Now that the 2007-08 college basketball season is days behind us, it's obviously high time to release predictions for next year's tournament. Regardless of how silly it is to try and predict next year's bracket in April, it should be a better Dance for the SEC in '09. This year, only Tennessee advanced to the Sweet 16, where they were schooled by a deeper, better Louisville team. Arkansas and Mississippi State advanced to the 2nd round, but were sacrificial lambs to 1-seeds.
According to Joe Lunardi, 6 teams will make the Tourney next season. He sees:
Mississippi State: 6-seed
Ole Miss: 8-seed
While I'm no Bracketologist, the only ones I would agree with are Florida as a 3 and Ole Miss as a 9. They both made it to the NIT semi-finals before bowing out and will look to build on that success. The big question mark for UF will be the inside play, but my feeling is that Speights will be back. With the talent in this year's draft, I don't think he'll be projected high enough to justify leaving early. Even if he does hire an agent, the Gators have enough talent everywhere else to be a real threat next year.
As for the Rebels, they've been a win or two away from a Dance bid in both years under Andy Kennedy. No question their success next year relies on the development - or recruitment - of some big bodies, but, like the Gators, have a young, immensely talented backcourt returning for next season. I think the Rebels break through next year, though it may very well be in the form of a dreaded 8/9 game.
As for the others, here's why I question the seedings (or even inclusion):
Mississippi State: Who knows how this team will look next year? All-SEC big man Charles Rhodes is gone for sure, as is PG Ben Hansbrough, who had some big scoring games for the Bulldogs this season. Most importantly though is the coming decision by Jamont Gordon - the best player in conference this past season - to either stay in Starkville for one more season or go pro. The recruiting class has taken a blow with previous MSU commitment Scotty Hopson signing with Tennessee. (as an aside, in the last 13 months, MSU has lost 3 players to transfer - the Delk twins and Hansbrough - and had Hopson renege on his commitment to them. Bulldog fans - what's going on there? Anything to be concerned about?)
Kentucky: Sure, Patrick Patterson will (by all accounts) be back and presumably better, but who else is going to score... or handle the ball for that matter. Gone are Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, who combined for more than 34ppg between the two of them). Gillespie is a good coach and the 'Cats have a good class coming in, but I think they're 2 years away before really being back. I think a 6-seed may be asking too much.
Tennessee: With all the success Bruce Pearl has had everywhere he's coached, what makes Lunardi think that UT will plummet down to a 9 seed next season? Even with losing JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton, the Vols are loaded with talent and are bringing in one of the nation's top recruiting classes. While I doubt the Vols are a 2-seed next year, I think a 3-5 seed is much more likely than a 9.
Alabama: I guess he's assuming that Richard Hendrix comes back. If he does, I could possibly see this happening, but they'll still have Mark Gottfried as a coach and they'll be pinning their hopes on Ronald Steele, who, when he was healthy a few years ago, was as explosive a PG as there was in conference. But it's been a while since he's played a college game, and he's even testing the draft waters, though don't look for that to come to fruition.
My Darkhorse: I wouldn't be shocked if LSU ended up dancing next season. Now that they've gotten rid of Brady, they have a chance to be competitive every game. Losing Randolph is a big blow obviously, but there's a wealth of talent that will be in place next season in Baton Rouge and new HC Trent Johnson seems to have a knack for getting the most out of his players.