TAG | Kentucky
It was a tough decision to go with the SEC over the ACC for today. The main thing is the depth (mainly in the East) of the conference barely out weighs the fact that the conference doesn’t have a dominating team. They have three or four nice teams, but no one team strikes fear in the masses. There have been some nice non-conference wins by multiple teams, but there have been some humiliating one’s too (see Auburn 0-2 vs Atlantic Sun and Big South.
Best Team: Kentucky (16-5, 4-3)
This was also difficult because Florida leads the conference and the Wildcats have struggled lately going 2-2 in their last four. Talent wise and play in the non-conference swayed the decision for me. Six players eat up the majority of the time for Kentucky, three of whom are not only freshman, but also their leading scorers. This team can score in bunches (77.5 PPG, .459 FG%, .399 3P%) and can defend (.381 OFG%), how that translates into a tournament run is anyone’s guess at this point as the youngsters will continue to develop and may or may not hit a wall (no pun intended).
Next in line: Florida (17-5, 6-2)
The Gators passed a major test early in the conference with the victory at Tennessee (a place they always struggle), but followed that up with a loss at home to lowly South Carolina. Inconsistency has plagued Billy Donovan’s teams since his back-to-back titles and this team doesn’t appear to be any different.
Biggest Disappointment: Auburn (8-13, 1-6)
It’s not like anyone thought this team would be any good what so ever, but for a major conference program to lose to the likes of teams nicknamed the Fighting Camels, Dolphins, and Blue Hose (a team that Vandy beat by 41) is humiliation for the conference. Quite possibly the worst major conference team, ever.
Next in line: Mississippi St. (11-12, 3-4)
The Bulldogs were a consensus to win the SEC West this year, however they are under .500 and sitting 3 games back of Alabama, a team that has already swept them. The Bulldogs have also lost to teams like Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee. The struggles haven’t just been confined to the court with the now infamous fight in the stands between star Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey and a twitter controversy that has hurt the program’s stability.
Biggest Surprise: Alabama (14-7, 6-1)
Only because they are the West’s only hope for a NCAA bid (they probably have to 8 or 9 more games to even be considered) and have recovered nicely in the conference after an ugly non-conference.
Next in line: Nobody. Hell, Alabama was a stretch.
4:oo Alabama (14-7, 6-1) @Tennessee (14-7, 4-2): Tennessee’s second to last SEC game without Bruce Pearl on the sidelines sees the Tide coming to town. The Vols want to keep pace with Florida and hang strong for a potential at-large bid (they have good non-conference wins for it) and a win at home would do both. ‘Bama needs victories as mentioned above, but especially needs road/neutral wins to prove that they warrant tourney discussion.
8:00 Kentucky (16-5, 4-3) @Florida (17-5, 6-2): The Wildcats can’t fall two games behind the Gators in the lose column and need to show that they are still the team to beat. The Gators still need to prove they are for real and a victory over UK would be their best win thus far in the season. Yuck, cannot believe this is the game of the week. Cannot wait for a week and we get Pitt and Nova. Have no fear, having said all that, this will probably be the game of the year in the SEC.
For many of us the greatest part of the sporting season has just tipped off. Scores of us have been waiting for over seven long months since our beloved teams exited from the most thrilling post season event in all of sports that is the NCAA tournament. Last year you may have seen enough of your up and coming or rebuilt squad to garner aspirations of cutting down the net this April in Indy. Or maybe this class of incoming freshmen has created so much hype on campus surely this is the year your program makes the leap to the next level. Perhaps your school’s BCS and bowl hopes were squashed prematurely leading you to say “just wait ‘til hoops season.” It could be all of the above or you are just an All-American fan who enjoys following the thrills and pitfalls that is college basketball. Wherever your interest lies here are ten bold and not so predictions on what will surely be another fantastic season to add to the games mystic.
10: Coach of the Year: Bill Self. Duh, no peaking but see number one.
9: Player of the Year: Luke Harangody. It is this simple, he is and will be the most productive player in the country. He may be unorthodox and lacks tools NBA executives crave but no one can deny his hustle or heart. This short and stocky power forward for the Irish does it all. He is a scoring machine that hits the trinity with the best of them and is just a beast on the boards. Oh how refreshing it will be to see a POY not be an underclassmen. Bonus, he is from a school with higher admission standards than even a John Wall impersonator can get into.
8: Game of the Year: Circle 2/13/2010 on your calendar for what is sure to be a game for the ages. The two most talented teams square off in Austin which is the equalizer Texas needs if anyone hopes to stand in the way of KU and a perfect season. What isn’t to love? The top two teams from the Big XII the past decade square off. Barnes has recruited an unbelievably talented squad featuring number one recruit Avery Bradley. KU features its own super frosh in Xavier Henry. What an opportunity for Texas to show the nation it has more than football going for it, not to mention they are no longer just playing second fiddle to KU in the Big XII.
7: One and done no more. Headlined by a huge UK meltdown and an uprising in upper classmen, freshmen are suddenly wondering if leaving after their freshman year is in their best interest. Failure to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament due to lack of experience and maturity the Wildcats show this isn’t the bellwether blueprint many believe it is and why for the most part teenagers simply aren’t ready to make the jump. All this happens while Cole Aldrich, Luke Harangody, Sherron Collins, Evan Turner, Kyle Singler, Craig Brackens, and Talor Battle show what time and good coaching can do for a player as they increase their draft stock.
6: ESPN discovers Universities exist that don’t border the Atlantic. It has been no secret that this elite sports network drools all over itself for schools that have Atlantic or East in their conference names. Much to their dismay these conferences leave too much to be desired while the two best conferences Big XII and Big 10 prove to be the class of the country and it simply can’t be blatantly ignored.
5: A new mid-major in town. Butler has established itself has a March staple in recent years and looks ready to institute itself as the premier team not in a power conference. Is there a coach that coaches a more fundamental and classic style than Brad Stevens? What a better year to make their footprint on the college landscape by making the Final Four in their own backyard this year? The Bulldogs are a team loaded with talent and returning their whole squad, what a feel good story this will make.
4: The Big 10 unseats the ACC. Eleventh time is a charm for a conference that has for the most part slumped since the new millennia, particularly in their annual challenge. That now changes with both MSU and Purdue being superior to both UNC and Duke this year. Michigan, OSU, Illinois, and Minnesota all have stronger teams than the only other competitive team Georgia Tech in what is down year for the ACC. Don’t mistake this for a hiccup, the Big 10 has done some serious upgrading in coaching and talent the past two years and look poised to return to relevance on the national scene for years to come.
3: More Blues in the Bluegrass state. In blinding pursuit to reach college basketball prominence UK hires two time cheat Calipari who brings with him more baggage than Dianna Ross. UK and the fans want a winner so bad they are willing to ignore and forgive him for the scandals he lead at employers past despite these schools being forced to vacate Final Four seasons as a result of his reprehensible actions. Calipari’s longtime friend “World Wide” Wes’ relationship is finally infiltrated by the NCAA for more violations than this site can hold. Unfortunately another black eye on perhaps the most storied program in the game. Here goes the coaching carousel again. Sorry Ashley Judd, I still love you!
2: Dukie V is busted. It turns out for the past 10+ years he has been doing more than drinking the ACC kool aid. He is in fact a paid lobbyist by the ACC to pimp up the conference above and beyond your usual ESPN and media east coast bias. This doesn’t matter to ESPN who despite the bad publicity it receives is too in love with their poster boy star broadcaster to get him to change his ways or financiers.
1: Lookout ‘76 Hoosiers. UNLV came close to running the table nearly two decades ago and experts say with the parity in the game today it can’t be done. Those that believe that need to look at this year’s Jayhawks. They return everyone who played from a team that was mugged out of the tournament last year to the eventual runner-up Spartans. Most notably are two future 1st team All-Americans Collins and Aldrich. To make a run through the tourney everyone knows you need an inside game and backcourt, having the best center and point guard in the country is a good start (sorry Wall but you haven’t proved a thing yet). These lads also bring a championship resume along with their coach. Bill Self has shown he is capable of out coaching the best in signature games over UNC’s Roy Williams and former Memphis’ John Calipari during their ‘08 title run. The toughest challenge will be against the next best team in the land, the Longhorns, who Self has owned and out coached in his KU tenure. If you aren’t in Indy April 5th, 2010 you won’t find a bigger party on the planet than Mass St. in Lawrence that night when the Rock Chalk Jayhawks dance their way to a second championship in three years and rewrite the record books going 40-0.
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