While no one will ever mistake the SEC as a basketball powerhouse, there are a few schools besides the University of Kentucky that can play with anyone in the country.
When you combine that with the fact that UK is struggling quite a bit this season, it might be tempting to predict another team as the 2012-2013 SEC champion. After all, even during the Wildcats' championship run last season, they still lost the SEC title to Vanderbilt.
But with all of that taken into account, Kentucky should still be considered the easy SEC favorite.
In the former SEC East, UK is the best team despite some stiff competition from Florida (8-1) and SEC newcomer Missouri (9-1). But while the No. 12 Tigers' success is still in doubt due to a very light schedule, the same cannot be said for the Gators.
Florida, who is currently ranked No. 9 in the nation, is playing some great basketball right now and is only a heartbreaking 1 point loss to No. 4 Arizona from being undefeated (which was a game they pretty much gave away at the end). Quality wins against Marquette and Wisconsin, and a thorough dismantling of their instate rival FSU, also prove that this team belongs in the national title discussion.
But by the time these teams play each other on February 12, the young Wildcats (who now finally have Ryan Harrow back and running the point) will look like a completely different team...and one that, just like in years past and ever since Calipari took over, will still always beat the Gators.
Other than that, the now non-existent SEC East is of little to no concern. Even the current SEC champion, Vanderbilt, is struggling mightily right now at 5-4. The South Carolina Gamecocks have the same record as the Wildcats (7-3), but against very weak competition...which actually can also be said for UK. But to anyone that has watched both teams play, it's very apparent the talent difference is largely in Kentucky's favor.
The former SEC West, however, actually offers quite a bit more of a challenge to Kentucky taking back the Southeastern Conference crown. Ironically, the scarcity of teams in the SEC West that got NCAA tournament bids was a big part of last year's decision to scrap the SEC East and West format all together (via SportingNews.com).
Despite not having a wealth of talent, the Ole Miss Rebels (8-1) seem to be getting better every game. SEC newcomer Texas A&M (8-2) is off to a fast start while Alabama (7-3), despite underachieving so far this season (considering its talent level), still looks to be a quality NCAA tournament team.
Even traditional SEC doormat LSU (7-1) is doing well so far, though the beginning of conference play next month may bring the Tigers back to reality.
None of these teams besides Florida, however, have the talent or size to match up with Kentucky. As Ryan Harrow begins to settle in at point guard, Archie Goodwin turns his attention to scoring at shooting guard and Alex Poythress starts to utilize his size and speed to create the worst type of mismatches imaginable, the Wildcats should have a great stretch of conference play followed by an SEC championship in March.
A repeat as national champions, however, is another issue all together.
All stats via ESPN.com
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