The College Basketball Notebook

December 31, 2010 7:31 AM

Stacking Up The SEC

Calipari.jpgIt's wall-to-wall sports on New Year's Eve, not just with the bowl games, but with college basketball. ESPN2 will have an all-day marathon that starts at noon ET and go until midnight. CBS will have coverage of Kentucky-Louisville (Noon ET) as a precursor to its telecast of the Notre Dame-Miami football game. Kentucky is one of three SEC contenders in display. Fans can also check out Tennessee and Florida. The Notebook will use today to check out the entire SEC and see where this proud football league stands in hoops.

Kentucky was in for a major rebuilding project, with John Calipari's focus on recruiting one-and-dones, but he's got two more to follow in the footsteps of John Wall and Demarcus Cousins. This year's freshman sensations are Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb in the backcourt and Terrence Jones as the power forward. This trio is good enough to make the Wildcats a threat to win any game. All three can score, Jones hits the boards and Knight distributes the ball. Where Calipari is getting key help is from senior center Josh Harrelson in the rebounding department and DeAndre Liggins who's chipping in 10 ppg. There's not a lot of depth here, but the 'Cats are coming together, with solid wins over Notre Dame and Washington on their early resume.

Florida has been one of the biggest disappointments of the early going. This was supposed to be the year Billy Donovan's program returned to real national prominence. Instead they've lost to Central Florida and Jacksonville. The problem is rebounding. Offensively they are well-balanced, but the frontcourt trio of Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus has to rebound better than what they have, or the Gators are going to be on the NCAA bubble again.

If Kentucky has followed a path of steady growth and Florida's been disappointing, then Tennessee can only qualify as a serious riddle. They started hot and won games against Villanova and Pitt, then turned around and lost three straight to Oakland, Charlotte and USC. They get their points from a good forward duo that's led up by Scotty Hopson and helped along by freshman Tobias Harris. 6'10" post man Brian Williams mans the glass, with help from Harris. They need some help in the backcourt and the bench is a work in progress, making the Vols the wild-card of the SEC race right now.

This group of three will likely produce the conference champion. The bottom of the league is positively awful. Auburn could well produce the BCS's best football team and its worst basketball team in the same year. LSU has as similar dichotomy. Mississippi State's lost to teams like Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State. South Carolina has a good point guard in 5'9" Bruce Ellington, but nothing beyond that. Any talk of challenging the Big Three will have to come from Vanderbilt or Georgia. The Commodores are getting great guard play from sophomore John Jenkins, with 18 ppg. The frontcourt is steady, with Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli, and sophomore Lance Goulborne coming off the bench. Where they need more offense is from is guard Brad Tinsley if they want to get into the league's elite. As it is, they're still an NCAA Tournament team. Georgia has outstanding forward Trey Thompkins, perhaps the best player in the conference, with a solid backcourt of Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie, the latter who both scores and crashes the boards. Sophomore Dustin Ware provides good relief in running the offense. The Bulldogs look like they'll be on the NCAA bubble, having already been competitive in losses to top-caliber teams like Notre Dame and Temple.

Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama are in a category of their own. They aren't championship contenders, they aren't bottom feeders and they aren't NCAA Tournament teams. But they're intriguing. Ole Miss is led by its dynamic little guard Chris Warren and just needs better rebounding and to make some noise. Alabama is built around solid forward JaMychal Green, with enough support to make a splash. It's losses to Seton Hall, St. Peter's and Providence, among others, that make one wonder if they'll translate that into wins. And Arkansas has a few pieces, but needs to get better play from Marshawn Powell, a talented 6'7" sophomore who's been a non-factor thus far.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball.  and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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