As usual, I have been somewhat remiss on my poll posting. I lost power during the storm yesterday until about 10:30 last night, and I have been just swamped with other work, so polling stuff has gone begging.
I am still participating (and will continue to participate) in the SEC Power Poll, the latest iteration of which you can find here. I won't post my ballot right now, because new ballots are due today and it just seems silly. You can see some of my comments at the link above.
But I do want to address the Round Table Questions:
1. What were the biggest surprises in the SEC over the first half of the season?
So far, South Carolina is the biggest surprise in the East as far as success goes. Darrin Horn has found a way to make what looks like a cobbled-together lineup very successful, and Devan Downey just keeps getting better.
From a negative standpoint in the East, it has to be Tennessee. Many (although I was not among them) thought UT would be serious national contenders this year, and they showed great promise in the early season. But lately, UT has looked more and more vulnerable, and their back court play has simply not been good enough.
In the West, Mississippi State is a big surprise. I thought the loss of Gordon and Charles Rhodes would be too much to overcome, but I think they have done so. The three-point shooting on that team, the way they use four guards, and the freakish shot blocking of Jarvis Varnado is just a matchup nightmare.
From a negative standpoint, I think you have to say Arkansas. Even though I figured the Razorbacks would have a down year this year, they started off like gangbusters and beat two highly ranked teams before tanking in SEC play. I expected them to be less good in SEC play, but no way did I see them 1-8 at this point.
2. Who is the SEC Player of the Year over the first part of the season?
Jodie Meeks. Homer vote, I know, but I think he has been the most consistently good offensively and has contributed in a lot of different ways. My second-place vote would have to go to Nick Calathes. He just does so many things well that it's easy to lose track of just how good he is.
3. Is the SEC really this down? Why or why not? What can the conference do in the post season? Is there any hope for a Final Four team? Where does the conference go after this year?
The SEC is down. That we know. How far down is a little hard to say. With all the youth in the league (which answers the question, "Why") you would have to expect them to become more and more dangerous as March approaches.
What can the conference do? Recruit good players, and replace the two open coaching spots with quality coaches. One of the reasons the conference is so great in football is the high quality of coaching. The SEC does have some good coaches, but it also has some underachievers. Two of those underachievers have been freed up for other opportunities.
This year, I would say a Final Four is out of reach except as a big-time Cinderella. No team in the SEC is good enough to compete on a consistent basis with the UConn's, North Carolinas or Dukes this year. I'd say the best we can rationally hope for in the tournament is more than one team making the sweet 16.
The conference will be much, much better next year. I see very few early NBA defections, and there are some quality young players in this league that are going to be great as time goes on. New coaches at Alabama and Georgia are likely to make those programs more attractive. Bruce Pearl, Billy Donovan and Billy Gillispie are still recruiting studs. I see the league returning to form as early as next year.
4.Which teams will make the Big Dance?
Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina all have good chances to get in. Ole Miss has been playing well enough that it could play its way in, but I see no more than six and more likely five teams from the league getting in, including the automatic berth.