SEC Primer (cont.)
5. Georgia (East: 4)
In a league loaded with elite programs and precocious talents, it says a great deal that the preseason SEC Player of the Year is on Georgia, but that's how good Trey Thompkins was last season. The league's leading returning scorer and rebounder pairs with guard Travis Leslie to give the Bulldogs an extremely potent 1-2 punch. Throw in explosive Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson and Georgia's Mr. Basketball Marcus Thornton, and head coach Mark Fox quickly (and somewhat quietly) has crafted a team that could make the NCAAs.
6. Vanderbilt (East: 5)
If this is the fifth-best team in the SEC East, that's a brutal division. With jack-of-all-trades wing Jeffery Taylor, sweet-shooting guard John Jenkins, pure point guard Brad Tinsley and exciting freshmen like guard Kyle Fuller and forward Rod Odom, it's staggering that the 'Dores could be picked this low. Coach Kevin Stallings, who annually does a fantastic job in Nashville, will probably miss guard Jermaine Beal and Aussie big man A.J. Ogilvy -- for a little while, anyway. Come league season, though, the 'Dores could be superior to multiple teams listed above.
7. Alabama (West: 2)
Some team is going to surprise in the fairly wide-open West. Could it be the Tide? Start with standout forward JaMychal Green, the team's leading returning scorer (14.1 ppg) and rebounder (7.2 rpg). Tony Mitchell should have a strong sophomore season, and Senario Hillman provides some defensive bite on the perimeter. Green used almost 30 percent of Alabama's possessions last season and now that highly efficient scorer (and fellow high-usage guy) Mikhail Torrance has moved on, someone is going to need to really step up and provide primary scoring to support Green.
8. Arkansas (West: 3)
The Razorbacks have elite three-point threat Rotnei Clarke in the backcourt and rebounding powerhouse Marshawn Powell up front, but they will have to fill around them with mediocre returnees and/or new faces. The loss of Courtney Fortson seems like a mixed blessing -- while he had the ability to put points on the board, his 14-game suspension last season was a huge distraction and his constant turnover issues really hurt the team. The tussle between the Tide, Hogs and Rebels (below) could go any which way, but the second-place team in this division still probably has a pretty modest shot at making the dance.
9. Mississippi (West: 4)
In a land of flux, it's never a bad thing to have the best player on the floor many nights, and Ole Miss has that with standout guard Chris Warren. Beyond that, the Rebels will need someone to step up. Losing Terrico White's 15 points a game was somewhat expected (he left early for the NBA draft), but the transfers of Murphy Holloway (South Carolina) and Eniel Polynice (Seton Hall) really thin out the depth behind Warren. Zach Graham will have to step up and then the Rebels will need to find additional pop from forward Terrance Henry, guard Nick Williams and some freshmen, notably guard Dundrecous Nelson and big man Demarco Cox.
10. South Carolina (East: 6)
This is a particularly bad year to be the worst team in the East Division. The Gamecocks are looking at 10 extremely formidable league games before even accounting for road trips to Mississippi State and Alabama. That doesn't mean South Carolina will lack talent, even after the departure of do-everything guard Devan Downey. It will just be really young, as one of the best incoming classes in program history will get a baptism by fire. Things could start in the backcourt with newcomers Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith.
11. LSU (West: 5)
Losing Tasmin Mitchell's 17 points and 10 rebounds per game definitely hurts. Losing guard Bo Spencer to academic issues may end up being addition by subtraction for the rebuilding Tigers. Spencer was one of three players in the nation last season to shoot under 30 percent from the arc while taking over 200 threes (Florida's Kenny Boynton and Hofstra's Cornelius Vines were the others). Now those shots will be spread out to more efficient scorers like forward Storm Warren and can be used to blood some of the solid incoming freshmen frontcourt members. LSU will be really young, but could be a lot better come league play.
12. Auburn (West: 6)
In time, new coach Tony Barbee will infuse some of his Memphis/UTEP magic, but it won't be this season, as the Tigers are really young and lacking in SEC-caliber talent, especially after a summer knee injury may cost Frankie Sullivan this season. Sullivan was the only contributing returnee. For now, the opening of the beautiful new Auburn Arena will have to be the highlight. Tigers fans will likely spend the winter hoping freshman forward Josh Langford develops and rooting for diminutive walk-on point guard Josh Wallace.
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