Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009-10 Preview: SEC

Southeastern Conference

It was a down year for the SEC, but the conference wasn't as bad as most people thought. There were a number of quality teams that just barely missed the Tournament. And when you've got a team that beat Oklahoma and Texas and that still finished 2-14 in conference play, your conference can't be all too bad. The best team in the SEC, of course, was LSU. You have to give Trent Johnson a lot of credit for putting in a winning system in his first year. His up-tempo offense and aggressive defense caught other SEC teams off guard, and they easily ran to an SEC regular season title. But don't expect a repeat in 2009-10, as they will likely lose four starters. Three of them will be graduating, and a fourth (Tasmin Mitchell) is currently entered in the NBA Draft process. Mitchell has not yet hired an agent, and he could return for his Senior season, but I don't think his stock will get any higher. Even though he is unlikely to be a first round draft pick, I expect him to go pro, and will assume that for this preview. Expect Bo Spencer to be the floor leader and leading scorer next season. But with no other players returning that scored more than two minutes per game, LSU will be extremely inexperienced next season. They do have some nice talent in the pipeline, including Aaron Dotson (Rivals: 89, Scout: 22 SG), but there's no question that LSU will take a step back next season.

The other SEC at-large Tournament team was Tennessee. The Volunteers were a pretty good, but wildly inconsistent. Both the Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy rated them as the best team in the conference, and they certainly were the team with the highest ceiling. With none of the five starters graduation, the only question is whether Tyler Smith returns for his Senior season or if goes pro. Bruce Pearl is saying that he thinks Tyler Smith is going to go, so I'll assume for now that he will. But even if he does, Tennessee will still have an outstanding squad next year. Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince will all be Seniors. And Scotty Hopson was a solid player as a Freshman last season. They also have a very nice recruit coming in with power forward Kenny Hall (Rivals: 61, Scout: 9 PF). They're going to have to play more consistently to get back into the Top Ten, but they'll definitely be competing for an SEC title.

The third SEC team to make the Tournament was Mississippi State, a very young team that improved as the season went along. Their chances next season will be entirely dependent on what Jarvis Varnado wants to do. The guy is an athletic freak with arms that seem to go down to his toes when he's standing straight up. He hasn't yet declared for the NBA draft, but the rumors are that he is more than likely to declare eventually. If he comes back then Mississippi State will be a likely Tournament team and will challenge for the SEC title. If he goes pro then they'll still be a Bubble team, but they aren't going to be nearly as good.

The offseason story of the SEC, of course, is Kentucky. The shifting of expectations with the hiring of John Calipari is remarkable. Some of the more delusional Kentucky fans actually are talking about a National Title this coming season. I wouldn't go that far, but they're going to be far more talented. First, all of the important players from last year's team will be back. The only questions are Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks. Meeks has actually declared for the NBA draft, but it's expected that he will come back. Patterson hasn't announced any decision, but he is expected to come back as well. Kentucky also has a number of top recruits now coming, although things remain in flux as the Calipari situation continues to play itself out. There's no question that Kentucky will return to the Tournament, but they might need to let those Final Four dreams wait for another year or two.

Florida loses Walter Hodge to graduation, and could potentially lose Nick Calathes. At this point he's going through the NBA draft process, but has not hired an agent. I think he's going to stay in, but Florida will still have plenty of talent back regardless. Alex Tyus, Dan Werner and Chandler Parsons will all be back. Vernon Macklin is transferring in from Georgetown, and they have two blue chip recruits coming in (Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy). Another team that loses a bit is Auburn, which loses three starters but will be very Senior-heavy next season. They will feature DeWayne Reed (13 ppg, 4 apg, 2 spg) next season, as well as a recruiting class headed by Andrew Malone (Rivals: 74, Scout: 25 SG). They may not be as good next season, but they'll still be competitive.

South Carolina doesn't lose very much to graduation, and they certainly had a very successful first season under Darrin Horn. But the question is what will happen with Devan Downey, who is currently testing the draft process. I'm thinking that he will come back for his Senior season, but obviously their expectations for next season will greatly decline if he decides to go. Downey is unquestionably the heart of this South Carolina team. Another team to look out for is Alabama, which loses only Alonzo Gee and Brandon Hollinger to graduation. Senario Hillman and JaMychal Green will be back, and they've got a recruiting class rated 25th by

One intriguing team is Vanderbilt, which returns every single player from its roster, and has maybe the best home court advantage in the SEC (not really because of the crowds, but because their arena is so odd). They have a blue chip recruit coming in as well (John Jenkins), so it's hard to argue that they won't be much better next season. Another team that returns all of its regular players is Arkansas, a team that was far better than their 2-14 record would suggest. They bring in a recruiting class led by Marshawn Powell (Rivals: 56, Scout: 16 PF). Hard to see them not much better next season. Here's how I see the whole conference playing out:

1. Kentucky - They already had a Top 25 recruiting class before John Calipari signed on. Not to mention that the thought of playing with all of this talent will surely be a big factor in the NBA decision of Jodie Meeks. I don't think they've got a Final Four coming up next season, but they'll unquestionably contend for an SEC title.
2. Tennessee - Tyler Smith's NBA decision could be the difference between an SEC title for Tennessee, or for Kentucky.
3. Florida - Walter Hodge is gone, and Nick Calathes will likely be gone as well, but Billy Donovan always has a lot of young talent in the pipeline, and they'll always be contending for SEC titles as long as he's the coach.
4. Vanderbilt - Everybody is back for another run at the NCAA Tournament.
5. South Carolina - If Devan Downey returns they'll actually be better than they were last season, but that still might not keep them from falling in the standings. The SEC East will be really good from top to bottom.
6. Georgia - I'm not sure I understand the hiring of Mark Fox. They might be slightly better than they were last season, but it's hard to see them finishing anywhere other than last place in next year's SEC East.

1. Mississippi State - They might drop if Varnado really does go pro, but even if he does this team should still be improved next season.
2. Auburn - They should be very experienced, and a tough team to beat.
3. LSU - I don't think they'll drop off too much, but there's no question that Year Two will be more challenging than Year One for Trent Johnson.
4. Alabama - Alonzo Gee is a tough loss, but almost everybody else is back.
5. Arkansas - They were a lot better than their record was last season, and they should be even better next season.
6. Mississippi - They shouldn't be any worse than they were last season, but their SEC competition will be much stronger.


Anonymous said...

The crowd at Vanderbilt is awesome. The home court advantage isn't just because of the goofy court

Jeff said...

I do agree that Vanderbilt has good crowds. But lots of teams have good crowds... the reason Vanderbilt has one of the top five home court advantages (in my opinion) in the nation is because of that goofy court.

Anonymous said...

Kentucky will win the title with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, and Eric Bledsoe. Are you off your rocker?