No. 19: The SEC IS Deeeeep
The Sears’ Trophy’s two year stay in the SEC might be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean that the conference is headed for much of a drop off – if any – this coming season. Top to bottom, the league is full of veteran talent and loaded with teams that could make Sweet 16 runs or better come March.
The head of the class this season is clearly Tennessee, a sure-fire preseason top-8 team which features the nation’s best shooter in All-American candidate Chris Lofton. Kentucky, however, isn’t very far behind the Vols. Billie Gillespie is a proven winner and he inherits a potent, experienced backcourt led by Joe Crawford. Florida lost everyone, but still has the coach and enough spare parts left to sneak back into the tournament.
Even the SEC West is looking up in the early going. Last season, only ridiculous at-large entrant Arkansas made it from the West division, but this year, several teams from that half of the league could find themselves dancing. The Razorbacks return almost their entire team for new head coach John Pelphrey and Mississippi State brings back a core that made the NIT semis a year ago. (Alabama was also deserving of some preseason pub until Ronald Steele was lost for the year.) As a whole, the league also has some possible tourney sleepers in Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Georgia.
What does all this depth and balance mean? It means that our Bold Prediction No. 19 is that the SEC will send six teams to this year’s NCAA tourney. Our way-too-early seedings for these teams? How about Tennessee a 2, Kentucky a 3, Arkansas a 5, Florida an 8, Mississippi State a 9, and Auburn an 11.