Balance of power

Rick Stansbury
Rick Stansbury

Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Stansbury has his team undefeated in the SEC.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 12:20 a.m.

In the pre-conference season, the SEC was viewed as a conference with a lack of talent, a league with few quality wins or quality teams.

And while the reputation of the SEC hasn't been boosted by the internal battles between teams, it is obvious to anyone paying attention that it's still a league where almost anybody can beat anybody. Whether that premise is based on mediocrity or intensity depends on one's opinion.

But there is little question about the balance.

Look at the standings just a teardrop jumper past one-fourth of the way through the SEC schedule. Only one team is unbeaten — Mississippi State — and two teams are still looking for a win — LSU and Alabama. The rest of it is a jumbled mess.

“Our league is a lot more balanced than people thought at the outset,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “The youth of this league contributed to some of the early losses. The people outside this conference are going to find us difficult to deal with come NCAA Tournament time.”

The theory goes that the young SEC is growing up, just in time to head into arenas filled with fans who are frothing and familiar.

As a result, there are no gimmes. Well, there is LSU. But even an Alabama team that is winless is still scary.

“I don't expect Alabama to continue its slide,” said Georgia coach Dennis Felton. “I would never look forward to playing this Alabama team.”

Already this season, there have been 16 games decided by seven points or less and that doesn't include Florida's 11-point win over Kentucky in overtime.

Arkansas, picked to win the West, is 2-2. Florida, picked to be near the bottom of the East, is 4-1. Eight of the league's teams have at least two conference losses.

It looked as if Tennessee was going to run away and hide from the rest of the league and then the Vols get knocked off in Lexington and everybody is talking about how the Wildcats are heading in the right direction.

“I don't want to say I told you so,” said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, “but back in Birmingham at the SEC meetings I told everybody that if Florida and Kentucky aren't up there in the predictions, two perennial powers, there is no question it is going to be a challenging year.

“Because you know those two teams are going to be there. That's when I knew it was going to be a wild race.”

And the race has a long way to go.

“There are no guarantees,” said Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. “You can see how competitive it is. And there are quite a lot of big-time atmospheres in this conference.”

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