Once again, other priorities have forced my early pre-season look at the SEC teams onto the back burner. But I'm bringing them to the front again, and today we shall look at LSU and Tennessee.
But just in case you have forgotten (and it has been awhile), see my earlier pre-season looks at Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Alabama.
The Tigers have Tasmin Mitchell, Terry Martin, and Garrett Temple III all returning for their senior year. These players represent a solid foundation for the team, and represent a solid 50% of last season's scoring and 35% of the rebounding. In addition, they bring the 12th best high-school player in the nation, Anthony Randolph, into the fold at 6'10"/210#. Randolph can theoretically play all three front-court positions. He can score, rebound, and has a terrific handle for a big man.
THE BADLSU lost a ton of experienced players last year either to NBA early entry, transfer, or disciplinary problems. Gone are superstud forward Glen Davis to the NBA, critical backup forward Magnum Rolle and guard Ben Voogd to transfer. Tack Minor was lost in the middle of last season to discipline problems.
John Brady is perhaps the worst bench coach in the SEC despite his recruiting ability. The transfer and loss of so many players call to mind the "Team Turmoil" of the Tubby Smith era, which is often looked at as when his favor as Kentucky coach began to significantly diminish. Magnum Rolle's high school coach blasted Brady in the media just after he decided to transfer due to playing time.
Despite a recent Final Four appearance, missing the NCAA's this year could signal the beginning of the end of John Brady's tenure as LSU coach.
CONTENDER, OR PRETENDER?
Given the losses this team has suffered, the appearance of turmoil now surrounding it, and the relative lack of returning experience, LSU will be fortunate to finish as high as 4th in the West. This team has issues of inexperience in the backcourt and size in the front court. Despite Brady's usual solid recruiting class, this year, they are a PRETENDER.
It's good to be a Volunteer fan this year, and UT has so much sunshine happening in Knoxville, it's hard to find the shadows. Not only is perhaps the deadliest-shooting guard tandem in the nation returning in the persons of seniors Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, they return virtually all of their front-court strength. Returning sophomores Duke Crews and Wayne Chism will anchor their front court, along with returning upperclassman Ryan Childress. Ramar Smith, an outstanding sophomore point guard, and sold backups Jordan Howell and Josh Tabb , and transfer J.P. Prince from Arizona provide all the back court help Bruce Pearl is likely to need.
But that isn't the end of the good news for the Vols -- sophomore transfer Tyler Smith from Iowa, perhaps the most talented front-court player to play for Tennessee in years has been cleared by the NCAA to play immediately for the Volunteers. It isn't as if Pearl needs any more depth, but he certainly has it, in spades.
This is quite possibly the most impressive array of talent ever assembled in Knoxville, and is far and away the deepest and most talented roster this year in the SEC.
THE BADDespite their talent, the Volunteers aren't especially big again this year. They do add Brian Williams, a 6'10" center out of Harmony Christian, but he is unlikely to see a lot of playing time this year because so many more talented people will be available ahead of him. Tennessee ranked 11th out of 12 SEC teams in scoring defense and defensive rebounding and dead last in team free throw percentage a year ago. A repeat performance of those statistics could put their expected SEC title run in serious jeopardy.
Bruce Pearl sweating through an orange blazer, or in orange body paint. Pretty much Bruce Pearl. 'Nuff said.
CONTENDER, OR PRETENDER?
This is easy, and doesn't need a lot of hyperbole. Serious, big-time CONTENDER, in fact, FAVORITE.
More of this to come ... ah ... sometime before the season starts.