The 2007-2008 SCS.com College Hoops Preview continues with the last two power conferences, the PAC-10 and SEC. Both conferences can make an argument that their respective league is the toughest in the nation, and that will make for some exciting games and moments in the upcoming season. UCLA is heavily favored in the PAC-10 after making two consecutive Final Four runs, but Washington State and Oregon will give the Bruins all they want and more. All three teams have the talent to make a deep NCAA Tournament run next spring. In the SEC, Tennessee is the clear-cut favorite, but Kentucky and Mississippi State have what it takes to shake things up at the top of the league.
There are favorites in both the PAC-10 and SEC conferences, but that doesn't mean other teams can't sneak up and steal some wins. There are a lot of impact freshmen coming into these two powerhouse conferences, and there are a couple new coaches to talk about. In addition, the NBA Draft, graduations, and preseason injuries have taken a toll on a handful of teams as well. All in all, both leagues are very deep and will probably send at least five teams apiece to the NCAA Tournament. Without further ado, let's get to the previews.
What To Watch For
The PAC-10 Conference lost a few impact players from a year ago, but freshmen O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love will help ease some of the pain. Mayo and Love were both ranked at or near the top of their respective positions by numerous recruiting sites. Both will step in and make immediate impacts this season. Mayo, a flashy point guard, will run the show for Tim Floyd's USC Trojans. Love, a solid big man, may very well be the key to a UCLA National Championship run. Both freshmen will probably be one-and-done, so fans need to watch these guys play as much as possible this season. This time next year, they will probably be playing for money.
UCLA and Oregon should finish at or near the top of the PAC-10 standings this season, but they must find a way to replace their stars from a year ago, Arron Afflalo and Aaron Brooks. Afflalo was the Bruins' best offensive and defensive player, as well as team leader. The entrance of Kevin Love should help things a little, but don't underestimate the importance of Afflalo. He will be missed down the stretch. Brooks was Oregon's best offensive player and team leader and was undoubtedly the spark plug for the Ducks. Ernie Kent returns nearly everyone this season, but he must find a way to replace his fiery floor general.
Last year, Washington State was ranked at or near the bottom of most PAC-10 preseason projections, but they shocked the college basketball world by finishing second in the conference. Who will be this year's Washington State? The Arizona State Sun Devils may be that team. Coach Herb Sendek has a lot of work to do, but the talent is in place to pull some upsets. Eric Boateng, a transfer from Duke, along with a solid recruiting class, joins a core group of returning players led by Jeff Pendergraph. This combination of talent will make the Sun Devils a tough team to play this season.
The Bruins are coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, and most experts are picking UCLA to return this season as well. Coach Ben Howland has all his key players back exept Arron Afflalo. Afflalo was the team leader on offense and defense and will be missed early in the year. The Bruins must find a way to replace Afflalo if they want to maximize their potential next March. Darren Collison, one of the best point guards in the nation, will step in and become the new leader. Collison has a ton of skill on both ends of the court and will be asked to take the big shots at the end of games. Junior Josh Shipp will join Collison in the backcourt and needs to have a big year for UCLA. Shipp has the potential to be a very good scorer, but he will have to fully recover from offseason hip surgery.
In the frontcourt, all the attention centers around impact freshman Kevin Love. Love isn't the most athletic big man around, but he has already drawn comparisons to Bill Walton. He is a solid inside-outside guy and a great passer. From day one, Love will be the Bruins' number one option down low. He will have to prove he can make the transition from high school to college, however, which isn't always easy. Joining him in the frontcourt are experienced big men Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata-Real. Mbah a Moute will be able to play small forward and power forward with the arrival of Kevin Love, and he will provide opponents with a lot of matchup problems. He had somewhat of a down year last season and will be asked to return to his form of his freshman campaign. Mata-Real isn't a big-time offensive weapon, but he is very solid on the defensive side of the ball.
The Bruins have a solid starting five, but they have a few weapons off the bench as well. In the backcourt, Russell Westbrook will give Collison a break on occasion, and Michael Roll can play minutes at the two or three spot. Both guys are experienced and will give UCLA a spark off the pine. In the frontcourt, Alfred Aboya and James Keefe will be asked to step in and give some relief. Aboya is very solid on both ends of the court and will play 15-20 minutes a game. Keefe is coming off shoulder surgery and will be asked to do a little more than he did last season. The Bruins have the overall depth to be the best team in the nation, but they must replace Afflalo's leadership, scoring, and defensive ability. If Ben Howland can find a way to do that, UCLA has a good shot at making a third consecutive Final Four appearance.
The Cougars shocked the college basketball nation last season by finishing second in the PAC-10. This season, they won't be flying under the radar. Tony Bennett did a great job last season and only lost one key player. Luckily for Bennett, he returns both Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low in the backcourt. Both will be in the starting lineup for a fourth consecutive season, and things will begin and end with their play. Low was the team's leading scorer last season and is capable of scoring 20-plus on any given night. Weaver, the team's best player, can do everything. He can score, pass, rebound, and play defense. Junior Taylor Rochestie will probably start the season as the point guard. Rochestie just needs to take care of the ball and get it to the top scoring threats. Nikola Koprivica, Thomas Abercrombie, Abe Lodwick, and Stephen Sauls will battle it out for backcourt minutes off the bench.
Washington State's backcourt is very solid, while the frontcourt leaves a little to be desired. Robbie Cowgill and Daven Harmeling will get most of the minutes up front for the Cougars. Cowgill will be asked to score more in the post and play solid low-post defense. Harmeling was the team's best long-range shooter, and he will also be asked to toughen up down low. Junior Aron Baynes and freshman Fabian Boeke will get most of the frontcourt minutes off the bench. Tony Bennett has everything in place to make another memorable run in the PAC-10. However, he must get some consistent play up front. The conference is loaded, and it will be tough to win each and every night. It won't be easy to repeat last season's performance, but the talent is definitely there to get the job done once again.
The Ducks had a very memorable 2006-2007 season before losing to Florida in the Elite Eight. Like UCLA, Ernie Kent returns all of his key players but one. Unfortunately, that one is Aaron Brooks. Brooks was the team's leader and best offensive player. Sophomore Tajuan Porter will step into the point guard slot vacated by Brooks. Porter was the team's second-leading scorer a year ago, but this year he will need to get everyone else involved as well. Seniors Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor will join Porter in the backcourt. Hairston played well last season, but he will need to fulfill his potential this year. He has the tools to be an All-American. Taylor is also very solid on the offensive end and will be the team's first or second scoring option late in games. The Ducks need freshman Kamyron Brown to step in and give Tajuan Porter an occasional break off the bench. Fellow freshman LeKendric Longmire will also get some minutes off the pine.
In the frontcourt, Oregon will lean heavily on Marty Leunen. Leunen is one of the best inside-outside scoring threats in the conference and is also a very solid rebounder on both ends of the court. Transfer Frantz Dorsainvil and sophomore Joevan Catron will battle it out for the fifth starting spot. Everyone in Duck country is excited to see Dorsainvil, and Catron showed some promise last season. Seniors Mitch Platt and Ray Schafer are also viable options off the bench. Ernie Kent once again has a very solid team, but the loss of Aaron Brooks to graduation stings quite a bit. The Ducks need a huge year from their backcourt, most notably Malik Hairston. If he finally lives up to his full potential, Oregon won't miss a beat once March rolls around.
The Wildcats lost a lot of talent in Ivan Radenovic, Mustafa Shakur, and Marcus Williams. That being said, Lute Olson always seems to reload. This year's team is very young, but they are very talented as well. Chase Budinger decided to return for his sophomore season, and he will be one of best players in the PAC-10. Budinger is a great scorer and will assume a lot of the leadership as well. Joining Budinger in the starting lineup is impact freshman Jerryd Bayless. Bayless can play both guard positions, but he will probably start the season at the point. He was a dynamite scorer in high school and will be asked to do the same for the Wildcats. Senior Jawann McClellan will start alongside Bayless in the backcourt and will give the Wildcats another scoring option along with experience. Sophomore Jordan Hill and senior Kirk Walters will probably round out the starting lineup for Arizona. Hill is a very dynamic defensive player and showed a lot of promise as a freshman. Walters returns after medical redshirting last season.
Daniel Dillon and Nic Wise will give Arizona two solid backcourt threats off the bench. With the loss of Shakur, both will have the opportunity to eat up a lot of minutes if they play well. Highly-rated freshman Jamelle Horne will give the Wildcats a solid frontcourt bench player and may end up in the starting lineup before the season ends. Bret Brielmaier, Mohamed Tangara, Alex Jacobson, and Zane Johnson will also battle for frontcourt minutes off the bench. Lute Olson has a ton of talent at Arizona, but he will need a huge year from the young guns to make a run in March. Budinger and Bayless will have to score a ton, and the frontcourt has to play consistently as well. Going into the season, the Wildcats are a top-25 team with potential to be even better.
The Cardinal have one of the best frontcourts in the nation, but the guard play may determine how far they go this season. Up front, Stanford has the Lopez twins and Lawrence Hill. Brook Lopez is the most talented of the bunch, giving the Cardinal a double-double threat each and every night. He will miss the first half of the season due to academics, but he will be a huge factor by the time conference play starts. Robin Lopez needs some work on the offensive side of the ball, but he is a great defensive threat. Hill, the team's leading scorer last season, is one of the most underrated players in the country. Juniors Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods will start in the backcourt. Johnson will get the first chance to start at point guard, while Goods gives the Cardinal a solid scoring option on the outside.
If Mitch Johnson can't get the job done at the point, transfer Drew Shiller will get a chance. If Johnson plays well at the point, Shiller will still be a viable option off the bench. Sophomore Landry Fields will also get some backcourt minutes off the bench. Forward Fred Washington, who started 31 games last season, will be the team's best frontcourt option off the pine. On paper, Stanford has the potential to be a top-15 team or better because of their awesome frontcourt. However, solid guard play often determines how far a team can make it in the NCAA Tournament. If the Cardinal can get some consistency out of their guards, the sky is the limit for Trent Johnson's team.
The Huskies lost impact center Spencer Hawes to the NBA Draft after only one year, but coach Lorenzo Romar has everyone else back. This year's team will center around the play of another big man, junior Jon Brockman. Brockman led the PAC-10 in rebounding last season (9.6 per game), and he was the team's second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. Joining Brockman up front will be Quincy Pondexter and Artem Wallace. Pondexter showed flashes of brilliance last season as a freshman, but he wore down late in the year. The Huskies will need big things from the sophomore this season. Wallace doesn't do anything great, but he will be a solid fifth starter. In the backcourt, Justin Dentmon is the team's best player. Dentmon was a double-digit scorer and led the team in assists.
The other starting guard spot is up for grabs between Ryan Appleby, Adrian Oliver, and Tim Morris. Appleby is a dangerous three-point shooter and averaged over 10 points a contest last season. Oliver started 13 games last season, but he will probably end up coming off the bench. Morris, a transfer from Stanford, is an experienced senior and solid defender. The two guards that don't start will join Joel Smith on the Huskies' bench. Joe Wolfinger, who has been injured the past two seasons, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning will give Washington two more frontcourt options off the bench. Lorenzo Romar has a solid frontcourt, and he has some depth at the guard positions as well. The Huskies aren't as talented as they would be with a returning Spencer Hawes, but they still have the talent to make some noise in the PAC-10.
The Trojans lost three players that averaged at least 12.5 points per game, but the excitement is still at an all-time high because of O.J. Mayo. Mayo is one of the most talented incoming freshman the PAC-10 has seen in recent years, and he will help keep USC competitive from day one. Mayo will be asked to shoulder the scoring load in the backcourt and create for teammates as well. Sophomores Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis will compete for the other guard spot. Both guys gained valuable experience as freshmen last year, but they will be asked to step up even more this season. In the frontcourt, all the attention will be on sophomore Taj Gibson. Gibson nearly averaged a double-double as a freshman and will be even more dangerous this season. RouSean Cromwell and talented freshman newcomer Davon Jefferson will battle it out for the other frontcourt starting spot.
The Trojans will look to more incoming freshman for backcourt help off the bench. Angelo Johnson may end up at the point before the season is over, and Marcus Simmons and James Dunleavy will also get a few minutes here and there. Junior Keith Wilkinson is the only experienced frontcourt option off the bench. Redshirt-freshman Kasey Cunningham and true-freshman Mamadou Diarra may get the opportunity to earn some frontcourt minutes as well. To say the Trojans are a young team is a vast understatement. They are very inexperienced, but they are extremely talented. Some publications have them ranked very high this preseason, but a lot of the key contributors have yet to play a college basketball game. USC is a bubble team going into the season.
Herb Sendek has the Arizona State Sun Devils on the rise, and they could be the surprise team in the PAC-10. Jeff Pendergraph and Christian Polk both return after averaging 12 points per game last season. Eric Boateng, a transfer from Duke, will have an opportunity to become an impact player down low for the Sun Devils. James Harden, an incoming freshman, may end up as the team's best player by season's end. Jamelle McMillan, son of NBA coach Nate McMillan, will also get a chance to play a lot of minutes early on. The Sun Devils may be a year away from seriously competing for an NCAA Tournament spot, but coach Sendek will have them very competitive this season.
The California Golden Bears have one of the best frontcourts in the PAC-10 in DeVon Hardin and Ryan Anderson. Both guys are double-double threats every night. Jamal Boykin, a transfer from Duke, will help Hardin and Anderson up front. If Ben Braun's team is going to make some noise in the conference, they will need guards Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher to step up. If the guard play is consistent, Cal may end up sneaking into the middle portion of the conference. Rounding out the PAC-10 is Oregon State. The Beavers have an all-conference performer in forward Marcel Jones, and they will get Kansas transfer C.J. Giles in December. Other than those two, however, the cupboard is pretty bare. Coach Jay John will need the Tarver brothers (Josh and Seth) and Jack McGillis to step up their backcourt play, along with a bevy of incoming freshman. The Beavers are definitely in rebuilding mode.
G: Darren Collison, UCLA
G: Derrick Low, Washington State
Preseason Player of the Year: Chase Budinger, Arizona
The PAC-10 is absolutely loaded this season! It's hard to say how many NCAA Tournament bids it will get, but six or seven isn't out of the question. The UCLA Bruins are clearly the favorites to finish at the top, but that doesn't mean it will be a smooth ride. The number two spot is a little tougher to predict as Washington State, Oregon, Arizona, and Stanford all have a great shot to finish in the runner-up position. Washington, USC, Arizona State, and Cal all have the potential to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth as well. Oregon State is clearly the last-place team going into the season, but Washington State was in that position last year. Anything is possible in the PAC-10, and things should be very exciting out West this season.
What To Watch For
Billy Donovan has led the Florida Gators to back-to-back NCAA Championships, but the entire starting lineup graduated or moved on to the NBA. Junior Walter Hodge is the most experienced returning player, and he only averaged 17.7 minutes a game last season. The incoming freshman class is awesome, but will it be good enough to land the Gators in the NCAA Tournament? It's hard to doubt Billy Donovan after the awesome job he has done in recent years, but it will be a tall task to get his team back to March Madness. This is definitely a story worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Alabama was a possible Final Four team before last season, but the injuries to Ronald Steele hindered that as the season rolled along. The Crimson Tide were once again a Final Four possibility heading into this season, but that was before Steele's latest injury news. The talented guard will take a medical redshirt this season, and the Tide's outlook isn't nearly as bright as it once was. There is still a lot of talent at Alabama led by Richard Hendrix, but there isn't enough to do any serious damage in the SEC. With Steele, the team is a top-10 or top-15 team. Without Steele, they may not even be a top-30 team. It will be interesting to see how coach Mark Gottfried does without his impact guard Ronald Steele.
When Tubby Smith left Kentucky for Minnesota, the college basketball world turned their attention to his possible replacement. Former Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie got the job, and now the pressure is on. Gillispie has quickly become one of the best coaches in college basketball, but he hasn't ever faced this type of pressure. Kentucky Wildcat fans not only want wins, they want championships. The Wildcats have a good core going into the season, and there are a couple impact freshmen coming to campus as well. The talent is there, and now it's up to Gillispie to keep things rolling down the right path.
The Volunteers lost their team leader, Dane Bradshaw, but they are extremely loaded going into the season! Not only is Tennessee the preseason favorite to win the SEC, they also have Final Four aspirations. Their great play will begin and end with the backcourt. This talented group is led by All-American Chris Lofton. Lofton averaged nearly 21 points per game last year and is one of the most dangerous three-point threats in the college game. The Smiths, JaJuan and Ramar, will join Lofton in the starting lineup. JaJuan Smith is an experienced senior who averaged over 15 points a contest last year. Ramar Smith averaged over 10 points a game as a freshman a year ago, and he will be one of the best points guards in the SEC this season. He was a little eratic with the ball at times last year, but he should be much calmer this time around. Senior Jordan Howell, sophomore stopper Josh Tabb, and freshman Cameron Tatum will give Tennessee a few solid backcourt options off the bench.
The frontcourt isn't as solid as the backcourt, but it's still very talented. Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith will start the season up front for the Vols. Chism is coming off a productive freshman campaign in which he averaged 9.1 points and grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game. He can score down low, and he can also make the occasional three. Chism is a solid interior defender as well. Smith, a transfer from Iowa, will step in and play a huge role immediately. He is a decent low-post threat, a good passer, and a solid ball handler. Smith will take Dane Bradshaw's place in the starting lineup and will do a lot of the same things Bradshaw did effectively for the Vols. Sophomore Duke Crews was a possible starting option before being indefinitely suspended from the team on September 26th. Crews is a great athlete and will help the team out off the bench if he returns this season. Junior Ryan Childress, sophomore transfer J.P. Prince (cousin of NBA player Tayshaun Prince), and freshman Brian Williams will also provide frontcourt minutes off the bench for Bruce Pearl's team.
It's pretty easy to see why many people are predicting a Final Four run for Tennessee this year. Crews' status on the team will go a long way in determining just how far the Vols go into the postseason. With Crews, they are definitely a Final Four favorite. Even without him, they are still a threat to go deep. The frontcourt questions still loom large, however, so his status is very important. The backcourt has enough firepower to carry the team a long way, but the overall performance is still key when playing deep into the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, Bruce Pearl has his best team ever, along with one of the best teams in the nation.
The Wildcats have a new coach on campus in Billy Gillispie. Gillispie has done a great job rebuilding programs such as UTEP and Texas A&M in recent years, but the job at Kentucky is much more pressure-packed. Kentucky is already one of the most well-established programs in the nation, and fans want national championships. Gillispie may not have a national championship contender this year, but he does inherit a very solid team. The great play starts with the backcourt. Joe Crawford was the second-leading scorer last year and will be asked to score even more this season. Senior Ramel Bradley will join Crawford in the starting lineup. Bradley averaged 13.4 points per game last season and will give the Wildcats a second scoring threat this season. Sophomores Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks will battle it out for the third starting guard spot. Jasper started 27 games last year, while Meeks was mostly used as the sixth man. Whichever guy doesn't start will team with freshman sharpshooter Alex Legion to provide a spark off the bench.
Kentucky lost its top scorer and low-post threat in Randolph Morris, along with solid forward Bobby Perry. This opens up a spot for impact freshman Patrick Patterson. Patterson was ranked in the top 20 overall by most recruiting sites and will be asked to make an impact from the start. Joining Patterson in the starting lineup up front will be sophomore Perry Stevenson. Stevenson is great on the defensive side of the ball, but he needs to improve his offensive game quite a bit before the season starts. Junior Jared Carter missed most of last season with injury, but he and freshman Mike Williams will get most of the frontcourt minutes off the bench. The Wildcats' backcourt is deep enough to make up for the lacking frontcourt depth, but the guys up front will still need to make plays when called upon. If Patterson and Stevenson give Kentucky a good boost down low, this team can give Tennessee a challenge in the SEC.
The Bulldogs lost in the NIT semis last season, but they won't be seeing the NIT again this year. Coach Rick Stansbury will have his team in the NCAA Tournament next March, thanks to the return of Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes. Gordon is one of the best players in college basketball after averaging 16 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game a year ago. Rhodes, on the other hand, will give Mississippi State a solid low-post presence after averaging 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season. Gordon and Rhodes combine to make up the best one-two punch in the SEC. Joining Gordon in the three-guard starting lineup will be sophomores Ben Hansbrough (brother of North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough) and Barry Stewart. Both guys played nearly 25 minutes a game last season, and both will be asked to elevate their games a little more this year. Rounding out the starting lineup will be forward Jarvis Varnado. Varnado isn't the most dynamic offensive player around, but he set the freshman school record for blocks in a season with 67 a year ago.
The starting five will be very solid for the Bulldogs, but they must get some productivity from their bench in order to play deep into the NCAA Tournament. In the backcourt, redshirt freshman Phil Turner and true freshman Ravern Johnson will be coming off the bench to give the starters an occasional breather. Brian Johnson, a transfer from Louisville, will be the best big man off the bench. In fact, Johnson may end up stealing the fifth starting spot before the season is over. Joining Johnson up front off the bench will be freshmen Kodi Augustus and Elgin Bailey. On paper, Mississippi State looks pretty good because of their solid one-two punch and starting lineup. After those main five, however, things will get interesting. If the Bulldogs can get some solid production from their bench, they can be as good as anyone in the conference.
The Kentucky Wildcats aren't the only SEC team with a new coach. The Razorbacks brought in former South Alabama coach John Pelphrey during the offseason, and Pelphrey inherited a very solid team that returns everyone from last season. The backcourt duo of Gary Ervin and Patrick Beverly is one of the most dynamic in the conference. Ervin was fifth in the SEC in assists last season, but he is a little eratic with the ball at times. If he improves his assist-to-turnover ratio, he will be one of the best point guards in the conference. Beverly led the team in scoring as a freshman last season and will once again be looked upon to lead this team on the offensive end. The only guard off the bench with any real experience is Stefan Welsh, so he will have to make an impact in his sophomore season. Freshmen newcomers Marcus Britt, Nate Rakestraw, and Levan Patsatsia will have an opportunity to play some key minutes in the backcourt as well.
The three frontcourt players in the starting lineup are forwards Charles Thomas and Sonny Weems, along with center Steven Hill. Thomas and Weems both averaged over 10 points per game last season, and both give the Razorbacks experience and a strong presence up front. Hill, one of the league's best defensive players, can finish at the rim but needs to improve his overall offensive game. Arkansas has a ton of frontcourt depth and experience off the bench as well. Seniors Darian Townes and Vincent Hunter will combine with sophomore Michael Washington to eat up some crucial minutes throughout the season. The Razorbacks have a very solid starting lineup, and the frontcourt depth is excellent. However, the season may very well be determined by the backcourt depth, or current lack thereof. If Coach Pelphrey can get some production from his young guards coming off the bench, Arkansas is a top two or three team in the SEC.
No team in the nation has to replace as much talent as the two-time defending champion Florida Gators. Billy Donovan lost six key players to graduation and the NBA Draft. The only returning player that averaged over 10 minutes per game is junior guard Walter Hodge. The highly-ranked freshman class will have to grow up in a hurry if the Gators are going to return to the NCAA Tournament. Freshmen guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas will join Hodge in the backcourt. Calathes will probably be the team's best player from day one, while Lucas is the team's only true point guard. These three guards will get a ton of minutes because there aren't many other backcourt options going into the season. The only other guards on the team are freshman newcomers Hudson Fricke and Shane Payne.
In the frontcourt, Florida lacks depth in a bad way. Marreese Speights is their most experienced low-post presence, and he will be asked to carry most of the load down low. Sophomores Jonathan Mitchell and Dan Werner are inexperienced as well, but they will need to play major minutes for the Gators. Freshmen Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons will have every opportunity to take two frontcourt starting spots, but they will need to play like veterans in training camp. Freshman Adam Allen won't start, but he will provide another frontcourt body off the bench. It's tough to see Florida making it back to the NCAA Tournament after all their key losses, but Billy Donovan is a great coach. Donovan made a run a couple years back when nobody expected it, and he is capable of doing it again. The talent is in place, but it won't be easy.
Before the loss of Ronald Steele, the Crimson Tide was a Final Four pick by many. After the loss of Steele, the Tide is a bubble team at best. Nonetheless, life will go on for coach Mark Gottfried's team, and the cupboard is far from bare. The best player on the team is Richard Hendrix. Hendrix nearly averaged a double-double last season, and he will be the Tide's go-to-guy this year. He can score down low and can hit the mid-range shot on occasion as well. Hendrix will be joined up front by Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley. Both Gee and Riley averaged 12.6 points per game a year ago, and with the loss of Steele, one or both will be asked to score even more this season. The frontcourt reserves include sophomores Yamene Coleman and Demetrius Jemison, along with freshman Justin Knox. These three won't play much, but they will need to give an instant spark when called upon.
The backcourt is pretty weak going into the season, but there is a little experience to fall back on. Junior Brandon Hollinger and sophomore Mikhail Torrance will start at the guard positions. Hollinger has started in the past and will be asked to take Steele's spot as floor general. Torrance showed positive signs last season and could have a breakout year for the Tide. Backing up Hollinger and Torrance in the backcourt will be sophomore Justin Tubbs, along with freshmen Senario Hillman and Rico Pickett. Things in the preseason couldn't have gone much worse for the Tide, but Gottfried still has some weapons to work with. The frontcourt experience will keep the team in games, but the backcourt will have to produce in order for Alabama to make some noise in the SEC.
Coach Kevin Stallings will have to find a way to replace Derrick Byars and Dan Cage from last year's Sweet Sixteen team, but a few key players are still on campus. The Commodores top player is Shan Foster. Foster averaged over 15 points per game last season and will be asked to increase that number even more with the loss of Byars. Senior Ross Neltner and freshman A.J. Ogilvy will join Foster in the frontcourt. Neltner averaged nearly 10 points per game last year and gives Vandy more experience up front. Ogilvy is a big man from Australia who will have a chance to make an impact right away. He could end up being one of the best newcomers in the SEC this season. Senior Alan Metcalfe has started in the past and will get plenty of frontcourt minutes off the bench. Sophomore JeJuan Brown will also see some playing time up front, along with freshmen Darshawn McClellan and Andrew Walker.
In the backcourt, senior Alex Gordon will lead the way at point guard. Gordon brings a lot of experience and leadership to the table and will have the responsibility to get the ball to the right guys. Sophomores Jermaine Beal and George Drake will battle it out for the other starting guard position. Beal is the more talented of the two, but each will have equal opportunity to start. Freshman Keegan Bell, Vandy's point guard of the future, will also get an opportunity to come off the bench and steal some valuable minutes. The Commodores are a little thin when it comes to overall depth, but they have a couple key leaders that could make for an exciting season. Nobody predicted Vanderbilt to make it to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but they did. This season has that same feel.
LSU lost Glen "Big Baby" Davis to the NBA, but they still have some veteran leaders to rely on. Tasmin Mitchell is the top returning scorer and best overall player. He will be joined by freshman Anthony Randolph up front. Randolph, a highly-touted recruit, will take Davis's place down low and will make an immediate impact. Veteran guards Garrett Temple, Terry Martin, and Dameon Mason will give the Tigers options in the backcourt. LSU has the talent to make some noise in the always-competitive SEC. Auburn is another team with a chance to shake the conference race a little. The Tigers have five double-digit scorers returning. Korvotney Barber, Quan Prowell, and Josh Dollard will lead the charge up front, while Frank Tolbert and Rasheem Barrett give Auburn a solid one-two punch in the backcourt. Jeff Lebo's team has plenty of talent to be the surprise team in the conference.
South Carolina will rely on transfers Devan Downey and Zam Frederick to make them competitive this season. Downey will play the point, while Frederick will occupy the two-guard spot. Dominique Archie and Chad Gray return for the Gamecocks and will both start up front. South Carolina isn't very talented, and the season will probably depend on how good transfers Downey and Frederick play for Dave Odom. Georgia has one of the best overall players in the conference in Sundiata Gaines. Forward Takais Brown and guard Mike Mercer both averaged double figures last season for the Bulldogs, and both will join Gaines in the starting lineup. These three guys will give coach Dennis Felton something to work with, but the NIT is all Georgia can hope for this season. Rounding out the SEC is Mississippi. The Rebels have a decent big man in Dwayne Curtis. Curtis is capable of producing a double-double every night. Other than that, however, the cupboard is pretty bare. UM lost three key players that combined to score about 42 points per game a year ago. This will be too much to overcome, and it will leave the Rebels in the SEC basement this season.
G: Chris Lofton, Tennessee
G: Patrick Beverly, Arkansas
Preseason Player of the Year: Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
The SEC isn't as solid overall as the PAC-10 heading into the season, but that can change. Tennessee obviously has what it takes to win it all this year, and they are the clear favorite in the conference. After the Vols, the second spot is up for grabs. Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Arkansas have legitimate chances to compete for it. Florida, Alabama, and Vanderbilt need some major things to happen, but they are also capable of fighting for a top SEC spot. After that, LSU and Auburn are really the only teams worthy of mentioning in the NCAA Tournament talk. South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi should be hoping for a spot in the NIT. It should be a fun conference race all season, and it will be interesting to see how some teams adjust to offseason losses, changes, etc. Those changes and how teams react will go a long way in determining the conference outlook next spring.