In preparation for the start of the 2011-2012 regular season on November 7, we’re running a preview series here on Busting Brackets. You check out all of our pieces in the series by clicking here. Our conference previews begin today with a look at the SEC, which promises to feature several teams that could make a run at a national championship this season.
This conference is loaded in terms of teams that will be a force on the national stage this season. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida all have a case for Preseason Top 10 honors, and a few of the teams behind them, like Anthony Grant‘s Alabama squad, could still be fixtures in the Top 25 this season. So there’s no doubt that the SEC is extremely heavy at the top in terms of talented teams.
But after the top four, there’s a lot of question marks. Most of the teams in the middle of the pack will be more optimistic entering this season than they were a season ago. Teams from the now defunct SEC West should be better than they were last year, although how much better is the big question entering the season.
The SEC might not be the best conference overall in college basketball, however, given that the top four teams in the league entering the season are all Top 20 squads, it’s hard to pick too many conferences ahead of them in terms of overall talent.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
This is gonna be a 3-team race, with Alabama trying to scratch and claw their way into the mix. It’s not that the Crimson Tide are a bad team. They return their top three players in JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford, and Tony Mitchell…..oh, and they’re in my Top 20. It’s just that the three teams in front of them are legitimate national title contenders.
Kentucky leads the way in most preseason outlooks, and rightfully so. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb decided to come back to school, which I’m sure made John Calipari very happy. But what probably made John Calipari ecstatic was the fact that he could combine that duo with the big three in their freshman class, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague. And don’t forget about Darius Miller. Seriously, where are they weak?
Vandy and Florida are next in line, and again, both have Top 10 talent. The Commodores will field arguably their most talented team in school history, with three potential first round draft picks in John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli leading the way. Taylor is the one that will have to step his game up the most for Vandy to meet expectations, as his inconsistency last season was a huge concern. Jenkins can now put the ball on the floor and create his shot, which is a nice added bonus. Ezeli will be an absolute force in the paint and might be the most irreplaceable of the bunch.
As for Billy Donovan‘s team, the backcourt quality is just tremendous. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are two of my favorite guards to watch in the entire country, and if you haven’t seen them play, then go find some game highlights on YouTube right now. Oh, but guess what? Those two have company this season. Donovan gets the services of Rutgers’ transfer Mike Rosario, who knows how to score, and stud freshman Bradley Beal who will certainly have the chance to make big contributions this year. Will their be enough shots to go around for those four? That’s a potential concern. In the frontcourt, Patric Young is due for a huge year, as he’ll anchor the post game for the Gators.
I think things are pretty much set at the top of the SEC in terms of the top four. Maybe top five if Renardo Sidney plays up to his potential at Mississippi State. After that though, there’s quite a bit of uncertainty.
But one team that I wouldn’t sleep on is Arkansas. The “sleeper” term can be used in numerous ways. I’m not saying they’re gonna compete for a crown, but the style that Mike Anderson is bringing into Fayetteville is going to drive teams crazy. It won’t be as effective this season as it probably will be in a year or two. With the talent that the Razorbacks have on this roster though, they could be the team that plays the spoiler role on several occasions. If things spiral out of control in Starkville, the Hogs could very well capture that fifth spot and have a chance to make an NCAA tournament appearance.
Marshawn Powell is ready for a breakout year and Julysses Nobles should be a guy that benefits from Anderson at the helm. And even though he got fired, don’t forget that John Pelphrey had an excellent recruiting class lined up. Anderson managed to keep all of them, which means that they’ll likely be introduced to the run n’ gun style right away.
FIRST TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE
- Terrence Jones (Kentucky) – Obvious choice here, as Jones will be expected to do pretty much everything for the Wildcats this season. I’d say he’s a lock to make an All-American team as well.
- John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) – He averaged 19.5 PPG last season, but could honestly go over the 20 mark this year. If his game off the dribble has improved a great deal, he’ll be able to score it any way that he wants to.
- Erving Walker (Florida) – What might keep Walker off the first team is all the weapons around him. With the addition of Rosario and Beal, his scoring production could go down, but his assist total should definitely rise.
- JaMychal Green (Alabama) – Will be a double-double guy this season for the Crimson Tide, and probably still flies under the radar. If Alabama starts knocking off one of the big three though, he’ll get the credit he deserves.
- Anthony Davis (Kentucky) – I normally hesitate to put freshmen on a preseason first team. But Davis is the real deal. He’ll lead the league in blocked shots and maybe rebounding as well. He’s gonna be that good for the Wildcats.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
- 1. Kentucky – They’re the most talented team overall, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.
- 2. Vanderbilt – Have the depth to knock Kentucky out of the top spot, as the Dores could probably go 10-deep.
- 3. Florida – The Gators could obviously move up higher, especially if they have good guard chemistry.
- 4. Alabama – If a few of the freshman can play a significant role, we might be talking about a Top 10 here as well.
- 5. Mississippi State – So many questions with this team, but they clearly have the talent to be a 20-plus win team.
- 6. Arkansas – Again, watch out for this team. They’re going to beat some people they shouldn’t beat simply because of the hectic style.
- 7. Ole Miss – Might also be underrated a little with Jelan Kendrick entering the picture.
- 8. Georgia – Lost a lot of production to the NBA Draft, but will still win some games with this roster.
- 9. Auburn – Adding Varez Ward to the mix instantly makes them pretty dangerous in the backcourt.
- 10. South Carolina – We all know that Bruce Ellington can play. The question is, who will step up around him?
- 11. LSU – The Tigers return four starters, however, they’re still gonna struggle to to have a winning record.
- 12. Tennessee – This team will have trouble adjusting to the new style, and finding consistent scoring could be a big issue.
Well there you have it. What are your thoughts on the SEC this season?