Google a bunch of 2009-10 SEC Basketball previews, and most have Kentucky being the top projected team of the conference. There are a few outliers, as you’d expect each team’s fan site and local paper to lean more towards their respective team.
The funniest one I’ve read is this Bleacher Report preview of the Wildcats. The author states that Kentucky will be a top-25 team, but predicts a final record of 21-9 (10-6 in the SEC). I guess he means that Kentucky will be in the top-25 for a section of the year, because a team who loses 6 games in conference won’t stay in the top-25 for very long.
(Now remember: Bleacher Report is just a blogging platform that’s dressed up like a news site. The unvetted writers for the site published all sorts of crazy rumors when the Pitino/Sypher story broke. You shouldn’t get your panties in a wad over somebody who starts their Kentucky Basketball Preview with a definition of “bandwagon”, because you know how the article is going to end.)
On the more national sports writing front, Andy Hutchins of the Sporting News issues a bold prediction: Mississippi State will be the best team in the SEC:
Forget about the John Wall Show at Kentucky: The only team in the SEC coming off an NCAA Tournament berth and returning all five starters plays in Starkville. Add Renardo Sidney, currently caught in eligibility limbo, and the Bulldogs may have the most imposing frontline in college hoops in Sidney and one-man block party Jarvis Varnado. Maintaining the quietly above-average guard play of last season could be their key.
Sidney’s NCAA eligibility status is expected to be resolved soon. The NCAA has now seen the Sidney family’s bank statements and the Sidney’s family lawyer feels confident a favorable ruling will be made soon.
With Sidney and Varnado, Coach Cal has some interesting decisions to make. Playing Patterson on Sidney seems to be the appropriate call, since Sidney’s scoring ability is much higher than Varnado. Varnado averaged 12.9 points per game last season — a season where he was essentially the only inside offense available. Varnado took only 6 field goal attempts and scored just 6 points in Lexington last season.
Vernado didn’t have to shoot too much: MSU’s 4-guard tandum of Ravern Johnson, Dee Bost, Barry Stewart and Phil Turner had a field day against Billy Gillispie’s “Not Tough Enough to Defend 3’s” defense. And, oh yeah: all four of them are back.
I like Andy’s thinking, but his key assumption of “forget about John Wall” is faulty. If John Wall is the man we expect him to be, there may not be a single guard in the SEC that can prevent Wall from driving. Also, Andy forgets about Eric Bledsoe, who should also be able to break ankles and create on the drive. (And don’t forget that Cousins’/Orton’s/Dodson’s output remains to be seen.)
And while the SEC is improved, not every SEC team is going to have the shot-blocking talent inside to keep Wall and Bledsoe in check. So while MSU may match up better against Kentucky, Kentucky may win more games in the SEC.
And the best team in the SEC is the one who wins the most games, right?