So far into the SEC men's hoops season, it's pretty clear that Kentucky is the favorite to win the SEC regular season and tournament. After that, things get a bit more opaque. Several writers from SBNation SEC sites were gracious enough to offer their time and wisdom to breakdown the SEC teams so far. Representing the eastern division we have ChickenHoops from Garnet And Black Attack and Sam Snelling from Rock M Nation. Out of the western division we have GigThem08 from Good Bull Hunting. Enjoy the exegesis on SEC hoops!
We are several weeks into the non-conference season at this point. Which team or teams have surprised you so far with either their particularly strong or even poor play?
ChickenHoops (CH): I'm very surprised by Vanderbilt going out and getting a win over Purdue. I truly thought that the Commodores would be at the very bottom of the conference, but you look at their resume so far, and they look like same ol' Vanderbilt - not a NCAA threat, but not someone you want to see coming into the gym.
On the other side, I knew that Missouri could go a number of different ways this year, but I didn't think they'd be lose at home to UMKC bad. You expected a step back, but maybe not that big of one.
Sam Snelling (SS): I'd say Vanderbilt is the surprise "good" team. I'm not sure how good they are, but I'm on record as saying I expected their young guards to struggle more. Riley LaChance has been surprisingly good for them. And we all knew that Damian Jones was going to be a beast. They haven't played the toughest schedule, and haven't really blown anyone that good out, but they've got some quality wins, and I like them to be a lot tougher than I expected this year. The surprise bad team for me is my own, the Missouri Tigers. I didn't expect them to be very good mind you. I thought they'd really struggle early. But I didn't expect them to be as non-competitive as they've been with the power conference teams so far. I hope they can turn it around against Illinois and Oklahoma State.
GigThem08 (GT): LSU. Several early season victories (Gardner Webb, SHSU, Massachusets, even McNeese) could very likely turn into tournament squads, and an early season loss to Old Dominion looks more respectable every week. And that road win over WVU is going to look awfully nice when resume talk heats up. Also, a quick tip of the cap to Alabama. I really enjoyed watching them scare the life out of Wichita State. I wish they could have pulled it off, but it was nice to see an non-established SEC squad make a statement.
SEC women's hoops has teams ranked first (South Carolina), fourth (Texas A&M), eighth (UK), eleventh (UT), fifteenth (UGA), and twenty-first (MSU). Yet, UK is the only men's team ranked in the Top 25 for the SEC. What factors might explain the vast disparity between the overall quality within the conference?
CH: First, everyone is severely punishing Florida for close losses to good teams - they'll be back in the top 25 soon enough.
But right now the conference is in transition, and frankly, the men just face much stiffer competition. You can't just buy your way into the top 25, you're going to have to make strong hires and good evaluations and still hope things work out. It's not like the other conferences are laying down, as some do in non-revenue sports.
Still, once Frank Martin, Bruce Pearl, and the rest of the new coaches that really know their stuff can get everything together, I'd expect 3-4 SEC teams in the top 25. But probably not this year, unless Arkansas finally learns to win road games.
SS: I think with any SEC struggles you have to look at some of the struggles of the traditionally stronger programs like LSU and Arkansas. Add to that, and with the expansion a traditionally good Missouri team comes in and is pretty average at best. Compound that with the fact that there has been a lot of coaching turnover, and the interest has completely left the league outside of a few schools.
If you look at the top of the RPI, or KenPom, you'll see a lot of historically great coaches who have been at their schools a long time. The SEC lost most of it's establishment in a short time and that caused some programs to sink. I also tend to think that the SEC has really been hurt by players leaving school before they're ready. Looking at Missouri, if Phil Pressey stays (he wasn't drafted), they're better last year. They missed a true point guard. This year they're without Jordan Clarkson, who at least was drafted, but could benefit from the experience and scoring of Jabari Brown. It seems a long winded response, but it's a deep question.
I think they're heading back up though.
Here were the press' preseason projections. Does any of that stand out as particularly egregious at this point?
CH: A tie for Missouri at 7th and the Gamecocks at 12th, but probably Missouri. There's a terrible world where an injury or something ruins Carolina's season, and they lose some close games and come in 12th in the SEC. There is no world where this year's Missouri squad finishes higher than 10th.
SS: I wouldn't say egregious, but man has Jarvis Summers struggled. And it looks like a lot of people thought Auburn and Missouri weren't going to be terrible.
GT: Auburn. I, too, thought Pearl would be an instant-impact home run... but that has been far from the case. He'll turn it around eventually, but it's pretty jarring to see a Bruce Pearl-led team at the bottom of the conference in RPI.
If you're crafting an All-SEC team based on the season so far, which five players would you pick?
CH: Dorian Finney-Smith, Bobby Portis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Michael Frazier, Alex Caruso
SS: Damian Jones, Bobby Portis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Levi Randolph and Michael Frazier II
It's hard to deny how good Jones has been. WCS is the best player on Kentucky, Frazier has done just about everything for the Gators. Randolph is finally living up to his billing. And I think Bobby Portis is the best player in the league right now.
GT: F - Jarell Martin, LSU; F - Willie Cauley-Stein, UK; F - Bobby Portis, ARK; G - Levi Randolph, ALA; G - Aaron Harrison, UK
Which newcomer (freshman or transfer) has impressed you the most this season [if you name a UK player I'd also appreciate a second pick too]?
CH: Ricky Tarrant at Alabama. He didn't do too mcuh against Wichita State the other night, but they needed him to be an impact addition this season, and he's done that and then some. I'm not sure he can keep it up, but it's been the best avenue that Anthony Grant has to keeping his job.
SS: This is a tough question because I think that there are a lot of good guys who've started strong. I think it might be easy to go to Montaque Gill-Caesar, as a Mizzou follower. He's been very good most of the time. I mentioned Riley LaChance from Vandy, they've also got Wade Baldwin who's played well. Ricky Tarrant at Alabama, Keith Hornsby from LSU has been good. By the end of the season, we might be talking about the overall impact of Danuel House at A&M though.
GT: I'll go against the grain and grab a non-UK guy - Stefan Moody at Ole Miss. Filled an immediate need left by Marshall Henderson.
Tennessee, Auburn, and Missouri all have new coaches this year, and by some accounts, are also the bottom three teams in the SEC currently. Which coach of those three teams would you say is doing the best job?
CH: Well after last week, I'll go with Tyndall, who put together two nice wins against Kansas State and Butler in Knoxville. That said, the best job at this point is the guy who's bringing in the most talent for future years, because these are lost seasons. I don't pretend to be an expert on SEC basketball recruiting, but you're right that these are three of the worst teams in the league, and that no one should expect too much from any of them this season.
SS: Offseason I think Kim Anderson did the best job of cultivating talent and staff at Mizzou. In season Donnie Tyndall has kept that team playing hard despite some real off the court problems with the NCAA. It will be interesting how that progresses. I'd expect that Bruce Pearl will win in the end, as long as he stays at Auburn, he'll have that place rocking before too long.
GT: Donnie Tyndall at UT. Their losses have come against some quality competition, and I still wouldn't be surprised to see them finish in the top half of the SEC standings.
Which team do you currently project to finish second in the SEC, because I'm sure we're all assuming UK finishes first.
CH: Florida. You lose to four good teams - almost all of them close, and only one at home - and people act like it's the end of the world. The answer is Florida.
That said, third could become a bit more of a race, particularly if Arkansas continues to do that thing where they don't win on the road. Sure they knocked off an undermanned SMU squad in Dallas earlier this season, but losing at Clemson, in the same intimidating environment where Winthrop and Rutgers left with victories? Come on, Hogs.
I still think they're the choice there, but if not, Texas A&M seems to have figured out a semblance of an offense and South Carolina's put together a very good defense. I don't think either of those teams should overtake the Hogs, but if Arkansas can't sort out their road troubles, I'd look to College Station and Columbia for our third-place SEC team.
SS: A toss up for me between Arkansas and Florida. I think in the end the Gators will be there. They struggled early, but there were injuries, youth and a tough schedule that contributed to that.
GT: Whoever wins the LSU/Arkansas tilt to close the conference slate on March 7th.
How many SEC teams make it into The Big Dance and which ones are they?
CH: Three - Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas. Though seriously Arkansas, get it together. I know the #SECBasketballFever is contagious, but y'all got a real bad case (that said, they have nice out-of-conference wins, so 11-7 is probably good enough for them - just get two road wins and dominate in Fayetteville like you always do).
The big jump this year is that there are now a lot more deserving NIT teams. I think A&M, USC, UGA, and probably someone else could fill out the NIT field this year. It's not the kind of progres anyone wants, but it's progress of a sort.
SS: Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas are locks. LSU, A&M, Alabama all will be bubble teams. Maybe Georgia too. I think one of those teams gets in. Right now, I like Alabama.
GT: Unless we have a bubble team upset UK in the conference tournament, we could be staring down the barrel of a three-bid league. Which for a conference of this size and stature is absolutely pitiful. Teams: Arkansas, LSU, Kentucky