The pre-season coaches’ poll for college basketball has come out, and it’s hard to argue with the results. The Florida Gators, seeking to be the first repeat NCAA Champions in 15 years received every vote but one for the number one spot entering the campaign. Florida is one of five SEC teams that will open the campaign in the top 25.
There’s really no reason to choose anyone else except for entertainment purposes. With five starters and the top two reserves back, the Gators have no holes to fill from last year’s title run. Yes, the Gators will have to deal with trying to match last year’s chemistry and unselfishness, but that’s a whole lot easier to accomplish than getting guys to be taller or more talented.
Last year the SEC got virtually no respect because as usual it was a “down year” for the conference. Yet the league produced the national champ and another Final Four team. This year, someone is paying closer attention and the league is getting more recognition. LSU, which returns personable big man Glen “Big Baby” Davis, will start the season at seven. Alabama with All-American guard Ronald Steele and talented big man Jermareo Davidson is ranked twelve with Kentucky (# 22) and Tennessee (# 24) also getting some attention. The Wildcats need a big year from underachieving big man Randolph Morris while Tennessee will be counting on a very young front court to replace departed veterans Andre Patterson and Major Wingate.
Schedule Has Two Highlights
While the Gators will play six regular season games against the SEC teams ranked in the poll, they have two other contests that will generate national attention. On November 25th the Gators will face third-ranked Kansas in Las Vegas and four weeks later on December 23rd Ohio State will visit the O’Connell Center. The Buckeyes start the season at number four and received the lone number one vote that did not go to Florida.
Kansas, which would have gotten my vote for # 2, returns five starters and their highest scoring reserve and adds an elite recruiting class to the mix. The game will feature a small forward match up that will be worth the price of admission with Florida’s Corey Brewer battling the Jayhawks’ Brandon Rush.
Ohio State might be over ranked considering they lost four starters, but the Buckeyes have a recruiting class that is being hailed as one of the best EVER. Seven-footer Greg Oden who may not be cleared to play against the Gators is touted as the best big man to enter college since Shaq. Oden would have been the top pick in the draft coming out of high school if not for the NBA’s new minimum age rule. Instead he is viewed by most as a one-year man. He is joined by super shooter Daequan Cook and point guard Mike Conley Jr. giving the team three McDonald’s All-Americans.
One other non-conference game promises to be special, and that will be the contest at Florida State December 3rd. The Seminoles caught a break when their best player, forward Al Thornton decided to return for his senior year. Toney Douglas sat out last year after transferring from Auburn. You may remember Douglas hitting a three pointer at the buzzer to force overtime against the Gators two seasons ago. He’s a prolific scorer and teamed with Jason Rich gives the ‘Noles a very good backcourt.
All-SEC Team is Loaded
A year ago I wrote that the All-SEC team might be the weakest ever. Well my how the year has changed things. The All-SEC team named at conference media days might be one of the best. A front line of Joakim Noah, Glen Davis and Al Horford would be competitive in the NBA in a year or two while the backcourt of Ronald Steele and Chris Lofton gives you a great floor general and sensational shooter.
Taurean Green and Corey Brewer were second team picks.
The league has just one new coach, Andy Kennedy who takes over at Ole Miss. I don’t think any coach in the league is on the hot seat, but Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings and Dave Odom at South Carolina might be advised to get their teams to the NCAA Tournament. Signs of progress will also be expected at Georgia and Auburn, but both lack the proven big men needed to be tournament contenders.
The Gators open up next Thursday with an exhibition game and begin the regular season live on Sun Sports on Friday, November 10th against Samford. South Florida residents will have to find it on satellite or at their favorite pub.