Vanderbilt and Ole Miss remain two of the six undefeated teams in the nation while Kentucky stumbles in with a sub .500 record. Such is the topsy-turvy world that is college basketball!
Best Wins: West Virginia (N), at Xavier, Gonzaga (N)
Entering conference play, the Volunteers have easily the best resume of any SEC squad with three solid victories. They have two more opportunities to obtain concrete out-of-conference wins with games against Ohio State and at Memphis.
Key Losses: Texas (N)
In their lone loss, the Volunteers allowed four Longhorns to score 20+ points in route to a 97-78 defeat.
Go To Guy: Chris Lofton (14.5 PPG, 33.6 3PT FG%)
The Pre-season SEC Player of the Year has experienced difficulties at times during his senior season. A career 44 percent shooter from behind the arc entering this year, Lofton is shooting a career-low 34 percent. Still, he is leading his team in scoring and his ability to knock down shots keeps defenders on him, which opens up the offense for this extremely talented Tennessee squad.
Impact Newcomers: Tyler Smith (12.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.2 SPG), J.P. Prince (14.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 59.4 FG%)
The two transfers have added even more talent and depth to this Tennessee squad. Smith, the transfer from Iowa, does a little bit of everything for the Vols and immediately adds a sense of toughness when he steps on the floor. Prince, cousin of Tayshaun Prince, transferred to Tennessee from the University of Arizona. The sophomore was forced to sit out the first nine games but has provided an immediate impact to a team that didn’t really need any more depth. Just three games into his career, Prince was named SEC Player of the Week for his performances against UNC-Asheville and Xavier.
Outlook: SEC East (1st), NCAA Tournament (Elite Eight)
The Volunteers are winning with Bruce Pearl’s suffocating defense. They are forcing 22 turnovers a game and are only allowing opponents to shoot 32 percent from behind the arc. Their extreme depth allows the opportunity to pressure defensively the entire game. Tennessee features a staggering 12 players who are averaging more than ten minutes per game. This team is so talented and deep that I haven’t even mentioned JaJuan Smith who many believe is the guy that makes the Vols go. Their third, fourth and even fifth guy off the bench would find themselves in the starting lineup for many SEC teams. They can score in so many different ways and all of their perimeter guys can shoot the three.
This is a team that can beat anyone in the country. Last year Tennessee had Ohio State down 17 at the end of the half only to lose by one and watch the Buckeyes advance to the National Championship game. This year the Volunteers hope to atone for that lost opportunity. Come tournament time, you will not want to see the Vols on your side of the bracket.
Best Wins: Valpo, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, at DePaul, UMass
The Commodores are not going to blow away the committee with any of their 15 wins to start the season. They instead have built their resume with solid victory after solid victory. These victories haven’t always come easy. Vanderbilt has shown an uncanny ability to pull games out down the stretch. Among the ‘Dores 15 wins are two overtime victories; a 91-85 win over DePaul in Chicago and a double-overtime thriller over South Alabama.
Key Losses: None
Go To Guy: Shan Foster (20.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 52.5 3PT FG%, 53.3 FG%)
Foster is deadly from outside but has the ability to attack the basket if you play up on him too close. However, he is very content–probably too content–on spotting up beyond the arc. Of his 167 field goal attempts this year, 101 of them have been of the three-point variety. The most experienced player on a very experienced basketball team, look for Foster to have the ball in his hands when Vandy needs a basket.
Impact Newcomer: A.J. Ogilvy (19.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 66.1 FG%)
The 6’10” freshman out of Australia is about as close as Kevin Stalling’s has ever had to a McDonald’s All-American while at Vanderbilt. Ogilvy has been great in his first two months as a collegiate athlete. In doing so he has provided the Commodores with a much-needed post-presence. He has great footwork and gets himself in good position under the basket. He also is a very good passer and has the ability to find open shooters when teams double down on him in the post.
Outlook: SEC East (2nd), NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)
Despite the lack of true resume-building wins, this is an extremely talented squad. Stallings has done a phenomenal job at Vanderbilt. Remember, last year this team was literally a step away from the Elite Eight as Jeff Green’s controversial basket with 2.5 seconds left gave Georgetown the victory and kept Vandy from advancing. The Commodores have advanced to the Sweet 16 two of the last four years.
Four of their top five scorers are seniors, which is huge, and their experience in close games will prove vital as their opponents get better. This team can get back to the Sweet 16, but I just don’t see the ‘Dores as one of the eight best teams in the country. On any given day they have the ability to beat anyone, but defensively they do not make enough stops.
Best Wins: Temple, Rutgers
Billy Donovan has eased his youngsters into conference play with a not-so-difficult schedule.
Key Losses: Florida State, at Ohio State
In their two games against potential tournament teams, the Gators showed their youth and fell by double digits.
Go To Guy: Marreese Speights (14.5 PPG, 7.6RPG, 64.3 FG%, 21.2 MPG)
With the departure of Florida’s inside tandem, Speights immediately became the go-to-guy in the post. He has responded. The sophomore is excellent close to the basket and uses an assortment of moves underneath to score the basketball. If he can increase his stamina and his short-range jump shot, Speights could be special.
Impact Newcomer: Nick Calathes (14.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.7 APG)
Joakim Noah is gone so “Gator Haters” were in need of someone to dislike. Enter Nick Calathes. Calathes is extremely talented and he does a little bit of everything for the Gators. A little flamboyant at times, he often gets himself in trouble by trying to make the exceptional play instead of the correct play.
Outlook: SEC East (3rd)
At the beginning of the year no one really knew what to expect from this Florida team. While not blowing anyone away with their play the first half of the year, these Gators have at least proved they will be a team to be reckoned with.
They are young and talented and will continue to improve throughout the year. Their lack of quality wins to start the year makes it vital for them to obtain some during conference play. The Gators could find themselves on the bubble at the end of the year, so every SEC tilt is critical in attempting to impress the selection committee.
Best Wins: Football – LSU, Florida State (Music City Bowl)
The basketball Wildcats have one victory over a team with a winning record (Central Arkansas) and the six teams they have defeated are a combined 32-52.
Key Losses: Gardner-Webb, UAB, at Houston, San Diego, Louisville
A 16-point loss to Gardner-Webb at Rupp. A 9-point loss to San Diego at Rupp. In these two games the Cats led for a total of twelve seconds.
Go To Guy: Patrick Patterson (16.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 62.1 FG%)
Patterson is a stud and UK fans do not even want to start to think about how bad this team would be if he did not decide to wear Kentucky blue. He catches everything underneath but is not even getting close to the 20 shot attempts per game that he was promised by Billy Gillispie; his season high is 14. The Cats lack a true point guard and struggle finding the correct angles to get Patterson the ball in the post.
Impact Newcomer: Patterson
Outlook: SEC East (4th)
Senior guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley are struggling to adjust to Gillispie’s system. They each have faced disciplinary action this year and have found difficulty cracking the lineup at times. The Cats best option is to surround Patterson with four guards (Crawford, Bradley, Derrick Jasper, Jodie Meeks), but the prospects of this team even entering the bubble conversation are not likely. It looks like this will be the first season since 1991–due to probation–the Wildcats will not participate in the NCAA Tournament.
Best Wins: Wake Forest
The Bulldogs outscored the Deamon Deacons by 17 in the second half and won 72-50.
Key Losses: at Wisconsin, East Tennessee State, Tulane, at Gonzaga
Losses at Wisconsin and Gonzaga will provide valuable experience for a squad that has been decimated by off the court issues.
Go To Guy: Sundiata Gaines (12.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.3 SPG)
The four-year starter and floor general leads the Bulldogs in rebounding, assists, steals and is second in scoring. He does a little bit of everything for the Dogs and every coach would love to have a senior point guard the caliber of Gaines.
Impact Newcomer: Jeremy Price (9.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 65.3 FG%)
The freshman scored 18 points in his debut against Jacksonville State and has done his best to replace last year’s leading scorer, Takais Brown. Price uses his big body underneath to get in position and when close to the basket he is deadly.
Outlook: SEC East (5th)
The loss of Brown and Mike Mercer to off-court issues put an immediate damper on the start of Georgia’s 2007-2008 campaign. The season goes on, however, and the Dogs will look to Gaines and Billy Humphrey for the majority of their offense. This team will be gritty and a tough out all season long. Nevertheless, the dismissals of Brown and Mercer will prove too much to overcome.
South Carolina (8-6)
Best Wins: at Penn State, at Providence
Two decent wins for a South Carolina squad that not many expected much from this year.
Key Losses: USC, North Carolina State (N), George Mason (N), UNC-Asheville
Their trip to the Milk House for the Old Spice Classic started out so promising with a victory over Penn State. However, the Gamecocks lost their next two to N.C. State and George Mason.
Go To Guy: Devan Downey (18.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 5.4 APG, 3.3 SPG)
The sophomore transfer from Cincinnati is lightning in a bottle. At only 5’10” he has the ability to get into the lane and finish at the rim. Downey is extremely explosive and uses his quickness and strength on both sides of the ball.
Impact Newcomer: Downey
Outlook: SEC East (6th)
This is a rebuilding season for Dave Odom and his Gamecocks. With close wins over Charleston and UC-Irvine, the Gamecocks are lucky to be two games over .500 at this point in the season. Odom hopes that these close wins will provide valuable experience to help them find success during SEC play. Now they must deal with the loss of Brandis Raley-Ross for a few weeks. The sophomore guard, who is shooting an astounding 65 percent from behind the arc, sprained his knee and will be out two to three weeks.
Best Wins: VCU (N), Missouri, at Baylor
Their win at Baylor over the weekend will serve as a springboard as the Hogs enter conference play.
Key Losses: Providence (N), at Oklahoma, Appalachian State
Not quite the upset that the football Mountaineers pulled off against Michigan as App. State shot 66 percent and held Patrick Beverly to five points in the victory. John Pelphrey hopes that this one doesn’t come back to haunt them come selection time.
Go To Guy: Patrick Beverly (12.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.9 APG)
Last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year does a little bit of everything for the Razorbacks. Beverly has the ability to penetrate, step out and hit the three, and is a very efficient rebounder for his size. He plays with incredible energy and the rest of the team feeds off of him on both ends of the court, especially on defense.
Impact Newcomer: Coach John Pelphrey
When John Pelphrey left South Alabama for the job in Fayetteville he inherited a very talented squad and he immediately brought the energy back to Bud Walton Arena that has been lacking the last couple of seasons. Just like in the old days, these Razorbacks get up and down the court and take advantage of their athleticism and depth.
Outlook: SEC West (1st), NCAA Tournament
The Razorbacks feature four players over 6’10” including Darian Townes, their second leading scorer, and Steven Hill, last year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year. You will be hard-pressed to find a team that features a frontcourt with as much talent as that of Arkansas. The Hogs have five players scoring over nine points-per-game (Townes, Beverly, Sonny Weems, Charles Thomas, Gary Ervin). Their size, athleticism and the arrival of Pelphrey will make this team a tough out come tournament time.
Best Wins: Winthrop, DePaul (N), Clemson (N)
Thanks to the San Juan Shootout, the Runnin’ Rebels have some neutral court wins that will prove beneficial come selection time. The win against then undefeated Clemson put Ole Miss on the map.
Key Losses: None
Go To Guy: Dwayne Curtis (15.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 68.4 FG%)
The senior. Curtis is a rock underneath and is incredible at using the rim to allow him to get his shot off. At only 6’8” he is smaller than a lot of defenders in the post but he has great strength and basketball I.Q. He is a weapon on the glass, especially on the offensive end, and has the ability to step away from the basket and knock down the 10-footer.
Impact Newcomer: Chris Warren (15.2 PPG, 5.7 APG)
The freshman. Warren has been marvelous so far in his rookie campaign. He has provided Andy Kennedy a point guard who has the ability to push the ball up the court and produce that tempo that he desires. The inside-out combination of Curtis and Warren should cause problems for opposing teams all season long.
Outlook: SEC West (2nd), NCAA Tournament
Predicted to finish last in the SEC in many publications, the Rebels were undefeated entering conference play. Many wonder if Ole Miss will be this year’s Clemson. Remember, last year the Tigers started off 17-0 and proceeded to lose 11 of their last 19 games to miss the NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels are off to this hot start despite only returning three of their top ten scorers from a year ago. This team feeds off of Kennedy’s energy and he deserves a lot of respect for the job he has done in Oxford. This up-tempo squad will not remain undefeated for long, as it enters conference play by visiting the Volunteers in Knoxville. It will be interesting to see how the Rebels respond in a hostile environment against a team that plays at an even faster pace then they do. I am not sold on the Rebels as of yet. However, in a down SEC they should get enough conference wins to dance come March.
Best Wins: Southern Miss, Iowa State (N)
Neither win is really anything to write home about, but Alabama’s two victories in Vegas in the Findlay Toyota Classic provide notice that it will still be competitive in the SEC.
Key Losses: Belmont, at Texas A&M, Georgetown, Clemson
You have to give Mark Gottfried credit for the caliber of opponents that the Tide has faced in non-conference play.
Go To Guy: Richard Hendrix (19.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 63.2 FG%)
The junior big-man averages a double-double and is the best post player in the SEC. He is incredibly strong and loves contact underneath. Watching Hendrix fight for position is a pleasure to watch. He also has exceptional hands and the ability to step away from the basket and knock down short jumpers.
Impact Newcomer: Rico Pickett (6.9 PPG, 3.8 APG)
Filling the shoes of an All-American point guard (Ronald Steele) would be a mighty task for anyone, especially a freshman. Pickett has not put up staggering numbers, but he has provided consistency at the point guard spot, consistency that the Crimson Tide has lacked since Steele started experiencing tendonitis in both knees.
Outlook: SEC West (3rd)
With Steele, this team more than likely would garner a spot in the NCAA Tournament. It could still be in the bubble conversation but ‘Bama has struggled to find someone to fill Steele’s shoes. Pickett looks like he may be that guy and fans certainly hope so. Alabama has talent with Hendrix underneath and Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley on the wings.
Mississippi St. (9-5)
Best Win: Missouri
The Bulldogs have not lived up to expectations to start the season. Coach Stansbury hopes the victory over Mizzou is a sign that his team is ready to enter SEC play.
Key Losses: Southern Illinois (N), Miami (OH) (N), at South Alabama
Mississippi State disappointed in the inaugural Anaheim Classic with losses to Southern Illinois and Miami (OH). The Bulldogs’ only victory there came against UC-Irvine.
Go To Guy: Jamont Gordon (17.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.6 APG) & Charles Rhodes (15.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
The inside-out tandem of Gordon and Rhodes is as good as there is in the SEC. Gordon is a big guard who is able to bully his way to the basket and post up defenders. At 6’4”, 230-pounds, he still has the ability to go coast to coast in a flash. He is not your prototypical point guard but his ability to distribute the basketball continually improves. Rhodes takes the ball to the basket hard and intimidates defenders. He intimidates on the defensive side of the ball as well with a tremendous ability to challenge shots.
Impact Newcomer: None
Outlook: SEC West (4th)
If the Bulldogs are going to overcome their slow start they have to go through Gordon and Rhodes. It is a must for them to get quality wins in conference play because they have not done anything so far to impress the selection committee. Their lack of depth may be a problem as the season goes on but with the dynamic duo of Gordon and Rhodes this team will have chances to win games. Look for Mississippi State or Florida to get the fifth and final ticket to the dance. If neither can get quality conference wins, the SEC will only be represented by four teams.
Best Win: Oregon State
Not really sure if a victory over a team that has lost to Alaska Fairbanks and Tennessee Tech qualifies as a good win, but it is about all the Tigers can hang their hat on.
Key Losses: Oklahoma State (N), Arizona State (N), at Villanova, at Wichita State, Washington, at Tulane
In what would have been a solid road victory, the Tigers blew a 15-point lead with 4:39 to go at Villanova.
Go To Guy: Marcus Thornton (17.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG)
At 6’4” the junior college transfer shows the ability to get inside the lane and score. He also has the ability to step out and knock down an open three.
Impact Newcomer: Anthony Randolph (13.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.7 BPG)
Randolph is one of the most highly-recruited freshmen in the nation and he has lived up to the hype. He is long and uses his arms to produce nearly three blocks per game.
Outlook: SEC West (5th)
Coming off of a disappointing season last year, the Tigers were hoping to improve with the addition of Thornton and Randolph. Instead, they lost Tasmin Mitchell early in the year to an ankle injury and have not made much noise since. LSU only goes about seven deep and their starting five often plays over 30 minutes a game. Expect these Tigers to fight with the Auburn variety to stay out of the cellar in the SEC West.
Best Wins: Football – at Florida, Clemson (Chick-Fil-A Bowl)
Yeah, the baseketball Tigers are off to a 9-3 start, but they have not beat one team with a winning record.
Key Losses: at Tulane, West Virginia, Xavier
Their loss at Tulane to open the season was the first of three wins for the Tulane Green Wave against SEC opponents (Georgia, LSU).
Go To Guy: Korvotney Barber (13.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 72.0 FG%)
Barber was the Tiger’s leading scorer and rebounder and was also leading the entire country in field goal percentage at 72 percent. However, Auburn will be forced to compete without him for the next four to six weeks as he broke his hand in the victory over Towson.
Impact Newcomer: None
Boubacar Sylla, the 7’1” center from France, was supposed to provide the Tigers with the inside presence they needed so badly. Instead, he sprained his ankle and has only played in three games this year.
Outlook: SEC West (6th)
Before Barber’s injury the Tigers were already undersized and undermanned. This leaves Jeff Lebo with only seven scholarship players. Not a very accurate shooting team, Auburn will have to rely on its athleticism in the backcourt to stay in games. Expect Quantez Robertson, Quan Prowell, Rasheem Barrett and Frank Tolbert to have some tired legs at the conclusion of the year.