Parity reigns supreme in the SEC

Georgia's Trey Thompkins (33), right, walks off the court dejected as teammate Dustin Ware, left, hugs Tennessee's Brian Williams (33), left, who hit the game winning shot as time expired to give Tennessee a 59-57 victory over the Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 10:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 10:56 p.m.

You could excuse Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for feeling as bright as his orange jackets early this conference season.

Pearl's Vols remain in the thick of Southeastern Conference title hunt, even though he has yet to coach a game because of an eight-game, league-mandated suspension for lying to NCAA investigators.

"It's going to be a great race," Pearl said. "It speaks volumes for the parity in our league and the parity in college basketball."

Parity has reigned through the first 12 days of conference play this season. All 12 teams in the league have at least one loss in conference play. Entering Wednesday night, eight conference games had been decided by five points or less. Two more games decided by more than five points went into overtime.

"It's early," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "There is probably not any dominant team like Kentucky was last season. Nevertheless, it's going to be a battle to the end of the 16-game schedule."

The SEC East, in particular, is shaping up to be a six-team division after South Carolina posted early upsets of Vanderbilt and Florida. All six SEC East teams are in the top 100 in the Ratings Percentage Index, which measures a team's record with its strength of schedule.

"Every league has somebody that's rebuilding," Pearl said. "In our division, we don't have one right now. We have six really good teams right now that are probably going to end up beating up on each other."

Kentucky hasn't looked dominant this season, with home blowout wins against Auburn and LSU sandwiched between road losses to Georgia and Alabama. Tennessee has bounced back from an 0-2 league start under interim coach Tony Jones, evening its record to 2-2 after a second-half comeback win against Vanderbilt and a buzzer-beating win at Georgia.

Florida had a chance to start 3-0 in league play, but suffered an unexpected home loss to South Carolina last Saturday. The Gators are the SEC's most experienced team, but have suffered through inconsistent stretches through the first half of the season.

"Any given night, anything can happen," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think there is a lot of parity in this league, great coaches, great players. The East division is strong and the West, I believe, is better than it was a year ago."

Alabama is off to a 3-1 start in SEC play under former UF assistant Anthony Grant following its upset of Kentucky on Tuesday night. Mississippi State, 2-1 in league play, is starting to round into form with the return of point guard Dee Bost.

"The reality is if you win against the East it's going to help your RPI and if you lose against the West, it's really going to hurt your RPI," Pearl said. "I think the winner of the East is going to have more losses than it has in a long time."

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