It’s the latter fact that’s most critical because the SEC is filled with teams that look to have all the ingredients for a good year, but this league has stumbled badly throughout December. Let’s start with Florida. In spite of going to the NIT two straight years, this is still a coach in Billy Donovan who has won two national championships in recent years. The Gators have all five starters in double figures and a nice win over Michigan State. But an understandable loss to Syracuse triggered a bump in the road, followed immediately by losses to Richmond and South Alabama. Suddenly, Sunday’s trip to N.C. State, the last before SEC play begins, is critical to Donovan’s club.
There are several other teams that have balanced lineups that should be able to do damage, but haven’t translated it to the floor…
*South Carolina’s Devan Downey is perhaps the best offensive guard in the conference, and backed up by Mike Holmes and Dominque Archie up front. His team has lost to Miami, Clemson and Boston College, none of whom are on anyone’s radar in the ACC.
*LSU’s forward combo of Tasmin Mitchell and Storm Warren can match up with anybody, and Bo Spencer is at guard. But the Tigers haven’t matched up with Arizona State, Washington or Xavier, in addition to UConn.
*Nowhere is the gap in potential wider than with Arkansas and Auburn. Each has two quality scorers in the backcourt and two up front. The Hogs are on a four-game losing streak that includes Morgan State and East Tennessee State. The Tigers’ litany of defeat includes Central Florida, Missouri State, Troy and Sam Houston State.
Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt don’t seem to have the depth of talent to make a serious run. But in a league this inconsistent, Bruce Pearl and Kevin Stallings have to be given a chance to put their teams into the NCAA Tournament.
The likely challengers to Kentucky would come from the league’s far western border. Ole Miss has shown more consistency, their only losses being to Big East powers Villanova and West Virginia, while beating Kansas State and UTEP. The Rebels have a prolific backcourt, where Chris Warren and Terrico White each average 17ppg, and two other guards in double-digits. Ole Miss will be at or near the top of this conference all year long, and if they get some rebounding help for Murphy Holloway, they could overtake Kentucky. Mississippi State has a similar profile, with a strong three-guard set and one good interior player, double-double man Jarvis Varnado, but they have not yet been seriously tested.
On New Year’s Day, no one in the SEC’s going to be thinking anything but football. But there are a more than a few basketball coaches wondering if they can take potential and turn it into performance.