Five things to watch in the SEC
Published: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.
1. One division
Saturday's SEC openers
■ Florida at Tennessee, 11 a.m., TV: ESPN2
■ Auburn at Vanderbilt, 1:30 p.m., TV: Fox
■ Ole Miss at LSU, 1:30 p.m., TV: WJXT
■ South Carolina at Kentucky, 4 p.m., TV: Fox/WJXT
■ Alabama at Georgia, 7 p.m., TV: FSN
■ Mississippi St. at Arkansas, 9 p.m.
The SEC has changed to one division this season, though teams will still play their traditional former division rivals twice and opposite former division members once this season. Standings will be posted 1-through-12 with the top four overall teams receiving byes for the SEC Tournament. The move was made mainly in response to Alabama winning the SEC West last season and not making the NCAA Tournament despite 12 league wins. It remains to be seen if the SEC will return to divisions when Missouri and Texas A&M join the league in 2013. It also could mean more conference games in the future. “I think the plan is to go to 18 (conference) games,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “But we'll see what happens.”
2. Youth movement
The SEC is loaded with impact freshmen this season. Kentucky center Anthony Davis leads the nation in blocked shots (4.5) while Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring (14.5 ppg). Other star freshmen to watch include Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13.9 ppg), Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.1 ppg) and Arkansas guard B.J. Young (14.1 ppg).
3. New coaches
Mike Anderson, a Nolan Richardson protege, is bringing his own version of “40 Minutes of Hell” to Arkansas in his first year as coach. Transition years always are tough, though Anderson appears to have more to work with than first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. While Anderson will bring an up-tempo, pressing style to Arkansas, Martin wants to build a program around toughness and defense. But the Vols have gotten off to a 7-7 start and rank last in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 69.6 ppg.
4. Ruling the road
SEC teams didn't fare well on the road in non-conference play, going a combined 12-20 on other opponent's floors. Among the disappointing road losses were Florida at Rutgers and Kentucky at Indiana. How teams respond to adversity on the road could determine who contends for the league title. Kentucky reached the Final Four last season, but didn't win the SEC regular-season title due to a 2-6 record in the league in road games.
5. Battle of the bigs
It appears the SEC will have no shortage of stars in the post this season. Mississippi State 6-foot-11 power forward Arnett Moultrie, a transfer from UTEP, has been the biggest surprise in the SEC during non-conference play.
Other big men to watch include the Kentucky tandem of Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, the Alabama tandem of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, Florida center Patric Young and Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway.