Thursday, March 10, 2011

Previewing the Madness: The SEC

Just like we all expected, the SEC West stunk this year while the SEC East can send five teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Florida pulled away from the SEC pack late in the season, as the team that lacked leadership and point guard play consistently won close game after close game. The Gators barely edged out Alabama for the outright SEC title. The Crimson Tide finished 12-4 in the SEC, but thanks to an absolutely atrocious performance in the non-conference portion of their schedule, 'Bama still has some work to do is they are going to go dancing.

After Florida, its tough to really decipher who is the second best team. Common sense says Kentucky, but the Wildcats needed to beat Tennessee on the road in the regular season's final game just to avoid a four-team tie at 9-7. Kentucky has been terrific at home, but inept on the road, and while the fact that a team with the talent that Kentucky has finished 10-6 in a weak SEC, they are not the most confounding SEC team.

Tennessee is. The Vols beat Villanova and Pitt early in the season, but then struggle to find any modicum of consistency the rest of the season. Georgia, like Alabama, needs to win a game or two to feel comfortable about their bubble standings. Vanderbilt is in the dance safely.

Where: Atlanta, GA

When: March 10th-13th

Final: March 13th, 1:00 pm, ESPN

Favorite: Florida Gators

It feels weird saying that Florida is the favorite to win anything, but this is a very good basketball team. Chandler Parsons, a versatile, 6'10" small forward, was named SEC player of the year as he really came on strong in conference play. Parsons creates matchup problems for opponents as he is able to put the ball on the floor, has three point range, but also is one of the best rebounders in the SEC. In the post, Vernon Macklin has become a fairly reliable back to the basket scorer, and with Erik Murphy and Alex Tyus joining him, the Gators have a solid trio. Erving Walker has come along as a point guard, improving his shot selection, but he is still more of a scoring guard than he is a natural point. The x-factor for this team is Kenny Boynton, who may be the streakiest shooter in the country. He has a knack for hitting big jumpers.

  • Other Contenders: Kentucky is the most talented team in the SEC. Terrence Jones was named the freshman of the year, but Brandon Knight may have been better than him down the stretch of the season. Those two are the best 1-2 scoring punch in the conference, and when Doron Lamb and Darius Miller are also hitting jumpers, this is a very dangerous basketball team. The key, however, may be the play of DeAndre Liggins, John Calipari's defensive stopper, and Josh Harrellson, the rebounder, bruiser, and enforcer in the paint.

    After those two, Vanderbilt probably has the best chance to win this tournament. John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor could both end up being first round picks when they eventually go to the NBA, and Fetsus Ezeli has developed into a very good post player.
Sleeper: Tennessee Volunteers

They fit the definition of a sleeper to a T. They are a talented group of players that have proven they can beat quality teams. They have just never been able to put it together, especially down the stretch of games. But, like I said, the Vols have talent. Scotty Hopson is as good of a scorer as there is in the country when he is aggressive attacking the rim. Tobias Harris has the skill set to be a lottery pick. The issue is at the point, where Melvin Goins is simply just not a very good offensive player.

  • Deeper Sleepers: I really like Alabama this season. Travis Releford has come along as a point guard, JaMychal Green is one of the best big men in the conference, and Tony Mitchell may be the most exciting player in the league to watch. Don't sleep on Georgia, either. Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie are both going to end up in the first round of the NBA Draft while Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware are capable back court options.
Players to Watch:
  • Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, Georgia: I am a big fan of both of these players. Thompkins is a terrific post player with a back to the basket game and range on his jumper while Leslie is one of the best slashers in the league and arguably the best dunker in the country.
  • Tony Mitchell, Alabama: Mitchell is simply one of the most entertaining players in the country to watch. He's athletic, he's aggressive going to the glass, and he finishes above the rim and in transition.
  • Chris Warren, Ole Miss: Warren is one of those guys that was never fortunate enough to play on a good team in college. He's a terrific scorer with range on his three that is good enough to win a game on his own.

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