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A reversal of fortunes in the Southeastern Conference

Posted: December 4, 2012 5:16 p.m.
Updated: December 5, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Nobody will be as excited for spring as the University of Missouri. With the school’s rude awakening to SEC football finally over, the Tigers’ time to shine is almost here with the conference’s basketball season set to begin in only a few weeks.

Missouri brings back just three players from last season’s squad, but that short list includes Phil Pressey, a potential All-SEC first team talent. The team also regains forward Laurence Bowers, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, while welcoming five recruits and six transfers. If Pressey and Bowers can gel with a talented, but new group of players, the Tigers should be able to put up a strong fight for the conference crown. While it won’t erase a rather disappointing football year, contending for the league’s basketball title will help cement the school’s legitimacy in its new conference.

To get there, Missouri will have to top the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats. As per the usual script, Coach John Calipari’s team will be among the country’s most talented, but may be too young and inexperienced to go all the way again. The Wildcats must replace No. 1 NBA Draft pick Anthony Davis as well as first rounder Terrence Jones to regain its footing. A tough task, but made easier with the nation’s top recruit Nerlens Neal. Losses to Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor, however, leave a less than spectacular outlook early in the season. If Calipari can bring his team another crown though, he’ll certainly be in rare company. Since 1973, only Duke in 1991-1992 and the Florida Gators in 2006-2007 have won back-to-back championships.

While Kentucky and Missouri may be the league’s top squads on paper, the Gators are certainly capable of earning a third ring in six years, especially if center Patrick Young can blossom into a dominant big man. The junior could have left for the NBA last year, but stuck around, perhaps recognizing that his team had enough pieces in place to contend for the league’s top spot.

Expected to be inching towards the conference’s basement, the Tennessee Volunteers may be able to trump the Gators as the SEC’s third best team. The Vols finished in a three-way tie for second place in the league last year, showing the prowess of Head Coach Cuonzo Martin in particular. The team also has one of the nation’s best frontcourts in Jerome Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. If the right pieces fall into place, Tennessee may also be able to shake up brackets come March.

Another surprise may be the Arkansas Razorbacks. Billed as crafting the “fastest 40 minutes in college basketball,” Coach Mike Anderson may be able to boost his team to the top of the SEC standings. A below .500 campaign last year can be improved with stronger defense and cohesion between the team’s mix of returning veterans and young players.

Other SEC squads, particularly Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M could make noise, but likely won’t be making any substantial jumps this spring.

Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, and South Carolina will probably be left looking for positives to rather uninspiring seasons. Frank Martin’s first team at USC still lacks talent after poor recruiting from previous Head Coach Darrin Horn.

Vanderbilt may be stuck with the biggest rebuilding project, but could also be the largest surprise as the season unfolds. The Commodores lost their top six scorers, but bring back talent, especially on the perimeter. Over the last six seasons, the team has averaged nearly 10 conference wins. That streak seems unlikely to continue, but there may still be some surprises this year out of Nashville.  

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