SEC East Overview: Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Vols On Top
A lot of people wrote off Florida after they won their second title this past April, forgetting that Billy Donovan hauled in the number one recruiting class and still has four solid sophomores from last year's team—not to mention Walter Hodge, who contributed to the success of the team over the last two years.
For some mysterious reason, Donovan's coaching ability seems to have been forgotten as well. While Florida's early schedule is certainly far too easy, the Gators—especially sophomore big man Mareese Speights and the highly touted freshmen class—look very good.
It will be interesting to see how Florida plays Ohio St. in their late December rematch. With so much youth, there are no safe predictions about this team save one: an Alex Tyus dunk is coming to a SporstCenter highlight near you.
Dismissing your returning leading scorer (Takais Brown) is never the way you want to start your season. In the long run, however, it might be better for Georgia's progression.
Dennis Felton has shown the ability to recruit, but what we don't know is if he can coach. Felton appears to be approaching the situation the right way—slowly but surely—but how long will Athens wait for Georgia to climb out of the cellar? Senior Sundiata Gaines should bring some consistency to the table, but it looks like the young Bulldogs will struggle to put up points once again this season.
Sure, Kentucky lost to Gardner Webb. But when's the last time a title—whether it be the SEC or National Championship—was won in November?
Billy Gillispie pulled in some nice freshmen, but the team is still full of Tubby Smith's guys—players who seem to have all the ability but for some reason can't quite seem to produce on a consistent basis. And let's be really honest here: Kentucky simply was not a good team last year.
Gillespie will do a great job of making this team better every day, but the lack of overall talent will limit how far the Wildcats can go. Regardless of how they look come March Madness, it's time Kentucky focuses on renewing their rivalry with Florida, which the Gators have dominated recently.
It's time for Dave Odom to live up to his reputation as the teacher that he earned at Wake Forest. After two back-to-back NIT championships, the Gamecocks struggled mightily last year. And with only one senior on a team with no winning background, competing for an SEC title seems like a long shot at best.
Devan Downey should put up big numbers and exciting plays, but there just doesn't seem to be enough talent around him. The Gamecocks have a decent supporting cast, but what team in the league doesn't?
Chris Lofton returns to the Volunteers—and that is bad news for the rest of the SEC.
Coach Bruce Pearl also has an extremely athletic frontcourt to go along with Lofton, as Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith are both long, rangy, athletic bodies who crash the boards, run and trap well, and block shots. Pearl has a deep bench and an arsenal of experienced players at his disposal. On paper, Tennessee is flat out loaded—with guard play, shooting, rebounding, and aggressive defense.
Kevin Stallings has changed the atmosphere in Nashville. Vandy is no longer the finesse, three point shooting team it was in the past.
The loss of Derrick Byars is huge, but the way Vanderbilt ended last season has to make the Commodore faithful optimistic about the future. Early on, Shan Foster has the look of an SEC player of the year candidate; if he can replace Byars' production, Vanderbilt might not miss a beat.
This team has that "it" factor we often hear about—they play hard, together, and smart.
Here is the way I see the East playing out:
1. Tennessee: They simply have too much talent and experience.
2. Florida: Despite their youth, Billy the Kid knows how to find ways to win.
3. Vanderbilt: A consistent team that will be on the brink of breakthrough all season.
4. Kentucky: The odd mix of Gillispie and Smith's players might be too much to overcome.
5. South Carolina: Can the Gamecocks get over the hump? Maybe next year.
6. Georgia: Another building block season for Dennis Felton.
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