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November 9, 2005 Hoops Preview '05 Home

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PAC 10 | SEC


LEAGUE OVERVIEW This season's Pac-10 race is going to be wide open at the top, with several teams in contention for the title. However, the leader at this point has to be the Stanford Cardinal. Going into last season, Stanford was not expected to have much success after they lost their coach and several key players. However, a six-game winning streak mid-season put people on notice that Stanford was a team to be reckoned with. One of the best trios in the country returns to lead the Cardinal. Point guard Chris Hernandez is a top player, and is possibly the most valuable player on the West Coast. His importance to his team does not just show up in the box score. He is an excellent distributor, and is a very clutch scorer. Hernandez is a solid defender, and shoots over 40 percent from behind the arc. Wing Dan Grunfeld tore his ACL last season and missed the final nine games of the season. He should be healthy and ready to go this year, though. Grunfeld is an excellent shooter, from both long-range and mid-range. He is just a natural scorer that knows where to go in order to put himself in a position to get points. With those two running things on the perimeter, Matt Haryasz owns the paint down low. He is a double-double machine, and could improve his numbers this season. Haryasz is also an underrated defender and passer. With those three set in stone, two starting spots are up for grabs. On the perimeter, Tim Morris, Jason Haas, and Fred Washington figure to see time. Morris will likely start. He wasn't eligible for the last 19 games of the season because of academics, but he is an explosive athlete that can score. Haas provides a solid backup for Hernandez. Washington is very physical and is a tremendous rebounder for his size. Inside, Peter Prowitt figures to get the starting nod. He needs to step up his production to take some of the pressure off of Haryasz. Taj Finger is a versatile forward that will see extensive minutes in the paint. With the Big Three leading the way, Stanford should win the Pac-10 and will be a darkhorse Final Four team come March.

The Arizona Wildcats should have been a Final Four team a season ago, and possibly a National Title Game finalist. They blew a 15-point lead with four minutes left against eventual National Runner-up Illinois. From that team, they lose their two best players, guard Salim Stoudamaire, the best shooter and clutch scorer in the country, and center Channing Frye, a lottery pick in the past NBA Draft. Coach Lute Olson isn't worried, though. He is changing his offense to a one-in, four-out set-up, with one post player, and essentially four perimeter players. That plays in perfectly to the personnel that the Wildcats have this season. Hassan Adams will lead the way on the perimeter. He was the third option last season, but is expected to have a huge year as the go-to-guy. He is extremely athletic and can do everything on the court. Adams is a very good defender and rebounder for his size. Mustafa Shakur returns for his third season as the point guard. He has been somewhat of a disappointment in some people's eyes, not living up to the hype that he came into school with. Still, he is a very good point guard who can penetrate and distibutor. Shakur is also an excellent defender and a capable three-point shooter. The third returning starter is forward Ivan Radenovic. He is the most underrated player in the conference, as well as one of the most versatile. He is a solid passer and can also hit the open jump shot. Radenovic is capable of playing the high post well and also getting points down low. Replacing Channing Frye as the low post man will be Kirk Walters, Isiah Fox, and Mohamed Tangara. Walters is the likely starter. He is a very good shot blocker and has the potential to be a decent scorer and rebounder. Fox is a strong inside player that won't be pushed around. Tangara is going to contribute as an excellent rebounder and defender. Replacing Stoudamaire will fall to two wings that have experience and plenty of potential. Chris Rodgers has the ability to be a very good scorer, as he already is the team's best on-the-ball defender. Jawann McClellan might have the most NBA potential of any Arizona player, according to NBA scouts. He is very athletic and can do nearly everything on the court, including shoot the jumper well. He is suspended until mid-December for academics, though. More depth on the perimeter will come from freshmen Marcus Williams and JP Prince. Williams is an excellent shooter and a very good athlete. He has been impressive in practice and could push for serious minutes. Prince is a 6-7 point guard than can pass the ball well. Arizona has a lot of talent but must replace their two leaders. With plenty of options inside and out, the Wildcats will have an excellent season.

This was supposed to be the year that everything came together for UCLA. However, an NCAA berth came earlier than expected. The Bruins, with three freshman starters, finished third in the Pac-10 and was good enough to earn an at-large berth. They could be even better this season. Those three freshman starters on the perimeter are now sophomores and a year older and a year more experienced. That bodes well for the Bruins. Jordan Farmar is one of the best point guards in the West, and potentially the nation. He is a very good scorer and an excellent passer that can carry the Bruins. He needs to cut down on his turnovers, though. Arron Afflalo is overshadowed by Farmar and is underrated across the country. He is a near-39 percent shooter from deep, and is one of the better defenders in the Pac-10. Josh Shipp contributed in many categories last season as a freshman starter. He played solid defense, and provided solid production in the scoring and rebounding categories. With all of the perimeter talent, Cedric Bozeman, who was out last season with an injury, might move to forward. Bozeman led the Pac-10 in assists two seasons ago, but won't replace Farmar anytime soon. He would give the Bruins athleticism and a tough matchup in the frontcourt. The post spots are the question marks for UCLA. 7-footers Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins split time last season at center, and could do the same this year. They also might start beside each other. Fey is a good scorer and rebounder, but could improve those numbers. Hollins is a good shot blocker that is another big body down low. Freshman Alfred Aboya and Ryan Wright are expected to see minutes inside for UCLA, while returnee Lorenzo Mata is a good rebounder who will play. UCLA has an excellent perimeter group with no proven post scorers. If they can get consistent production from their big guys, the Bruins will be tough to beat.

The Washington Huskies of last season essentially turned the program around. Two years removed from a string of 10 and 11 win-seasons, they won the Pac-10 and received a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, this year's version is not going to be as good. They lost three starters, including first-round pick Nate Robinson. They will still be competitive, though. Brandon Roy could develop into one of the best players in the country as he is given the role of go-to-guy. He is an excellent defender and a very good rebounder for a guard. His scoring average should jump by a few points with more minutes. Joining him in the backcourt is Florida transfer Ryan Appleby. He will run the point for the Huskies, and is an excellent shooter. Wing Joel Smith will provide depth. The frontcourt is deep and talented. Bobby Jones is one of the most versatile players in the country, and can guard anyone on the court, one through five. In addition, he can score and rebound well. He shot over 50 percent from beyond the arc. Jamaal Williams is a 6-5 forward that can score inside and out. He came off the bench last season, but will start this year and should have an all-conference-type year. Mike Jensen is a returning starter at forward. He is experienced and is a good shooter for a big man. Freshman Jon Brockman could have one of the biggest impacts of any freshman in the country for the Huskies. He will have an immediate difference on this team. The Huskies will take a slight fall from last season's team, but will still be in the hunt for a Pac-10 title, especially if Appleby steps in at the point.

California finished in eighth place in the conference last season, and didn't get any program-changing recruits. Why the optimism? Two words: Leon Powe. The potential All-American missed all of last season with an injury, but is back this year. He can carry the Bears. Powe is a double-double threat everytime he steps on the court, and could be the conference's best player by the end of the season. Teaming with him on the inside is Rod Benson, who had a big year last season with Powe out. He showed that he can be a go-to-guy down low who can score and rebound. With Powe back, Benson's numbers could go down. The last frontcourt starting job is up for grabs. Freshman Jordan Wilkes and 6-10 sophomore Devon Hardin are both post players who will see minutes inside, but might not start because of the presence of Powe and Benson. Wilkes is going to be an impact newcomer, while Hardin is a good rebounder and shot blocker. He is also a decent scorer. Forward Eric Verneisel is one of the team's best long-range shooters. The perimeter is also loaded. Guard Richard Midgley will once again be the leader in the backcourt. He is a very good all-around player that can score, distribute the ball, and play defense. On the wing next to Midgley will likely be Kansas transfer Omar Wilkes. Wilkes is a good shooter and can also drive past defenders to the basket. Point guard Ayinde Ubaka will run the team from the top. He is quick and has the potential to be a very good scorer and penetrator. Part-time starter Martin Smith is also back. He will provide depth at the point. The Bears have the personnel to make some noise on the West Coast, and should beat some quality teams with Powe back in the mix.

The Ducks looked to be on the path to an NCAA berth last season at 9-1 before falling off the map. They went 3-10 the rest of the way. With another year of experience, the young Ducks should be able to handle the rigors of an entire season, and will have the stamina to stay on the bubble down the stretch. One of the best perimeters in the country returns for them. Aaron Brooks is an underrated point guard that is extremely quick. He is a very good shooter and passer that can score very well. Malik Hairson should live up to his potential this season. He can do everything on the court, and showed flashes of that last season. Bryce Taylor is an excellent shooter that slowed down late in the season. If these three contribute night in, night out, the Ducks will be a tough out everytime they take the floor. There is depth on the perimeter as well. Chamberlain Oguchi is a good scorer on the wing; Brandon Lincoln provides a backup to Brooks at the point; and Jordan Kent is a multi-talented bench player. The only question mark is the frontcourt, but it is a big one. Ray Schafer and Maarty Leunen are decent options in the low post, but neither stands out down low. Schafer is a solid shot blocker who should improve his numbers with increased minutes, while Leunen is a potentially very good power forward that can rebound well and score inside and out. Ivan Johnson could solve their problems if he makes the impact that is expected of him. The JC transfer should make an immediate difference inside. Since the backcourt is loaded, the frontcourt is what will hold them back if they don't make the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks will be a bubble team right until the end, but unless their frontcourt steps up their production, it will be the Field of 40, not 65, for Oregon.

The Oregon State Beavers were one of the more interesting cases of last year's bubble teams. They finished fifth in the Pac-10 and had a few quality wins. However, they went 0-9 on the road in the conference. That is not the recipe for an NCAA berth. They do lose all-conference forward David Lucas, but if they turn around their performance on the road, they could make some noise on the West Coast again. Nick DeWitz is one of the best unknown forwards in the country. He is extremely versatile and can do everything on both sides of the ball. He hit over 50 percent of three-pointers, and filled the stat sheet every night out. He gathers blocks and steals, and is an excellent scorer and a solid rebounder. Joining him in the frontcourt is center Kyle Jeffers. He was a part-time starters last season, but did not produce much. He needs to improve his numbers. 6-10 Sasa Cuic has the potential to form a very potent forward combo with DeWitz. He has shown he can score well, but he could have a break-out season up front. Marcel Jones provides depth at forward. On the perimeter, two starters return. Lamar Hurd is a very good defender who is not much of an offensive force. Chris Stephens is a good shooter that is a solid wing option for points. Jason Fontenet could get the starting job at the point due to his quickness and scoring abilities. The personnel is there for a postseason berth, but the Beavers' performance on the road will dictate which tournament.

The Southern Cal Trojans have steadily gone down the ladder after a string of 20-win seasons four years ago. They should bounce back to a respectable record this season. USC has a very good perimeter trio that carries them offensively. Gabe Pruitt is one of the best point guards in the conference, and one of the most underrated in the country. He has good size for a point man, and can shoot it very well from distance. Pruitt is also a solid defender and a good defender with the ability to finish in the lane. Wing Nick Young is a very good scorer who could develop into an extremely solid all-around player. Lodrick Stewart is very athletic who can shoot the ball well from deep. He is also a tough defender. Dwayne Shackleford will produce solid numbers off the bench, providing quality depth. JC transfer Shaun Davis is very quick and is a good scorer who will see minutes at the point. The frontcourt will be made up of newcomers. JC transfer Abdoulaye Ndiaye will start immediately. He is a very good defender and rebounder who will be the main low-post option on offense. Freshman Keith Wilkinson is the leading candidate at the other forward spot, although fellow freshman Jeremy Barr and RouSean Cromwell will see minutes. The perimeter is one of the best on the West Coast, but their frontcourt is a mess. They have no proven players in the paint. If one or two players emerge, the Trojans will make it to the postseason.

Washington State is not the most exciting team in the country, but they get results on defense. Coach Dick Bennett preaches a slow-down style of play that keeps his team in nearly every game. It is tough to blow the Cougars out. They don't change their philosophy for any opponent. The personnel is just not there yet for WSU to make it to the postseason. Center Robbie Cowgill is a solid shot blocker who can rebound well. He could develop into a very good inside player. Fellow frontcourt players Daven Harmeling and Chris Henry need to improve their production as well. Harmeling has potential to be a quality performer, while Henry will give WSU a body down low. Guard Derrick Low is a solid point guard. He can pass the ball well, and is a good scorer. His role will expand this season, giving him more freedom to score. Also in the backcourt, wing Kyle Weaver is a good shooter who can score going to the basket as well. Josh Akognon will also see plenty of minutes on the perimeter. Several newcomers will play significant roles in the rotation. If the offense of the Cougars ever becomes tough to stop, Washington State could make some noise. For now, though, the defense will keep WSU in games, but the offense will keep WSU from the postseason.

Arizona State could not make the NCAA Tournament or even finish in the upper half of the Pac-10 with lottery pick Ike Diogu in the lineup. Without him on the team, the Sun Devils will fall to the cellar. The backcourt is fairly solid, but the rest of the team is a mystery with the loss of three starters, including do-everything All-America Diogu. Point guard Kevin Kruger is a good shooter who can pass the ball well. His scoring will need to go up to make up for the loss of production. Wing Bryson Krueger has the potential to be a big-time scorer on the perimeter. The 6-7 junior is one of the best shooters in the conference. Tyrone Jackson provides depth as a returnee, while freshman Seketoure Henry will also see minutes. The froncourt has a go-to-player in Serge Angounou. He is a very good rebounder and a decent scorer. He could have a big year up front without Diogu getting the ball every time down the court. Forward Sylvester Seay is highly regarded and is expected to get a starting role. ASU is a few years away from contending after the loss of Diogu.


(1) Stanford
(2) Arizona
(3) UCLA
(4) Washington
(5) California
(6) Oregon
(7) Oregon State
(8) USC
(9) Washington State
(10) Arizona State


G - Chris Hernandez - Senior, Stanford
G - Brandon Roy - Senior, Washington
F/G - Dan Grunfeld - Senior, Stanford
F - Hassan Adams - Senior, Arizona
F - Leon Powe - Sophomore, California
G - Jordan Farmar - Junior, UCLA
G - Aaron Brooks - Junior, Oregon
G - Mustafa Shakur - Senior, Arizona
F - Nick DeWitz - Senior, Oregon State
F - Matt Haryasz - Senior, Stanford


Player of the Year: Chris Hernandez, Stanford
Freshman of the Year: Jon Brockman, Washington
Most Underrated Player: Ivan Radenovic, F, Arizona
Most Overrated Player: Mustafa Shakur, G, Arizona
Best Frontcourt: Washington
Best Backcourt: Stanford
Best Bench: Arizona
Most Likely to Overachieve: Stanford
Most Likely to Underachieve: Oregon
Best Conference Rivalry: Arizona-Stanford
Best Coaches:
  (1) Lute Olsen, Arizona
  (2) Lorenzo Romar, Washington
  (3) Ben Howland, UCLA
Best Programs (Currently):
  (1) Arizona
  (2) Stanford
  (3) UCLA
Toughest Places to Play:
  (1) Maples Pavillion, Stanford
  (2) McArthur Court, Oregon
  (3) McKale Center, Arizona


NCAA: Stanford, Arizona, UCLA, Washington, California
NIT: Oregon, Oregon State, USC


LEAGUE OVERVIEW Kentucky should once again dominate the SEC. However, this team is not as good as the Wildcats teams of past years. The eligibility of Randolph Morris could have a big impact on the Wildcats. The 6-11 potential star could be suspended for an undetermined amount of games for having SFX agency pay for his travel while he was mulling over the NBA Draft. If he returns, he will give the Wildcats a solid inside game. That is going to be necessary, considering the Wildcats already have one of the best perimeter groups in the country. Rajon Rondo is expected to have a breakout season at the point. He is an excellent defender, but needs to work on his shot. His passing and quickness allows him to be a very good penetrator and distributor. Patrick Sparks is a clutch shooter that is a good all-around player. When he's hot, he is one of the better long-range shooters around. His shooting selection sometimes leaves something to be desired, though. On the wing, Joe Crawford looks to start. He had some problems with Tubby Smith last season and attempted to leave the program. He came back, however, and showed flashes of his potential. Off the bench, Ramel Bradley provides good scoring and production in all aspects of the game. Ravi Moss is a good long-range shooter. Replacing the heart and soul of Kentucky's team for the past few years, Chuck Hayes, will be JC transfer Rekalin Sims. The combo forward can shoot the ball, and can also get some buckets down low. Freshman Jared Carter has shown some promise in practice. Returning seven-footers Shagari Alleyne and Lukasz Obrzut will man the center spot until Morris returns, while Sheray Thomas and Bobby Perry are versatile forwards that saw decent minutes a season ago. The Wildcats are deep and talented.

The Vanderbilt Commodores had a quiet 20-win season a year ago, and look to build on that this season. Mario Moore is streaky, but when he is on, he can carry Vandy. His suspension for the first three games of the season will hinder their development as a team, though. Shan Foster and Virginia transfer Derrick Byars will comprise possibly the best offensive wing combo in the league. Foster looks to be ready for a breakout season, while Byars is very athletic and is a good three-point shooter. Alex Gordon provides scoring and solid point guard play off the bench in what is a very deep and talented backcourt. Wing Dan Cage is another shooter that the Commodores can use. Up front, Julian Terrell leads the way. He needs to continue the way he played down the stretch. Center Ted Skuchas doesn't have very impressive numbers, but he can provide solid defense and rebounding down low. If the frontcourt produces every night, and develops another scoring option in the post, the Commodores will get to the NCAA Tournament.

The Florida Gators are going to have to go through a makeover if they are to repeat their Top-4 seed of last season. They lose key veterans Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson, and David Lee, who have contributed consistently the past few seasons. Two starters return in forwards Corey Brewer and Al Horford, both potential all-conference players. Brewer is an excellent defender and a 44 percent shooter from long-range. He is also solid at cutting to the basket for buckets. Horford is a good shot blocker and an excellent rebounder. If he can improve his scoring, he is going to be one of the better inside players in the SEC. The third frontcourt position will be filled by either Adrian Moss, Joakim Noah, or Chris Richard. Moss is the lone senior on the Gators; he is a solid rebounder and post defender. Noah is expected to have a big season for Florida. He is a tough match-up for fellow big men because of his athleticism and perimeter abilities. Richard gives the Gators a big body down low. On the perimeter, Taurean Green should start at the point. As the backup to Roberson, he demonstrated that he will be a solid choice to run the team. He plays good defense, is a decent shooter, and can push the ball well. The other returnee in the backcourt is Lee Humphrey, a very good long-range shooter. Two freshman are expected to earn minutes on the perimeter. Walter Hodge is a point guard that can also score in a variety of ways, while Derwin Kitchen is an athletic wing that needs to become eligible in order to play. If the role players from a season develop into go-to-players, the Gators could make some noise nationally.

The Postseason NIT champs, the South Carolina Gamecocks, would much rather see their name in an NCAA bracket this season. With the team they have, that is very possible. Although no double figure scorers return for the Gamecocks, several productive role players are back. Tarence Kinsey hit the game winner at the buzzer in the NIT title game, and is the best shooter on the team. He could end up being the leading scorer. Tre' Kelley and Rocky Trice also return in the backcourt. Kelley is a solid playmaker at the point who can play decent defense. Trice was a part-time starter last season, and is an athletic player that can do a multitude of things from the wing. Dwayne Day provides depth on the perimeter. In the frontcourt, they need to replace do-everything forward Carlos Powell. Antoine Tisby, Brandon Wallace, and Renaldo Balkman are all solid players up front, but none stand out. Tisby is a good but inconsistent inside scorer. Wallace is a lanky athlete that is a very good defender, both in terms of steals and blocks. Balkman is another skinny athlete and is a solid shot blocker. If any of the former role players develop into a go-to-guy, the Gamecocks won't have a chance to defend their NIT Title.

The Tennessee Volunteers looked like they had some potential a season ago, but that turned into a 14-17 season that ended in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. They do return several solid contributors from a year ago, though, including two potential all-league players on the perimeter. C.J Watson is one of the better point guards in the conference. He is an excellent defender that ranks near the top of the league in steals, and is also a very good distributor and playmaker. Kenny Lofton is one of the best long-range shooters in the country at nearly 47 percent from behind the arc. He also is a decent defender. If he improves his ability to drive to the basket, he can be a poor man's JJ Redick. The perimeter also returns 6-3 Dane Bradshaw, who provides a little of everything. Up front, Andre Patterson and Stanley Asumnu return at forward. Patterson is a good scorer, putting up points off rebounds and mid-range buckets. Asumnu is quick and athletic who will develop into a good defender and scorer. Major Wingate will man the low post. He could double his modest numbers of last season (5 ppg, 3 rpg) this year. Freshman Ryan Childress will see minutes down low. If Watson and Lofton put up big numbers in the backcourt, and a go-to-guy emerges down low, the Volunteers will win some games.

The Georgia Bulldogs had an expected rebuilding season a year ago, going 8-20 and winning only 2 games in the SEC. They return all five starters from that team, and bring in one of the best point guard recruits in the country. The backcourt is loaded. Levi Stukes is one of the best guards in the league, and will be an all-conference player. He is very tough to defend on offense. Sundiata Gaines played out of position at the point a season ago. He is a double-figure scorer who is also a surprisingly good rebounder and a decent passer. Channing Toney started last season, but could come off the bench this year. He is a near double-figure scorer that is a very good shooter. The reason that he will likely be the sixth man is freshman Mike Mercer. Mercer is a very good playmaker who can score and distribute once he gets in the lane. His athleticism and leaping ability enable him to be a good finisher. Sophomore Kevin Brophy will provide solid depth on the perimeter. Inside, returning starters Steve Newman and Dave Bliss are back. Newman is a good post player that provides solid rebounding and defense. Bliss could have a breakout season on the low block. Idrissi Younes returns to provide depth, while freshman Rashaad Singleton and Kendrick Johnson will see minutes in the post. The Bulldogs will be improved from last season, but will fall short of the postseason.

The Alabama Crimson Tide made news over the offseason due to the fact that everyone in the country realized that they were going to potentially start four forwards as a result of the lack of wing players. However, that big lineup will lead the Tide to a decent amount of wins in the weak SEC. Leading the way on the baseline is all-conference forward Chuck Davis. He is one of the best inside players in the country, and is dominant on both sides of the ball. He lead the SEC in blocked shots, and is extremely difficult to stop once he gets the ball down low. Fellow inside player Jermareo Davidson is another all-conference player. He is a lanky big man, but he is athletic and is a very good rebounder. He might see more time away from the basket to make room for all the post players on the Tide. Freshman Richard Hendrix is another post player. He could develop into a dominant big man and is a candidate for SEC Freshman of the year. They also have depth inside. Evan Brock needs to improve his production with increased playing time, while Yamene Coleman seems like he will be the next premier big man for the Crimson Tide as his career goes on. To go with all the frontcourt talent and depth, the backcourt has questions. Who is going to play on the wing? Jean Felix will most likely get the starting nod, mainly by default. He is not a natural two-guard, but he will fit in well. He is an excellent shooter, hitting three-pointers at a 45 percent clip. Felix is also one of best defenders in the SEC, although not too many saw that last season. Returnee Justin Jonus and newcomer Alonzo Gee are also going to see time on the wing. Jonus is a very good shooter and a potentially solid scorer, while Gee will be forced into minutes because of the lack of wings. One position that doesn't have a question mark is at the point. Ronald Steele is one of the best point guards in the country, and should be a first-team All-SEC performer this season. He lead the league in assists and assist to turnover ratio. Steele also shot almost 43 percent from behind the arc. He does not have a very capable backup. If Alabama can get steady production from the wing, they will be tough to beat.

Coming off a surprise season that ended with a disappointing first-round flameout, the LSU Tigers are looking to build upon their success of a year ago. They will have to do without their best player, Brandon Bass, who took his game to the NBA Draft, but went undrafted. They do return Bass' partner down low, though, in Glen Davis. "Big Baby" could become the most dominant big man in the South. He is surprisingly athletic and agile on offense, and is an excellent rebounder. Teaming with him in the frontcourt will be two freshmen, Tasmin Mitchell and Magnum Rolle. Mitchell is my pick for National Freshman of the Year. He is going to start on the wing immediately, and will make a substantial impact with his scoring and passing abilities. Rolle will play beside Davis in the low block. He is a highly regarded recruit. In the bakcourt, returning point guard Tack Minor is suspended for the first four games. He is very quick, and is a good scorer and distributor. However, he sometimes plays out of control and that turns the ball over often. On the wing, Darrel Mitchell is a consistent scorer. He is an excellent three point shooter that also has the ability to drive past any defender. In addition, he is a solid passer and a good defender. Until Minor returns, another freshman will start. Ben Voogd is an outstanding passer that will keep the offense rolling. If the freshman have the expected impact, LSU will return to the NCAA Tournament, but will win a first-round game this time.

The Arkansas Razorbacks ended their season on a sour note, falling in the first round of the SEC Tournament and turning down an invitation to the NIT. If everything goes according to plan, they won't have to even think about an NIT bid this season. The best player in the conference, Ronnie Brewer, returns on the wing. He can play every perimeter position, and might do that this season. He is an excellent scorer and defender, and is also a very solid rebounder and passer. Brewer also shot 40 percent from three-point range. He can do it all. Also on the wing is Jonathan Modica. He averaged over 16 points per game two years ago, but less than 10 last season. He should bounce back this season due to his shooting prowess (43 percent from behind the arc). At the point is Eric Ferguson. He is not much of a scorer, but he can shoot the three with efficiency and is a good distributor. Dontrell Jefferson will provide depth on the wing, while freshman Sean McCurdy will see minutes at the point. Inside, Darian Townes could develop into one of the top big men in the conference. He is a go-to option offensively on the low block, and is a very good rebounder and shot-blocker. Forward Charles Thomas was a part-time starter last season. He is a decent scorer and rebounder. 7-footer Steven Hill is an excellent shot-blocker, but he needs to develop his scoring and rebounding skills. Returning from injury is 6-10 Vincent Hunter, who played well two seasons ago down low. He will see minutes. If the big men down low provide consistent punch, and the perimeter guys around Brewer produce, the Razorbacks will return to the NCAA Tournament.

Coming off three consecutive below .500 seasons, the Mississippi Rebels look to make a return to respectability with a core of young players to build around. Leading the way is the lone returning starter, Londrick Nolen. Nolen will have a starting job again this season at forward. He is a scoring wing that also is a very solid defender, both with steals and blocks. Another guy who saw extensive minutes last season was post player Dwayne Curtis. He has loads of potential, and showed flashes of that a year ago. Also returning down low is Jeremy Parnell, who should have a big year in the paint after seeing minutes in 26 games last year. The other returnees are on the perimeter. Point guard Todd Abernathy won the league's sixth man award, but should start up top this season. He is a very good three-point shooter and a solid scorer and passer. Brandon Patterson is a good shooter who will develop as a scorer over the course of the season. Bam Doyne will likely provide depth in the backcourt. This year's group of newcomers will also see extensive minutes. Forward Marquis Young could start at forward. He is a highly-ranked recruit. JC transfer Clarence Sanders is a very good scorer who will play. The Rebels are a few years away from NCAA contention, but they could make the NIT as early as this season.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have had a successful past few years, but that will stop this season. They lose their top six scorers and rebounders, including all five starters. Jamall Edmundson is the leading scorer at less than five points per game. He is a good long-range shooter and could be a go-to-scorer on the perimeter. Wesley Morgan returns down low after playing limited minutes a year ago. Dietric Slater is a versatile scorer and defender on the wing, while Piotr Stelmach has some experience in the frontcourt. Also returning up front are sophomores Charles Rhodes and Walter Sharpe. Both can play down low, and will make an impact if they become more disciplined on and off the court. The rest is newcomers. Guards Jamont Gordon, and twins Reginald and Richard Delk are expected to make immediate impacts on the perimeter, while Vernon Goodridge will see extensive minutes right away in the paint. The Bulldogs have the potential to make some noise down the road, but not this season.

The Auburn Tigers had a surprisingly successful 14-win campaign a year ago. That doesn't sound very impressive, but if you look at what they went through, it was a good year for a young team that beat some quality clubs. This season should be more of the same--another 4-5 win SEC season and no postseason. One returning starter is back in wing Daniel Hayles. He had to play the post last season, but will be back on the wing this year. He is a good defender, scorer, and shooter. Frank Tolbert was a part-time starter last year, and will move into the lineup at guard. He could have a breakout season with more minutes. Another forward/wing-type returns in Ronny LeMelle, who is a solid defender who can also score if necessary. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by newcomers. Korvotney Barber is a McDonald's All-American who could start immediately inside. He should make an impact due to his athleticism. Forward Joey Cameron will also see loads of minutes in the frontcourt for the Tigers. Incoming guards Rasheem Barrett and Michael Woodard will play a lot right away in the backcourt. The Tigers have some talent, but not enough to make an impact in the SEC.


Eastern Division
(1) Kentucky
(2) Vanderbilt
(3) Florida
(4) South Carolina
(5) Tennessee
(6) Georgia
Western Division
(1) Alabama
(2) LSU
(3) Arkansas
(4) Mississippi
(5) Mississippi State
(6) Auburn


G - Rajon Rondo - Sophomore, Kentucky
G - Ronald Steele - Sophomore, Alabama
G/F - Ronnie Brewer - Junior, Arkansas
F - Chuck Davis - Senior, Alabama
F - Glen Davis - Sophomore, LSU
G - Patrick Sparks - Senior, Kentucky
G - Mario Moore - Senior, Vanderbilt
G - C.J. Watson - Senior, Tennessee
F - Corey Brewer - Sophomore, Florida
C - Jermareo Davidson - Junior, Alabama


Player of the Year: Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas
Freshman of the Year: Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
Most Underrated Player: C.J. Watson, G, Tennesee
Most Overrated Player: Patrick Sparks, G, Kentucky
Best Frontcourt: Alabama
Best Backcourt: Kentucky
Best Bench: Kentucky
Most Likely to Overachieve: Kentucky
Most Likely to Underachieve: Arkansas
Best Conference Rivalry: Kentucky-Florida
Best Coaches:
  (1) Tubby Smith, Kentucky
  (2) Billy Donovan, Florida
  (3) Rick Stansbury, Mississippi state
Best Programs (Currently):
  (1) Kentucky
  (2) Alabama
  (3) Florida
Toughest Places to Play:
  (1) Rupp Arena, Kentucky
  (2) O'Connell Center, Florida
  (3) Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt


NCAA: Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt
NIT: Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi

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