SCS.com wraps up the conference preview portion of our preseason look ahead to the college hoops season with a glance inside both the ACC and SEC, perhaps the best two conferences in America this year. Annual favorites North Carolina and Duke are again expected to be at the top of the ACC standings this year, while defending national champion Florida looks to be the early favorite in the SEC. Other teams to keep an eye on in those two leagues this season? How about Boston College and Georgia Tech in the ACC and LSU and Alabama in the SEC?
North Carolina- The Tar Heels come into the season with the most talent and depth of anyone in the country. They are absolutely loaded. The biggest problem for Roy Williams will likely be trying to find minutes for everyone in order to keep the returnees and the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation happy. It all starts with Tyler Hansbrough. My pick for National Player of the Year, Hansbrough is a beast on the interior. The 6-9 sophomore immediately became the Tar Heels' go-to-guy last season and will continue to be the main man this year. He is very efficient shooting the ball and is a dominant scorer and rebounder. With more help down low this season, Hansbrough could have an even better year. That help will come from a slew of freshmen. McDonald's All-American Brandan Wright was the top-ranked power forward recruit last season and could start immediately. He is very athletic and is effective both in a half-court setting and in the fast break. Alex Stepheson will fight for a starting spot next to Hansbrough as well. He is an outstanding rebounder and a very good defender who has a developing offensive game. Deon Thompson will provide depth off the bench due to his size and all-around post ability. The small forward spot will be manned by two returnees. All-conference candidate Reyshawn Terry is vastly underrated on a national level, but is poised to make a name for himself this season. He is very good at driving to the basket and getting points inside the arc. Danny Green will see minutes behind Terry again. He is above-average on the defensive end and can also make threes. The backcourt is equally as loaded, if not more. It might be the deepest group of perimeter players in recent history. The Tar Heels return both starters (Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller) and their backups (Quentin Thomas and Marcus Ginyard). Oh, they also bring in the top-ranked recruit at both positions (Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington). If chemistry is not a problem, this group is going to be outstanding. Lawson is an explosive guard that loves to push the ball in the open court. He is also a good defender. Ellington is an excellent shooter who can fill it up. Frasor is a solid point guard who will provide depth if Lawson gets the starting job over him. Thomas is quick but turnover-prone; he might be the odd man out at the point. The athletic Ginyard is the team's lock-down defender, while Miller is efficient from long-range.
Duke- The Blue Devils lose two All-Americans in Player of the Year J.J. Redick and the fifth pick in the NBA Draft, Shelden Williams. Moreover, they lose two key role players in Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni. However, not much will change in Durham - don't cry for Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. They bring in one of the nation's best recruiting classes, including four McDonald's All-Americans. The Devils also return two starters and a couple of other contributors from last year's club. The leading man will be post player Josh McRoberts. The 6-10 sophomore is a sure-fire lottery pick whenever he decides to enter the NBA Draft due to his versatility and all-around abilities. He will likely be the go-to-guy this season for Duke. He can run the floor and score both inside and outside. McRoberts is also a good rebounder and shot-blocker who can dunk with ferocity. Greg Paulus also returns as a starter. The 6-1 point guard is an exceptional passer who needs to cut down on his turnovers and become a better shooter in his sophomore season. He led the ACC in assists last year but that number could go down if he expands his offensive game. However, he was injured in October and his status for the start of the season is unclear. The third key returnee is DeMarcus Nelson. While he was not a starter last season, he played over 20 minutes per game and made the most of it. He is extremely athletic and uses that to get points and rebounds on the interior. He is also a very good three-point shooter and defender. A trio of sophomores will provide depth in forward Jamal Boykin, and guards Martynas Pocius and David McClure. The newcomers will see immediate playing time. Gerald Henderson could be the best of the bench. He is a 6-5 small forward who does most of his scoring inside the arc. He has an excellent mid-range game and can get to the basket. Another forward, Lance Thomas, will also fight for a starting spot. He is versatile and athletic and can score both down on the block and while slashing to the basket. His rebounding and energy will be key. Brian Zoubek would be a nice complement next to McRoberts inside. He is a back-to-the-basket player who does the majority of his damage in the paint. The 7-footer will be an interesting player to watch. The fourth freshman is Jon Scheyer. Compared to J.J. Redick right out of the game, Scheyer is an outstanding long-range shooter and a good ball-handler who could start at the point if Paulus can't go for the opener.
Boston College- The Eagles had a slow start last season, but finished strong, reaching the Sweet Sixteen before falling in the final seconds to #1 seed Villanova. They lose one of the best post players in the country in Craig Smith as well as point guard Louis Hinnant, but coach Al Skinner always gets the most out of his players and this year should be no different. All-America Jared Dudley leads the way. One of the best all-around players in the country, Dudley will fight for ACC Player of the Year honors. He is a very good inside-outside scorer who has developed a nice three-point stroke. He is also an excellent rebounder and an above-average passer who can defend multiple positions. Joining him in the frontcourt will be center Sean Williams. The 6-10 junior is an outstanding shot-blocker who has loads of potential inside. He is a good rebounder and scorer who needs to improve his production this season with the loss of Smith. Starting next to Williams will be a fight between several players. Junior John Oates returns as a starter inside, but will have to prove himself in order to start again. He can step out and shoot the three and is also a good rebounder and defender. Akida McLain has a lot of potential and could be a solid inside scorer due to his athleticism and skill, but has never played to his peak. He will have to wait this season, as he is suspended for the first nine games for an offseason incident (center Sean Williams is suspended for two). Freshman Shamari Spears will see plenty of minutes inside because of his all-around ability, while transfer Tyrelle Blair is an outstanding shot-blocker. In the backcourt, Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice return. Marshall is a physical wing who is a very good defender and three-point shooter. He can do a little bit of everything on the court. Rice was the team's sixth man last season, and will step in for Hinnant at the point. He is a good passer and a very good three-point shooter. Marquez Haynes is an athletic combo guard who will contribute off the bench. Freshmen Daye Kaba and Tyler Roche will see minutes on the perimeter.
Georgia Tech- Georgia Tech is a candidate for the most improved team in the country. They only went 11-17 last season, winning just four games in the ACC. However, with four starters returning and the influx of two impact freshmen, the Yellow Jackets are poised to make noise on a national level come March. The Yellow Jackets' frontcourt is relatively unproven right now, but it is definitely talented and has the potential to be one of the top five in the country. A lot of that depends on the arrival of Thaddeus Young. He can score from the perimeter and is also adept at driving to the basket and finishing. He is going to be a star - if only for a year. Ra'Sean Dickey was known for inconsistency for much of his first two seasons, but he broke out in the latter part of last season and looks primed for a big year. The underrated Jeremis Smith is an excellent rebounder and a solid defender next to Dickey down low. Mouhammed Faye will likely be the first big man off the bench, while Zach Peacock and Alade Aminu will also see minutes. The Yellow Jackets' perimeter group will not get much attention on a national level, but they have all the ingredients needed for a good backcourt. Javaris Crittenton is a highly touted point guard prospect and should cure some of Tech's turnover problems. He is an excellent scorer who likes to drive to the basket and will make an immediate impact. Anthony Morrow is a very good shooter from three-point range and can stretch the defense. He needs to add to his offensive package, though. Lewis Clinch can score from anywhere on the court. He can shoot the three but can also get points from inside the arc. Mario West is an excellent defender who can also provide offense.
Florida State- Florida State looked like a lock for the NCAA Tournament late last season after their upset win over Duke, but they faltered down the stretch and missed the Big Dance. They should feel more comfortable come Selection Sunday this season. One of the main reasons for that optimism is the return of forward Al Thornton. Arguably the most underrated major-conference star in the country, Thornton will fight for All-America honors this year. He can play both forward spots and is capable of doing a variety of things on the court. He is at his best when driving to the basket but he can also shoot it from deep. Moreover, he is a solid rebounder. Playing with him in the frontcourt will be sophomore Uche Echefu and Ryan Reid. Echefu is a nice inside-outside scorer who could start in the low post with the early departure of Alexander Johnson. Reid is an athletic big man who will see minutes immediately. The perimeter is the team's strength. Wings Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann are athletic and talented juniors who are good scorers. Either of them could have a breakout season this year. Senior Jerel Allen is another wing that has potential. The point will be run by Auburn transfer Toney Douglas. He is an outstanding scorer that can fill it up in a hurry. However, he will have to distribute and take care of the ball better than he did during his freshman season with the Tigers. Junior Ralph Mims will back him up.
Virginia- Virginia is capable of making the leap into the NCAA Tournament this season after a 15-15 campaign last year in which they finished tied for 7th in the ACC. Five starters return, and coach Dave Leitao brought in some quality recruits that will help right away. The Cavaliers may own the country's best backcourt duo in Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. Both Sean Singletary and Reynolds are top-10 players at their respective positions and have the potential to carry UVA to a win. Singletary runs the point and will compete for All-America honors. He is an excellent penetrator and nearly always finds a way to get to the basket. He is constantly attacking the rim and either finishing himself or kicking it out to a teammate. Reynolds is a very good three-point shooter and has developed a more well-rounded offensive game. He can get to the basket and also has a solid mid-range game. Both Singletary and Reynolds are also decent defenders. Freshman Solomon Tat will provide depth and excellent on-ball defense. Also returning as a starter on the perimeter is Adrian Joseph. He is a very good scorer who can get points both inside and outside. Sophomore Mamadi Diane and freshman Will Harris will push for extensive minutes on the wing. Diane had a solid freshman season, while Harris is versatile and could create match-up problems with his size. The frontcourt is not as deep or talented. Jason Cain is the top returnee. He is a very good rebounder and has the ability to play on the perimeter due to his passing skills and face-up game. Sophomore Laurynas Mikalauskas is also back as a starter. He is a good inside player that provides rebounding and scoring underneath the basket. Junior Tunji Soroye is an excellent shot-blocker that will have a better season this year. Pennsylvania transfer Ryan Pettinella and freshman Jamil Tucker will also provide depth up front.
Virginia Tech- Virginia Tech had a disappointing season last year, mainly due to off-the-court, tragic incidents, but return five starters and will make a run at the NCAA Tournament this season if they can keep focused on basketball. The Hokies return one of the best backcourt duos in the country in seniors Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, both four-year starters at the guard spots. Both are top-25 performers at their respective positions. Gordon has a solid all-around game. He can score and pass the ball well, and is also one of the best rebounding and defensive guards in the conference. Dowdell is a very good scorer but needs to work on his three-point shooting. Combined with senior Coleman Collins, VT owns one of the best trios in the country. Collins has the potential to be an excellent big man if he develops some consistency. He is difficult to stop in the paint and is also a tough rebounder down low. Also returning as a starter is forward Deron Washington. He is very athletic and has a non-stop motor. He loves to run the floor and is a good scorer and rebounder. He is likely to move from power forward to small forward this season. Therefore, starting next to Collins in the post will be someone new. Sophomores Robert Krabbendam and Cheick Diakite will get the first shots. Diakite is a good rebounder, while Krabbendam is a 7-footer that has a variety of all-around skills. Freshman Louis Witcher is a shot-blocker. Seeing time off the bench on the perimeter will be A.D. Vassallo, who is a very good three-point shooter who creates havoc on defense with his athleticism and length. Senior Markus Sailes and freshman Nigel Munson will get minutes off the bench in the backcourt.
Maryland- Maryland had yet another underachieving season last year, falling apart down the stretch and missing out in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Unless the Terrapins play more as a team, Gary Williams could miss the Big Dance yet again. They key will be the fact that Maryland could have finally found an actual point guard, instead of trying to convert wings to point guards. Freshmen Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes will be thrown into the fire right away. Hayes is more of a pure point, as he is a solid ball-handler and three-point shooter who can distribute. Vasquez is athletic and could become a big-time scorer and playmaker. The influx of Hayes and Vasquez allows swingman D.J. Strawberry to play on the wing this season. He is an outstanding defender and athlete who is explosive on the open court. He can also shoot the three-pointer with efficiency. He will have to become the leader for the Terrapins. Mike Jones will also start on the wing. He is an excellent long-range shooter who has a developing mid-range game and could have a breakout season. Senior Parrish Brown and highly-touted freshman Landon Milbourne will provide depth on the perimeter. Up front, James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe return. They both are extremely athletic and need to come into their own this season. Ibekwe is a good face-up scorer and a solid rebounder who block shots, while Gist is a tough rebounder who can get points in the paint. JC transfer Bambale Osby and senior Will Bowers will provide depth down low. Osby and freshman Jerome Burney could develop into solid players in the coming seasons.
Clemson- If not for the glut of middle-of-the-pack teams ahead of them, Clemson could be a contender for a first-division finish. The Tigers were a respectable 19-13 last season, finishing tied for seventh in the ACC. Moreover, they return four starters and should be improved. They are extremely athletic, and are led by the guard tandem of Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds. They are both extremely quick on the defensive end, racking up steals, and are good at driving to the basket. However, neither is a very good shooter. Also on the perimeter are Sam Perry and K.C. Rivers. Perry is a decent scorer and rebounder, while Rivers is a good all-around player that can rebound well for his size as well as score, distribute, and play defense. The frontcourt is not as set as the perimeter. James Mays returns after being academically ineligible for the second semester. He is very athletic on the inside and is capable of dominating in the paint. He is an outstanding rebounder and a quality scorer inside. Sophomore Julius Powell and a trio of newcomers will battle for the other starting spot up front. Powell is a solid inside-outside player who can score and rebound. Freshman Trevor Booker is an excellent rebounder who can do a variety of things from the forward spot, while A.J. Tyler and Karolis Petrukonis will also see playing time down low.
Wake Forest- Wake Forest was tabbed as a preseason Top 25 team heading into last year, but the Demon Deacons never seemed to find a suitable replacement for Chris Paul and stumbled to a 17-17 (3-13 in the ACC) record. With the loss of five starters, Skip Prosser has his work cut out for him. The backcourt will be led by sophomores Harvey Hale and Shamaine Dukes, who faltered at the point guard position last season. Hale is a decent scorer and all-around player who will have to take on a bigger role this year, while Dukes is a quick guard who can pass. Joining them in the backcourt this season will be freshmen Ish Smith and Anthony Gurley. Smith is an extremely fast point guard who loves to push the ball, while Gurley has the potential to be a big-time scorer. Candidates to start on the wing and at small forward include returnees Michael Drum, Cameron Stanley, and Kevin Swinton, and freshman Jamie Skeen. Drum is an excellent outside shooter; Stanley has good potential as a rebounder and scorer; Swinton showed flashes of his abilities last season; and Skeen is a highly-touted inside-outside scorer. The post will be manned by senior Kyle Visser, who has always been a decent role player but needs to step up his production this season. Casey Crawford and Chas MacFarland will provide depth.
Miami (Fl.)The Hurricanes were another disappointing team last season, finishing 7-9 in the ACC and going only 18-16 overall after being pegged as a potential sleeper in the conference. They lose the starting backcourt of Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite, one of the nation's highest-scoring guard duos. Replacing them will be Denis Clemente and Siena transfer Jack McClinton. Clemente is one of the fastest players with the ball in the ACC and is at his best when driving to the basket in the open court. McClinton was a big-time scorer in the MAAC who can also defend well. They will join returning starter Anthony Harris on the perimeter. Harris is a solid point guard who can take care of the ball and distribute very well. He is also a good three-point shooter. If coach Frank Haith does not want to go with a three-guard lineup, he can use Raymond Hicks and Brian Asbury at the three. Hicks creates match-up problems with his inside-outside ability, while Asbury will provide depth. Down low, Jimmy Graham and Anthony King return. Graham was a part-time starter last season who is a very good defender and a solid rebounder. King is one of the nation's best shot-blockers and is an excellent defender and solid rebounder. If he improves his offense, look out. Freshmen Dwayne Collins and Lawrence Gilbert provide depth.
North Carolina State- The Wolfpack could take the biggest step back of any team in the ACC this season. They lose four starters from last season's NCAA Tournament team, and also say goodbye to long-time coach Herb Sendek. The lone returning starter is Engin Atsur. He can handle the ball efficiently and is also a very good long-range shooter. He is not suited to be a go-to-guy though. He will combine in the backcourt with junior Gavin Grant. He is a very good all-around player who is one of the most versatile players around. He played extremely well down the stretch and looks to carry that momentum over to this season. Also on the perimeter will be sophomore wing Courtney Fells, who could develop into a solid contributor with more playing time. Newcomers Trevor Ferguson and Farnold Degand will see minutes in the backcourt. Up front, there is a severe lack of experience. Andrew Brackman would have returned, but he decided to concentrate on baseball this season. That leaves sophomores Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner as the leaders down low. Costner was a McDonald's All-American that can do a variety of things on the floor, while McCauley is a solid inside-outside scorer
1. North Carolina
G - Sean Singletary, Virginia
Others Considered: Anthony Morrow, Georgia Tech ; J.R. Reynolds, Virginia ; Reyshawn Terry, North Carolina ; Coleman Collins, Virginia Tech ; Ra'Sean Dickey, Georgia Tech ; Greg Paulus, Duke ; Zabian Dowdell, Virginia Tech ; Jamon Gordon, Virginia Tech ; Toney Douglas, Florida State ; Ekene Ibekwe, Maryland
Florida- Florida is clearly the class of the league. After heading into last season as not much more than a bubble team, the Gators enter this season with a bull's-eye on their backs after last year's National Championship. However, they return all five starters and their top two bench players, leading some people to believe this team is capable of repeating. It all starts in the frontcourt, where the Gators have one of the best frontlines in recent history. All three starters are potential lottery picks and are also ranked in the top five at their respective positions. Moreover, they will all contend for All-America honors by the end of the year. Center Joakim Noah broke out during the NCAA Tournament, and has been tabbed by several publications and outlets as the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. He is an extremely difficult match-up due to his size, speed, and athleticism. Noah is an outstanding shot-blocker with a non-stop motor who is a dominant inside force and will only get better. Al Horford goes unnoticed at times lining up next to the passionate Noah. However, he is a terrific rebounder and a very good defender. He has a developing offensive game, and is one of he most efficient scorers in the country. Small forward Corey Brewer is one of the most versatile players in the country and is a very good defender. He is athletic and is adept at getting into the lane and finishing. With an improving perimeter game, he will become more of a match-up problem this season. Off the bench, senior Chris Richard provides excellent low-post scoring and rebounding. Two freshmen, small forward Dan Werner and big man Marreese Speights, will contribute immediately backing up the starters. The backcourt is also one of the best in the country. Point guard Taurean Green improved immensely as the season went on, and developed into one of the best at his position in the country. He can score and pass very well, and is also a good long-range shooter and defender. Two-guard Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter who is becoming one of the most clutch gunners in all of college basketball after hitting several important three-pointers to help the Gators in March. He is also an underrated defender. Walter Hodge is a solid combo guard who is quick and talented. He provides depth off the bench for the Gators. Freshman Brandon Powell is a good shooter and defender.
Kentucky- Kentucky did not have a very good season - by Kentucky standards, at least. They went 22-12 and finished third in the SEC Eastern Division, losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to #1 seed Connecticut. With Florida returning everyone, the Wildcats likely won't challenge for an SEC title this season. However, UK could be a tough team to beat come March. They are led on the inside by Randolph Morris. He sat out the first 14 games of last season, but returned in the SEC portion of the season to greatly help out the Wildcats. He is potentially one of the best big men in the SEC. Morris is a very good post scorer who can also step out and hit the jumper. He is also a good rebounder who is efficient with the ball in the paint. Joining him inside will be returnees Jared Carter and Sheray Thomas, and freshman Perry Stevenson. Carter did not play that much last season, but showed flashes of his potential. The 7-2 sophomore is a good rebounder and defender. Thomas is an inside-outside scorer who can rebound very well. The part-time starter is a very valuable role player. Stevenson is a fantastic shot blocker who should make an immediate impact due to his athleticism and defense. Rounding out the frontcourt is returnee Bobby Perry. He broke out during the NCAA Tournament and will look to carry that momentum over to this season. He can shoot the three and also get points in the paint. The backcourt will also be solid. Juniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford have not lived up to the expectations they had coming out of high school, but they have a chance this season to become go-to-players. Crawford is a candidate for a huge season this year. He is a good three-point shooter who is difficult to stop going to the basket due to his size and strength. Bradley is an explosive scorer who is quick and athletic. He is a decent distributor who can handle the ball well. The recruiting class offers support. Derrick Jasper is a 6-6 point guard who can get to the basket and create plays for both himself and his teammates, while Jodie Meeks is a 6-5 wing who is very athletic when driving to the rim and can also stroke the three.
LSU- LSU is coming off of a surprise Final Four appearance in which they rode a #4 seed to upset wins over Duke and Texas before losing to national runner-up UCLA. However, coach John Brady loses two starters in first-round draft pick Tyrus Thomas and guard Darrell Mitchell, one of the SEC's best perimeter players last season. The Tigers have a legitimate chance to get back to the Final Four this season, though. The main reason is the return of All-America Glen Davis. "Big Baby" developed into one of the best post players in the country last season, averaging nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. He lost a lot of weight during the offseason, and will contend for National Player of the Year honors this season. Aside from being a dominant inside performer, Davis can put it on the floor and has a nice face-up game. Replacing Thomas on the inside will be Magnum Rolle and Darnell Lazare. Rolle is a very similar player to Thomas. He is extremely athletic, runs the floor well, and is a potentially outstanding shot-blocker. If he adds some strength to his lanky body, look out. Lazare had a very nice postseason and will look to carry that over to this season. He is a good scorer and rebounder inside. The other forward spot will go to Tasmin Mitchell, one of the country's best freshman last season. He is a candidate for a breakout season due to his athleticism and talent. He demonstrated some of his myriad skills last season. Mitchell is a good passer and defender who is also a very good inside-outside scorer and a solid rebounder. Replacing Darrell Mitchell at the point will be Tack Minor. Minor, who was a starter his first two seasons but redshirted last season after injuries and suspension, needs to become a more consistent player for the Tigers. He is very quick with the basketball and is a very good scorer who can distribute the ball well. Minor is also a solid rebounder and defender. However, he is sometimes out of control and tends to turn the ball over too much. On the wing, Garrett Temple returns as a starter. Temple is arguably the best defender on the team and one of the best in the SEC. He shut down J.J. Redick in the Sweet Sixteen, and will look to become more of an offensive option this season. He might not keep his starting spot, though. Marquette transfer Dameon Mason and Texas Tech transfer Terry Martin will push him. Mason is very athletic and is explosive in the open court. He is also a good rebounder and has the ability to be a good shooter. Martin is a very good three-point shooter who can also drive to the basket and rebound well.
Alabama- Alabama did not live up to expectations last season, finishing with only 18 wins. However, they played well down the stretch and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Mark Gottfried and the Crimson Tide will look to make a run at the Sweet Sixteen and beyond this season, led by one of the best frontcourts in the country. Jermareo Davidson is a match-up problem at the center spot. He is very athletic down low and is also an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder. He could compete for All-America honors this season, although he is overshadowed in his own conference by Glen Davis of LSU and Florida's big men. Richard Hendrix is ready for a huge season as a sophomore. He is an outstanding rebounder but needs to work on his offensive game in order to fulfill his potential. Hendrix is tough to stop down low and has a developing-face up game. Providing depth inside will be redshirt freshman Yamene Coleman and true freshman Demetrius Jemison. Coleman is a good post player who can score, rebound, and block shots, while Jemison is a very good rebounder and is an inside-outside scorer. One thing the Crimson Tide lacked last season were threats on the wing. Returnee Alonzo Gee is the leading candidate to start at one wing spot. He is very good at driving to the basket, but needs to step up his three-point shooter this season. JC transfer Mykal Riley could start at the other spot. He is a very good shooter who is also a good defender who gets into passing lanes to rack up steals and deflections. Freshmen Avery Jukes, Mikhail Torrance, and Verice Cloyd will also fight for minutes on the wings. Jukes is a 6-8 forward who can shoot the ball from deep and is a nice inside-outside scorer; Torrance is a good ball-handler who can play either guard spot; and Cloyd is a very good scorer and shooter. At the point, Ronald Steele returns. He is arguably the best lead guard in the country. Steele is an outstanding passer who is the ultimate iron man. He averaged over 40 minutes per game in SEC play. He is also a good defender and a very good three-point shooter. Steele is very adept at driving to the basket and creating shots for himself and teammates. Moreover, he is an underrated rebounder. Brandon Hollinger, a part-time starter, will back him up.
Tennessee- Tennessee may take a step back after last season's 22-8 campaign, which saw them win the SEC East and receive a #2 seed to the NCAA Tournament in coach Bruce Pearl's first season with the Volunteers. However, with the loss of point guard C.J. Watson and frontcourt players Andre Patterson and Major Wingate, Pearl will need to find replacements or the Vols won't feel as comfortable come Selection Sunday. They are led by guard Chris Lofton. He is arguably the best three-point shooter in the country and will compete for All-America honors this season. Moreover, without any other proven scoring options, Lofton could up his production to over 20 points per game. He is also an underrated defender and rebounder. Joining him in the backcourt will be freshman Ramar Smith. Smith is very athletic and quick and is at his best when driving to the basket and making plays. He is also a pest on the defensive end with his quickness. There are several other perimeter players who will see significant playing time. Returning starter Dane Bradshaw played out of position last season at power forward, but will return to his natural small forward spot this year. He is a versatile player that can do a little bit of everything on the court. He is a tough rebounder who is also one of the best passers and defenders on the team. Sixth man JaJuan Smith is one of the best bench players in the SEC. He is a big-time scorer who can shoot the three and defend well. Point guard Jordan Howell will push Ramar Smith at the point, while freshman Marques Johnson will also see immediate playing time. Up front, freshmen Duke Crews and Wayne Chism will likely start from game one. Crews is very athletic and loves to run the floor, but will make his biggest impact on the defensive end. He is a tremendous rebounder and shot-blocker who will contend for SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Chism is a big body down low who can rebound and defend. He will make an impact right away. Sophomore Ryan Childress will provide depth.
Georgia- Georgia is a potential sleeper team in the SEC. The Bulldogs were only 15-15 last season, finishing last in the East Division, but they return all five starters and also bring in a couple of impact newcomers. One of the major reasons for optimism is the fact that UGA has one of the best backcourts in the country. It is a very deep perimeter group that has several interchangeable parts. Sundiata Gaines leads the way. He is a very good all-around player who can do nearly everything on the court. He is a good scorer and pentrator who is one of the best rebounding guards in the country. Gaines also takes care of the ball well and distributes efficiently. Levi Stukes is a scorer who could be poised for a huge season in that department. He is an excellent long-range shooter and a good defender who is capable of breaking open games with his shooting. Mike Mercer had a very good freshman season and could take the next step this year. He is difficult to stop when driving to the basket and has a developing perimeter game. Billy Humphrey is a prolific scorer who provides excellent point production off the bench. He is also a good rebounder. Returning starter Channing Toney is also back. Toney is a very good three-point shooter and is a good all-around player. Wing Terrance Woodbury is another solid option who will perform well if he is healthy. Up front, the Bulldogs need help. Luckily for them, they received that in the form of JC transfer Takais Brown. He is a highly-touted prospect who will become a potentially dominant low-post scorer in the SEC. Look for him to start immediately. Freshman Albert Jackson will also see playing time right away. Returnees Dave Bliss, Rashaad Singleton, and Steve Newman will need to improve their production if they are to get extensive minutes up front.
Arkansas- Arkansas made a late run last season, winning six games in a row in February and March to garner an NCAA Tournament bid. Their trip there was short, losing to Bucknell in the first round. With the loss of first-round pick Ronnie Brewer and wing Jonathan Modica, one of the top scorers in the conference, the Razorbacks will be hard-pressed to get back to the NCAA Tournament. However, Stan Heath returns one of the best frontcourts in the conference. Charles Thomas returns as a starter. He is a good rebounder and a potential double-figure scorer who can play both forward spots. Thomas is a nice inside-outside scorer who is an efficient shooter. Junior Darian Townes is another guy that fell just short of averaging double-figures. He is a very good shot-blocker and is arguably the best rebounder on the team. 7-foot junior Steven Hill is also back. He is one of the best shot-blockers in the conference, but needs to improve his scoring and rebounding production this season. Vincent Hunter adds even more size to the low post. The newcomers will also help out the frontline. JC transfer Sonny Weems will compete for the SEC Newcomer of the Year award. He was the top-ranked JC transfer by several outlets and will make an immediate impact at the small forward spot. He is a good defender who is explosive in the open court. Freshman Michael Washington is an excellent athlete who can rebound and block shots at the forward spot. The backcourt is not as deep. The key is Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin. He is extremely quick with the ball and loves to push the ball. He was turnover-prone with the Bulldogs, but is also a good scorer and a very solid distributor. Joining him in the backcourt will be freshman Patrick Beverly. He can shoot the ball from deep and could be a very good wing scorer for Heath. Freshman Stefan Welsh and sophomore Sean McCurdy will provide depth in the backcourt.
Mississippi State- Mississippi State is your best bet for a sleeper in the SEC West. The Bulldogs were not overly impressive last season, going 15-15 overall and only 5-11 in the conference. However, with four starters back and a couple of impact freshman, look out for Rick Stansbury and the Bulldogs. Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes form one of the best inside-outside combos in the country. Gordon is extremely versatile and can do it all on the court. He can play any perimeter position and is also capable of playing the four. He is an excellent rebounder for his size and is a good scorer and distributor. However, he turned the ball over too much last season and will need to make better decisions with the ball this year. Rhodes is developing into the one of the best big men in the country. He played extremely well in the SEC season, and looks to carry that over to this year. He has a versatile offensive game and is also a very good rebounder and shot-blocker. Wings Reginald Delk and Dietric Slater also return as starters. Delk is an excellent three-point shooter who can also play solid defense. Slater played well down the stretch and is a double-figure scorer who can rebound. Delk's twin brother, Richard, is a good passer who can play any position on the perimeter. He could play more of the point this season. Freshman Ben Hansbrough, Tyler's brother, will fight for a starting job at the point with Richard Delk and possibly Jamont Gordon. Up front with Rhodes is senior Piotr Stelmach and sophomore Vernon Goodridge. Stelmach is a solid role player, while Goodridge has a lot of potential inside. Freshman Jarvis Varnado will make an immediate impact up front. He can block shots with the best and is very athletic. He also can rebound and score inside.
Vanderbilt- Vanderbilt is another team that could potentially be a sleeper in the SEC. Last season, they struggled through a problem-filled 17-13 season in which they didn't live up to expectations and finished fourth in the East Division. They head into the season hoping to erase some of those memories and make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid. The strength of the Commodores is on the wing. Shan Foster and Derrick Byars form one of the best wing duos in the country. Foster is one of the best shooters in college basketball and could develop into one of the most unstoppable perimeter scorers in the conference if he takes it to the basket more often. Byars is extremely versatile. He can play multiple positions and can do a little bit of everything. He is a very good defender and passer who can shoot the three and also get points when driving to the basket. Outside of those two, Vandy is relatively unproven. Playing at the point will be Jermaine Beal and Alex Gordon. Beal is a very good passer and is athletic and long, while Gordon is more of a scorer but can pass and distribute if needed. Wings Dan Cage and freshman George Drake will provide depth. Up front, LSU transfer Ross Neltner and junior Alan Metcalfe will likely start. Neltner is a good inside player who can also step out and hit the three-pointer, while Metcalfe is a solid rebounder and defender. Senior Ted Skuchas is a good shot-blocker and rebounder who will see plenty of minutes in the paint.
South Carolina- South Carolina is coming off of back-to-back NIT titles, but coach Dave Odom will have to do one of his best coaching jobs if the Gamecocks are to win it again. USC was 23-15 last season but finished only fifth in the East Division. They lose three starters from that team, including first-round pick Renaldo Balkman. Tre Kelley leads the returnees. The 6-1 senior point guard could be poised for a huge season. He is a very good scorer and distributor who is capable of taking over games with his point production. He is also a solid defender and rebounder. Also returning as a starter is forward Brandon Wallace. He is a very good inside-outside performer who is an underrated all-around player. He is athletic and is an impressive rebounder and a solid scorer. Wallace is also one of the best shot-blockers on the team. Wings Bryce Shelton and Dwayne Day also return. Shelton is a capable contributor, while Day is a good three-point shooter who could be one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Redshirt freshman Dominique Archie will likely start. He's an impressive athlete who could do things both inside and on the perimeter. Freshmen Evaldas Baniulis, Brandis Raley, and Chad Gray will also see immediate playing time on the perimeter. Gray will make the biggest impact of the three - if he is eligible. He will have to sit out at least the first semester due to academics. Inside, junior Ousmane Konate and freshman Mitchell Carter will man the post. Konate gives the Gamecocks good size and paint production, while Carter has excellent potential.
Auburn- The Tigers are usually not considered much of a contender in the SEC, and they aren't going to be this season, either. However, they aren't going to be a pushover this year. Jeff Lebo has the team ready to compete every night out. Furman transfer Quan Prowell is going to make an immediate impact down low. He is a match-up problem and can score both inside and outside. He is joined up front by returnees Josh Dollard and Korvotney Barner, two solid forwards. Dollard is an inside-outside threat who is a good scorer and a solid rebounder. He is very athletic. Barber is a banger down low who can block shots and is also a decent scorer and rebounder. In the backcourt, Quantez Robertson is an underrated point guard and a solid distributor. Rasheem Barrett is the team's leading scorer. He can score put up points in a variety of ways and can also rebound fairly well. Frank Tolbert is another solid player on the perimeter. He is one of the league's best sixth men. He fell just short of averaging double-figures last season and is also a good rebounder and defender. He is extremely athletic and is poised for a big season. JC transfer Archie Miaway is very good in the open court and is a good scorer. Freshmen wings Kelvin Lewis and Lucas Hargrove will get playing time, as will point guard DeWayne Reed.
Mississippi- Mississippi will likely be one of the worst teams in the conference this season, after struggling last season to a 14-16 campaign, finishing tied for fifth in the Western Division. However, with the return of four starters and the hiring of coach Andy Kennedy, things could be looking up in Oxford. Leading the way will be center Dwayne Curtis, one of the most underrated big men in the country. The 6-8 junior is a very efficient scorer and one of the best rebounds in the conference. He is a space-eater down low who can block shots and has a variety of post moves to get points. Joining him up front will be junior Jermey Parnell. The 6-8 junior started 20 games last season and should improve his production this year. Sophomore Trey Hampton provides an inside-outside scorer up front, while newcomers Kenny Williams and Andy Ogide will see immediate playing time. The backcourt will also be solid. Todd Abernathy is an excellent three-point shooter who is also a solid distributor and scorer. He can play both guard spots, but will likely see most of his time at the two this season. That is due to the arrival of Seton Hall transfer Justin Cerasoli. The 6-5 sophomore has a lot of potential and showed flashes of his brilliance during an up-and-down freshman season with the Pirates. He has good range on his three-point shot and is also solid when driving to the basket. If he doesn't try to do too much, he will be one of the SEC's best point guards. Seniors Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders return on the perimeter. They both averaged slightly less than ten points per game last season. Sanders is a good three-point shooter, while Doyne started last season and provides good scoring and long-range shooting.
G - Ronald Steele, Alabama
Others Considered: ; Shan Foster, Vanderbilt ; Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State; Charles Rhodes, Mississippi State ; Al Horford, Florida ; Jermareo Davidson, Alabama ; Taurean Green, Florida ; Tre Kelley, South Carolina ; Tasmin Mitchell, LSU ; Dwayne Curtis, Mississippi ; Randolph Morris, Kentucky