The SEC basketball season is ready to roll, and several teams have already left their mark in the preseason games during November and December. Alabama, ranked 4th in the SCS.com College Hoops poll, and (5) Mississippi State have both won games over top 25 competition in 2002 and are looking to battle it out for the SEC West. Alabama opened the season with a win over (17) Oklahoma and also knocked off Ohio State and slipped by (24) Xavier in pre-SEC action. The Tide grabbed a #1 ranking in at least one major poll before falling to Utah on the road. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, whipped up on (24) Xavier and (17) Oklahoma, both ranked in the top 15 at the time the Bulldogs played them. Both games were won by MSU on neutral courts after State was upset by Louisiana-Lafayette to begin the season.
Over in the SEC East, (8) Florida, (21) Kentucky, and (25) Georgia have all looked good in the preseason. Billy Donovanís Gators, who come into SEC play with a record of 11-2, have captured wins over both (16) Kansas and (20) Maryland while dropping a decision to (23) Stanford early in the season. The Kentucky Wildcats, 9-3, have played a stiff preseason slate. Wins over Gonzaga, up-and-coming (18) North Carolina, and (11) Indiana were good signs for Tubby Smithís club. Those victories were mixed in with losses to (19) Virginia, Michigan State, and Louisville. The Georgia Bulldogs struggled at times early in the season while losing to (2) Texas, Georgia Tech, and Minnesota. UGA battled back, however, and picked up a couple of impressive wins over Gonzaga and (7) Pittsburgh.
Back in the SEC West, (22) LSU came up with a big win of their own in the early portion of the season. The Tigers got a chance to take on (1) Arizona in Baton Rouge, pulled ahead by a large margin in the second half, and overcame several mistakes late to hang on for an upset of the nationís top-ranked team. Mississippi lost two contests in the months of November and December, one to East Carolina and the other to the Memphis Tigers, both on the road. Arkansas has the been the only SEC West team to struggle so far this season. The Hogs have fallen to Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Memphis, and Illinois early on but look to rebound and make a run at the postseason during SEC play.
Tennessee has jumped out to a 7-2 start while not playing the toughest competition. The Vols only losses came to Texas A&M and West Virginia. South Carolina, who played in the NIT last year, has played a fairly tough non-conference schedule and taken their early record to 6-4. While losing to Georgetown, NC State, Wyoming, and Colorado State, the Gamecocks most impressive win is over the Temple Owls. Vanderbilt rounds out the SEC East. The Commodores are 7-4 on the young season. Vandy has taken all four of their losses to good competition: (12) Connecticut, (11) Indiana, Michigan, and (6) Notre Dame.
Top SEC Games This Week....
The first really big game of the SEC season is Sunday afternoon when LSU travels to (25) Georgia. The Tigers are looking to ride their momentum into Athens while UGA is coming off a huge win over Pittsburgh earlier this week. Both teams have several scoring threats which should make this CBS matchup a dandy to kick off the SEC season.
On Tuesday, the (7) Florida Gators travel to Starkville to take on (5) Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have already proven they can take on and beat top ten competition, as have the Gators. This late-evening ESPN showdown should come down to the wire. The Bulldogs have a major scoring threat inside with Mario Austin, while the Gators love to shoot the three-ball.
In Jefferson-Pilot's first SEC game of the year, (21) Kentucky travels to Tennessee. Both teams have started off the 2002-2003 season well, but the Wildcats have had more experience against good competition so far. UT will be looking for some respect at home while Tubby Smith's 'Cats have their eyes set on earning the SEC East title.
On Saturday, there are a couple of excellent SEC showdowns. (25) Georgia travels to (7) Florida in a game that will have huge implications when the SEC East is coming down to the wire. UF needs to defend their home court early while Georgia will be looking to gain an advantage on the rest of the division by sneaking out of Gainesville with a road victory.
Also on Saturday, (4) Alabama travels to Vanderbilt. The Commodores havenít been able to knock off the top 25 teams yet this season, but if the ĎDoresí three-point shooters get hot, Alabama could go down. The Tide will look to out-muscle and wear down Vanderbilt and leave Nashville with their first SEC win. This is a chance for Vanderbilt to show the rest of the SEC theyíll be a contender this year.
Finally, (5) Mississippi State concludes an extremely tough opening SEC week by traveling to (22) LSU. This is the Tigersí first home conference game and another chance to knock off a top ten team in Baton Rouge. After having their first conference game against SEC East competition, these two West rivals will bang heads in each teamís first division game.
Around the nation....
The conference schedules are getting kicked off around the country this week with several top matchups. The PAC 10 has a couple of super matchups this week, including Southern Calís trip to UCLA on Wednesday. (9) Oregon travels to California on Thursday and to (23) Stanford on Saturday. Also on Saturday in a couple of non-conference matchups, St. Johnís will take on UCLA while Pennsylvania is on the road at Southern Cal.
In the Big XII, (16) Kansas will travel to Iowa State on Monday. This ESPN-televised Big XII matchup is crucial to both teams. ISU is looking to start the season off fast with a big home win while the Jayhawks want to sneak out with their first conference victory. On Tuesday, (12) Connecticut takes on (17) Oklahoma in a big-time non-conference battle. The Huskies have yet to lose this year while OUís only losses have come to top ten SEC competition, (4) Alabama and (5) Mississippi State. Finally, on Saturday, Oklahoma State will travel to Texas A&M in an evening battle in College Station.
The Big Eastís top contests this week includes (6) Notre Dameís trip to (7) Pittsburgh. Both teams have roared out to fast starts this season and are looking to continue their streaks in Big East play. This ESPN-televised game showcases two of the best young guards in the nation, Brandin Knight of Pittsburgh and Chris Thomas of Notre Dame. On Saturday, Boston College will travel to Syracuse to battle the Orangemen. Both BC and Syracuse are expected to be contenders in the Big East and want to get a jump ahead in the conference standings.
The ACC has its share of opening-weekend top games, including (18) North Carolinaís trip to (19) Virginia. The Tar Heelsí freshmen have had surprisingly effective seasons so far while Virginia needs to win this early home contest to keep some momentum going. On Saturday, NC State travels to Georgia Tech, and then on Sunday, (15) Wake Forest will travel to (3) Duke. The Blue Devils rarely lose at home, but the Demon Decons will look to capture a win at Cameron to get their ACC campaign off to a good start.
The Big Ten matches up (13) Illinois and Minnesota in Minneapolis on Tuesday as well as Ohio State at Michigan State on Thursday. The Spartans then travel to take on Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City. Also on Saturday, Wisconsin will travel to (13) Illinois while (11) Indiana will venture over to Columbus to battle the Buckeyes.