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SCS.com Hoops Preview
2002-2003
SEC Preseason Special

Projected SEC Standings
EAST
1
Florida
12-4
2
Georgia
11-5
3
Kentucky
9-7
4
South Carolina
7-9
5
Tennessee
5-11
6
Vanderbilt
4-12


WEST
1
Mississippi State
12-4
2
Alabama
11-5
3
LSU
8-8
4
Arkansas
7-9
5
Mississippi
7-9
6
Auburn
3-13


Preseason All-SEC
FIRST TEAM
G
Brett Nelson
Florida
Sr
G
Jarvis Hayes
Georgia
Jr
F
Matt Bonner
Florida
Sr
F
Erwin Dudley
Alabama
Sr
F
Mario Austin
Mississippi State
Jr


SECOND TEAM
G
Derrick Zimmerman
Mississippi State
Sr
G
Ezra Williams
Georgia
Sr
F
Ronald Dupree
LSU
Sr
F
Justin Reed
Mississippi
Jr
F
Matt Freije
Vanderbilt
Jr


Ten More to Watch Out For
G
Maurice Williams
Alabama
G
Keith Bogans
Kentucky
G
Torris Bright
LSU
F
Ron Slay
Tennessee
G
Rashad Wright
Georgia
F
Rolando Howell
South Carolina
F
Marquis Daniels
Auburn
C
Tony Kitchings
South Carolina
G
Timmy Bowers
Mississippi State
G
Justin Hamilton
Florida


Team-by-Team Previews


”AlabamaALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE Alabama had an extremely successful season in 2001-2002. The Crimson Tide won 27 games overall while only losing 8. After winning the SEC West last year with a conference record of 12-4, Alabama came up short in the SEC Tournament Championship Game to Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide’s season went on to end in disappointment as ‘Bama went on the road to the NCAA Tournament but came up short in the second round of the Tournament and was sent home early. This season looks as if it should be another success for the Alabama hoops program. Last year’s SEC Player of the Year, Erwin Dudley, returns for the Tide as does PG Maurice Williams, just a sophomore. Along with Mississippi State, Alabama is one of the preseason favorites for the SEC West title. Before entering conference competition though, the Tide must take on Xavier, a consensus top 25 team, and Ohio State, one of the contenders for the Big Ten title. I think Alabama will pick up right where they left off last year: competing for the SEC West title and again advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

”ArkansasARKANSAS RAZORACKS The Arkansas Razorbacks had a disappointing 2001-2002 campaign. The Hogs won only six games in the SEC while losing ten. That record was good enough for fourth place in the SEC West but not for a postseason bid. The Hogs, following the SEC Tournament, finished the season with a losing record, 14-15 overall. Coach Nolan Richardson stepped down from his position, and Arkansas went after and hired Kent State coach Stan Heath. One of the keys to last year’s team, Janero Pargo, is now gone from the team. I think Arkansas will have a similar season in 2002-2003 as they did in the previous year. Though there doesn’t appear to be the usual talent in Fayetteville, I believe coach Stan Heath will begin the turn-around at Arkansas this year. The Hogs have several tough non-conference matchups to open the season: Tulsa, Illinois, Oklahoma State, and Memphis. A NCAA Tourney bid is probably not going to happen for the Hogs, but I expect them to finish above .500 overall and accept an NIT bid. With Heath’s coaching and Arkansas’s new recruits, I expect the Hogs to be back at the top of the SEC West in just a few seasons.

”AuburnAUBURN TIGERS The Auburn Tigers suffered through another tough season in ‘01-’02 as they won only 12 games overall while losing 16. A record of 4-12 in the SEC earned the Tigers last place in the SEC West and was the worst conference record of any SEC team. This year’s Tiger team hopes to get the ball rolling in the right direction before it costs coach Cliff Ellis his job. F Marquis Daniels may be the most promising player on the Tiger team; last year; Auburn played with many young players, which should give the War Eagle faithful something to look forward to. Auburn’s young talent will have to prove themselves early in the season for the team to have any chance to make some noise in the conference. A NCAA berth is near impossible, but a run at the NIT is not totally out of the question for Auburn. I expect the Tigers to struggle through another tough year in the SEC while letting their young talent develop a little more. The Tigers should spend March at home.

”FloridaFLORIDA GATORS The Gators are coming off another successful season in 2001-2002 as they went 10-6 in the SEC (tied for first in the SEC East) and went 22-9 overall. The Gators’ postseason success was non-existent, however, as UF went out in the SEC Tournament in the first round to Mississippi State and then did the same thing in the NCAA Tourney when they lost to Creighton. With returning stars like G Brett Nelson, F Matt Bonner, and G Justin Hamilton, I expect the Gators and coach Billy Donovan to continue to roll on the hoops court. The Gators should contend for the Eastern Division title and probably earn an NCAA Tournament berth. The first major test of the year for the Gators comes in an OOC game in mid-December against Maryland. The East is up-for-grabs between three teams: UF, UGA, and UKY. There is no reason to think the Gators won’t be right there at the top following the conference schedule, and I think they will slip by UGA to win the SEC East in 2002-2003.

”GeorgiaGEORGIA BULLDOGS The Georgia Bulldogs are coming off a very successful season in ‘01-’02. UGA tied for first place in the SEC Eastern Division with a 10-6 conference record and went 22-10 overall. The Bulldogs fell out of the SEC Tournament early last year but advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Their stay there too was short, as the Bulldogs were defeated by Southern Illinois in the second round of the Big Dance. With top performers like Jarvis Hayes, Ezra Williams, and Rashad Wright returning, along with Damien Wilkins, the Bulldogs appear to be ready to again right there at the top of the SEC East standings. Before taking on Florida, Kentucky, and the rest of the SEC, UGA has a couple of tough non-conference tests in November and December. The Dawgs take on Texas, a top ten team, in November and then host the Pittsburgh Panthers in late December. I expect Georgia to fight for the SEC East title right to the last weekend but come up just short of the Florida Gators. Their regular season performance should earn the Dawgs a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

”KentuckyKENTUCKY WILDCATS The Kentucky Wildcats had a slightly disappointing season in 2001-2002 as they Wildcats didn’t seem to have their usual killer instinct at times. The team had two different sides: the side that came with an overtime period of knocking off Duke early in the year, and the side that blew a 20+-point lead to Mississippi State and eventually lost to the Bulldogs in overtime. After a 22-10 regular season and a tie for first place in the SEC East with a 10-6 record, the ‘Cats advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet 16, which helped ease some of the tension surrounding the UK hoops program. G Keith Bogans is probably the biggest member of the returning players to Kentucky this season. He, along with the rest of the Wildcat team, will have to be ready to go early in the ‘02-’03 campaign as the action heats up for Kentucky before the SEC season gets underway. A home game with Michigan State in mid-December is followed up by a contest with Indiana, last year’s national runner-up, one week later. I expect Kentucky to contend for the SEC East title but probably finish a couple games behind Florida. Kentucky should have no problem advancing to the NCAA Tournament thanks to a projected .500+ SEC record.

”LSULSU TIGERS The Tigers have had several consecutive disappointing hoops seasons as of late. Last year, LSU finished tied for fourth place in the SEC West as they went 6-10 in the conference. The Tigers ended the regular season on a hot streak, finished 19-15 overall, and then went on to the SEC Tournament. There in Atlanta, the Tigers made a run at the conference championship but came up just short against Mississippi State in the semifinal round. A trip to the NIT followed, and the Tigers were able to advance to the second round, providing John Brady’s club some momentum and a reason to look forward to the 2002-2003 season. Senior F Ronald Dupree is one of the reasons Tiger fans can get excited about the season; he, along with G Torris Bright, are two of the top returning starters for LSU. The Tigers’ toughest pre-conference matchup is a game against Arizona, a contest slated for December 21 at the PMAC. There is no reason the Tigers shouldn’t be a competitor in the SEC this season. With Alabama and Mississippi State clearly being the top two West teams, I don’t see the Tigers winning the division. I do think that LSU will be a strong third place team, finish at or above .500 in the conference, and possibly, if not probably, go on to the Big Dance this year.

”MississippiMISSISSIPPI REBELS The Rebels again had trouble winning games away from home last season. That, combined with the fact that UM couldn’t seem to find a nice replacement for C Raheem Lockhart, left the Rebels in third place in the SEC West as they finished the conference schedule with a 9-7 record. The Rebels 20 wins was good enough to earn them a bid in the NCAA Tournament again last season. Mississippi was eliminated in the first round, however, by the UCLA Bruins. The brightest spot on the Rebel hoops squad is junior F Justin Reed, one of the top players in the SEC. Reed will have to lead the Rebels this year as they try to take a step up in the SEC standings. Mississippi’s non-conference schedule is fairly easy; the toughest game is a road contest at Memphis. Coach Rod Barnes is one of the better coaches in the SEC and will find a way for the Rebels to win games this year. However, with Alabama and Mississippi State appearing to be dominant in the West and LSU looking as if they’re ready to take a step up, I don’t see the Rebels finishing above .500 in league play. Mississippi will likely finish in fourth place in the SEC West and capture an NIT bid. I wouldn’t count out an NCAA bid for UM, but I don’t think the Rebs have the talent to compete with the stronger teams in the SEC this year.

”MississippiMISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS Mississippi State had their best season since their run to the Final Four in 1996 last year. The Bulldogs finished in second place in the SEC West with a 10-6 record and moved onto the SEC Tournament. There in Atlanta, the Bulldogs capped off a great weekend with a victory over SEC West rival Alabama on Sunday to win the SEC Tournament Championship. MSU then advanced to the NCAA Tournament with a #3 seed and won their first round contest before dropping a game to Texas in the second round. The Bulldogs have several promising stars returning this year, including F/C Mario Austin, an All-SEC play, G Derrick Zimmerman, and G Timmy Bowers. Mississippi State’s first tough contests of the season come in December when the Bulldogs take on Xavier in New York on December 14 and then travel to New Orleans where they’ll take on Oklahoma. MSU’s biggest competitor in the SEC West appears to be Alabama. The Bulldogs, after losing to ‘Bama in Tuscaloosa early last year, came back to defeat the Tide in Starkville and in Atlanta later in the season. With the two schools being less than 90 miles apart, this should be a fierce battle right down to the end of the conference schedule, with MSU, in my opinion, coming out just ahead of the Tide.

”SouthSOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS After having a slow start to the ‘01-’02 season, the Gamecock hoops team got their act together late in the season, which gives this team some hope for an even better season in 2002-2003. South Carolina finished tied for fifth in the SEC East with a 6-10 record last year and went 22-15 overall. USC advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament before being eliminated by Alabama. The Gamecocks missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid and moved on to the NIT where they advanced all the way to the championship game in Madison Square Garden. The Gamecocks came up just short in the title game but have a lot to look forward to with players like F Rolando Howell, G Chuck Eidson, and C Tony Kitchings returning to the team this season. Before the conference schedule begins, USC has to take on Temple and NC State, both teams expected to heavily contend for their conference titles. The SEC schedule will be tough, as usual, but I expect the Gamecocks to pick up maybe one more win in the SEC than last year’s team. This will definitely leave them short of the East winner, but it will give them an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament.

”TennesseeTENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS The Tennessee Volunteers had a disappointing season in 2001-2002 as they went only 7-9 in SEC play, good enough for only a fourth place finish in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division. After dropping out of the SEC Tournament early, the Vols were not selected for postseason play and finished the season with a sub-.500 15-16 record. This year’s team returns all-SEC candidate F Ron Slay, one of the more exciting and antimated players in the conference. Tennessee’s non-conference schedule has only one tough contest, a matchup with New Mexico out of the Mountain West Conference. The Volunteers should only improve under coach Buzz Peterson, but with the strenghth of the SEC East this season, it will be hard for the Vols to make a surge to the top portion of the conference. UT was set back early in the season last year due to a slow non-conference start and some early games they lost in the final seconds. If their luck can change some, the Volunteers can make a run at a .500 conference record and the NIT. I see UT finishing at or just below their conference mark of last season and missing out on any postseason play in 2002-2003.

”VanderbiltVANDERBILT COMMODORES The Vanderbilt Commodores struggled through another SEC basketball season in 2001-2002 and the ‘Dores won only 6 conference games while losing ten. That record was good enough to tie for fifth place in the Eastern Division. Vandy finished a .500+ 17-15 overall after taking an early exit in the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores were chosen to participate in the NIT but lost in the first round and were eliminated. The brightest returning star for Vanderbilt is junior F Matt Freije. An all-SEC candidate, Freije is probably the best player on the Commodore team and one of the better players in the conference. Vanderbilt has a couple of pre-conference tests including games with Indiana, last year’s national title runner-up, and Notre Dame, a team that could make some noise this season. With the SEC East being as strong as it is with top teams like Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky, I don’t see the Commodores challenging for the Eastern Division championship. Improving upon last year’s conference record is possible, but I don’t think it will happen for the ‘Dores. An NIT bid is possible, but it would take a near-miracle for Vanderbilt to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Team-by-Team Probabilities


On a scale of 1 - 10 (worst to best), this is the chance I think each SEC team has of winning its respective division (SEC), advancing to the NIT (NIT), and making a trip to the NCAA Tournament (NCAA).

Team
SEC
NIT
NCAA
Alabama
8
9
7
Arkansas
4
6
4
Auburn
1
2
1
Florida
7
9
6
Georgia
6
9
6
Kentucky
6
9
7
LSU
5
7
5
Mississippi
4
7
5
Mississippi State
8
9
7
South Carolina
4
5
4
Tennessee
2
3
2
Vanderbilt
2
3
2


Final SEC Thoughts


NCAA Tournament Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU
NIT Tournament South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas
Left at Home Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn


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