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2011 - 2012 SEC Basketball Preview

Dennis Berry / @thedennisberry

As the calendar turns into October, that means we are only weeks away from college basketball. While most SEC fans focus on football, well all of them expect for Kentucky fans, there is reason for all SEC fans to look forward to basketball. Here is an early look at the SEC.

New Standings Format

Starting this year the SEC basketball standings will not be divided into East and West. Now the SEC will have all 12 teams in the same standings. While the East and West division work great in football, last season showed that it does not work for basketball.

The Western division has long been considered the weaker basketball division. Last season Alabama did go 12-4 in conference play; second place Mississippi State only went 9-7. That was good enough for the Bulldogs to get a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. In the East Florida when 13-3, Kentucky 10-6, Vanderbilt 9-7, and Georgia 9-7. So the SEC scrapped the division and made basketball a 12 team league. Now if you want to get a first round bye in the SEC Tournament, you will have to beat out eight other teams, not just four.

New Faces

Cuonzo Martin is the new head coach at Tennessee, replacing Bruce Pearl. The last time we saw the Volunteers they lost to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 75-45. Pearl left amid an NCAA investigation after recruiting violations. Martin will take over a program that has been to a school record six straight NCAA Tournaments. Can he keep it going?

For Arkansas, they hope new coach Mike Anderson can return 40 Minutes of Hell to Fayetteville. Anderson is a former assistant with Nolan Richardson and has proven he can win at UAB and Missouri. He is tasked with rebuilding a program that has not been the same since Richardson was forced out as coach.

On the Hot Seat?

Last year was a complete mess for Mississippi State. It seemed early in the year all you heard coming out of Starkville was bad news. Usually that news was about players fighting and then suspensions. That resulted in poor plays and losses. Fans are beginning to grow tired of it. Does Rick Stansbury need a NCAA Tournament run to keep fans from calling for his head?

For Darrin Horn at South Carolina, it is a little different story. Three full seasons in and it seems the Gamecocks are going backwards. Horn went 21-10 his first year, then 15-16-16 in year two, and then 14-16 in year three. For Horn to keep his job, he better show fans that the program is moving forward.

Still Rebuilding

That would be Auburn and LSU. Don't look for either squad to make too much noise in the SEC. If LSU does not at least show some signs of improvement, Trent Johnson could start to feel some heat. For Tony Barbee and Auburn, they get to enjoy another year in their nice new gym with low expectations.

Not Sure What to Make of Them Right Now

That would be Georgia and Mississippi. Both teams lost important pieces of their teams. For Mark Fox at Georgia, he has to replace Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie who both made the jump to the NBA. For Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss they have to replace Chris Warren, who was a leading scorer last season. That is a lot of scoring for both teams to replace. They only question is who steps up for each team.

Strong at the Top

This season the SEC has some strong teams coming into the season.

You have Alabama, who went 25-12 last season and was the NIT Runner-Up. Anthony Grant has turned the Crimson Tide around. They are one of the best defensive teams in the SEC. The only question is will can they find more offense.

Vanderbilt returns all five starters from last season's team, which lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They come into this season as a sexy pick to win the SEC. This group has yet to prove they can win a big game. Can they get the monkey off there back?

Florida was the best team in the SEC last season. They made it all the way to the NCAA Elite Eight before losing to Butler. The main problem with Florida is that sometimes the guards, Erving Walker and Kenny Boyton, try to take over games. They need to learn to not force the issues when the pressure is on.

Kentucky ended its Final Four drought last season with a trip to Houston. Unfortunately for the Wildcats they ran into the eventual National Champions Connecticut. This year the expectations are sky high in Lexington. Another number one recruiting class and return of key players have Kentucky fans dreaming of partying on Bourbon Street in April.

Check back with SEC Sports Fan as we will have a breakdown of all teams before the season begins.

More Articles About the 2011 - 2012 SEC and College Basketball Season:

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2010 - 2011 SEC Basketball Review | Bruce Pearl Axed at Tennessee | Florida - BYU and Kentucky - Ohio State NCAA Basketball Previews | Preview of SEC Teams in 2011 NIT | 2011 SEC Basketball Awards | 2011 NCAA Tournament Predictions for SEC Teams | SEC Basketball March 2011 Preview | SEC Basketball February 2011 Update | 2011 SEC Basketball Tournament Preview |

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