SEC Basketball Primer: Can Anyone Catch Kentucky?
The 2010-11 SEC is stacked with teams. Unfortunately, outside of Kentucky, it's not stacked with a lot of talented teams.
Hyperbole aside, the Wildcats are the heavy favorite heading into conference play, and unless someone gets very good very fast, they will not be seriously challenged. Besides the mainstays -- Tennessee, UK, and Florida -- there really is little else. Very little else. Early season losses to the likes of Presbyterian and Oakland have marred the conference's image to this point.
Hey, maybe that all changes, but it's doubtful.
Best Team: Kentucky, and it's not very close. This isn't due to the Wildcats being a superpower, it's just everyone else is so far below them. They will struggle with Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Georgia -- all of whom they play twice -- but they should coast to a second consecutive conference championship.
Most Disappointing Team: Florida. Just as the UCF loss started to look not so bad, the trendy preseason SEC champion fell to Jacksonville. Without a solid perimeter scorer to complement Erving Walker, the Gators have struggled to find points in close games.
Most Surprising Team: Tennessee. As in, it's so surprising that a team could beat Villanova and Pittsburgh then lose to Oakland, Charlotte, College of Charleston, and Southern Cal in the span of six games. They are a complete disaster right now, and they don't have much time to get their swagger back before conference play.
What We Know Now
1. Auburn is the smelly kid in the class. They are, right now, one of the worst teams in college basketball. They haven't beaten a team with a winning record, and their best victory came over Middle Tennessee State. They have a legitimate shot at going winless in-conference.
2. Georgia is actually pretty good! Mark Fox has his team playing well after early season losses to Temple and Notre Dame. Trey Thompkins is an NBA forward, and Travis Leslie is one of the nation's best dunkers.
3. Tennessee is a mess. And it doesn't look like it will be getting much better for the Vols. They are completely falling apart, and there is no end to their nightmare season in sight. Bruce Pearl's SEC suspension hasn't even started yet.
Top Five Storylines to Watch
1. What will become of Bruce Pearl? With a pending NCAA investigation, what will Tennessee brass decide to do with the embattled coach?
2. Who will win the West? It will be a battle of attrition in the SEC West, where six teams will battle to be the most not horrible team in the division. Mississippi State: Pull it together. Or Arkansas, I suppose. They are 10-2, though they have beaten no one of substance.
3. Can Kentucky go undefeated or Auburn go winless? Neither is likely, but if I had to chose, I'd take the ineptitude of the Tigers. Kentucky is too young to run through a conference unbeaten. Plus, they probably aren't that good.
4. Renardo Sidney. I have seen him play exactly zero seconds of collegiate basketball, but I think it's safe to assume that he will be a bust. First, he looks kind of fat to me. Beyond that, he cannot keep himself out of trouble. It would be nice to see him come into MSU and contribute, but that just seems so unlikely.
5. Enes Kanter. If he is ruled eligible, then this really will be no contest. Though many around the bluegrass aren't holding their breath -- plus, hey, Josh Harrellson all of a sudden! -- he would be the final piece for the Wildcat machine.
Predicted Player of the Year -- Trey Thompkins, Georgia. Perhaps this will come to fruition because the SEC will want to avoid another Kentucky awards sweep, or Thompkins will lead UGA to a surprising NCAA Tournament appearance.
Predicted Frosh of the Year -- Brandon Knight, Kentucky. With teams starting to double Terrence Jones on the catch -- coupled with his ability and willingness to pass -- Knight will have huge scoring games. If he can stay as consistent with his ball handling as he's been over the last month, he will be a chore for opposing teams to stop.
NCAA Tourney Teams
Kentucky: More potent than everyone else in the league, and as the season progresses as is their defense. DeAndre Liggins is becoming a stopper on the perimeter, a feature last year's team sorely missed. Plus, they can shoot!
Georgia: Their bid will be largely reliant upon how much Tennessee can turn it around. If the Vols don't get it together, which is likely, that will open the door for the Bulldogs.
Vanderbilt: Sneaky good almost every year, the 'Dores have a ton of athleticism and guys that can score. Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins are big time scorers and guys that can get their shots on just about anyone.
Florida: Just as they did a year ago, the Gators will do just enough to sneak in, get smoked, go home. They have the potential to be very good. they just haven't put it together yet.
NIT Teams -- Tennessee, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas.