from huge losses across the board for the SEC. All-American forward Tyler Smith (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) returns to provide the squad with a heavy-duty anchor inside (although the 6’7, 215 lb. junior hits 37.8% from behind the arc), while talented center Wayne Chism will be mopping up inside defensively. Hopping aboard the orange train are a pair of insanely talented newcomers. Everything-All-American out of high school Scotty Hopson will be challenging for the starting spot at shooting guard while junior-college All-American Bobby Maze looks to start at point guard. All in all, the talent, experience, and coaching level is the highest in Knoxville, and that’s why the Vols are picked to win the SEC regular season for the second consecutive season. Here’s some clips from the classic #1 v. #2 matchup Tennessee had with Memphis last season.
Florida(NCAA #3) – The Gators have once again put together a formula for a set of super sophomores. The league’s top freshman, as well as one of the conference’s best point guards in years, returns in Nick Calathes while a pair of star freshmen in Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas will attempt to fill the rather large shoes of NBA-bound Marreese Speights. Don’t be surprised if the Gators reclaim the SEC regular-season title for the third time in the past four years and show up knocking on the door of the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
Kentucky(NCAA #6) – The Wildcats have a lot of outside shooting to replace, after losing over 33 points per game in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Patrick Patterson returns and looks to touch the ball on nearly every possession, and incoming freshman DeAndre Liggins should serve as this year’s heavily-relied upon freshman for the Wildcats at the point guard spot. UK could challenge for the Eastern Division (and thus, the overall SEC crown) and sneak into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen if the pieces fall correctly.
Vanderbilt(NCAA #9) – Replacing SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster won’t be easy for Kevin Stallings, but the Commodores have another potential POY candidate in A.J. Ogilvy to step into that leadership role. Ogilvy returns as the conference’s most efficient player and scorer, and Jermaine Beal will be the guy to pass inside to the talented post-man while remaining a scoring threat this season. Although the Commodores lose an immense talent in Foster, Ogilvy should be enough to push the squad into the first couple of rounds in the NCAA Tournament.
LSU(NCAA #11) – The Tigers return nearly every major contributor from last year’s 13-18 squad except for star freshman Anthony Randolph and head coach John Brady, who was replaced during the offseason with accomplished former Stanford coach Trent Johnson. Johnson inherits possibly the league’s most talented overall player in senior Marcus Thornton, the league’s leading returning scorer, along with a chance to get LSU back to the NCAA Tournament (if just so) for the first time since 2006’s Final Four run.
Mississippi State(NCAA #12) – The Bulldogs lose the most talented duo in the conference in multi-dimensional Jamont Gordon and dominating post-presence Charles Rhodes. In addition, State will need to find a replacement at shooting guard with sophomore Ben Hansbrough transferring to Notre Dame. The positive, however, is that MSU is loaded with talented and will anchor around National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who led the nation in blocks per game and helped the team rank second nationally in field-goal percentage defense. Adding two big new pieces to the puzzle in freshmen Dee Bost and Romero Osby, the Bulldogs could win their share of the West for the third time in the past four season and make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.
Alabama (NIT) – I’ve predicted several SEC squads with similar in-conference records, and thus those with the weaker RPIs have been restricted to the NIT. Alabama is one of them. The Tide return former All-American Ronald Steele, but major questions still surround his ability to return to his former self after several complications with knee injuries. McDonald’s All-American freshman JaMychal Green will step into the spot of the league’s most dominant offensive post-man in departed Richard Hendrix. If Green can handle the post himself, or if little-known sophomore Justin Knox can step in to assist, the Tide could find themselves away from a top NIT seed and into the NCAAs.
South Carolina (NIT) – New head coach David Horn from Western Kentucky infamy will step into a very favorable position at the helm of the Gamecocks. USC brings back more firepower, at least percentage-wise, than any other SEC team and could post the biggest turnaround season the league has seen in quite some time. Junior Devan Downey returns as one of the league’s top point guards and toughest men to keep out of the lane along with ranking as the SEC’s second-leading returning scorer. With almost every piece seeming to come into place for a special season for USC, keep your eyes pealed for a potential Gamecock bubble squad.
Arkansas – Just as USC returns nearly everyone, Arkansas loses nearly everyone from a team that underachieved a season ago. Namely, the Razorbacks lose former SEC Freshman of the Year Patrick Beverly, who decided to try his luck overseas. Despite a solid recruiting class, this should be a rebuilding year for John Pelphrey.
Auburn – The Tigers simply have had a bare cupboard in both talent and depth constantly under Jeff Lebo, and this year is little different. The return of Korvotney Barber should help matters some, assuming he stays healthy, but Auburn won’t improve to any real degree until Lebo is let go.
Georgia – The Bulldogs under Dennis Felton have been comparable to Auburn under Lebo for quite some time, except that Felton recruits a bit better and has had some nominal success such as last year’s confusing SEC Tournament run. With mass suspensions and off-the-court issues, UGA should remain near or at the bottom of the conference this season – and Felton should receive his pink slip much like Lebo.
Ole Miss – The Rebels lost a lot last season, but were still anchored inside by solid and experienced forwards, especially Dwayne Curtis. With those losses, this team is almost entirely underclassmen and could sneak into the NIT if they catch some breaks.
Kentucky @ North Carolina (11.18.08) – If the Wildcats can pull a massive upset of the consensus #1 team in the nation in Chapel Hill, they will be well on their way to returning to national recognition.
Tennessee vs. Marquette (12.16.08) – The Volunteers get little or no breaks throughout the non-conference schedule, and this SEC vs. Big East matchup will be for conference bragging rights.
LSU @ Texas A&M (12.20.08) – If the Tigers want to prove they are rebounding, this will be one of few opportunities for them to so in the non-conference slate.
South Carolina @ Baylor (01.02.08) – The Gamecocks’ schedule is ridiculously light, and their schedule will be inflated by this point in the season. This game is a must-win if USC wants to take the step up into the NCAAs.
Tennessee @ Kansas (01.03.08) – Another heavyweight matchup for the Vols, who have a chance to take down a reigning national champ on their home court.
Kentucky @ Louisville (01.04.08) – The Cats could seriously bolster their NCAA seed and chances to advance in the NCAAs by taking down Louisville on the road.
Memphis @ Tennessee (01.24.08) – A quickly-heating rivalry as the amount of NBA potential on this floor could drown the common man.
LSU @ Mississippi State (01.11.09) – If the Tigers want to break through the cap and take the West, a win in this early conference game would be a huge advantage.
Kentucky @ Alabama (01.24.09) – The Tide must be able to win games at home against the top tier of the East if they have any serious hope of challenging for the overall SEC crown.
Mississippi State @ Alabama (02.21.09) – If the Bulldogs take care of the Tide at home, they have a shot to make it six in a row over their rivals and take a major step towards another West title.
Tennessee @ Florida (03.01.09) – The Gators must hold serve at home to compete in the East, while the Vols could wrap up the conference title with a win here.
Kentucky @ Florida (03.07.09) – We know the Wildcats can win at home, but can they win in Gainesville? This one could be for the East.
Neat-O Stat. The Southeastern Conference is one of the nation’s deepest and most competitive leagues. The SEC ranks second only behind the ACC in average conference RPI since 1999, and has put every single member into the NCAA tournament since 2002.
65 Team Era. The SEC has had a tremendous amount of success in this era, going 178-117 (.603) which is good enough for third behind the ACC and Big East. This includes thirteen F4s and five national titles. What’s particularly impressive is that only four of those F4s and two titles belong to Kentucky, the traditional standard-bearer of this league, which shows that the rest of the conference has taken basketball to heart and stepped it up.
Final Thoughts. The SEC was a huge disappointment on the national scene a season ago. Without major flag-bearers such as Kentucky or Florida dominating, expectations fell on Tennessee to take their #2 seed to the Final Four. Instead, the Vols served as the only team from the conference to make the Sweet Sixteen before falling on their faces to Louisville. While this year likely won’t be much of an improvement, consider it a gigantic top-to-bottom reloading of one of the nation’s premier men’s basketball conferences, with the league’s talent being tremendously youth-oriented. Three SEC teams look to have serious aspirations for getting past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and all are from the East: Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky. If a Western Division team can step up and compete better than expected and at least two of these teams make the Sweet Sixteen this season, it should serve as a useful springboard to a very potent year for the SEC on the national scene in 2009-2010.