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Southeastern Preview

January 2, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

2001-02 SEC Preview

by Alex Turell

Florida and Kentucky are hands-down the two best teams in the SEC. Unfortunately they both are in the SEC East. Their March 2 date will decide the East championship. Tennessee has a chance to sneak up on one of them if they can split their series with Florida and Kentucky. And never count out Jim Harrick down at Georgia. In the West Alabama and Mississippi look to be the best with Arkansas close behind. LSU may surprise people with three of their top four scorers returning.

Eastern Division

1. Florida Gators: Billy Donovan and his Gators look to be the class of the SEC. They can run, they can shoot, and they can play defense. Last year the Gators led the conference in scoring, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and assists. Look for them to do the same this year. The Gators also have the luxury of being the best free throw shooting team at 73 percent, which gives them the edge in close games.

The Gators lost 32 percent of their offensive production from last year with the loss of Teddy Dupay and Brent Wright, so look for Matt Bonner, Brent Nelson and Udonis Haslem to pick up the slack. Incoming freshman David Lee should get plenty of playing time to start the season. If the Gators can stay healthy and Haslem plays smart and stays out of fool trouble, the Gators will win the SEC East and the overall conference crown, but any slip up or an unexpected accident could open the door for Kentucky.

2. Kentucky: Kentucky is the only team in the SEC East that has the capability to overtake Florida. Tubby Smith brings in a team with tons of talent, but lacks a true floor leader with the loss of Saul Smith at the point. The Wildcats were fourth in the conference in scoring and second in field goal percentage, which will keep every game close and winnable.

The Wildcats return Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans, two guys that can really light it up, but Prince sometimes tries to do too much from the outside. At 6-9 and having the right mix of inside-outside play, he can carry Kentucky to the SEC Championship. Kentucky brings in one of the best recruiting classes in the country with 3 of the top 100 recruits. Kentucky has to hope Florida slips up during the regular season to get the championship or it will be a 2-seed for the NCAAs in March.

3. Tennessee: Tennessee brought in a young up and coming coach in Buzz Peterson, who has won everywhere he’s been. Peterson is just what the Vols need, a breath of fresh air. The Vols struggled in the postseason the past few years and Peterson should change that in the near future. He inherits a team that was second in the SEC in scoring, first in three-point percentage and second in rebounding.

The Vols return one of the SEC’s best players in Vincent Yarborough, averaging 14 points and game and 7.3 rebounds. They also return Ron Slay, who averages 13.1 points per game and shot over 50 percent from the field. The Vols bring in a top recruit in Derek Stribling who should see time early. The Vols have a solid mix of experience and youth and you should see them in the field of 64 come March.

4.Georgia: The Bulldogs lost 69 percent of their scoring form a year ago they lost their two top rebounders their top assist man and their best shooters, yet Jim Harrick will have a winner. That’s how good a coach he is. The Bulldogs will scare Florida and Kentucky all year long.

Ezra Williams is the returning leading scorer. Look for him to lead Georgia in scoring as well as picking up the slack of the boards. The Bulldogs caught an unlucky break when Damien Wilkins was told he must sit out the season. The Bulldogs have a solid team with only one senior. If they can catch a few breaks this year look for Georgia to surprise some people as the season goes on.

5. South Carolina: Dave Odom takes over in Columbia after having great success at Wake Forest. There is no reason he can’t have the same success here. He will not have to compete with Duke, UNC and NC State for recruits, only Clemson, but is Clemson really a threat to Odom? Not so much. The Gamecocks return their top six players all averaging between 21 and 31 minutes a game. USC shot an awful 30.1 percent from three-point range, last in the SEC.

Jamal Bradley and Aaron Lucas return as the only two seniors and the two leading scorers from last year. Bradley shot only 37.4 percent from the field a year ago and must be more accurate for the Gamecocks to have a chance. Bradley and Lucas must produce for the Gamecocks to compete with the upper division or it could be a mediocre first season for Odom.

6. Vanderbilt: Vandy looks to be on their way to a tough year. They lost their top two rebounders from a team that finished last in the conference in rebounds last year and their number two scorer. Kevin Stallings has his work cut out for him this year, as Vandy had the second worst scoring offense in the conference and doesn’t look like they are going to improve on that this year.

Chuck Moore is a solid scorer and Mat Freije has some offensive ability. Vandy went out and recruited size; let’s hope it works. Three freshmen come in averaging over 6-9 and 230 pounds. Not enough scoring plus not enough rebounds equals long season.

Western Division

1. Mississippi: The Rebels had a great season last year, going 27-8 and winning the SEC West. This year is going to be tough to repeat as champs. The Rebels lost their top scorer and rebounder in Rahim Lockhart, so rebounding will be a problem this year. The Rebels are a young athletic team that will excite people.

Ole Miss returns three great sophomores in Aaron Harper, David Sanders and Justin Reed. Reed was the SEC Freshman of the year and should be the go to guy this year. The Rebels have one senior and eight guys either sophomore or freshmen. The Rebels will be neck and neck with the Tide this year for the top spot in the West, and they’re hoping that there’s no sophomore jinx.

2. Alabama:
Mark Gottfried starts his forth season at Alabama with a solid returning cast. The Tide finished 25-11 overall and 8-8 in the SEC last year, expect them to improve on that this year. Alabama led the conference in rebounding last year, partly because they had the third-worst shooting percentage in the league; lots of misses means lots of rebounds.

The Crimson Tide returns their three leading scorers and their top two rebounders. Rod Grizzard is one of the top players in the SEC, but must improve his accuracy, shooting only 39.2 percent last year. Erwin Dudley averaged over 9 rebounds and 13.8 points per game, look for him to increase both those numbers. Terrance Meade is a great third option for the Tide. Freshman Maurice Williams will make an immediate impact. The Tide should roll this year in the West and fight Ole Miss for the West title.

3. Arkansas: Nolan Richardson will have his team ready to challenge the top teams in the West. The only problem is that’s all it will be for the top teams – a challenge. The Razorbacks lost their top scorer, Joe Johnson, to the NBA. That is a big hole to fill when you play in a conference like the SEC. Arkansas will play 8-10 guys a game and keep their defensive pressure on a team for 40 minutes. This will give them a chance to win some close games.

Jannero Pargo is their top-returning scorer at 12.4 points per game. No other returning player averages more than 8.3 points. A lack of offense could spell trouble for a team that lost its go to guy from a year ago. The Razorbacks will beat some people, but will not win the West.

4. Louisiana State: The Tigers come into the season with a good mix of experience with five juniors and six freshmen. Last year LSU had little help from the bench, going only two deep most nights. For LSU to have success this year the freshmen are going to have to step up. The Tigers where last in the SEC West in points per game, averaging just over 71 points per game. They also must cut down on turnovers; last year they averaged more turnovers than assists.

The Tigers return three of their top four scorers. Ronald Dupre led the team in scoring and rebounding, but seemed to be turnover prone – averaging three a game. Collis Temple III and Torris Bright combined for almost 25 points per contest and over six assists. The Tigers signed top prospect Marcus Spears, but will have to wait until after football season to get on the court. LSU has the talent to win some games this year and may surprise some people, but if the bench doesn’t produce the close ones will get away.

5. Auburn: Cliff Ellis really has to earn his money this year. The Tigers lost Scott Pohlman who was a good senior leader, and Jamison Brewe,r who averaged over seven assists a game. The Tigers where second in the SEC West in scoring and lead the division in field goal percentage at 45.3 percent. The downside, they were 12th in the SEC in free throw percentage and 11th in three-point percentage.

The Tigers return Adam Harrington and Marquis Daniels who combined for over 32 points per and almost 12 rebounds. Auburn should get Mack McGadney back from a season ending knee injury last year. Auburn signed two top prospects in Marco Killingsworth and Dwayne Mitchell – both will see action early. All the tools are there to win and if McGadney returns to his pre-injury form they can do some serious damage, otherwise it’s the lower division.

6. Mississippi State: Rick Stansbury enters his forth year as head coach of the Bulldogs. This will be a tough year for MSU, losing three of their top four scorers, top rebounder and top assist man. The Bulldogs play a very manageable schedule, with their toughest games being Richmond and Georgia State. MSU was second in the SEC in rebounding a year ago, but they lost over half of their rebounds for this year. The Bulldogs are going to need some people to contribute and fill the holes it they are going to compete.

The Bulldogs return Markell Patterson, who averaged over 11 points per game and over four rebounds per. Mario Austin should increase his point production and make up for some of the losses. The Bulldogs bring in a pair of 7-foot freshmen in Marcus Campbell and Wesley Morgan giving them true twin towers. Campbell was a top recruit last year and should play immediately. The Bulldogs lost too much from last years 20-13 team to compete in the upper division.

Predictions and Stuff:

SEC East Champ: Florida
SEC West Champ: Mississippi
Overall Champ: Florida
Surprise Teams: LSU, Georgia
Tourney Teams: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia
Toughest Schedule: Kentucky
Easiest Schedule: LSU
Best Team at a Football School: Alabama
Best Arena: Rupp Arena, Kentucky
Best Recruiting Class: Kentucky

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