2009-10 SEC Basketball Conference Preview

Kurt Wirth@Kurt_WirthCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 28: Patrick Patterson #54 of the Kentucky Wildcats puts a shot up during the SEC game against the LSU Tigers at Rupp Arena on February 28, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

For the second-straight season, the Southeastern Conference finished last amongst BCS leagues and sixth overall in RPI standings in 2008-09.

Just three teams made the NCAA Tournament, none of which made the Sweet Sixteen.

My, how a year can change everything.

While the nation was as experienced and talented as it had ever been, the SEC was struggling to reload and patiently waiting for its younger stars to grow into full-bodied threats.

That day has come for several league teams.

"There are eight teams in the league that return four starters," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl explained. "So the league is going to be a lot better and part of the reason is because of returning players. That experience is going to put us in a position to not get too high when we win and not get too low when we lose, because this league is going to beat up on each other and I think the team that handles adversity and handles success the best is the team that is going to win the championship."

Couldn't say it better myself.

The most well-known example is Kentucky, who let an embattled Billy Gillispie go after just two seasons at the helm and its first NCAA absence in 15 years. In stepped Memphis' John Calipari, and an outrageous recruiting class alongside. Returning Second-Team All-American Patrick Patterson plus adding three five-star along with two four-star recruits means high expectations.

High they are indeed. Many publications have ranked Kentucky second pre-season, and all have them in the Top 10. They have been picked overwhelmingly to win the SEC by the media, though much hinges on the NCAA's verdict of John Wall's elligibility. Wall, the nation's top recruit, could make an immediate impact for the Wildcats at point guard.

"We are very big, athletic and fast," Calipari said. "We don't shoot the ball well, and have a lot of room to grow."

That loss of shooting comes in the form of Jodie Meeks, who bolted to the NBA after leading the team—and the SEC—in scoring. His 23.7 points per game was over 33 percent of Kentucky's scoring last year and with his loss, the team loses more offensive production than any other team in the league.

Often joining the True Blue in top ten lists across the country are the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols looked to bring back every single player on its roster before highly talented forward Emmanuel Negedu went down recently to heart trouble. His future with the team looks dim, though the squad's outlook on this season remains steadfast.

Third-Team All-American Tyler Smith can quite literally do it all, and Kentucky's amount of talent may be matched, or even exceeded, by the team in orange. The Vols are looking to prove the nation wrong and dethrone the Wildcats.

"As far as our team’s chemistry, we are going to learn from last year to play together," Pearl stated.

Yet another national contender resides in Starkville, Mississippi. That town endured a wild off-season, as Fourth-Team All-American Jarvis Varnado—who should become the nation's leading shot-blocker of all time this season—chose to return to the team. Then, a couple of high-profile recruits with elligibility issues signed on.

Sidney, who most consider the most talented player in this year's class, hasn't received his elligibility yet, former Top Five recruit John Riek has, though he will sit out nine games. Riek is 7'2" with a much bigger wingspan and should immediately contribute.

The Bulldogs return every starter and lose a few back-ups, mostly to injury. This team is the prohibitive favorite to win a Western Division which it seemingly owns, and could make a run at the league title.

"It is the most experience I have had in a long time and we only have two seniors coming back," MSU coach Rick Stansbury expressed. "There is no question that we are better off at this point in the year than we were at this point last year."

Four other SEC teams have been ranked in the nation's Top 25 in various preseason selections this season.

Ole Miss has received some increased expectations for a few reasons. Several players, including Second-Team All-SEC point guard Chris Warren, return from season-ending injuries in 2007-08. Much-hyped sophomore Terrico White will look to continue his momentum from last season, as he was selected on the media's First-Team All-SEC list.

South Carolina returns a great deal of power from last year's SEC East co-champion team, including star point-guard and First-Team All-SEC selection Devan Downey.

Florida lost its heart and soul in Nick Calathes, but the amount of pure talent and depth on the team should lend itself to a competitive season.

The biggest darkhorse of the 2009-10 season, however, is Vanderbilt. The Commodores return nearly every player from last season and add five-star recruit John Jenkins. With perhaps the league's most physically talented player in Second-Team All-SEC choice A.J. Ogilvy and two players in Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley who compete with the conference's best at their respective positions, this team is set to compete for the overall SEC title.

No surprise, then, that the league coaches have high expectations for themselves and their competition.

"I am excited about where the league is," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "I think from a balanced stand point it is as strong as it has been in quite some time and our marquis players are back. The top of the league is going to be where I believe we are going to have three, four, five teams in the top 25 week in and week out. I think there is a buzz in the league and rightfully so."


Last Year : 18-14, 7-9 (Nationally: #95 )
Postseason : None
Returning : 69.67% of scoring (6th), 66.02% of rebounding (10th)

The Crimson Tide return a great deal of talent, and a solid recruiting class. The team does, however, lose a lot of offense which could hurt, considering it ranked near the bottom of the league in points scored a year ago. If Grant can find some reliable shooters to complement talented big-man JaMychal Green, they could challenge Ole Miss for second place in the Western Division and a post-season appearance.

Prediction : (18-12, 7-9), No Postseason


Last Year : 14-16, 2-14 (Nationally: #126 )
Postseason : None
Returning : 84.63% of scoring (4th), 77.66% of rebounding (5th)

The Razorbacks will struggle again this year due only to their severe lack of depth. Washington, Clarke and Fortson each are among the most talented at their respective positions, but there simply isn't much below them. Word is that Welsh is suspended indefintiely, and Sanchez is out indefinitely with foot issues. That leaves the team with four non-freshman players. The freshmen will need to step up in a big way, and expect at least Marshawn Powell too—he's already impressing the coaches—if the team is to improve upon their utter collapse last season.

Prediction : (15-16, 6-10), No Postseason


Last Year : 24-12, 10-6 (Nationally: #55 )
Postseason : NIT Quarterfinals
Returning : 61.60% of scoring (10th), 49.33% of rebounding (11th)

Lebo saved his job a year ago by making the NIT Quarterfinals. This season, he won't be so lucky. The Tigers lose three of the league's most talented players, including highly-underrated big-man Korvotney Barber, and bring in a sub-par recruiting class. Expect the War Eagle to retain its spot at the bottom of the SEC West and be looking for a new head coach next off-season.

Prediction : (13-18, 3-13), No Postseason


Last Year : 25-11, 9-7 (Nationally: #42 )
Postseason : NIT Quarterfinals
Returning : 63.63% of scoring (8th), 73.80% of rebounding (7th)

With the loss of Nick Calathes to the Greecian professional leagues, along with the graduation of Walter Hodge, a true team-leader and decision-maker needs to step up. Florida is always immensely talented, but Calathes was the heart and soul of this team and the Gators will miss him badly. If a player steps into that leadership role, Florida might be able to make a step up into the Big Dance.

Prediction : (20-10, 10-6), NCAA Tournament


Last Year : 12-20, 3-13 (Nationally: #200 )
Postseason : No Postseason
Returning : 62.21% of scoring (9th), 68.92% of rebounding (9th)

Losing two starters—including the squad's top scorer—is a hit for any basketball team. Moreso for one struggling like Georgia is. Former Nevada skipper Mark Fox inherits a bad situation in Athens with no immediate promise for improvement. This season is certainly one of rebuilding and restructuring, as anything but last place in the conference would be a miracle.

Prediction : (10-19, 3-13), No Postseason


Last Year : 22-14, 8-8 (Nationally: #52 )
Postseason : NIT Quarterfinals
Returning : 56.95% of scoring (11th), 75.76% of rebounding (6th)

Kentucky loses offensive juggernaut Jodie Meeks, and despite what the talking heads say, they will suffer because of it. The Blue bring in one of the greatest recruiting classes of all time, but none of those players are known for explosive offensive potential. The entire offense can't rest on the shoulders of the frontcourt, much less only All-SEC star Patrick Patterson. This team will struggle at times offensively and is far too imbalanced to warrant their sky-high expectations. An NCAA Tournament bid is probable, a Final Four run is not.

Prediction : (21-9, 10-6), NCAA Tournament


Last Year : 27-8, 13-3 (Nationally: #43 )
Postseason : NCAA Second Round
Returning : 41.61% of scoring (12th), 36.17% of rebounding (12th)

Trent Johnson has proven he can coach (no word yet on his teams' motivation, though). He will manage to upset some teams this season, but the Tigers lose six scholarship athletes and are going to be awfully young. This may be a reloading year for LSU, but don't expect it to last very long. Don't count me surprised if the Tigers manage to heavily overachieve and receive an invitation to the postseason.

Prediction : (13-14, 4-12), No Postseason


Last Year : 23-13, 9-7 (Nationally: #61 )
Postseason : NCAA First Round
Returning : 90.85% of scoring (3rd), 86.53% of rebounding (4th)

The Bulldogs caught on fire toward the end of last season, winning their last six games (including an SEC Tournament title) before bowing out in the NCAA Tournament to Washington. The SEC West mainstay returns nearly every player and adds at least one former five-star recruit and is immensely talented and deep. This team could make some serious noise in March.

Prediction : (24-6, 12-4), NCAA Tournament


Last Year : 16-15, 7-9 (Nationally: #97 )
Postseason : No Postseason
Returning : 65.93% of scoring (7th), 69.40% of rebounding (8th)

Andy Kennedy struggled with off-the-court issues last season and loses his top scorer, but return a talented core of players from injury. The Rebels join the Gators as one of the biggest question-marks in the league. If star point guard Chris Warren can return to form after a serious knee injury and the team can find enough front-court depth to suffice, it could challenge for an NCAA bid.

Prediction : (18-10, 8-8), NIT


Last Year : 21-10, 10-6 (Nationally: #68 )
Postseason : NIT First Round
Returning : 77.61% of scoring (5th), 87.94% of rebounding (3rd)

Darrin Horn underachieved last season in a weak SEC, despite a postseason bid and a SEC East co-title. With the sudden strengthening of the league, particularly the East, things just get harder from here. The Gamecocks don't have the talent or depth to keep up in the East, and could struggle this year. An NCAA Tournament bid isn't out of the question, but would be an impressive achievement.

Prediction : (16-12, 7-9), No Postseason


Last Year : 21-13, 10-6 (Nationally: #31 )
Postseason : NCAA First Round
Returning : 97.30% of scoring (1st), 94.50% of rebounding (1st)

The Volunteers look to be loaded for another chance at a Final Four run. There are, though, some weaknesses that became apparent last season. The team has little depth a the point-guard position, and struggles from outside the arc as well as on defense. That said, the Orange are one of the league's most talented and deepest teams. If Pearl can find some shooters and get his team to play hard on both ends of the court, this could be a National Title contender.

Prediction : (24-4, 13-3), NCAA Tournament


Last Year : 19-12, 8-8 (Nationally: #77 )
Postseason : No Postseason
Returning : 92.58% of scoring (2nd), 92.25% of rebounding (2nd)

If you're looking for an SEC dark-horse, look no further. The Commodores return every important piece of their squad, including outstandingly talented big-man A.J. Ogilvy. Added to the mix is five-star recruit John Jenkins, who will add some firepower to the team's offense. With this amount of talent and experience, expect the 'Dores to challenge for the SEC and push its way well into March.

Prediction : (22-6, 12-4), NCAA Tournament

Now, as for the conference predictions...


1. Tennessee - 24-4, 13-3

2. Vanderbilt - 22-6, 12-4

t3. Kentucky - 21-9, 10-6

t3. Florida - 20-10, 10-6

5. South Carolina - 16-12, 7-9

6. Georgia - 10-19, 3-13


1. Mississippi State - 24-6, 12-4

2. Ole Miss - 18-10, 8-8

3. Alabama - 18-12, 7-9

4. Arkansas - 15-16, 6-10

5. LSU - 13-14, 4-12

6. Auburn - 13-18, 3-13

And on to the 2009-10 SEC Pre-Season Awards...

SEC Pre-Season Awards

SEC Player of the Year: Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State)

While this may be an unpopular pick, no one in the conference alters the game as much as Varnado. His offense is underrated, as he shoots 54.9 percent from the floor as it is, and should only increase this season. His rebounding is nearly untouched in the league, and he should break the national career blocking record this season.

SEC Coach of the Year: Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt)

The Commodores enter the season with not nearly as much hype as they deserve. Expect them to be one of the toughest teams in the league and challenge for an Elite Eight spot when it's all said and done.

SEC Freshman of the Year: John Wall (Kentucky)

Assuming he becomes elligible to play, Wall should have an immediate impact for Kentucky. The Wildcats desperately need his decision-making and ball-handling to become competitive once again.

All-SEC First Team

Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State)
Patrick Patterson (Kentucky)
Tyler Smith (Tennessee)
A.J. Ogilvy (Vanderbilt)
Chris Warren (Ole Miss)

All-SEC Second-Team

Michael Washington (Arkansas)
Rotnei Clarke (Arkansas)
Tasmin Mitchell (LSU)
Wayne Chism (Tennessee)
Alex Tyus (Florida)

Non-Conference Viewing Guide

Arkansas vs. Louisville (Tue, Nov. 17)
Florida vs. Michigan St. (Fri, Nov. 27)
Vanderbilt vs. Missouri (Wed, Dec. 2)
Kentucky vs. North Carolina (Sat, Dec. 5)
South Carolina @ Clemson (Sun, Dec. 6)
Vanderbilt vs. Illinois (Tues, Dec. 8)
Kentucky vs. UConn (Wed, Dec. 9)
Florida vs. Syracuse (Thu, Dec. 10)
Mississippi St. vs. UCLA (Sat, Dec. 12)
Alabama vs. Purdue (Sat, Dec. 12)
Auburn @ Florida St. (Thu, Dec. 17)
LSU @ Washington St. (Tue, Dec. 22)
Ole Miss @ West Virginia (Wed, Dec. 23)
LSU @ Xavier (Tue, Dec. 29)
South Carolina @ Boston College (Wed, Dec. 30)
Tennessee @ Memphis (Thu, Dec. 31)
Georgia @ Missouri (Sat, Jan. 2)
South Carolina vs. Baylor (Sat, Jan. 2)
Kentucky vs. Louisville (Sat, Jan. 2)
Mississippi St. @ Western Kentucky (Mon, Jan. 4)
Arkansas vs. Texas (Tue, Jan. 5)
Tennessee vs. Kansas (Sun, Jan. 10)
Florida vs. Xavier (Sat, Feb. 13)


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