Sizing up the SEC East

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Yes, it’s still July. But because some friends are working on SEC basketball previews for magazines, it brought to mind where I would pick Florida in this October’s league media days.

Losing Nick Calathes hurts the Gators because so many of the league’s other marquee players are coming back. Tennessee returns Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism. South Carolina returns Devan Downey and Dominique Archie. Kentucky lost Jodie Meeks, but brings back Patrick Patterson and brings in the country’s top recruiting class (John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton.)

That’s why I would pick Florida fourth, behind all three schools:

1. Kentucky

2. Tennessee

3. South Carolina

4. Florida

5. Vanderbilt

6. Georgia

It’s going to be a much tougher league all around next season. In the SEC West, Tasmin Mitchell is back at LSU and Jarvis Varnado is back at Miss. State. Terrico White, the league’s most underrated player, returns at Ole Miss. One NBA executive told me that if White had decided to come out for the draft last season, he would have been the first player from the league to be picked.

In a best case scenario, I could see Florida battling UT for second. That’s if Vernon Macklin and Kenny Boynton emerge as impact players. But Florida coach Billy Donovan has already downplayed Macklin as “not the savior.” Boynton will score, but is streaky, and will likely endure some freshman growing pains.

A more likely scenario has Florida back on the bubble battling South Carolina and Vanderbilt for the 3-5 spots. If Florida goes 9-7 in the league this season, though, it could be enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. The league will be that much better in 2009-10.

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