Saturday, 11 November 2006

College Basketball Preview: SEC

This could very well be the best conference in America. They had two Final Four teams last year, and will be very strong once again.

Player of the Year: First off, you can pretty much take your pick among the Gators... Joakim Noah is the crown jewel in the media, but Al Horford is more versatile, Corey Brewer's excellent defensively as a wing player, and Taurean Green ran the show last year. When you're the defending national champs and the whole starting lineup is back, it wouldn't surprise me if any of them won it. But don't overlook the rest of the field, because there are some more great players. One is Alabama PG Ronald Steele. He averaged over 40 minutes per game in SEC contests last year. That's not a misprint. He scores, controls the game, plays good defense, and hits 90% of his free throws. In Bama's two tourney games last year he averaged 22 points and 6 assists per. He's certainly one of the top PGs in the nation.

Another excellent guard is Chris Lofton of Tennessee. He's the best returning shooter in the SEC, and may be the best returning scorer. He's got unbelievable range, and as he showed against Winthrop in the Tourney, ice in his veins. He'll be excellent in Year 2 under Bruce Pearl. After that, we come to the big men. And they don't get much bigger than Glen "Big Baby" Davis (though he has slimmed down). He's just a fun player to watch... good scorer in the low post, excellent midrange game for a center, and a relentless rebounder. Then there are the overlooked parts of his game... he's got great footwork and maybe the best hands of any big man in the country. He's the reason that LSU won't drop off much if at all after losing Darrel Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas.

Next is Randolph Morris, who showed flashes of that big potential in the low post. He'll be counted on heavily is Kentucky is going to be able to get back to the days of old (and by that I mean like 3 years ago). But in the end, most people like Joakim Noah to win this. And why not? He's excellent on the glass, finishes as well as anyone, and is the best defensive player in the conference. But my pick is Glen Davis, a beast of a man that will carry LSU to another great year.

Freshmen to Watch: There probably aren't as many freshmen that will make huge impacts here as in other conferences, but that has a lot to do with the depth coming back. There are, however, some that will play major roles. Especially for Tennessee, where Ramar Smith, Duke Crews, and Wayne Chrism will each be huge factors to the Vols continuing success. Smith may start along Chris Lofton at the guard spots, while Crews and Chism will be counted on down low after Andrae Patterson graduated and Major Wingate was dismissed. Elsewhere, Arkansas will look to Patrick Beverley to help lessen the loss of Ronnie Brewer, Verice Cloyd will be another weapon for Ronald Steele and Alabama, and Derrick Jasper will be an excellent guard off the bench for Tubby Smith in Lexington.

Breakout Players: The list of breakout candidates is long. We can start with Jermareo Davidson of Alabama, though some might consider him already to have broken out. He considered going to the draft before coming back to establish himself as one of the best big men in the SEC. Then there is Dane Bradshaw for Tennessee, one of the great glue guys in the NCAA. He's a solid outside shooter, but he also plays very solid defense, rebounds well, and is a very good passer. He's kinda like the Luke Walton of the NCAA. Next is Tasmin Mitchell, the underlooked freshman for LSU last year. He was nearly as good as Tyrus Thomas, and he'll be an excellent second option for Glen Davis.

Joe Crawford is back for Kentucky, and like Randolph Morris, he will need to be an integral part for the Wildcats. If Georgia will improve this year, they're going to need a lot of production from G Levi Stukes, who should be up to the task as a senior. Similarly, if Vandy is going to get back into contention, they need more improvement from Shan Foster. He averaged about 16 PPG last year and looks to be ready to lead Vandy at least to an NIT berth.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Florida
2. Tennessee
3. Kentucky
4. Georgia
5. South Carolina
6. Vanderbilt

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Arkansas
4. Mississippi St
5. Auburn
6. Mississippi