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Saturday, November 7, 2009
How Good Is The SEC This Year?
As the Gamecocks begin their preparation for the official 2009-2010 season, ranked preseason in the 4th position in the Eastern Division, the question is just how good is the SEC this year? Last year ended with only one SEC squad ranked nationally in men's basketball, the LSU Tigers (17th). By season end no other team in the SEC had received votes. But that was then and this is now, with Kentucky playing with NBA talent and new head coach, John Calipari, Kentucky is already preseason 4th ranked after a NIT appearance last year. But after that the next preseason national ranking is Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Vols wasn't recognized until the 22nd spot , it appears that the SEC will be competitive, but on the national scene will have to earn it's claim to improved play compared to the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and even the Big 10, which represents the most preseason ranked teams and previous years field of 64.
But, LSU still has some athletes to go with a very good coach, South Carolina has it's own future professional players on roster with a very athletic incoming class, that includes JUCO experience. Vanderbilt returns all 5 starters to a team that allowed the second lowest points in the SEC last year and that preseason respect as a 31st team in the projected field of 64. Florida lost some talented youth and seniors last season and will be rebuilding, but Billy Donavan did have a good recruiting year, so expect to see a dog fight in the SEC East with Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida on the same side of the conference split. Auburn is probably the best team in the West and the most experienced with the Jeff Lebo coached team ready to play the more up tempo style in the West. This side of the race should be between Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State who also has an improved roster through experience, but no guarantee of substantive newcomer contributions. Anthony Grant has proven at VCU that you can win with players outside of marquee names. While Alabama is in a rebuilding year, don't be surprised if they compete immediately for a spot atop the West. Arkansas and Ole Miss will probably fight to stay out of the cellar of the league, they are the two programs that can probably consider the NIT an accomplishment rather than a concession .
So the answer is, the SEC will not be great, just competitive, but if you look at the SEC East you may find the top 4 teams, the Wildcats, Vols, Gators and Gamecocks , will all be playing for national rankings, 20 plus wins, a conference title and a dance card for the field of 64 in March. Keep all eyes on the SEC East, it is close to being a challenge to the other top half of the leading major conferences. I know you would now say what about Georgia, your guess is as good as mine. Can't wait for the season to start to see if this is the Cinderella Sleeper that has gotten lost in good recruiting and a coaching change with a history of coveting talent and athletes. The Bulldogs could be the "Best Kept Secret".