Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: Tennessee to Take the SEC
SEC East Projected Order of Finish
The chance of building off of last year's incredible Cinderella run through the SEC Tournament and contending in the SEC is pretty low for the Bulldogs. The two most important pieces of Georgia's championship run, Sundiata Gaines and Bill Humphrey and their 27 ppg, are gone.
UGA returns a pretty solid frontcourt of Terrance Woodbury, Jeremy Price, and Albert Jackson but lacks depth and experience in the backcourt. Trey Thompkins is the third highest ranked freshman in the SEC and will provide some firepower at guard.
The Commodores are one year away from heading back to the NCAA Tournament after losing star Shan Foster and solid role players Alex Gordon and Ross Neitner. Coach Kevin Stallings brings in a stud recruiting class considered one of the best, if not the best, in school history.
Combine the raw talent of the newcomers with potential SEC Player of the Year A.J. Ogilvy, and the Commodores won't be a pushover. But for now, this team is too young to compete in an up and coming SEC.
4. South Carolina
New coach Darrin Horn always found ways to win at Western Kentucky. He inherits a team that returns every player but Dwayne Day, who averaged just five points per game. The Gamecocks also didn't bring in a single freshman for the upcoming season.
Another potential SEC Player of the Year, Devan Downey, will lead the Gamecocks back to respectability. The junior guard averaged 18.4 ppg and will team up with another playmaker, Zam Fredrick, who dropped 14.8 ppg. That duo gives USC the best starting backcourt in the SEC.
Gone are stars Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, but back is once again another candidate for SEC Player of the Year. Patrick Patterson is a monster under the basket and will give SEC foes fits if he can stay healthy. UK has several question marks which will determine whether they are a contender in the SEC or will be fighting to make it back to the SEC Tournament.
Jodie Meeks spent the majority of his sophomore season either on the bench or battling through injuries. Wildcat fans know how he talented he can be, but that's only if Meeks is healthy.
The other question mark belongs to Billy Gillispie's point guard. Two newcomers, JUCO transfer Kevin Galloway and freshman DeAndre Liggins, are both highly touted, but neither has played SEC ball before.
Billy Donovan is quickly rebuilding the Florida Gator program after losing most of his talent following his back-to-back National Titles. The Gators are poised to make a run for the SEC East Title with do-it-all point guard Nick Calathes running the show. The sophomore is a legitimate threat to record a triple-double after averaging 15.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 6.1 apg.
Donovan also brings in four top 65 recruits, headlined by big men Eloy Vargas from the Dominican Republic and Cameroon native Kenny Kadji.
One year after failing to win the SEC Tournament as the heavy favorite, the Volunteers will enter the 2009 tournament as favorites but won't be as heavily favored as last year. Tennessee lost Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith to graduation, and incumbent point guard Ramar Smith was kicked off the team.
The strength of Bruce Pearl's team will lie with its wings. Tyler Smith is one of the best wingers in the nation, and fantastic freshman Scotty Hopson will probably start the season as the two guard instead of his more natural position of three.
SEC West Projected Order of Finish
John Pelphrey's recruiting class is one of the best in the SEC and is the main reason Razorbacks fans can have a bit of hope for 2009. Courtney Fortson is one of the best incoming guards in the conference, and Rotnei Clark averaged 41 ppg during his senior year of prep school.
Without Patrick Beverley, Arkansas stands no chance of getting out of the SEC West basement.
5. Mississippi State
The nation's best shot blocker belongs to the SEC West's version of the Bulldogs. Jarvis Varnado rejected 157 shots last year at a clip of 4.6 blocks per game. Varnado lost a lot of his help when Charles Rhodes graduated and Jamont Gordon left for the pros.
Mississippi State's recruiting class isn't going blow anyone away, but freshman Dee Bost could immediately start as the Bulldogs' point guard.
Coach Jeff Lebo needs to take his team to at least the NIT to gain job security. The Tigers haven't performed well the last five years, not once reaching the NIT or NCAA Tournament. The Tigers had four players score at least 13 ppg last year and return two of those players.
Korvotney Barber (13.8 ppg) and Rasheem Barrett (13.6 ppg) will become one of the highest-scoring duos in the SEC. Lebo also has a pair of incoming sharpshooters in Frankie Sullivan and Tay Waller.
3. Ole Miss (Mississippi)
The Rebels return a trio of terrific guards but don't return a single impact player that stands taller than 6'5". So what did coach Adam Kennedy do? Bring in three players who are at least 6'7" and get back 6'9" Kevin Cantinol, who redshirted the 2008 season.
Ole Miss has hope that 6'9" Malcolm White, who originally was a top 100 recruit, will improve, step up, and play more than just 6.7 minutes per game.
The Rebels feature one of the SEC's best guards in sophomore Chris Warren (15.8 ppg). Coach Kennedy also has a pair of juniors in David Huertas and Eniel Polynice (both 10.7 ppg) who will help build great depth in the backcourt.
After two seasons of mediocrity, new coach Trent Johnson has the talent to take the Tigers back to the NCAA Tournament. Senior Marcus Thornton can get a little shot-happy, but the guard averaged almost 20 ppg in 2008.
Thornton will have help in returning center Chris Johnson and junior forward Tasmin Mitchell. The junior is an All-SEC-caliber talent, and if he can stay healthy after playing just three games last year, he will put LSU over the top and into the NCAA Tournament.
LSU isn't the only team in the SEC West that will get a huge boost from a player returning from injury. Alabama's Ronald Steele missed the entire 2008 with bad knees but is reportedly back healthy and ready to contribute for the Crimson Tide.
Steele is a potential All-Conference guard who will team up with two more players that could garner All-Conference honors. Guard Alonzo Gee averaged 14.5 ppg last year, and freshman forward JaMychal Green is the nation's best rebounding freshman.
Florida sophomore guard Nick Calathes
South Carolina junior guard Devan Downey
Vanderbilt sophomore center A.J. Ogilvy
Kentucky sophomore forward Patrick Patterson
Tennessee junior forward Tyler Smith
LSU senior forward Tasmin Mitchell
Alabama senior guard Alonzo Gee
LSU senior guard Marcus Thornton
Mississippi State junior forward Jarvis Varnado
Ole Miss sophomore guard Chris Warren
Player of the Year
Tyler Smith, Tennessee
Defensive Player of the Year
Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State
Freshman of the Year
Scotty Hopson, Tennessee
JaMychal Green, Alabama
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