*LSU will take a little step back after its conference title run last year, as Marcus Thornton is gone. But the return Tasmin Mitchell up front and Bo Spencer in the backcourt give them plenty to compete with.
*South Carolina won 21 games last year and was in the NIT. The Big Dance is in their future this time around. Explosive scorer, the little Devan Downey is back and he’s supported by an inside-out threat in Dominique Archie, plus a solid big man in Mike Holmes.
*I probably should have given Tennessee a little more attention in the national review. Bruce Pearl’s got a good program going here and he’s got everybody back. The Vols will be ready to give Calipari and Kentucky all they can handle.
*Alabama looks tough and ready to give LSU all they can handle (The East-West splits in football aren’t formalized in hoops, but the schedule is still based on them). Mikhail Torrance, JaMychal Green and Justin Knox give the Tide double-digit scorers back at each area on the floor, for a team that won 18 games in 2009.
*Vanderbilt also has a veteran team that won games in 2009, but not enough to reach the tournament. This overachieving program should return to the Dance this year as a darkhorse in what is going to be a very good league.
*Ole Miss sits right on the SEC bubble. They were 16-15 last year and lose leading scorer David Huertas. But they’ve got a great backcourt with Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice.
*Mississippi State and Auburn were pretty good in league play last year, but the losses are too heavy this time around. Alabama and Arkansas have possibilities, but in a deep and balanced conference, I have to see them do something in November and December first.
Games to watch in November start with LSU in the preseason NIT. If the Tigers can get to New York, they could play Duke or UConn in a good early test. Vanderbilt is out in Maui in the early part of Thanksgiving week, while ‘Bama is in Orlando for the Old Spice tourney to end the holiday week.