With Southeastern Conference games just a few days away, this week the Fast Break will take a look at all 12 teams, assessing how they’ve fared after two months of non-conference games and how they stack up for the next two months.
GOOD WINS: Washington, Notre Dame, at Louisville.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: At North Carolina, Connecticut.
STRENGTHS: Talent. Perhaps not as much as last year, but the Wildcats have an excellent point guard in Brandon Knight
, another player that makes NBA scouts drool in Terrance Jones
, a great sixth man in Doron Lamb
, and veterans Darius Miller
, DeAndre Liggins
and Josh Harrelleson,
who are all playing good basketball. Harrelleson in particular has been a revelation; witness the 23-point, 14-rebound effort he put up against Louisville that earned him SEC Player-of-the-Week honors this week.
WEAKNESSES: The Wildcats aren’t particularly deep, especially in the post.
OUTLOOK: Coach John Calipari’s
teams typically improve as the season progresses. The Wildcats are properly tuned up and ready to claim the East and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
GOOD WINS: North Carolina, Marquette.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: West Virginia, at Missouri (OT).
STRENGTHS: Few teams can match Vanderbilt’s wing combination of jump shooter John Jenkins
and athlete deluxe Jeffrey Taylor
. Junior center Festus Ezeli
is developing into a force on both ends of the floor. Depth.
WEAKNESSES: Though point guard Brad Tinsley
has a solid 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, the Commodores as a team have at times gotten fast and loose with the rock.
OUTLOOK: Vanderbilt is more than good enough to contend for the East and is a definite NCAA Tournament team.
GOOD WINS: At Saint Louis, UAB, at Georgia Tech.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Notre Dame (2 OT), Temple.
STRENGTHS: Two future NBA players in Trey Thompkins
and Travis Leslie
. Two players capable of running the team in Dustin Ware
and Gerald Robinson
WEAKNESSES: The Bulldogs have struggled from the three-point line and free-throw line.
OUTLOOK: Coach Mark Fox’s
impressive rebuilding job continues in his second season. A trip to the NCAA Tournament should be the result.
GOOD WINS: At Florida State, Kansas State, at Xavier, Rhode Island.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Ohio State, UCF, Jacksonville (OT).
STRENGTHS: The deepest post rotation in the SEC with Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus
, Patric Young
and Erik Murphy
. Two talented guards in Erving Walker
and Kenny Boynton
. Chandler Parsons
was a preseason All-SEC pick. Commitment to defense.
WEAKNESSES: Occasional lapses in shot selection. Free throw shooting
OUTLOOK: The Gators have scored some impressive victories away from home, but they have to reassert the program’s home-court dominance of seasons past to comfortably punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. A comfortable win over a solid Rhode Island team in Gainesville on Monday night was a good jump-start to conference play.
GOOD WINS: VCU, Villanova, Pittsburgh.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Oakland, Charlotte, USC, Charleston.
STRENGTHS: Nice one-two combination of Scotty Hopson
and Tobias Harris
. Depth. Vols are two deep at every position. Defense when they put their mind to it.
WEAKNESSES: Poor three-point shooting has given teams a blueprint to beat the Vols; pack in the defense around the basket and dare them to make threes. Depth. Because Vols are two deep, coach Bruce Pearl
is still searching for a rotation. Defense has either been stifling or philanthropic; Tennessee has to exert consistent energy on that end of the floor.
OUTLOOK: How can you forecast a team that, so far this season, has won the NIT Season Tip-Off, beaten a team many experts believe will wind up in the Final Four (Pitt) and lost four home games, including to Division II Indianapolis in an exhibition? Add in the fact Pearl has been suspended by the SEC for the first eight league games and a team many thought was capable of a Final Four run after the win over Pitt has become a mystery.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-4)
GOOD WINS: At Western Kentucky (2 OT), Clemson.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Furman, Boston College.
STRENGTHS: Sam Muldrow
is a two-way threat in the post when he plays to his capabilities. Freshman point guard Bruce Ellington
has lived up to his billing.
WEAKNESSES: Negative team assist-to-turnover ratio. Free throw shooting. Rotation not yet set.
OUTLOOK: Don’t fall asleep on this team or be in for a rude awakening.
OLE MISS (11-3)
GOOD WINS: Murray State, Penn State, Southern Miss, Saint Louis.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Dayton (OT), Colorado State.
STRENGTHS: Deep perimeter core with good blend of experience (Chris Warren, Zach Graham, Trevor Gaskins
) and youth (Nick Williams, Dundrecous Nelson
). Emerging young big men (Reginald Buckner, Demarco Cox
). Free throw shooting.
WEAKNESSES: Big men need to get more involved on the offensive end.
OUTLOOK: Ole Miss should contend for the division title, and if it can reach double figures in league wins, an NCAA Tournament bid could be the reward.
GOOD WINS: Oklahoma, Seton Hall.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: UAB (OT), Texas A&M (OT).
STRENGTHS: Good guards (Rotnei Clarke, Julysses Nobles, Jeff Peterson
). Three-point shooting. Delvon Johnson
has become a force defensively and on the glass and a double-figure scorer.
WEAKNESSES: A broken foot and a suspension have combined to make preseason All-SEC pick Marshawn Powell
a non-factor so far.
OUTLOOK: If Powell returns to the form he showed in making the All-SEC Freshman team a year ago, Arkansas will battle Ole Miss for the West championship. The Hogs will need to knock off a few East division schools to build their NCAA Tournament resume.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-6)
GOOD WINS: San Diego.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Florida Atlantic, East Tennessee State
STRENGTHS: Ravern Johnson
is the leading scorer in the SEC. Dee Bost
, who makes his season debut Jan. 8, is a seasoned point guard who can also score.
WEAKNESSES: The Bulldogs, who have been in a state of flux personnel-wise all season, were hoping to get a lift from the long-awaited debut of big man Renardo Sidney
, but he’s already been suspended twice after gaining eligibility Dec. 18. Lineup stability will help this team.
OUTLOOK: If Sidney can mature and become the force many thought he would, and if Bost can control the team from the point, the Bulldogs can make things interesting in the West.
GOOD WINS: South Alabama, Lipscomb.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Seton Hall, Iowa, Saint Peter’s.
STRENGTHS: JaMychal Green
is one of the best post players in the league when he sets his mind to the task. Sophomore forward Tony Mitchell
is putting together a solid season. Freshman Trevor Releford
has showed promise at the point.
WEAKNESSES: Three-point shooting. Post depth. Lineup continuity. Green has been suspended this season, but since he’s returned, he’s played better and the Tide has reeled off three straight convincing victories.
OUTLOOK: If Green continues to play like he’s capable and Releford doesn’t run into the dreaded freshman wall, Alabama will be a team that no one wants to play down the stretch.
GOOD WINS: South Alabama, Houston.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: Nicholls, Coastal Carolina (OT), North Texas.
STRENGTHS: Freshman guards Andre Stringer
and Ralston Turner
have given the Tigers some much-needed offensive punch. LSU is one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league.
WEAKNESSES: Big men have to play with more consistency. Protecting the ball.
OUTLOOK: Coach Trent Johnson
has bypassed any quick fixes with this program, so the Tigers’ progression will be slower than some fans might want or expect as freshmen adapt to their roles and the rigors of the SEC.
GOOD WINS: Middle Tennessee, Georgia Southern, Florida State.
DISAPPOINTING LOSSES: UNC Asheville, Samford, Campbell, Presbyterian.
STRENGTHS: Solid pair of wings in Earnest Ross
and Andre Malone
. Guard Frankie Sullivan
continues to defy medical science by returning from ACL surgery performed in July.
WEAKNESSES: Limited scoring punch, depth and size.
OUTLOOK: After losing two key recruits and two front-line players before the season even began, first-year coach Tony Barbee
knew it was going to be tough for his team just to stay on the rails. But there’s hope entering conference play: the Tigers have won four straight, the last victory coming over a solid Florida State team.