The college basketball season has come to an end. For most SEC fans, they have begun to look ahead to college football with spring practice taking place. So let’s take a final look back at how the SEC teams fared this year and how things are looking for them in 2011-2012.
We begin with our season wrap-up for the Alabama Crimson Tide. They had a very successful season. They won the SEC West title this year by going 12-4 in league play. They finished the season 20-11 but were left out of the NCAA Tournament. They did receive a bid to play in the NIT, were they made it all the way to the championship game before losing to Wichita State. Overall the Crimson Tide finished with a 25-12 record, in Anthony Grant’s second season as head coach. If the core of JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford return and what some considered to be a top 25 recruiting class coming in next year, things are looking up on the hardwood for Alabama.
For the Arkansas Razorbacks 2010-11, they saw the end of the John Pelphrey era in Fayetteville. The season started with promise as Arkansas started 10-3 before conference play. After a 7-9 league record and first round exit in the SEC Tournament, it was time for a change. The Razorbacks brought in Mike Anderson to try to bring them back to the level they were at when he was an assistant under Nolan Richardson. If Anderson can keep a top ten recruiting class together and Rotnei Clarke returns, Anderson has a good chance to turn Arkansas around quickly.
The Auburn Tigers finished 11-20 in the first season under Tony Barbee. There were signs of growth for Barbee with his young team. After starting the season 3-7, the Tigers went on a four game winning streak, which included a win over a Florida State team that went to the Sweet 16. Another sign included wining their last two SEC games after being 2-12 in league play. The Tigers are a young team. They had three freshman and six sophomores on a squad with no seniors. The Tigers will return with their top three scorers in Earnest Ross, Andre Malone, and Kenny Gabriel. This was also Auburn’s first year in a new state of the art basketball arena which will help Barbee sell the program to the recruits and rebuild the basketball program.
The team picked by many to win the SEC was the Florida Gators, who had a successful season. They won the SEC East title and SEC regular season title with a 13-3 conference record. They made it to the SEC Tournament finals, but lost to Kentucky. Still they received a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Butler. Chandler Parsons was named SEC Player of the Year and Billy Donovan was named the SEC Coach of the Year. Although the Gators are losing Parsons, Alex Tyus, and Vernon Macklin this year, they will return Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Erik Murphy. Donovan will also add another Top 25 recruiting class highlighted by incomer Brad Beal, who is seen by many as the top shooting guard in the country.
It took Mark Fox two seasons to get the Georgia Bulldogs back into the NCAA Tournament. After a 14-17 record their first year, the Bulldogs improved to 21-12 and made it to the big dance, losing to Washington in the first round. Georgia was lead by Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie this season. The Bulldogs began the season 11-2 and started off SEC play with a home win over Kentucky. After that win Georgia could not build off that momentum, finishing 9-7 in league play and lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament to Alabama. Next, Thompkins announced he would enter the NBA draft and would not return, plus Leslie is testing the waters and it is unknown if he will be back. Fox will need to wrap up a strong class and right now he has a good start with a commitment from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is a top five shooting guard in the country.
The Kentucky Wildcats season ended with a Final Four run. Few would have guessed that result after they lost on the road for the sixth time in the SEC on February 23. Kentucky entered SEC at 12-2, but the road was not kind to the young Wildcats as they went 2-6, but were undefeated at home. In fact, since John Calipari became the Wildcats coach, Kentucky has not lost at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats' run started with a home win over Florida and carried into the SEC Tournament Championship, The run continued even into the NCAA, where they were a four seed. The knocked out the overall number one seed Ohio State in the Sweet 16 and then the East region’s two seed North Carolina in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1998. The season ended with a loss to Connecticut in the Final Four in which the Wildcats had their worst shooting performance in over a month. Now the speculation turns to if freshman Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones return next season. If they do, added with another number one recruiting class of Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marques Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer, then next year Kentucky may enter the season as the number one team in the country.
It was another long season for the LSU Tigers as they finished 11-21 and 3-13 in the SEC, which was the worst in the conference. Trent Johnson's third season started with an 8-7 non-conference record, but the SEC was too much for a young Tigers squad. The Tigers' future looks bright as the team was lead by two freshmen in Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer. In fact, the Tigers were another team with no seniors on their roster. So there is plenty for Johnson to build with. The Tigers need talent to add to what they have with Turner and Stringer. They do have Johnny O’Bryant coming in next year and the 6’ 9” power forward should help on the post area. There is still a lot of work to do in Baton Rouge though.
The second SEC Team to play in the NIT was the Mississippi Rebels. The Rebels finished the season at 20-14,. They were knocked out of the SEC Tournament by Kentucky and then lost in the first round of the NIT to California. Ole Miss sat at 12-3 when they began SEC play, but an 0-4 start was too much for the Rebels to overcome and they finished 7-9 in the SEC. Chris Warren led the Rebels this year averaging 19 points a game and 3.8 assists. He went over 2,000 career points in the game against California. The losses of Warren and his backcourt partner of Zach Graham will be hard to replace for Andy Kennedy. He does have a solid class coming in next year, but will be looking for guys like Terrance Henry and/or Reginald Buckner to step up and lead Ole Miss next year.
There were a lot of roller coaster seasons in the SEC and the Mississippi State Bulldogs is right up there near the top. A season that saw player suspensions and player fights made for a long season for Rick Stansbury. The Bulldogs finished the year at 17-14 and were not invited to any post season tournaments. The Bulldogs do lose seniors Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus next year, but they will bring back Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost. Sidney and Bost give Stansbury a strong duo to build around. They have what some consider a top 20 class coming in next seaason with D.J. Gardner, Rodney Hood, and Deville Smith. If the talent will come together and not fight, the Bulldogs could be back fighting for the SEC West title next season.
Darrin Horn’s third season as the South Carolina Gamecocks' head coach was another tough one as the Gamecocks finished 14-16 and 5-11 in the SEC. There were some bright spots for South Carolina fans though. They entered SEC play at 9-4 and after winning at Florida and against Arkansas they were in first place in the SEC East. That is when the wheels fell off as they went 2-10 the rest of the way. South Carolina does have another great point guard to build around in Bruce Ellington, but lost Ramon Galloway, a sophomore and the teams third leading scorer, when he decided to transfer after the season. The Gamecocks only have two committed players coming in at this time and Horn needs to find some talent to help out Ellington next season.
When you talk about a roller coaster season, almost nothing compares to the season the Tennessee Volunteers went through. It started when former coach Burce Pearl announced that he had lied to the NCAA during an interview. The SEC announced that Pearl would be suspended the first eight games of the Volunteers SEC schedule. Then they started off 7-0 and won the preseason NIT title. After a win against third ranked Pittsburgh, the wheels fell off. They went 5-3 during Pearl’s suspension, but only 3-5 when he returned. The Volunteers went on to finish the season 19-15. They made the NCAA tournament, but were blown out by Michigan 75-45. Shortly after, Pearl was let go by Tennessee. They turned to Cuonzo Martin to try and stabilize the program, which is still waiting on punishment from the NCAA and how that will affect them. With Tobias Harris and perhaps Scotty Hopson declaring for the NBA draft, Martin will have his hands full next season.
The Vanderbilt Commodores reached the NCAA tournament again this season after going 23-10. Unfortunately, they lost in the first round to Richmond. Vanderbilt started the season 11-2 before entering conference play, but once again the SEC was tough on the Commodores who went 9-7 and lost to Florida in the SEC Tournament semi-finals. The good news for Vanderbilt fans is that the core of the team returns next season with Jeffrey Taylor, Brad Tinsley, Festus Ezeli, and John Jenkins. They also have a good recruiting class next year, a 20-30 ranked class, but will they help get Vanderbilt over the top and push for a SEC championship?
There is still time for SEC teams to add to recruiting classes for next season and players to declare for NBA Draft. The SEC should be a stronger conference next season. We will keep our eyes on the conference over the summer and see where teams stand when Midnight Madness rolls around come October.
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