NCAA BK

SEC preview: Experience, talent to highlight league

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Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. Check out his Yardbarker blog. MORE>>
 
   
 
The SEC got crushed last season — and for good reason. The league was "down," "weak" or whatever term you want to use to try and describe a conference that just didn't have enough experience, healthy bodies or talent to compete with the handful of other BCS leagues.

2009-10 preview

Roy Halladay Can't wait for the college hoops season to start? We get you ready for 2009-10 with our preseason guide HERE.
But all that will change this season. Patrick Patterson is back at Kentucky and new coach John Calipari has brought in a ton of young talent to Lexington. Tennessee should be improved with the return of Tyler Smith. Florida may have lost Nick Calathes, but the Gators have brought in one of the nation's elite freshman in Kenny Boynton. Ole Miss is healthy and guard-heavy. And the Rebels' in-state rivals, Mississippi State, are huge on the frontline, and could be as good as anyone if talented freshman Renardo Sidney is cleared by the NCAA. SEC coaches won't have to be defensive this season — not with all the talent that's returning.

Top storylines

  • How will new Kentucky coach John Calipari mesh the old with the new? He inherited guys like Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller and brought in a terrific freshmen class led by John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Can they come together quickly enough to compete for the national title?
  • It's not so much a storyline as it is a question: Will Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney be cleared to play for the Bulldogs? He's a phenomenal talent, but amateurism questions linger and could stand in the way of the 6-foot-10 forward being able to play college basketball.
  • Can the Gators get back to the Big Dance? After winning two straight national titles, Billy Donovan has been absent from the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons. Nick Calathes left early for a hefty contract in Greece, but freshman guard Kenny Boynton will step right in and provide scoring.
  • Ole Miss needs to stay healthy. Guards Chris Warren, Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins all were out for either the entire season or the majority of it. With the trio healthy, the Rebels could win the SEC West.
  • Tennessee has enough up front with Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith, but Vols coach Bruce Pearl will need point guard Bobby Maze and talented wing Scotty Hopson to become consistent.
  • Which Arkansas team will show up? The one that knocked off Texas and Oklahoma early last season, or the one that faltered in SEC play? John Pelphrey has a talented backcourt that now has a year of experience under its belt, plus one of the league's best big men in Michael Washington.
  • Can Tasmin Mitchell help keep LSU competitive for an NCAA tournament berth? Marcus Thornton, Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson are all gone, so it's up to Mitchell and Bo Spencer to lead the Tigers.

Predicted finish

East
1. Kentucky
2. Tennessee
3. Vanderbilt
4. Florida
5. South Carolina
6. Georgia West
1. Ole Miss
2. Mississippi State
3. Arkansas
4. LSU
5. Alabama
6. Auburn

All-Conference team

Small forward: Tyler Smith, 6-7, 215, Sr., Tennessee
2008-09 Stats: 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg Power forward: Patrick Patterson, 6-8, 225, Jr., Kentucky
2008-09 Stats: 17.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg Center: Jarvis Varnado, 6-9, 230, Sr., Mississippi State
2008-09 Stats: 12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.7 bpg Shooting guard: Devan Downey, 5-9, 175, Sr., South Carolina
2008-09 Stats: 19.8 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.9 spg Point guard: John Wall, 6-3 ½, 193, Fr., Kentucky
2008-09 Stats: N/A Player of the Year: John Wall, 6-3 ½, 193, Fr., Kentucky
Newcomer of the Year: John Wall

Five frosh to watch

John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky): It's not out of the question that all three could be starting for the Wildcats to open the season. Wall may be the most highly touted, but Bledsoe and Cousins are both impact guys as well. Kenny Boynton (Florida): He's a scoring machine, plain and simple. Boynton should quickly become the go-to guy for Billy Donovan with his ability to create virtually whenever he wants. Renardo Sidney and John Riek (Mississippi State): Sidney still hasn't been cleared yet but has all the tools and is so versatile for someone his size (6-foot-10, 260 pounds). Riek, if healthy, is a monster on the defensive end. John Jenkins (Vanderbilt): He can really shoot the ball from the perimeter. He'll help A.J. Ogilvy by his ability to extend the defense. Lakeem Jackson (South Carolina): He is strong, athletic and gets to the basket. He'll come right in and make an impact for Darrin Horn & Co.

Five non-conference games to watch

1. UConn vs. Kentucky at Madison Square Garden (SEC/Big East), Dec. 9: This is a terrific matchup not only of two talented teams, but also two coaches in Jim Calhoun and John Calipari who flat-out don't like each other. 2. North Carolina at Kentucky, Dec. 5: The defending national champs travel to Rupp and face a talented Wildcats squad and talented freshman point guard John Wall. 3. Louisville at Kentucky, Jan. 3: This rivalry could return to Duke-UNC level, especially due to the fact that Cardinals coach Rick Pitino and John Calipari aren't the best of friends. 4. Kansas at Tennessee, Jan. 10: The Jayhawks are the preseason numero uno and took care of the Vols in Lawrence last season. 5. Florida vs. Michigan State in Legends Classic, Nov. 27: This game will give Gators fans a true barometer of where their team is.
Tagged: Cincinnati, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida, Mississippi, Temple, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado State, UC-Riverside

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