Wednesday, October 31, 2007

SEC Preview


Player of the Year: Chris Lofton, SG, Tennessee

Newcomer of the Year: Tyler Smith, F, Tennessee

All-Conference Team:
G- Chris Lofton, Tennessee
G- Patrick Beverly, Arkansas
G/F- Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
F- Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
F- Richard Hendrix, Alabama

Second Team:
G- Sundiata Gaines, Georgia
G- Devan Downey, South Carolina
F- Tyler Smith, Tennessee
F- Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
F/C- Charles Rhodes, Mississippi State

Third Team:
G- JaJuan Smith, Tennessee
G- Ramel Bradley, Kentucky
G- Joe Crawford, Kentucky
F- Alonzo Gee, Alabama
C- Dwayne Curtis, Ole Miss


1. Tennessee: The Volunteers have a chance to be one of the best teams in the country this year and are the SEC’s best option for a Final Four team. Bruce Pearl returns four starters from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, and also brings in Iowa transfer Tyler Smith. However, Tennessee revolves around its perimeter group. If the Vols are going to live up to their lofty expectations, this group will be the catalyst. All-America Chris Lofton leads the way. One of the best guards in the country, Lofton is nearly unstoppable when his shot is falling. He is arguably the best three-point shooter in the nation. He has also improved his all-around offensive game, as well as his passing and defending. JaJuan Smith gets overshadowed by Lofton on the wing, but is also a very good scorer and defender who is usually matched up with bigger players. Ramar Smith struggled early last season, but improved dramatically as the season wore on. Josh Tabb can shoot, while Jordan Howell performed admirably off the bench. Arizona transfer J.P. Prince will also push for time on the wing. Up front, the addition of Iowa transfer Tyler Smith will make a world of difference. He changes the Vols from a solid SEC champion team to a legitimate national title contender. Smith gives them a forward who can rebound and score in a variety of ways. He handles the ball well and is also a good passer. Smith has a nice mid-range jumper and is also solid inside. Sophomores Wayne Chism and Duke Crews will battle for the starting spot next to him. Chism has good inside-outside ability due to his ability to stretch the defense with his shot and also score down low. He is also a solid rebounder and defender. Crews can run the floor well for a big man but is a monster on the offensive glass. He had more offensive than defensive rebounds last season. Ryan Childress finished strong last season and provides Pearl with another good inside-outside performer. Projected Finish: NCAA

2. Kentucky: The Wildcats might be underrated heading into this season, if that is even possible. UK lost two starters from last year, but it brought in two key offseason acquisitions in freshman big man Patrick Patterson, and more importantly, new coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie helped turn around Texas A&M, and while he will not have to do the same in Lexington, he’s an upgrade over the highly-scrutinized Tubby Smith. Luckily for Gillispie, he gets the luxury of having five very good perimeter players at his disposal in his first year on the job. The only question is how many will start. Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford have been much-maligned throughout their careers in Lexington, but both are solid guards who provide senior leadership on the court. Both are potential all-conference players who would like to end their careers on a high note. Bradley is a very good scorer who can also rebound and distribute well, while Crawford is a bull when driving to the basket due to his size and strength, but he can also knock down threes. Jodie Meeks is a very good all-around player who is an explosive athlete and efficient scorer. Derrick Jasper started at point guard last year, but will likely start on the bench this year. He had offseason knee injury, but should be able to return. Freshman Alex Legion is another good scorer on the wing. Up front, a lot of inexperience will have to step up and make an impact. Patterson leads the way. The late signee is expected to start immediately and eventually dominate in the post. He is very tough to stop because of his athleticism and ability at both ends of the floor. Starting next to him will either be one of the guards, or skinny 6-9 forward Perry Stevenson. He is an outstanding shot-blocker who uses his athleticism to get points around the basket. 7-2 sophomore Jared Carter will provide depth as long as he stays healthy. Projected Finish: NCAA

3. Florida: The two-time defending champions will obviously take a step back this season with the loss of all five starters and sixth man Chris Richard, but still expect an NCAA bid for the Gators. Three lottery picks left early to the NBA, including the entire frontcourt of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer, while point guard Taurean Green also bolted after his junior season. More importantly, though, Billy Donovan returned to the Gators despite initially leaving for the Orlando Magic. He brings in a terrific recruiting class and returns some solid pieces. The best of the returnees is guard Walter Hodge and big man Marreese Speights. Hodge is extremely quick and can play both guard spots. He is a decent scorer and shooter who can also distribute. Speights has the potential to be a dominant big man in the SEC. He made the most of his minutes last season, and is a very efficient scorer around the basket. Speights is also a very good rebounder. Dan Werner also returns up front. He is a good long-range shooter and needs to take a step forward this year, while classmate Jonathan Mitchell has the ability to play both forward positions. Of the newcomers, highly-touted guard Nick Calathes might be the best. He is a combo guard who can play a variety of positions and do a multitude of things on the court. Calathes can consistently shoot and score, and is also a talented distributor. Jai Lucas is another McDonald’s All-American being welcomed into the backcourt. He is very tough offensively with his ability to drive to the basket or stay on the perimeter and knock down three-pointers. However, he is only 150 pounds, so he can be muscled around on the other end. Chandler Parsons has a chance to start up front. He is an athletic forward who can shoot the ball from three-point range and also get to the basket. Alex Tyus, another athletic freshman, can play anywhere in the frontcourt but will make an impact no matter where he ends up. Adam Allen will also compete up front, and has a chance to play immediately with his ability at both ends. Projected Finish: NCAA

4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores surprised many last season by finishing tied for second in the SEC at 10-6, receiving a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and coming within an uncalled Jeff Green travel from reaching the Elite Eight. However, they lose SEC Player of the Year Derrick Byars and will have to find a way to replace him. Shan Foster will become the new go-to-guy offensively. The versatile wing is an outstanding long-range shooter who has expanded his game as his career goes on. He is also a very good defender and rebounder who can also distribute the ball. Joining him up front will likely be returning power forward Ross Neltner and freshman center Andrew Ogilvy. Neltner has a decent inside-outside game, forcing opponents to guard him on the perimeter. He is also a good rebounder and a solid defender who can find the open man. Ogilvy is somewhat of a mystery. He will start right away down low due to his terrific low-post game, but not many people over here in America have seen the Aussie play first-hand. He dominated the U19 World Championships over the summer and the South East Australian League in the spring. Alan Metcalfe and freshman Dershawn McClellan will provide depth. In the backcourt will be Alex Gordon. Gordon started at the point last season, finishing second on the team in assists and showing an ability to take care of the ball. He is also a very good three-point shooter. Jermaine Beal has a chance to start next to him. He is a natural point guard who can find the open man well and can also score well. George Drake is a tough wing who can shoot. Freshman Keegan Bell will fight for minutes in the backcourt, while Andre Walker has great size on the wing and could start. Projected Finish: NIT

5. Georgia: The Bulldogs were on the verge of an NCAA Tournament bid a season ago, but faltered down the stretch, dropping to fifth in the division by the end of the year. This year, it looked like they were headed towards another year on the Big Dance bubble, but they will likely have to aim for the NIT at best now. That is due to the recent dismissal of leading scorer Takais Brown for violating team policies, and the 15-game suspension of second-leading scorer Mike Mercer for academics. That is on top of his recovery from a torn ACL—an injury for which he has yet to be cleared. Albert Jackson is also suspended for six games. As for the returnees, the Bulldogs still have some quality pieces. Sundiata Gaines is one of the better guards and all-around players in the SEC. He can do it all on the court, from scoring from the perimeter and at the basket to leading the team in rebounding. Gaines is also a terrific distributor and the league’s best player at racking up steals. Billy Humphrey and Terrance Woodbury are also solid performers in the backcourt. Humphrey is a very good scorer who can shoot the three with efficiency. He can also rebound and defend well. Woodbury provides good size and long-range shooting to the perimeter. Freshmen Zac Swansey and Troy Brewer will have to step up while Mercer is out. Up front, coach Dennis Felton needs to find guys who can play immediately due to the suspensions. Once Jackson comes back, he will fight for minutes down low, but until then returnees Dave Bliss and Rashaad Singleton are the main returnees. Bliss is a solid big man who can rebound and scorer, while Singleton is a very good shot-blocker and solid rebounder. Newcomers will have to step up in the paint. Jeremy Price is a good athlete and post scorer who will likely be the team’s best overall big man. Jeremy Jacob has a very solid offensive game who is trying to expand his repertoire, while Chris Barnes provides athleticism. Projected Finish: No Postseason

6. South Carolina: The Gamecocks did not win their third straight NIT title last season, finishing last in the SEC at 4-12 and only 14-16 overall. Furthermore, they lost all-conference guard Tre Kelley, the team’s best player, and double-double threat Brandon Wallace. Fear not, though, Gamecock fans, USC has a chance to be better this year without those two (and solid scoring wing Bryce Sheldon). The main reason for the expected improvement is the arrival of two big-time transfers in Devan Downey from Cincinnati and Zam Frederick from Georgia Tech. With these two guards, the backcourt will definitely be in good hands. Downey is a very quick point guard who can run an offense well, but also create his own shot if needed. He immediately becomes one of the best lead guards in the conference. Frederick is more of a scorer but played the point guard at Georgia Tech. He will play off-the-ball more this season with Downey at the point. If he concentrates solely on scoring, he could be a great asset next to Downey. On the wing will be part-time starter Brandis Raley-Ross, a solid scorer and rebounder, or senior Dwayne Day. Day needs to become more consistent with his jumpshot and overall offensive game if he wants to start, though. Freshman Trevor Deloach will fight for minutes. Up front, Dominique Archie leads the way. He is a good inside-outside performer who can rebound and score around the basket and is also very solid from the perimeter. He has a chance to have a breakout season. Returnees Evaldas Baniulis and Chad Gray and freshman Mike Holmes will fight the starting job next to Archie. Baniulis had a solid freshman season because of his shooting ability, while Holmes will play immediately. Newcomer Austin Steed will also see minutes. Projected Finish: No Postseason


1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks probably should not have made the NCAA Tournament last year, going only 7-9 in the SEC West and finishing 21-13 prior to Selection Sunday. Furthermore, they did not have an impressive profile, but they finished the season fairly strong and were good enough to get the attention of the Selection Committee. Arkansas did nothing to justify its bid, getting blown out by USC in the first round. There will be no question about the legitimacy of the Razorbacks this season, though. They return all five starters and bring in South Alabama coach John Pelphrey to replace much-maligned Stan Heath. It all starts up front. The Razorbacks have some of the best talent in the country, and this deep group of frontcourt players is a major reason why. Sonny Weems and Charles Thomas are both difficult match-ups for opponents due to their ability to play inside or out. Weems can knock down threes at an efficient clip as well as drive to the basket, while Thomas is a very solid rebounder and a tough scorer around the basket. Expect one of the two to become an all-conference-caliber player this year. Steven Hill is one of the best shot-blockers in the country, and just needs to improve his offensive game to become an all-conference center. SEC coaches already like what they see with Hill, naming him to the preseason All-SEC second team. Darian Townes is a productive scorer and rebounder who can also block shots. Michael Washington is very athletic and started seeing more minutes late in the year. He can score both on the perimeter as well as on drives to the basket. Returnee Vincent Hunter is a solid scorer who will have to fight for time, while freshman Michael Sanchez would have made an immediate impact if not for the logjam of frontcourt talent in front of him. Despite the loaded frontline, the Razorbacks’ best player is guard Patrick Beverly. He is a standout scorer who can knock down three-pointers at an efficient clip and is also solid when driving to the ball to the rim. Beverly is also a very good defender who can distribute the ball and find the open man, and was also a solid rebounder for his size. Expect him to become an All-America before he leaves Fayetteville. Starting next to him will be Gary Ervin, an inconsistent but talented point guard. He is a very good distributor and is extremely quick with the ball. However, he tends to mix the good with the bad too often, turning the ball over nearly three times per game. If he takes better care of the ball, this team will be tough to beat. Stefan Welsh was solid off the bench last year, and can shoot the ball well. Freshmen Nate Rakestraw and Marcus Britt will fight for time. Projected Finish: NCAA

2. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are coming off a solid season which they hope will give them momentum to build on heading into this year. They finished in a tie for the SEC West title, going 8-8, and reached the NIT semifinals before falling on a buzzer shot by West Virginia’s Darris Nichols. They return four starters from last season, but also lost four players in the offseason to transfer, chief among them Reginald and Richard Delk. Despite the exodus, MSU has more than enough talent to contend for the division crown and a top-five or six seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are led by one of the best inside-outside combos in the country in guard Jamont Gordon and big man Charles Rhodes. Gordon is one of the best all-around players in America, with the ability to play nearly any position on the floor. He is a big-time scorer who can drive to the lane and get fouled as well as anyone and has improved his range so defenses can’t sag on him and force him to shoot from the perimeter. He is also an outstanding rebounder for a guard, and is one of the best distributors in the SEC. All of this from a 6-4 junior who is more comfortable on the wing. Rhodes was inconsistent at times last year, but when he is focused, he is one of the best post players in the conference. He has a nice array of low-post moves, but needs to improve his face-up game. Rhodes is also an efficient finisher who can rebound and block shots well. A third returning starter is shooter Barry Stewart. He is one of the SEC’s best three-point gunners who increased his playing time as the season went on due to his ability to score consistently from the perimeter. Ben Hansbrough took great care of the ball last season, and does not turn it over very often. He is more suited to play the point, which would allow Gordon to move to his natural position on the wing. Hansbrough is also a solid shooter. Rounding out the starting five will either be Louisville transfer Brian Johnson or sophomore Jarvis Varnado. Varnado is an outstanding shot-blocker who can also rebound very well. He is still somewhat raw offensively and might not be strong enough to start on a consistent basis in the SEC. Johnson is a solid scorer and rebounder in the paint who will give the Bulldogs great depth down low if he doesn’t start. Freshmen Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus will push for time in the frontcourt. The athletic Johnson is a terrific shooter, while Augustus is a solid all-around offensive player. Phil Turner will provide depth in the backcourt. Projected Finish: NCAA

3. Alabama: The Crimson Tide were poised to contend for a Final Four last year. They were ranked in the Top 10 of most preseason publications and polls, and had outstanding talent. However, point guard Ronald Steele was hobbled throughout the year with an injury, and the Tide ended up missing the NCAA Tournament and falling in the first-round of the NIT after tying for third in the SEC West with a 7-9 record. This year might be the same. ‘Bama was getting a lot of early press—before Steele announced that he was taking a medical redshirt this season. It leaves the Tide with a gaping hole at the point that needs to be filled. The two main options to take that spot are sophomore Mikhail Torrance and freshman Rico Pickett. Torrance played well at times last season, and was solid in place of Steele in certain games, while Pickett is an athletic combo guard who can score going to the basket. 5-11 junior Brandon Hollinger can play both guard spots, and is a very good three-point shooter and distributor. Another freshman, Senario Hillman, is extremely athletic and will see time, while Justin Tubbs can hit the three. Alabama is outstanding on the wing with Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley. Gee had a very good season last year, showing the ability to get to the basket on anyone and finish at the rim. He has an improving outside shot, and is a solid rebounder. Riley is a very good three-point shooter who uses his length and athleticism to play solidly on the defensive end. Expect a boost in his performance this year. Down low, Richard Hendrix is one of the best big men in the country. He is clearly the best post player in the SEC and has the potential to be an All-America. He is very efficient shooting the ball from the field, and is a dominating force offensively and on the glass. Furthermore, he is a solid shot-blocker. This year, Hendrix will likely have an even better year due to his expanded offensive game. Battling for a starting spot next to Hendrix—if one is available—will be returnees Demetrius Jemison and Yamene Coleman, as well as freshman Justin Knox. Jemison played well last year, while Coleman is solid around the basket. Knox could start for the Tide eventually. Projected Finish: NIT

4. Auburn: The Tigers had its best season since 2003, winning 17 games and finishing third in the SEC West at 7-9. Furthermore, the Tigers were in line to compete for an NCAA bid this season, as they returned arguably the most experience at key positions in the SEC—the Tigers’ top six scorers are all juniors and seniors. Unfortunately, most of that experience has struggled in mediocrity throughout their respective careers. And now the news that Auburn will be without forwards Josh Dollard and Quan Prowell for an extended period of time—Dollard for the entire seasons due to medical reasons, Prowell for at least five games due to a violation of team rules. Prowell is arguably the team’s best player when he is on the court. He is difficult to defend due to his all-around ability up front. He can shoot the three-pointer very efficiently and is also a good rebounder. Dollard led the team in scoring and rebounding. Korvotney Barber will have to step up in their absence. He is a good scorer and rebounder who can also block shots. Barber might be primed for a break-out season due to his efficient shooting from the field. Sophomores Lucas Hargrove and Matt Heramb will have to step up in the frontcourt, while newcomers Boubacar Sylla and Tyrell Lynch will be thrown into the fire quicker than originally expected. The perimeter is still in good hands though. Wings Rasheem Barrett and Frank Tolbert both scored in double-figures, and Quantez Robertson was one of the SEC’s top assist men. Barrett is not a great shooter but he can get to the basket and can have breakout games when his outside shot is falling. He is also a solid defender and rebounder. Tolbert can do it all. The athletic senior can score and rebound well, and is also a decent passer and defender. Robertson is an underrated point guard on the national level. He does not turn the ball over often and finds the open man. He needs to improve his scoring, though. DeWayne Reed is another terrific distributor in the backcourt for the Tigers, while Arcie Miaway can shoot the three off the bench. Projected Finish: NIT

5. LSU: The Tigers came into last season as a fairly chic Final Four pick. They returned Glen Davis and a host of other key players from the team’s national title game appearance, losing only Tyrus Thomas to the NBA Draft. However, the Tigers struggled mightily in the SEC and ended up finishing last in the SEC West at only 5-11, and not even reaching the NIT. This year, I think the Tigers will be improved and could fight for a postseason berth. Yes, I know LSU loses its entire post rotation, including All-SEC double-double lock Davis, doesn’t have a point guard or any sort of post presence—but I think they will still be competitive. The Tigers will be led by Tasmin Mitchell. He is one of the best all-around forwards in the conference, and could take the next step towards becoming a star this year. He can score both inside and outside, and possesses nice touch on his mid-range jumper. He can also rebound well. Also up front, coach John Brady welcomes highly-touted freshman Anthony Randolph. The lanky 6-10 forward is a natural small forward who might have to play the post this year because of the inexperience in the frontcourt. He can shoot the ball well and is also a good scorer when going to the basket. JC transfer Quinton Thornton has a chance to make an immediate impact in the paint as the team’s best low-post option. Freshman Garrett Green is another inside-outside option, while returnee Chris Johnson will also see his minutes increase inside. On the perimeter, Garrett Temple can do a variety of things. He is one of the best defenders in the country, and is an extremely versatile guard. He can play the point guard position, and was forced to do that last year. He can rebound and distribute well, but needs to improve his outside shot. Terry Martin and Dameon Mason can score well from the wing. Martin put up double-figures last year and showed his ability to shoot the three-point efficiently. Mason is very athletic and can score around the basket, but is not a factor from beyond the arc. JC transfers Marcus Thornton (no relation to Quinton) can knock down long-range shots, making him a player poised for immediate playing time. Hopefully freshman Bo Spencer can eventually take the reins at the point, allowing Temple move to the wing. Projected Finish: NIT

6. Ole Miss: The Rebels were not expected to do much last year, as they were coming off of a 14-win season. However, they proved everyone wrong, winning 21 games and a share of the SEC West title, with Andy Kennedy garnering Coach of the Year honors within the conference. Ole Miss will likely take a step back this season with the loss of its three best guards, including Todd Abernathy, Bam Doyne, and Clarence Sanders—three of the best perimeter players in the league. Replacing them in the backcourt will be a variety of newcomers and returnees. Florida transfer David Huertas will likely start right away due to his shooting ability, while freshmen Travor Gaskins and Chris Warren will fight for the job at point guard. Gaskins is a tremendous penetrator, while Warren is very athletic. Eneil Polynice played well last year in limited minutes, and he and Brian Smith are ready for expanded roles. Up front, Dwayne Curtis leads the way. He is one of the best big men in the SEC, and has the potential to be a nationally-known post player. He can score very well around the basket, and is an outstanding rebounder. Fellow seniors Jeremy Parnell and Kenny Williams will fight for minutes next to Curtis. Williams was the starter last year, and came on very strong towards the end of the season. He is a good rebounder and shot-blocker. Parnell is athletic, and can score and rebound down low. A variety of newcomers will also fight for minutes and playing time inside. Malcolm White is an athletic forward who can score, while JC transfer Wesley Jones has the ability to score inside and out due to his size and shooting ability. Terrence Watson is only 6-5, but is very solid in the post, and Zack Graham will also see time. Projected Finish: No Postseason


  1. If Hendrix is really the best big man in the SEC, how can it possibly be a better conference than the ACC??