Posted by Brian Otskey on August 15th, 2011
Throughout the summer RTC contributors Zach Hayes and Brian Otskey will discuss the hot topics — or whatever comes to mind — around each major conference in college basketball. This week, they tackle the SEC. For the entire summer series focusing on each of the six power conferences, click here.
Brian: While football dominates the conversation when it comes to the SEC, most basketball fans know there is some quality hoops played in this league as well. The 2011-12 version of SEC basketball is no exception as three teams (Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida) should be top 25 mainstays while a fourth (Alabama) has the potential to make quite a bit of noise in its own right and crack the rankings. New coaches begin major rebuilding projects at Arkansas and Tennessee while LSU and Auburn should improve from disastrous seasons. There’s a renewed sense of optimism at Mississippi State but Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina have to start over after losing key contributors from last year. The SEC looks to be a very strong league at the top but full of intrigue from #1 to #12.
The Overall Top Four SEC Teams Will Receive SEC Tourney Byes Next Season
Perhaps the biggest news this offseason was the decision to scrap the East/West divisional format and rank the teams 1 through 12. In my opinion, this is the best setup and will result in better balance throughout the conference. However, the SEC athletic directors did not change the scheduling format for this coming year at their spring meetings back in early June. If it were up to me, I would have done away with the divisions and changed the schedule at the same time. What we will have this year is akin to what the Big 12 used for years before losing two of its members. While that isn’t the end of the world, it’s a bigger deal in the SEC. The three strongest teams resided in what was the East division while many of the weaker programs competed in the SEC West. With the scheduling format remaining the same for one more year, Alabama looks to be the biggest beneficiary. The Crimson Tide will play 10 games against Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi and Mississippi State while seeing Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt only once. While some of the West schools should be a bit better than they were, none will come close to matching what the top three East clubs bring to the table. Alabama went 12-4 in conference play last year and that would have been good enough for second place in the new setup. Does anyone really think Alabama was the second best team in the conference last season? I have nothing against Alabama but that simply wasn’t the case. I just don’t see why the conference ADs made this knee-jerk decision to dump the divisions without changing the schedule. Waiting one year and working it all out would have been the better approach. The East teams will benefit from playing each other twice (better RPI) but I’d like to see the league go to an 18-game schedule eventually. The rumblings about a true round-robin 22-game slate sound nice, but 22 conference games seems like too much to me. I’d label that as good in theory but unrealistic in a 12-team league.
My pick to win the league is Kentucky. John Calipari brings in his best recruiting class ever with four 5-star players heading to Lexington. With returnees Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas on board, UK is primed for a monster season. I expect Marquis Teague to take the reins at the point fairly easily while Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer headline the front court. Kentucky also has the luxury of the versatile Jones who, with added strength and quickness, can expand his game even further. He’s got an incredible shooting touch for a man of his size but I’m more interested to see how much better he gets in the paint with Davis now by his side to relieve some of the pressure. Despite all of this, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be Calipari’s best recruit. This kid is the type of player that scouts drool over, able to slash and take it inside or step out and knock down a mid-range shot. He needs to work on his shooting from behind the arc but Kidd-Gilchrist is an incredible athlete who will contribute right away on the defensive end as well as on the glass. Kidd-Gilchrist will bring a strong work ethic and commitment towards getting better to Kentucky and the Wildcats will reap the benefits all season long. I expect Kentucky to be one of the few national championship contenders despite all of their youth.
Read the rest of this entry »