As the holiday season comes to a close, the Southeastern Conference is ready to launch its 2013 men’s college basketball season. The defending national champion reigns from the SEC, and the league has three teams who could contend for this year’s national title. This SEC season will also include the two conference newcomers, Texas A&M and Missouri. Both teams will bring more depth to a conference that has struggled to find an identity outside of Lexington, Kentucky and Gainesville.
For a conference that dominates mightily in football, the SEC has been consistently weak in basketball. Florida and Missouri have looked like the best two teams in the league thus far, and Kentucky should join that group once their young roster gains more experience. Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have all suffered in non-conference play. Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Alabama and South Carolina all had solid starts to the season, but they could all find themselves on the bubble in March.
While the SEC certainly is not a dominant conference in basketball, the league will be extremely competitive throughout the course of the season.
SEC Men’s Rankings
1. Florida (9-2)
2. Missouri (10-2)
3. Kentucky (9-4)
4. Ole Miss (10-2)
5. Tennessee (8-3)
6. Alabama (7-5)
7. Arkansas (8-4)
8. LSU (9-2)
9. Texas A&M (10-3)
10. South Carolina (10-3)
11. Auburn (6-7)
12. Vanderbilt (6-6)
13. Georgia (5-7)
14. Mississippi State (4-7)
Auburn (non-conference record: 6-7)
Notable conference games: Feb. 2 at Missouri, Feb. 6 vs. Alabama, Feb. 9 at Kentucky, Feb. 16 vs. Florida, Feb. 26 at Alabama
Tony Barbee’s third season in Auburn started on a poor note, as the Tigers enter SEC play with a losing record. Senior guard Frankie Sullivan leads Auburn in scoring with over 17 points per game, but the Tigers have struggled to find another reliable scoring option. The Tigers ended their non-conference schedule with a nice win over Florida State, and Barbee’s group will need to build off of that win during SEC play. If not, Barbee could find himself on the hot seat by the end of the season.
Alabama (non-conference record: 7-5)
Notable conference games: Jan. 8 at Missouri, Jan 22 vs. Kentucky, Feb. 6 at Auburn, Feb. 26 vs. Auburn, March 2 at Florida.
Coming off of an NCAA tournament appearance last season, the Crimson Tide seemed poised to make another run this year. However, head coach Anthony Grant’s team struggled during the month of December, and the Crimson Tide enters conference play on a poor note. Senior guard Trevor Releford leads Alabama in scoring with over 15 points per game, and sophomore guard Trevor Lacey has been the Crimson Tide’s best all-around player. If Alabama is going to make another trip to the Big Dance, they will likely need to win at least 11 games in SEC play.
Head coach Andy Kennedy and the Rebels are looking to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. Ole Miss is 10-2 on the year, although the Rebels have played a relatively weak non-conference schedule. The Rebels are undefeated at home on the season, and if they can continue that trend during SEC play, they will likely end their NCAA tournament drought.
The Bulldogs have struggled mightily under first-year head coach Rick Ray. Mississippi State is 4-7 on the season, and the conference schedule will be brutal for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State lost several key players from last season, and Coach Ray and the Bulldogs will likely endure several difficult losses during conference play.
Head coach Mike Anderson led the Razorbacks to an 18-12 record in his first season in Fayetteville, and the Hogs are looking to take the next step as a program. Arkansas is currently 8-4, and if they want the chance to make the NCAA tournament, the Razorbacks will have to find ways to win outside of Bud Walton Arena.
First-year head coach Johnny Jones is 9-2 in his debut season in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have momentum entering SEC play, but they have also struggled on the road early in the season. For LSU to have an opportunity to make the Big Dance, they will have to win double-digit games in conference play.
Head coach Billy Kennedy has led the Aggies to a 10-3 record thus far, and Texas A&M is ready for its first basketball game as a member of the SEC. The Aggies’ fast start to the season has set them up with an opportunity to reach a postseason tournament. If Texas A&M can reach 10 wins in conference play, the Aggies might be going dancing in March.
Missouri’s first season in the SEC has the potential to be a championship-caliber year. Head coach Frank Haith and the Tigers are 10-2 on the season, and Haith has a team filled with veteran experience. Point guard Phil Pressey is one of the best guards in the country, and his leadership is invaluable to this Missouri team. The Tigers will be expected to compete for an SEC title this year, and Missouri will be a serious championship contender in March.
One year after winning the national championship, the Wildcats were expected to be a legitimate contender to win the title again this year. Fourth-year head coach John Calipari reloaded his roster with elite talent, including center Nerlens Noel and guard Archie Goodwin. The Wildcats have been inconsistent at times this year, as they have stumbled to a 9-4 start, but this team will be dangerous in March.
Florida has made back-to-back Elite 8 appearances, and head coach Billy Donovan has another veteran group this year in Gainesville. Erik Murphy, Patric Young and Kenny Boynton were all part of those Elite 8 squads, and all have improved tremendously this season. The Gators have elite outside shooting and superior coaching. After a 9-2 start to the season, Florida look to be the most complete team in the SEC entering conference play.
Georgia has struggled to find an identity on both ends of the floor so far this season. The Bulldogs have talented players, but lack of depth has hurt head coach Mark Fox’s team. Georgia will be tough to play in Athens, but the Dawgs’ might struggle on the road throughout the season.
South Carolina parted ways with head coach Darrin Horn following a disappointing 10-21 record last season. The Gamecocks hired Frank Martin from Kanas State, and Martin has led South Carolina to a 10-3 start in his first sea-son. The SEC schedule will be challenging for the Gamecocks, but progress has already been made in Martin’s first season in Columbia.
Vanderbilt is 6-6 on the season, and the Commodores have struggled to replace the numerous starters they lost from last year. It’s a rebuilding year for head coach Kevin Stallings and his team, but the Commodores will be vastly improved by the end of the season.
Cuonzo Martin led the Volunteers to the second round of the NIT in his first season as Tennessee’s head coach, and the Vols are looking to build off of that success in Martin’s second year. Tennessee is currently 9-3, but they have been offensively challenged throughout the early part of the season. The Vols are capable of making the Big Dance in March, but they will have to finish with a winning record in conference play.
Women’s SEC Basketball preview
Alabama Crimson Tide (non-conference record: 10-3)
Notable conference games: Jan. 6 at Kentucky, Jan. 10 vs. Georgia, Jan. 20 at Tennessee, Jan. 24 vs. Auburn, Feb. 17 at Auburn.
Alabama enters its 2013 SEC schedule with hopes of making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Wendell Hudson is in his fifth season as head coach for the Crimson Tide women’s team. Two seasons ago, the Crimson Tide made the WNIT, but last season they finished with a disappointing 12-19 record. Sophomore Daisha Simmons, junior Shafontaye Myers and junior Jasmine Robinson all average over 11 points per game. Hudson’s team is experienced enough to compete in the SEC this season, but the Crimson Tide will likely have to win at least 10 games in conference play to make the NCAA tournament.
Auburn Tigers (non-conference record: 11-2)
Notable conference games: 1/17 vs. Tennessee, 1/20 at Kentucky, 1/24 at Alabama, 2/3 at South Carolina, 2/7 vs. Georgia, 2/17 vs. Alabama
Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy has Auburn off to an 11-2 start in her first season on the Plains. The Tigers will look to ride their non-conference momentum into their SEC schedule, and Auburn will attempt to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. Sophomore Hasina Muhammad, who is averaging over 16 points per game, leads Auburn in scoring this season. The Tigers will need at least nine wins in SEC play to make the NCAA tournament.
Week 1 picks
MISSOURI 72, Alabama 64
FLORIDA 76, Georgia 61
South Carolina 64, MISSISSIPPI STATE 58
TENNESSEE 56, Ole Miss 51
AUBURN 61, Louisiana State 58
Arkansas 73, TEXAS A&M 68
*Home team in ALL CAPS