SEC preview: Backcourt key for Florida
There are a half-dozen teams in the SEC East — and five of them could legitimately go dancing.
And the crazy part is any of them could wind up winning the league.
Florida is the hot choice as the team to beat in the SEC, but much depends on whether Kentucky freshman big man Enes Kanter is cleared by the NCAA.
If Kanter is cleared, the Wildcats should move into the No. 1 spot. If not, the Gators may have an edge — albeit a slight one.
But don’t count out Tennessee, Vandy, Georgia or a Mississippi State team that will get Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost back for league play.
SEC PRESEASON PREDICTIONS
1. Florida — The Gators have plenty up front, but the key will be whether Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton stay healthy and play well enough.
2. Kentucky — After losing five guys in the first round of the NBA draft, the Wildcats have reloaded. However, the big question concerns the eligibility of Turkish freshman big man Enes Kanter.
3. Tennessee — Bruce Pearl may be feeling some heat after a rough offseason, but the Vols have enough to compete for the league title. It may depend on the play of point guard Melvin Goins.
4. Vanderbilt — Love the perimeter of John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley. Kevin Stallings can coach and, despite losing A.J. Ogilvy, don’t expect the Commodores to disappear from SEC contention.
5. Georgia — Mark Fox has a terrific 1-2 punch of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, but he’ll need Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson to make an immediate impact.
6. South Carolina — It won’t be an easy task for Darrin Horn to replace Devan Downey.
1. Mississippi State — The Bulldogs will struggle until they get Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost back from NCAA-imposed suspensions. Then they’ll be as talented as anyone in the league.
2. Alabama — Anthony Grant has JaMychal Green down low, and the plan is to hand the ball to freshman point guard Trevor Releford.
3. Mississippi — Terico White and Eniel Polynice are gone, so now it’s clearly Chris Warren’s team.
4. Arkansas — Depth will be an issue, but the Razorbacks have Marshawn Powell, Rotnei Clarke and Iowa transfer Jeff Peterson to run the team.
5. LSU — Trent Johnson’s team could be better than people think with the addition of Ole Miss transfer Malcolm White.
6. Auburn — It’s going to take some time for new coach Tony Barbee to stock the program with talent.
PACK YOUR DANCING SHOES
Preseason Player of the Year – Chandler Parsons, Florida
Preseason Rookie of the Year – Brandon Knight, Kentucky
Preseason All-League First Team
F – Chandler Parsons, Sr., Florida
F – Jeffery Taylor, Jr., Vanderbilt
C – Trey Thompkins, Jr., Georgia
G – Brandon Knight, Fr., Kentucky
G – Chris Warren, Sr., Ole Miss
Top Backcourt – Vanderbilt
Top Frontcourt – Tennessee
Coach on the Hot Seat –Bruce Pearl, Tennessee
Most Underrated – Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
You Don’t Know Him … Yet – Gerald Robinson, Georgia
THREE CAN’T-MISS FROSH
Brandon Knight, Kentucky — He’ll be the heir apparent to John Wall, and while he’s not quite the leader or distributor of his predecessor in Lexington, he’s a more accomplished scorer.
Tobias Harris. Tennessee — The skilled forward from New York is a matchup nightmare and should be an instant impact guy for Bruce Pearl.
Patric Young, Florida — He’s a beast and has an NBA body already. Will give Florida another quality player on the frontline.
TOP FIVE STORYLINES
Free Enes — Big Blue Nation has started a campaign in hopes that Kentucky’s freshman big man Enes Kanter is cleared by the NCAA. If the Turkey native is able to play, mark the Wildcats down as legitimate Final Four contenders. Without him, they are just another Top 25 team.
Sidney Sighting — The NCAA suspended Renardo Sidney all of last season and the first nine games of this year, but now the ultra-talented and skilled big man will finally get a chance to play college basketball. If Sidney is in shape when he becomes eligible after the first semester, he’s a program-changer. If not, he’s Derrick Caracter.
Pearl on Thin Ice — Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl took a significant pay hit and won’t be allowed off campus for recruiting for a full year after he was caught being dishonest with the NCAA. Not only will Pearl have pressure to win, but now he’ll have to stay clear of any off-the-court issues to keep his job.
Gator Bait — Billy Donovan’s team is, after two NIT appearances and getting into the NCAA tournament a year ago, back as a national player. It’s not a team like the one that hung a couple of banners in Gainesville a few years back, but Florida is a consensus top-15 team that could make a legitimate Final Four run — as long as its backcourt remains healthy and produces.
Is Georgia For Real? — I know Mark Fox has Trey Thompkins, who will contend for SEC Player of the Year honors, and Travis Leslie. However, I’m just not ready to put the Bulldogs in the equation for the Top 25 just yet. It’ll likely depend on the play of newcomer Gerald Robinson — a transfer who put up impressive numbers at Tennessee State.