The college basketball season is officially two days old and we’ve already been treated to nice heaping helping of #SECBasketballFever when Alabama lost Tuesday night to Penn. Not Penn State mind you, but Penn. The Ivy League school.
Something, something THIS IS MARCH*
Editor’s Note: *November
Over the past few weeks I’ve been reaching out to every SEC school previewing each team with fellow SB Nation writers, student journalists or beat writers from different websites. I also reached out to SB Nation’s SEC blog Team Speed Kills and the editors Chris Novak and Robert O’Neil were both kind enough to partake in my questions. They also edit Big East Coast Bias. What I’m saying is I got two of the best college basketball minds out there for you, the reader of this here website. You can —and should!— follow both of them on Twitter @ChrisNovakBECB and @RobertONeill31.
1. It wasn’t that long ago that the SEC was a joke of a basketball conference Kentucky aside. But last year the league got seven teams in, four made the Sweet 16 and Auburn made its first Final Four. Is the league a legitimate basketball conference now?
Chris: I would say yes. There’s enough competitiveness around the conference to make it very legit. Not only that, but the talent has very clearly taken an upswing too. It’s not just Auburn pulling in top-tier talent, or in the case of the mid-2000s and early 2010s, Florida. This is definitely a very good conference now, although I think it will be massively top heavy this season.
Rob: I think it has to be considered a legitimate basketball conference now. If you go back to the early part of this decade, as you said, it was a joke. What changed? Home run coaching hires at pretty much every opening aside from when Mizzou hired Kim Anderson. It’s truly absurd how great the coaches are in this league. Part of it was Auburn and Mississippi State not being cowards and hiring Bruce Pearl and Ben Howland, part of it was Texas firing Rick Barnes and Tennessee realizing he’s a great coach who had had his share of bad luck in the NCAA Tournament, etc. The stars really continued to align perfectly for coaching hires, and it has made the league so much better.
2. Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are all starting over with new coaches. Who of the four is in the best position to succeed in their first year?
Chris: I’d probably go with Arkansas. I’d say that because their schedule gives some credence to them starting off hot, as they aren’t playing too many great teams in the early portion of the season. So I see Eric Musselman getting up to around 9-3 at worst by the time their first game against Texas A&M comes around. I think everyone else has far too many hurdles to escape.
Rob: This kind of ties into my answer to the previous question where you had another bunch of great coaching hires. Year one is a bit of a struggle for most new coaches, but I think Nate Oats and Alabama are in the best position to succeed this year because the 1-2 punch of John Petty and Kira Lewis is fierce. I don’t know that Alabama will reach the postseason this year, but they won’t be a complete mess.
3. Georgia signing the No. 3 overall prospect in football is hardly out of the ordinary. But Georgia basketball signing No. 3 overall prospect Anthony Edwards is borderline unheard of. What’s Edwards future look like?
Chris: Georgia fans probably shouldn’t expect him to be around for too long. Anthony Edwards is a top-tier prospect and could be a Top 3 pick in the NBA Draft this coming June. He got off to a shaky start in the first game from an efficiency standpoint, but growing pains and such are real, so I wouldn’t be too worried. I don’t think he’s “capable of taking them to the NCAA Tournament” good, but he should at least make UGA fun to watch.
Rob: First off, shoutout to Tom Crean. Simply put, Edwards’ future looks incredible. He’ll probably only be at Georgia for one year, because many NBA mock drafts have him as the #1 overall pick right now, but he’s going to be the best player some Georgia fans have ever seen, and it’s an obvious big step in the right direction for the program.
4. How can Tennessee bounce back after losing the core of its Sweet 16 team?
Chris: Tennessee will certainly have their work cut out for them. They play some really good teams in the nonconference portion of their schedule. They, as of right now, play five KenPom Top 50 teams and that could very well increase based on how the Emerald Coast Classic plays out since Purdue is in there. The team is still really solid and I like Bowden and Turner a lot. But they’ll definitely take a bit of a step back.
Rob: I think it comes down to how well senior Lamonte Turner and freshman Josiah Jordan James can play this year. Turner is the leader now that so many players from last year are gone, and the five-star freshman James is one of the nation’s best freshmen. It’s a lot to ask from a team that lost its three best scorers, but Rick Barnes has proven that he can do more with less, so I think they could be a strong team again.
5. LSU won the league’s regular season title and Auburn won the conference tournament. Who do you guys like winning the SEC this year?
Chris: Kentucky or Florida should win the league unless something drastic happens. These are the two most well-rounded teams in the league and two of the most talented. Florida has so many good guards, and the Wildcats are just lengthy as hell. So I think one of those two will win the league.
Rob: It’s really tough to say, because I think it’s a very tough and deep league, but I like the Florida Gators a lot, especially in the regular season.
6. What’s your favorite Big 12/SEC Challenge game this year?
Chris: Kentucky/Texas Tech should be a blast.
Rob: I think it has to be Texas Tech against Kentucky. Both are ranked in the top 15 to start the season, and it feels like it’s a matchup we could see again in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
7. Finally for our LSU readers, how do you guys feel about the Tigers this season?
Chris: LSU is still a very talented team even after the departures that occurred. I still like their backcourt of Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart and their frontcourt should still be solid with Emmitt Williams, Darius Days and top-flight recruit Trendon Watford. For me it really depends on how some of their JUCO transfers play for me to suggest they’ll do anything legit. But a Top 4 finish in the conference shouldn’t be out of the question.
Rob: I’m high on the Tigers! I think they’ll miss Tremont Waters, but having the Will Wade railroading in the rear view mirror is a net positive. I think Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart are very good, and Emmitt Williams seems poised for a breakout season.