2009-10 SEC Conference Preview
The SEC is a football conference, and last year provided ample proof. After recent success from programs like Florida and LSU, it seemed as though the entire conference failed to produce a quality team in 2008-09, with just three teams making the NCAA Tournament and only one (LSU) able to win a single game. But spring came, and with it, new coaches. John Calipari, Anthony Grant, and Mark Fox join established names such as Billy Donovan, Trent Johnson, Bruce Pearl, Rick Stansbury and Kevin Stallings. Only a few key players departed with plenty of talented additions and potential NBA early entrants staying in school, making for what should be a resurgent SEC with at least one Final Four team and possibly one of the tougher divisions in college basketball in the SEC East. We’ll find out just how good the league became over the offseason quickly, with several big out of conference games in November and December.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 22-14 (8-8 in conference), lost in the NIT Quarterfinals to Notre Dame
Outlook: After two years of Billy Gillispie, the Cats called on Calipari to get things back to where the Bluegrass nation demands it. And like Calipari’s Memphis squads, the Kentucky crew should be stacked with talent. John Wall was cleared by the NCAA, and Eric Bledsoe joins him as freshmen floor generals. Patrick Patterson passed on the NBA. He's added range to his shot and should be among the best post players in the country with career averages of more than 17 points and 8 rebounds per game. DeMarcus Cousins gives them a third possible 2010 lottery pick with both size and versatility. The biggest question facing Kentucky is who provides scoring from the wings, where freshman Jon Hood will battle with sophomores Deandre Liggins, Darnell Dodson, and Darius Miller for the job, and the outside shot needed to space the floor for Wall and Patterson to do their damage.
Key departures: G/F Jodie Meeks
Top Returners: F Patrick Patterson, F Perry Stevenson, F Ramon Harris, G Darius Miller, G Deandre Liggins
Newcomers: John Calipari, G John Wall, C DeMarcus Cousins, G/F Darnell Dodson (JUCO), PG Eric Bledsoe, C Daniel Orton, SF Jon Hood
Non-conference games to watch: Stanford or Virginia (Cancun Challenge, Nov. 25 in Cancun), home vs. North Carolina (Dec. 5), UConn (SEC/Big East Invitational , Dec. 9 at Madison Square Garden), @ Indiana (Dec. 12), home vs. Louisville (Jan. 2)
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 21-13 (10-6), lost in the NCAA Tournament First Round to Oklahoma State
Outlook: The second spot in the SEC East should belong to Bruce Pearl’s ballers. They tied for the top spot in the SEC East last year, and return the bulk of last year’s roster and great depth. Tyler Smith returned to school, and is one of the more dynamic, inside/outside swingmen in the country with a style perfectly suited for Pearl’s fast-paced system. Wayne Chism adds another inside/outside threat, averaging exactly 8 rebounds and 1 block per last year, in addition to hitting 41 3s at 32%. JP Prince adds a long weapon on the outside, with Bobby Maze returning at PG. The team has ball handlers, big men, and a seemingly endless group of great athletes, but do they have the shooters needed to excel in Pearl’s system? Sophomore SFs Scotty Hopson and Cam Tatum both failed to emerge as a consistent scorer from the wing, and their development will be critical for the Volunteers to improve on last year. Their center (Chism) was arguably their best and most reliable outside shooter last year, and with the rest of the SEC improving, that must change if Tennessee wants to remain near the top of the conference.
Key departures: G Josh Tabb
Top Returners: F/C Wayne Chism, F Tyler Smith, PG Bobby Maze, G/F Scotty Hopson, G/F Cam Tatum, G JP Prince, F Emmanuel Negedu, C Brian Williams, F Renaldo Woolridge
Newcomers: F/C Kenny Hall, PG Melvin Goins (JUCO), SG Josh Bone (transfer from Southern Illinois)
Non-conference games to watch: Paradise Jam (Nov. 20-23, field includes Boston College, DePaul, Purdue, and St. Joseph’s, among others in U.S. Virgin Islands), @ Southern Cal (Dec. 19), @ Memphis (Dec. 31), home vs. Kansas (Jan. 10)
3. Vanderbilt Commodores
Record: 19-12 (8-8), no post season tourney
Outlook: Kevin Stallings has built a consistently solid team, and while last year’s season disappointingly ended without a much deserved NIT bid, a strong core returns for this season. Junior AJ Ogilvy is one of the better centers’s in the country, averaging over 15 and 7 with just under a steal and over a block per last season. Senior Jermaine Beal gives them a solid defender and leader at point. Sophomore wings Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley add scoring punch from the perimeter with Taylor a slasher and Tinsley a sharpshooter, but freshman SG John Jenkins could push Tinsley out of the starting lineup (or perhaps lead to Stallings running a smaller, more up tempo lineup with all 3 joining Beal and Ogilvy). The Commodores return 4 starters from last year and replaced George Drake with a better player in Jenkins. It’s just another strong roster in the SEC East, with experience and talent across the board, and the ability to go deep in March.
Key Departure: G/F George Drake
Top Returners: C AJ Ogilvy, PG Jermaine Beal, SG Brad Tinsley, SF Jeffery Taylor, F Darshawn McClellan, PF Steve Tchiengang, F/C Festus Ezeli
Newcomer: G/F John Jenkins
Non-conference games to watch: @ St. Mary’s (Nov. 20), Maui Invitational (Nov. 23-25 open with Cincinnati, other participants including Arizona, Gonzaga, Maryland, Colorado, and Wisconsin), home vs. Missouri (Dec. 2), home vs. DePaul (Dec. 5), @ Illinois (Dec. 8), vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 11, Sun Belt Classic, in Nashville)
4. South Carolina
Record: 21-10 (10-6), lost in the NIT First Round to Davidson
Outlook: Coach Darin Horn enters his second season with a South Carolina roster capable of doing big things after tying for the SEC East regular season title and returning 4 of 5 starters. Senior PG Devan Downey returned after testing NBA draft waters and is the most explosive returnee in the SEC. He averaged near 20 points and 3 steals per game last year, and will take on a bigger offensive load with Zam Frederick graduated. Senior Dominique Archie, who also put his name in the NBA draft before pulling back last spring, and juniors Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow should form one of the longer and more athletic front lines, giving South Carolina a strong base defensively and some shot blockers in the lane for when Downey gambles on steals and misses. The key for South Carolina will come on the wings. Can Archie make the transition from PF to SF? And who replaces Frederick in the backcourt from sixth man Brandis Raley-Ross, freshman Lakeem Jackson or senior Evka Baniulis, who has the shot to spread the floor but little else to his game? If they can get quality production on the wing, this team is deep, with one of the premier game changers at point, and could easily finish higher up the list.
Key departures: G Zam Frederick, G Brandon Conrad
Top returners: PG Devan Downey, G Brandis Raley-Ross, F Dominique Archie, PF Mike Holmes, C Sam Muldrow
Newcomers: G/F Lakeem Jackson, PG Ramon Galloway, G Stephen Spinella, F Johndre Jefferson (JUCO)
Non-conference games to watch: Charleston Classic (Nov. 19-22, open with LaSalle, South Florida, Penn St, and Miami are possible opponents), home vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 2), @ Clemson (Dec. 6), @ Boston College (Dec. 30), home vs. Baylor (Jan. 2)
5. Florida Gators
Record: 25-11 (9-7), lost in the NIT Quarterfinals to Penn St
Outlook: Florida has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament since back to back titles in 2005 and 2006, and this year's squad will probably continue that trend. It’s not that the Gators don’t have talent -- what they don’t have is a decent big man. And it doesn't help they'll have to replace their starting backcourt from last year. Undersized sophomore Erving Walker hopefully can replace Nick Calathes as the facilitator offensively, but the generously listed 5’8 PG from Brooklyn will have help from blue chip recruit Kenny Boynton. Boynton should carry this team from the minute he steps on the floor. But putting him next to Walker, this is a very undersized backcourt. Israeli guard Nimrod Tishman signed late in the summer after an impressive showing at the European U-18 championships, and could possibly help Boynton fill the void left by Calathes. Chandler Parsons and Dan Werner return at forward, and while both have skills and are solid shooters, their performances last year left a lot to be desired. Junior Alex Tyus almost transferred, but the talented post player. He’ll be joined by sophomore Kenny Kadji and Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin inside, both of whom have yet to fulfill their vast potential.
Key Departures: G Nick Calathes, G Walter Hodge, F/C Eloy Vargas
Top returners: F Dan Werner, G Erving Walker, F Chandler Parsons, F/C Alex Tyus, F/C Kenny Kadji
Newcomers: G Kenny Boynton, PF Vernon Macklin (transfer from Georgetown), G Nimrod Tishman, PF Erik Murphy, F Adam Allen (redshirt from knee injury)
Non-conference games to watch: home vs. Florida St (Nov. 24), vs. Michigan St (Legends Classic, Nov 27 in Atlantic City), UMass or Rutgers (Legends Classic, Nov 28 in Atlantic City), vs. Syracuse (SEC/Big East Invitational, Dec. 10 in Tampa), @ North Carolina St (Jan. 3), home vs. Xavier (Feb. 13)
6. Georgia Bulldogs
Record: 12-20 (3-13), no post season tourney
New coach Mark Fox has brought a new excitement to Georgia and should field a moderately improved team from last year. But with the rest of the SEC looking as it does, an improved Georgia team could still finish last in the East. Sophomore F Trey Thompkins returns after spending the summer helping lead the US U-19 to a gold medal finish in New Zealand and will be expected to carry a heavy load both offensively and defensively. PG Dustin Ware took over the job as a freshman, and Fox’s staff expects big things in year two. The team has some solid options in the post, with much improved senior Albert Jackson and junior Jeremy Price, but the wing looks like a glaring weakness where a former walk-on may start at SG. After last season’s struggles, it’s hard to know what to expect from Georgia, although it’s almost a certainty they finish in the bottom two (5th or 6th) of the East for the 7th straight year.
Key Departures: Dennis Felton, SF Terrance Woodbury, G Corey Butler
Top Returners: F Trey Thompkins, PG Dustin Ware, C Albert Jackson, F/C Jeremy Price, F/C Chris Barnes, SG Ricky McPhee, SF Travis Leslie
Newcomers: Mark Fox, G Ebuka Anyaorah (redshirt from leg injury), PG Vincent Williams, G Demario Mayfield
Non-conference games to watch: @ UAB (Nov. 21), @ Virginia Tech (Dec. 6), @ St. John’s (SEC/Big East Invitational , Dec. 9), vs. Illinois (in Duluth, GA, Dec. 12), @ Missouri (Jan. 2), home vs. Georgia Tech (Jan. 5)
1. Mississippi St ate Bulldogs
Record: 23-13 (9-7), lost in the NCAA Tournament First Round to Washington
The Bulldogs return all five starters from the SEC Tournament Champions and potentially may add prized recruit Renardo Sidney. As a result, they should lead the way in the SEC West again this year, a norm since Rick Stansbury took over in Starkville. Ravern Johnson, Dee Bost, Barry Stewart, and Phil Turner return to the starting lineup after the quartet of shooters surrounded the rebounding and shot blocking force of Jarvis Varnado last year. Each of the 4 made 30 or more 3s in 16 SEC games last year, while Varnado should break the NCAA career record for blocks this year. Dee Bost played very well as a freshman PG, while Johnson, Stewart, and Turner were pretty much interchangeable on the wings, with each taking their turns leading big wins. Kodi Augustus, who started 9 games before Phil Turner took over in the small ball lineup, is a perimeter oriented F. They also return forward Romero Osby, and add center John Riek to the front line after he sits a mandatory 9 games for NCAA amateurism rules. Also battling the NCAA amateur status is Renardo Sidney, who would add another talented playmaker to the roster. The team is deep inside and out, with great weapons offensively and defensively, and should join Kentucky in the top 25 all season. With their roster, Mississippi State should be a matchup problem no matter who they face this year, especially if Sidney can get cleared by the NCAA, and could make their first Sweet 16 since Stansbury was an assistant on Mississippi State’s 1996 Final Four team.
Key Departures: F/C Brian Johnson
Top Returners: C F/C Jarvis Varnado, G/F Ravern Johnson, PG Dee Bost, G/F Phil Turner, SG Barry Stewart, F Kodi Augustus, F Romero Osby
Newcomers: G Shaun Smith, C John Riek, F/C Wendell Lewis, F Renardo Sidney
Non-conference games to watch: vs. Richmond (South Padre Invitational, Nov 27-28, with Missouri their likely opponent on the 28th in South Padre Island, TX), vs. DePaul (SEC/Big East Invitational, Dec. 10 in Tampa), vs. UCLA (Dec. 12 in Anaheim), @ Western Kentucky (Jan. 4)
2. Ole Miss Rebels
Record: 16-15 (7-9), no post season tourney
Andy Kennedy suffered through a rough second season in Oxford. First, Freshman All-SEC G Trevor Gaskins blew out a knee in preseason, followed by stat line filler and SF Eniel Polynice losing his season to another knee injury in the season opener. Then star PG Chris Warren was lost with a knee injury of his own 11 games into the season, and to top it all off, emerging F Malcolm White left the team before the season ended to move closer to home at LSU. But the Rebels are hoping last year’s struggles can lead to this year’s success. Warren is healthy, and while he was gone, Terrico White won SEC freshman of the year and enters this season as a Wooden Award candidate and potential lottery pick next summer. White’s emergence last year as one of the nation’s best perimeter weapons allows Gaskins to provide great depth off the bench. Zach Graham filled in admirably as the glue-guy at small forward for Polynice, and should join Gaskins as an experienced threat off the bench. The team’s weakness is inside, but they have plenty of weapons on the perimeter to help overcome that. 6 big men will fight for time inside, with 6’7 sophomore Murphy Holloway leading the way. Newcomers Reginald Buckner and DeAngelo Riley are expected to make a big push for playing time next to Holloway, along with sophomores Terrance Henry and Kevin Cantinol. With a return to health on the outside, and the emergence of someone inside, Ole Miss is capable of making some serious noise in March, although a soft out of conference schedule may come back to bite them at the end of the year.
Key Departures: PF Malcolm White
Top Returners: PG Chris Warren, G Terrico White, SF Eniel Polynice, G Trevor Gaskins, SF Zach Graham, PF Murphy Holloway, F/C Terrance Henry
Newcomers: F/C DeAngelo Riley (JUCO), F/C Reginald Buckner
Non-conference games to watch: vs. Indiana (Puerto Rico Tip Off Classic, Nov. 19-22, with Dayton, Georgia Tech, George Mason, Villanova, and Kansas St also possible opponents), @ West Virginia (Dec. 23)
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 18-14 (7-9), no post season tourney
The Crimson Tide struggled through last season, but new coach Anthony Grant will have some solid pieces to work with in his first year at the Capstone. Shooting guard Senario Hillman and big man JaMychal Green give a nice start inside and outside. Hillman utilizes his amazing athleticism slashing to the hoop, while Green works strong on the blocks. Senior Mikhail Torrance stepped into a starting role and performed well when point guard Ron Steele hung it up midway through last season due to repeated injuries, although younger brother Andrew Steele’s continued development should allow Torrance to move to the wing. Senior Anthony Brock, a long range specialist, will compete with Steele, Torrance, and freshman Ben Eblen for a starting spot next to Hillman, while prep foward Tony Mitchell hopes to provide an athletic presence to help fill the void left by last year’s leading scorer Alonzo Gee. Grant also brought in a pair of JUCOs to help solidify the rotation inside and outside. Alabama should be a solid team with Green continuing a push towards future lottery status, and with the improved depth competing for playing time, they should be on the bubble come March.
Key Departures: SF Alonzo Gee, PG Ronald Steele, F/C Yamene Coleman
Top Returners: G Senario Hillman, F/C JaMychal Green, G Mikhail Torrance, PG Andrew Steele, PF Justin Knox, PG Anthony Brock
Newcomers: Anthony Grant, SF Tony Mitchell, G Ben Eblen, G Charvez Davis (JUCO), F/C Chris Hines (JUCO)
Non-conference games to watch: home vs. Providence (Nov. 20), vs. Baylor (Old Spice Classic, Nov. 26-29 in Orlando, with Creighton, Florida St, Marquette, Michigan, and Xavier also possible opponents), home vs. Purdue (Dec. 12), vs. Kansas St (Dec. 19 in Mobile, AL), @ Toledo (Jan. 4)
4. LSU TIgers
Record: 27-8 (13-3), lost in the NCAA Second Round to North Carolina
Trent Johnson turned things around fast in Baton Rouge, leading his team to an SEC regular season championship before ending their season to eventual national champ North Carolina in the NCAAs. Tasmin Mitchell joined the list of SEC talents who decided to come back to school after declaring for the draft. His return should help ease the transition in the former Stanford coach's second season. Mitchelll, a do-everything forward, was huge for Johnson, as only he and PG Bo Spencer return from the top seven in minutes played last year. Freshman SG Aaron Dotson can hopefully replace some of the scoring lost with the graduated Marcus Thornton and F Eddie Ludwig should help some as a PF with shooting range, but the team has big question marks at SG and inside that need to be answered. The Bayou Bengals shocked most of the SEC by leading the way in a down year for the conference, but their losses combined with the improvements by their competitors should make a finish in even the top half of the West very difficult.
Key Departures: SG Marcus Thornton, C Chris Johnson, G/F Garrett Temple, G Terry Martin, F Quentin Thornton
Top Returners: F Tasmin Mitchell, PG Bo Spencer
Newcomers: SG Aaron Dotson, F Eddie Ludwig, F/C Dennis Harris (redshirted as a freshman), Garrett Green (redshirt)
Non-conference games to watch: NIT Tip-off (Nov 16-27, open with Indiana St, then likely Western Kentucky also at home in the second game), vs. Washington St (Cougar Hardwood Classic, Dec. 22 in Seattle), @ Xavier (Dec. 29), home vs. Utah (Jan. 2)
5. Arkansas Razorbacks
Record: 14-16 (2-14), no post season tourney
John Pelphrey took over for Stan Heath, minus the hours-long tenure of Dana Altman, because Heath had failed to satisfy the crazed Hogs despite back to back NCAA appearances. Arkansas was bad last year, but there were some silver linings to the dark clouds. Michael Washington emerged as a consistent double-double, while guards Rotnei Clarke and Courtney Fortson had solid freshman campaigns, as did power forward Michael Sanchez. Jason Henry also had some standout performances as a freshman, but he was dismissed from the team over the summer. Another problem is, while the aforementioned four return to Bud Walton Arena, they formed the bulk of the team’s production last year and you can see above the results that produced. A handful of new players, namely potential starters Jemal Farmer and Marshawn Powell, will hope to provide Pelphrey with the boost he needs to avoid joining Heath on the firing line, and as history has shown — Houston Nutt and Nolan Richardson come to mind — the Razorback faithful can get ugly when they lose happiness. Following the two Mississippi schools, the SEC West is loaded with question marks so that Arkansas can make a quick rebound back to the upper echelon of the division, but then again they could just as easily be in the market for a new coach by January.
Key Departures: Jason Henry (dismissed from team)
Top Returners: F/C Michael Washington, G Rotnei Clarke, G Stefan Walsh, G Courtney Fortson, PF Michael Sanchez, SG Marcus Britt
Newcomers: F/C Marshawn Powell, PG Julysses Nobles, F Glenn Bryant, SF Jemal Farmer (JUCO), F/C Delvon Johnson (JUCO)
Non-conference games to watch: vs. Louisville (Nov. 18 in St. Louis), @ Oklahoma (Dec. 2), @ Baylor (Dec. 30), home vs. UAB (Jan. 2), home vs. Texas (Jan. 5)
6. Auburn Tigers
Record: 24-12 (10-6), lost in the NIT Quarterfinals to Baylor
Jeff Lebo’s team surprised last year with a strong season, perhaps saving his job in after the four previous seasons saw lackluster results. Year six under Lebo sees a solid returning core from last year’s squad. Seniors DeWayne Reed and Tay Waller give the Tigers a pair of senior sharpshooters in the backcourt. Senior Lucas Hargrove should also help knock down some deep balls, in addition to providing some rebounding and defense at forward. Rebounding machine Korvotney Barber must be replaced in the middle, though, with several vying for the role. If they can find a big man, the team could surprise again with a glutton of guards, but they likely return back to the bottom of the SEC West standings.
Key Departures: F/C Korvotney Barber, G Quantez Robertson, G/F Rasheem Barrett
Top Returners: PG DeWayne Reed, G Tay Waller, F Lucas Hargrove, G Frankie Sullivan
Newcomers: G/F Andre Malone, G/F Earnest Ross, C Rob Chubb, F/C Ty Armstrong, F Kenny Gabriel (JUCO), SF Tony Neysmith (transfer from Oklahoma)
Non-conference games to watch: vs. North Carolina St (Nov. 22 in Daytona Beach), home vs. Virginia (Dec. 7), @ Florida St (Dec. 17),
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