Draft leaves SEC young and restless

Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The most recent NBA draft dealt the Southeastern Conference a blow like never before.
A virtual All-SEC team - with eligibility remaining - opted out of college basketball and into the draft after last season. LSU's Brandon Bass, the conference player of the year, led the flight, and he was joined by six others from five teams.
Throw in highly touted Georgia recruit Louis Williams and equally touted Mississippi State recruit Monta Ellis, who skipped college altogether, and the SEC lost much of its star power.
Many teams were prepared to be on the young side. But given that only one player who entered the draft - Kentucky's Randolph Morris - will be able to return for the conference season, the SEC finds itself younger and more inexperienced than some can ever remember it being.
Only two SEC teams, No. 5 Florida (13-0) and No. 19 Kentucky (10-3), are ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. SEC play opens today.
When Auburn coach Jeff Lebo was asked to assess his team, he might as well have been speaking for his colleagues.
"My team's interesting," said Lebo, whose Tigers have 10 underclassmen. "We have more new guys and freshmen than a first-year college English class. Every day is an adventure."
As Sporting News' college basketball reporter Mike DeCourcy writes in his SEC preview: "This conference lost, and it really could not afford to."
Interestingly, the SEC finds itself ranked by USA TODAY ratings guru Jeff Sagarin exactly where it was this time last season - fourth, behind the Big Ten, Atlantic 10, and Big East. Collectively, SEC teams have a 112-33 record against out-of-conference opponents. Last season at this time, the record was 106-33.
Plenty of freshmen have attempted to step in and fill the void. MSU's Jamont Gordon leads his class in scoring with 13.6 points. LSU's Tyrus Thomas leads in rebounds and blocks. Auburn has freshman Quantez Robertson leading in assists and his fellow freshman Josh Dollard leading in steals.
The influx of new players has made it difficult for opposing coaches to formulate a gameplan. Many are faced with the same dilemma as Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who faces an MSU team that lost its top six scorers from last season.
"I'd certainly prefer to face them without Lawrence Roberts," Heath said of the former Bulldogs All-American. "But they have nine guys that play 19 minutes or more. It's a long list of guys to get prepared for."
Perhaps that has helped a conference that has provided some nonconference highlights.
Kentucky putting the screws to rival Louisville was a wake-up call for those who thought the SEC - and the 'Cats - might be headed downward. Georgia, fresh off an 8-20 season, knocked off two ACC squads. Florida is 2-0 against Top 25 teams.
Slowly, the young, inexperienced SEC is gaining a little national respect. Coaches take solace in the nonconference season.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's answer, when asked about the East division, speaks volumes. "I don't know who's not bowl eligible," Pearl said, speaking in football parlance. "It looks like every team has put itself in position to be in the NCAA Tournament."

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